By Bill Sammons (as told to Melissa LeGates)
Time is running out for millions of orphans worldwide, who will age out of orphanages and foster care, and find themselves homeless. We were blessed to provide one of them with a happy ending and a forever home. It was a long journey to get here but worth every minute of heartache. This is our story.
If adoption is a roller coaster, and it is, then we completely jumped the tracks in September 2013.
For more than a year, my wife Julie and I had been trying to adopt Irada, a young teenager living in a Ukrainian orphanage.
We hosted her in our home for four weeks through a non-profit called Project 143, a program that facilitates orphan children from Latvia, Ukraine and China to visit a host’s home over the summer or winter holidays.
Project 143 runs their “Hope Program” to give children a chance to experience life in a nurturing and stable family environment. The program has a special emphasis on hosting older children, children with special needs and sibling sets because these are the ones most overlooked.
They are not an adoption agency, and not everyone who hosts a child adopts that child. That is not their end goal; however, Project 143 is a great way to get to know if a child matches your family dynamics before taking that big step into adoption.
Our first hosting experience
When we hosted Irada, we fell in love with her.
Somewhere along the line, she started calling us mom and dad, and even changed her last name on her social media sites to ours.
So we rushed forward with the paperwork to adopt her before she would age out of the system. When I put her on the plane to go back to the Ukraine, I feared I may never see her again because of all the hoops you have to jump through to adopt.
I just never dreamed it would be by her choice.
Every adoption has its trials
Then, one day out of the blue, my wife received a message that Irada had changed her mind and decided to stay with her friends in the Ukraine.
We went into grieving mode. We were also mad. And sad. And confused.
I decided my heart could not stand another loss and thought I wanted off the adoption roller coaster completely.
Learning how to dream
However, my wife was a different story. One day she saw a picture of a teen girl from Latvia waiting to be hosted through Project 143.
She told me there was just “something special” going on in Lolita’s eyes that captured her, so she forwarded her picture to me. I decided that I was willing to get back on that hamster wheel to provide this girl with a good home and shot at living a decent life protected by a family who would love and support her.
Some people ask why did we adopt a teen?
I jokingly tell them, “I am too old to adopt a baby”. But really I’m too old to adopt a baby at 57.
We purposely decided to adopt an older child because generally people do not want them. And, they still need homes and supportive parents for the rest of their lives – not just until they reach age 18.
We didn’t want or need to start from scratch again. A teen was a much better fit for our entire family, especially for our daughter Mary, who is still young. We also wanted Mary to have an older sister.
My other two sons have families and lives of their own now. They no longer need my guidance as much, but I still love having kids around.
I especially love kids who were not blessed with moms and dads, homes and sports programs, and a community support system.
I like helping kids learn that they are loved and that it is okay to love back.
Most of all, I like helping them learn how to dream!
It’s easy to romanticize adoption, and we did to some extent. However, I assure you the romance of adoption is short-lived and real-life remains.
My wife and I have always kept in mind that adoption is not a fairy tale ending for the child. It is “Plan B” for adopted children.
It is second best for their life, and it would not be needed if Plan A had worked out with their birth parents and families.
Instead of being a fairy tale, adoption is more like an epic battle.
It is a life or death battle for the body and soul of a child. One we had never met but knew we already loved.
Combatting sex trafficking and child slavery through adoption
Adopting orphans also helps to fight a huge global problem – sex trafficking and child slavery.
These children in orphanages around the world have no options and no one to care for them or about them.
In the Ukraine, six out of 10 girls, who age out of orphanages, end up in prostitution or being trafficked. Seven out of 10 teen boys who age out enter into a life of crime just to survive.
The numbers of orphans are unfathomable
In 2010, Project 143 was established and aptly named after the estimated 143 million orphans in the world.
That number continues to grow.
Our Lolita, also called Lola, was one of them. Not anymore! She officially took our last name Nov. 19, 2014 and her adoption was final Dec. 15.
She is our happy surprise at the end of the adoption roller coaster.
If I could have custom-ordered a daughter from the Sears Roebuck catalog, she would be it. She is gracious, kind and loving.
She will do great things in this world, and we look forward to celebrating her accomplishments with her as she grows into a young woman.
I adore this girl as much as I adore my Mary, my Josh and my Nick. In my heart, she is not my adopted daughter.
She is my daughter, period.
A divine tasking
The Bible is clear that we are supposed to take care of orphans (James 1:27). We are each called in different ways to accomplish that task. We opened our home but many others helped support us emotionally and financially.
Some people hear our story and treat us like heroes. But I assure you, we are not.
We are not any more special than the next guy, and to be totally honest, we winged this entire adoption thing.
We got through this difficult two-year process because we serve a mighty God. During our darkest times (and there were many), we cried out to him often. Our faith carried us through because we were not, and are not, big enough to do it on our own.
Adoptive families raise money and tell their stories on social media and blog sites, but the kids are the amazing ones.
The true heroes of the story
These kids are tough. They are survivors.
They leave their environment, friends and everything familiar to them to travel half way around the world…praying and hoping for a better life and people who truly love them. They have no guarantees.
They go to a new school. Many have to learn a new language. They have to assimilate into a new family and learn to care for people they barely know.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, simultaneously they have struggle against their own history of abandonment (and for some the aftermath of the horrors of war, abuse, dysfunction, drug use, etc.), just to get through the day…then the next day.
They are the ones we should celebrate! They are the true heroes!
For Julie and me, it was stressful but a whole lot easier mentally and spiritually. Our hearts were broken—cracked wide open—in preparation to love one of God’s little ones.
He called. We answered.
Adoption is a blessing
We have been immensely blessed throughout our epic adoption battle. We now have a second beautiful daughter whom we love and she loves us back.
Along the way, we have met people we might never have encountered otherwise. They have poured into our lives, helping us financially and emotionally, and we are all richer for it.
As much as we would like to, Julie and I cannot cure the adoption epidemic in the world. But for now, we knew we could help one child.
We are honored to call Lolita our daughter, and we will love her intensely and unconditionally as Jesus loves all of us.
If you would like to learn more about Project 143, go to http://www.projectonefortythree.org/.
Melissa LeGates is a freelance writer and retired Air Force journalist who specializes in features and B2B writing. She is also a colored pencil artist and blogs about it at coloredpencilenthusiast.wordpress.com.