As we continue in our series about motherhood, I’m thrilled to feature my friend Barbara. The first time we spoke, I was so touched by her story. Her heart aligns so fully with how I talk about Noonday: we need to alleviate the orphan crisis from multiple angles. Barbara champions ethical adoption, which cannot be isolated from efforts towards family preservation and orphan prevention. Read her story of the long stretch between being matched and being able to bring her child home, and parenting her son well from afar in the meantime.
My friend LeeAnne, from the amazing website Change the World by How You Shop, is hosting an online adoption fundraiser trunk show for Barbara’s family! Click here to shop, and a portion of your purchase will support Barbara’s family. Click here to join our Facebook group where the show will take place in October 2019.
Guest post by Barbara Johnson
“Why Congo?” is a question we have been asked a lot during this process. The question annoys me a bit. We aren’t trying to be exotic. Yes, we’ve seen The Widow on Amazon Prime. Yes, I know what happened with adoption in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo’s neighbor to the east). No, we are not trying to be white saviors. We have three biological children, two boys and one girl. We investigated multiple paths in adoption. For our family, those doors were closed either by us (ex: ethical concerns, unanswered questions) or by circumstances (ex: not displacing birth order, safety of children already in home). Congo was where we were led after a lot of research, confusion, and prayers. We researched and educated ourselves on ethical adoption. We read blogs of grown up adoptees. We talked to adoption agencies. When we found a ministry that aligned with our values of putting family preservation first, promoting in-country adoption, and practicing financial transparency, it was Mwana Villages, and it happened to be in Congo. Now after two years of this journey, we could list a thousand other things that we love about Mwana Villages (www.mwanavillages.org) and about Congo. Some of my favorite people in the whole world live in Congo, and I am incredibly honored to be chosen as a mama to a precious Congolese child.
Two years ago today we were chosen to be Raphaël’s parents. We began the process with a flurry of paperwork. As excited as we were for the path to finally be clear, reading a referral is heartbreaking. A referral is a document describing what circumstances created an orphan and the rough start that a child has already endured. It includes both answers and mystery, because there are always more questions than answers. The referral is then accepted or rejected by the prospective parents. We enthusiastically accepted and were amazed that God chose us for this child and this child for us.
The first month was a blur. I woke up many nights in tears praying and pleading. Our hearts were activated for our son and it hurts to stretch that mama love across the Atlantic Ocean. I grieved what he had gone through. I was sent pictures dating back to his arrival and seeing him grow up in pictures was a gift. I had pictures from the day he arrived. I had a picture of him around age 3 in a diaper standing in the courtyard with an adorable grin. I had pictures from his 4th birthday celebration. I had videos of him dancing! But these younger pictures also hurt my heart, and that freaked me out. I was worried that I wasn’t supposed to feel that way because I was adopting an older child, and what was this emotion rising? I know we aren’t bringing home a baby! I prayed and brought those feelings before the Lord to sort out. It was in prayer that I realized that it’s OK and healthy to grieve lost time as an adoptive mama. In this two-year process I’ve come back to that again and again.
Technology has been a blessing during our adoption journey through weekly video calls over Facebook messenger. We have had calls with interpreters and without. Sometimes Raphaël is really chatty and other times we stare at the top of his head as he plays with a toy. It’s a great reminder to him that we are his people. He matters to us. We are still pursuing, still in his life.
My husband and I have gone twice to Congo to visit him. During our first visit we celebrated his 5th birthday. We threw him a party at the refuge home complete with party favors for all the kids, pin the tail on the donkey game, party hats, and balloons. It was so fun! On our second visit we spent more time at the refuge home seeing his world and getting to know his friends there. Raphaël is one of a group of 4 older children at Mwana Villages that have grown up together. The staff at Mwana Villages are incredible. We witnessed firsthand the tender love and care they give to all of the children. For all the time he hasn’t been with us, I’m beyond thankful that he is there. He has been shown love and nurture at Mwana Villages, and for that we are forever grateful.
During the waiting we have used this (longer than expected) time to love and parent our son as best as we can from afar. It’s a weird thing to parent from 8,000 miles away! It’s everything from looking at photographs of injuries and weighing in on stitches to setting up reward systems for good behavior in school. It’s advocating and recruiting sponsors so Raphaël’s friends without parents can attend a good school and participate in art class, swimming lessons, and Zumba. It’s spreading the word about ethical adoption and the need to ask the right questions. It’s decorating our home with pictures of his friends and caregivers that he knows and loves. It’s this homeschool mama teaching the children who are home and myself every country in Africa and where it is located. It’s learning the history of Africa, colonialism, and the racial dynamics that affect people of color here and there every day.
The journey to bring our son home is coming to a close soon. I was reminded today of a conversation during our screening interview. The co-founder of Mwana Villages said that the most important thing we would need to have is tenacity. We responded with, “It’s family. You don’t quit just because it’s hard. Leave no man behind. If we are chosen as Raphaël’s parents, we won’t give up.” The fight to endure in waiting is preparing us for what we need to raise all of the children the Lord puts in this home. Therefore the answer to “Why Congo?” is simple. Congo is where our son is. He’s family.
Thanks, Barbara, for sharing your story and for your huge heart. Again, you can click here to support her family through your Noonday purchase - which also helps fight for orphan prevention around the globe!