Preparing for a feast

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  James 1:27

Kolfe Boys Orphanage is a government run orphanage for boys from 8 to 20.  At various times, Kolfe houses between 120 and 150 boys in large bunkhouses.  The boys go to nearby schools by day and return to Kolfe after school.  There is almost no adult supervision and the conditions are lacking, but the boys are fed injera each evening and have a bunk to sleep in.  Our adoption agency, Gladney, has done a lot for Kolfe in the way of improving conditions and providing eductional opportunities for the boys as they age out.  All Gladney adopting families visit Kolfe for a brief tour, but the families we traveled with chipped in to throw a huge feast and party for all the boys.

We learned of this opportunity a week ahead of our travels and the families in Owen’s soccer club donated a whole case of soccer gear and shirts (see “Thanks, NB Ajax”).  I saw a lot of the boys in Alamo Heights Cambridge t-shirts this time, and we cannot wait to see them in NB Ajax shirts when we come back.

Monday night, farmers herded some live goats and one rode a live ox into Kolfe for slaughter.  We weren’t qualified for the all day cooking, but we went Monday night to see the boys slaughter the ox.  About 15 of the older boys held the ox down and used large knives to kill it and cut it in parts for the stewing process.  The other boys circled around the hillside four to five deep where the ox was being slaughtered.  The littlest boys climbed in trees and on structures to see the action and celebrate with the rest.  The ox screams rose above the cheering boys at times.  The ox jerked and lunged with all its force fighting for its life while the boys held it down from escape.  At one point, the two boys holding down the tail and rear were bucked backwards and the ox got its rear legs upright.  Several boys scattered while others jumped in to resecure the animal.  After about five minutes, the boys triumphed.  The neck lay bare upon the ground and blood ran downhill to a waste area below. 

Marissa peeled off at some point in the slaughtering to visit with several boys nearby.  One ox leg was run right by Marissa and startling her on the way to the kitchen building.  The other parts followed close behind and one of the older boys carried the vanquished ox heart around just like Indiana Jones Temple of Doom.  Words cannot do this sight justice, but luckily I have the video (still no capacity to upload pictures right now).

As the slaughter was winding down, Owen and I went to the soccer field.  Soccer is the centerpiece of the boys after-school activities with pick-up games run by a few of the older boys.  The field is about sixty yards long and forty wide without a hint of grass.  A very coarse red dirt stretches from a concrete wall on one side to an open drop-off on the other.  The goals are irregular in size but are fit with a net.  I could tell Owen wasn’t feeling well again by his movement on the field.  He held back on defense and played balls into space for others who had more energy.  Eventually the dark broke up the game.

We caught up with Marissa who was on a tour led by a twenty year old boy named Dawet.  Dawet was putting on his most formal face which was only slightly undermined by a folded up poster of 15 to 20 sultry clothed women which he concealed from Marissa.  He showed us the room for 8 to 12 year olds.  It was forty foot wide and eighty feet deep.  Each side was lined with bunks that carried down the room lengthwise at least 15 deep.  The far end of the room had a single 27 inch picture tube television equipped with a DVD player.  There was nothing else in the room — no foot lockers to show the boys stuff — they have nothing more than what they are wearing.

On our way from the bunkhouse to the library, we passed a laundry room about as big as ours at home.  There was one woman around 70 moving deliberately through a pile of laundry.  She was introduced as the house mama, and she was the first adult we saw.  Marissa asked if she kept them in line and they all smiled knowing that her power was only through the endorsement of the older boys who discipline the whole place.

The library had no books but had about six older pc(s) which Gladney donated.  Each computer had a boy working on it with one waiting.  I saw email up and some educational games.  By now there were 8 to 10 younger boys trailing Marissa, Owen and me all still led by Dawet.  Dawet finally worked up enough courage to ask for our email with slight worry in his voice as if we might decline.  His eyes lit up when Marissa provided her email, then two of the younger boys jumped forward to ask for my email.  It was the only word I understood, as their accents were too thick for me to even clearly understand their names.  The shorter boy wore a faded Arsenal shirt which looked like he had worn it for a week; the taller boy had cargo pants far too big for him with a grey t-shirt under an unbuttoned long sleeve white cotton shirt bigger than the pants.  He had to wear the long sleeve shirt even on hot days or he wouldn’t have it the next time he wanted it.

I tried to give him my email via a business card but he requested help from Dawet.  He didn’t want a card he couldn’t read, he wanted my email.  I explained that it was at the bottom of the card, but I couldn’t explain so that he could understand. Dawet didn’t really want to help because he didn’t believe getting an email should have been that easy — he gave a whole tour after all and still asked fully prepared for rejection — these boys just jumped in without concern.  Finally, I just wrote the email on the back of the card so the boys wouldn’t keep seeking help.  They cannot speak English so I do not know what to expect from their email, but it cost me nothing and they carried the card off like a pass to a secret tunnel to life outside the orphanage — all the way to Texas.

It was dark but we didn’t really want to leave.  There were at least thirty other boys of various ages waiting for our attention and maybe hoping to play their cards into an email address.  Unfortunately, Owen was looking green again and told me we had to leave.  We let anyone who could understand know that we would be back Tuesday for the feast.  We exchanged hugs with more boys than we had talked to and each said “tomorrow” in an excited pleading voice.  Orphans aren’t ever assured of the next day — whether they will eat, where they will sleep, when someone may stop by who cares about them at all.

The drivers hadn’t left the cars the whole time.  All the windows were up for the first time on the trip with every door locked.  One driver had his back to the Mercedes emblem on his 1988 model claiming the emblem was stolen the last time a family asked him to drive them to Kolfe.  We look at the boys as oprhans who need love poured on them; the Ethiopian drivers look at them as unmonitored poor with a temptation to hooliganism.  We are each right — there are no parents there to discipline the Kolfe boys temptations and that is a big reason they need some love.  The car was silent for the 30 minute drive back to the guest house.  I had no idea the boys’ true reality, and now the feast was 20 hours away and looming even larger in my head.  I prayed God would heal Owen so we could all go deeper and harder for feast night.

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Met a beautiful girl today

Because there are still several hurdles to completing our adoption, our agency limits the visits with our new daughter both in number and length to prevent the kids from having to grieve another loss.  This seems like pretty pessimistic thinking, but it is the rule so we simply want to make the most of our three one hour visits.  Monday was the first of the three.

The foster center is about a 30 minute drive from our guest house.  We were still trying to get Owen back on his feet and well enough to join us, so we got off to a little bit of a late start.  Any drive in Addis is an experience and Monday morning’s was no different.  There are no lanes, no speed limits and no traffic signals; the bravest driver gets to the destination first.  Amidst the constant fear of hitting another car or one of the thousands of pedestrians, you have to fight the overpowering, constant smell of smog mixed with porrly tuned deisel engines and occasional burning trash.

The foster center is in the nicest neighborhood that we have seen in Addis.  It is in what appears to be a upper middle class suburb where most of the homes are two stories built in the last 30 years.  In a country as old as any and in the city of Lucy, 30 years is brand new.

We arrived at bath time.  Our driver pointed out the house where we were to meet our new daughter, and then Owen, Marissa and I went in by ourselves.  The outer gate gave way to an inner courtyard of sorts dominated by a concrete drive.  Six steps inside the gate were 15 naked Ethiopian babies — it was the tail end of bath time.  While I was still taking in the scene, Marissa was on a mission which quickly led to our baby girl.  I heard “there she is!” (instant mommy voice) and turned around to see the same face from all the photos already in Marissa’s arms.

Baby girl (still not allowed to post the name or pics — maybe Friday, God and court willing) is beautiful.  She has a gorgeous smile that reaches across her face to light her eyes, which are intoxicating.  And since the last pictures, four teeth have arrived on the scene.  As Marissa held the beautiful naked baby girl, the most noticeable things was that she liked to eat.  She has a very impressive little tummy and some overwhelming thighs.  As I took everything in, Marissa generously traded me the camera I was holding for the baby girl whom Marissa would just soon hold forever.  She fit nicely in my arms.  I have been training for this moment for months by holding Asa Brown, a friend’s little boy who is the same age as baby girl (really would like to use her name), but baby girl has him by about six pounds.

One of the caregivers motioned me over to the scale because it was time for some weights and measures.  We snapped a picture of her atop the scale, naked as a newborn, and I realized this was the same first picture we have of each of our kids after they were born in the hospital.  It is a real blessing that even though we missed baby girl’s hospital birth, our first picture of her is naked atop the scale the same as Owen, Roni and Connor before her.

Next it was time to get baby girl dressed which Marissa assisted the caregiver with, then all the babies were carried to their various rooms across the two stories of the home.  We went upstairs to the room where she spends 22 hours of each day.  It is an average size bedroom with seven cribs lining two walls.  The cribs are custom built and small, with clapboard separating one baby from the next and a lower wall in front facing the rest of the room and the three windows on the far wall.  Each crib has a name tag on the back wall to help the caregivers memory, but baby girl keeps pulling her tag off the wall.

We scooped her out of the crib and onto the floor for some more playing.  Each caregiver appears to know about twenty words in English and the one they each told us described our new daugther was “Busy” — as in she is busy and she keeps them busy and hopefully she will soon keep us busy.  Owen was worried she doesn’t share, because she took all the toys from the five boys she shares the room with.  She kept engaging with all three of us and playing, until it was feeding time.  Marissa fed her some of her bowl and the I finished up and gave her a bottle.

Just like that, we were over our hour and she was a sleepy girl.  It was time for us to leave her in the crib with the missing nametag until next time.  We missed her by the time we got to the bottom of the stairs.

Entoto Mountain

Sunday morning, we drove out of Addis and up Entoto Mountain.  From the top of the mountain, you can see all of Addis as well as some of the agricultural hinterlands.  Emperor Menelik II and Titu had a palace at the top of the mountain, along with a monastery which is still active.  Legend has it that the Arc of the Covenant was housed in the church by the palace, and Ethiopians believe it remains somewhere in the mountains outside Addis.

The drive out of town and up Entoto gave us our most extended glimpse of the Ethiopian people.  As our Maxima and driver plodded up the switchbacks, scores of people moved up and own the road on either side.  Cars passed us, we passed buses adn moved inches away from people walking on either side of the road.  It reminded me of Alpine climbs in the Tour de France where people barely yield enough room for the bikes to bisect them, except our car was more of an intruder than an invited guest.  The people had more right to the road as it was the only avenue upon which they lived out their day.

Once I was less distracted by the near misses, I began to see into the lives and faces of those we passed.  Markets popped up on either side of the road,a dn buyers haggled over hand made clothes and resold items.  Others bought fresh fruit.  Most of the people wer not shopping, but rather moving from village to village with friends and family — and the crowd was young.

I think the youth of Addis has struck me more than anything else.  Young boys only years older than Owen appear to be the majority, whether on the side of the Entoto or in military fatigues, on the streets of Addis or in the huge road race this morning.  In part on account of their youth, the crowds are absolutely vibrant.  They constantly interact with each other and carry on far more physically and intimately than their American counterparts.

Then there is the poverty.  The villages are made up of metal, wood and occassionally concretish huts.  Tarps decorate roofs where wood or tin failed.  Old women carry gathered sticks across their back down the hill, where a days work may yield two burr (12 cents US).  An industrious elderly man had sticks tied atop two donkeys which he herded right past our car; my driver estimated that he might sell the full load for between three and four burr.  An older teenage boy threw a half-eaten peice of fruit across the street to a toddler, who immediately sunk a growing smile into the remaining flesh of the fruit — as if the castoff fruit was a treasured blessing.  Two boys not more than four darted towards our car excitedly proclaiming something in Amharic.  They almost reached my window in bare feet before I realized they were pleading for something.  Their little smiles belied any desparation.  As our car hit a straightaway and returned to 20 m.p.h., the boys fell back into a 7 by 7 grass hut five feet from the road.  I heard Owen exclaim to Marissa that there were six or seven little kids jammed into the hut with no adults around.

The monastery and old palace were intriguing.  Every time I see the crown mixed into the orthodox church symbols, I feel a little conflicted.  The guide did not understand the doubt in my questions about the Arc; he clearly knows it as fact rather than legend.  But the enduring images will be the little boy with the fruit and the toddlers in the hut.  And most of all the joy on all the kdis faces as they navigated a poverty I have never seen before.

Owen grew increasingly sick as the day progressed, but for those who prayed, he is well and kept food down by the end of Sunday.  Monday morning, we meet our new daugther.

Between Two Worlds

We have waited for this day for almost two years, and it feels great to be en route to meet our new daughter.  We are about two hours into our 23 hour trip (that is as I write, not as I post — computer access is a challenge).  While we are of one mind in reaching our new daugther and cannot wait to ask the judge to legally change her status from orphan to daughter and co-heir in our family, we had to travel around the world and leave all we know in order to do it.  We had to leave Roni and Connor in the best situation we could find for them while we gor escue our daughter out of the danger of her former orphaned life.  We had to leave the world we know and travel to the sinful world of a trapped orphan, so God can bring her into the new world he has prepared for her.  She needs us worse right now, and God has called us to go to her, so our job is to do it without looking back, lest we not be fit for the work he has for us.

That is hard as a parent, because we tend to have delusions of our grandeur; visions of holding everything together through our sheer awesomeness.  After all, if not for us, who will bathe our children or get them to all the places they go or hug on them when they hurt?  But we do not hold anything togethe, even our own kids, but for the grace of God; he holds it all together and gives us the power in the spirit to answer his call.  All we have to do is be faithful.  So our play is a no-brainer — go to the new daugther he has for us.  Fight with what he has equipped us for the fight and answer with the words he will put on our lips when questioned.

Our kids understand.  Roni cried which Marissa and I couldn’t help, but roni has been the most consistent advocate for her new sister.  She ahs already started planning how she will change her room to allow space for her new sister’s bed.  She talks about the adoption constantly, and she explained to me the other night at prayer time that she wanted us to elave her, even though it would be hard for her, so we coudl bring her sister home.  She tried to hold her tears in and be a big girls when we loaded her up in Grumps’ truck this morning, but we told her to let them go and told her ti was okay to grieve and be sad — we were sad to leave her too.  Really, this is a huge opportunity for God to move in Roni’s life and show her that God is her perfect father and I (John) am just a lame, human standing in the place of her father until he brings her to him.  Same for her mother, except Maris is of course less lame.

So on we go at really fast speed from Austin to Addis (via Detroit, Amsterdam and Kartoum).  We left the world we know for one as foreign to ours as possible.  We are going to that world to unite our family as one wherever God would have us.  And it is an awesome privilege and honor that God sees us fit to bless with such a call.  Please pray for Roni and Connor — that they would feel God’s presence and that this woud be an opportunity for their faith to grow.  And please pray for our new daughter and that our new family will be united in record speed.  I think that may be Detroit out the window. 

(Some stage notes here, metablogging if you will.  This post was written on my laptop as we approached Detroit.  It is now almost 24 hours later, but the first chance we have had to get online.  Since then, we landed, went through customs and checked in to our guesthouse.  Owen is fighting some jet lag but Marissa and I feel great.  Pictures are almost impossible, because there is no wi-fi access so no way to ramp the pictures from our computer to the posts.  More later…)

Thanks, NB Ajax!

Owen has played soccer since he was three.  When he was little he played near where we lived, but as he got older we moved him to a soccer club in New Braunfels for better instruction.

Little Owen Soccer Celebration

I used to kid Marissa that she paid extra for a trainer (only the Americans call them coaches) with a British accent, but soccer and the club have been great for Owen.  He loves it, and he plays all year long.  We play games from Hutto to South San Antonio with tournaments in further points on occasion.  We all go to most every game.  Roni and Connor play with the other kids’ siblings during the games,

Our Soccer Star

and when our new daughter gets here, she will probably have a ball at her feet and spend some time watching Owen (or Roni and Connor) play soccer.  We credit soccer, in part, with preparing Owen for his successful transition to public school this year, and I am sure it will continue to be a part of our life for long to come.

Team and Trainer

Anyway, the families we are traveling with are getting together to throw an afternoon feast for Kolfe Orphanage for older boys.  Kolfe houses 100 – 140 orphan boys between 10 and 20.  Very few boys this age get adopted, and there are few opportunities ahead of most kids this age in Ethiopia.  Our agency invests a lot of energy and money into providing some educational opportunities for these boys and tries to make sure they are not forgotten.  Nonetheless, the available resources are insufficient in a lot of ways, and these boys are too often forgotten by almost everyone.

Kolfe Boys Orphanage

We are called to minister to boys such as this where they are, so spending an afternoon enjoying an extravagant feast with them is a good first step for boys whose diet is mainly injera.  From families who have gone before us, we understand that soccer is the backdrop for the feast, and that our traveling group will have an opportunity to play some soccer with the boys.  Owen will have to suffer through some street soccer without three officials, but it will be good for him.  We prayed that God would build bridges to the Kolfe boys.

Soccer kept coming back to us as the common language between these boys and Owen and his friends, who while the same age are a world of geography and opportunity away from each other.  We contacted Owen’s soccer trainer, Ben, and suggested he might be able to gather a few balls or some soccer gear which we could give the Kolfe boys.  Ben has really become a good friend to our family, and he took this opportunity and ran with it.  He requested donations from throughout the club and the club responded wonderfully.  Now we have a case full of boots (“cleats” in American), jerseys, t-shirts and balls.  People gave what they had to give including new stuff and top flight soccer gear.  We were blown away by the response, and our agency was very excited about the gifts for the Kolfe boys.

Thanks NB Ajax

Full Case

We hope the whole thing comes together and we look forward to sharing pictures and stories.  I am sure we will need some help through customs and getting the case to the right place; however, the success really isn’t up to us, and we simply pray that God will continue to move to bless our day at Kolfe.  We also pray that this might begin a longer relationship between Kolfe and our boys.  We really thank the NB Ajax, Ben, the trainers and all the families and players for their important role in connecting our worlds.

Run for Something

Last year, a group of energetic volunteers held the first annual Marathon for Adoption in New Braunfels.  It was born out of their desire to merge their passion for running with a cause they really believed in — adoption.  The first year they offered a half and full marathon.  The proceeds went directly to adoptive families to help with the expenses of their adoptions.  The organizers had a great idea and put in the work to make it happen, and they made a real difference for adoption.  Give me more direct action and real people responding to God’s call over more conferences and talks about doing something.

We finished (2010)!

Marissa and I both ran the half marathon, and the training and running went great.  It was held about a week or two after our good friends the Bollingers returned from Ukraine with their two beautiful new daughters.  We completed our paperwork by that point and had been waiting for a referral for more than four months, so it was really encouraging to see so many families who had completed the process.

Orphans No More

 

 

This year, the race was back — bigger and better.  There was a kids fun run and several orphanages also benefited from the proceeds.  Marissa volunteered this year, and I ran again.  More importantly we had a team of several friends who ran in the race for our adoption.  This was very humbling and some time by the end of the year we will receive money to defray some of our expenses — how great is that?!

Some of Our Team

My race itself was not the focus, but I trained a lot harder this year and it paid off.  On my way to the finish, I was fueled and encouraged by life size posters of the Bollinger girls.  They were neat photo reminders that all things are possible through God.  We saw God move mountains to bring the Bollinger girls home, and it is encouraging to be reminded that if we hit some mountains, all we need to do is remain faithful.   In the race, there is a big hill but I sailed up it and finished with a personal record for the half of 1:35:22.  A lot of our friends finished a half marathon for the first time, and the turnout was even stronger for the race in year two.

Friends and a Lot of First-Timers

God willing, we will be able to bring our new daughter to the race next year, and I hope I will be able to run for another family who is on the journey.  You should too.

A Big Stretch

We leave in 14 days for Addis Ababa to meet our soon-to-be daughter and to appear in court before the Judge to seek an order granting our adoption.  Lots of our family and friends have asked about this trip and what is going to happen, so we thought we would share the timeline as we expect.

We are flying out of Austin on November 25th.  Booking flights took me a day and a half which is a little embarrassing, but anyway the cheapest deal (sort of, I kind of just gave up at the end) was via KLM.  Austin to Detroit to Amsterdam through Kartoum (refuel only) to Addis.  The flight leaves pretty late Friday which is good because we are really stressing over leaving Roni and Connor, and we arrive in Addis late on Saturday night.  We are staying at a guest house near the foster center and court.  We will spend Sunday recovering from the travel and hopefully visiting a local church.  We also plan on going out to Crater Lake.  If anyone has suggestions on a good place to worship, let us know.

Monday and Tuesday will be identical — a morning visit with Baby A of precisely one whole hour then seeing the city and Lucy, getting to know the people and visiting orphans.  We would spend about 24 precise hours with Baby A each day without sleeping were we allowed, but one hour is the limit.  There are reasons, but I am not going to spread that propaganda.  Wednesday is our court appointment in the federal court in Addis.  It is the biggest hearing of my life.  Thursday will look like Monday and Tuesday except we fly out at 11:15 p.m. that night to Amsterdam.  The judge may rule on our adoption while we are in Addis or shortly after we leave.  Once we are granted custody, our adoption according to Ethiopian laws will be final; Baby A will be a McGlothlin and we cannot wait to introduce her to you.  We could pick her up from the foster center and keep her with us at that point, but she cannot leave Ethiopia until the US grants her a visa and admission to the country.  The US does its own investigation now and sometimes it is lengthy.  Once they complete their investigation, we will have an embassy appointment to pick up her visa and she can enter the US with us as a full citizen.  We can go back and stay with her until she is granted her visa at any point, which creates some real tough decisions for families whose investigations are lengthy.  We pray that is not the subject of a later post.

Oh, back to the trip.  We are flying from Addis to Amsterdam where we will arrive Friday mid-day.  We were going to have a little layover so we made it a little longer.  None of us have been anywhere in Europe and Amsterdam should do nicely.  Even though we will be tired and will really want to get home to Connor and Roni, we are going to go American tourist at the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijkmuseum, the Anne Frank house, the Heineken Experience and an Ajax soccer game before taking a return flight back through Minneapolis and arriving in Austin on Sunday afternoon.

I (John) am the worst air traveler I know.  I threw up on the 8th grade flight to DC in front of all my friends, shamelessly held my wife’s hand on numerous flights since, refused to get on a plane in Dallas one time (had to retry the next morning) and had my eight year old (at the time) son talk me through a small regional jet flight in Buffalo one time.  I have never been on a plane for more than 3 hours yet now am going to do 19 in a day, ugh.

We (all of us) have never been outside of North America and our only stops in Mexico have been resorts.  We have not seen any second world much less further down.  We have never seen a child begging in the street or the sick and infirm in open sight.  We have been a little sheltered but that will end in a few days.  I would like to help Owen understand what to expect but I cannot really do much but tell him I will walk through it with him, and God will walk with all of us.

There is no way we would ever make it through this if God hadn’t called us to adopt our new daughter from Africa.  We are jumping out and just trusting the spirit to carry us through and make us strong where we were previously weak.  We will be tested and pushed and strained and attacked and challenged, but we are all in.  Please pray for us  and pray for Roni and Connor who will be away from us for the first time.  We have an enormous support group with both sets of grandparents in town, a great church family and a great school community which makes leaving the two little ones so much easier.  We will have more to say before we leave, but we will also update the blog every chance we get to share the journey and update everyone, and we will upset our norm by taking a lot of pictures.

Here goes…