Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ethiopia vs. Starbucks

OK. Someone's gonna have to set the record straight here. Or is this one in the "wait-and-see-what-the-judge-says-before-making-a-decision" category?

The accusation: Starbucks has positioned itself as "Coffee That Cares" to gain a loyal customer base. Now they've become greedy hypocrites and are cheating Ethiopian farmers out of opportunities to make fair profits on their coffee.

Big Guy exploits Little Guy for profits. Little Guy starves.

The defense: "No, we're not!" (otherwise known as "nuht-uh")

The rebuttal: "Yes, you are." ("mmmm-hmmm")

So Starbucks looks guilty. It must be true. After all, I read it on the internet!

Does anyone have any insight on this one?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Because it's where our kids are currently living, I've taken it upon myself to find out as much about Africa (and, of course, Ethiopia) as possible. Consequently we're amassing quite a little African video library.

Invisible Children
Darfur Diaries
Ghosts of Rwanda
Hotel Rwanda
Sometimes in April

Any other suggestions???

Africa's a rough place to live. War. Drought. Oppression. Corruption. Poverty. AIDS.

Tonight we watched Dear Francis. It documents the AIDS crisis in Swaziland, a tiny country of 1 million on the border of South Africa. AIDS is decimating their country.
  • 53% of those between the ages of 15-23 are HIV positive. (yes, that's 53%!!!)
  • There are currently 67,000 AIDS orphans. Experts project this number to increase to over 120,000 within the next 4-5 years (in a country of 1 million!!!)
  • It is projected that 88% of current 15-year-old boys will be dead by 2015 because of AIDS.

Of course, we're interested specifically in Ethiopia. Of the 4.9 million orphans in Ethiopia, 744,000 are AIDS orphans. 3.5% of Ethiopia's population is infected with AIDS (that's 1.3 million people - and virtually the same percentage as Swaziland 10 years ago).
Source: Ethiopia AIDS Resource Center

This is THE humanitarian crisis of our generation. We've gotta do something, don't you think?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Friends

Yesterday we traveled to Findlay for a 5 hour training required by the state of Ohio. Our social worker is amazing! She also happens to work for our adoption agency, America World. That's been very helpful.

The best part of the day was meeting another couple from east Ohio also adopting from Ethiopia through America World. We're approximately the same age, and they also have two girls just a few years younger than ours. They're probably a few months behind us in the adoption process. At some point our families are going to try to meet them at the Empress Taytu, an Ethiopian restaurant in Cleveland.

And a couple from right here in Toledo stumbled across this blogsite. They too are in the process of adopting from Ethiopia. They have two biological boys and have adopted a little girl from Ukraine. Up to this point we've corresponded via email but hope to meet face to face in the near future.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Pictures of Your Kids

A few days ago I requested pictures of kids adopted from Ethiopia. Check back to this post frequently as I'll be adding pictures as they come in. If you've adopted from Ethiopia, send pictures of your kids!

3 years old
A family with two children will travel to Ethiopia on February 10 to bring him home to Indiana!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

More Paperwork

Rhonda and I spent a good part of the day finishing up several loose ends on our dossier (pronounced DOSS - ee - ay), the mound of paperwork required for the adoption.

We traveled 3 hours south to London, Ohio, to pick up the corrected BCI&I paperwork (the one mentioned in my previous post where they misspelled Rhonda's name).

Then off to the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts for Step 2* for that form.

Then off to the Wood County Clerk of Courts to do Step 2* for the form the Notary forgot to sign (mentioned in the previous post).

*Every piece of paperwork for the dossier has four steps (at least in Ohio):
  1. Notarization
  2. County Seal (verification that the Notary's still a good guy)
  3. State Seal (verification of, well, we don't know what...maybe that the guy from the county who said the Notary is a good guy is a good guy too???)
  4. US State Seal (verification that the guy from the state who said the guy from the county who said that the notary is a good guy is also a good guy - or hmmm...maybe that Ohio hasn't secceeded to the Confederacy???)

We don't know. We just do what we're told.

Government Errors

At the risk of sounding bitter...

(I'm not)

As far as we can tell it's the government that requires this monumental pile of paperwork we've got to complete. And we've been told it has to be filled out to perfection. Any mistakes cause undue delays. We've done our part. So far no mistakes for us. Wish we could say the same for them.
  1. Notary public forgot to sign paperwork.
  2. Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation misspelled Rhonda's maiden name.
  3. Fingerprint agency followed wrong format.

All these have to be re-done - by us, of course. Funny they're not able to fill out their own forms right and we're expected to. I'm not bitter. Just a simple observation.

I'm smiling!

We're almost done with the paperwork. At least with our part. We're just waiting on - guess who?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Calling All Adoptive Parents

Ever since Rhonda posted our blog address on the Ethiopian Adoption Blog, we've had web traffic from all over the world. I'm assuming many of you have already adopted or are in the process of adopting from Ethiopia.

This is a unique request. If you've adopted from Ethiopia, please send a picture of your child(ren) to this email address. I'd like to post the pictures on this blogsite as motivation for those of us still in the process.

You can provide as much information as you wish (i.e. your name, location, child's name, child's age, date of adoption, etc.). Or you can remain anonymous.

The Difference Between Africa and America

Yesterday I was previewing videos for a youth event called the 30 Hour Famine. It's World Vision's way of mobilizing Christian teens to raise awareness and money for starving children around the globe.

One video profiled a family in Kenya facing severe drought. The last good crop they produced was in 1998. That's 9 years ago! There was no water to be found anywhere.

No water = no crops = mass starvation!

At Christmas we visited Rhonda's parents. I took Bethany on a walk down through the woods and to the creek. In years past there were places where the creek was 3-4 feet deep and had fish that would swim upstream from the Mississippi river. This year it was bone dry - not even a puddle. It's been that way for at least a couple of years. Rhonda's parents have no explanation. It's just dry.

Rhonda's parent's lives are nearly unaffected.

As one of the 30 Hour Famine videos puts it (to the best of my memory):
"A drought in Africa means children die. A drought in America means we stop watering our yards."

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Simple Life (part 2)

How ironic. Just a few hours after my last post entitled "Choosing the Simple Life" our boiler needed a $180 repair.

It's been making me really consider what I wrote yesterday. It seems to me that Jesus' call to the simple life is simply a call to be content with where God has put me.

Follow my thinking. Everything I have is a gift from God. At least everything good (see James 1:17). Have I lived most of my life thinking there's not enough good in my life?!?! What am I really saying when I think this way?

When our youth group went on a mission trip to Mexico a few years ago we met many church people who lived in shacks. Even so, they didn't complain about what they didn't have. They thanked God for what they did have. It was more than lip service - you could see it! They were content with the good things God had already dropped into their lives.

When it came to prayer request time they didn't ask for prayer for what they didn't have, they excitedly shared about what God had already given them. I spend most of my prayer time listing the things that I want God to do for me.

What's it say about me when I want something that's beyond my reach? What does discontentment say about my faith in God? Should I not be content with what He's already given me?

When I constantly want more...
When I grumble about what hasn't gone right and ignore what has...
When I spend more than God has given me to earn...
When I do these things am I really just showing my discontent for what God has given me?

I'm not advocating that we sit on the couch all day and say, "Give me what you've got, God. I'll be happy right here watching TV all day." If we sow nothing we'll reap nothing

But when the reaping is through and I'm short of the good things I think I need (or deserve), how do I respond? Do I go for it anyway? Some people add it to an already overextended credit card. Some simply kick down doors that were meant to remain closed thereby walking into the great unknown all alone (I can include myself in on this one!).

That's why the simple life is becoming so much more appealing to me. It's simply being content with what God gives and with where he puts me. That's it. No one to impress. No one to measure up to - to compare myself with. No new gadget to chase after. No barns to build (Luke 12:18) to hold the stuff I don't even use. No clutter. No unneccary distractions.

Just being content. Satisfied with what God has given (and, can I also suggest, taken away? Ouch!). Not wanting more. Assured that I'm right where I need to be for the moment. A molehill of worries instead of a mountain. The simple life.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Choosing the Simple Life

There have been times where Rhonda and I have been forced to skimp. Forced to live the simple life. I remember our first Christmas. 1991. I spent every penny I could to make her Christmas special. Rhonda's first Christmas gift consisted of a ceramic Christmas bell, a bottle of bubble bath, and a candy bar. Grand total? Between $4 and $5. It was a simple life indeed.

Our decision to adopt has, in some ways, plunged us right back into the simple life. Money's tighter - a lot tighter. We're evaluating every decision with new eyes. What's important? The simple things. The stuff money can't buy.

What's alarming to me is how readily we humans chase after stuff. If we need it, we buy it. If we want it, if there's enough money, (or sometimes even if there's not) we go out and get it. That's how the Waal household has operated for years. I know this doesn't sound right, but that mode of operation has actually made our life more complex. The more we had, the more we had to worry about. And the more we worried about what we didn't have.

Now we're forced to simplify. We've got two kids on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean waiting for us to hop on a plane and bring them home. Simple. They're what's important.

So our thinking has changed.

Last year I told the teens in our youth group about a 14-year-old boy who took Jesus' call to a simple life seriously. He purposely went simple. For 30 days he gave away 30 of his possessions - some of them very significant! At the end he felt like he had been given something, not that something had been taken away.

Now we find ourselves in the same boat. We're giving stuff away to make room for our kids. We're practicing delayed gratification to the extreme! (Just last week I had to ask Rhonda if we had enough money for a gallon of primer). We're selling stuff, not to get rich or pad our bank account, but to do the simple thing God has directed us to do.

I don't feel deprived or cheated. It hasn't been restrictive at all. It's been liberating. This adoption thing has plunged us into the simple life Jesus calls us to live. I think I like it!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ethiopian Sheep Transport

Ever wonder how the poor Ethiopian farmer without a truck transports his sheep to market? Here's your answer. (filmed in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia)

Our Future, Perhaps?

I think maybe this lady deserves the mother of the year award!

The saying goes that “every mother is a working mother,” but few probably have the kind of long days one Seattle mom does. Julie Hehn (HAYNE) has 22 children, many of them adopted from Ethiopia. As someone who once dreamed of running an orphanage, this busy mom says children are the best gift of all.

Somalia/Ethiopia Conflict Update

With the war in Iraq drawing so much attention, most people in the United States probably have no idea what's going on between Somalia and Ethiopia. (for background on this conflict see my post called "A Hornet's Nest") But since our kids are in Ethiopia I've taken a big interest in this lately, especially since several radical Islamist leaders have called for a holy war against Ethiopia.

For those of you playing "catch up"... there's a group of radical Islamists who are trying to overthrow the fragile interim Somali government. These Islamists are Ethiopia-haters. So, on Christmas day Ethiopia crossed into Somali territory to drive them out.

The BBC reported some relatively good news yesterday. Ethiopia is planning to withdraw from Somalia soon. The African Union is trying to throw together a peacekeeping force of 8000 troops to replace them.

But the bad news is that an estimated 3500 Islamist fighters remain in Mogadishu. And one correspondent says that unless the Somali government lets these Islamists into their government that the conflict will never end.

What!?!? I hope this guy is making an observation, not a suggestion!

If the Islamists ever get into government positions in Somalia it could spell trouble for Ethiopia. What happens in Somalia will have a profound effect on Ethiopia.

Where do these guys keep coming from?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

What the Girls Think

Every now and then I'm going to include the rest of the family in on this blogging stuff. I asked Bethany (11) and Kailey (9) a couple questions and recorded their answers below.

What makes you the most excited about the adoption?
Kailey: "That we're going to help kids from Africa who don't have a mom or a dad. And that we're going to have more people in our family."
Bethany: "That we're gonna get two more kids from Ethiopia and help them."

What do you like the least about the adoption so far?
Kailey: "That you have to spend so much time doing paperwork and so I can't spend as much time with Mom and Dad."
Bethany: "I don't like how long it takes. Nothing else bothers me so far."

Island and Rainforest

Rhonda says I should clarify my last post a bit. When I said "Kailey is moving from the rainforest to the island, Bethany's moving from the island to the office" this is what I was referring to.

Kailey's current room - the RAINFOREST
Bethany's current room - the ISLAND

Monday, January 15, 2007

Getting Ready

Bethany and Kailey are both downsizing. Kailey's current room is the biggest. We're going to use her room for our adopted children. Kailey will be moved to Bethany's room (smaller) and Bethany will be moved to the office (smaller yet) on the lower level. In other words, Kailey is moving from the rainforest to the island, Bethany's moving from the island to the office.

Bethany has taken the lead on the decorating and preparation. She picked out the paint color scheme and we began painting last week.

The biggest challenge with Bethany's new room is the layout. It's not significantly smaller than her current room - the space is just not as user-friendly. Every wall has something to interfere. This room has four doors(closet, exterior, interior, furnace room) plus a built-in cabinet in the corner with the water and gas meter. There's only one good corner to put a bed - but then there's no good place for anything else (dresser, desk, etc.).

We talked a long time about how to overcome these challenges. Saturday Bethany and I built a custom bed to solve the problem. A desk will go underneath.

Boys or Girls?

We don't know if we're getting boys or girls. Here's how the process works.

We collect the mountain of paperwork and send it to our adoption agency. Once they've double-checked to make sure everything's in order they'll send it to be translated into Amharic and on to the Ethiopian government. The government works with orphanages in Ethiopia to match our request with kids currently in the orphanages.

We've officially requested two siblings ages 48 months and under. We didn't specify gender. We'll allow the "natural process" to determine that (sort of like pregnancy used to be). They could be boys, girls, or one of each. Once we receive the referral we'll have about 6 weeks to prepare before traveling to Ethiopia for a week and pick up our kids.

Friday, January 12, 2007


Yesterday we went to the Oregon Police Department and were fingerprinted so we could get an Ohio BCI&I Civilian Background Check. I called the Ohio Attorney General's office today and found out we did it wrong. We were supposed to do the fingerprints electronically. We knew this but were told by the police department that they only do that for criminals, not adoptive parents. The Attorney General's office informed me that it'd take 45-60 days the way we did it (on a little card) as opposed to 2-10 days electronically. We're in the process of fixing that.

Today we went to Cleveland to be fingerprinted by the Feds. We filled out the I-600A form at the USCIS office so we can obtain the necessary I-171H. All I know is that it gets us one step closer to adopting. Don't even know what they're checking for.

By the time this is over with we'll be convinced we're safe to raise children.

Here's a picture of Rhonda talking to the Cell Phone Nazi at the Federal Building in Cleveland just minutes before being fingerprinted. It's the only picture I got before Mr. Nocellsallowed yelled at someone for answering his cell phone in the USCIS office.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More Pictures

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Daddy Waal: Ethiopian Chef Extrodinaire

A little while back Bethany and Kailey checked out a kid's book on Ethiopia from the library. In the back was a recipe for Ethiopian cookies. Rhonda was working that Saturday so I went to the store. There was one ingredient I couldn't find at home.

Now I don't have much experience as a cook so I don't know what I'm looking for in a recipe. I knew these cookies would be different. The pictures in the book looked different. They were smaller than normal cookies and they weren't flat. The recipe called for us to make 3/4 inch dough balls.

The girls carefully measured out the ingredients and we mixed them in a bowl. Didn't seem like much at all. The largest quantity in the recipe was only one cup (flour). We mixed the dough with our hands just like it said. All three of us wanted to get in on the action and get our hands dirty. But this wasn't your ordinary dough. About half way through our mixture became Ethiopian Super Glue. ALL THE DOUGH - every bit of it - was stuck on our hands. Now we were faced with the impossible task of making the dough balls.

Imagine jamming both your hands into a large tub of sticky peanut butter and then trying to roll nice round dough balls and placing them neatly on a cookie sheet. That's what it was like, only this stuff was stickier.

We tried every method imaginable. Rolling, flicking, scraping, shaking, double-teaming - nothing seemed to work. I remembered in home ec (yes, I took that worthless class in 7th grade) that if you didn't want your dough to stick to the counter that you needed to powder the counter with flour first.

That's it! Flour will take the stickiness away!

Yeah right. I'll leave it to your imagination how that turned out. At that moment a thought crossed my mind: "Man, I'm glad Rhonda's not here to see this."

The doughball method of choice could best be described as scrape-flick. Scrape a small wad of goo to the end of your fingers and flick it on the cookie sheet. Aim was unnecessary (and totally irrelevant). Sometimes you'd hit your target. Sometimes...

Finally we had two cookie sheets full of what looked like - well, I'm not real sure what they looked like. Never seen anything quite like it before. At least not anything you're supposed to eat. (I'll not comment on what it really looked like).

The baking was the easy part. Baked the stickiness right out of them. "Oh, I guess they're supposed to be really hard."

REALLY hard. Not like American cookies. Not over-baked Snickerdoodle hard. Sounded like I dropped a bag of marbles on the counter when I scraped them off.

The biggest ingredient in the cookies was flour. 1 cup. The second biggest ingredient was only a whopping 3 tablespoons - the ingredient that I went to the store to get.

Has anyone ever told you that Ethiopian food is super hot? I like hot. Usually. But not this time. The missing ingredient? Cayenne pepper. 3 tablespoons is almost an entire bottle!

One cookie was all I ate. I had a sore throat for two days.

It was even hotter coming out.

The rest went into the trash.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Great Moments Thus Far

We're only a few months into this process and we've already had some great moments. These are the ones on my mind today:

  1. Sitting with Rhonda by the computer and showing her for the first time what I felt God was asking us to do together. I had no idea what she'd say.
  2. Rhonda's response: "I've had this feeling like there's something more I should be doing with my life. This is it!"
  3. Praying together and making the "final" decision as an entire family (approximately a two week process). Wow, was that ever amazing! Something the girls will never forget.
  4. That our girls were able to keep it a secret for nearly two months.
  5. That Rhonda wasn't!
  6. Bethany's and Kailey's decision to "downsize" independent of our influence or coersion. Both girls are giving up their rooms for a smaller one.
  7. Three teens telling me they want to donate all the money they made for our youth group's dinner theatre fundraiser to help us financially with our adoption. Right around $300! I was absolutely speechless. All I could do is cry.
  8. The generous monetary Christmas gift from our youth workers.
  9. Finding out that some of our friends are also adopting internationally. Sorry, it's a secret. They haven't told anyone yet (except us). I can't tell you who they are.


We've been "public" about our decision to adopt for a couple of months now. However, up until this past Sunday the news has leaked out slowly. The only public announcement we've made was a month ago when we told the teens and their parents. While our closest friends and family have known for quite a while, there were still several people (even at church) who didn't know about it.

Sunday at church our family (minus Rhonda - she was working) was asked to share about our adoption in both services. Pastor had us sit around a kitchen table that was on the platform and asked us questions. Bethany and Kailey were pretty quiet. Bethany was willing to put in her two cents, sharing how we had prayed about and made this decision as a family and that she and Kailey were both giving up their current rooms so their Ethiopian brother(s) or sister(s) could have the biggest room.

Basically, I shared pretty much everything that appears in the blog entries called "Why We're Adopting" and "Why Ethiopia?" I'm guessing 1/3 of the church people didn't know we were adopting. Very few knew the details behind our decision.

I'm overwhelmed by the response. People are genuinely interested, supportive, and even encouraged by our decision. One elderly man was so excited that he chased me down when I left first service (the service was still going on and I was headed to the teen meeting) and shook my hand so hard my arm just about fell off my body. Another woman I barely know came and shared how people in her family have adopted internationally and expressed her excitement. A former teen in our youth group, now in his 20s, told me how his girlfriend's family is considering adopting a girl in Asia who was an abused sex slave. I heard another story of a white family in Toledo that adopted 6 sibling black children. That just scratches the surface. People who I'd never even seen or met before (a common occurance with two services) were standing in line to talk with me about the adoption...and on and on and on... The support keeps coming. There hasn't been a day this week where several people haven't made it a point to encourage me. We're truly blessed to have such overwhelming support from our church family. Thanks!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A Hornet's Nest

You history buffs will like this one. The rest of you might find it boring.

A few posts ago I implied that Ethiopia's neighbors are not likely to make Triple-A's list of "Top 100 Vacations for 2007". For the last week or two Ethiopia has been at war with their neighbor to the east, Somalia (of Black Hawk Down fame - ever heard of Mogadishu?)

I've spent all afternoon trying to understand the factors that underly the conflict. I'll try to explain it in easy to understand language. Hope I get it right!
  1. Talk about a holding a grudge! Wars between the two countries date back to the 16th century when an Islamist leader, Ahmad ibn Ibrihim al-Ghazi (say that real fast 10 times) declared a holy war on Christian Ethiopia. Much of the fighting between the two nations since then centers around the region of Ogaden, the easternmost region in Ethiopia.

  2. Ever seen a map of Ethiopia? Notice the dotted line along the east border. I think its dotted because they can move it back and forth between Somalia and Ethiopia easier. These guys just can't get along! Notice the region of Ogaden below. That seems to be the source of all the bad blood.

  3. After World War II the victorious Allied Forces (the good guys that defeated Hitler and crew) determined in 1948 that Ogaden belonged to Ethiopia. The dudes in Somalia have been mad ever since!

  4. Ticked off Somalia believed that Ethiopia and Kenya were standing in the way of 'Greater Somalia' by retaining Ogaden. Somalis (not to be confused with Salamis) conducted hit and run raids across both borders from 1960 to 1964. Ethiopia and Kenya signed a mutual defense pact to contain Somali aggression.

  5. In 1977-78 Ethiopia and Somalia had it out in the ring. An all-out conventional war. In typical Cold War fashion the superpowers chose sides. Russia decided to go with Ethiopia. Disappointed with Russia's choice the U.S. was left with last pick - Somalia (up to that point in the conflict the US had traditionally backed Ethiopia). Ethiopia cleaned Somalia's clock, completely destroying their military.

  6. This just scratches the surface. All that to say this: There's bad blood between these neighbors that fuels the conflict.
So this brings us to present day. Somalia has been a highly disfunctional country for years, run by regional mafia types and brutal dictators. Look up the word "Anarchy" in the dictionary and you'll find this map.

Anyway, the United Nations helped to install a transitional Somali government. Most of world recognizes that these guys are the good guys that are supposed to be in power. However, there's a group of Radical Islamists who are trying to push the U.N. guys out. These dudes are the "blow-youself-and-everyone-else-around-you-even-if-they're-innocent-civilians" terrorist-types faithful to a group called the Islamic Court Union. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if these guys take over the government of Somalia it spells real trouble in Ethiopialand.

In November Ethiopia's parliament voted to take "all necessary steps to rebuff any potential invasion by Somalia's Islamists". (By the way, "rebuff" means to "stop the advance of" or "to buff again" - you choose which definition applies.) On Christmas day, 2006, their planes bombed targets in Somalia stirring up a hornets nest in the Islamist world. Religious leaders have called for a holy war against Ethiopia. It is reported that hundreds of Islamist militants (terrorists) have been seen arriving in Somalia to fight against Ethiopia.

Hope this didn't bore you too much. So Ethiopia and Somalia basically don't get along. But neither do Ethiopia and its northern neighbor, Eritrea. I'll let you research that one yourself.

And have I mentioned that Sudan (home of Darfur) is located to the west?

Sources: War in Somalia, Christmas Bombing

Ethiopia Country Profile - SIM

This informative video was produced by SIM (Serving in Mission) in 2000. The first half gives a good snapshot of what life is like in Ethiopia. The second half is about SIM's work in Ethiopia. If clicking on the video above doesn't work, click here.

"The African nation of Ethiopia enjoys the rare distinction of never having been colonized. It is also the original home of the coffee tree, and today boasts some of the world's finest quality coffees. Ethiopia’s rugged mountains and isolated river valleys make it one of the most breathtaking nations on the continent to visit. But even more beautiful than its landscapes are the people who call Ethiopia their home."

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Beautiful Land

Ethiopia is amazing! I've always pictured it as a desolate, barren place (a pretty good description whenever the rains don't come ). However, the landscape is very diverse and beautiful in this country that's twice the size of Texas. Take a look at these awesome photos.

Simien Mountains (Mulit, Ethiopia)
Simien Mountains (Sona, Ethiopia)
Simien Mountains (Mekarebya, Ethiopia)
Tisisat Falls (Nile River)
Tisisat Falls (Nile River)
Alem Kitmama

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The “Risk” of Adoption

One of the things we’re learning about ourselves is just how domesticated our faith in Jesus had become. We’ve insulated ourselves from any sort of risk. Without risk there is no opportunity for faith. We aren’t asked to take arbitrary risks just for risk sake. We’re simply asked to follow Jesus. Sometimes that will involve risks. Sometimes not.

Listening to some Christians (especially the TV-types with the spooky hair) would make you think that all aspects of our lives get better when we start following Jesus. But where did we ever get the idea that following Jesus was about reducing risk? It seems like a big part of Christianity (at least in our lives) has been about safety, security, and comfort. About not sticking our necks out too far.

I was reading a book by Erwin McManus the other day. He told about a speaker at some sort of church growth conference who encouraged a group of pastors to be “early adopters” not “mushroom tasters.” In other words, sit back and wait for someone else to taste the mushroom first. If they live, be the first to follow. If they die, hey, at least you’re still alive. The implication? God would never allow you to be a mushroom taster. That’s someone else’s job. God’s job for you is to stay safe and comfortable.

Here’s another favorite: “Being in the center of God’s will is the safest place to be.” Where did that saying ever come from? I don’t think Jesus ever would have said it.

"You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me." Matthew 24:9

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." John 9:23

"No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also." John 15:20

Stephen was stoned to death because of one sermon about Jesus. One sermon! Barnabas was also stoned. Matthew was killed by the sword. Mark was dragged to death by horses. Peter was crucified upside down. Bartholomew was whipped to death. Thomas was speared to death. Jesus’ brother, James, was thrown from a tower. His brother, Jude, was killed with arrows. Matthias, James, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul were all beheaded.

Sounds like a real safe domesticated faith to me!

I don’t dare even compare our adoption to the risks these guys took. Which I guess is my point. Adoption is relatively risk-free. Thousands have done it very successfully. Yet to many people in America it seems like a HUGE risk. It threatens family stability, future plans, social status, and financial security.

To the early church (and much of the international persecuted church of today) who risked their lives daily for the gospel our adoption probably wouldn’t be on their risk radar. After all, these guys sold their possessions and gave to anyone in need (Acts 2:45). Adopting orphans may have been an average, run-of-the-mill occurrence, not viewed as risky at all (my speculation, not scripture). No wonder their faith is so much stronger than ours. God help us!

My Two Biggest Fears

There’s a lot of room for fear when you enter the realm of the unfamiliar and unknown. We entered that zone three months ago. But we’re finding that there’s a life-giving side to the unknown too. It’s called faith. Ours is growing daily. I’m amazed at how such “risky” behavior has changed us.

I use the word “risky” very cautiously here. I know that hundreds, if not thousands, of parents have already adopted internationally. Some have done it numerous times. But every one of them had a “first time”. They entered the realm of the unfamiliar and unknown too. Potential for fear and for faith.

There’s a lot we don’t know. These are the things we could fear:
1. Finances – Adoption fees are part of the picture. There’ll be two more mouths to feed, backs to clothe, college tuitions to pay, etc.
2. Safety – Ethiopia is the most stable country in the region. That’s not saying much. It’s surrounded by some pretty messed up countries (Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Chad, Eritrea, Yemen, Saudi Arabia). Not exactly places you’d choose to spend a vacation. In addition, recently there’s been some scuffling with Somalia.
3. Social Stuff – A white family with black children? We know there are challenges around the corner with that can of worms.

We’re OK with all of these risks. Really, we are. A year ago, no; but now, yes. These fears have been faith builders.

All that said I still have a few fears I’m working on. These fears aren’t for me. They’re for our adopted kids:
1. I fear that our children may not make the adjustment well. The oldest might be just old enough to understand that s/he doesn’t understand what’s going on.
2. I fear that people will treat our Ethiopian children as a “lesser” part of our family.

There. I’ve been honest. Now you can help me pray.

Paperwork Schmaperwork!

They told us it would be like this. 4 months of solid paperwork seemed so unrealistic – like an exaggeration. Now I believe them. Those of us who run in adoption circles call this period the paper pregnancy.

We’ve been tirelessly working on our dossier for 3 months now. A dossier (doss – ee – ay) is basically a mountain of paperwork that we collect and send to the Ethiopian government for the adoption process.

• Every form has to be notarized.
• Then you’re required to take that same exact form to the county office to have it certified.
• Then you send that form off to the state to have it authenticated.
• Then you send it to the Feds. Same deal. Authentication? Certification? Whatever they call it.

We told our doctor that we had to have our Physical Examination forms notarized by a notary registered in Lucas County. “Sure, no problem. I’ll just have them do it next door and you can pick them up.”

AAARRRRGGHHH! Wood County! The notary was from Wood County! How convenient!

Now instead of one trip to the Lucas County courthouse in Toledo someone would have to take a single sheet of paper clear down to Bowling Green. Rhonda did that today. At least she tried. She arrived at the courthouse only to find that the notary forgot to SIGN the paper. Stamped. Dated. But not signed. Wasn’t that covered in Notary Public 101? (What comes after stamp and date again? I always forget step #3!) Stamp, date, sign. Stamp, date, sign.

You guessed it. You can’t get the county certification without the notary signature. By the time Rhonda tracked down the notary that our doctor had used the courthouse in Bowling Green was closed.

Add another day to the four month paper pregnancy.

Reflections on Adoption

Who was adopted in scripture?

Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses
Mordecai adopted Esther
Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manesseh
Eli “adopted” Samuel

Amazing fact: God sent his very Son to earth without a biological earthly father. Joseph adopted Jesus. Rhonda and I had never thought about this before someone at the adoption agency (America World) pointed it out to us. I have read the story in scripture a thousand times and missed it. The adoption ceremony is recorded right in scripture.

An angel appears to Joseph. Among other things he commands Joseph to name the baby Jesus (Matthew 1:21). This is significant. Jewish baby boys weren’t named until the 8th day – during the circumcision ceremony. During the ceremony (recorded in Luke 2) the father was the one who would name the child. Who named Jesus? Joseph (Matthew 1:24). And when he did he was saying, “This is my son.”

Scripture teaches that when we become followers of Christ God adopts us too. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’m adopting Ethiopians. They don’t have anything at all that they could give me that I couldn’t already get myself. Some people would say they have nothing to offer me except their love. That’s OK with me. That’s all I want anyway.

What a great picture of God’s relationship with us!

Why Ethiopia?

This is the second-most asked question we get. The answer’s pretty simple. Again, the words of Jesus:

"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Rhonda and I were teenagers in the 80s. We are from the “We are the World” generation. For those of you who are too young to know what that means (and for those of you who lived in a hole), I’ll explain.

There was a severe drought in Ethiopia in the mid-80s. You almost couldn’t turn on a TV without horrendous sites of small black children starving to death – some of them too weak to even hold their heads up. Anyway, Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie (Nichole’s dad) wrote a song called “We Are the World” and recorded it with a bunch of superstars of their day. Proceeds from the sale of what ended up being the #1 song of 1985 went to famine relief.

So for us, Ethiopia was the “least of these”. With a little research we found out that things haven’t improved all that much in Ethiopia. It’s still the 4th poorest country in the world making about $160 per family per year. In addition:
• One in ten children die before their first birthday
• One in six children die before their fifth birthday
• 44% of the population of Ethiopia is under 15 years old
• 60% of children in Ethiopia are stunted because of malnutrition
• The median age in Ethiopia is 17.8 years
• 1.5 million people are infected with AIDS (6th highest in the world)
• 720,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS alone
• Per capita, Ethiopia receives less aid than any country in Africa
• In the 90s the population (3%) grew faster than food production (2.2%)
• Drought struck the country from 2000-2002 (first year no crops, second year no seeds, third year no animals)
• Half the children in Ethiopia will never attend school. 88% will never attend secondary school.
• Coffee prices (Ethiopia’s only major export) fell 40-60% from 1998-2002.
• Ethiopia’s doctor to children ratio is 1 to 24,000.
• In 1993, after 30 long years of war, Eritrea broke from Ethiopia and became an independent nation leaving Ethiopia landlocked without any major seafaring ports.
Sources: Greening Ethiopia, Ethiopia’s Children, Global Income Per Capita, CIA World Facts

Sorry for the history/geography/economics lesson. This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we found. The point is that Ethiopia is still the “least of these.”

Which brings us to the next question we’re often asked. Why siblings?

Brother and sister experience the extreme pain of losing Mom and Dad to some unknown disease. All they’ve got is each other. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could remain together? But often they’re faced with one of two realities:
Separate and be adopted
Remain together and remain unadopted.

We want neither to happen to our children.

Notice my choice of language. “Our” children. These kids are already ours. God has given them to us. Two members of our family are living in Africa right now. We just don’t know their names, genders, ages, or what they look like.

Something pleasantly strange is happening to me. Each day our house feels more and more empty – like there are people missing from our family. Like a family member has left and we’re awaiting their return. It’s a bit bizarre to have these feelings having never met my kids. Is this normal for international adoption parents?

Why We’re Adopting

Our family has been completely immersed in the adoption process for around 3 months now. Up to this point we've never take time to write anything down so this post will probably be fairly long. The most common question we get asked is "What brought this on?"

I’ll start a little more than a year ago. My mom called me one night to inform me that my sister was pregnant with her fourth child. My response? “Is she crazy?!?!”

I couldn’t understand why anyone in their thirties who had spent most of the last 8 years changing diapers would do such a thing. She’d be in her fifties when this kid finally graduated high school. Fifties is for grandparents, not parents.

Now we’re adopting two of our own – from Ethiopia. I’ll be joining the ranks of the fifty plus year old parent of a high schooler.

Needless to say God has done a major shaking up of our lives in the last year. Adoption had never been a dream of ours. Now it’s a reality!

There are lots of factors that played into our decision. I’m sure I won’t be able to cover them all but I’ll hit the majors. First, Jesus’ brother, James played a big part in it. I was participating in two different groups (it’s rare that I’m ever a participant in even one group – usually I’m in charge) that were studying the book of James. At the end of chapter 1 it reads like this:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…”

Our groups could come up with ways we help widows. None of us were helping orphans – at least not in a significant way.

That verse attached itself to me and wouldn’t let go.

Now mind you at the time the verse latched on our family was sponsoring a child in Mexico. Our youth group was also involved in helping orphans on occasion. We’d raise hundreds of dollars for World Vision to help a kid or two for a month or two in a far off African country – or two. But that was it.

Maybe that is enough. It didn’t seem like it to me. In fact, my efforts to help orphans felt pretty pathetic. It certainly didn’t seem “pure and faultless” as Jesus’ brother had laid out in scripture. My contribution to helping one of the world’s 143 million orphans in distress seemed pretty insignificant.

Then another group of scriptures began opening my eyes. Jesus tells this story about a master who gives varying amounts of money to his servants to invest for him. When he comes back, two of them have doubled – DOUBLED – their money (have you ever thought about how much risk they would have taken to double their money?). The other one dug a hole and kept the money safe in the dirt until the master returned. He gave the money back but he hadn’t done anything with it.

In the Message version of the Bible the master wasn’t pleased that he “played it safe” and threw him out. Depending on the version you’re reading this servant was called “terrible”, “slothful”, “criminal”, “wicked”, “good-for-nothing”, and “lazy”.

Then there’s Jesus’ story of a man who built a barn so he could hoard all his crops for himself. The plan was to lay up a lot of good things for his future (all the while forgetting the needs of those around him). He died that very night.

Then there’s that little verse in Luke that that quotes Jesus as saying:
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. "

I could go on but you probably get the point. It became very clear to me that I had much more than I needed. I’d really never asked myself why. Why do I have so much stuff?

The American Dream is to get a great paying job, get married, own a house, two kids, a pet, and save up for college and a comfortable retirement. I think I had that. Correction, I currently have that (well most of it anyway). But why?

I’ve got a nagging bookshelf to the left of our TV. The top 4 shelves are crammed full of VHS tapes that haven’t been watched in 3-4 years. Why?

I’m building barns to hold all the stuff I don’t even look at, play with, use, or know that I have.

Bottom line is this. By God’s design (some people would say complete chance – let’s not argue that point right now) I was born in the most prosperous country in the history of the world. There’s a website called “Global Rich List”. Somewhere in this process I typed in my family’s salary. We’re in the top 1% richest people in the world (after taxes). File 100 random people past me from anywhere in the world and I’m richer than 99 of them.

My contribution to helping orphans in distress just didn’t feel very “pure and faultless” to me anymore.

Somewhere along this process of heart change I heard an interview on the radio. An African was asked why he wanted to live in the United States. His reply? “I want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.” (By the way a person living at the poverty line in America is in the top 11% richest people in the world according to the global rich list.)

Now at this point it may sound like I’m feeling guilted (obligated) into doing something nice for someone because I have more than they do. (A sidenote ancient Jews viewed giving to the poor as an obligation – almost like paying taxes. Jesus changed that and told us we need to be cheerful givers.)

Well, simultaneous to all these “2x4 in the face” scriptures God began to change my heart. I found myself getting teary (a big thing for me) whenever I’d hear or see stories of fatherless children. This is something new for me. I think its called compassion. I hardly know what to do with it other than act on it.

So that’s the nutshell version of why we’re adopting. Long story short – God has changed our wiring. We view the world differently. We see hurting people – especially children – and we want to do whatever we can to stop the suffering.

The Jews (hope I don’t need to remind you that Jesus was a Jew) use the phrase “Tikun Olam”. It simply means “to fix the world”. They believed if there is injustice or imbalance in the world that God wants his faithful human followers to try to fix it. I think I’ve tried to give that job back to God more often than I’d like to admit. “Fix it God!” Fixing things – especially these big, God-sized problems – seems impossible. Jesus is the one who came as the light of the world, not us!

But he also called us the light of the world too.

Sure, in the scheme of things our two orphans from Ethiopia seem pretty insignificant when you think of the millions of others who will remain parentless. All we know is that this is what we’re supposed to do.

And who knows, maybe this is just the beginning for us.

2/3 of Our Family

The other third looks something like this:

Or this (x2):

And just because I think she's cute: