Friday, October 29, 2010

My Help Comes From the Lord

from Joy Casey, Adoption Ministry Director, in Ethiopia

YWAM had ten families who came for their first court date this week. We also facilitated six birthparents who were required to give their testimony before the adoption judge. Our orphanage director and CHI’s representative have been in court every day this week with the last case being heard this morning. It has been such fun to walk with the exceptional adoptive families that work with us, and I have been immeasurably encouraged with the caliber of people who are taking the beautiful children from the Widows and Orphans Homes into their hearts and homes. I tend to be a little picky about where “our” children go! I need not worry. God has directed the crème de la crème our direction and I have confidently placed children in the arms of some of the best parents in the world.

Adoption Ministry staff having lunch at a really nice-looking hotel
with several adopting parents.
This is not typical Ethiopia - trust me!
(Thank you for this pic, Jennifer!)

Along with the joy of watching adoptive families meet their children for the first time comes some strong emotions, to be sure. It is supremely hard for them to leave knowing they have approximately six to eight weeks of waiting until they can bring their little one home. The hearts of many of the adoptive families for the birth parent of their child has brought its own set of tensions, also. They see the sacrifice these parents have made and how little they have, and they find it difficult to articulate their gratitude adequately. Other families with abandoned children mourn that they don’t have more of a “story” or background to share with their child.

Several families have taken the long trip to Gimbie to see where their child is from and, in some cases, to bring their baby back to Addis. What an adventure! Every one of them has said it was an unforgettable experience and do not regret going one bit. We have some wrinkles to work out regarding transportation of birth parents, babies and adoptive families and have come up with some creative alternatives. Over time, we will learn what works best for everyone, keeping in mind that each set of circumstances and each family’s dynamic is unique.

The next phase of my trip is my own journey to the Widows and Orphans Homes in Nekemte, Gimbie and Dembidollo. Mark Wolbert, our Missions Director, Jeff Burns, Becky’s husband and our trip photographer and videographer, Tezera, Orphanage Director, Abebe, YWAM’s country representative, and I will leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow morning and will be gone for one week. We may get email out while we are in Nekemte, but there is little internet service in Gimbie and none in Dembidollo. We will be getting to know the new children that have come into our care, gathering as much information about them as possible and taking pictures and video of them to share with families who are adopting through the CHI/YWAM program. These children will not be put on the Waiting Children site until 100% of their paperwork has been complete, but we will be ready with their biography, pictures and video when they are ready.

Today (Friday) I am meeting the contractor who is overseeing the construction of our new Widows and Orphans Home in Adama and we are going shopping. We will pick out light fixtures, glass for doors and windows and paint colors for the rooms. I have to admit I am a little overwhelmed with the responsibility! I am thinking that maybe there won’t be as many options as I might have in America so making selections won’t be quite so daunting. I am also going to talk to the contractor about making screens for the windows of the baby and toddler nurseries. Do you know that they don’t have screened windows here in Ethiopia? This will be a novel idea and I know will require extra expense as well. But I want the windows open with good fresh air without the bugs! I’ll keep you posted how that goes ….

As I enjoy the fun times and persevere through tough circumstances, God’s Word is always a comfort. Psalm 121 reminds me that my help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let my foot slip (whew!) and He will protect me day and night. His Word gives me assurance that He is a shelter constantly at my side.

Becky, our administrator, and Liane, our social worker, not only are the very best at what they do, they are prayer warriors, too! They surround each of us working in Ethiopia with constant prayer, and they pray for each family that has traveled to meet their child and appear in court. How blessed we all are because of their faithfulness and integrity before God.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christmas Can {Still} Change The World


Please be sure to check out YWAM's 2010 Gift Catalog for ways you can change a life in Ethiopia this Christmas!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

While We Wait

While we wait to hear from Ethiopia, I want to share these links...

@ The Gurdy Life
This is written by an 11 year old girl.  Wow.

@It's Almost Naptime
A summary of a talk on connection and attachment in adoption.

@Focus on the Family
Focus has a great website for adoption.
An excellent article on being prepared to adopt.

@We Are THAT Family
Adoption is a part of all of our stories.

And last, but definitely not least...

@Adoptive Families Magazine
The Mitchell family adopted Chaltu in March of this year through YWAM Adoption Ministry.  Congratulations to this amazing family!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Families of Faith

Joy Casey, Adoption Ministry's Director, writes from Ethiopia...

Even after wrangling with government officials and regulations that I cannot totally understand, at the end of the day I still say I have the best job in the world! I have rubbed shoulders with some of the highest caliber of parents on earth. It is a joy beyond description to take each family to the orphanage, let them experience the embraces of the widows and meet the staff, and then lead them to a room for them to meet their child. The expressions of wonder and joy when a baby has been placed in her new mommy’s or daddy’s arms are simply beyond description. Video cameras are out and pictures are being snapped non-stop because the emotions of these first moments with their little one need to be captured.

I have learned a lot from these families. They have taken a journey of faith, not just in the area of finances, but the adoption process has deepened their faith and stretched their ability to trust. I read recently that the mark of Christ-followers is that their hearts are in heaven and their treasures are spent there. These families have glimpsed God’s heart for the poor and give exuberantly… constantly thinking of others’ needs and asking God how they can meet them. I hear over and over, “I want to do more!” I look at these courageous parents who have sacrificed so much to give a child on the other side of the world a home and I am in awe. These guys get it!

It is easy for the numbers and statistics regarding the poor and needy to seem almost unreal. It is certainly not something that directly affects you and I so it is easy to ignore. The idea of 26,000 children dying from starvation or preventative disease before we lay our heads on our pillows tonight is unimaginable. But now these adoptive families have seen the precious faces of children without parents and discovered that orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they are not real before you hold them in your arms. But they have seen, they have held, and their hearts have been broken with what breaks God’s heart.

These families of faith who are adopting from Ethiopia will return to their communities and churches and turn them upside down. They will not be content with life as usual, and are thinking big, radical thoughts of how they can order their lives so they can give more and how they can galvanize their church to begin an orphan care ministry or take a missions trip or adopt an orphanage. I stand back absolutely blown away with the energy, creativity and love that I have seen over these past few days. And these are only three of the ten families that will be flying to Ethiopia for their court appearance over the next week or so! Imagine what else I will hear and experience with each unique couple.

“Thank you, God, for allowing me to be here with these precious, precious families and to play a small part in connecting them with Your heart for children.” A-MEN!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

God Be Praised!

from Joy Casey in Ethiopia

Here I am alone, finally, at 9:30 p.m. I am gathering my thoughts and I hope I can successfully communicate the sights and impressions of today. I met Brian Smith and Jason & Kameron Shadrick early this morning at the Ethio Comfort Guest House in Addis. The guest house hostess, Tsebay, had a lovely breakfast waiting for us (she is certainly the hostess with the mostess) and we ate heartily because we knew it would need to last us the entire day. Brian and the Shadricks arrived the previous night and were tired but up for the day's adventure.

Brian's church put together backpacks for the twenty children sponsored by the Smiths, Shadricks and various other big-hearted people throughout the United States, and the Shadricks brought school supplies to add to those I brought from two generous donors in Washington. The day was beautiful and off we went to visit the children and the new school, started just for them in a village three hours southwest of Addis Ababa.

The school is built on a lovely piece of property given to the Christians of this village by the government. It is a stick and mud building with two windows and is brightly painted (emphasis on brightly) with vinyl over the cement floor. When we poked our heads inside, there were 19 eager faces (one child was sick) sitting at their little desks waving their hellos.

The teacher is a kind young man who is very patient and gentle with the children, who range from 3-years-old to perhaps age six or seven. These children were selected by the village chief as being from the poorest households.

At first, the children were solemn, their big eyes looking at these "ferengi" with white skin. The teacher lined the children up, smallest to biggest, and led them outside to receive their gifts from Brian.

Brian placed a brightly colored backpack in their outstreached arms and the children were so good to just wait for everyone to get theirs before curiosity got the best of them and they started to peek inside them. They found a pair of flip-flops (all of the children are barefoot), a new tee shirt, a box with school supplies, a tablet of paper, some candy, a bar of soap, tooth paste and tooth brush, and a small toy. Many had big balloons with a rubber band to put around their wrist so they could hit the balloon, and they were a huge hit. One little guy got a harmonica, and he certainly made a joyful noise!

It was lunchtime. Again, the children were lined up smallest to biggest and they patiently waited their turn to get their dabo (bread) and boiled eggs along with a cup of milk.

It seemed like quite a lot of food for such little ones, but there was not a crumb left and not one complaint, either! These children are very, very thin with many runny noses and coughs and we were told by the village elders that this probably will be all they have to eat. I want to get chewable vitamins to the teacher to give to the children every day. Monday, Wednesday and Friday they will get eggs, and on Tuesday and Thursday they will have potatos and carrots or maybe spaghetti, all with dabo. Getting a good meal a day with protein added, I expect I will see quite a change in these little ones in the months to come.

After lunch, it was play time.

The children were getting a bit more acclimated to us and started holding our hands and running their tiny hands over our exotic skin.

Kameron and Jason Shadrick

Brian Smith

Brian and Jason were great and taught the boys high-five and low-five and played patty-cake with the girls. Pretty soon they were showing us the things in their backpacks and having us help them put on their new shirts. We put toothpaste on toothbrushes and they had fun brushing their teeth and spitting! They weren't real sure about what to do with the bar of soap in their bags, so I hope the teacher will teach them how to properly wash their hands.

Next to the school is a brand new lavatory so the children do not have go to the bathroom outdoors, and this is a first in their lives.

In front of the school is a water station with six spigots just their height to wash from.

They loved the water and it was great fun watching them splash water all over their faces and heads. The day was a hot day and I am sure the cool water felt wonderful. Until very recently when YWAM paid to bring water to this village, water was a very scarce commodity, and I am sure it felt extravagant to them to be able to have all the water they wanted.

The Shadricks, Brian Smith, Abebe and I waved good-bye to our new friends and began the three hour ride to our hotel in Adama. Not only did we enjoy these delightful little children, but we had the opportunity to visit with an amazing man, Aman, who is discipling the pastors and new converts of this village. God is doing amazing (AMAZING!) work in this area, and I want to share the stories I heard. Stay tuned! I felt I was talking to a modern day Apostle Paul.

Tomorrow Jason & Kameron and Brian will meet their baby daughters for the first time. They are understandably quite excited! One of our other families traveled to Gimbie to bring back their little girl.  By all reports they had a fantastic time at the orphanage, and their meeting with their little one's birth family was better than they could have imagined. They travel back to Addis tomorrow, as do we with the Smith's and Shadrick's babies. These three families have their adoption court hearing on October 22nd.

We had a full and wonderful day basking in the goodness of our Lord. It is fantastic to see what He is doing among the "least of these."  His love for these dirty, skinny children is demonstrated through the generosity of His people in the United States who sacrificially gave to make this small school a reality. To those who sponsor these children, to those who gave to bring water to the village, to those who donated money to build the fence around the property, to those who gave to build the school, a playground and a latrine ....  Amesegënallô ('Thank you' in Amharic)!!

Egziabeher Yimesgen (God be praised!)


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ethiopia Bound

Our ministry director, Joy Casey, is getting ready to board a plane bound for Ethiopia.  She has a very full schedule while there and I know she would appreciate your prayers during her travels.  I wish you could see her suitcases - packed full of photos of adopted children home in the U.S. for their birth family members, small gifts from families waiting to meet the children they have a referral for, gifts for children in the villages of T'ede and Gutumuma, formula and orphanage needs.

She'll be there when eleven YWAM families arrive for their court dates and is really looking forward to being a part of those first meetings with parents and children!  The first building phase of our new Widows and Orphans Home in Adama is almost complete (updated pictures to come) and it will be fun to see the completion of a dream which began years ago.  

She'll also be traveling to our three orphanages located in the western part of Ethiopia.  Mark Wolbert and Jeff Burns will be arriving in Ethiopia a week after Joy does and will accompany her to Nekemte, Gimbie and Dembidollo where Jeff will get updated photos and video of the current and newest children in our Widows and Orphans Homes in those cities.  Mark will also be laying the groundwork for missions teams he'll be leading in 2011.

One of our ministry partners, Kara Portilla from Into The Streets of Ethiopia, will be joining Joy to see firsthand some of the YWAM projects her ministry supports.  Also, Mike and Dinah Monahan of Living Hope Women's Centers in Arizona will also join the team.  Dinah has started a maternity home and pregnancy center in Adama to reach out to the many young women there who become pregnant and need the love, support and guidance they offer. 

Would you please join us in praying for all of these who will be serving alongside our Ethiopia staff?  Please pray for:

  • Wisdom
  • Safety in travel - especially for travels to the western region
  • YWAM's new street ministry in Addis Ababa - funding is needed
  • All families to 'pass court'
  • The Holy Spirit's leading so that all He has planned is accomplished

I hope to be updating the blog with reports from Ethiopia so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Celebrate Children 2010 Banquet

Adoption Ministry of Youth With A Mission held its fund-raising banquet on Saturday, October 9th at the Tacoma Convention Center.  It was an evening to 'Celebrate Children' - children brought into forever families through God's miracle of adoption. 

We celebrated both domestic and international adoption and had the opportunity to hear from a wonderful group of speakers...

Joy Casey, Ministry Director

Chris and Amy Vitzthum with birth mother - 17 year old Whitney

Brad & Amber Page
Brand new adoptive parents 

Jeff Butler
Adoptive dad and YWAM's Church Liason
Jeff and his wife Chris have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted.

Wick Nease
spoke on having the heart of God for orphans

And the frosting on the cake? 

Over $50,000 was raised to support the work of adoption,
both domestic and international.

To God be the glory!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

by Lisa Qualls
Lisa has been married to her husband Russ for over 26 years.  They have 11 children who came to them by both birth and adoption.  They have walked through dark valleys in their adoption journey and by the grace of God, they continue to pursue healing for their children from “hard places.”  Lisa also writes about her life and family on her blog,  A Bushel and A Peck Be sure to visit Lisa's blog - you will learn a ton and be blessed!

It is Sunday afternoon and the back of my tired minivan sits open as we load backpacks, pillows, and fleece blankets. I kiss my other children goodbye and Russ hugs me firmly, imparting a bit of extra strength for the day. My two daughters buckle in their seats and we head west, they watching a movie or sleeping, me with one ear bud in my ear as my iPod plays.

We drive through rolling hills of wheat fields, then range land, followed by orchards. As evening approaches, we finally reach the Columbia River and merge onto I-90 heading toward Snoqualmie Pass where I pray there is no snow. Three hundred miles after we’ve begun, we reach Seattle and our friends’ home, where they will graciously host us yet one more time. In fact, we’ve made this identical trip 24 times this year.

What could possibly make me give up two days every other week, drive 600 miles round trip each time, and spend large sums of money? Hope and help for my children.

When we adopted our four children, we knew it would be challenging, but we were confident in our ability to help these new little ones. We had years of parenting experience under our belts, and for heaven’s sake, I even had a degree in Psychology from a Christian university. Surely we could handle anything that came our way.

We were wrong.

A day came when Russ and I looked at each other and knew that we could not go on without significant changes for our family. I scanned every adoption book I owned, but my brain was so stressed that I could hardly grasp the words on the page. I made dozens of phone calls to anybody I thought might help. Some felt our situation was too extreme, others said they didn’t have experience with attachment issues. Our only concrete help came from a doctor who offered to hospitalize our child. While I understand that sometimes this is a family’s only option, we did not feel it was right in our situation.

I cried – a lot. I hated to see Russ walk out the door in the morning and he felt guilty leaving me. After 18 years of successful homeschooling, we finally enrolled our new daughters in the local public school – something I never imagined doing. School became a lifeline for us and we were thankful every day for the teachers who provided structure for our girls and gave me respite. They will never know what those months meant to me.
Finally I called an adoption medicine clinic in the northwest and spoke with a social worker. She immediately made an appointment for us to see one of the doctors and I had my first glimmer of hope. These people knew adopted kids; maybe they would have some answers.

That appointment was pivotal. The doctor, an adoptive mother herself, listened and understood. I cried telling her that I felt unable to go on, yet I believed with all my heart that God had great plans for my daughter and that I didn’t want to miss out on what He had in store. She gave me hope and told me that she would do all she could to get us into one of the best adoption therapists in the entire country.

It took six months, but the day came when we made our first Sunday trip for a Monday morning appointment. Russ and I poured out the story of our past two years to the therapist and she understood it all – our stories were not new to her, they were her life’s work. Thus began our ongoing commitment to appointments in Seattle.

If you find that life with children from “hard places” has become more than you can bear, I urge you to get help. Don’t wait as long as we did; seek help early. Sadly, good help is very hard to find, so you’ll need to dig deep, make calls, send emails, see doctors, and pursue every lead that comes your way. The result may be frequent appointments, driving long distances, or even flying to see an expert who agrees to help you. It may come at great expense in time and finances. I can say with conviction that it is worth it — it is absolutely worth it.

As Christians we are called to love others, even the very unlovely. Jesus told us that we must lay down our lives to follow Him and if He has called us to the ministry of adoption, then we must lay down our lives for the sake of our children. We must be willing to follow His leading as we seek help for our children even if it comes at a high price to us.

If you are in that dark place of hopelessness, please don’t despair. Call upon the Lord, and then pick up the phone and find the help you need. If you don’t have the strength, ask a friend to help you. Hold on and wait for the Lord to send you help. He will come to your rescue.

Then you will call for help, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help and He will say: Here I am. Isaiah 58:9

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ten Questions

On the heels of our International Adoption Training, we have at the forefront of our minds how important realistic expectations are in adoption.  Without expectations that are based on facts, disappointment and disillusionment often occur.  Realistic expectations and diligent preparation help pave the way for a child to thrive in your family.

Empowered to Connect has posted ten questions that every adopting parent should ask themselves.  These questions are so important to ask yourselves, whether you are just starting your adoption journey, getting ready to bring your child home or have already been home with your child.

Ten Questions for Parents
Preparing to Adopt or Foster

We believe it is critically important that parents who are preparing to adopt or foster a child must be honest and realistic about the journey and the challenges that lie ahead.  Just as Jesus in Luke 14 challenged those who would follow him to ‘count the cost,’ so too parents who respond to God’s call to adopt or foster must be willing to count the cost of the adoption journey and prepare to “lay down their lives” to love their child and help him or her become all that God intends.

The following questions are designed to help parents (and parents-to-be) begin to honestly assess the journey ahead…and what it will require. We encourage you to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider these questions. They are not meant to scare you or in any way discourage you from continuing on this amazing path. Instead, our desire is simply that these questions will point you toward the hope and help that you need to form a strong and lasting connection with your child as you faithfully follow God’s call in your life.

1. Are you willing to acknowledge and fully embrace your child's history, including that which you know and that which you will likely never know?

2. Are you willing to accept that your child has been affected by his/her history, possibly in profound ways, and as a result that you will need to parent your child in a way that exhibits true compassion and promotes connection and healing?

3. Are you willing to parent differently than how you were parented, how you have parented in the past, or how your friends parent their children? Are you willing to "un-learn" certain parenting strategies and approaches that may not be effective with your child, even if you have used these strategies and approaches successfully with your other children in the past?

4. Are you willing to educate yourself, your parents, family and friends on an ongoing basis in order to promote understanding of your child's needs and how best to meet those needs?

5. Are you willing to be misunderstood, criticized and even judged by others who do not understand your child's history, the impacts of that history and how you have been called to love and connect with your child in order to help him/her heal and become all that God intends?

6. Are you prepared to advocate for your child's needs, including at school, church, in extracurricular settings and otherwise, in order to create predictability and promote environments that enable your child to feel safe and allow him/her to succeed?

7. Are you willing to sacrifice your own convenience, expectations and desires in order to connect with your child and help him/her heal, even if that process is measured in years, not months?

8. Are you willing to fully embrace your child's holistic needs, including his/her physical, emotional, relational and spiritual needs?

9. Are you willing to seek ongoing support and maintain long-term connections with others who understand your journey and the challenges that you face? Are you willing to intentionally seek and accept help when you encounter challenges with your child that you are not equipped to adequately deal with?

10. Are you willing to acknowledge that you as a parent bring a great deal to the equation when it comes to how your child will attach and connect? Are you willing to honestly examine (on an ongoing basis) your motivations and expectations relating to your adoption journey? Are you willing to look at your own past (including your past losses and trauma, both big and small) and consider how your past may impact your interactions with your child? Are you willing to consistently examine your role as parent as you experience challenges and difficulties along the journey?

As you read through the above questions, you may have concluded that some of the questions didn’t apply to you and your situation? That may be the case to some extent, as every adoption and foster care experience is unique. However, we encourage you to spend some time reading and talking with other experienced adoptive and foster parents about what you should realistically expect as you travel this journey. We find that parents sometimes start with less than accurate assumptions about how the adoption or foster care journey will unfold, and as a result they are more likely to form unrealistic expectations. We believe that these questions are helpful and instructive for all parents considering or pursuing adoption and foster care, and we hope that as you work through them they will lead you toward greater insight and understanding.
© 2010 Empowered To Connect

Friday, October 1, 2010

International Adoption Training

Today and tomorrow, we're having our first International Adoption Training weekend.  We have five families attending this two day seminar and we're so excited for this opportunity to help prepare them for this journey of adoption.  

We have several excellent teachers:
  • Sally Carmen is a registered licensed Occupational and Adoption Therapist who will cover attachment and sensory processing.
  • Anne Kalkbrenner is an RN, lecturer and pediatric clinical lead at the University of Washington and her topic is medical issues in adoption.  Anne has also adopted a child from Ethiopia through YWAM.
  • Cathy Carlson is an experienced adoptive mom who has eleven children, seven of whom were adopted from Ethiopia.  She will cover parenting strategies, family dynamics and abuse/sexual issues.  She is an invaluable resource and wonderful partner of our ministry.
  • Liane Wolbert is a certified guidance counselor and behavioral specialist who conducts our Washington state homestudies.  She will teach in the areas of cultural and transracial issues, dealing with grief and loss, and finding appropriate educational and language helps.
  • Joy Casey, our ministry director, will address getting a network in place and preparing to bring your child home.
In addition, we have a panel of YWAM families who have adopted children from Ethiopia.  They will share some of their experiences and will participate in a Q & A session at the end of our time on Saturday.

This training meets a family's international adoption education requirement.  But more importantly, we hope to provide vital information that will equip families to have realistic expectations and the resources they'll need to build a healthy relationship with their adopted children and help them heal and thrive in a strong family.  

We plan to conduct this training several times each year so stay tuned for more information!  
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