Part 6: Talking to strangers

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The plan for Saturday was first to  visit Julianna’s family, and then to do a little investigating to see if we could find anything at all about Emily’s family. Since all we knew about her was the police station where she’d been relinquished, that was a very big question indeed. We’d sent a searcher out a few weeks earlier to that town. He had spoken with a government official who had asked for $200 in exchange for information about the father, who he claimed to know.

Now, in Ethiopia small bribes are not uncommon at all. In fact, police pull drivers over regularly asking for money. But $200 is a very big bribe around here. And Sophie and John and I didn’t like the fact that the only information he had was about the father. Right or wrong, our instinct was that a man might claim to know something in exchange for money,  whereas a woman might be more motivated by the heart. What we were most hoping for was information about Emily’s mom.
So on that Saturday afternoon after leaving Julianna’s joyful family reunion, we were willing and eager to hunt for Emily’s family. But we all, including Emily, understood that the chances of finding good information were slim. Our searcher had been able to get the phone number of the man who claimed to be Emily’s father, which would enable us to talk to him without the government official’s involvement. But our searcher himself was not available that afternoon to talk with the supposed father.
Oh, we didn’t know what to do. But we had to leave Soddo in 36 hours, and we had come such a long way. I couldn’t stand leaving without trying for something at least. We decided to have our trusty driver Dawit call the man, and ask if we could visit him in the village where Emily had been relinquished. So on our way back to Soddo from Julianna’s village Dawit did so.
So there we were in the van, pulled over at the side of the road next to Sophie’s favorite hamburger place in Soddo, listening in on Dawit’s conversation with a stranger who might be Emily’s dad, but probably wasn’t. When asked if we could go to his village, the man said he was actually in Soddo working today, at the bus station. The same bus station that was just a few blocks from our location now. He could meet us there, he said.

At the bus station
A nervous conversation ensued between Sophie and me. We so much wanted to ensure we were getting reliable information for Emily. We didn’t like the idea of meeting this stranger at a bus station—we couldn’t quite even figure out why he was there since supposedly he lived out in the country. But maybe if we talked to him awhile, and everything seemed ok, he could take us to his village to meet more family? We were so uncertain. But what else could we do?
We drove to the bus station and then our driver Dawit called him again to tell him we were there. This time the man told Dawit that he was very close, that he was taking a bajaj to the bus station and would be there very soon. Again we were uncertain. First he’d said he was at the bus station and then he wasn’t. As we waited for him to show up, we realized we didn’t know his name, or anything really about him.
After a few nervous minutes of waiting, a young man appeared at the driver’s window. So young. Sophie and Lidya and I all guessed he was maybe 25. After a quick hi at the window, he appeared to reconsider, and stepped away from the van to use his phone. In seconds Dawit’s phone rang and we all laughed, even the young man. Apparently before talking with us, he had wanted to be sure he was approaching the right people.

Dawit opened the passenger front door and invited the young man into the van to talk with us. He pulled out the paper and the pictures that our searcher had shared with him.

We had decided before he even got into the van that we would not identify Emily to him unless we came to be reasonably sure that there might be a valid reason to believe he was a relative. And we were so eager to know the truth that thinking back I’m not sure we even introduced ourselves properly but just began asking him questions. What do you know about this baby? Why do you think you are the father? Tell us the story as you know it.

We were wanting to know if his story would match what we knew, and as he spoke, all of our intuition was on high alert, trying to judge if he seemed trustworthy and was telling the truth.  Above all, we wanted our precious girl not to be hurt. You can bet we were praying hard for all the wisdom and guidance that God could give us.

Part 1-We’re off to Ethiopia!

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Here we are this morning with our 6 checked bags and 6 carry-on items. Yikes! So much for packing light. However, 2.5 of our checked bags are things we’re delivering for other people, and there are 5 of us, all girls, traveling for 16 days. I think we could have done worse.

At the airport this morning

As I write this, we’ve made it all the way to Houston. Julianna was getting a bit stir-crazy by the end of that 3 hour flight, so hopefully she will survive the next two flights, each of which is 9+ hours. Wow. I am very much hoping for seat-back TV’s to broaden the entertainment options. We also have some movies on my tablet, which should also help.

So far the only hitch we’ve had is that I managed to forget the plug that lets my Fitbit download onto my computer, which means that although it will still count my steps each day, it won’t tell me how well I sleep each night. (Sob.) Such a first-world problem. John wanted to go back and get it for me, but I decided I’d rather get to the airport 15 minutes sooner. And it turned out to be a good thing. The Boise airport was hopping this morning, and the security line was longer than I’ve ever seen it.

Anyway, we’re off! Next time I update you, we should be in Addis!

A Letter From Sophie

I wanted to share this recent update from my sister Sophie, who moved to Ethiopia this summer to do medical missions work. Last spring on this blog many of you contributed money toward the work Sophie is doing there in Ethiopia. Sophie brought the money with her to Ethiopia, thinking she’d know more about how to spend that money once she’d been there awhile. Here’s what she came up with. I think you guys will like it!


Hi there!
I was talking to Dr. Mary when we were driving home from clinic the other day about money. She had just placed her medication order for the year, and was blown away by how expensive things were. She had to greatly reduce her supply of several meds, including those for tuberculosis. I was trying to think of how I could help, and remembered the money that was raised in the fundraiser on your blog.

I offered to help with medications, and we talked about the logistics of that. Then she gave me the option of running and funding the feeding program. I loved that idea, so decided that I would do it. So, starting in a few weeks, I’ll be the one making the special granola and purchasing the corn that Mary provides for those on her feeding program at our Thursday clinic.

Adults can get on the feeding program if they are desperately poor, and that poverty is validated by their malnourished appearance, and by the confirmation of others in the community. Infants are also a part of this program. Currently, we have 3 sets of twin babies that are “fed.” The high-protein granola is given to the infant’s breastfeeding mother so that she can produce enough milk to feed them. In order to get a refill (every other week), the babies are weighed to ensure that they are getting the benefit of the food.

Two of the twins currently on the program are now 4 months old, and the fattest little Ethiopian babies I have ever seen! It’s always so fun to weigh them because their mom is so proud, and the babies are so smiley and adorable. Mary says that when they started 3 months ago, mom was completely emaciated, and the babies were not looking any better. She gave the mom the granola, and the next week, she looked less emaciated, and the babies were vigorous and bright-eyed–they were a whole different family because of their little tin of granola!

I am so excited to be in charge of this simple but life-changing program. And because of your contributions, you are a part of it too! I will take some pictures of the kiddos that this program feeds in the next few weeks so you can see the lives that you are changing. Thank you so much for being so generous, and God bless you!

Adoption: Our littlest daughters

Part 2 | Part 3

Way back when we first began discussing adoption, the picture in our heads was of a little girl from China. As we learned more about adoption, we realized that Korea was a better fit for our family at the time for all sorts of reasons, including Korea’s lower family income requirement and shorter adoption trip. We were delighted with the little boys who came to us from Korea. But after that, knee deep in raising little boys (four altogether), John and I both found ourselves wondering if there might be more little girls in our future.

In 2003, 3 years after our 6th child came home, we began to talk seriously about adopting another little girl — maybe even two, especially since we already had the pairs thing going at our house. Our first two biological kids were girls, then we gave birth to two boys, and then adopted two boys. We really liked the fact that each of our kids had a same-sex similar-age sibling.

The idea of adopting two little girls because even stronger in our heads when we realized that (due to our large family) we would not be allowed to adopt from Korea again. We investigated adopting an African American newborn, and we knew from past experience that we wanted our child to have a sibling who looked like her. But for now, we would just see what happened with one more child.

We updated our homestudy and pulled together a photo album to go with our ‘birthmother letter’. Right from the start, I found the birthmother letter to be difficult. It felt like we were trying to coax a baby from someone: showing our most picture-perfect side so that a woman in difficult circumstances would decide we were more fit to parent her baby than she. But that’s what you’re required to do, so we did it.

Our social worker said we’d probably be matched to a birth mom within 3 months. We pulled out the baby girl clothes and waited eagerly. Six months went by. Nothing. We began to wonder if we were on the right path. In August we heard of a baby girl in Ethiopia who was born missing her right hand. Since we already had one child with a limb anomoly, she caught our attention. We called her agency, Adoption Advocates International, and found out that there was a family interested in her, but if they backed out, we would be considered.

We did more research about Ethiopian adoption, and asked our social worker to update our homestudy for an international adoption. Within a couple weeks we found out that the Ethiopian baby had indeed been taken by the first family. By then, Ethiopia had caught our hearts. We decided to go ahead and be put on the list to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. And after talking things through with our social worker, we decided to also stay on the domestic adoption list just in case something happened there.

Both the domestic and the international agencies were okay with us going ahead with two adoptions at the same time if that turned out to work out–maybe we’d get our two little girls the same year. By then we were getting discouraged with the domestic route, and were starting to doubt it would work for us. But it didn’t cost any more to stick with it awhile longer, just to see what would happen.

By October, we had the referral of a beautiful little one year old girl from Ethiopia. (Ethiopian adoptions were going much faster back then!) Most of the pictures showed a stern-faced little girl– we worried that she was an unhappy baby. We were delighted when finally someone sent a picture of her smiling with a caregiver. Ironically, she turned out to be an optimistic, resilient and joyful little girl –just not too fond of orphanage life, I think!

In November we were notified that a birthmom in the US had finally chosen us. She was due at Christmas time. If everything worked out, we could have a newborn at Christmas time, then go to adopt our little girl from Ethiopia just a couple months later.

Other related posts
Adoption: The first time
Adoption: Our second son
Adoption: How we afforded it

Giving hope in Ethiopia: little is much

“She’s all grown up and saving China!”

I think in movie quotes.  Yeah, that gives away the fact that I’ve spent too much time watching movies. Also, the connections I make in my tangled lil’ brain aren’t always readily evident to others.  But I’m blaming my little sister for the quote currently knocking around in my head.

My sister whom I jiggled as a newborn. Whose hair I braided when she was a little bigger. Who always saw me doing things first, and (I suspect) often wished she was grown up and heading off on adventures like her older siblings.

That baby sister of mine is all grown up now, and getting ready to head off on an adventure of her own. One that I may never have. She leaves for Ethiopia in June. That in itself is not unusual, for my family anyway. In the past 5 years, nine members of my close family have been to Ethiopia — and that’s not even counting the five kids who were born there.

But my sister isn’t just planning a visit. She has committed to live and work as a nurse in Ethiopia for two years. Even now she is sorting supplies and making checklists and tallying ‘needs met’ and ‘needs still remaining’. Learning to make cheese and butter. Taking classes and reading everything she can get her hands on. Doing her best to look thoughtfully forward, to anticipate the things she might need to live in a third world country and provide decent medical care to the poorest of the poor.

People who are scared into giving their grocery money to witch doctors saying their kids will die without the right spell said over them. People for whom a $3 bottle of antibiotics is the difference between life and death. People who in some cases might not even need a doctor if only they could afford shoes– or clean water — or enough food.

My little sister knows she is not going to save the world… or China Ethiopia…or even the town of Soddo, where she will live and work. But during the days and weeks and months and years of her ministry there, she WILL be making a difference. Chipping away at the problem bit by bit as God allows. One life at a time.

This will be Sophie’s fifth trip to Ethiopia. On one previous trip she was handed tiny, premature baby John, born weighing only 2 pounds. No one was sure if he would live. I saw this little guy too– I was there adopting one of our girls. I could hardly bear to look into the blanket Sophie clutched to her heart, he was so impossibly tiny and frail. What if I breathed on him and gave him some bug that could kill him?

He needed an incubator. And tube feedings. And intensive care. And a whole slew of good luck. Things orphanages aren’t so great at providing. So someone tucked him into Sophie’s arms. I think she was slightly breathless at the responsibility that had been thrust on her. But there wasn’t a better option immediately evident, and as it turned out, God knew there wasn’t a better person for the job.

Sophie cuddled him and tube-fed him and warmed him and cared for him and prayed over him and loved him. And you know what? He lived. he grew. He thrived. He is now a happy toddler FOUR year old, adopted into a wonderful family.

That one child made the trip worthwhile in Sophie’s heart.

How many more will she be able to help during the next two years? I am eager to hear the stories she’ll tell.


If you would like to assist Sophie in her mission work, providing money for supplies and groceries and rent and everything else she will need, will you please consider clicking on the donate button below? You’ll be taken to the main page at Sign in (or create an account), click on ‘Send Money’ then type in Sophie’s email:

I’ll be checking totals and giving updates today and tomorrow. If you are led to help out, awesome!  Every little bit helps. If this project isn’t something you’re interested in, no pressure. Come back tomorrow when I’ll be showing how I’ve organized my laundry room for better efficiency.  But if you want to be a part of this exciting work, jump on in and click below.  Little is much.

A letter from Sophie’s previous trip
Sophie’s ‘sending’ agency

Update on Dr. Mary

Dr. Mary is a doctor who for years has been working in a poverty-stricken region in Ethiopia, (the Wollaitta/Soddo area, for all you Ethiopia-adopt families).  Two of my daughters were born there, and last summer my parents and my sister worked there with Dr. Mary. For many years Dr. Mary has been providing for the medical and physical needs of the poorest of the poor in Ethiopia. Last year she was diagnosed with cancer, and was forced to take a break and come to America for treatment.   Yesterday was her final cancer treatment, and she hopes to return to Ethiopia in a month or so.   Joining her in her work will be my sister Sophie, who is a registered nurse.   You can read Sophie’s blog for more about Dr. Mary, as well as more about Sophie’s plans to work in Ethiopia for the next two years.  On April 20th and 21st I will be holding a fund-raiser for Sophie’s work in Ethiopia.  I hope that you will prayerfully consider supporting her work with struggling people.

African Heart

My sister Sophie is preparing to go on a two year medical mission trip to Ethiopia, beginning this summer.  I’ll talk more about that later.   But I wanted to mention that she has just started a blog called African Heart, for those of you interested in hearing more from her before she leaves.

Home from Ethiopia

For all of you following my folks’ mission trip to Ethiopia, they arrived home safe last week, and feel like they got a fair amount accomplished while they were there. My mom also got a bunch of training done with the nurses at the Soddo Hospital, and my dad put together that hot water system. It wasn’t up and running yet when he left– they needed one more part– but he is hoping it will be complete soon. Of course there’s that half-ton of corn and the baby blankets and pajamas that you all had a part in.

Finally, they were able to be a part in helping a needy family get back on their feet. Twin baby boys were on the brink of being relinquished by their parents, who had 6 other kids to raise as well. The family had recently lost their land and were really struggling. My folks were able to be a part in getting the family some more land, money to build a house, and formula for the babies. My mom fell in love with little Nathaniel and Millenium in the process. But we are so glad they get another shot at remaining with their parents. If only more families were able to get the help they need to stick together.

Here’s a portion of my mom’s last report about their trip.

Idaho feels great! What we noticed most upon arrival in the US is how clean, convenient, and organized everything seemed! What wide, smooth (goat-free!) roads! And McDonald’s – yes we had a double cheese burger right off the bat….ahhhh! And I’m lovin’ my clothes dryer, and paper towels, and sleeping in our own bed.

My nurses made their graduation morning very memorable. When I entered the classroom, it was decorated, Ethiopia style, with a square of grass and flowers on the floor, as well as flowers on my desk. We shared expressions of gratitude and friendship over baked apple donuts and popcorn, plus bottles of soda pop donated by Ron. The nurses were delighted when Ron showed up in our classroom, greeted each of them Ethiopia-style, kissed me, and gave them each candy. Sister Addis assured me they will begin using the 2 new documentation forms immediately, approved (finally!) the previous evening by the medical staff. I left loads of information for them on the computer, with hard copies of documents and information in a binder at the nurses’ station.

We talked about solutions for the babies getting cold in the delivery room: a room heater, which we hoped to purchase in Addis and send back to SCH with our driver, and heating pads to arrive via a visiting American doctor. Sweet Almaz prayed in Amharic, and I understood the intent of the prayer. At the end, Sara removed the lovely blue head covering from her head and tied it around mine, amidst much advice and laughter from the others on how to best do it. We ended with many hugs, fond words, and a few tears. What a blessing for me to spend time with these beautiful women!

Our trip back to Addis went well. Our now-familiar driver returned us to the same hotel in which we had stayed upon our arrival in Ethiopia a month ago. Our mission for Saturday was to purchase a space heater for the delivery room, 42 wall-mounted soap dispensers, and a water filter for the family of Nathaniel and Millenium. This turned into a 3 hour ordeal but we did finally accomplish all those purchases. Thank you to all who donated money! You have been an important part of this mission trip!

Our other goal for Saturday was to visit the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.Two Australian obstetrician/gynecologists, Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin (both Christians), came to Ethiopia and learned to repair fistulas. Their amazing story is told compellingly in Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s book, “The Hospital by the River, a Story of Hope”.

Erase all images of modern Western hospitals with automated doors and spacious parking lots, and picture instead walking through protective gates into a beautiful wooded area with numerous buildings attractively landscaped on a hillside overlooking a river.

We were greeted by an Ethiopian gynecologist who graciously gave us a tour of the hospital and grounds. We walked through a large ward with perhaps 24 post-surgical patients in a spacious room with many windows. There are 4 operating suites where surgeons from many countries have come to assist or to learn. All surgeries and the surrounding care are free of charge to the patient, funded by donations from numerous individuals and groups around the world. The average cost of a surgery is only $300, which seems amazingly low to us, but is totally out of the reach of fistula pilgrims, who walk long distances to get the help they need. The cure rate is 92%!

The 17 hour flight between Addis and Washington D.C. was more comfortable than expected for Ron and me, due to having great seats with extra leg room. I’ve also become a fan of melatonin, which helped me get some sleep on our flights. In DC, we had a 9 hour layover, so we opted to shower and sleep at a motel (after our trek to McDonald’s) and that helped us tolerate our other flights. A storm in Chicago delayed us about 3 hours, so Boise was a really welcome sight. I’ve already had a 14 hour stint at the birthing center here, caring for 2 moms and 2 babies, and appreciating the clean orderliness and safety of birth in the U.S.

Thanks so much for taking this journey with us, and for your support and love.

From Hazel in Ethiopia: corn for the poor

This weekend while I am away at Blogher, I am sharing several letters we’ve gotten recently from family on a medical mission trip to Ethiopia. Here is an update from my mom. If you were part of the feeding project on my blog a few weeks ago, be sure to read all the way to the end. You will be amazed at what is being accomplished with your gift.

Today we went to see Dr. Mary at her clinic. The sick folks and their families had all gathered in a clearing where Dr. Mary and Dr. Ruth were making their way from one to the next. The doctors held clipboards with many small pieces of paper on which they were making notations, one paper scrap for each patient. People were removing articles of clothing as needed for an exam in front of the whole village. No one seemed to mind or think the lack of privacy was strange.

The temporal thermometer (complete with handy pack) that we had brought from Idaho was being used with much gratitude – thank you, kind donors! We observed the scene with much interest, noting that there was no opportunity for the doctors to wash their hands between patients and wondering about those little pieces of paper. [The people] looked undernourished and we were told that most of them never eat meat and are very anemic. The beautiful, smiling children were everywhere, and no one left even after their turn with the doctor was complete. I stayed to help Dr. Mary at the clinic. She wanted me to give the shots, which was an easy job. What an experience – I’m so glad I stayed.

I found out that the little scraps of paper told what medication needed to be dispensed to each patient. Dr. Mary moved inside the building with her helpers, and through a window she dispensed drugs that had been pre-assembled in little paper packets or tiny plastic bags. Each person was required to pay a small amount, usually less than 10 birr ($1.00) and each was given verbal instructions about when to take his or her medication. Some were taken out of the package and placed directly into the hand of the patient to be swallowed immediately. This was to prevent selling of the medication to someone else. One person had no money, so no medication was given.

Partway through the process, Dr. Mary looked at me with a twinkle and said, “Don’t tell JCAHO how I do this – I don’t think they’d like it!” Sigh – if only the rest of us could do a fraction of the good that woman does…. When all the medication was dispensed, she packed her supplies into tackle boxes and large plastic bins with locks, and her helpers loaded them into her vehicle. She kept a sharp eye out, saying that “things have a way of growing legs.”

On the trip home, we got acquainted. She used to be an ER physician in Chicago; she has 2 children, one of whom is a missionary in Chad, and 2 grandchildren; she has attention deficit disorder that makes her a social misfit in the US; she wants to work in Ethiopia the rest of her life. She said her worst nightmare is having to go back to the United States! Her husband is dedicated to service in Ethiopia as well.

They are both the plainest looking people in the world, quite thin and somewhat haggard in appearance. Recently she has been suffering from unresolved abdominal pain, for which she will go for a medical workup to Kenya for a week. This weekend she plans to use the money donated by daughter Mary’s blog readers to bring a half ton of corn to the poorest of the poor up in the mountains. If it doesn’t rain too much, and make the roads impassable. She has a local helper who knows the people and determines who is most needy. Wow! Please pray for her mission and her health.

From Sophie in Ethiopia: falling in love with Ethiopia

This weekend while I am at Blogher, I’ll be sharing some more letters from my family in Ethiopia. This letter was written a few days ago by my sister Sophie.

Ethiopia has a way of sucking people in. Since I was in 7th grade, I’ve known that I would work in Africa. I didn’t know what I would do, but I still knew I would be here. After I spent a summer here, I knew that I was hooked. I’ll never be able to stay away. I even took a $20K/year pay cut so that my schedule would allow me to come. And apparently it’s not only me. Kara [fellow mission worker] was asked today if she would like to stay in Ethiopia and run a home for orphans and widows. Ron wants to build a house here so that he can live here for a month at a time. What is it about this place? Is it the beauty? Is it the poverty? Is it the food? Is it the pace of life? Is it the amazing amount of opportunity to make a real, tangible difference in lives?

Stephne [doctor’s wife who runs an orphanage] has a theory. She says that Africa has a very raw spirituality to it. In America, we gloss over our spirituality by going to church and doing all those good Christian things. We are not often reminded that “our battle is not against flesh and blood.” Here, the battle between good and evil is very evident, and raging around us. I am surrounded by just as many muslim mosques as Christian churches. The call to prayer is broadcast across the community on loudspeakers 5 times every day. People are constantly in positions of reverence.

Nearly every day, I learn of a “coincidence” that cannot be anything other than a work of or message from God. The sheer hopelessness in the lives of these people demands that they hold onto something. Their faith is the only thing that keeps them going. While in America, we can go for days/weeks/months without giving God a second thought. Here, that’s not an option.

This week has been a good one. After a great meeting, we had 4 good class sessions. The students came, were attentive, and participated in discussion. Today we looked at Konjit, the plastic forenge woman [a teaching mannequin]. It always makes me chuckle when I see a poor male nurse very nervously reach in to remove the pelvic organs of the plastic woman. Next week will be lots of review of surgical complications, and what nurses can do to prevent and treat these problems.

Having Mom and Ron here has been really fun. Mom is loving her work with the nurses, and Ron wants to build a house here so that he can live here for a month every year