Adoption: Rewarding, But Not for Faint of Heart

Post a Comment » Written on January 8th, 2008     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

OMAHA, NE (January 8, 2008) – More than 50 people from at least three Midwestern states crammed into the home of Jeff and Amy Van Putten last Saturday night to celebrate a Ukrainian Christmas, although none of the adults were from that Eastern European country.

At one point, 13 teenagers and children sat on a couch for the pictures that often are obligatory at such events (top photo). Adults lined up at least two rows deep, several of them taking picture after picture, their cameras flashing in a scene that evoked images of paparazzi at a movie premier.

The gathering was more important than any premiere, however. The celebrities on the couch had once lived together in Internot, an orphanage located in Odessa, Ukraine (lower photo). On Saturday they were celebrating together with the families who had adopted them and given them new homes in the United States.

KidsAmong the parents were five couples from First Covenant Church in Omaha, including the Van Puttens, who have adopted seven of the Ukrainian teens and children. Absent from the party were Steve and Gail Haug, who attend Celebration Covenant Church in Omaha and currently are in Ukraine adopting two girls from the same orphanage as well as one of the girls’ brother, who attends a trade school. To see a pictorial profile of the families, please visit Joy of Adoption.

Nearly all the adoptees are teenagers, as Ukraine does not allow the adoption of babies. The children living at the orphanage range from about age 8 to roughly 17, when many must leave.

The party was an opportunity for the Ukrainian young people to get together again. Although some live near one another – two even work together at a local theater – the party also provided the opportunity for other friends to reconnect.

The Christmas celebration can be traced back to 2003 when missionary Michelle Maly spoke at First Covenant. (In the top photo, Maly, at the left in the photo, celebrated a Ukranian Christmas with the young people she once taught in Odessa.) Phil Hakanson, who was the pastor at the time, normally did not allow missionaries from outside the denomination to speak, due in part to the large number of speaking requests. But Maly’s parents had been attending the church for about a year, and Hakanson told them that he sensed he was supposed to let her speak.

Maly had been working in Ukraine teaching dance at the orphanage. She brought with her pictures of children who were living in the orphanage and asked families to take the photographs home with them and pray for the young people. She also suggested families might consider adoption.

Larry and Cathy Hanson were the first to sense the calling after praying for two months. They had never considered adoption, especially since they already had two twin teenage boys, another son, and a daughter all living at home. The couple decided to adopt two girls, Lienna and Julia.

Cole“When the Hansons went over, I thought they were crazy,” says Paul Berger. However, in 2006 he and his wife, Renee, adopted Yuri. Despite watching the Hansons go through a long and difficult process, the Bergers and other couples began to sense God’s call as well.

“Seeing the Hansons adopt made it more tangible,” says Amy Carrizales, who along with her husband, Ted, adopted Natasha in 2006.

Adopting from Ukraine is “not for the faint of heart,” says Kyle Lennard. He and his wife, Susie, adopted their son, Cole, in 2005. The accompanying photo shows Cole holding his new birth certificate and U.S. passport.

An inefficient bureaucracy, frequently changing rules and constant uncertainty, as well as the need to spend at least a month in Ukraine, all cause significant stress.

The Bergers had hoped to adopt a year earlier, but just as they finished all the necessary paperwork and were ready to travel, Ukraine shut down all foreign adoptions for a year. The delay did not deter the couple or cause them to question whether God was involved, however. “I didn’t take it as a no,” Renee says, adding that the timing eventually proved advantageous for her family for a number of reasons.

All of the families speak with awe when they talk about the assistance First Covenant has provided them. “They have just been enthusiastically supportive,” Renee says.

Financial help has been given to each of the families to help offset costs that can reach $20,000. Someone paid the airfare for the Carrizaleses, for example. A surprise donation of a significant amount was given to the Bergers. “We had no idea that was coming,” Renee says.

More than finances, the prayer support and encouragement have been vital, the families say. “The prayer support was amazing,” says Amy Carrizales.

Amazing is a word that is used a lot by the parents, as when Amy Van Putten declares, “The youth group has embraced them. It’s amazing!” The Van Puttens adopted Lena and Alla in 2005.

OrphanageFamilies that traveled to Ukraine kept blogs in the months leading up to their trips as well as during their stay. Every day, church members kept up with all the travails and victories the families experienced. People would respond to each of the entries with encouragement and prayers. “It was a lifeline,” says Amy Carrizales.

The families have kept their blogs on the Internet – the entries can prove helpful to other families considering adoption, to learn about what the future might hold. The First Covenant families don’t return to the blogs. They don’t want to re-live the pain of the process.

“I can’t do it emotionally,” says Renee. “Emotionally, I was spent when I got home.”

All the families say they are glad to have one another. The ones who previously adopted always help the next parents traveling to Ukraine. They work together on unique issues such as getting the children needed academic assistance.

The families from First Covenant have become advisors as well to people across the country, including several who were at the party. They also have helped the Haugs from Celebration Covenant, who decided to adopt after hearing Maly speak at their church in 2006.

Steve works the sound and projection equipment. As Maly spoke, Steve told his adult son, Geoff, “Your mom is going to want to do this, but I don’t know if I’m there yet.” After the service, Gail came back to the sound booth and said, “Are we going to get one or two?”

Steve arrived at the same conclusion and the couple decided to adopt two 16-year-old girls, Masha and Yulia. The Haugs later learned that Masha’s brother, who is 17 years old, also was eligible to be adopted as long as it was with a younger sibling. “When we discovered this, there was never any question that we would adopt him also,” Steve says.

Ukrainian teenagers typically experience a hard life when they leave the orphanage. They enter a world of rampant unemployment and have picked up few skills that will help them get jobs. As many as 60 percent turn to drugs and prostitution, according to the United Nations.

Still, the Nebraska families try to strongly dissuade people from adopting simply to rescue orphaned Ukranians. “We have stressed to all the families that ‘you’re not buying a puppy.’ That reason will backfire.”

But they are equally adamant that if God is calling couples to adopt, then they should listen. The families at First Covenant collectively say their lives are much richer because they had ears to hear.

To read Monday’s article, please see:

•    Call to Adopt – An Incredible Journey

The series concludes tomorrow with a focus on how relationships among the young adoptees have continued since their arrival in the United States.

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