Friday, November 14, 2008

Those special first moments

I thought I would share this special video moment with you. This video was taken about two minutes after David and Amy first met their daughter Yanet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A New Little Girl

I was able to see David, Amy and Yanet one last time before I left Addis Ababa on Monday. It had only been two days since I was with them (I left to join a mission team for a couple of days before I head back to the states) but it was like meeting a different family. Yanet was like a new little girl! In fact Tegist, the director of the Buckner Baby Home, kept saying, “Who are you? I do not know who this little girl is…”

Yanet was giggling and smiling. Reaching for new things and laughing at me as I played “peek-a-boo” across the table. Amy said the minute she saw me she stuck her hand out to wave. Everyone on the mission team came up to her, smiling her and tickling her… I was just sitting there, watching and waiting for her to start crying... which two days earlier, is exactly what she would have done. But no – she didn’t cry or duck her head. She just smiled back. And giggled, showing off her adorable dimples. Amazing. All she needed was a few days with her family to become herself again.

I wish I could adequately put into words how blessed I feel to have been a part of this journey with David, Amy and Yanet. Having witnessed God’s transformational powers in this little girl’s life – in this family’s life – I now know that anything is possible. Prayer makes things possible. God’s timing is supreme. And God’s redemptive character can be seen wherever we look – especially when we see a family brought together through adoption.

Now that I have adequate internet connection back in the states, I can post more pictures. These are from the last day at the Baby Home during Yanet's going-away party.

Tegist, the Baby Home director, with her daughter Tina

David and Amy with the caregivers

Saying goodbye

Monday, November 10, 2008

Goodbye Party

Nov. 8, 2006 – The little boys surrounded Amy as she mixed oil, water, eggs and cake mix into a larger silver bowl. She didn't have a cup measurer, so she did her best to estimate the ingredients. I have never seen little boys more intrigued with chocolate cake mix in my life! I'm guessing they have never stood in the kitchen with anyone before, baking a cake or making rice krispie treats. They have never cooked with their mom or watched their grandmother makes them cookies. That's why Amy wanted to bake cupcakes with the children for Yanet's going-away party, instead of purchasing a store-bought cake. She wanted to give them some memories.

As the kids helped Amy in the kitchen – eating pizza and drinking Merinda – David and Yanet stayed together in the living room at the Baby Home. Tegist, one of the caregivers (who I think is especially close with Yanet), prepared a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony for the adults. The entire day was a celebration for the newly-joined McDurham family, and a celebration of the home where Yanet spent the first year of her life. It is more than evident that Yanet has been loved at this home. Extremely loved. Each of the caregivers had their own special relationship with this beautiful little girl.

After everyone ate cupcakes and drank coffee, David and Amy asked all the caregivers to come downstairs so they could tell them how much they meant to them. David could barely get a single sentence out before the entire room was in tears. He told them, "I am so thankful for you for loving Yanet so much." It was bitter sweet. The caregivers are so happy to see Yanet go with an American family – for her to have hope for a better future in the United States than she would ever have in Ethiopia. And yet, they are so sad to say goodbye.

I understand how they feel. I had to say goodbye to some special kids tonight. I have grown so attached to each and every child in this home, and I've only known them a week! I do not know when I will see them again, but God does. Whether it's on earth or in heaven, I know we will meet again. I pray that each child will find a family and experience the love that only a mother and father can provide. I pray that Yanet will always know how much she was loved in Ethiopia by her first family. And I pray that you, too, might experience the joy that I have experienced this week as I have watched God's perfect plan in action.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Day of Firsts

Nov. 6, 2008 – Today was a day of momentous firsts for little Eleanor Yanet. It was the first time she smiled at her mom. It was the first time she fed herself cheerios and bread. And it was the first time she slept in the same room with her parents.

It's been a long transition period for this little girl. Unlike most of the children at the Baby Home, Yanet does not like new people – and she's very stubborn. It's pretty hard to get this little girl to do much of anything she doesn't want to do! If David tries to lay her down in his arms, she will reach up and grab the neck of his t-shirt to pull herself back up. If Amy tries to change her diapers, she rolls around screaming her head off.

But last night, David and Amy were able to bathe her for the first time at the Guest Home where we're staying… and she loved it. She sat in the little pink bathtub, splashing around as her mom rinsed her off. It was so precious.

It's been a really good thing that they were able to transition her slowly. Most often, when families adopt internationally, the children are thrust into their parents' arms immediately, taken away from familiar surroundings without any adjustment period. That can make it really hard for a child to adjust. Since Buckner owns and operates the Baby Home here in Addis, they were able to get to know Yanet over several days until she felt comfortable with them. It may have been harder on David and Amy, but it definitely made it easier for Yanet. And I think that's what everyone wants.

On Tuesday we went to the U.S. Embassy to get Yanet's American visa. You will be glad to know it is a very secure building. There are huge red "No Photography" signs covering the outside walls and we had to go through two security checks, where we emptied all our bags and were frisked for weapons or electronics. Apparently, if they see you taking a picture inside or outside the building, then they will take your camera away from you. I definitely didn't want to risk it… so we took their first official family photo with the Embassy at my back, pointing away down the street. Yanet was asleep almost the whole time.

Tomorrow, we'll go to the German Embassy to get Yanet's temporary Visa for admission into Germany (where they will have a layover on their flight). Then we will go to the market for some Ethiopian goods. David and Amy plan to buy a special Ethiopian gift for every birthday Yanet has until she turns 18. Amazing.

On Saturday, David and Amy will host a party at the Baby Home to celebrate Yanet's new life in America and to have one last day of fun with the older children. We're going to bake cupcakes and decorate them with the kids -- something they've probably never done before. We're also going to eat pizza, drink sodas and play some games! This will also be the time for David and Amy to express their appreciation for Yanet's caregivers, who have all loved her and cared for her since she first came to the orphanage. I'm sure it will be another emotional day. Yanet will probably not go back to the orphanage again...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Better Citizens

Nov. 5, 2008 – Today I drove from Addis Ababa to Bantu where Buckner/Bright Hope recently opened a school for the children ages 4-7 living in this rural farming community. David stayed at the Baby Home with Yanet and Amy was home sick.

As we drove out of the smog-filled streets of Addis and into the open roads of the Ethiopian countryside, it was like the heavens opened up on us. The sky was bright blue with giant cotton ball clouds. The land was shades of green and brown, crops harvesting in open fields. The houses transformed from corrugated-tin shanties to grass and mud huts. It was beautiful and unlike anything I've ever seen before.

As we turned onto the road to Bantu (26 kilometers of bumpy dirt roads), we started seeing more and more people walking barefoot on the roads. Some were riding in horse-drawn carriages and others carrying large bales of crops on their backs. The Bantu community would be considered one of Ethiopia's poorest. Nebiyou Tesfaye, the project coordinator for the Bantu school, said the people earn about $11 a month. Most of the children who attend the school are orphans living with grandparents or relatives.

"We are the ones who provide them with food, showers, soap, drinking water, clothes, shoes, everything," he said. There are 200 children at the school, learning everything from math to English. And all the teachers have their bachelor's degree and will remain with the students up until the eighth grade.

When I walked into the first classroom, all the children immediately stood up behind their desks and smiled at me, all neatly dressed in their green and blue uniforms. I said, "Hello, are you doing today?" And they all responded in unison. "Fine, thank you. How are you?" I was so shocked at how well they knew English! It had only been three weeks since they started class. Their teachers are obviously doing a wonderful job. Some students were receiving polio vaccinations and vitamins from the nurses on staff at the school.

After their morning classes were over, all of the children lined up single file with their hands on each other's shoulders. They would walk like this through the mud to the dining hall where they would each receive their largest meal of the day – a bowl of rice.

Marta Admasu, the principal of the school, explained, "We are experiencing great happiness at this time. The children have food, soap, shoes, toothbrushes, clothing. Because of this, they feel very happy."

After lunch, the students were released to go home. They hung around the gates waiting for me and Nebiyou to leave. As I stepped outside the school's gates and began the quarter mile hike in the mud back to the truck, the children swarmed me. They were probably 50 children fighting to hold my hand, following me down the road and pointing me in the direction of least muddy resistance. I thought, "This must be what it's like to be a celebrity." They were fascinated with me. It made me wonder how many "ferengs" they've met before. (Fereng in Ethiopia means white person.)

Today, Tegist Tesema told me that their plan is to enlarge the school with more classrooms and more teachers. They also hope to build a guest home nearby so American mission teams can stay near the school for ministry. "It's a peaceful place," she said. "Good for meditation." And she's right. Bantu is beautiful. The people are beautiful. And now they have opportunities unlike ever before. It is the school's ultimate goal for every child to go to college.

"These students, we give them hope," Nebiyou said. "When we provide them with a good education, I know they will be better citizens. They will be self sufficient."

- Jenny Pope

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Living by Hope

Nov. 4, 2008 -- I've spent the last four days at the Buckner Baby Home in Addis Ababa. One of the most important things for new adoptive parents to do with their child is bond. And that's why David and Amy have been doing. We've seen Yanet's reserved exterior begin melting away as she learns to be comforted by her Mom and Dad. Yesterday sweet Yanet was sick. We drove straight to the children's hospital in the city to meet her. David and Amy had the unique privilege of holding her as she vomited all over them. I told Amy, "Congratulations!" It's a milestone of motherhood.

The children living at the Buckner Baby Home are adorable. There are currently five older children and seven babies. Every child living in this home is available for international adoption. After spending time with these children, I see it as my personal responsibility to find them homes. They are so special.

The first day we were here, one of the older boys – 5-year-old J – asked David in his broken English, "You. Yanet. Plane?" David responded, "Yes, I'm going to take Yanet home on a plane." He looked up at David with his big brown eyes, clasped his hands to his chest and let out the happiest, "Oh!" as he flashed the biggest smile you've ever seen. He was so happy to know that Yanet will have a family. That she will living in America. That her life will change.

You see, the thing these children want more than anything in the world is a family of their own. They have now seen three American families come into their home and leave with one of their friends. They have received pictures of their friends in America with their new families, and I know they are happy for their friends. But they also long for the day when they will be showered with new clothes and toys. Brothers and sisters. A family to call their own.

Ellenie, the nurse at the Baby Home, said, "The children live by the hope that one day they will have a family." She said they teach all the children to be happy for their friends when they get good gifts, because the gifts are from God. But I can see the longing all over their faces – the eagerness – when they spend time with me. Or David. Or Amy. They want a family more than anything in the world. They want their own dream to come true.

Due to international adoption regulations, I cannot use the children's real names or photos in this blog. I wish I could, because your heart would melt if you could see their sweet smiles. Instead, let me tell you a little about their personalities. (There are two AMAZING older children currently living here, but they already have a family! So I'm going to focus on the other four children instead.)

John – John is 5-years-old and loves to play! He is very affectionate. He is the first one to greet us as we walk in the door. He loves to take my hand and lead me into a room to play with toys. He also loves to sing. His favorite song is "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" which he likes to sing (in English) as he flashes his hands like little stars.

Adam – Adam is 7-years-old and longs for our attention. He loves to get his picture taken. He also loves to be hugged. Wherever the action is, Adam finds a way to get in the middle of it! He is very active, but also very smart. After reading through the book, "Brown Bear" only a couple of times, he could read the whole thing aloud in English without any problems. Amazing.

Chris – Little Chris is 5-years-old and very artistic! I looked over one afternoon and he was using an etch-a-sketch to draw a car. And it was really good! He also likes to sing. Sometimes I catch him sitting alone singing with the most precious little voice. Sometimes Chris gets shy when given too much attention, but he is absolutely adorable and has the most amazing smile.

Job – Job is about a 1 and a half years old and LOVES attention! It took me a couple of days to get him to play with me (he's afraid of white women for some reason) but once he warmed up, he will come up to me and give me little gifts (like a CD case or toy) and will always come and hit my hand when I offer him a "high five." He talks all the time and runs around the room. He's very expressive and playful.

Though it's a little harder to distinguish the personalities of the little babies, I know they are all well cared for and loved. Their eyes are bright. They giggle when you give them attention. They are rolling over and making "cooing" noises. They are beautiful boys and girls

Whether you have ever considered adoption or just considered having a family, please consider these children. They will bless your life and the lives of so many others. I know God has a special home picked out for each one of them. If you think it might be yours, go to to learn more about international adoption with Buckner.

Hope and a Future

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future. – Jeremiah 29:11

Nov. 2, 2008 -- Today we visited Praise Evangelical, a charismatic Protestant church in Addis Ababa. Getahun Tesema, the director of Buckner/Bright Hope here in Ethiopia, is the pastor of the church. We arrived a little late for the service, so when Getahun led us through a small side entrance and took us up a set of stairs I wasn't quite sure where we were headed. It turned out to be the stage.

They had set up three chairs for David, Amy and me to sit on stage during the service. Shortly after we finished singing some Amharic worship music (a cross between a rock concert and steel drum band ) Getahun asked the three of us to join him at the podium. Since David is a minister in Texas, he wanted him to speak. Talk about being put on the spot! But David opened his heart and shared it with the people at Praise Evangelical. He talked about their journey – the struggles they went through as they waited on God's timing in their lives to deliver them an Ethiopian daughter. He told them how humbled he was by their worship, and how honored he was to be adopting a child of their country. I looked out into the crowd and saw tears streaming from people's eyes. A man on the third row was wiping a tear from his cheek. David and Amy's story is not only touching the lives of hundreds of Americans, it is also touching lives of hundreds of Ethiopians. Praise God!

Then Getahun did something even more amazing. He asked the entire congregation to lay hands on David and Amy and to pray for them. Hands shot up from around the sanctuary as I stood on David's left and Getahun on Amy's right. He prayed in English and the whole congregation affirmed his words. He prayed for David and Amy to be able to care for Yanet. And he prayed that one day Yanet will be able to be a minister – to help other people the way her parents helped her. The way God has helped all of us. I couldn't stop the tears from flowing. One day, Eleanor Yanet McDurham is going to do some amazing things for God's kingdom. I just know it.

In another one of God's divine appointments, the guest pastor was preaching on the passage Jeremiah 29:11. He turned to David and Amy and used their story as his example. It makes perfect sense. Ethiopia was not in their plans. But God brought them here in anyway. God really does have plans to give us all a hope and a future. All we have to do is trust.