by Joy Casey 

Driving five hours from the capital city, we arrived in the city where we are bringing all 40 of our missionaries and their wives for a much-deserved retreat. I am traveling with Dinah Monahan, her companion, Mars Pera, and our Country Manager and his wife.  It was late afternoon, so we stopped and indulged in delicious Ethiopian food for dinner.

On the way to the hotel, a roadside stand selling pineapple called our name, so we bought some intending to have a cup of tea or buna (coffee) by the lake and enjoy slices of pineapple for dessert.  I was holding the pineapple in a plastic bag walking toward our rooms when I noticed quite a contingent of monkeys following me very interested in what I was holding.  Monkeys up close make me nervous, so Mars said she would hold the pineapple which I gladly gave her.  She is tall and strong and held the pineapple high in the air with one hand when one of the monkeys jumped on her and grabbed the pineapple!

He was a sharer, though, and handed out slices of pineapple to his buddies.  Mars didn’t seem to be overly startled by the sudden thievery and just laughed, but I involuntarily let out a shout and ran toward the lake certain we were being attacked by emboldened monkeys.  Thankfully the others uneventfully arrived with their stash of pineapple intact (probably because the monkeys were busy eating mine!), and we ended up having a lovely cuppa with sweet pineapple juice running down our chins.  All in all, not a bad way to end the day.

This post, though, is not about monkeys, pineapple or silly me.  It is a subject close to my heart – birth families – those whose circumstances at the time made it unthinkable to raise a child and so made a courageous adoption plan.

From 2009 to 2018, 138 children from Ethiopia were placed for adoption with families across the United States through our organization then called YWAM Adoptions, now called NewLife Ethiopia.  Sixty-four of those children were birth family relinquishments.  I vowed I would do all I could to stay in touch with the mothers, fathers, aunties or grandparents who made a selfless plan of adoption for their child.  At least once a year, sometimes twice a year, I collect letters and pictures from adoptive families and share them with their birth family here in Ethiopia.  I cannot tell you what this means to these dear ones!  Over the years some birth families have lost touch with us as their lives have gone in different directions.  A large group of birth families are from towns in western Ethiopia where we used to have three orphanages.  Due to ethnic violence, those places are no longer accessible due to significant safety issues.  I was particularly close to many of those family members, and it is a huge disappointment not to be able to stay in touch.  Some adoptive families have forged their own way of connecting with their child’s birth family.

We (NewLife) will facilitate the connection between adopted child and birth family up until age 18 (or so).  I had the joy of meeting with seven birth families on this trip … sisters, brothers or mothers who feel like familiar friends to me after all these years.  I will send pictures taken at our meeting to the adoptive family in the U.S. along with any letters or greetings the birth family asks me to relay.  There are usually a couple of birth families whose adoptive family did not get anything to me and are extremely disappointed to not to get news of their child.

You may wonder what it is like for these families to see pictures of a child they last saw as a baby or young boy or girl.  For the most part, the updates and pictures bring smiles and confirmation that the choice they made was a good one.

They intently listen as I read the letters and they delight in the pictures of their child excelling at basketball or soccer, or one special needs adopted girl who loves to bake and be around animals.  Others are heading to college or at least contemplating it … a scenario their mothers could never have imagined for them if they had stayed in Ethiopia.  They treasure pictures drawn for them or seeing a report card.

And since all the children were placed with Christian parents, their Ethiopian families always ask how they are doing spiritually.  Do they love Jesus?  Are they serving in their church?  Are they honest?

Not every report is roses.  Sometimes the update includes news that a teenager or young adult is struggling.  It is hard knowing the child a mother sent far away to get a better life is having a hard time.  She feels helpless.  But this is life, isn’t it?  People, adopted or not, have to forge their own faith, their own path, and sometimes that road takes a crooked turn or two.  The comfort is in knowing their adoptive family is praying and doing all they can to provide the counsel and stability their child needs.  Still … it is hard to hear.

As the adopted children become adults I am going to miss meeting with their birth family.  The older brother of one young lady now in college, wrote her a letter initiating contact through social media or telephone (he speaks excellent English).  It will be up to his adopted sister whether or not she wants to begin a personal relationship with her Ethiopia family or not; her adoptive mom has been faithful for years to send pictures and letters.

Adoption is God’s heart and a wonderful option when life doesn’t always play by the rules.  God never promises us a life without struggles, but He does honor birth families who choose adoption, He definitely blesses in myriad ways families who adopt children from hard beginnings, and His hand is on the adopted child offering to fill his every need.  It is my joy to bring a bit of news and show pictures to birth families, and I thank each adoptive family from the depths of my heart for your faithfulness to your child’s Ethiopian family.