Saturday, July 24, 2010

Yes, Totally and Absolutely Mine

"Is that your child?"

I hear this asked in Swahili quite often.  Always with an air of incredulity. 

Usually, I smile, look the person straight in the eye, and give a determined, "Yes!"

And if there is time and opportunity, I try to explain.  It's hard.  There is no word in Swahili for adoption, except for a legal term that most people don't know.  So I say something that roughly translates as, "I have taken these children to be my own, kabisa (totally, absolutely)!"

Sometimes the person looks confused.  Sometimes she looks amused.  Sometimes the person says, "That's wonderful!  God will bless you for that!" To which I respond, "God has already blessed me with these children!"

But Tanzanians, in general, don't "get" it.  Why is adoption such a foreign concept here?  Why won't even women who have undergone the pain of infertility or multiple miscarriages consider it?  Why do our social workers often seem so reluctant to help us, when there are so many babies in orphanages?  So, over the years, Gil and I have asked these questions of our Tanzanian friends, especially the ones who understand both American and Tanzanian culture.

It's very interesting.  One friend said recently, "It's like adoption is already assumed in the culture among families."  Very true.  There really is no such thing as the immediate family in Tanzania.  For example, there is no word in Swahili for "cousin."  Tanzanians call their cousins "brothers" and "sisters."  You don't have have your "Daddy," your "Big Daddy," and your "Younger Daddy."  Your "Big Daddy" (oldest paternal uncle) actually has more authority over you and your life than your own father does.  And this extended family is extremely important to your identity.  Your family's tribe and clan defines who you are--far more than we can understand in the West. 

So if a mother dies or is unable to care for her child, traditionally, that child is simply enveloped into the extended family.  Rarely does a legal adoption process take place.  The system has worked well for generations.  That is, until AIDS entered the continent of Africa and took over 10% of the population.  Then there were too many orphans for the extended family to care for.  Of course, there are other reasons too, but that is a big one. 

As a result, orphanages have sprung up all over sub-Saharan Africa.  The vast majority of these children have living family members, possibly even a father or mother.   But for some reason, their family can't care for them.  However, those family ties are still the most important aspect of that child's identity.  So the family would rather have the child live his whole life in an orphanage than put the child up for adoption.  The idea of cutting those family ties and essentially "giving" the child to someone else is just unheard of.  The child is the possession of the extended family.  And that child's sense of self is bound up in that family.  In theory, anyway.  It's more important than the child's education, or standard of living, or whether or not that child grows up feeling loving and wanted.

There is, however, one group of children that the culture does not account for:  The Abandoned Ones.  Our lawyer estimates that there are about 500 children abandoned (who survive) every year in Tanzania.  Left in fields or churches or outhouse pits.  Their families cannot be traced.  They have no family, no hope, no future, no nothing.  And every time we ask a Tanzanian friend about what the culture says to do with these children, there is no answer.  

All of this raises interesting issues, of course.  And it's not just Tanzanians who don't understand adoption--especially transracial adoption.  I know that many African-Americans frown upon transracial adoption.  The adoption laws in Tanzania recently got much, much stricter--and will limit the number of foreigners who can adopt here (as if there were that many in the first place!).  And the person who pushed for this new adoption bill?  Apparently it was a Swiss UN worker who believes that adoption is not the answer for these children (especially adoption by foreigners). 

It's an important question to consider.  It's very true that even though my children are growing up in Tanzania and we are trying to help them learn Swahili and Tanzanian culture, they will never be totally Tanzanian.  They will grow up with dual citizenship, and despite our best efforts, may end up feeling most comfortable in American culture.  And so I must ask myself:  Have I stolen something invaluable from my children?  Will they hate me for it?  Will they never feel as if they belong anywhere?  Have I stolen something from Tanzania?

I have wrestled with these questions.  And honestly, though I can make arguments on how familial love and connection is more important than cultural identity, ultimately, my answers lie in the Gospel. 

1.  God loves adoption.  We were born children of Satan; He has bought us back to be adopted into His family.  Each one of us who is part of His family has been adopted.
2.  We all started out as part of the same race.  We are all human.  God loves culture, but not one culture over another.  One culture is not inherently better than another culture.  Thus, a child born into one culture will not suffer by being raised in another.
3.  Our spiritual identity is more important than our ethnicity, our culture, or our family.  First and foremost, I hope and pray that one day my children see themselves as children of God.  That should be the basis of everything else.
4.  The immediate family can and should be a microcosm of the Family of God--the Church--accepting and loving and joining with people from every tribe and tongue and nation.

My children will inevitably struggle with their identity.  But so does almost every student we work with at HOPAC who is being brought up between worlds.  And we will tell our own children the same thing we tell our students:  "Yes, you will struggle with where you belong.  But you have a unique view of the world, a unique understanding of multiple cultures that cannot be gained any other way.  And that is a precious gift that God can use to bring His glory in His world."

YES, they are Tanzanian.  and YES, they are totally and absolutely my children.  Kabisa!  To God be the Glory.

For a fantastic article on this subject, go here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Driving and Waiting

People often call the adoption process a "paper pregnancy."

In our case, I don't think I can call it that.  The only piece of paper we are required to fill out is one side of one sheet.  Ever.  For the whole process.  (Well, unless the U.S. embassy denies your child's visa and requires the I-600.  Then you kill a dozen trees filling out paperwork.)

So not a paper pregnancy.  Maybe a "driving pregnancy."  A "waiting in traffic" pregnancy.  A "nicely-nagging-social workers-to-do-their-job" pregnancy. 

Whatever.  Anyway, regardless, considering that it is likely we will get a baby in less than nine months, you can consider me pregnant. 

The good news is that I finally got some answers, after lots of driving and sitting in traffic and nagging and waiting.  I finally talked to the head honcho of social welfare myself, and he confirmed that yes, it would be possible to adopt a third child.  Even though the social worker (non-head honcho) insisted that it had never been done and don't I have enough children already?  But even she grudgingly agreed that there was no law limiting the number of children that can be adopted, and then the head honcho guy confirmed that.  Very good news. 

The bad news is that he also told me that we would have to start over again in the process.  And do everything all over again.  Honestly, this is what I was expecting to hear, but I still had this tiny little hope that he would say, "Hey, we've already interviewed everyone who knows you, done four homestudies and have a file stuffed with information about you, why do it all over again?  In fact, why not just hop on down to the orphanage and take home another couple children today?"  But he didn't say that. 

So we have started over again.  Yesterday Gil and I went to get interviewed.  Again.  And told her the exact same information, again, that we did the previous two times.  And today I drove to town, picked up my friend Kathy, took her to the social worker, waited there with her for two hours, waited while she got interviewed about us, took her home, and then drove home myself in two hours of traffic.  On Monday I'll take two more friends down to get interviewed.  See what I mean about my driving-and-waiting-in-traffic pregnancy?  But it's probably still not as bad as morning sickness. 

While I was waiting with Kathy, some friends came in who had just received their letter that told them which child they were to receive.  They had come to pick up the social worker to go to the orphanage with them to go meet their little girl.  I was so thrilled for them! Yes, Yes!  I remember getting that letter.  Makes all the driving and waiting worth it. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup Artistic Expression

Two days ago, Daddy did this to Josiah's hair:

With the express purpose of doing this to him:

Can you tell what team we are rooting for??? 

Friday, July 9, 2010

International Youth Camp 2010

I'm going to post here what I sent out to our Prayer Team:

It was the camp we weren’t sure would even happen.

Our BIG problems:

First, there was the problem of a team. We need at least 10 adults to run this camp. Three churches who wanted to send teams were forced to cancel. By April, we were left with no one except for us, our friend and co-worker Kathy who co-leads this camp with us, and 2 other young women. Wasn’t going to work.

Next, there was the problem of students. No one was signing up. Our Youth Camp is really popular—this was our fifth year. But every time we talked to students about this summer, we always heard, “I’ll be out of the country.” Over and over again.

Then, as you know, Gil came down with malaria the night before camp started. What in the world did God want to do?

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. (Is. 55:8)

God’s Solutions:

The First Problem: About 8 weeks before camp, we got an email from a Danish missionary HOPAC family. “We have a team of 6 Bible college students coming this summer for 7 weeks. One of their ministry weeks got cancelled. Do you have anything they could do?”

They were available the week we needed. Four guys, two girls: exactly as we needed. We were still a little nervous; we had never met these young people and weren’t even sure if they were fluent in English! But oh, how they far exceeded our expectations! They were enthusiastic, energetic, hard-working and willing to do whatever we needed! Though most had never before been in an English environment, all could freely converse in English (ah, the difference between European and American schools!). They threw themselves into the camp and totally loved our students.

The Second Problem: It was indeed our smallest camp yet. We only had 25 students, 15 of them being from HOPAC. And though we would have loved for there to be more, this camp had a much more “family” feel to it—students were far less into their cliques (as teenagers often are), and more willing to reach out and get to know new friends. Everyone had a great time and no one seemed to notice that there were less people (except that it meant less waiting in the dinner line!).

The Third Problem: Despite so many of your prayers, God had something else in mind, and we didn’t make it there on Sunday. On Monday, it became apparent that his recovery had not happened yet. (Malaria often goes in cycles; you can feel pretty good one day and horrible the next). So, on Monday afternoon, I headed off to camp with the kids but without Gil. Once he was discharged from the clinic, he was picked up by some very gracious and hospitable friends/co-workers who took him to their home for the next couple of days. Gil was finally able to join us out at camp on Wednesday, in time to create the annual slide show and spend some good time with students.

Of course, Gil missing half of camp wasn’t really how we wanted things to turn out. But we praise God that everything went smoothly anyway, that it was a wonderful, memorable week, the students heard great teaching, and many excellent discussions and conversations took place. We absolutely could see God’s hand on it the whole time, and it was evident that He was in charge and would do as He pleased!

My cooking class

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Momentous Occasion for This Mommy

It looks cute.
It involves cornrows.
And I did it myself.

I know it won't win any awards.  But if you only knew how often during the last four years I have felt like a horrible mama for not being able to do my own daughter's hair, you would celebrate this occasion with me as well. 

The Results are In

You could say that Daddy had a "pretty good" time in South Africa.

And Josiah scored his own goals!  Go Josiah!  Yay for saving money on diapers!