Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why I went to Swaziland

Why did I go to Swaziland? For the past six years, I have served on the board of Children’s Hope Chest, an orphan care organization that is doing amazing work in Russia, Swaziland, Uganda, and Ethiopia. In that six years, I have also become a mother to three incredible children – all through adoption. The issue of orphan care has become that much more important to me as I know first hand the effects of abandonment and neglect and it deeply affects my heart when I think that Lian or Anna or Nathanael could be one of these children waiting to be loved by someone.

And I want there to be faithful, honest, loving people who are that someone in an orphan’s life, rather than the sexual predators and vermon that literally wait outside the doors of an orphanage, vocational school or hut when these orphans are forced into the real world. So it encourages my heart when I meet more of these “someone’s” who are that safe and caring person in an orphan’s life. To meet a “gogo” (Grandmother) who appalled at the fact that Swazis who live next to a garbage dump were selling their children for sex so the family could have food on the table, chose to knock on every door and plead with the parents to find another solution. Turns out she was the solution. The need was a lack of money to send children to school. So she became their school. This gogo who has nothing herself in terms of financial means, started feeding and educating the children of the dump and now 250 children are at her carepoint every day. Children’s Hope Chest is now partnering with her and the carepoint has been matched to a church community in the States whose church members have now “adopted” all of these children by sponsoring them, visiting them annually and providing the resources needed to ensure these children are fed and educated above subsistence. This is why I wanted to go.

But I also left feeling conflicted inside because I have seen so much poverty and pain on trips just like the one I took last week. I witnessed it in my Seattle neighborhood and I witness it every day in Rwanda. I have been “over educated” when it comes to caring for the orphan and my heart and mind long to do more with that knowledge. I’m not sure what this year will bring, but I know my heart has not been broken for me to just feel good about myself for wanting to care for the orphan. My heart has been broken so it can bring forth healing.

We stopped at a homestead to learn more about what the Swazi people are experiencing on a daily basis. We were supposed to hear about the plight of the orphan. We were surprised to meet a 38 year old woman whose health has been affected by a stroke, that led to epilepsy. Ndomi. She and I are the same exact age. I noticed her foot was black and horribly deformed. As polite as possible, I asked the mom what had happened. Ndomi had been burned by oil years ago, leaving a gaping wound at least an inch deep and two inches wide on the side of her foot. Since access to a clinic is at least a day’s walk, the mother puts a salve of burnt ash as an old wives’ tale remedy. Without realizing it, the wound has become gangrene. Our team respectfully asked if we could take the woman to the clinic at our carepoint. She agreed and I found myself holding Ndomi’s hand for 45 minutes as the doctor poured hydrogen peroxide over a gangrene wound. Ndomi would look at me in fear as if to ask if she was really going to be okay and I would look straight in her eyes and tell her that I know it hurts, but she will be better. She squeezed my hand so tight. I sang “Be still and know that I am God” quietly to her.

I marveled at the inner strength and courage this woman had – a woman most of Swazi society deems unworthy – a courage to allow a group of strangers to put her in a car, take her to a clinic, pour painful medicine over her foot and allow people to poke and prod at the gangrene. A staff member then took her to the hospital so they could surgically remove the dead tissue and thus hopefully stop the gangrene from spreading. I don’t know if her body will make it.

What I do know is that she was seen, she was known and her courage spoke to me. Keep fighting. No matter how hard the pain. No matter how hard the wound. Keep fighting for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Truth about the Mosque at Ground Zero

This week has been interesting living on the African continent and hearing word of the uproar over the alleged mosque being built at ground zero and the church burning the Quran. Just this morning all Americans in Rwanda received an alert from the State Department advising us to be on alert if we were traveling due to anger building over the controversies in the US. We received this at the same time as prayers could be heard around the city for the ending of Ramadan, an official national holiday here even though a very small percentage of the population are Muslims. Thus I found my friend, Charles Strohmer's, opinion piece helpful as I tried to sift through my own feelings of all these things as a Christian, as an American, and as a foreigner. I am embarrassed by the church that is burning the Quran and I appreciate Charles' factual piece on what is going on at Ground Zero.
There is no mosque being built at ground zero in lower Manhattan. Nor are Imam Rauf and his Muslim colleagues planning to build a mosque at ground zero. Given all the media obfuscation, I thought I should make that fact immediately plain. And there are two or three other crucial facts you should know. But first, it’s location, location, location, the three most important words in real estate. And where is the real estate in question located? Any fourth grader with a street map of Lower Manhattan could point it out. Ground zero is located in the large area bordered by Vesey St. on the north, Church St. on the east, Liberty St. on the south, and West St. on the west.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My grandmother - a family history

We lost Dano's mom this year and in May we lost my father's mom, my Nanny, the matriarch of the huge Wolff clan. This past week, my family celebrated her life in the U.S.. It was very hard for me to not be there in, but I also know I had wonderful closure with her. My uncle, the historian of the family, wrote this beautiful eulogy and family history that I wanted to share. Nanny will be missed.


A Eulogy for a Great Lady

We are here today to celebrate the life of Florence Mary Renk Wolff--she who has touched and shaped the lives of all here in this room and oh so many more during her long and productive life.

One feature of her life that always fascinated me was the long string of names by which she has been called over the years—Florence, Florie, Flo, Miss Renk, Mrs. Wolff, Toots, Hans, Nicole, Mom, Nicki, Mum, and Nanny. She started out being christened Florence Mary Renk when she was born in Chicago on February 17, 1915. There was war in Europe and the days of the horse and buggy were coming to an end. The new technology that helped to change us from an agricultural nation into an industrial one benefitted her as well because her father took up the new trade of automechanic. Her mother was born in this country too when her father came here to work in the great anthracite coal beds of northeastern Pennsylvania. His name was Clement Platek, and he died there in 1897, gunned down in a confrontation of miners and the strike breakers. As a result of his death, her mother Magdalena nee Czaja remarried a man named Topolski, and settled in Blue Island, Illinois. It was there Marie Platek met young John Renk, a Chicago native.

To her mom and dad, Florence became Florie and Flo, the former was her mother’s diminutive, and the latter her father’s. Early in life she suffered a crushing blow when her two younger brothers, Bobby and Arthur, both perished from the rampant respiratory diseases that plagued the US at the end of the war. This double tragedy had a profound effect upon the lives of John and Marie Renk. They not only doted on their remaining child but they also lost themselves in their own interests, Marie in cooking and John in mechanics. They sent Florence off to St. Gall’s Catholic school at 55th and Kedzie. There she became the darling of the good nuns, many of whom remained lifelong friends like Sr. Monica. She went off to Providence High School and there also was a top student and favorite of the faculty. To them she was forever Florence and Miss Renk.

Florie also had numerous cousins, many of whom looked up to her as a big sister. Margie Esser was the daughter of Mom’s Aunt Marie, an older sister of her dad, and Catherine Mackin, the daughter of Ottilia nee Renk and Harold Mackin. She was also close to her cousins Henrietta and Gertrude, daughters of Aunt Marie from a different marriage and on her mother’s side cousin Irene, the daughter of Aunt Stella. In recent conversations with Marge and Catherine, both remembered many happy hours with Florie playing paper dolls.

Music certainly ran on the Renk side of the family, and so it was not too surprising that young Florence took an interest in piano and singing. Her beautiful mezzo-soprano voice joined the Sunday chorus of Catholics at St. Gall’s church. The members of the choir became fast friends over the years. One of the baritones was a young man who lived on Albany Street. His origins were German, he having been born in Germany on April 18, 1909. He arrived here with his parents in 1910 as an uncle brought his dad here to be carpenter in his house-building company. This chorister was of course one Bruno B. Wolff, a 24 year old draftsman working for Bethlehem Steel. Their courtship was short and fruitful as they were married on August 19, 1933, at St. Gall’s, shortly after her graduation from Providence. She now had a new name Mrs. Wolff. The newlyweds went on their honeymoon in of all places, Chicago. Yes these were the dark days of the Great Depression. Bruno was lucky to have a job when so many stood in bread lines.

But they scrimped and saved first by living with Marie and John. Then all of a sudden not a year later on June 15, 1934, she got another new name, Mom. For unto her a child was born and they named him Bruno. Soon after followed Philip on August 29, 1935 and James on January 14, 1937. This was a lot of folks to cram into the Renk three-bedroom bungalow on Christiana Ave. With the help of a relative’s loan, Mom and Dad built a brand new house on the south side, which was then on the boundary of Chicago civilization, in Little Flower parish. We occupied it in December 1941 just after Pearl Harbor. I still remember our first meal there, baked beans with pork. These came not from a can but were home baked and wonderful to the extent I can still taste them in the hollows of my mind. The relationship between Florence and Bruno was highlighted by his calling her “Toots” and “Hans.”

Mom, as I still am wont to call her, while raising three young rapscallions, took up her singing career and pursued it in earnest with Madame and Maestro Bigali. But she still made sure that she had time for her kids. When we came home from Little Flower School for lunch, not only were we served a great meal, but like the lector in a monastery refectory, she would read to us some of the classics. Music was also a great part of our training as each Saturday morning we listened as Milton Cross introduced the Metropolitan Opera of the week.

On August 25, 1947, Mark Wolff was born in the midst of a thunder storm, and Maris came in 1950 on May 20 in milder weather. Mom realized at one point that raising all these kids, and spending time with her lessons and singing, she needed some help around the house. Thus, she came to hire a young lady in her teens, one Mary Anne Kane, who lived only two blocks away. She did a very nice job but wanted to move on to other things so she handed the baton to her younger sister Christine. Chris became like a sister to us boys and a daughter to Mom. She had the good sense at the end of high school to marry another neighborhood man, a naval reservist and budding scholar, Don Costello. After he got his PhD in English from the University of Chicago, he took a job at the University of our Lady of the Lake, otherwise called Notre Dame, where he stayed his entire career. They kept in touch with Mom and Dad even to hosting them in Europe where Don did some work as a visiting scholar in the 70’s.

Mom not only took voice but she taught voice as well and as was her personality she became fast friends with clients, especially Bernadette Ryan and Helen Lindenberg. Bernadette died an untimely death but Helen came out to New Jersey. Her husband, Bill, was part of Dad’s Jersey Crane Company before the Lindenbergs moved to Canada.

In 1952 Mom and Dad moved to NY, the hub for those who worked in classical music. Mom adopted another name at that time and made an appearance at Carnegie Hall under the name of Nicole Scott. Now in those days Nicole was not a common name for young ladies, but after she adopted it, we all know that in the ensuing years it became widely bestowed on infant girls around the country. Its diminutive, Nicki, became the cognomen of those involved in her professional life or those who first met her later in life.

On October 5, 1956, she got another name, “Nanny,” when Sandra Walters Wolff, wife of Philip, gave birth to Philip John the second. It was PJ, as he came to be called, that dubbed his paternal grandmother with the name Nanny. In my humble opinion, this was her favorite name as she soon became the grandmother of a large brood of 18 grandchildren. Three of those were Maureen’s kids prior to our marriage, but they were treated as graciously and lovingly as were her blood descendents. They remarked so to me in response to the sad news of May 19.

When Marc moved to Great Britain in the early 70’s, he became after a few years, quite British in his accent and so to Lin and their kids Mom became Mum.As she finished the days of her life she came to Vermont and under the loving watch of Philip, Ellen, Maris, and the caregivers of Copley Manor, she was able to enter her 96th year.

Now perhaps as she mingles in Eternity, she has gained her greatest name as one of the Saints above. If you need anything, she would be the one to ask; for she will prevail on our behalf with the Lord above as she did for all of us when she supported us here on earth. Thanks, Mom, for everything. And if I didn’t do the pictures right, please don’t yell at me.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What we do in Rwanda

I hope this four-minute video (produced pro-bono by our friends at 4-minute Media) will give you a good sense of the work we are doing in Rwanda with Karisimbi Business Partners. If you're interested in financially partnering with us, please go to

Friday, May 28, 2010

An Artist You Should Know About

For Christmas this year, my husband bought me a beautiful peace of artwork by a local Rwandan artist. It is the only artwork hanging in our home and I love it. It is semi-abstract, which is different for me, but it depicts the beauty and grace of the people we came to work alongside. I hope you'll read more of Bosco's story and check out his work at

Jean Bosco Bakunzi (1985- ) Bosco, as the artist prefers to be known, was born at CHK Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda. He grew up in Kigali, attending two primary schools in the city. His father was Catholic and his mother Protestant, but he describes his father in a word as “modern”. This atmosphere undoubtedly allowed Bosco to develop freely as a child and laid the seeds for him later to become a self-trained artist.

When you first meet Bosco, he strikes you as an optimistic, carefree young man. However, his experiences in 1994, when both of his parents were killed, have sharpened his sense of justice and honed his desire to help others through his art. He lived in an orphanage for two years after the death of his parents. It was here that Bosco created craft projects with a volunteer from France as his first structured foray into the world of art. The Kigali native says that while at the orphanage he would use pen and pastels to make cartoons to express himself and his friends would follow his lead.

He continues to give art classes twice a week to the children who live at the same orphanage today. Bosco believes that creating art can heal one “emotionally, physically, and mentally”. He lives this every day as he uses art to help orphans deal with emotions and express themselves. Gisimba Memorial Center also gains from this young artist’s enthusiasm for children where he teaches arts and crafts to young people under a project called “Imena Art for Kids”. And one imagines that he also continues to experience healing through his own art.

After leaving the orphanage, Bosco attended two high schools in Butare, Rwanda. He was, however, drawn back to the city of his birth. In Kigali in 2004, Bosco started meeting professional artists. He began to talk to the artists around him about such things as mixing colors. He also began to absorb ideas and concepts from the world’s great artists such as Van Gogh and Picasso. After communing with Picasso’s great works both in books and on the Internet, he began to paint works in a palette similar to the Spanish artist’s blue period.

Bosco and some of his fellow artists founded “Uburanga” Arts Studio in Kimihurura, which takes its name from the Kinyarwanda word for “beauty”, and is a hotbed of fledgling young Rwandan artists. He also continues to develop his talents with his membership in Isoko Arts Rwanda, an association of Rwandan fine artists.

Bosco work takes a variety of forms: paint and mixed media. He describes his paintings as “realistic but abstract” as being about nature and people, “something with meaning”. Many of his paintings have a message about social justice for all, while others are about equality for women in particular.

One of his largest paintings, Women in the Market, shows women at the market with baskets and vegetables. He has beautifully abstracted their forms behind a grid of white lines he created by placing the canvas on the floor with strings stretched taught across it. Bosco also digs into his pigment with a comb, creating lyrical circles or even random scratches at times. The artist elevates the commonplace task of the women selling in the market to that of a noble act at the core of Rwandan society. The artist says “women are trying to be a noble” gender in Rwanda. He feels women and children still have not received the place that they deserve and he wants to communicate with them and inspire them.

His mixed media work can not help but make one think of the found objects of Duchamp or Man Ray. One of his most powerful works, Love and Hope, has two tires surrounded by swirls of different shades of green brushstrokes. The tires, utilitarian objects from every day life, here beautifully symbolize movement for the artist and for the viewer and the brushstrokes elegantly carry through with this idea. He said he was inspired to create this piece on a trip to Nairobi. He went with friends to talk about life and love.

Continuing in this Dada-esque style, Bosco creates amusing and whimsical portraits using pockets from pants for faces, and then cloth, bottle caps, nails, and wire for the details. Upon first glance, you notice the figure, and then with a second glance you notice the found objects used to make the form. When you realize you are looking at the pocket from someone’s old jeans in his work African Queen, (shown above) you almost laugh to yourself. They say the definition of humor is surprise or not finding what you expected.

That is true not only of Bosco’s work, but also of him as a person. If one simply read the details of his life, one might expect to find someone who is hardened against the world. Instead, one finds an artist who sees the good in the world and other people and wants to help amplify that through his art, his teaching, and his studio.

Valerie Ficklin, M.A.
Art Historian


Solo Exhibitions:

The Feelings, Kigali International Airport
My Dream, Heaven Restaurant

Group Exhibitions:

Saint Patrick’s Day Exhibition presented by the Irish Embassy of Uganda, Serena Hotel
Jazz Band for Peace: Celebrating Rwanda Commitment for Ending Violence Against Women and Children, Serena Hotel
East Africa Biennale (EASTFAB),Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Ivuka Arts Studio and Friends, United States Embassy, Kigali, Rwanda
Isoko Arts Rwanda Launching Exhibition, Laico Hotel Umubano

Bosco with Women in the Market, shot at his studio in Kimihurura in May 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Adoptions are in a 40% Decline

I often quote Augustine when he says, "Hope has two daughters - anger and courage; anger at the way things are, courage for the way things can be." I have had some things happen recently that push against my optimism for the future of orphan care - people's personal agendas, government bureaucracies and inefficiencies, and apathy to name a few. However, I am also still naive enough - even at 38 years old - to believe that we can do more to care for the orphan, that people really do desire what is best for children, that systemic change takes time, but it is worth it. This blog from my friend, Tom Davis, cites that adoptions are in a 40% decline. Considering the fact that adoptions account for less than a tenth of a percent of all orphans worldwide, this is discouraging. My heart gets angry, but then I feel the courage setting in.

My heart is for the children left behind - for the little girl I held yesterday during my weekly volunteer times at Home for Hope. Many of the children seemed a little under the weather, that happens in orphanages with 100 plus children. But her face was so despondent. She would not engage at all. She just stood in the corner, crying quietly, with food dripping out of her mouth. She is four years old. I tried to get her to eat some of her food, but it wouldn't stay. She never moved. But when I held her, she wouldn't let go. And so I held her, I prayed for her, I whispered in her ear, "Uri umwana mwiza - you are a good and beautiful child" - "Imana urukundo - God loves you." I do believe in evil. I do believe there is an Enemy to God the creator. And every week, when I hold and rock these children, I whisper words of truth into their ears, claiming that evil will have no say in the hearts and minds of these children. But I also know so much damage has been done already. So I want to be about helping find ways to nurture the hearts and minds of these orphans who will never be adopted. I'll wrote more on this later, but if you haven't read any of Dr. Karyn Purvis' work, I encourage you to do so. These children need more than whispered words and weekly hugs. They need courageous people to take a deep breath and pray for the courage to keep fighting on their behalf.

Adoptions are in a 40% Decline

With 150 million orphans in the world, we should be seeing a dramatic increase in the number of orphans who are adopted every year in the United States. But sadly, the opposite is true. Adoptions have been decreasing every year since 2004.

A new article in the May edition of Christianity Today says this, "Since 2004, these and other restrictions have resulted in a 40 percent decline in overseas adoptions by Americans—from an all-time high of almost 23,000 in 2004 to fewer than 12,800 in 2009, according to the U.S. State Department."

Although there are some incredible people who understand God's heart for adoption, they are still the minority when it comes to this issue. If 7% of those claiming to be Christians adopted one child, all 150 million orphans would have homes.

Second, the battle continues to rage over the lives of orphans around the world. Make no mistake about it, "our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour," I Peter 5:8. Orphans are easy targets.

My friend Jedd Medefind from The Christian Alliance for Orphans had this to say, "The drop in international adoptions since 2004 does not signal a stagnating willingness among American families to adopt overseas, and he argues that evangelicals in particular have increased interest."

I would say this is absolutely true. With almost 1,500 people at Summit VI in Minneapolis April 29 & 30, people are more passionate than every about adoption and orphan care.

The reality is that we still have a lot to do. Orphans are worth the fight. We have to press through government regulations, fear, and spiritual warfare to care for the least of these. This is God's heart and it should be the heart of every Christian.

"A Father to the Fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families." Psalm 68:5,6

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

More photos...

Silas, my Kinyarwandan tutor, is so excited to welcome Nathanael. He will be officiating at Nathanael's Rwandan naming ceremony on April 17. We've tried to explain to our friends that Nathanael has to attach to us, so we don't let anyone hold him except us. However, our Rwandan friends don't understand that at alla nd literally just take the baby from our arms.
Usually he smiles when Lian plays with him, but I couldn't quite catch him on camera when he did. Lian is a great helper for her little brother.
"Son, I think we need to have a little man to man conversation."
The overprotective sister already.
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Photos from Nathanael's First Days Home

Here is our wide-eyed wonder. He loves those two fingers.
Laurel Greer, Christina and Alana from 4 for More, an organization committed to coming alongside Rwanda's orphans by providing clean water to orphanages and supporting adoptive parents, came to visit. Laurel's husband, Peter, is the director of Hope International, a microfinance organization that also works in Rwanda. Laurel and Peter adopted their son, Myles, last yaer. It was so fun to meet them.
Sleepy baby. He was awake every two to three hours for the first five days. Then last night he slept through the night. We were so grateful.
Devoted Sister. Anna loves to play with her baby brother.
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Friday, March 26, 2010

Video of Nathanael's Adoption

We visited Nathanael five times before the day we were allowed to take him home. Here is a video of yesterday's homecoming.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Welcome Nathanael Niyonzima Jukanovich!

We are pleased to announce that Nathanael Niyonzima Jukanovich is home with our family. We started this process officially on August 6 with our homestudy. Received our approval in record time from Immigration and the RWanda embassy on September 29. Submitted our dossier on October 14 after we had moved to Rwanda. Received our non-objection letter on January 19. Received our match on March 15. And here we are - the week of my birthday - receiving him into our home on March 25. We are overjoyed and feel very complete.

I was able to go the sector office last Thursday to fill out our act of adoption. We received our court date for today and I asked if I could attend the hearing. It was very brief, but we asked the judge if he would complete the judgment today - usually it takes at least one day. I was still under the impression we would have to then take the judgment to the Minister's office, receive a travel letter and then bring that to the orphanage, so was hoping for a Friday homecoming at best - braced myself for Monday. However, the attorneys that were present there told me that onec that judgment is signed, the child is ours. It is up to the nuns however if the child can stay the night. Technically they need to have that letter from the Minister. He said yes and we showed up at 2 pm to receive the judgment. Of course, nothing is as simple as receiving the judgment and go to the orphanage. We had to first drive to the district office nearby to find out the bank account to which we would have to pay 800 RWF to purchase copies of the judgment. Then we had to go to the bank and pay the fee and today there were very long lines. Then we had to drive back to the district office to hand in our payment - again another long line (Rwandans are scurrying to get their identity cards finalized for the election this summer). I pulled the Muzungu with two small children card (which was really true - my kids would not have lasted another five minutes in that crowd) and found myself at the front of the line with a nice woman. Of course, then we had to have the bank receipt photocopied before handing in the receipt. Finally got that done and headed back to court. Got the judgment, then ran to the printers to get the documents printed for the orphanage's files. We started at 2 and by 4:45 pm we were standing at the orphanage with Sister Catherine and Sister Teresa so excited to welcome us.

After visiting Niyonzima for the past week, it was such a joy to look at him and tell him he was coming home forever. The girls were so excited and were already telling me they had his bottle, could help situate his blanket, and they are trying to understand why it is so important that mommy is the only one who holds him right now.

His name came to us as we were reading the first book of John with Caroline the other night. Jesus is calling his disciples and he says to Nathanael,"Here is an Israelite in whom there is nothing false." Nathanael asks him, " How do you know me?" And Jesus replies, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree, before Philip called you." Having adopted three children now, Dano and I would both say that we really do believe the Creator of the universe knows his children by name. He knew our son before we even called him to be a part of our family. Amazing. Nathanael also means gift of God. He truly is.

He has already had his first bottle, first bath, and first bedtime story. There is still more paperwork to be done - medical exam, Ministry travel approval, passport, etc., but for this evening we will focus on the grander scheme of things and simply relish in this new life that has joined our family. Life has changed...for the better.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

We Have a Court Date!!!

We received our referral last Tuesday, March 16. I volunteer at the orphanage every Wednesday, so they told me I could visit with Nyunzima Moses on Wednesday. Dano came with me just in case they did let us meet him. He is precious. Eyes full of wonder. Whenever I would sing to him, he would tap me on the back. He has beautiful long fingers and long eyelashes. He seems very tiny to me for 9 months, but we'll know more once we have him checked out by the pediatrician here.

Since then I've been able to visit with him four times, feeding him his bottles of millet and milk, and each time it gets harder to place him back in his crib next to the other 20 infants. He has cried when I've placed him down, which breaks my heart. I sang the song to him that I still sing to my daughters when I leave for a trip,

This momma comes back, I always come back, I always come back to get you
This momma comes back, I always come back, I never will forget you.

Yesterday we were able to introduce him to his sisters. I so wish I could post pictures, but that will have to wait a few more days. They were so excited to see him. Anna wanted to feed him and take care of him. Lian wanted to feel his fingers and toes, measuring them against hers, playing silling games with him and reading to him. And when they left the room to play outside, he seemed to be searching for them. I had the hardest time feeding him yesterday because he just wanted to turn his head towards their voices. I felt complete.

Today we received word that our court appointment is for Thursday morning at 8 am. I've been scrambling the past few days to get all of our docs notarized and to the appropriate offices - nothing is simple. Hopefully we will hear that he is ours by Friday morning, if not sooner. The Sisters said we could bring him home when we have the court approval since I've been visiting him almost every day.

Stay tuned : )

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Miracles of Access

This weekend has been one of so many emotions – on Friday evening I was finalizing my mother-in-law's eulogy, while also painting a lion's head for a prop for my daughter's 7th birthday; on Saturday evening, I was literally placed in the front row for the funeral via a laptop and Skype and my connection was only disconnected once in three hours (a major miracle here). I was able to cry and laugh with my family and friends as we reminisced about the life of Dano's mom. This morning, I had the incredible honor of witnessing miracles take place through Operation Smile – one miracle will effect the future of my two-year old neighbor, Claudina. I am so full of joy right now that I had to share this with a broader audience.


is my neighbor. She is often at our home with her brother, Pierre, and five year old sister, Diani. When Claudina was only a month or two old, she was laying in her bed in their one room home. Diani was only three years old and accidentally knocked over the oil lamp that lights their home (there is no electricity for their home even though they live two doors down from us). The petrol fell on her bed, lighting it on fire. Her mom was outside, but ran in and was thankfully able to save her, but her right arm was completely burned. It is deformed now as the skin continually contracts, thus pulling her wrist inwards towards her arm. If she can't use her hand, she can't write or cook, thus she can't pursue an education, and she has no future.

Three months ago, we were introduced through a friend to Beth and Robert Riviello who are doctors from Boston. Robert is a burn and trauma surgeon. They were volunteering with Partners in Health in Rwanda and while here they also received their adopted son. It was beautiful to witness what they do. When I found out about Claudina's arm, I just asked Robert for his advice since he was here and this is his specialty. He asked me if he could come and see her wounds for himself. He did this the day before they left Rwanda and as they were in the midst of finalizing their adoption. We visited

Claudina, he saw the wounds, and I saw him take his own arm, form it in a crooked fashion and then straighten it out slowly, telling her mother that he would take her arm from its current state and make it whole. I couldn't believe it – what if he couldn't, he was leaving, were we making false promises? But he said no, he had a plastic surgeon friend who was coming in July and he thought he could do the surgery.

This morning we met with that surgeon. He was in Rwanda with Operation Smile, so four months before he'll come back with Partners in Health. Operation Smile was doing a clinic for cleft palates, but he thought they could fit in her surgery and he asked us to come to their screening. I have been to medical clinics in the States, but have never experienced anything like I saw this morning.

After only one day of seeing patients, we were number 233. And there were at least another hundred people waiting outside, if

not more. Children and adults with cleft palates, a 10 month old whose head had a huge hole in it and whose face was completely burned on one side, overwhelming. I was there with my girls and I had forewarned them that they might see some really sick people. But in the midst of that place, I turned to my girls and said, “This is a place of miracles.” This place is giving people hope, it is changing their lives. These doctors are miracle workers and what was wonderful is there were Western and African doctors volunteering.

They truly are working miracles. Yesterday as I was finalizing pick-up time with Claudina and her mom, Clementine, a neighbor stopped by. Last month a neighbor had told me that if this surgery worked Claudina would have a future. Yesterday, a neighbor came by and said no one would marry Claudina because she was deformed. I didn't know what to say, but I told her I believed that the good husband would see her heart and that we were working to correct her crooked arm. She didn't believe us. I can't wait for her to see the transformed Claudina.

The plastic surgeon told me and her mom today that her arm can be fixed. It will require much aftercare – she will have to wear a splint for up to six months to straighten the arm and she will have skin grafts that will require much attention, but it can be done. Her surgery will be this Tuesday or Wednesday. Her mom cannot believe this is happening.

As Westerners, we often do not realize how much access we have just because of the friendships we have. It was a friend from Boston who connected us to the Riviellos, who connected us to Steve Naum, the plastic surgeon. We are connected to such educated and accomplished people who are using their skills to serve the poorest of the poor. And in return we have the privilege of seeing miracles happen. I am overwhelmed and humbled by that reality.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Embracing the Wait

Waiting is an activity with impressive documentation throughout Scripture, yet it’s
astonishingly ignored in most constructs of how to live the Christian life. Waiting isn’t a
passive occupation but an active and hopeful orientation toward the activity of God for which
there’s no present evidence. Refusal to wait is a refusal to trust. Paul never counseled
passivity or quietism. He did, however, commend the hopeful waiting that expects Christ to
save the day- not only at the Second Coming, but in all daily comings where he shows up in
our lives, offering salvation from one kind of doom or another, whether a doomed marriage or
a doomed business or simply a doomed attitude.
-Eugene Peterson Conversations: The Message with its Translator (pg 1858)

I lost my cool this week. Two weeks ago, the Mother Superior at the orphanage told me she was choosing our son the next day and submitting the match to the Minister's office that Friday. Soon after that the person appointed as the adoption coordinator resigned. I was told the replacement would be there last Friday, then Monday, then Wednesday. So on Monday, as I sat patiently in the Minister's reception room, my friend suggested that I confirm that the Sisters did indeed send in our paperwork. Turns out they had not - problems with the notary, problems with the replacement, too many families adopting. And my heart plummeted. All this time I thought the papers were in the Minister's hand just awaiting the replacement coordinator, but they still hadn't even been notarized. I expressed my disappointment to the Mother Superior and was told to, "Be Patient."

"Be Patient." As this is my third adoption in seven years, I have truly sought to be patient, but for some reason I couldn't quite handle those words on that day. I wasn't rude, but I wasn't pleasant. I felt like I was being made the bad guy. If a doctor ever told a pregnant woman that she had to carry her child for another term because the doctor just wasn't prepared to handle her delivery, you bet she would fight and find a way to give birth to that child. Yet, often adoptive parents are called, "impatient, headstrong, annoying." It's true. But we're really not. We just want the longing of our heart and the longing of our child's heart to be fulfilled.

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day to reflect upon the start of Lent, to confess and seek forgiveness. I open up the first page of a Lenten devotional a friend compiled and read this section on waiting. In spite of my feeling self-righteous in how I responded to the Sisters, I know, deep down, that I was wrong, that I am not trusting, that I am seeking control. Why is it so hard to give that up? And so I seek forgiveness, I relinquish control, and I wait. I pray our son will come soon and I know he has already been chosen, so he will. Until then, I will change my attitude. I will pray for the Sisters who bathe and clothe and feed and clean up after not only these small children, but widows and handicapped men and women. I will trust the One who guards my child at night, that He will truly save the day.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Quick Adoption Update

Last Monday we were told by the Mother Superior that our son would be chosen on Tuesday. He has been chosen for us, but we will not know who he is until the Ministry of Gender approves the Sister's selection. Apparently they can tell them "no." This is fine, except that the woman in charge of the adoption office at the Ministry just resigned last week. Needless to say we were discouraged. I went to the office and was told she would have a replacement by today. We are going to go to the office on Wednesday to see if someone did replace her and if so, if they will place their stamp of approval on our son. It is very difficult living just ten minutes from the orphanage, volunteering there every Wednesday and not being able to know who he is. Please pray for our patience.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Waiting Game

We received the wonderful news that the Rwandan government has approved our application to adopt a son from Rwanda. In their letter, they ask for our patience as it takes about two months for them to select our son. When I've talked with the woman in charge in person, she has "promised" me we will have him before my mother comes to visit on April 1. So now we wait.

If I have learned anything by becoming a parent through adoption it is patience. We waited 18 months to receive Lian; 2 1/2 years to receive Anna. To know that we may receive our son within seven months of even starting the process is incredible to me. When we first did our homestudy in August and received our approval from immigration within a month of that, we were in shock at how fast things were going. My mother said to me, "There is a reason this is moving so quickly for you - this little boy can't wait."

I remember breaking down into tears every time we learned there was another delay in Lian's adoption, but when we had to wait so long for Anna, my heart was literally close to breaking. Why did it have to take this long to care for a child who needs a home? Yet, now, knowing our Anna...I know she was indeed to be our daughter and I would wait another 2 1/2 years if I knew it would take that to receive this particular little girl. This is the same for Lian. I look at the two of them individually and together and while I see their uniqueness, I also see the incredible way they are truly "our" daughters - the way Lian thinks so strategically and lists out rational arguments, along with the way she really needs her space after being surrounded by people is completely her father. And then there's Anna who has to be with people in order to feel energized, who loves to organize and use her imagination - very much her mother. Adoptive parents say that all the time - this was meant to be. But it really is true.

And I hold onto that. I hold onto the fact that these children were destined for us as we were for them. Because sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes the root fear of abandonment digs its ugly claws into your child's heart; sometimes the fact that they were never held or touched for the first year of their life escalates their emotions in ways that can harm them and others; sometimes when you leave for an hour meeting, your child makes you sing to her the song "This momma comes back, she always comes back, she always comes back to get you. This momma comes back, she always comes back, she never will forget you."

So we wait for our new with any biological child, we have no idea what to expect. But I trust that in the divine ordination of events that has brought us thus far, we will receive a little boy who is perfect for our family and our family for him. He may have wounds that are deep. He may not. But what we can promise him is that he will be loved and treasured. We can promise him he has a future and a hope.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex and Giving

Op-Ed Columnist

Our Basic Human Pleasures: Food, Sex and Giving

Published: January 16, 2010

Want to be happier in 2010? Then try this simple experiment, inspired by recent scholarship in psychology and neurology. Which person would you rather be:

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Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof

On the Ground

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Nicholas Kristof addresses reader feedback and posts short takes from his travels.

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Times Topics: Philanthropy

Richard is an ambitious 36-year-old white commodities trader in Florida. He’s healthy and drop-dead handsome, lives alone in a house with a pool, and has worked his way through a series of gorgeous women. Richard’s job is stressful, but he spent Christmas in Tahiti. Unencumbered, he also has time to indulge such passions as reading (right now he’s finishing a book called “Half the Sky”), marathon running and writing poetry. In the last few days, he has been composing an elegy about the Haiti earthquake.

Lorna is a 64-year-old black woman in Boston. She’s overweight and unattractive, even after a recent nose job. Lorna is on regular dialysis, but that doesn’t impede her active social life or babysitting her grandchildren. A retired school assistant, she is close to her 67-year-old husband and is much respected in her church for directing the music committee and the semiannual blood drive. Lorna believes in tithing (giving 10 percent of her income to charity or the church) and in the last few days has organized a church drive to raise $10,000 for earthquake relief in Haiti.

I adapted those examples from ones that Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, develops in his fascinating book, “The Happiness Hypothesis.” His point is that while most of us might prefer to trade places with Richard, Lorna is probably happier.

Men are no happier than women, and people in sunny areas no happier than people in chillier climates. The evidence on health is complex, but even chronic health problems (like those requiring dialysis) may have surprisingly little long-term effect on happiness, because we adjust to them. Beautiful people aren’t happier than ugly people, although cosmetic surgery does seem to leave patients feeling brighter. Whites are happier than blacks, but only very slightly. And young people are actually a bit less happy than older folks, at least up to age 65.

Lorna has a few advantages over Richard. She has less stress and is respected by her peers — factors that make us feel good. Happiness is tied to volunteering and to giving blood, and people with religious faith tend to be happier than those without. A solid marriage is linked to happiness, as is participation in social networks. And one study found that people who focus on achieving wealth and career advancement are less happy than those who focus on good works, religion or spirituality, or friends and family.

“Human beings are in some ways like bees,” Professor Haidt said. “We evolved to live in intensely social groups, and we don’t do as well when freed from hives.”

Happiness is, of course, a complex concept and difficult to measure, and John Stuart Mill had a point when he suggested: “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.”

But in any case, nobility can lead to happiness. Professor Haidt notes that one thing that can make a lasting difference to your contentment is to work with others on a cause larger than yourself.

I see that all the time. I interview people who were busy but reluctantly undertook some good cause because (sigh!) it was the right thing to do. Then they found that this “sacrifice” became a huge source of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Brain scans by neuroscientists confirm that altruism carries its own rewards. A team including Dr. Jorge Moll of the National Institutes of Health found that when a research subject was encouraged to think of giving money to a charity, parts of the brain lit up that are normally associated with selfish pleasures like eating or sex.

The implication is that we are hard-wired to be altruistic. To put it another way, it’s difficult for humans to be truly selfless, for generosity feels so good.

“The most selfish thing you can do is to help other people,” says Brian Mullaney, co-founder of Smile Train, which helps tens of thousands of children each year who are born with cleft lips and cleft palates. Mr. Mullaney was a successful advertising executive, driving a Porsche and taking dates to the Four Seasons, when he felt something was missing and began volunteering for good causes. He ended up leaving the business world to help kids smile again — and all that makes him smile, too.

So at a time of vast needs, from Haiti to our own cities, here’s a nice opportunity for symbiosis: so many afflicted people, and so much benefit to us if we try to help them. Let’s remember that while charity has a mixed record helping others, it has an almost perfect record of helping ourselves. Helping others may be as primal a human pleasure as food or sex.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Great Valentine's Gift

From Tom Davis of Children's Hope Chest
Hey Everyone,

Are you ready for Valentines Day?

Here's a sneak peek at our Valentines Day initiative called "Shirts for Shoes." We've partnered up with Kari Gibson's "Simply Love" project to bring real love to orphans in Ethiopia. Check out the link:

PLUS...each shirt sold will provide a new pair of shoes and a shirt to an orphan in Ethiopia enrolled in a HopeChest program.

These shirts are HopeChest-exclusive, limited edition T's made special for this Valentine's Day. The store opens tomorrow morning, so please let your networks know about this great opportunity today!

Each T-shirt makes a great Valentines Day gift for your loved ones (sizes run youth through adult, and we have fitted T's for women).

Check it out now:

We'll bring you the link to the full store tomorrow so you can order your shirt and pass along the good news.

HopeChest, Simply Love, & the Shirts for Shoes Team

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What I Love About Living in Rwanda

It is easy to write about the difficult things we've experienced here, but this week I have found myself struck by the incredible gift it is to live in this beautiful country. So here are my top ten reasons why I love Rwanda:

1) The lush green hills and vast valleys.
2) When you ask for directions, strangers just jump in your car to show you the way, happy to have helped you and you're not afraid.
3) Children respect their elders.
4) Celebrating the New Year is being grateful for being alive rather than being sad for what the old year didn't bring.
5) You don't have to be a gardener to have things grow. You just stick something in the ground and somehow it turns into something beautiful. That is my kind of gardening.
6) I cook a lot more from scratch and somehow it is therapeutic to make homemade chicken broth every week.
7) Even when you're busy, it just doesn't carry the same stress it seemed to carry in the U.S.
8) There just isn't anything to do for kids (except Caroline's Ballet Rwanda class), so my kids have become so much more creative with limited toys and each other's best playmate and we play a lot more games as a family.
9) When the rain comes, you are grateful and refreshed.
10) People dance and sing without inhibition.

and that's my list for today...