Why Be “Paperwork Ready”?

Recently, one of our office staff members drove to the airport to pick up her parents whom she hadn’t seen in months. Though the flight was scheduled to arrive on time, she was excited and left early — 30 minutes early — just in case. “Sometimes planes arrive early,” she said. “I’ll just wait in the cell phone lot. I want to be ready for them when they arrive.”

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Waiting for the UPS man to arrive or waiting for vacation to start. Waiting for the phone to ring or waiting for a child of our own. In matters big and small, waiting is hard to do.

For children living in orphanages overseas, their entire childhoods have been filled with waiting. Many wait for medical care. All wait for love and a family who will warmly embrace them. They literally have been waiting their whole lives. Most tragically, these children wait for something they have never known. It is so hard to wait.

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During trips like the one we’re on now, we meet with many children who wait to be adopted. Each one has the same wish. She hopes that her waiting will end.

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You can’t make a flight shorter or will the UPS man to arrive a day earlier at your door. But you can shorten the time a child waits to be adopted. How? It’s very simple: be paperwork ready.

Long before you first see the photograph of your new child, you can begin working to shorten his waiting time. By taking the step to commit yourself to a particular agency, by completing your home study and dossier, you are literally erasing days and months that your child will have to wait. When your paperwork is ready, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the process can move.

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If you’ve been considering adoption, but you haven’t begun your paperwork yet, start today. In honor of National Adoption Month, we are offering a reduced application fee of $100 for new applications now through November 30. Call us at 253-987-5804 to get started. Don’t wait another day. Your child is waiting for you.

(All children pictured in this post are currently waiting for families of their own.)

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Agape Adoptions Partners with Orphanage in Inner Mongolia

Greetings from chilly Inner Mongolia! It’s a brisk 27 degrees Fahrenheit here, and I’m glad I brought a warm coat.

On this visit to China, we’re excited to visit the two orphanages with whom we have new One to One partnerships. I have to admit, I never know what to expect when I visit a new orphanage. Families who have traveled overseas know that the standards can vary widely from one orphanage to another. Some facilities have much; others have very little.

I was thrilled to see that our new partnership orphanage in Inner Mongolia is a beautiful, newer facility. The rooms are clean, warm and engaging; and the staff is friendly and caring. It is clear to me that children are loved and cared for here.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESOne of the most exciting aspects of this particular orphanage is the community connection they maintain through a therapy unit on site. We toured rooms where children from the orphanage, as well as children from the surrounding communities, can receive a variety of therapies. The facility offers physical therapy, massage therapy, speech and reading therapy, play therapy, acupuncture and more! I was especially moved to see how children with significant medical needs were engaged and stimulated. In one room, a group of children lay relaxing in acupuncture; in another room a group of mothers and their children attended reading therapy, seated on the floor in a semi-circle.

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We have met so many precious children on this trip, and we’re excited to begin advocating for them when we return stateside in a few days. We are currently looking for families who are open to adopting Special Focus children from these two new One to One partnerships in China. By preparing a home study and dossier in advance, your family can drastically reduce the time a child waits in an orphanage. When you are paperwork-ready, you can be matched very quickly with a child! During National Adoption Month, from now through November 30, we are reducing our application fee to $100. Call us today at 253-987-5804 to get started and take advantage of this special celebration offer.

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Jenny, the Chinese Nightingale

As we closed out our trip in Yunnan Province, we enjoyed an elaborate celebration of International Children’s Day at the orphanage where we have our One to One program. Townspeople and visitors came to the orphanage campus as the community honored all of its children on this special day. Local children performed beautiful dances and songs. We enjoyed festive foods and gifts, and I even gave a speech! The event was filmed by a local television station. It was a happy way to end our visit before heading back to Beijing, but the celebration was also bittersweet.

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After we’d sat for over an hour watching local children perform, precious Jenny, from our One to One program, surprised us and took the stage. As she stood boldly before the crowd and her beautiful little voice filled the air, my heart swelled with love and an aching sadness. Jenny has been waiting a long time for a family — six years, to be exact.

I remember reading Jenny’s files when they arrived in the office. Age five. Loves music and dance. An extroverted, active playmate. Expressive, friendly, bright. Blind. I met Jenny last year when I visited China and took videos of her. Unlike some children, Jenny loved the camera. It’s as though she knew our meeting could be her ticket to a family and she was going to make the most of it.

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Jenny’s years of institutionalization have been particularly difficult because of her blindness. She has a vibrancy that cannot be quenched, yet as I visited with her this time I could see her turning inward, looking for a safe space in a world that, because of her disability, is uniquely complex and, at times, frightening. More than ever, on this visit I saw that this courageous little girl needs a family who will advocate for her and provide her with the reassurance of their unconditional love.

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In a centuries-old fairy tale, the Emperor of China becomes enchanted with the song of a nightingale. When he falls deathly ill, a small nightingale comes to sing to him. The sweet voice of the little bird so intimidates death that it flees, and the emperor’s health is restored. Though Jenny has obstacles that she must face, I am convinced that, like the nightingale, her song and her tenacious little spirit will prevail. In the loving arms of a family, Jenny will flourish. She simply needs a family — one who will transpose her bittersweet song into joyful melody.

To see Jenny’s performance, click here.

Jenny is eligible for a $1000 grant through Agape Adoptions, and the CCCWA can be flexible on eligibility requirements for prospective parents. To learn more about Jenny, contact our office at 253-987-5804 or myriam@agapeadoptions.org. We have lots of pictures and videos to share with you, and we’d love to help you as you begin your adoption journey! To see the eligibility requirements for China, click here

The Changing Face of China Adoptions

If you’ve followed international news from China in the last six months, you’ve probably heard of the baby hatch. These small buildings, translated “baby safety islands” in Chinese, were created by the Chinese government in 2011 to help curb infant abandonment in the country. In safety and anonymity, parents can leave their new baby at a local baby hatch, a small warm shelter with a cradle and incubator. A bell sounds after the parent exits, and a welfare worker comes to care for the child. In a country where approximately 10,000 children are abandoned each year, the baby hatch is a complex, heart-rending solution.

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Today, while visiting one of our orphanages in southern China, I got to see a baby hatch, one that has made the news because its high intake volumes forced its closure a few months ago. 262 babies were deposited here in the first three months the hatch was open, so overwhelming the local orphanages that they could not continue to service it. Orphanage officials here tell me that 99 percent of the babies who arrived in the baby hatch were very, very sick – serious diagnoses like cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and congenital heart disease, and unusual birth defects and incurable diseases. Orphanage officials had hoped to offer parents a way to safely abandon their babies, since it is illegal to abandon children in China, but, they tell me, they weren’t expecting so many sick children.

In the last two decades, families adopting from China expected to be quickly matched with a healthy baby girl under the age of three. Today, families might wait five to six years for a match like this. China’s current birth rate is exceedingly low, and the country has seen a rise in domestic adoption placements, making fewer and fewer healthy children available for international adoption. These two factors, combined with the reality of the growing need for baby hatches across the country, are clear signals. It is time for us to acknowledge plainly: China adoptions are changing. If the face of China adoptions in the 1990s was a healthy baby girl, today, it is the face of a child with special needs. More boldly we must assert – these children need families too.

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On Tuesday we saw children from three orphanages in southern China. It was a whirlwind day of picture taking and videotaping, snuggling and playing. We met more than 100 children, loved them and heard their stories. Almost all of these children have complicated diagnoses. They are learning to live life without a limb, with a heart condition, with a life-altering disability. Most heart-breaking, they are doing this alone — in an institution, not a family. They are growing up without the fierce love of a parent who will advocate for them, without the supportive nurture that will provide them with a foundation of hope and strength to step boldly into the future.

As I look into the beautiful faces of these little children, my heart aches to think that they are waiting. They are waiting for our assumptions about China adoptions to change. They are waiting for families who will welcome them, regardless of their special need. It is my most ardent hope and prayer that someday all of China’s children will find the security of unconditional love in the warm embrace of a family.

Traveling in China, Part 1

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My travel partner, Sarah S., and I arrived in Beijing after an uneventful flight on Saturday. It is always so good to be back in this country I have come to love so much. This trip is a very special one as it launches Agape Adoptions’ new Journey of Hope program, an opportunity to advocate for beautiful children who have more significant special needs and who long for families of their own.
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On our first day of acclimating, we took a tour of Beijing. I was thrilled to find a Starbucks in Tienanmen Square! A little piece of home. A stones throw away from the Square, we stopped in to visit a hutong village. It was as though we were stepping back in time to walk the narrow alleyways of the neighborhood. In years past, hutongs grew organically. One alleyway along a group of homes would connect with another alleyway, forming a small cluster of homes called a hutong. They are a special piece of history in the city, especially as many have been leveled for new construction. We stopped in at what appeared to be one of the best places to have Peking duck. They smelled so good roasting in that open brick oven. Too bad it was only ten in the morning. Peking duck is one of my favorites!
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Before traveling deep into southern China, we headed to a local healing home. Healing homes provide support to orphanages across China by providing specialized care for children whose needs are beyond what their local orphanage can provide. (Love Without Boundaries is an amazing organization that runs healing homes in China.) One little boy in particular grabbed at my heart, and I’m looking forward to sharing more about him with you when I return.

After leaving the Beijing area, we traveled to southern China to meet the children who will be a part of our Journey of Hope program. In one orphanage, we met and interviewed over 100 children in just a few days. Whew! What an honor to work on their behalf to find them forever families! We will know in the next few days how many of these children will be ours to advocate for.

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Each Journey of Hope child is so precious; my heart is full as I think about the possibilities that will await them when they meet the families they long for. Many of these children have significant special needs, and many of them have been waiting for a long time to find a family. My camera is full of pictures and videos. I am so thankful for this little piece of technology that allows families to “meet” their child as they journey through the adoption process.

I love coming to China. I love the culture, the food, the history. But most of all, I love these children. It is my hope that Agape Adoptions can be part of their love story, as we match them with families who will cherish them forever.

A Baby From Heaven

Phyllis and Jim T. thought their family was complete, until one day, while surfing the Internet, Phyllis fell in love with a little boy, Michael, from China. The T. family already had adopted a son from Korea; they had no plans to adopt another child. But when Phyllis saw Michael’s picture, she says, “it was like finding yourself suddenly pregnant when you thought you were through having children.” Michael captured her heart. The T. family stepped forward to adopt again.

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When the T. family’s first son Anthony was four, he began asking for a little brother or sister. Both nearing their 50s, Phyllis and Jim were uncertain. Babies required a lot of care. “That’s why God gave babies to people in their 20s and 30s,” thought Phyllis. Each time Anthony would talk about having a sibling, Phyllis’ heart ached. She says, “I was not only grieving the inability to conceive a child, but also the inability to grant Anthony’s request.” Anthony was relentless and full of faith. He asked,

“Mommy, what if God sent us a baby from heaven? What would we do?”

To ease her heartache, Phyllis frequented adoption websites, looking at pictures of waiting children. When she discovered baby Michael on RainbowKids.com, she fell in love. Phyllis remembers, “Michael looked sweet and innocent, like all he wanted as to be held and cuddled.” He had been born with imperforated anus, a birth defect that required two life-saving surgeries in China. Phyllis felt so drawn to Michael, that, unbeknownst to her husband, she called Myriam Avery to learn more about him. An email filled with answered questions and complete medical records confirmed for Phyllis her desire to adopt. Unsure of her husband’s response, Phyllis quickly called him to confess what she had done. His response? A resounding, love-filled yes.

Arrival

The journey to adopting Michael was new and complex for the T. family. While their first son had arrived via escort from Korea to Nashville, Phyllis and Jim would travel this time to China to bring Michael home. Neither had ever traveled outside of the United States, and the prospect of overseas travel seemed daunting. They talked often about what China would be like, but their worries dimmed as they envisioned seeing Michael for the first time.

Michael’s medical needs posed an even greater concern. Here, Jim’s confident love for Michael bolstered Phyllis’ spirits. He assured her, “If we had a natural born child it could have been born with this defect, and we would have loved it the same.” Confident that they could provide better medical care for Michael, the T. family started the adoption process.

In the next months, Phyllis and Jim worked diligently to meet deadlines and get their new baby home. Before they knew it, they were in a Chinese hotel room with a very emotional, sullen two year old. Michael was very attached to his caregivers, spoke Chinese, and had never seen white people before. The transition overwhelmed him. Phyllis and Jim showered Michael with affection. They kissed him and sang to him, and each day he began to open up to them. During their two week stay in China, Michael blossomed. He learned some basic English words, ate until his belly was full, laughed, played and climbed into bed to watch TV.

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Since arriving home, the T. family has delighted in watching Michael meet life’s developmental milestones – language acquisition, relational attachments, food exploration, and comfort in his surroundings. Phyllis says, “Watching him evolve from an orphan into our son [has been] amazing.” Every day holds something new to discover.

Michael has had to endure five corrective surgeries since he came home. He has also had major dental work. Post-surgeries, Michael no longer needs a colostomy bag. He does have hygiene issues, but he accepts them. They are a normal part of his life. A life that is filled with happiness, soccer, swim lessons, pets, friends, and the dear big brother who prayed for his arrival.

Michael does not remember China, although the T. family talks about it. He sometimes leafs through the photo albums of his parents’ trip to bring him home, and he knows where China is on the map. He does not remember his life there, and Phyllis and Jim cannot remember life without him. Parenting two boys has taught them patience and compassion. For Phyllis and Jim, answering questions, teaching prayers, settling arguments, laughing, and watching their boys grow constitutes the best job in the world. Phyllis says, “When adopting a child, you love the child regardless of their sex or their medical issues. Some societies are paternally oriented. To be given the gift of a boy from such a society is exceptional.” 

A Different Kind of Wonderful

Are boys easier to raise than girls? Sarah S. wasn’t sure, but when she and her husband, John, decided to adopt again from China, they chose a boy. The S. family already included four daughters, all adopted from China. After almost a month of discussion with Agape Adoptions and each other, Sarah and John stepped forward to adopt a little boy they named Joel. “John’s friends all assured him that boys were easier to raise than girls,” says Sarah, “especially during the teen years.” Whatever the future held for Sarah and John, they were sure Joel belonged in their family.

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Sarah describes Joel Minyuan as a smart, kind, musically inclined little man. Joel had been diagnosed with Intestinal Lymphangectasia, and when he first came home he walked very slowly, an adjustment for his fast-moving, fun-loving family. Joel was six years old when he entered the S. family, having been abandoned at age three; and Sarah worried that he would have trouble attaching to his new family. As time passed and Joel settled into his new life, Sarah’s worries melted away as she saw Joel develop deep connections with his family and gain a new lightness in his step as his own fears began to subside. Soon, Joel was teasing his sisters and chasing them too!

Today, Joel fits so well into his family that it’s hard to think of a time when he wasn’t with them. A good-natured boy, Joel loves to play with and bother his sisters; and he enjoys basking in the glow of being a “mama’s boy.” Has Joel been easier to raise than his sisters? Sarah says, “Everyone really ought to have several girls and boys – then they’d see!” For the S. family, raising a boy is simply a different kind of wonderful.

Linked to Each Other, One-to-One Around the World

Agape Adoptions prizes the relationships we have developed with orphanages over the years. The colleagues we work with around the world are highly dedicated, caring individuals who advocate tirelessly for the precious children in their care. This past month, we have been blessed to begin a relationship with another One-to-One orphanage in Guangdong, China, where our agency has the privilege of advocating for the children in that institution. (We also maintain a One-to-One relationship with an orphanage in Yunnan, China.)

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Our One-to-One relationship with orphanages is unique. We not only work to match their children with forever families, but we also commit to supporting the care of the children who wait. It is our goal to help improve the lives of these children as they wait to be placed in families who will embrace them with unconditional love.

The relationships we have developed with these orphanages allow us to bless these children in very tangible ways. One of the orphanages received a washer and dryer from Agape Adoptions. We also have provided needed medication for a child with a severe skin condition. The medication is expensive and not easily accessible in the area in which she lives.

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Unlike other orphanage relationships where families might wait for months for updated information, One-to-One partnerships allow us to communicate much more frequently with the orphanage staff. Waiting families can hear more frequently about their child, and our staff at Agape Adoptions can better understand their children and their needs.

Agape Adoptions celebrates this new One-to-One partnership. With it comes the awesome privilege of advocating for beautiful children who are waiting for homes to welcome them. Our One-to-One partnerships also bring with them tremendous responsibility. Each file is a child, a life waiting to flourish. It is our hope and prayer that each of these children finds his or her place in the arms of a loving family.

 

Creative Fundraising: One Family’s Story

In this four-part series, we’re discussing the costs of adoption. Today, in part three, we interview Carrie O., adoptive mom and creative fundraiser, on how their family addressed the costs of adoption.

Carrie, tell us about your journey toward adoption.
Eric and I (Carrie) have talked about adoption ever since we started adding to our family. After we had our third child, for various reasons, we knew we were done, at least biologically. In December 2012, our eyes and hearts were opened to the reality that this journey might just be for us, for this time. We are followers of Jesus, so it’s impossible to tell our story without including our faith and trust in God; who we believe planted this dream in our hearts and showed us that He would help us, guide us, give us strength, ideas, and creativity, and ultimately provide for us. We have relied on this truth along the journey so far and we haven’t been disappointed, only encouraged and spurred on.

What were your initial reactions to the costs of adoption?
After much prayer, interviewing several friends who have adopted in different ways, researching, and going to an adoption conference, we were led very specifically to adopt internationally, China exclusively – and we also felt we would bring home two children at once. That is more money than I can fathom, and not a normal budget line-item, and to raise it in approximately 15-18 months was massively intimidating! But we relied on our God, knowing that if He called us, He would provide, show us how to raise the money, and make it happen.

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How did you plan to manage the costs of adoption?
Because of our annual salary, adoption costs weren’t quite in our budget, nor in our immediate savings. Even being debt free (except our home), managing the costs can be hard. I can’t say we really had a plan. Thankfully, in the beginning, we had some friends who adopted internationally encourage us that “all the expenses aren’t paid at once. You have time on your side.” And this has been so true.

We knew we needed to do our part first. So, at the recommendation of another adoptive family, we began simply by cutting back in our budget. We agreed with our three kids that buying needs over wants would take precedence. We would be sacrificial and give up birthday fun and even go “simple” on Christmas and vacation. (These are still important though!) We were surprised at how much money we started saving! And we survived. This was such a learning time for our family too.

For the rest of the costs, we planned on getting the word out, doing several fundraisers, along with applying for grants. Our last resort would be adoption loans and the possibility of dipping into long term savings. We had to trust God, especially since we didn’t want to go into debt. Our friends who have gone before us on this journey gave us the best and most helpful advice. There are several websites as well, that give a wide array of ideas on how to fundraisers. Along the way, we’ve experienced that it’s not beneficial to look at the total amount owed or you will be overwhelmed, but take it one upcoming expense at a time.

What methods of fundraising did you use? What worked and what didn’t?
We used all different types of fundraising. We saved personally each month. We made hand-crafted items and sold them. Friends made stuff for us to sell. We had a huge multi-family garage sale, held a silent auction and dessert night, had a karate benefit tournament, a benefit square dance, applied for grants, and sent letters telling our story to friends, family, and acquaintances. These letters resulted in generosity from countless people, in sums of small and large amounts, and even matching company donations.

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What worked first and foremost was getting our story out and being excited about it. That is contagious. And when others feel the excitement, they get excited and want to partner with you. Secondly, we had a motto of keep it simple and use what we have, along with what works with our abilities and passions. This makes the fundraising enjoyable, and while it might be labor-intensive, it seems easy and becomes fun.

For example, I love to make cards. I had existing supplies so I made cards and sold them in packs. Our daughters knit, and someone donated yarn to us, so they made scarves and sold them. Eric’s mom loves square dancing. She organized a benefit dance, the callers donated their time, the grange was donated, and people showed up. It was fun!

One important piece of advice about fundraising events is: don’t keep your focus on the end amount that you think you might raise. If you have an idea of what you might raise, and you don’t make your expectation, this sets you up for disappointment and steals the joy and fun from fundraising. Have “fun – raising” money, and give thanks for those that do give and do participate.

We experienced that it’s better to do fundraising in events or seasons, as to keep it fresh and new. While we sold cards, scarves, and earrings in the beginning, when I tried to sell those items eight months later, it just didn’t work. It also works better to offer a service or event people can participate in. People loved donating to our garage sale or auction night. Some people might not be able to give cash, but they can give time and items. Therefore you include all ranges of people and achieve a richer experience.

The breakdown of our “fundraising” was:
personal savings — 20%
monetary donations (given to us or Agape Adoptions our behalf) — 31%
grants or matching company donations — 22%
other fundraising methods/events –27%

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What was the best moment of your fundraising experience? The most difficult one?
We have had so many “best moment” experiences in our fundraising; it’s hard to pick just one. One was in the very beginning when Agape Adoptions called to tell us they’d received a $4,000.00 donation from a friend of ours, in our name. Little did we know that it would be matched by our friend’s employer a few months later (when our second child fee would be due), just at the perfect timing.

It wasn’t just the big events like the auction night that were memorable. We can’t forget the dollar bookmarks, the $20 that someone slips us in passing, or the anonymous $1,000.00 gift given in church just this past week. Every little bit is meaningful and counts. We have been amazed and thankful for every person involved. God loves adoption, and He has shown us this through the generosity of His people.

One of the most difficult things about saving and fundraising is that life still goes on, and some things are just out of our control. Cars break down; teeth need worked on; roof leaks happen. On several occasions we had some larger, unexpected expenses, resulting in us not being able to save personally in those months. This was difficult because we want to do our part. But it was out of our control and worrying wouldn’t benefit us (not to say we didn’t have any worrisome moments). And when those times came, we just had to take a step back, pray, trust, and believe it would all work out. And it always did. God showed His faithfulness in our trust. And as each “out of our control” experience comes up, it becomes easier to hope and trust, knowing it will all work out.

What wisdom would you share with families who are just starting out on their adoption journey?
Be patient and don’t try to control every detail. Let others share in the joy of your journey. Walk in faith and thankfulness; do your part, work hard, and trust God in the journey.