Our Journey to El Salvador to Become a Family of Four
September 25, 2013

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Guest post written by adoptive mom Rachel Donoho. 

Our adoption story started in November of 2005. It was during this time that Kevin and I felt God’s call on our family to adopt internationally. We began to do our research and contacted several adoption agencies. We were the most impressed with America World’s response to our inquiry and attended an adoption seminar in January of 2006, we fell in love with the mission of America World. 

In September of 2006, we applied for the El Salvador program with America World and began our paper pregnancy. By May of 2007, we had submitted our dossier and were excitedly waiting for the phone call that inform us of our referral. That excitement hit a road block in July. We were preemptively looking at minivans and had walked into a Toy’R’Us to look at baby things when we dialed into a conference call with our program coordinator telling us and others that things were going slower than the Salvadoran government had originally promised them. We were looking at waiting much longer than the 12-14 months described in the program flyer. This news crushed our excitement, but did not defeat our commitment to the journey.

The next road block came in January of 2008. We were told that again, the Salvadoran government was not able to fulfill its previously made commitment of providing babies to adoptive families. Unless we were willing to accept a child the age of seven or older we would not be getting a child from El Salvador. AWAA graciously allowed those families in the El Salvador program to transfer, without extra cost, to any other program they offered. While we prayerfully considered their offer, there was one problem with it, I knew my child was waiting for me in El Salvador and I knew I had to wait for them. I am not saying it was easy to accept the idea of raising an older child at first, but any reason I could come up with all seemed purely selfish. And there is no room for selfishness in parenting. Several months later we were able to commit in our hearts and minds to loving the child, no matter what age, that God had planned for us. For me adoption is like marriage; once you make the choice, then you commit and work for it because quitting is not an option.

During the winter of 2007 while we were dealing with the crushing disappointment and acceptance of having to wait years and not getting a baby as we had originally planned for, I received a promise from God. I was contemplating giving up my ministry with the children and families at church. I was also working as a school social worker at that time and investing in children and families six days a week was at times more than I could fake. It became extremely difficult to be intimately involved with families, while I had such an unrequited desire for one. Then I was given Isaiah 54: 1-3, “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord. “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left.” I felt God gave me renewed strength to continue to invest into the families he put in my path. I was able to accept that even if I never had a family of my own through birth or adoption, I would enlarge my tent and love and cherish every child that was in my life.

From August 2008 to January of 2009 we were given several opportunities that really defined our process. First, I was able to accompany Brian Luwis and eight other waiting families to El Salvador to meet with our attorney, and influential Salvadorans, as well as officials working in the USAID office. A few weeks later, Kevin and I took advantage of the Luwis’ invitation to attend the Angels in Adoption event in Washington D.C. AWAA hosted government officials from El Salvador for this annual even during which we had a conversation with the Director of OPA, the government agency that has direct guardianship over available children. She told us that they had more sibling groups paper ready for adoption, than individual children. Kevin immediately turned to me and said, “let’s do that!” I was a little overwhelmed with the idea at first, however, I wanted to continue to be flexible to the process God was taking us through.

We changed our home study that fall to include children up to the age of seven, willing to take a sibling group. In January of 2009, Kevin took a mission trip to El Salvador that was planned a year in advance. During that trip he was able to meet with the Attorney General of El Salvador through the influential family activist we had met during our other trips with AWAA. She was able to use our story of waiting to represent the many other families willing and waiting to care for children that no longer had a family to take care of them.

In March of 2009, we received the joyous phone call we had been waiting for. Our program coordinator called to say they had a sibling set that was going to committee to be matched with a family and asked if we were willing to allow our family to be among the choices. We said yes and eagerly awaited the news. Seven weeks later, with the eagerness dying down, I had another Mother’s Day looming over me. Usually I helped with the children at church and we made gifts for the mothers, then I would go to the larger church service and watch my husband pray over the mothers and talk about how important they were. I did not have it in me to do that another year. I called my own mother and asked her to meet me for lunch halfway in between where we lived. The Monday following Mother’s Day I went to work and before the official start of the day, I opened my email and there it was. The referral from our attorney, sent Friday evening. If I had just checked my email once over the weekend (pre-smart phone days), I would have had a reason to celebrate on Mother’s day. Immediately I ran to a co-worker and asked her to come to my office to read my email. I didn’t believe it and needed someone else to read the email and tell me that it meant what I thought it meant.

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Our first family photo, meeting the kids for the first time on October 11, 2009 at the orphanage.

Our journey continued to be one of waiting as it would take another five months to get a court date. However, three years, one months and six days after applying with AWAA, on October 12, 2009, we officially became a family of four. I have been told that after you give birth when you hold your child for the first time, you forget about the misery of labor. The same is true for adoption, when you hug your child for the first time you quickly forget the loneliness and heartbreak of waiting so long.

There were several other bumps in the road that we faced: the disappointment of not being matched with the first sibling set we were in committee with, frustration with staff turnover and missed deadlines with our home study agency (not AWAA), extra paperwork and expenses due to the missed deadlines, moving out of a parsonage and into our own home which required us to get a second house state-approved, the list could go on. Each block in the road felt like a layer of our hopes coming off and reality hitting us straight on. Were we committed to the challenge of facing each one and overcoming it whether an emotional, a paperwork, or a financial challenge? I was frequently reminded of words from a Bible teacher who once said that God will not allow the devil to sift you, unless you need sifting. Referring to Luke 22:31-32 where Jesus tells Simon Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Hopefully our story will strengthen another familiy’s resolve to either begin to adopt or to remain in a difficult adoption process. I would never want to write about our hard times and inadvertently discourage someone else from adopting. Yes, we were sifted, but the reward on the other side of the sifting was the greatest reward we will receive in our lifetime.   

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