We received an email yesterday that our official letter approving us to be Rowan’s parents is on its way to our adoption agency! This is a HUGE step, and we are so thankful to be here! It still looks like we could travel at the end of August (latter 2 weeks, hopefully, coming back “home” in the very first few days of September), providing all the other paperwork goes through in the “average” timeframe or slightly faster! So, what’s next? We will sign the paper stating we accept Rowan, and then we will start our US immigration paperwork. We’ll need to get our approval from USCIS, then we wait for a letter from the National Visa Center, then we need something called our Article 5 (final approval that everything is done from the US Embassy. It will be delivered to CCCWA, China’s central authority. The Article 5 lets CCCWA know that we are approved by the US government to adopt our specific child and have appropriately jumped through every hoop and paid every fee the two governments could think of.) After this step CCCWA issues travel approval. Once we get that travel approval, we can make a consulate appointment in China for our visa interview with Rowan, make sure we have our visas lined up, and then we will know when we are actually traveling (so, in a nutshell, we won’t know the exact date of our travel until about 10 to 21 days before we go!). You can imagine, I’m sure, that this process is patience building. Basically, we’ll hurry up and submit paperwork, then wait, then submit more, then wait, etc. You can pray with us that everything proceeds smoothly. It sounds more overwhelming than it is. The steps are actually quite clearly defined and laid out for us. BUT…we are doing all of this in the midst of a super busy summer season for us here at the Ranch! Pray for patience and energy, and most importantly, pray for Rowan’s heart. We won’t be able to immediately come to Mexico with him, we’ll have to be in the US for a bit while we process his US passport, etc., which is more transition for our little guy! We’ll need creativity and wisdom as we walk through this with him as a family. But, we all know that God does work through our prayers. The fact that we are even here where we are today is a testimony to what God can do! Thank you all for your many prayers and love for our family! I’ll try to post a bit more in the coming weeks so that you know where we stand in this process!
Often, we don’t take the time to write a lot about our personal lives in our newsletters/on facebook, not because we don’t want to share, but rather because we are passionate about the Ranch ministry and want to keep it front and center. We care deeply about the children, youth, and families who are impacted by our partnership with you in the Ranch ministry, and, well, we want to keep everyone’s focus on that…But, Pete and I often remind ourselves…there is absolutely no part of our life that is exempt from God’s will. He wants all of us and all of our minutes and activities to be for His glory. We figured we could resurrect this blog and use it for a little while to post updates on our family’s personal journey to our fourth child!
Almost 8 years ago now, we adopted Ava. That journey is something that is still near and dear to our hearts. If you want to make me happy, ask me about it! Ask me about a good friend crying on her way to work the day she knew Ava was being placed in our arms. Ask me about those first moments with our daughter. Ask me about the journey, the long months wondering when our child would join our family, the day we got the phone call and other friends came over with sparkling cider to toast Ava! We look at our precious daughter every day with thankfulness that we are her parents, even in the hard moments. That gratitude extends to our biological children as well…they are not more “ours” because we birthed them…all three of our daughters are “ours” only because God was gracious and gave them to us for a time to raise in our home and to love and to teach. But, 7 years ago…we were asking God for the specific gift of being able to adopt again. After our journey to Ava, both Pete and I became even more passionate about adoption. The image of the children in Ava’s orphanage is seared in my mind, and deep love for my daughter burns in my heart. We knew there was another child out there who needed a family, and that we could be that family.
We thought we would adopt our third, but God surprised us with the pregnancy and birth of Kylah! We call her our “move the Johnsons to Mexico” baby. Right after she was born, we heard about the Ranch, and quite honestly, if we had been in the middle of an adoption, we would not have said yes to the Ranch…we would not have wanted to give up our adoption process. Even so, when we moved to Mexico, it was with the understanding that we may have to surrender our desire to adopt again. We moved saying our hearts and home were open to a fourth child, but we honestly did not know it would be possible to adopt while living in Mexico.
Well, with God all things are possible! Last year, we started investigating a bit more, and God brought into our lives a social worker with experience in helping expats adopt. God provided, through her, a way to have a homestudy done, and we are now sitting on the edge of being able to pursue a hearts’ desire of ours…adopting and bringing home our fourth child!
An adoption is a different path than a pregnancy, we know that. But the end result is the same…another blessing, another life to celebrate, another child who will grow up and Lord willing, be a blessing to others and to this world. But the path…that is something that is hard to explain. It is challenging, hard, faith-building, patience-growing, and sometimes heart wrenching (so pretty much it could just be called parenting). We want to share with you all the ways God has worked in our lives, and all the ways He has provided for this adoption. We have seen God provide abundantly for the Ranch ministry. That is a separate thing…our adoption is quite apart from that, and since it is personal, we don’t want to use our newsletters or social media platforms as much to share with you. Hence, a few long notes here…those interested can click and read. Thanks for being interested!!! 😊
WE’RE PAPER PREGNANT!!!
Are you ready for more??
Our first question after deciding we really wanted to pursue an adoption again was “from where??”, and we almost gave up on adopting again during our search for the answer to this question. In every road-block we encountered, we returned to prayer, asking God if this was a NO, or just a prompt to look elsewhere. We first investigated adopting in Mexico, but for many, many reasons, this proved next to impossible for us. As US citizens we still would have had to use a US adoption agency, and they all discouraged us from pursuing this path. Most of the US agencies approved to work in Mexico have their programs on hold, for various reasons, which we understand, especially after working so closely with the social welfare system in Mexico. There is not a reliable way to verify that children in orphanages have been “relinquished” by their parents. A lot of parents here view the orphanages as temporary while they work to become more stable, etc. Also, the social workers here often do not have the time to put together files on children who would be available for “international” adoption. (Which our adoption would be even though we live in Mexico, because we would want our child to be a US citizen.) We spoke with other expats in Mexico who had tried to adopt, heard their stories, and felt God close this door completely. Our desire in this whole process is to also be faithful to the ministry God has given us for this season. As directors of the Ranch, we cannot pursue just any avenue for adoption because we need to be able to meet the needs of any child who joins our family here in La Paz, with the resources here, which, while many, are not the same as the resources in a big city elsewhere in Mexico or the US.
Our next step was adopting from US foster care, and again, God closed that door. We spent months calling various people, talking with social workers, and trying to understand what it might look like for us to pursue this avenue. Again, we were highly discouraged from pursuing this route by the one (and only one) agency who helps non-military expats adopt from US foster care.
Back to square one…honestly at this point, we almost gave up…it had been months and months of phone calls, prayer, wondering, hoping (but barely), and we really had to analyze what we thought was feasible. We don’t live a super “normal” life, we live in a place which would take some major adjustments for an older child, we don’t have special education classes readily available, it’s REALLY hot in the summer here with lots of bugs, etc. BUT…we work with some really amazing physical therapists who use our horses to help children with physical disabilities, we are friends with the director of a state of the art physical therapy center in La Paz, we live on the Ranch where there is so much room for a child to run and be free and outdoor therapy is a proven reality! We run activities for children, our friends here love children, Pete is a counselor, I’m an educator. We really felt we could (relatively) seamlessly work another child into our lives. And we felt we had some tools to help a child with some different special needs thrive and grow.
Pete’s sister and her husband adopted from China a little more than 2 years ago, and we both really bonded with our niece on our home assignment. So, they were the first ones we called…we asked if they thought it would be crazy to pursue the adoption of a child with special needs from China. We were so encouraged by their response and their joy, and after praying and knowing that they were praying for us, we decided to investigate more, talk with our social worker, and see what agencies might be willing to work with us!
Guess what…we found the most amazing agency, which also has some really amazing skills at helping us qualify for this adoption (it wasn’t immediately simple for us), and which has tons of experience working with expats. We felt prompted to move forward with CCAI…and, to tell you, in each step of this journey, we have been holding this adoption with open hands…asking God to close the door or slow us down if we are ever moving ahead of Him or outside of His plans. He has been so faithful. Pete and I have many, many moments of clear direction in this entire endeavor, and we are thankful for that.
So…there you are:
WE’RE ADOPTING FROM CHINA!
The whole process I’ve described took place over more than 6 months…that’s so much longer than with Ava…Pete one night said…let’s adopt. And the next week, I plopped papers in front of him to sign with our agency, we knew where we’d adopt from, and the date of our first homestudy interview! It’s not that we were more eager with her adoption; there were just fewer complications, and, quite honestly, we’re not as naïve this go around.
The very first thing we had to do this time was get a letter from Mexico of non-involvement, and let me tell you…it was NOT EASY. It involved multiple trips to the local social workers offices, multiple investigations of other people who have requested this letter, multiple copies of examples, passports, visas, etc. Finally, I even had to call a friend in Mexico City, ask her to talk to her friend, and that friend to get in touch with the boss of all the social workers in Mexico, and then ask her to call the La Paz lawyer for the social workers here to explain what we needed and why. Phew…it was a lot of work. But we got it this past September (after I made myself a nuisance in the offices here for more than 2 months!). And, in other good news, we made a lot of great connections through this whole process for the Ranch!
Second, we had to meet China’s qualifications, which we did, mostly, except for that pesky income requirement which China has…but guess what, remember way back when we tried to sell our house before moving to Mexico? We had no idea what God was doing and why our home didn’t sell…now, we are so thankful! Our adoption agency told us our rental income is considered income, even if it only covers our mortgage! And then, with our Master’s Degrees, China considered us as having “income potential.” Again, through this process, we just saw how God opened doors for us, and we are thankful.
When the way opened up after clarifying those two steps, it was amazing how God provided for getting our homestudy done!
You might be wondering why we haven’t been sharing this journey publicly from the beginning. Partly, it is from our desire to keep the Ranch front and center. Partly, it is because we are holding this adoption with open hands because we are not going to be doing the same amount of fundraising for this adoption like we did for Ava’s. We are passionate about this adoption, but also about the Ranch and the children, youth, and families who depend on our teamwork with all of you in fundraising. We don’t want to double up! And, honestly, we don’t have the energy to do so! Instead, we have done the hard work of applying for grants, and in each step, we wait until we have the grant money, and then we move forward to the next step in the adoption. At this moment, we are so thrilled to share with you that we did receive a hugely generous grant from a Christian foundation dedicated to helping families adopt. They paid ALL of our adoption agency fees! We have travel/orphanage fees left, and we have something like 8 grant applications sitting out there, each taking about 3 to 4 months to process. We only need about 2 more grants (calculating the average amount of grant awards). Pray with us about that, and we will be letting you know as we continue to rejoice in how God will provide! (I have another story waiting in the wings here, just wanted to post this eternally long entry first!)
The best part! We have a 5 year old son waiting for us in China! China has a large list of children available for adoption that they call the Shared List, meaning that multiple adoption agencies can pull files if they feel they have families that might be good fits for the children on the list. Typically, these children are on this list because they are older, are boys, or have more involved special needs. Our son’s file was prepared when he was about 18 months old, and he has been waiting for a family ever since. His file hadn’t been updated, but for whatever reason (we believe God moved us to ask) we picked his face out of hundreds on our adoption agency’s website, and asked to hear more. His old file was sent to us; we read it over, took notes, talked with my dad, and sent back an email…basically, we asked for an update and a video, if possible to show where this little boy was currently in his motor development. Our agency had asked for an update more than once, and not received one, but this time, because they said a family had his file, the orphanage responded. We received a video and a short update on our son. We had his file reviewed by a physician who specializes in reviewing files for international adoptions, and after our conversation with her, we felt an immediate peace about moving forward. We asked China if he could be our son, and we have received pre-approval.
We are currently about 3 or 4 months away from traveling to bring home our son, Rowan! Our paperwork is done; we are just waiting for it to be approved in China and for them to issue our final approval to bring our son home. Please pray for our papers to be moved quickly through the process. It would be ideal for us to travel at the end of August, factoring in various ministry events and season of life here. But again, we are trusting that God knows what needs to happen and when. We also want to go as soon as possible, obviously, because our son has spent quite a few years now in an orphanage. Every month is hard on children and their development when they are not in families. Pray that God protects Rowan and his heart and prepares us to welcome him into our family! We can’t wait to share that happy day with all of you! 😊
We recently made a video for our sending church at home for their advent season which highlights some of the work of the Ranch. Hope you enjoy this little Christmas video. Spanish and English versions available!
First, let me say that it is difficult to pull an adequate quote from an entire book, because of course, the quote comes from an entire book, and the book expounds and explains and develops full ideas. If you are interested, challenged, agree or disagree with a single quote…I always recommend you read the entire book (or at least longer excerpts) in order to be able to more fully interact with the ideas put forth in a book…but of course, quotes are also useful discussion starters…such a quandary, but a good one. I don’t think it’s a surprise to any of you that Pete and I love reading…more reading is a good problem to have!
I have been going back and re-reading some of the books that we read before coming to Mexico, and I am finding them so much more helpful at this point in my life than they previously were! Toxic Charity, When Helping Hurts, Walking with the Poor, Forgotten Ways, among others…
Today’s quote (I’ll get to it eventually) comes from Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development by Bryant L. Myers. It is rather dense, but I appreciate reading the social science research behind the various theories of community development (the other development books on my list above would be considered to be based on the existing research, but they do not cite the research too much in the books in the effort to keep them readable, i.e., not dense and difficult).
I firmly and unapologetically believe that we are called to research and implement best practice as Christians, no matter the field we are in. I think people would agree that it would be irresponsible for a Christian medical doctor to ignore the most current research in his or her field…so why is it that we think we can excuse practices in community development that have been shown over and over again to be more harmful than helpful? Obviously, we all make mistakes, none of us is perfect (i.e. no perfect practitioners OR perfect theories OR perfect projects…thank our Lord for grace), and there are “grey” areas in best practice…but those should not be excuses to ignore research and best practice. We should at least try to learn and grow and practice with excellence because God is God…all holy, powerful, beautiful, good. We are His creations and so are the people we work with. We honor Him by doing our best and being humble and willing to learn and grow through our mistakes. But it’s not easy. I deeply struggle with feeling inadequate in the face of the ministry we have here. I will confess, sometimes reading the books above make me feel more inadequate. But I am not afraid of my inadequacy because I trust in an unfailing God who is always and ever present…with me, and with all those with whom we work. At the same time, I refuse to use my feelings of inadequacy as an excuse to just do whatever feels “right” to me without learning more; I feel that would be selfish of me, focusing more on my feelings than on God’s will. When I get overwhelmed, I try to simplify my thought processes.
Seek God. Seek wisdom.
Ask questions. Read. Learn. Try something.
Fail. Make mistakes.
Learn some more. Try again. Repeat.
Not so complicated. But I hate making mistakes and I especially hate failure. I think we need to learn to get over our fear of those things. (Outside of Jesus, of course, I can’t think of a single Bible person who didn’t FAIL, and most of them failed BIG).
Trust God and His power and grace and mercy. And ask Him to give us grace for others!
I want to write a bit (in more than one post…this is getting LONG) about what we’re learning and experiencing so we can all process together and learn and grow. Essentially, posts that unpack what we have seen here “on the field” that support various research findings; where we’ve succeeded, where we’ve failed, and what we’re learning to change. But before all the theories, social research, and tools for community development in upcoming posts, below is an important reminder that I appreciated reading in Walking with the Poor that directly challenges me not to be swayed by feeling inadequate or fearful of failure.
The wisdom of the cross offers a different basis for hope. The cross teaches us that salvation does not come from right thinking or right technique, but by divine action making right what we cannot make right ourselves. We are told the “the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Cor 1:25). Foolishness and weakness are the message of the cross, “the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The development worker must never forget this basic truth about who can save. The claims of modernity are seductive, and we encounter them every day in the things we read, listen to, and study. Our professional training as development specialists is predicated on the idea that the stories of the market, science, and technology can save others. This is not true, and we must guard against this deception. These things are tools and they can help, but they cannot save.” (p. 151, Walking with the Poor by Bryant Myers)
The wave was bigger than you expected…it crashes over you…before you know it…all goes dark…you are pushed and pulled under…you toss and spin around…thinking about how long you can hold your breath you wonder which way is up…and then you are slammed into the sandy bottom knocking out the remaining air you have stored in your lungs…you wonder how long you can stay under…and then…all goes calm…you can see the surface…and you pop up to the surface for a life giving breath of air.
This has been our experience this past two months…
A wave bigger than we expected comes crashing toward us…we undergo a number of significant-unplanned changes in our Ranch Team. Hurrican Odile hits. We are thrown into crisis and disaster relief work. The regular ministries of the Ranch continue…retreats, kids club, bible studies, project management, a short term team, a training event for area youth leaders…and the list goes on…
But we are coming up for air…God is good and faithful and sustained us during this time…and we are getting the rest and nourishment we need.
We appreciated all your prayers, letters of support, and calls of encouragement during this time. It is a blessing to know that what is done here is not done of our own efforts but is truly a community effort. We thank you all for our support.
We’ll be in touch shortly with some pictures of our past few months.
At times it seems to us that life is moving so quickly that we can barely catch our breath, and then when we have a chance to sit and reflect, there are so many little moments that were such blessings to us that we don’t want to forget them. And the sum of all of these little moments is actually a big thing! We are fully aware that we should probably slow down more often and appreciate how God is working. And in the meantime, we wanted to share some with you…
At the very beginning of the summer, we had a short term team with us, and they helped us do a promo week for summer camp during our kids’ club ministries. The team was leading a number of things, and I (Emily) was helping them include our kids’ club leaders and translating a lot. In the midst of helping the team and making sure everything was working together, during one of the nights at kids’ club, we didn’t pray. We always pray, but I honestly didn’t even notice that we hadn’t this particular night. We finished up the club, played some sports with the kids, I sent the short term team on their way, and I was getting ready to leave when 2 of my regular attendees came running up to me. “Teacher, teacher,” they said, “we forgot to pray!” The girls were very upset. I asked them if I could pray for them right then and there, and so they gave me some requests, and we prayed together. They left in peace, and so did I.
God is for real, and He is present and waiting for us to talk to Him, to share His love, and to believe in Him; to slow down and pray; to slow down and remember and rejoice in His faithfulness. I’ve been listening to an old Caedmon’s Call CD in the car lately as I drive to the Ranch or to the colonias for ministry…and I am usually crying out to God for grace and love and strength to continue…I long ago reached the end of myself, and God’s mercy is what is left, and He is completely sufficient. This song is an encouragement to me, and I hope to you as well as you continue in God’s will for your lives.
Thy mercy my God is the theme of my song
The joy of my heart and the boast of my tongue
Thy free grace alone from the first to the last
Hath won my affection and bound my soul fast
Without Thy sweet mercy, I could not live here
Sin would reduce me to utter despair
But through Thy free goodness, my spirit’s revived
And He that first made me still keeps me alive
Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart
Which wonders to feel it’s own hardness depart
Dissolved by Thy goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep for the praise of the mercy I’ve found
(Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah)
Great father of mercies, Thy goodness I own
In the covenant love, Thy crucified son
All praise to the spirit, whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine
All praise to the spirit, whose whisper divine
Seals mercy and pardon and righteousness mine
Caedmons Call – Thy Mercy Lyrics
Ali had a ballet recital this past Friday in the Main Theater of La Paz! It was a shear joy to see the smile on her face dancing in front of a full audience and fulfilling perhaps a dream of every little girl…dancing ballet in a princess dress. Ali has been attending a classical ballet school for the past 6 months and is the youngest in her class by a year. She goes twice a week for two hours and worked especially hard this past month on these dances. Its been quite a lot for a six year old…and all in her second language! She did such a great job and we are very proud of her! You can watch her two dances here. The first is a more “modern” ballet style dance entitled Jellyfish and the second is a more “classical” ballet dance entitled Princesses.
We recently took the kid club leaders out for their monthly activity. This month we went paddle boarding down on the malecon. It was a blast to spend time with the leaders teaching them to use the board as well as improving their swim strokes…of course you know we couldn’t resist throwing out a few pointers. We may have also had to swim out and rescue a few kids who were being blown out by the strong afternoon winds! It has been incredible to watch as these kids have stepped up in leading. Last week, kids led everything from the teaching time, the games, and songs. The only thing we had to come prepared with was the craft. It has also been amazing to watch as some of those in our community of faith have taken ownership as well. One women recently bought an igloo to be able to bring water to the group…this is no small task as she took the time and money to go out and purchase a new one all on her own. It is a blessing to see the kids club continue to grow in the leadership capacity and influence of the leaders. If you think about it please pray for our leaders as they continue to step up and take ownership in the kids club. Pray for us so we can be wise leaders who continue to seek to empower and equip this generation to reach their own. Here are a few pics of our paddle board outing.
PS. Sorry for the long length of time without a post. We got swamped down in a heavy work load during May and then took time to rest before our summer months. We are learning to establish healthy boundaries and taking time off from posting is one of the boundaries that helps us to establish health in our lives. We look forward to sharing more stories soon.
I (Pete) am pretty pumped because we recently finished a new challenge course at the ranch in time to run kids from the Easter camps through the course. It was a great experience for them and for me. For them…it was something they have never done before (literally) and for me…it was my first time running groups through a challenge course in Spanish! The course still needs a few touches and we have plans for more elements to come but enjoy this virtual tour of the challenge course with pics of students going through the course.