All posts in Africa

Visual Gotcha Day

I realized that I needed to put pictures to words to remember our Gotcha Day. Our agency director, Sue, actually sent all of these to us….

Jason and I seeing Judson Obsi

Approaching him gently…no tears!

Ahh, there are the tears…those clothes and tennis ball are the only thing we have from his orphanage days.

You can see he is looking for an out…anyone? Please?

Jason and Sue got in on the action to see if they could calm him…it didn’t work.

This is Hewitt…she is amazing. She talked to him for several minutes and calmed him right down. I realized later that we left without giving her a chance to tell him goodbye and it just hurts my heart. She cared for him for 9 months and I can imagine that she was a source of comfort and stability for him.

We had several other parents at the T house that day and we shared many conversations as we let him acclimate to us a little more.

Judson has an amazing dad and I love how he began to look to him from day one. Those few days we had just us and Judson Obsi were such a blessing and I am so thankful for our moments, just the three of us.

I will always remember this day for the simplicity of it and the significance of it. No turning back, Judson is finally where he was created to be.

Bringing Judson Home…Gotcha Day

January 9-10

Travel Day was crazy, of course!
Jason was able to go to the staff retreat for a while and I finished last minute details. Emery had gotten strep throat over the weekend so she was home with me.
We were able to spend a little time with Parker, Emery and Bradley as I was, no doubt, throwing things in the suitcase.
Our last moments as a Party of Five we spent in prayer together.
It was precious to this mommy, who can’t shield them from the long days ahead, but I can point them to the fact that we are in this together.

This is their story, as much as his.

And I have no doubt they will Rise to the task that God has given us.

Next stop….Ethiopia.

January 11, Gotcha Day

As soon as we landed in Addis, we were able to get a game plan together for the day. It was 8am and we had been traveling for almost 14 hours. We originally thought we would go to our guest house and get some rest, but after talking with our Agency Director, who is in town, we decided to go, get changed and head to the Transition house to pick him up. We are so excited to be traveling with Charlie and Gina Mitchell, a family from our church who are bringing home Nate and  Abe. We were greeted by them and their sons at the guest house and we both received an extra dose of energy. We all ended up going to get Judson Obsi.
Sue, our agency director was at the T house, along with a few other parents!

Our moment was not dramatic except in the only way that matters….
He let us approach him, touch him, and talk to him for a few minutes With NO TEARS!!

We had been told he was giving out smiles and high fives, so we knew the prayers of so many were not returning void!

We felt hope and joy!
He of course started crying, but we went into the living room and Hewitt, the lead nanny, spent a long time talking to him, telling him we are his mommy and daddy, we love him, and that she was going to get him candy! He finally calmed down, interacted with us, then, fell asleep.
We left the place he has known for 9 months , as he slept…

When we got to the Guest house, we spent a lot of time playing cars, eating suckers and being with Nate and Abe. I am so thankful we are traveling with them. They are familiar, active boys and just plain fun. They also provide familiarity for him.

That afternoon, I was able to feed him Injera and give him lots of water that he is drinking from a sippy cup! We heard him speak in this high pitched voice, scolding Abe for trying to take his smarties! It was such an answered prayer just be with him!

He is showing an ease with Jason and would just lean into him. What a picture of grace and love…a child leaning into his father. He is still very solemn and shows no emotions and we definitely have some developmental and health issues to address, but he made tremendous progress today. h

His only episode of crying was when I tried to lay him down for a nap. Too much for our guy. So Jason held him and he fell asleep for a nap. We gave him a shower after he woke up and he refused to sit in the tub for a bath. It was obvious he didn’t know what to do. His belly is very distended and his pull ups are falling down because the rest of him is so tiny.  We put on his pjs, and I can’t tell you how BIG that felt to this mommy who thinks matching pjs is essential!

After that we tried to feed him, but he was not very hungry. We are learning if you put a lot in front of him, he wants to have it all in his hands. Trial by fire with the food…

And tonight, he fell asleep with a magna doodle in his hand and his mommy by his side and has slept all night, unlike his parents! He is actually still sleeping at 7:30.

Jason and I were spending some time in the Word this morning and Jason read John 4:46-54 and how appropriate it was for us on this early morning….

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”
Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.”
The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.
As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”
The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”
And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:46-54 ESV)

We believe this promise that OUR SON WILL LIVE, not just physically, but that the real boy will be unleashed and come alive.  What a gift we were given from Jesus, speaking truth to our minds And hearts!

We are rejoicing in this day and know that God is at work…praise you, Father…..

We are Cleared

The words we were waiting to hear! After our October 31 court date, our agency works to get all the paperwork prepared and ready to go to the Embassy. This involved having the documents translated, getting a new birth certificate and a passport. Embassy has been more and more difficult to get through, so we have been very prayerful. On December 8, we were submitted to court and on the December 21, we found out our birthmother interview was scheduled for January 5. Embassy is now interviewing the person who relinquished the child to help in determining Orphan Status.  We found out early yesterday morning that we had cleared court and were given a January 12 Embassy appointment!

It is time to bring our son home.

The past few days have been a whirlwind, but today has been one where I feel like my course has been set and I am moving. We received precious pictures of Judson with his birthmom yesterday and it is such a gift. She is a beautiful young woman and I am beyond humbled.

I still have more to share about our court trip and the amazing time we had.

For now, I ask you to pray.

Pray for all the details, our children, our travel, and for our transition. I am not naive to think this is going to be easy or even kinda hard. I know we are not able to walk this alone and I am so thankful that to serve a Father who will complete that which He started and for a community that loves our son already.  The list of resources I have are endless and I DO NOT take the support we have for granted.

We are going to get our son….

Introducing….

Judson Obsi Stewart

Here is our precious son, who is officially a Stewart! We passed court in Ethiopia on October 31 and were able to spend several days with Judson Obsi.

I am not going to candy coat it…he is not a fan of us. He cried most of the time and was never really comfortable with us.  He was able to fall asleep on me two times and actually woke up and stayed in my lap for about 2o minutes. PRAISE!! Jason is still editing our pictures and I can’t wait to share about our trip in detail. The girls did so good and I was so proud of them and how they handled every situation they faced.

I know they are forever changed and this trip will have a tremendous impact on them for their lifetime.

And, they are not the only ones…

It was an wonderful week and I can’t wait to go back for our Embassy appointment and bring our boy HOME. Please pray that this happens sooner rather than later!

More to come…

Both Hands Project

The biggest obstacle to most families when adopting is money. They see $25,000 to $30,000 and feel immediate apprehension, anxiety or just shut the door before it even starts!  When looking into and praying though how we were going to pay for our adoption, we came across two organizations that we knew we wanted to be apart of, Lifesong For Orphans and Both Hands Foundation.

Lifesong helps family thought no interest loans and grants. They also will allow families to open an account for donations, which allows others to give to the family and receive a tax deduction.  They also help churches develop an orphan care  ministry. They are also partnered with the Both Hands Foundation to handle the funds that are raised.

Both Hands was began by an amazing man, J.T. Olson.  The concept of BHF is to provide for the widow and the orphan and fulfill the commandment found in James 1:27. We knew immediately that we wanted to be apart of the ministry this foundation provides. We were charged with finding a widow in our community who was in need of some home repair. We then built a team of folks who would commit to work on her home for a day and send out letters to raise support for their work on her home. All funds raised would go towards bringing our son home.  After months of struggling to find an orphan, our phone rang and we were asked to be the 100th project.  A few weeks later, BHF reached the 1 million dollars raise milestone!! Through the amazing community effort of our friends, family, and our community we were able to bless the life of Ms. Lillian Ellis, an 84 year old widow who’s home was in major need or repair. Here is a view of our day!

Stewart Both Hands Project from Jason Stewart on Vimeo.

I can not express how overwhelmed we have been with the support our family has received. If we didn’t raise one dollar from this project it would have still been an amazing day and experience. I have no doubt that we were the hands and feet of Jesus that day. The video does not show the damage and smell that 25 cats had left behind.

You can read about our project in the Daily News Journal and at Both Hands Foundation.

Please Pray for Ethiopia

Today has been a very heartbreaking day for many families who are adopting from Ethiopia. For reasons unknown, the government has started shutting down orphanages with no notice. These precious children are then taken to undisclosed locations. We have been told they are being cared for by UNICEF.

Over 40 orphanages and 250 children have been effected.

Today, one of amazing orphanages that our agency works with was shut down. Many families now have no idea where their children are or if they will be able to proceed with their cases.  They may, but this is another delay in a journey that is already long and difficult. There is no other way to say it, but that this is devastating news for many families who have gone from expecting court dates anyday, to the unknown that has happened.

For now, Judson’s orphanage has not been closed, but the hard truth is that it could happen.

Sometimes, there are just no words except….JESUS.  I am clinging and proclaiming Scripture because I have no other response that can bring hope and peace. Hope that is built on NOTHING else but Him. Peace that is not dependent on my circumstances or the world I live in.

There is a sweet, precious boy who I long to parent. We are dedicated to this journey and to the path to bring him home. Until there is NOTHING else in our power, we will do all we can to bring him home.

I ask you to pray for all the children in Ethiopia who, more than anyone, are effected by these closures. I ask that you pray for those who are in Ethiopia advocating for these children on our behalf. I ask that you would pray for the families who are in such dark limbo that they would be able to bring their children home. I ask you to pray for the officials who are making these decisions.

 

The details…

So now that you have seen the adorable backside of our son, I thought I would share the specifics to his story. We received our referral while we were in Chattanooga on Spring Break…or at least we received pictures of ‘O’ but were waiting on his medical. The director of our agency had been in Africa for several weeks and was in their orphanage that is located 14 hours south of Addis. It was there that O had been brought by his mother. We have a good amount of history on him and will be getting more, but have decided to keep it private. It is our son’s story, not ours to tell, yet. They were able to get all of his paperwork together except for his medical, so he was brought to Addis to have his examination and to live at the Transition Home until we can get him.

Here is what we know for sure:

1. He is between 18 months and 2 years. When you live in remote Africa, a calendar is not exactly right around the corner and much is determined by phases of the moon. Because of that, we do not know the exact date of his birth.

2. We will be submitted to court on Monday, April 11. We will find out in about a month when our court date is and this will be when we travel. We think it will be late June or July. Current court dates are for the end of May for those who were submitted to court in early March.

3. We have a decent picture of his medical condition. He was anemic so they have put him on Iron supplements. He is 3% in weight and 25-50% in height.

We had a sweet time telling our children about their brother. They have been so anxious to see his face.  We had finally seen his medicals and were ready to move forward. We were ready to celebrate this amazing part of our journey. Jason and I had guarded our hearts and were just plain old excited to share his face and to begin falling in love with this sweet guy. We had some pictures printed of ‘O’ and put them in these cute little bags.

We had each child open it up, but not say anything…but I think their faces tell the story…

JOY

OVERFLOWING JOY

OVERWHELMED…

But, able to rejoice knowing that we now have a face in our minds and a name to utter in our prayers. As I have been processing what it means to welcome this little guy into our lives, I continue to cycle back to his precious mother. While I don’t know all of her reasons for choosing to place her son for adoption, I know this….she is forever apart of our journey and his. For whatever reason, she is choosing to trust that this incredibly hard decision is one that will give her a chance….and her son a chance. I also think about our son, whom I don’t know yet, but what I do know is that in these days, he is experiencing fear, confusion, anxiety and not understanding why….in a nutshell, my son is walking through a trauma.  And it is hard to think about, but that is his reality, and that of MILLIONS of other children.  Right now, I am choosing to love this little picture of a boy, in anticipation of loving him for all of his days.

So I ask you to pray for him these specific things:

  • Attentive and caring nannies- I pray his cries are heard, answered and he is given as much love and attention that he needs.
  • Peace- In the midst of his fear and confusion, pray that he feels the peace, security and love that can come only from God. I can’t give those things to him right now, but I serve an amazing God who will and does.
  • Attachment- Even though he is young, attachment is a process. Pray that he will quickly bond to Jason and I when we see him and KNOW that he is loved, he is safe and he is home.
  • A quick court date- Pray that favor is found in our case. Pray we get a quick court date and pass court THE FIRST TIME. Pray specifically that our letter from MOWA is written and all of our documentation is in order.
  • His birthmother- Pray for her heart and mind during these days.

With that I leave you a glimpse of our little man (we can’t post his picture, yet)(and that is a scrape on his sweet little chin)

Why Not, Ethiopia?

We’ve been asked “Why Ethiopia?”  Here are just a few reasons why….

Adoption Update

When Jason and I made the leap to adopt, we decided to not have a separate blog about our adoption journey. NOT that I have anything against blogs that are about a family’s adoption journey, we just wanted to write about what is going on in our family like we have for the last four years! Since we already have a blog, we decided to highlight our adoption in between posts about Christmas and Basketball season!

We began the process at the beginning of November. The first thing you have to do is have your homestudy done, which is what I do for a part time job, so this was not a hard process for us, just a list we needed to work! Our agency was Adoption Assistance, Inc. A homestudy highlights your family, your background, your home, your finances, your community, any criminal background or history and your preparation for adopting a child. If you are adopting internationally, it also is what USCIS looks at to determine if you are meet the guidelines to adopt and bring an orphan into the United States. They will only approve the parameters of gender, age and how many children based on what you have been approved for in your homestudy. It also is country specific and highlights what a specific country may have as requirements, such as income or how many years a couple has been married. Basically, a social worker conducts four interviews and one home visit to determine if your family is a good candidate to adopt.

You also have to choose an agency. There are many factors that go into choosing an agency, such as their wait time, their track record, their integrity, their cost….but bottom line, it comes down to who you feel comfortable with walking the journey towards your child. For us, we chose, Celebrate Children International.  We chose them for several reasons. One, was because people I trust, who work in adoptions, and who have successfully brought 10 children home, have nothing but GREAT things to say. Second, I spoke with the director and heard her heart and felt comfortable with her. Third, they were much faster for the age and gender we were looking at compared to other agencies I looked at. This is important to us because honestly, who wants to wait, and international adoption can change in a minute and there is no guarantee that Ethiopia will be open in 2 months or 6 months or  a year, so the quicker we get him home…..the better. Other great agencies for Ethiopia, that I have worked with over the past two years and do a phenomenal job are Gladney, WACAP and All God’s Children. (It also depends on the country you are adopting from as to which agency would be the best…if you have questions, please email me and ask! I would love to give you some suggestions!)

We completed our homestudy and had everything but one form ready before Jason left for China in December, but with the holidays, Jason being gone and the amount of work I was juggling, we finally had our dossier ready to go last Friday. Our dossier is the official documents that are specific to each country that the government officials will look at to determine if you meet their requirements to adopt. They must be notarized, County Certified,  State Authenticated and then sent to a courier in Washington D.C. to be taken to the State Department to be authenticated and then, in our case, the Ethiopian Embassy to be Authenticated. Then, it is overnighted to your agency and will be sent to Ethiopia for translation. Our dossier landed at CCI on Friday, January 14.

After your homestudy is done, you also apply for an I-600A with USCIS, which is a  Application for Advance Processing for Orphan Petition. Basically, you apply, send in a big fat check, and wait to be given an appointment for FBI fingerprinting. They also review your homestudy and grant or deny your request to bring an orphan into the United States.  We applied on December 10 and we had our fingerprinting done last Friday as well, on January 7 and are now awaiting our I-171H, which is the Notice of Favorable Determination Concerning Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition.  It is valid for 18 months and you must have it to bring your child home.

So for us the next step is to wait.  It is out of our hands at this point. We wait for our I-171H, but more importantly, we wait for our REFERRAL. A referral is basically….your child. The director of our agency has been in Ethiopia, and the Assistant Director thinks we are second on the list for a boy and first for a boy between the ages of 2 and 4. Our desire is for a boy around 2.5 to 3.  She informed me to stay close to my email….he could come any day!!!!

We are super hopeful that we will have our referral by the end of January, but if not, that is fine because really, it has been one week…..I know parents who wait years for a referral, so I have no right to complain that we are already at the top of the list!

For now, we have paid about $6500 towards our adoption. We have had one yard sale to raise money and that was very helpful. We have applied to be apart of a program called Both Hands through Lifesong For Orphans. It is a wonderful program where you gather friends and family to work on a widow’s home for a day and they send out letters asking for support of their time and any money raised goes toward our adoption. It is truly caring for the widow and the orphan! Hopefully, we will be approved for this amazing program soon. If you would like to volunteer, we would love to have you!

I can’t wait to see my boy’s face and know his name. We pray for him daily as a family that he is safe, loved and healthy. Our kids are so ready to see his sweet face. Parker said to me yesterday, “Mom, I am just ready to see him and have that face up our fridge.” She has seen many children waiting to come home on our fridge and she is ready for her brother’s face to included.

If you have any questions about adoption, please feel free to ask us. We are not experts, but we will gladly share our journey and pray for you as you determine your role in caring for orphans.

Your  next update will hopefully include the words….we got a referral!!

Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home

Jason walking in a village with children. They called out to him as they were walking through village using his Maninka name, "Moussa".

Jason had the amazing chance to go back to Africa and was gone the last 10 days.

Needless to say, we are so thankful he is home.

The kids and I did really well, I think!

We stayed busy, stayed in our routine and I even got one whole night completely to myself.

Seriously, I don’t think I have spent a night in my own home, ALONE, since before the kids were born.

It was pretty wonderful.

I am not going to lie.

Anyways, Jason had a great trip from what I have heard and I am so thankful we are apart of  a church that invests in the Nations.

How are you serving?

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