(By Gwen Bonnell)
Since I was young, I’ve had a heart for children who don’t have parents. Looking back, I realize a seed was planted in my thinking when, at the age of twelve, I saw part of a documentary about orphaned children in Romania. One scene has never left my mind: a large, gloomy room, filled with row upon row of cribs, each with an underweight, emotionless-looking child.
It might have been the first time in my life that I realized how devastating it was for a child to be orphaned. Maybe that’s why it made such an impact. But it left me with the belief and determination that I would someday do something for a child who didn’t have parents.
Throughout my teen years, I thought about the possibility of one day working in an orphanage. I had heard many fascinating stories from my aunt who was an administrator in a senior’s home in South America. Hearing about the care these seniors were shown and the way God provided gave me ideas for how I wanted to live my own life, and I believed this could involve mission work with children.
But at seventeen, I met a young man who had recently become a Christian. He caught my attention, and at eighteen, he captured my heart. The ideas I had for my own life now looked different. Instead of making my own plans, we would be making plans together. I wasn’t convinced he shared my interest in missions or children — but I knew he was the one for me, and at twenty-one, I married him.
So, what about the dreams? Sometimes they seem to become misplaced in the circumstances of our lives; we’re not sure where they fit in anymore. But if God has given us a desire, it’s important to hold onto it. God can weave those desires into all the other plans He has for us, in His own way and in His own time. My job was to not lose sight of the dream but to keep on the lookout and keep my heart ready.
By our mid-twenties, my husband and I found ourselves in South Africa doing mission work. Prayers and dreams were bearing fruit and I was looking around every corner for the opportunity to help children in need. We had three biological children, and I waited impatiently to welcome a child into our own family by adoption.
Eventually, we knew the time was right to approach a children’s social worker, and we expressed to her our desire for a child who had little chance of adoption. After a waiting period and a lengthy interview process, we were given the opportunity to see a little six-month-old girl in a children’s home. She had been left in a public washroom after her birth, her mother obviously unable to care for her, but also seemingly hopeful she would be found.
We were immediately sure of our desire to welcome this little girl into our family, and four days later we picked her up and took her home! A book can be written about every adoption story, but suffice it to say that God filled our hearts with love for, and commitment to, this child.
Our daily focus involved helping her adjust to family life after having been institutionalized for six months. We started to learn much more about how the lack of early attachment and bonding, as well as the addition of stress in the womb, can make development complicated for a child. We were doing our best to help comfort and support our daughter, as well as adjust to being a family of six when our lives changed again.
A good friend visiting from Canada decided she would like to bring baby care packages to the local hospital for the new mothers. She called the head nurse and inquired about how many newborns were in the ward so she would bring enough packages. We learned that in addition to the seven or eight moms with babies, there was an extra baby boy without parents. Sadly, his mom had delivered him but then left the hospital the following day without him.
After the care packages were delivered, we were brought into a nursery and introduced to the baby they had discussed. He was wrapped securely in layers of blankets, with only his face showing and a little tuft of dark hair poking out. It broke our hearts to know he was alone, and we told the nurse we could offer support if they needed it.
A day or two later, a social worker called and arranged to come see us. We were interviewed and then given permission to collect him from the hospital until they could plan for his long-term care. My sister was also visiting at the time, and she offered to help us care for this little baby while awaiting the social worker’s plan.
It soon became evident this little boy’s mother wasn’t coming back and the social worker told us that options for his care were limited. She said she believed we were the best situation for him. We knew we didn’t want him being sent to a children’s home and believed that God had directed us to this child. A few nights later, we moved him into a crib in our bedroom, having decided that we could make room in our family for another child.
A year and a half later, his adoption was finally approved, and we officially became a family of seven. What a happy day!
Following our adoptions, we had other opportunities to foster and care for children and youth. There were challenges we couldn’t have anticipated and we learned we had many areas for growth, but it was a privilege to offer what we could. We are challenged to respond even in the present as we consider the need for fostering and respite care in our province.
I hope the brief account of our adoptions encourages you to continue pursuing a desire that remains in your heart. The abundance of need in our communities means there is plenty of room for all of us to bring whatever we have in an effort to bless others.