Last summer, Campbell, his three children and wife, Jennifer, were in Atlanta walking through the World Wide World of Coke when among the crush of people, he noticed an “obviously white couple with an obviously black little girl.”
Without thought, Campbell walked over to the couple and said, “You’ve obviously adopted, right?”
They had, having adopted their daughter from Ethiopia.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Campbell said. “What a blessing that was.”
Campbell’s eldest daughter, then 13, wasn’t nearly as impressed. With typical teenage flair, Ellen looked to her mother.
“Mom, you’re just all about adoptions these days,” she said. “Do you realize that you’re like pre-teen girls who’ve just had a Jonas Brothers sighting?”
But the encounter was about more than coincidence. It was an affirmation; a sign that such adoptions were possible, that all their waiting and wondering and worrying would pay off … someday.
Since August 2010, Rod and Jennifer Campbell have been waiting for a miracle to come into their lives. That’s when they began the proceedings to adopt a boy between the ages of 1-4 from Ethiopia. They were told it would take between 10-13 months before being allowed to bring their son home.
“You can do the math,” Campbell said. “And we’re still waiting.”
They entered the waiting list — and, yes, there’s an actual list — in March of last year at number 79. Today, they’re at number 49, with no “Gotcha Day” — as some agencies refer to the date of final adoption — in sight. As Christians, Rod and Jennifer have experienced many different leaps of faith, but nothing compares with this.
“It’s a proving of our faith,” Campbell said. “The only way our relationship with God is proven is through trial. What I know is that I — we — are all steadier for having gone through this journey.”
While Ethiopia is one of the few African countries to allow foreign adoptions, evidence of corruption within its adoption system has led to stricter guidelines. Adoption agencies and orphanages there are closing fast. In 2011, the number of U.S. adoptions of Ethiopian children dropped by 30 percent.
Even countries that have traditionally sent the most children to the U.S. — China, Russia, South Korea and Guatemala — have all cut back. Since its peak of 23,000 in 2004, international adoptions by American parents has dropped by nearly 60 percent, including a decrease of 15 percent in the last year, according to the most recent statistics released by the State Department.
Yet, Alabama has actually experienced a slight increase with 169 adoptions in 2011 compared to 151 in 2009 and 144 in 2010.
“What we’ve seen over the last four-five years is not people adopting out of desperation,” said Geoff Ketcham, international program director for Lifeline Children’s Services, Inc., an adoption agency with offices across the South. “It’s people who feel sincerely called to help orphans.”
Lifeline makes no secret that it is a Christian-based agency, offering both a safe haven for mothers who wish to give their children up for adoption and for parents looking to adopt — either domestically or internationally.
“It’s who we are,” Ketcham said. “We see everything we do as an opportunity for us to advance the gospel. It’s not just about putting a child in a house with a Mommy and a Daddy who provide food and shelter. We also want these children to be in a godly home where they’re taught about the love of Jesus Christ.
“That’s the heartbeat of what we do.”
In February, Rod and Jennifer Campbell celebrated 17 years of marriage. But the seed for adoption was planted back when they were still dating.
It was around Christmas 1993. The couple had taken a youth group to Gatlinburg, Tenn., for a conference. They were standing in line for the gondola to take them back down the mountain with another couple who had adopted a little girl from China. As people stuck in a long line are apt to do, they started talking, becoming so friendly that Rod was holding the little girl who became fascinated with his red, curly hair.
“In the days that followed, we both began to talk,” Campbell said. “We could tell it was God moving in our hearts to adopt one day … and we weren’t even engaged yet.”
But time takes its toll and some 17 years — plus three biological children — came and went until about two years ago, when seemingly out of nowhere, Jennifer looked up at her husband and said, “You’re 40 … how old do you want to be when your last child graduates from high school?”
And with that, they got the ball rolling to adopt a child.
Once a couple has chosen to make the leap to begin the process of adopting internationally, the first — and most obvious — question immediately becomes … from where?
“This is the biggest decision a family can make,” said Karla Thrasher, executive coordinator for Lifeline’s international programs. “Our main suggestion is to follow your heart. If you’re being led to a certain country, that’s probably where you should go.”
For Rod and Jennifer, who both spent time on the African continent as missionaries, Rwanda was their first choice, but because they already had three children, they didn’t qualify, according to that government’s guidelines, making Ethiopia the next option.
“You just have to learn no to get in a hurry about anything,” Campbell said. “You learn to trust God’s timing.”
The average adoption, according to Thrasher, can take between 18 months to three years because of all the governmental hoops families must jump through. The financial burden cannot be ignored as the average international adoption costs $25,000-$50,000 in various fees and travel expenses.
Still, nothing is guaranteed. That’s why the main virtue an adoptive family must have is patience, Ketcham says.
“It’s all about having a willingness to go through the headaches and hassles of dealing with another country,” he said. “It’s never going to be easy, quick or convenient, but all those sacrifices become worthwhile the moment they hold the child in their arms for the first time …. in that moment, everything else goes away.”
While Rod and Jennifer, as well as their three children, are still waiting for their “gotcha” moment, they are learning about a new and powerful kind of love.
“We’ve been teaching our children about steadfast love,” he said. “It’s a love that’s fixed in intensity and direction. It’s steady and unwavering, determined in purpose and loyalty. For our family, because this has been such a long and difficult journey, we are called by God to love this child that we’ve never met.”
International adoptions didn’t always take so long.
David and Janet Tyson Prosser had tried all the usual medical routes to get pregnant before trying to adopt domestically. And that “just didn’t work out,” Janet Tyson Prosser said.
It was around 1997. They had met nine different girls who agreed to give up their baby for adoption, but all eventually changed their minds. The boyfriend of one even demanded a red Firebird in exchange for his child. “Now that’s illegal,” Janet said. “Food, clothing, shelter, medical bills, that’s all fine, but I wasn’t buying anyone a sports car.”
They were losing hope until Janet came across an advertisement in a Birmingham newspaper that read: “Want to know more about international adoption?” The ad was for a meeting at a Baptist church. She convinced David to take her for their regular Date Night.
“God, if this is what you want us to do, then light a fire under David — he’s been kinda lukewarm,” Janet remembers praying. “If not, God, then throw cold water on me.”
At the meeting, Janet got her answer when David was the first among the 100 or so people to start asking questions … and the questions kept coming until the moderator was forced to put a stop to it.
“That was my sign,” Janet said. “The fire had been lit.”
They took home the paperwork that night. In April 1997 — after stepping away from the process in December to deal with death of Janet’s father — they were approved for a Russian adoption. By the first of May, they received a one-minute video of their daughter-to-be. By June, 2-year-old Mary Svetlana Alexandrovna Prosser was making her home in Anniston.
“From the moment I held her in my arms,” David said, “she was my daughter.”
Having only spent about six months in the Russian orphanage 150 miles north of Moscow where she was placed after her mother died, an orphanage David remembers as being “very clean … where the people obviously cared for and loved the children,” Mary hadn’t become “institutionalized,” and therefore the transition to her new American life was relatively easy.
“She didn’t speak much in those first three or four months,” David said. “But we communicated just fine, and after about six months, all she spoke was English.”
“She could say, ‘Mama,’ ‘Papa,’ ‘hungry’ and ‘toilet,’” Janet added. “What else would she need to know?”
Today, Mary is a 16-year-old “all American girl,” according to David. She loves Stephen King books and dreams of attending Boise State University, where she recently visited and fell in love with the campus. If that doesn’t work out, she’d happily attend Jacksonville State University, perhaps studying to be a real estate agent because she enjoys “walking through different kinds of houses.”
When Mary was still too young to know the difference, David and Janet decided to be open and honest with her.
“I’ve always known that I was adopted,” she said. “My parents have talked to me throughout my life and have asked me questions. I think it’s really cool that I’m adopted because it makes me different from everyone else and I like that.”
When she was 7 years old, she, David and Janet took a cruise from Moscow to St. Petersburg. While in Russia, Mary was reunited with her grandmother and was able to see what her life might have been like had she stayed.
“It was summer when we went and it was still cold,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of people, and I was surprised how many children there could speak English. I remember trying a lot of food that tasted familiar to me. Things that I know I have never eaten in America — like cabbage soup and different types of grain.
“As I look back on the trip, I was young and I didn’t really enjoy it as much I wish I had.”
As a local Christian counselor who specializes in children with attachment disorders, Campbell understands the obstacles that potentially lay ahead for his adopted son. But that’s a bridge he’ll gladly cross once he gets there.
“I think you can be as prepared for adoption as you can be for marriage,” he said with a laugh. “There are lots of things that you can do to make it better, but basically you’ve gotta live through it.”
Mary Prosser has lived through it and her advice for adoptive parents is remarkably simple.
“I would tell them not to worry,” she said. “Just love the child and don’t try to hide the adoption. Try to take him/her back when old enough to understand and enjoy the trip.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.