Hosting Samuel, a boy who is too old to have the option of being adopted, but just one year young enough to be hosted by a family. Is he too old, or would someone like him, with a beard, even benefit from the love of a family for a few weeks? Plus, the cost right?
Hear what this host family has to say about their decision to host Samuel and his time with him–quite a few specific coincidences along the way…. 😉
I’ve know about orphan hosting programs for a few years. They operate through various organizations and countries. They all have the purpose of showing love and family to a child with neither. Some also open the way for adoption, either with the host family or another family that learned about the child. While reading the blog of another adoptive family in late October, I was reminded of these programs, and I immediately felt drawn to do it this Christmas. There was only one week left to sign up, so I asked Josh right away. He was intrigued, but knew the cost was daunting.
We prayed and proceeded to fill out the preliminary application so we could access the photo listing of children available and read more information. Our initial thought was to host a preteen girl, close to Cora’s age. When we explained to our kids what we were planning to do, all three of the older ones insisted we host a boy. Some of the children listed had scholarships to help offset the cost. So we began looking at boys with scholarships. The organization, New Horizons for Children, was bringing children ages 7-17 from Latvia and Ukraine, but we knew we wanted a boy from Ukraine since that is Sophia’s birth country. It was impossible to tell by the photo listing where the kids were from, so we called the coordinator to ask which boys were from Ukraine.
Linda, our coordinator, was very helpful in explaining the ins and outs of the program. She asked if we were interested in adopting, which we are not at this time. The first boy she told us about from Ukraine was Samuel, who is 17, too old to be adopted. She told us that his orphanage director and the New Horizons volunteers were very impressed with him and really hoped he would get a chance to come over. (There were near 300 children available for hosting, but only 170 got chosen.) She explained that he had a biological brother somewhere in the Midwest that he would love to see. His younger brother, who is now 13, had been adopted 5 years ago, but they were separated long before that.
Now, not only was a 17 year old boy the opposite of what we first imagined, he had no scholarship. But the thought of a possible reunion between biological brothers was too good to turn down. We have adopted kiddos, we know what those connections mean. Linda put our mind at ease concerning teen boys, and our kids were on board. This is the first year children from his orphanage have been available, and because of his age, this would be his only chance.
The next day Josh mentioned to his chiropractor what we were thinking about doing. He offered $1,000 right away, without being told the cost. When Josh got home that night, we decided to commit. When we logged onto the website, Samuel’s picture appeared in the scholarship section, not where it had been the day before. He now had a $1000 scholarship through NHFC. With 2/3 of the fees now covered, we knew exactly what God wanted us to do.
We were given more information about Samuel and began the paperwork process and preparing for him. And NHFC began the process of looking for his bio brother. Adoption records in Ukraine are sealed. Someone, somehow, was able to get the phone number of the adoptive family from 5 years ago. Many people don’t have the same land line phone number they had 5 years ago, but this family does. And they live in Indianapolis. We happen to be the ONLY family hosting from Indiana. They were caught very off guard to learn that Sasha was coming, but soon their family was also excited to meet the young man they met in Ukraine five years ago and have prayed for ever since.
The day of his arrival came, December 17, and it was quite awkward to meet this total stranger and bring him home. Three things were very obvious: he was extremely jet lagged, he had only the clothes on his back and a passport, and he knew no English. We learned to use google translate real fast. His first Sunday here, we went to church as usual. A missionary couple that visits a few times a year pulled in right before us, and the wife, Vida, speaks Russian. Once again, God reassured us He was right here with us all. We were able to have two more visits with Vida so Samuel had someone to talk with. Vida and her husband “just happened” to be in town the same time as Samuel
At first Samuel was pretty shy and only ate from the snack basket in his room. Once he was caught up to our time zone, we began to have some fun. He helped us cut down our Christmas tree on the farm and began to show off his soccer and ping pong skills. We were very thankful for the mild weather we had at Christmas time, we played a lot of basketball and went for walks and bike rides. Christmas morning was a lot of fun for all of us.
He bonded well with all of our kids. He and Sal played with any ball they could find. Cora loved just being with him, and Eli liked pestering him. Samuel took a real liking to Sophia. I shared all of our Ukraine pictures and Sophia’s adoption story with him. He spoke to her a lot in Russian. He had never met anyone with Down syndrome and didn’t really know what it was. This isn’t surprising because people with disabilities are hidden away in Ukraine.
His second week here we went to Indianapolis to meet his brother and their family. Watching those two boys hug for the first time was like standing on holy ground. Samuel was back to being shy again, but he quickly warmed up to the their fun family of 8! We had a wonderful Ukrainian American woman come and translate a much needed conversation. Sasha was able to share family history with them and tell all of us about his future plans. And his little brother shared with him about Jesus. Sasha stayed with them for three nights and loved every minute.
Some of the things we got to enjoy with him were visiting French Lick, laser tag, an Indiana Pacers game (great seats were donated to us!), staying in a hotel with a pool, bowling, lots of basketball (even in our cousins’ hayloft), skating twice (by his request), lots of shopping, his first Chinese restaurant, pizza so many times our kids started complaining (his favorite!), sledding, making a snowman, seeing a friend’s Mustang collection. And he got in on some farm action too, like building fence and picking up trash. We learned he is a computer whiz, and he can eat his weight in yogurt and apples if pizza is not available. He gained 7 pounds while here.
We got to learn a little about his home, though it was hard with the language barrier. He showed us many pictures of his orphanage, which also contains his school. We learned that he likes to draw and he wants to take college classes in computer programming. He has a great relationship with many of his teachers and the orphanage director. He graduates this May and will have to leave his home of 10 years. He has plans for this time in his life, but we’re not sure if he realizes how difficult it will be. Thankfully, the orphanage director is good at looking after the kids, even after they age out. Our translator assured us that he has a good head on his shoulders and is making good life decisions. He doesn’t want to follow in the poor footsteps of his family. She thinks Samuel has what it takes to make it in that difficult place, and we do too.
Samuel returned to Indianapolis for a another weekend with his brother and did all kinds of fun stuff there too. They exchanged email addresses, as well as planned to keep in touch via skype, facebook, and instagram. I know there were sad goodbyes. I believe that God brought some healing and peace to both of those boys through re-uniting them.
NHFC asks that all the kids have vision and dental exams during the visit. Sophia’s eye doctor, donated that for us, and reported that Samuel’s eyes are perfect. He wasn’t so lucky at the dentist office. He teeth were very dirty and needed 6 fillings. While Samuel didn’t exactly like this, he understood that it was for his good. Our dentist, donated all of the service, over $1000 in dental work.
As departure time grew near, we began trying to squeeze everything into his bags. We were given very specific luggage dimensions, and it didn’t look like it was going to be enough space! He had clothes, 3 pairs of shoes, lots of toiletries, two soccer balls, and gifts for teachers. We managed to get it all in, with lots of squeezing and some space saver bags. In those last few days we also printed photos from his visit. He loved selecting pictures at the kiosk in CVS and then putting them in albums. He had over 200 pictures from here and Indianapolis. And he asked me to email them all too:) We also exchanged contact info.
The day we headed to the airport, January 16, was sad. As we were loading the van and preparing to leave our garage, he turned the van off, closed the garage door, and said no. But we had to do it. His chaperon reported that there were tears on the plane, and there were certainly tears in our van. Many of you commented early on that you didn’t know how we could send him back. I truly thought it would be easy, it was part of the deal. I was wrong! Sending him back has been one of the most difficult things I have ever done. God gave me a mother’s love for him, and even though he is nearly a grown man with a beard, my eyes see him as a little child. We saw so many glimpses of a child that has had to grow up too fast, robbed of innocence and joy.
Some of you have asked about future visits. Unfortunately, the USA does not grant student visas, or even visiting visas, to Ukrainians. It is very difficult for them to come here. It is not difficult for Americans to go there though. So someday we hope to visit Samuel while visiting Sophia’s family. And his brother would also like to visit someday. Social media will be a great way to keep in touch. And we are researching ways to support him from afar. The best support we can give him right now is to encourage him, pray for him, and believe in him. He is a treasure! And God showed all of us that he has Samuel in the palm of His hand and is caring for him more than any of us could.
To all of you that bought items for him, slipped us money, gave us food, or just said an encouraging word, thank you so much. He could never understand all that went into the hosting, and we didn’t anticipate how much it would cost us, financially, emotionally, or time wise. But it was so worth it. And you all were a tremendous support. Once again, God has broke our hearts for what breaks His, and we will never be the same. Samuel amazed us with his resiliency. We hope that you see God’s hand in Samuel’s story, and that you are encouraged to reach out to those who need the tangible love of God, in our neighborhoods or across the ocean. And be warned, our kids are pretty fond of hosting:)
Learn more about hosting here: New Horizons for Children