Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Post -- 19/12/15

The journey to Monday afternoon past began, as these things tend to, on the Belfast to Dublin bus.

“Here, what do you think about the whole idea of adoption?” It was December 2004 and Amanda was over for her first visit to the British Isles since we’d gone ‘official’. But, in all honesty, she might as well have asked me: “Quantum mechanics: discuss”.

As I was about to learn, in Amanda’s circles back in Canada, adoption was fairly par for the course, and a particularly big thing for Christian couples. I had had limited experience at best and was beginning to wonder if I was supposed to have produced an engagement ring at this point. So I brushed the notion aside, saying we could perhaps think about it after the first couple of ‘naturals’, expecting we probably wouldn’t, and assuming (i.e., hoping) that the matter was closed.

Just over five years later, we found ourselves in Bolivia, with two-and-a-half years of marriage under our belts. “Why don’t you have kids?,” the local women would ask, bearing in mind the fact that we were over 20! As it happened, we had been talking about it ourselves, and decided that it was time for another new chapter to begin.

By spring 2012, we weren’t getting anywhere, and on our way out to LAM Canada’s missions conference in Costa Rica, we had an appointment with a urologist to begin investigating further. But a far more significant development was to take place at the conference itself.

There, we had been assigned a lodge with a young couple called Dave and Esther Bettany, serving in Honduras. They had recently welcomed a new addition to their home, and we had the pleasure of meeting her face to face. I was particularly struck by the connection she had with her parents; she was perfectly contented in their company. It was, I reflected, typical of the relationship that can only be forged in the womb, between biological parents and their children, a key weapon in my armoury as I continued to resist the adoption question.

Except, a few hours later, in the quiet of our room, Amanda informed me that she was, in fact, adopted.

My prejudices addressed, if not eliminated, we headed back to Bolivia and, eventually, a spell in a private fertility clinic that woulditself end only in further disappointment. Forget about ‘conceive first, adopt later’; if we were to have children at all, it was beginning to seem as if I would have to make a big compromise.

And, in theory, we could have gone ahead with it there and then. But we were also conscious of our home assignment in 2014. Though it was a whole eighteen months away at this point, we were required to be away for a year in order to pursue further training, meaning we would not have been in Trinidad for the required post-adoption visits from social work over two years. During this period, however, my resistance was further diminished by the adoption of a baby boy by some close friends (he even looked like his adopted dad!).

Still, however, I was not completely convinced. And it was here that we learned that our home assignment year really was, in fact, an important part of this journey. Towards the end of our spell in Scotland last year, we attended a conference for Christian couples struggling with infertility and infant loss, with yours truly signing up for the seminar session on adoption. There, the speaker shared about his own personal journey to adoption (he and his wife had only recently taken in a four-year-old boy, with a view to adoption), and it was one remarkably similar to my own. Indeed, it was here that my eyes were opened to how prideful I had been over the years. Like the speaker, I had played the role of a typical man, inventing difficulties where none existed and resisting the possibility of there being any children in my family, living in my home, who were not mine.

Or, to put it another way, I had completely denied the essence of the gospel in my own domestic life. Where, indeed, would I be if not for the greatest adoption of all? What right, then, had I to enforce selection criteria?

Of immense help in this process has been Russell Moore’s ‘Adopted For Life’, a text I would recommend to anyone. Moore, no slouch as a theologian himself, has personal experience of adoption and its associated stigma, and so helpfully and clearly unpacks adoption as Biblical theology.

I commend Moore’s work particularly to my fellow Christians, parents, would-be parents or otherwise; indeed, if I may, I’d like to impart some friendly counsel at this juncture to the people of God. Since deciding to push ahead with adoption, we’ve had several variations of the following conversation with a number of people, and not just here in Bolivia (where people can be a touch more liberal with their tongues):

Friend: “So, I hear you’ve decided to adopt.”

Craig/Amanda: “Indeed we have. We know God has clearly brought us to this point, and we’re hoping to have something in place fairly soon, God-willing.”

Friend: “Och [OK, maybe not in Bolivia, that one], that’s lovely.”


Friend: (lowers voice slightly) “You know, you mustn’t stop trying.”

C/A: “Indeed. That’s why we’re going ahead with the adoption.”

Friend: (it’s a whisper now) “Yes, I know, but, what I mean is, it’s still, you know, possible.”

C/A: “Well, of course we believe that, but--”

Friend: “I mean, you must have faith. God can still provide you with a child, you know.”

C/A: “Oh, of course, we know that. But you don’t have to be Don Carson to see the centrality of adoption in the sweep of salvation. In God’s eyes, we are all adopted, wouldn’t you agree?”

Friend: “Yes, well, I suppose you have a point.”


Friend: “But, seriously, have faith, alright!”

Friends, there is no hierarchy here. Let those of us who are biological sons of God be the first to waggle the finger of faith in the faces of the infertile. As for the rest of us, our best approach in such moments would be to keep our fallen thinking to ourselves.

                                                                            *        *        *

January saw us arrive back in Trinidad and hit the ground running on the adoption question. Pre-July (which we spent back in Scotland for a family wedding) was all about filling in forms and making sure no egg-shell was leftbehind. We had only been back in Bolivia a matter of weeks when things cranked up several notches.

We got word form a nursing friend of an abandoned baby boy in the maternity hospital – music to our ears, as our preference was for a baby. We got in touch with a lawyer friend, whose husband works there as a paediatrician. He confirmed the boy was there, but that there were other family members now on the scene. In other words, adoption was a non-starter. Not the first time something like this had happened in our experience.

A few weeks later, we were at a fundraiser for the children’s ministry at the church, where we bumped into a former colleague, now working as a GP in the local orphanage. She told us of a very bright and sweet four-year-old girl who was ‘available’ there, and suggested we get in touch with a legal representative. Up until this point, we had ruled out older children, but we were beginning to sense that God was challenging us on this; how did a baby have any more right to a loving home than a four-year-old? Struck by the hard fact that ‘adoptability’ decreases with age, we prayerfully decided to pursue this lead.

And so, a couple of days later, we found ourselves in our lawyer’s office, she too being aware of the situation. However, she had to inform us that, in fact, another family were interested in the girl, and were already a few steps ahead of us. “But aren’t you aware there’s a baby boy in the hospital?” she asked. We quickly worked out that she was talking about the same boy who, it turned out, was far from a lost cause; it transpired that the ‘family members’ were not who they claimed to be, for reasons that I cannot go into right now.

Indeed, much that follows is heavily filtered due to the fact that the legal situation is ongoing; hopefully, there will be time to write in greater detail when I get round to writing the book, something I’m seriously considering – it can’t be denied that we have more than enough material.

Over the next few weeks, we faced a rollercoaster of emotions as the situation seemed to be changing day by day until we came to a hard realisationthat the ball was no longer in our court. This was made all the more difficult by the fact that we had visited the boy in hospital (from which, by the way, he should have been discharged weeks earlier) twice daily and had very quickly developed a deep connection with him. He was little, weak and helpless (drinking his milk from a syringe – welcome to Trinidad), but at the same time, the most supremely contented infant we had ever met. We loved him to bits, and the feeling seemed mutual, making the disappointment of the legal roadblocks even harder to deal with. Especially when we could have given him a home situation far superior to most in Trinidad at the click of a finger.

As we were coming to terms with this, the Santa Cruz possibility opened up (see here for the full story on that). Yet it was an episode that ended with a twist, like a well-honed chapter of airport fiction. Because before heading back for Trinidad, we received word that, as far as the boy was concerned, we were very much ‘back in the game’.

The last two months, then, saw us get back into a visiting routine, this time at his new home of the orphanage, to which he’d been moved at long last. To fortify our hearts, we enforced upon ourselves a limit of two afternoon visits a week. These joyful times were sufficient to solidify the connection, while keeping our emotions at bay in the event of another disappointment.

All of which led to Monday, and the long-awaited hearing, at which we were granted foster care of the boy, albeit on a provisional basis; no fault of ours, just that the officials who were supposed to terminate the mother’s rights had – no joke – simply not got round to it. There is to be a further review meeting in February, at which we’re hoping the adoption process proper (which would take two to three months) will formally begin.

In the end, Monday’s meeting was remarkably straightforward. And we had been fairly hopeful of a positive outcome. But so careful were we to protect ourselves that we had done very little to prepare the house for his arrival that same evening. The last few days, in other words, have occasioned a seismic change of circumstances, made tougher by the fact that the Samuel Archie, as we have named him, is no newborn.

But, as we suspected might be the case, he has so far played ball. Every morning, I am woken at around 5am by the most joyfully innocent creature I have ever met, and getting another hour or two’s sleep before the long day ahead just feels like a waste of time. We, too, have been granted the reserves to cope physically and mentally.

Amidst the confusion, delays and frustrations of the past six years, God was preparing the way for us to meet dear Sam, just as he has been doing from eternity past. And whatever happens from now on, his purposes will be fulfilled in this relationship. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Adoption? The best thing I’ve ever done.

  • We are not out of the woods yet on this (hence the deliberate lack of legal detail and photos here), so please pray for the couple of months and the decision to be reached at the review meeting in February.
  • The adjustment proved a bit much for Sam’s health, with some diarrhoea and vomiting, followed up by some respiratory problems. He’s settling now and is getting into a really solid eating schedule, so much better than what he was on at the orphanage. He’s a little bit premature and needs to bulk up a little. Continued prayer appreciated here.
  • Pray for the events at the church over Christmas, particularly the Christmas Eve service on Thursday, where we hope to welcome many friends and family of participants.
  • With the upheaval of the adoption, we’ve decided not to travel to La Paz next week, where we were due to attend a wedding. So we’ll be here in Trinidad for Christmas after all. It’s never the easiest time to be away from home, and this year may prove especially tough as, for the first time out here, we’ll be the only non-Bolivians around (i.e., the only people who eat their main meal in the late afternoon rather than at 1 in the morning on Christmas day!). Still, mustn't complain: we’ve been given quite a present this year.

  • For the outcome of Monday’s hearing. Thank you all so much for your prayers.
  • For energy to get through this gruelling – yet so rewarding – first week of parenthood.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday Post -- 12/12/15

Craig's train-of-thought: Revelation = scary horses = classic Guinness commercial!
Like the grass on Centre Court, this week's missive is necessarily short, owing to very Trinidad-like circumstances. Firstly, we got an invitation late last night to a graduation ceremony taking place all this morning (see here and here for past entries on December's annual applause-a-thon). Secondly, I was intending to get up earlier to write a post of more substance, and I did precisely that, only to discover a not insignificant, and very urgent, termite problem. 

We went out for some food last night, and Amanda commented on how busy we've been this week and how that, for once, that has felt like a real provision. Because looming over us this whole time has been Monday, 4pm: the hearing where a decision will be made on the child we wish to foster, then adopt. Aside from a couple of our usual visits to the orphanage where said child resides, it's been good to be distracted.

And Christmas has been a common factor in that. As well as the usual extra shifts with the musicians in the church, I've been preparing a sermon based on Revelation 12:1-6. Revelation is a little outside my comfort zone, so the preparation was heavier than usual. I'd been keen to present the text for a while, however, as it offers, in a sense, a cosmic perspective on what was going on down in Bethlehem. In other words, it's a Christmas passage but not as we know it, Jim, while touching on the important theme of spiritual warfare, and how there is so much more going on behind the everyday trials and tribulations we face. It also gives me an opportunity (much anticipated!) to critique the phenomenon of Revelation in his culture. Pretty much anyone here -- churchgoer or not -- could tell you something about Revelation, a book that people in Trinidad get generally pretty worked up about -- probably about 90% of the questions I'm asked by youth about the Bible stem from Revelation, and you'll even have TV news items about it (!). Yet few know how to read it.

Meanwhile, our dining room table has somehow disappeared as, in between her usual HR duties at Fundación Totaí, Amanda has spent any spare moment preparing various arts and crafts for upcoming Christmas events, specifically FT's end-of-year dinner on the 21st, and the Christmas Eve service. So if you need a Beaver-from-Narnia mask, you know who to ask.

Well, the shops are opening, I desperately need to pick up an anti-termite spray, and a friend is about to graduate. To the prayer points.

  • Monday, 4pm. Or, if you want to be more specific, 3pm EST, 8pm GMT. We would greatly value your prayers for this. We will endeavour to relay any news as soon as we can (i.e., before next weekend).
  • For Craig's sermon tomorrow morning.
  • We've both had our usual diet of one-on-one discipleship appointments this week and have been encouraged by these times, for various reasons. Give thanks for the growth in these individuals.
  • For a busy, productive and highly distracting week!
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Saturday Post -- 5/12/15

A mere 24 hours following our last missive, we awoke to a dramatically different Trinidad, with heavily-wind-assisted rain battering our house on all sides. The wind was uncharacteristically southerly for this time of year, but that aside, the impression was that rainy season 2015/16 had fired its opening soggy salvo. Indeed, the torrential conditions persisted well into the afternoon, making for a cosy gathering at church in the morning. I suppose we like to think of ourselves as something of an island of hope in our community, and as the rain came down and the floods came up, things went way beyond the metaphorical.

The rain could not, however, put a dampener on this year's surgical campaign, taking place all this week at Fundación Totaí. Dr. Richard Wagner from the USA and a team of specialists here in Bolivia oversaw 20 surgical cases, with another 100 people seen as outpatients. The surgical campaigns always bring hundreds of people to the Foundation, with the patients' families tending to hang around in the corridors outside the operating theatres and out-patient ward. So this year, Elías (the church pastor) and I had the bright idea of giving short evangelistic talks to the assembled masses, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Unlike much of Europe and North America, people here remain pretty receptive to such ventures, even shifting seats in the waiting area so they can hear you better (no small hurdle during an ENT campaign, admittedly); it certainly eases the mind to know that people are at least listening rather than looking up the number of a human rights lawyer. All in all, the message was well received, and it's got us thinking about perhaps doing something similar throughout the year. 

That aside, we as a couple are fairly removed from the campaign goings-on, and with the year's end nearing, the week has been largely taken up with the kinds of activities they never told you about during the 'missionary of the week' slot at Sunday school -- activities largely brought to you by Microsoft Office. 

Things are rarely truly 'routine' here, though, and accordingly, we've had to deal with a couple of difficult situations involving families in the church, including a Priscilla-and-Aquila tag-team effort one afternoon. And while the parties concerned are by no means out of the proverbial tree collective, we felt we were able to bring healing to both situations, with God's grace. As an elder of the church, I was particularly encouraged. In recent months, we have re-prioritised the ministry of visiting which, quite frankly, was being neglected. Both of these families had received recent visits, and so the foundations had already been laid for an open, secure dialogue, which was what resulted. 

Oh yeah, and this thing went up in the final hours of November. 

Call it a few hours of good, clean distraction. And boy, do we need it these days (see first prayer point).

  • This week, we were informed that a decision on a possible adoption will be made on Monday week, the 14th of December. To put it bluntly, parenthood could be a mere nine days away. We would really appreciate your prayers for patience during this time (maybe we'll find another tree to put up).
  • For the church's Christmas programme. This week, the youth and children's ministries will begin rehearsals for the special service on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. Many parents and other family members come to this service (in many cases it's the only time we'll see them all year) presenting us with a tremendous evangelistic opportunity.
  • For all those who heard the gospel message this week during the campaign.
  • For God's help during those difficult visits this week, and for positive outcomes.
  • For the great freedom -- social as well as legal -- to preach the good news here.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda