September 23 2013

Life Lessons Learned from a Russian Orphan…

Ten years ago today Ann and I met our youngest child for the first time –  a 13-month-old orphan,  Aselya Federovna Isaliyeva.  After a 36-hour journey we were halfway around the world from our home in Raleigh, NC,  pulling into a residential neighborhood on the edge of a small industrial village, Volsk Russia.  The last 3 hours of the journey was in a tiny black sedan crammed with our driver, facilitator and translator during a very rough and dusty drive through the Russian countryside.

Volsk Children's HomeOur interpreter’s announcement that we had arrived at Volsk Children’s Home took our breath as we looked at the dilapidated run-down building one wing of which was literally caving in and clearly the home to a large number of birds that flew in and out of the broken windows.   We made our way through the gate of a 8-foot tall chain link fence that was only half standing around the building’s perimeter.  We walked to the main entrance – a huge metal door with a small sign above that read “Volsk Children’s Home” (in Russian).  Front Door

Our facilitator knocked on the front door and our hearts raced as we anticipated meeting the little girl we hoped to adopt.  This moment was very different from the arrival of our other three children – but in many ways more emotional as we considered the significance of the events of Aselya’s life that led to this day. We had seen 3 pictures of Aselya and reviewed 1-½ pages of medical records that accompanied the referral we received three weeks earlier, August 27th.

Our adoption agency, America World Adoption Association, based in McLean, VA, had done an incredible job preparing us for our journey and walking with us throughout the process yet nothing could have prepared us for the condition of the orphanage.

Aselya Referral Medical RecordsWe understood that Aselya’s entire life had been spent between the orphanage and the hospital due to reoccurring illnesses she had experienced after her pre-mature birth.

Typical after a 3+ hour drive in a small car on very rough roads we needed to take care of business before we went to meet Aselya.   There was some discussion and perplexed looks exchanged between our interpreter and the orphanage worker but we were led through the large metal door through a small entrance to another door that opened to a courtyard which served as the playground.  A dirt-covered area that contained a broken swing and chickens that ran for cover as the door swung open.  Our interpreter told us they would shut the door behind us and for us to tap when we were finished.  Again, nothing could have prepared us for the condition of the orphanage where our daughter was living – no running water or facilities we were able to use.

As we walked down the long hallway we were struck by the “coldness” of the concrete building, paint peeling from the walls, an odd smell and stacks of baby beds that lined the wall. A clear institutional feel.  Most startling was how quiet the orphanage was, having been told 35 children under the age of 3 lived here – but why didn’t we hear any children?  It is a fact that babies in orphanages often don’t cry because crying doesn’t generate a response – no one responds to console them or provide food for their empty tummy.

We were led into the “reception room” where all interaction with the children occurred and we immediately recognized the carpet and furnishings from Asleya’s referral pictures.  By far the nicest room in the orphanage yet we were instructed not to sit on the furniture but on the floor.Hillary and Aselya Day 1

A large wooden door at the far end of the room swung open and a nurse entered carrying a dark haired little girl that was in fact the little girl we had 3 pictures of.  An answer to prayer as we were warned not to be shocked if the child didn’t match the pictures we had been given.  The caregiver handed Aselya to Ann and left us in the room with our interpreter.

We expected to find a sick little girl with physical challenges and possible deformities as stated in her medical records but as we we inspected her tiny body she was perfect! (Miracle # 10) She didn’t smell very good and she had patches of dirt caked on her skin and in her hair but our hearts melted as we knew God had planned all along for this child to be our daughter.  Aselya was not hesitant to come to us and seemed oblivious to whose arms she was in.  In fact, she was not very responsive to our attempts to interact with her.  Unlike our other three children, at one-year of age, Aselya was not relational. She did not enjoy being held and clearly didn’t want to be cuddled; a gesture she didn’t seem to understand.

Trying to get a smile, I lifted Aselya high in the air over my head and was struck with a sudden dose of reality as she began “leaking” all over me.  Ah yes, Leslie Johnston our US facilitator had warned us babies in orphanages don’t wear diapers – how could I forget?  A rookie mistake causing Ann to burst out laughing precipitating a game of “hot potato” for the next 45 minutes as we passed our “wet” daughter back and forth.

I invite you to join me over the next several weeks via this blog, as my family celebrates the 10-year anniversary of Aselya’s adoption and we reflect on our journey.   Many entries will capture what happened on that day exactly 10 years earlier like today’s account.  Other days will provide background to the story as it unfolded.  In fact, I will catch you up with the first 9 miracles (specific answers to prayer) that we marked as Ebenezer’s or memorials in our journey.   Please share this blog with anyone you know who is in the process of adopting, considering adoption, or has a heart for orphans.  We pray that it will be an encouragement to many – in particular to those who are waiting to be united with their child.

Today we realize the key fact that God wanted to transform our lives as much as He wanted to transform Aselya’s life. The journey wasn’t easy and our understanding of “abundance” changed radically.  Much of our story is told in my recently published book, Taking On Goliath, (click here to read the first two chapters for free).  Yet many of the details of the adoption journey and the 30 + specific answers to prayer are not captured in the book.  One of the book’s editors insisted that I tell “the rest of the story” which I hope to do through this blog.

Your comments or questions are welcomed and encouraged.



Categories: Adoption

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