So, What Grade would you give the Teddy Bears?

How did they do? How did we do?

If you look back, we had three goals we wanted to accomplish:
• Make sure that the U.S. government, in particular, the State Department is aware of and watching out for the good of our kids.
• To strongly urge the U.S. government to communicate with the new government in Haiti that the U.S. State department is watching and wants the new Haitian government to make sure our kids were okay.
• To get humanitarian parole so that we could bring our kids home safely and soon (and finish the paperwork later.)

Let’s address the last one first. Did we get humanitarian parole for our kids? Nope. Realistically, did we expect we would? No, but we also knew that if we went in asking for three things, we had a better chance at getting two of them than if we went in asking for only the two. In addition, it ended up being okay because within approximately a month from that time, the Haitian government picked up and began processing adoption paperwork and approximately 4 months after the coup, we went and brought our two kids home because their paperwork was finished.

What about the other two? While they are somewhat intangible and hard to measure, I would say that those were successful. Throughout all of that, I ended up on a first name basis with a lady named Michelle Bernier-Toth in the State Department. She was very in touch with us and was an excellent person to work with. She assured me that the State Department would be watching out for our kids and that she wanted me to keep in touch with her if we heard anything that might be even close to resembling a problem.

I just did a quick Google search on Michelle and she is now the Director at the State department who runs the department that is in charge of emergency services. In other words, when there is a crisis over seas and there are Americans who need help, her department helps. That was what she was doing in working with us back in 2004 and now she’s running the department. Thanks, Michelle!

Overall, the Bear-a-Van and the meetings in Washington were, I believe a success. The ultimate goal wasn’t achieved but the other “steps” were and it also generated positive publicity and gave us, the helpless parents at home, something to do where we felt like we could at least try to make a difference.

It turns out that about 6 years later, a lot of what we learned after the coup would become very useful in helping adoptive families after the earthquake in 2010. But that’s a story for another day (actually more than one day).


Of Teddy Bears and Travel

(In “What do you do, after a coup?” I told you about some of the wrestling that adoptive parents were doing with what was going on and the desire to do something because we felt so helpless.  The story continues….)

So, last time, I told you about how we, as a collective group of concerned parents, had an overwhelming desire to do “something.” And I told you how we had three goals – mainly focused around creating awareness of our children and the fact that they were “stuck” in Haiti because of the coup. But how do we do that?

I don’t remember whose idea it was (wasn’t mine) and I don’t remember how we came to it but, as a group, we decided that what we’d do is three things:
1. Collect teddy bears to represent as many of the kids in Haiti who have adoptions in process and are stuck because of the coup.
2. Get their stories not only out in the local press but in front of people in the government.
3. Talk to people in the government to express our concerns about the status of our children and their adoptions.

So we initiated Project Bear-a-van. (I know, corny name) –  Starting in Washington State, we began a relay/collection of teddy bears – each one representing a child. It was a joint effort and it wasn’t a matter of someone going all the way to Washington DC. We worked in shifts and kept picking up more and more teddy bears.

My family and I joined up with the Bear-a-van in Indiana and we went with others and took them all to Washington DC. Do I remember how many bears we had? No, I don’t. At that point, we were too busy coordinating everything and trying to make a difference, that we didn’t pay attention to counting how many. All I know is there were a LOT of them.

And every single one of them had a picture of a Haitian child tied around its neck or arm or somewhere. The name of that Haitian child was written on the back of the picture.

The bears represented a child. Every single one of them.

The bears also represented a family. A family that was missing a child. A family that was worried about a child.

What did we do when we got to Washington? We had three things we wanted to accomplish while we were there:
1. We held a peaceful gathering of all of the teddy bears at the foot of one of the smaller statues around the Capital. Which one, to be honest with you, I don’t remember. But I do know that members of both the House and Senate who had families in their district who were impacted by the coup were invited to come to meet us and talk to us.
2. We set up meetings with a number of elected officials staff where we could meet with them and talk personally about the situation, our concerns and what we wanted them to support. I know there were other meetings going on as well, but I was involved in meetings with Sen. Arlen Specter’s staff, Sen. Rick Santorum’s staff, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin from Michigan, Representative Pete Hoekstra’s staff as well. We weren’t able to actually meet with the Senators due to scheduling issues and the short time schedule we were on.
3. We had the opportunity to make a formal presentation of our “case” for humanitarian parole in one of the Senate Briefing rooms. We brought all of the teddy bears into the Senate Briefing room – so it was quite literally a standing room only crowd. There were some media people there, there were quite a few staffers there. I think we even had a couple of Senators there.

The Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption was a very big help in setting all of this up. She helped reserve the room, used her network to communicate the details to the Congress members. She even helped proofread and adjust the presentation that we gave to the attendees.

I will never forget what she said to me after the event was over, “Tom, I attend a lot of briefings and meetings in these type of rooms. Some of them are even about some very emotional subjects. But nothing, nothing I’ve been at prepared me for the emotional impact of coming into this Senate briefing room and seeing it overflowing with teddy bears. On the spare chairs, lining the walls, on the tables, they were everywhere! And each one of them not only represented a child but had the picture of a child, a face, a name to go with it. I lost it and just started bawling.”

And I still get choked up 14 years later when I think of what Kerri told me.

So our moment in Washington, was it successful?

This post has gone on long enough – I’ll tell you next time.


The Sun Also Rises

March 1, 2004 and January 13, 2010

Dramatic differences between the two days.

But many similar questions……

Different questions for those in country, in Haiti, but for those of us in the United States, similar questions……

What does it all mean?

Are my kids safe?

Are the people who care for my kids safe?

Do they have enough food? Enough water?

When will I see them again?

What does this mean to the adoption process?

What does it mean for Haiti?

A lot more questions than answers.

But there was also a reminder.

The Sun also rises.

The sun came up. The world continued to turn. The people who surround us in the United States continued to go on with life.

But didn’t they know? Actually, a lot of them didn’t.

But they also served as a reminder. A reminder of God’s faithfulness.

Even when things don’t seem to be going well. God’s still there.

Even when things are going really poorly. God’s still there.

Just like the sun comes up every morning, God is reminding us, it’s like God’s saying, “I’m here, don’t worry, I’m here.”

At that point, we didn’t know what the coup meant to anyone. What did it mean to us? What did it mean to my kids? What did it mean to those who worked in the former government? I mean, let’s be honest, there are probably some good and honest people working in government in pretty much any country. Suddenly they were out of a job.

Did the new government know what they were doing? We had no idea.

What was their view of the United States? It turns out later that there is some pretty substantial evidence that seems to say the US might have had a role in supporting the coup.

What was their view of international adoptions? There was historical precedence that other countries have had coups and then shut down foreign adoptions for years.

What was the U.S. government’s view towards helping adoptive families?

Certainly we weren’t alone – but how many other families were in the same “place” as we were? How many others had children in the process of adoption and were “stuck” for who knows how long?

There were a lot of things we didn’t know on that Monday morning. So many that it hurts my head to think back to that scary time.

But there was one thing that we did know.

We knew that come Monday morning, the sun came up and the world still moved the way it did before.

Because God’s reminder was there in the sunrise.

A new day dawning and God’s here.

God’s here. And there. Wherever your “here” is, God is there.

Whatever your circumstances, God’s there.

And right now God’s here too.

So, tomorrow, when the sun comes up, remember, God’s here.

He was then and he always will be.

And boy we had no idea the story he had planned for us……


The Coup – The Fear of the Unknown

(Some more of my thoughts on the night of February 29, 2004 as a Dad who had two kids in an orphanage in a country that was just had it’s government overthrown in a coup.) 


So, that Sunday night we went to bed.

Just like thousands of other people in West Michigan.

Except we weren’t like them.

We weren’t any better or stronger or more charitable. We were still just ordinary people.

But we had a great big old “unknown” sitting in the bottom of our stomaches.

What does this mean? Are our kids safe? (We knew they were at that moment – but what about the future?) Was this going to turn into a long civil war?

What are we going to do if the new government declares the paperwork from the old government to be worthless?

What if they close adoptions? How will we ever get our kids home?

So many unknowns.

I should have gone to bed with one big truth rather than so many unknowns. But I didn’t do that very well at that point.

So I went to bed worried.

What’s that big thing?

No matter what, MY GOD IS BIGGER.

He’s bigger than an overthrown government.

He’s bigger than potentially lost paperwork.

He’s bigger than all of that.

He’s bigger than what you’re struggling with today.

He’s bigger than what I’m struggling with today.

He’s bigger and He’s got this.

But it’s hard to step back and say, “okay, God, it’s you.”

None of us do that very well.

Not nearly enough of us do it at all.

Looking back on things from 14 years later, I can tell you a couple of things about that time:
⁃ God took a very confusing, very stressful and difficult time and did some very awesome things in that time (Read the post “Time – of Coups and Careers”)—
⁃ We’ve been blessed with some friendships that have stayed in place since those days, 14 years ago.
⁃ Through the publicity that Haitian adoptions received at that time, I know that hearts and minds were touched and opened to helping kids who need someone to stand up for them.
⁃ There were many things that happened after the earthquake in 2010 where we could look back and draw on what we learned and what we did after the coup to help us at the time of the earthquake. I’m not talking people who were on the ground in Haiti, I’m talking about people in the United States who were attempting to help or who were adoptive parents with children who were “stuck” in Haiti. But more on that later.

The long night of worry, of fear of the unknowns, came to an end. And the sun came up on Monday morning……..


Looking back at 2018?  No thanks!

I had a discussion with a friend he other day and we both agreed that if we had stood talking on January 1, 2018 and knew what 2018 would bring, we would  have…..well, we would had a hard time.

I don’t want to look at 2018 any more, though I have a feeling it will be a year that will be hard to forget.

John Pavlovitz is an author who I don’t like but I respect.   Why don’t Iike him?  Well, let’s just that I think sometimes the tone of what he says is a bit…… never mind.   Why do I respect him?   He is clearly thought, well written, rational and thorough in his beliefs and ideas.   I don’t always believe the same way but I always find myself better off for having read him.

Below are two exerpts that he wrote just before the end of 2018.   I hope you’ll take some time and read those and maybe even go on over and check out what the rest of the article has to say.

I’m going to look back at 2018 and remember the Dad that went home to glory.   I’m not going to look back at some of the other things.   As our minister said on Sunday, if God woke you up and brought you here today, he must have a plan for you.   Let’s try to see what it might be.



Be a story-learner………. When you sit across from someone and actually listen to them, you’ll realize how rich and complex and like your own, their stories are. You may not end up liking them better afterward or agree with them any more, you’ll just know them more.


Source: 2018 Was One Long Decade