June 25, 2004

June 25, 2004 – a big day in our family’s life. A huge day in the lives of our two youngest. That’s the day that they left GLA and flew to America to start their new lives as Vanderwells.

A couple of things that “stick out” in my memory of that day……..

Watching the kids looking out the window as we drove down the mountain to the airport. The look of awe on their faces showed that while they had been out of the orphanage, they hadn’t been out much.

Waiting in line at the airport – white parents with black kids. Our first experience in standing out. Not good, not bad, just standing out.

The looks of the fellow passengers – the older Haitian lady on our plane who looked at us and said, very quietly and sincerely, “Thank you.”

The stares that we got when our daughter screamed the whole flight (double ear infections will do that to you).

The moment when the wheels touched down in Miami and our kids became US Citizens…….

Watching planes take off in Miami and watching my son look at every one of them, point and say, “Gwo” with a sense of awe and wonder. (Gwo is big in Creole).

Coming around the corner of the walkway at the airport to a crowd of people all waiting for us to come home. Sharing that moment with friends and family was truly special.

Walking out of the airport, hand in hand with my 3 1/2 year old son while he insisted on pulling the carryon suitcase.

Carrying Abby and Isaac in the house (sound asleep) watching their homecoming on the local news and then bringing them upstairs and putting them to bed.

In their own bed.

In their new house.

With their new family.


The “Call”

This is another part of our story that will forever remain part of our memory…….   The Friday before Memorial Day, 2004…….

It was the Friday before Memorial Day. Around 9:00 in the morning. The kids were at school and my wife had worked the night before, so she was sleeping and I was at work.


The phone rang, “Hi Tom, it’s Molly.” (Brain frantically racing trying to figure out Molly who and why she was calling.)


You know, Molly Little from Haiti.” Oh, that Molly. I hope this is good news…….


I tried to reach Cheryl at home but got the voice mail and didn’t want to leave a message…… So I hope it was okay to call you on your cell phone?”

Guess what! The Visa appt is June 17, it’s time to book plane tickets!”

What? Say that again? Did you really say what I thought you did?”

The rest of the conversation covered details but it was all pretty much a blur. And then a thought hit me in almost sheer panic – it’s only 9:00! I can’t tell anyone until 3:00 this afternoon when Cheryl gets up. If I go wake her up now, she’ll never get back to sleep. If I told anyone else, she’d be mad at me for telling them before telling her!

So, for 6 hours, I had to sit on the news that in 3 weeks we were going to be able to bring our kids home. It was a long 6 hours… The long wait was over (with my apologies to those currently waiting as our wait was nothing compared to yours) and it was almost time to start being a family of 5 kids in one place……..

Thank you God!


Many Goliaths, One God

I just recently started reading Richard Stearns book, “He Walks Among Us – Encounters with Christ in a Broken World.”   As I read it, I’m going to share some thoughts, insights and reactions to it.     If you aren’t familiar with who Richard Stearns is, he’s the recently retired (or soon to be) President of World Vision and the author of “A Hole in Our Gospel.”

When I mention the name Goliath, what is the first image that comes to mind?   A young shepherd with a slingshot?   Yeah, that was pretty much my opinion too.

In telling the story of Richard, a 13 year old in Uganda, who is caring for his two younger brothers because his parents both died of AIDS, Goliath takes on a new meaning.

The Goliath of poverty – fighting to survive, fighting to keep your brothers alive even though your parents died.   That’s Richard’s Goliath.

The Goliath of being an orphan – the grief of losing your first parents, the shock of starting over and learning to trust again.

The Goliath of unemployment – how can you provide for those you care about if you don’t have an income?

The Goliath of medical conditions – struggling to live the life you want to because of physical limitations.

The Goliath of…….   We could go on and on and list many other Goliaths that many of us face.

But we need to remember two things:

  • David didn’t kill Goliath all by himself.   Yes, he’s the one who threw the stone, but you and I both know that he didn’t do it without God’s help.
  • We don’t have to face our Goliath alone.

“I find great comfort in knowing that God’s plan for us does not rely on our greatness but on His……..”   (Richard Stearns – He Walks Among Us)

Every single one of us is facing a Goliath.   Some of the Goliaths are readily visible.    Some of them are lurking in the shadows and don’t come out for all to see.

Remember that there is no Goliath that is more powerful than our God is.

And that can give us the courage to step forward, to call Goliath out and to fight knowing that God will be there to fight with us.

Pray that God will help you identify your Goliath and plan an attack on him – because this world will be a better place with less Goliaths.


Of Teddy Bears and Congressmen

As the internet continued to connect people from all over the country, many of us kept asking the question, “What can we do?” We felt so helpless and felt like we needed to do something!

Gradually the picture seemed to come a bit clearer. There’s a term called “Humanitarian Parole” in immigration rules. Basically it means, “Get the kids out of the country and to their new home and finish the paperwork later.

It’s only been used a few times. The Vietnam baby lift is the most common example of when it happened. Little did we know in 2004 that it would end up getting used in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti.

Those of us with children stuck in Haiti gathered together and came up with the idea of doing a “bear a van” and collect Teddy Bears from all over the country to represent the children who were stuck in Haiti. We would then bring all of them to Washington DC and use that as an effort to urge our government to show compassion on the children and the families and grant them humanitarian parole.

It succeeded and it failed.

It succeeded in that we had a large number of people show up and come to Washington to show our government what an impact this coup was having on families from all over the United States. I’ll never forget talking to the chairperson of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption and she said to me, “I’ve been in a lot of Senate briefings and I’m very familiar with this room, but when I walked in and saw teddy bears lined up all around the room, on the tables, on the front podium and every single one of them had a picture on it and matched up with a kid in Haiti waiting for their family, I lost it.”

It failed because even though we had the opportunity to talk to a large number of people in Washington, we were not able to get them to change their minds and institute humanitarian parole. But that ended up being ‘okay’ because within 6 weeks, things were pretty back to normal and we only lost about 6 weeks in the process.

The other way that we succeeded is that it gave all of us, as parents, the ability to talk to our children later, tell them the story and explain to them what we did and how we did everything possible to keep them safe and get them home as soon as possible.

The Myth of Not Enough

But the problem is so big…….

But there are so many kids who need families……..

But there are so many homeless people………

But our government is so screwed up……..

But she can’t do that, she lost the bottom half of both of her legs…….

But I can’t speak in front of a group…….

But what difference can I make?

But how can I make a change in that?

One of the things that the devil uses to combat the work of God’s people in the “First World” is the myth of not enough.

I’m not _________ enough (fill in the blank), so I’m not going to try to do that.

And the needs of the kingdom go unmet.

Moses told God that he wasn’t “good enough” and couldn’t speak well enough and look what God accomplished through him.

There are countless other examples of people who didn’t feel like they were “enough.”

We aren’t enough.

But with God, we are enough.

We can make a difference.

We can make a difference for the vulnerable children of the world. 

We can make a difference for the homeless.

We can make a difference for the people who are struggling at our church.

We can make a difference for the child at school who doesn’t have a friend.

We are enough.

Not on our own, but with God.

Where are you going to go forward knowing that you are not enough but God is?

Where am I going to go forward knowing that I am not enough but God is?

I’ve got some ideas on that that I’m working on – stay tuned…….