Signing for Forever

After we met our three new children on Father’s Day and spent the allotted two hours with them (3:00–5:00pm), we watched them scurry back down the long steps along the side wall of the orphanage compound, back to familiar surroundings and small friends. We turned left out of the compound and up the steep “Dancing Road,” so named by our driver because of its deeply gorged ruts which throw you violently from side to side even as you creep uphill. At the top of the hill we passed the infamous St. Famille church, still crying out with the memory of the 1994 genocide in which a Catholic priest held refugees hostage and sanctioned their slaughter on the church precincts during the months of the genocide. Reminders are everywhere in this city—the very hills are haunted.

We were headed for dinner at one of the four Bourbon Coffee’s in Kigali, the first mainstream coffee shop in the city. Bourbon Coffee was established in 2007 by native Rwandan and former TMC student Arthur Karuletwa, designed as “a showcase for Rwanda’s primary export.” Arthur had already envisioned and engineered Inzozi Coffee to assist and train native coffee growers to implement new high-production methods that would enable them to join the specialty coffee trade and sell their fine coffee as a traceable product at premium prices. During our open-air dinner overlooking one of the many valleys of Kigali, we chatted with our Power of Attorney who also serves as an unpaid co-pastor at a local church in the area. We were born only two months apart in 1981, which made his heart for his country, for the Rwandan church, and for the orphans whose families he serves that much more exciting and humbling. He’s never read Adopting for Life or attended a Christian Alliance for Orphans conference, but he gets it theologically and he lives it practically. It is always wonderful to be inadvertently humbled by all the local African Christians who have been living orphan care through crises large and small, long before the contemporary orphan care “movement” began to explode.

Back at Freedom Hotel, we found ourselves predictably exhausted and went to sleep early, ready for our first day of the in-country adoption process. But God would not sleep through the night.

Early Monday morning we enjoyed the most ridiculous complimentary hotel breakfast you’ve ever seen, then joined our Rwandan lawyer (also an unpaid senior pastor in the area) and headed straight for MIGEPROF, the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion. Here we completed the Act of Adoption and signed the big 11×17” documents that would serve as a foundation for the rest of the week’s paperwork. You sign entire trees of paper throughout the adoption process, but with these final signatures, the small act of inscribing your name becomes one of the more memorable moments of the process. It signifies commitment, accountability, testimony, and permanence. It says, “Yes, we are serious,” and “Yes, this is forever”—in the sight of God and man.

From the MIGEPROF offices we headed for the main shopping center where we scrounged up a cheap Nokia phone, a $30 Tigo wireless modem with a month of (very slow) internet access, a couple big containers of Nil(e) spring water, and a handful of our first exchanged Francs. It’s been a surprisingly refreshing exchange to trade in the ever-blinking Motorola Droid that typically clings to my belt for a tiny plastic pre-paid cell phone housing only five local numbers and fitting snugly in the tiny square sub-pocket on the right side of my Levi’s.

With our court date scheduled (loosely) for Tuesday, we left the shopping center and headed back to the hotel to relax for the early afternoon. After a few chapters of Jane Leavy’s The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood and an ill-advised first-day nap, it was back to Home of Hope for our second 3:00–5:00pm visit with the kids.

Noella, the oldest (4½), followed up her enthusiastic first-day response with another two hours of playful affection. At four, the nuns have told us, the kids really understand what’s happening. They comprehend the concept of parents, hear often about them from preschoolmates and matched-up orphanage friends, and long to have some of their own. But by age four, the chances of adoption are rare. One eight-year-old at the orphanage is longing still, but the nuns know that her opportunity is limited. May God raise up a generation of (possibly older) families who will follow Christian heroes like Bob and Ramona Edwards in bringing these no-less-needy and far-more-longing children into their homes forever.

Nathanael, our middle son (just turned 4), remained his uber-active self, running around the small parking area and bolting for the solid blue gate to peer through the cracks at any sound of a passing “motorcar” shuddering its way up the “Dancing Road.” This wonderful little guy is built like a dually with a matching face, lighting up with a big-toothed grin the longer we’re around him. On Sunday and Monday he was active but hesitant, preferring to stay mobile and look out the gate while intermittently wandering down to the internal fence to watch his buddies playing or to show off the adult sunglasses he’d borrowed from his new parents.

Sophia, our baby at a petite 3½ years old, is an absolute wonder. Her little round face is a perpetual soul-searching gaze, and her eyes pour out questions: “I wonder who you are? What is this all about? I’m going to need some real time to consider this…” On Sunday, neither of us could hold her. On Monday, Cindi had the fragile opportunity for 45 minutes before Sophia saw a passing motorcar, ran to the gate with her brother and sister, and then couldn’t bring herself to return to Cindi’s arms. I love stories and I love words, but the canvas of story disintegrates and the color of language becomes a translucent and dull paint as I attempt to express the marvel of this little girl’s soft-eyed wonder and the love that pulses deep in our hearts as we pursue her heart and her trust. When pressed for affection and the opportunity to be held, she cries one single alligator tear that masses in the tiny crease to the right of her nose. In these first two days, the one affection that she would receive from me without drawing back was to wipe her tears. This is no small step for a child—or an adult. One day, we will all experience the same from our own Father, when all things are new. Until then, little Sophia, if all I can do is wipe your tears, you can still be mine, until the new age dawns and the Father Himself reaches down.

Once again, we left our children at the orphanage at 5:00pm and headed back to Freedom Hotel where I enjoyed my first order of many Beef Brouchettes (shish kabobs), a repeated meal choice that’s become quite the joke, taking on a life of its own. Bedtime came at a normal hour, but sleep would not, as our ill-advised afternoon rest came back to haunt us both with an undesired alertness from 1:30–6:00am. Tuesday’s strength would have to come directly from its ultimate source.

We awoke early on Tuesday morning to another rich complimentary breakfast at the Freedom Hotel, and then hopped into the LandCruiser to head for court on the other side of town. We hoped to catch the judge during a break in her appointments, but found that she was booked at least through 1:00pm. We walked across the street to La Galette, a small grocery store and calming outdoor patio where Rwandans and expats alike were relaxing and meeting up for business and pleasure. We sat at the owner’s absent corner table and waited for a call from the court secretary. Around 1:00pm our lawyer headed over to court to check, but found that appointments had carried into the early afternoon, so more waiting was in store. Meanwhile, an interesting older mzungu (white person) had settled in for a smoke at our table, and when our lawyer left, he began engaging us in conversation. Turns out he had lived in Kigali since 1995 after moving over to assist in the international prosecutions for the genocide. Due to his experience and profession, he proved to be a wealthy reservoir of information and insight into Rwandan life and culture, including the complexities of the genocide and the ongoing pursuit of justice and reconciliation.

Finally, the call came. We paid our bill and took the short walk across the street to the courthouse where we waited briefly before being escorted through the nondescript yellow building, down the stairs outside and past the group of relaxing African men, and into the small sunken room where our young female judge and her scribe sat at wooden desks. We settled into our seats to her right, with our lawyer across the desk from her. She left briefly to don her judicial robe and returned quietly as we sat, waiting. She sat back and scanned through our documents, and then communicated the traditional request through our lawyer: Introduce yourselves, explain your intentions and your relationship with each child, and state your request. After I gave a slow reply for each child, hand-copied by the scribe in the corner, each document was handed to us to sign. Once again we inscribed our solemn signatures, concretizing yet another important layer of promise onto our new relationship with our children. At the end of the appointment, she graciously accepted our request for a photo, and we ascended from the chamber with the official court ruling expected to be granted on Wednesday morning.

With the afternoon almost gone, we enjoyed a third but briefer visit with the children at Home of Hope, seeing some small signs of progress as they began to recognize us and perhaps sense the permanency of our intentions. Then it was back to Freedom Hotel for dinner before a much-needed night of rest in preparation for a Wednesday that would prove to be both special and somber.

“Special and somber.” With this long-anticipated adoption coming to a close in a city where the very-present atrocity of the 1994 genocide hangs over our hearts at every turn, we are finding that the emotions are not so much rhythmic as they are blended. But thus it must be in a broken world groaning with the labor pains of redemption. This is why perhaps these two words can also provide an apt description of the adoption journey itself. The plight is somber, but the solution is special — and because of the fatherhood of God, even spectacular.


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