November is National Adoption Month. To recognize this important issue, we are publishing personal adoption testimonies this month.
Shortly after we were married, my husband and I felt that God was calling us to live out our married life as missionaries. We joined the Comboni Missionaries, and after a one year period of formation we were ready to go to mission. A small village mission in Guatemala was chosen as the best match for our skill set and we began to study Spanish. However, two weeks before the planned departure our mission was changed. We would no longer be going to Central America but instead, to our great surprise, to Africa.
We went with a commitment to serve as missionaries for three years wherever we were sent. If someone had told us that we would be serving in Ethiopia for more than six years and that when we did return our family would be majority Ethiopian, we wouldn’t have believed it! We had never thought of nor planned to adopt.
In February 2010, my husband and I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The sounds, the smells, the sights—everything that was so new and strange slowly became familiar. The community that was once foreign and unfamiliar became our home. We had the desire to share our love more deeply and to welcome a child into our family. We wanted to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. Living in Ethiopia, the process was slightly different though not less complicated than in the U.S. We began working on the paperwork.
We met with the Missionaries of Charity and expressed our interest in adopting a child. On April 30, 2012 (the feast day of Our Lady of Africa), they matched us with a six-month-old baby girl from Northern Ethiopia with intense eyes and big dimples. Her name was Emebet, which in Amharic (a language commonly spoken in Ethiopia) means “honored woman” or “special lady.” I immediately relocated from the south where we were living to the capital to visit with her each day.
During the five week period of waiting to become her legal parents, we felt she might be taken from us before she became our adopted daughter as we saw her battle meningitis and then shortly afterwards measles. It was during this difficult time that my husband felt for the first time like her dad. Visiting her in the afternoon, he found her sick with measles, which is such a contagious disease that she had to be temporarily placed in an isolated part of the orphanage. She was face down and crying desperately in her crib in fear, pain, and loneliness, her body covered in a rash and her nose running from the illness and the tears. He scooped her up into his arms, laid her head on his shoulder, and sang softly, rocking her back and forth. She grew quiet and settled. A couple minutes later she lifted her head and pushed herself back to gaze into his face—who was this who was holding her? He smiled at her and whispered confidently, “I’m your dad and will hold you now forever.”
We continued to open the plan of our family to God’s love. Many changes related to orphan care and adoption were taking place within the country, and it was a very challenging process, but two years later to our amazement we welcomed two more children into our home—Isayas, a 14-month-old active and happy boy, and Teibe, an eight-month-old affectionate and snuggly girl. Isayas’s name is the Amharic version of the prophet Isaiah, meaning “God is salvation.” Teibe’s name comes from Therese Bethlehem—her first name is in honor of St. Teresa of Kolkata (Mother Teresa) and her middle name reminds us of the joy and hope that was sparked there with the birth of Jesus.
We returned to North America last year, after more than six years in service. Our youngest is now four years old! This week we will be blessed with the visit of a Norwegian family that also adopted a boy and a girl from the same orphanage at the same time that we did. We supported each other through the process and waiting period and our kids were friends with cribs next to each other.
We see each of our children as a miracle. We delight in them and in the relationship of the three of them together. They bring joy to us as parents and to our bigger family, their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
It has been amazing to help them to understand our family and how they came to be part of it. We brewed delicious Ethiopian coffee on a recent Sunday morning and it gave our family an occasion to share, rejoice, and ask questions. The coffee was grown in the region where our youngest child Teibe was born. “Where was I born and what do they grow there?” the other two wanted to know. This was a small piece to an ongoing dialogue our family will have about adoption and God’s love and plans for each of us.
We can’t imagine our family without our three kids.
Ask God about his plan for your family. Could you welcome another child into your home?
Maggie Banga and her husband are Comboni Lay Missionaries. They live with their three adopted children in Hyattsville, Md.