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When You Are Matched With a Child in Burkina Faso?
Not only did orphan hosting change the life of our superhero-in-no-more-waiting; it changed our family's lives forever. And now, after spending four weeks with a superhero who blessed us and challenged us and changed our perspective and changed our hearts, we can’t wait to make hosting something we do every year.
Maybe you’ve never considered orphan hosting.
Neither had we.
Maybe you feel totally inadequate to advocate for a child so in need of a forever family.
So did we.
Maybe you worry that you might just fall in love with your superhero.
So did we.
And it changed his life and our life and all of our stories in ways that will have impact for years to come.
Love is worth it. Forever family is worth it. Your sacrifice to host a child who has never experienced the unconditional love of family is worth it. Because your sacrifice leads one deserving child to a family he can be a part of forever. That family could even be yours.
One less orphan in the world — that’s worth it.
Every time we announce that we are hosting a child in our home for a month to advocate for him, I receive messages and emails and texts and questions about how this all works and why we choose to do it. These are the questions we receive most frequently. And these are our honest, f’real answers. Even though it’s an imperfect system, orphan hosting, we believe from the bottom of our hearts, is worth the cost, worth the time, worth the tears.
What is orphan hosting?
Orphan hosting is an opportunity to host a child who has no parents and is legally available for adoption in your home for one month. Most of the Chinese children were abandoned at birth and have medical needs. These children come from orphanages and foster homes where they’ve been waiting, in some cases, for a decade for a forever family to call their own.
Because of their age or medical needs, they have not been able to be placed in their home country, and they have so far not found international families to call them “child.” Hosting gives them an opportunity to experience the love of forever family, gives them an opportunity to share their stories and faces and personalities with a family who can then share them with the world, and it gives them an opportunity to receive medical exams, eye exams and dental exams that they may have rarely or never had before. This, then, allows potential adoptive families to receive fuller information in these kiddos’ adoption files, and that significantly increases their chances of being adopted. Because potential families get windows into the personalities, current medical needs and current medical status of each kiddo.
And when files become faces — of orphans you see with host families at farmers’ markets and at church and at the library and around town — it’s no longer easy to just forget about or ignore their plights. They become people, not profiles, and their personalities and their stories and their sweet spirits get under the skin. Out of relationship, families step forward, and lives are changed.
Orphan hosting gives a face and a voice to a superhero-in-waiting. Host families get the priveledge of being those voices. For their host children. And for the 132 million superheroes around the world who still wait.
Do the children know they are coming to the United States to be advocated for? Do they know future adoption is an option?
In our particular hosting program, the children are told that they have been chosen to travel to the United States for an international camp. Their nannies and chaperones prepare them well for the fact that this is a one-month experience, not a lifetime experience. Throughout the hosting month, the chaperones check in and ask about “camp” and remind them how much time they have left before they return home.
In order to reinforce this camp experience, we called our home “Camp Cuthrell.” We also introduced ourselves to our summer superhero as Ayi (auntie) and Shu Shu (uncle), which allowed us to serve in a fun, auntie-like camp counselor capacity throughout his time with us.
Host families are actually not even allowed to use the “A” word with their children or around them. In fact, we printed up business cards to hand to friends and family who saw us at church and in public that read, “please ask us about adoption. Please just do not ask in front of DJ. Instead, email us at this address.” This allowed us to advocate for him on social media and on the blog and in person while not discussing the concept of adoption in front of him or around him.
We found that DJ was very well prepared to return to China and was asking about his “feiji” (airplane) every night for two weeks before he returned. He thanked us for our “camp” and left with a memory book of his month in the United States.
How did you “advocate” for your child while he was here?
We chose to both blog about our superhero and share his story, photos and videos frequently on our social media account. We also handed out business cards sharing his information and story to everyone we met. In the age of social media, one photo, one video, one personal story can reach thousands of potential families. You never know who might be waiting on the other end of a computer screen to meet a son or daughter.
Advocating was as simple as sharing this sweet superhero’s story.
Hosting and adopting are both so expensive — how will we ever get the funds?
Some host families created and sold t-shirts to raise the funds. Others held baked sales. Others held lemonade stands, garage sales or simple Go Fund Me pages. Here’s how God provided every dime for our adoption of Superhero 3:
What does it mean to “age out” of the Chinese adoption system? What happens to these children when they turn 14? Why is finding them a home before this age so urgent?
How did you communicate with your child when he was here?
We primarily used hand gestures, pictures and Google Translate. However, we found Google Translate to be an unreliable app (we’re pretty sure our 10-year-old superhero did not ask us for a gigolo). Several families suggested other apps that cost $5 – $15 and were much more reliable throughout their hosting experiences.
By the time he left, our host superhero could speak several words and phrases in English, and he could understand a large portion of what we said, even though he couldn’t speak in full sentences back to us.
Play is a universal language and the one we used most frequently.
What were your biggest challenges as a host family?
Honestly, hosting our summer superhero was such a blessing that even the challenges were joys to tackle together. Perhaps our biggest challenge was getting our summer superhero on our time zone. Since it was a 12-hour time difference from his home in China to ours, it took him a good week to finally start sleeping through the night and waking during normal hours. Which meant that the first week of 2 a.m. wake-ups were a bit exhausting.
The language barrier was not as much of an obstacle as I imagined, since children pick up new languages so easily, and gestures and sign language helped bridge the gap.
What advice do you have a for a new host family?
The child you receive at the airport is not the child you send home one month later.
DJ was so overstimulated and overwhelmed by our culture, our home, our toys and our environment that, for the first week, he simply ran from object to object and item to item, exploring, experiencing and enjoying. He was like a toddler who looked more like a ping pong ball, bouncing from one thing to another at the speed of lightning, than a 10-year-old boy.
After one week, he adjusted to the time zone, realized we were going to feed him regularly and understood that all these toys and play things would still be available to him the next morning. He slowed his frantic and curious pace considerably and began to rest and relate to all of us — something he had no time or energy to do in his first week in our home because of all the fun and crazy distractions.
It was at that time that he really started bonding with our family … and demonstrating affection.
Although the child who arrived in our home was one who woke up at 2 a.m. and raced through the house touching everything but us, the child who left was one who just wanted to be cuddled, carried, held. Who craved the benefits and entitlements of being part of a family.
We would like to host with the intention of adopting our host child, but I’m worried about adopting a child with special needs. It seems daunting and overwhelming.
Hosting a superhero-in-waiting was one of the most amazing things we have ever been blessed to be a part of. And we would love nothing more than for your family to join ours on this journey! To drive to international airports with us. To eat with us. To hold Chinese-speaking play dates where we enjoy pot stickers and garlic and onion sandwiches and all force through the mess that is Google Translate while we watch in awe as these incredible and resilient kiddos overcome obstacles and blow us away with their ability to LOVE.
By God’s grace, we can help change the orphan story, one deserving child at a time.
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