Adoption is just Adoption

I hear the same question all the time: Why did you adopt internationally? There are so many kids here in the U.S. that need a home. Wouldn’t that have been easier?


My stomach drops to the floor and back into my throat within a moment. Because the answer is yes, it would have been far easier, but the answer of “why” for us was a painful reality. However, the Lord is writing my story, and the Author sent my husband and myself halfway around the world to an orphanage in Ukraine for our daughter and has taught us how to explain that “why.”

So, let me back up and tell how we got where we are.

I was told at a young age I would not be able to have children. Since Cody and I had that in our minds from the time we got married, the word adoption has always been a part of our vocabulary.  Luckily, the Lord is a miracle worker, and He doesn’t abide by American medicine. The result was two healthy, beautiful boys, born two years apart. We decided we were done with children and went on our way.

Soon after our youngest was a year old, we both independently started to feel like something was missing, but we knew another pregnancy was not the answer.  We started praying about what it could look like, and one day at our boys’ school, we met a woman who was adopting a special needs child from Ukraine. Both of us were fascinated with their story, and we asked to follow their blog and Facebook group. In the next 6 months, international adoption went from a far-off dream to a possible reality.  Cody and I started praying about what that story of an adoption could look like for our family.

In the next 6 months, international adoption went from a far-off dream to a possible reality.  Cody and I started praying about what that story of an adoption could look like for our family.

While our friends were in Ukraine, they shared cute, adorable photos of their daughter with oversized bows and stories of this 5-year-old stumbling as she attempted to walk (since she had been left in a crib for most of her childhood). I remember those photos like they were yesterday; it propelled me from interest to action. I messaged her with more questions than I should have as she was in the middle of an adoption, but she was overly gracious with her time and energy, and she indulged me.

My eyes were opened to a new world of brokenness and pain. In America, our care systems are broken, too- often overworked and overrun, but the systems overseas are doubly broken by a greater need and a lack of resources. Disabilities are surrounded with a good bit of fear and confusion, so children might be left in dark rooms simply because there is something different about them (different can mean anything from being cross-eyed to having a cleft palate).  

In some parts of the world it can be common practice, and culturally accepted, that children with even the slightest disability be put away. This commonly means the child is surrendered to an orphanage; the statistics of these children who live past their 6th birthday is shockingly low.

Those findings moved my husband and me to respond. We knew going in we couldn’t save every child, but we could save one. And, through sharing our story, we could tell of the power, mercy, and glory of the Lord in order to save more.  

We knew going in we couldn’t save every child, but that we could save one.

Our time in Ukraine was numbing. We arrived ecstatic to meet our daughter. We were armed with all the knowledge one can possibly have going into these situations, but I will tell you the moment the orphanage door opened and we stepped through, we were changed- forever.

I didn’t see kids like we think of them; I saw shells of children, whose eyes all stared recklessly my way. They studied me curiously and with terror, as I clearly didn’t fit in. I attempted to “look normal” (of all the silly things!), but the smell that penetrated the room was one I will never forget and won’t even attempt to convey. Bathing was a luxury, maybe granted once a week, if lucky; clean clothes- only every few days, and that was if you were a favorite of a nanny who would take the time to clothe you. Clothes were not given according to gender, but instead out of necessity.

There was not nearly enough food- their tiny rib cages and sunken-in tummies are forever imprinted on my brain. Tears form anytime I begin to think about what it must be like to be starving for as long as a child can remember. First memories should be giggles, grinning, and love- not starvation, screaming, and abuse.

In our time there we saw things like children being slapped across the face, spit at, yelled, and even screamed at. Children were tethered by pieces of cloth to their cribs to keep them from escaping. I can go on and on. What was once a distant thought had not only become a reality, but it had also become a reality that my child has experienced.

There is no way that you don’t change from seeing that, being a part of that, especially if you believe in the healing power of the gospel. I would describe the orphanage in Ukraine as filthy- from the look, to the smell, and to what occurred inside of that place. It is one of the reasons I’m extremely passionate about international and special needs adoption.  However, I know the Lord equipped my husband and me for this, and everyone reading this does not need to adopt internationally. We are all given different gifts, but we must be able to value human life as something that comes in all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, disabilities, and abilities.

Wherever it happens, adoption is just that- adoption.

Your story might take you to China, to Ukraine, just down the road to Georgia, or keep you right here in Greenville. Wherever it happens, adoption is just that- adoption. The Bible doesn’t tell us to only love local adoption, or international adoption, or private adoption, or state adoption. The Bible just talks about ADOPTION.

God has declared that we are His children and that He loves us as a father loves his children; therefore, we are called to respond and love in the same way! Maybe you do need to get on a plane, or maybe you need to call a local adoption office, but maybe you don’t. You may need to commit to meals for an adoptive family for a time or to donate financially to support an adoption. As believers, we all play a vital role in the world of adoption because we ourselves have experienced adoption into the family of God through his Son, Jesus.

-Jessica Sterling