“Yours. Mine. His. A story of faith, family and adoption"
Charles D. Perry
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000
Charles D. Perry is the editor of the Myrtle Beach Herald. A native of Horry County, SC, Perry graduated from Winthrop University in 2005 and spent four years at Rock Hill's daily newspaper, The Herald, before joining his hometown newspaper company, Waccamaw Publishers, in 2009. In addition to editing the Herald, Perry writes for Waccamaw's other weekly newspapers: The Horry Independent, Carolina Forest Chronicle and Loris Scene. Perry and his wife Jennifer live in Conway, S.C., with their three sons: Charlie, Chris and William. They are members of Bethany Bible Chapel.
Robin Crawford didn’t recognize the number on her iPhone.
She’d lost her contact list a few months earlier during an upgrade, so caller ID often presented a mystery.
This was Tuesday, Aug. 20, and Robin was at peace. She and her husband Victor had recently been cleared to adopt two boys from Ethiopia.
After a year of lawyers, fundraisers and paperwork, the 30-year-old was teeming with excitement, ready to bring two more children into her Conway home.
The Crawford family already included Josiah, a 9-year-old from Guatemala, and Miles, the couple’s 2-year-old biological child.
Then came the call.
Robin knew the voice instantly.
It belonged to a friend, the former foster mother of a 4-year-old girl Robin and Victor had tried to adopt. Just before that adoption was about to be finalized, the girl’s grandmother said she wanted to raise the child.
Robin was crushed, but she accepted the decision. God has a plan, she said, this will eventually make sense.
But that painful episode happened over a year ago, before the Crawfords had committed to international adoption, to Africa and to the boys in Ethiopia.
Why was this person calling now?
The grandmother wants you to take the child, the foster parent said, and she can’t stop thinking about your family. Please call her.
Robin was floored. Her house has less than 1,400 square feet of space. She’s a loan assistant and her husband is a part-time minister who also sells telecom equipment. Money is scarce. How could they say yes?
Robin was moved. This girl needs a family. Her grandmother wants her to grow up with a father. The Bible compels Christians to care for orphans. How could they say no?
Spin the globe.
Place a finger in the Caribbean, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia or Latin America. Although orphans abound worldwide — including thousands in the U.S. — most of them live in these areas.
UNICEF, the children’s outreach agency of the United Nations, estimates there are more than 132 million children who have lost at least one parent in these places and some 13 million are both fatherless and motherless.
Despite the numerous orphans living in developing countries, the number of international adoptions by U.S. families has plummeted by 62 percent since peaking in 2004.
One reason for the downturn is that countries such as China and South Korea have enacted stricter policies to limit the number of foreign adoptions and encourage domestic ones.
But American officials have also played a role in the decline. In 2008, the U.S. joined the Hague Convention, an international agreement that provides safeguards to prevent corruption in the intercountry adoption process.
Many of the Hague’s guidelines for adoption agencies promote sound management: requiring master’s degrees for social workers, a minimum amount of reserve funding and tougher record keeping policies.
However, increased regulation has created some challenges. For example, the U.S. State Department will not process adoptions involving countries that have joined the Hague but failed to meet all of its requirements.
“This is a big problem,” said James Fletcher Thompson, a Spartanburg lawyer who serves on the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys board. “The United States State Department is closing adoption programs when they see any kind of situation where they are out of Hague compliance instead of working with those nations to find appropriate homes for those children.
We don’t have a fewer number of people seeking to adopt and we don’t have a fewer number of children who need adoption. We are instead getting caught up in bureaucratic hijinks that is not child focused.”
Critics of international adoption often point to the scandals in recent years involving birth parents who were misinformed — or misled — about the adoption process. The American concept of adoption isn’t universally understood. In some cases, birth parents have thought they were simply sending their children to the U.S. for an education, not severing their rights permanently.
Although there have been cases of fraud abroad, Thompson said most international adoptions end the way stateside ones do — with a child united with a family.
“Just as in U.S. adoptions, you can find unseemly adoption providers and stories where people have been taken advantage of,” he said. “That also doesn’t define the bulk of what is domestic adoption, which is loving and unselfish decisions being made. … That’s the norm.”
The Crawfords didn’t set out to care for orphans.
They met when Robin was in the 8th grade and Victor was a sophomore at Conway Christian School.
The first time she saw him, he was standing on a picnic table singing “Splish, splash (I was taking a bath),” a rendition of his routine from his job at Johnny Rockets.
His classmates loved it. Robin didn’t.
“Who is that weirdo?” she asked her friend.
The two shared few common interests.
She was a jock, the shooting guard star of the basketball team who wore No. 23 like her hero, Michael Jordan. He was the happy goofball, the guy who made strange voices or faked seizures to freak out his friends.
She was a technophobe and he liked gadgets. She listened to country music but favored praise and worship on Sundays. He despised country and drove around singing “Shout to the Lord” in his car.
Their families were also different. Hers had strict rules and ate fried pork chops. His was more flexible and sometimes made a meal out of pinto beans.
When she graduated, the school retired her jersey. When he graduated, the school invited him back to teach computer science.
But the chemistry was always there. She’d get mad about his strange antics until she’d burst out laughing. He relished cracking her up.
“We get each other,” Robin said. “Even today, he really does annoy me a lot. Because when you’re that different, you get annoyed. But there really is like a mutual respect for each other. I respect him more than I do anybody else.”
Victor always moved slowly. It took him months to hold her hand at the movies. They didn’t have their first kiss until they’d been dating a year.
After Robin finished high school, Victor wasn’t rushing into marriage, either. But by the time she was 21 and he was 24, she’d had enough. She told him to make up his mind.
Victor gave her his best rationalization.
“I’m not against marrying you,” he said. “I really hadn’t thought about it.”
They wed in December 2004.
Victor can recall a few moments in his life that radically changed him.
One, of course, was meeting Robin. The other was meeting a boy named Nolan.
In 2005, Victor was working with the youth ministry at Langston Baptist Church in Conway. About a dozen people — all but three of them teens — agreed to travel to Honduras for a mission trip.
The decision was unusual for both the church and Victor. While the church supported missionaries, the congregation didn’t actually go on the journeys themselves.
But the youth leader had heard about an orphanage that needed some help and Victor was among those who agreed to go.
After all, didn’t the Bible say something about taking care of widows and orphans?
Their plane touched down in the community of Roatan, at an airport so small they had to walk off the tarmac.
The village they visited reminded Victor of a commercial, the kind where viewers are asked to spare a few dollars a day to help the impoverished.
These were those people.
Many lived in tin huts with mud floors. Naked children ran through the streets. One boy, maybe 7, carried eggs he’d purchased for his family.
There were women washing laundry outdoors and a potent stench from the lack of sufficient sewer.
The orphanage stood out amid the destitute landscape. It was a large building with thick walls and armed guards outside.
The Langston youth were there to play with the children, to kick soccer balls and sit with them during Bible clubs while a translator read the Scriptures.
One of those children was Nolan.
The boy became fascinated with Victor, following him everywhere. He was a stubby shadow in a Pokemon T-shirt.
Nolan’s plump cheeks and crooked teeth reminded Victor of himself as a boy.
Victor also kept thinking about his wife and their plans to start a family. She was already talking about having children, but he couldn’t get past Nolan.
Here was this boy with no family who adored him. His plans suddenly seemed selfish.
“Growing up in church, we never talked about orphans,” he said. “We never talked about poverty. The best we ever did was we prayed for missionaries. It was a foreign concept until this point in my life.”
After a week in Honduras, Victor came home with a new purpose.
As Robin drove him back from the Myrtle Beach airport, he told her his goal: he wanted to adopt Nolan.
The Crawfords soon learned that Nolan could not be their son.
They hadn’t been married long enough to meet the requirements of the Honduran government, and at the time there were few places such a young couple could adopt.
In some ways, Robin was relieved. Nolan was black and this was the South. Although she had never known overt racism — the kind with hoods and burning crosses — she’d heard whispers from friends.
She was told that black people were different. They weren’t like her.
How she could bring a child into that environment?
About a year after they began pursuing adoption, the Crawfords received a referral email from their agency.
The message contained a photo of a 2-year-old Guatemalan boy. He had caramel skin and black hair. He wore a pair of denim overalls.
In the first photo, the boy’s nose was runny and his mouth hung open. He looked angry.
“No,” Victor said when he saw the picture. “Honestly, this kid looks rough, real rough. I don’t know. I don’t have a good feeling about this.”
Robin had the opposite reaction.
“All I saw was just a little boy,” she said. “Not to mention he is, like, one of the most gorgeous children I’d ever laid eyes on. … I was like, ‘This is him. This is it.’ I didn’t want to look any further.”
In August 2007, the Crawfords flew to Guatemala for an unrelated mission trip. While they were there, they met the boy in the picture.
Robin had memorized his story. The boy’s father had been a fling and his mother couldn’t afford to care for the child. A rich couple had planned to adopt him, but they divorced and decided against it.
The boy was living with a foster mother in Guatemala City. When they arrived at her house, they brought out a Build-a-Bear and a Thomas the Tank Engine train.
As he stood before them in jeans and a white collared shirt, they marveled at how the photographs weren’t sufficient.
“He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life,” Robin said.
He was spunky, too.
At his foster mother’s insistence, he gave his best impression of Popeye. He opened a can of invisible spinach and scarfed down its contents, then flexed his tiny biceps and hoisted up a toy with the pride of an Olympic weightlifter.
They ate lunch and visited a zoo. The boy might have been interested in the animals if a costumed Spiderman wasn’t walking around. That was his favorite part of the trip.
Although Robin had never been an emotional person — she can think of five times she cried before marrying Victor — she burst into tears when they had to return home without the boy.
The final months of the adoption were agonizing. With the U.S. on the cusp of joining the Hague Convention, adoptions in Guatemala were winding down.
Guatemala had agreed to join the convention as well, but there was no way the country could meet the strict requirements.
Robin feared the adoption would fall through while they waited for their paperwork to be processed.
One afternoon, she felt compelled to pray in the room they’d prepared for their son.
She wasn’t sure why, but she and Victor prayed near the firefighter bedspread.
The next day, the call they’d been waiting for came at 11 a.m. They landed in Guatemala on Oct. 21. They named the boy Josiah.
U.S.-Guatemala adoptions ceased two months later.
Learning to love
The transition from Guatemala was difficult at first. Josiah seemed angry and understandably so. He had been separated from his mother, then his foster mother and now he was living in an unfamiliar place with strange people who couldn’t understand him.
Sometimes Robin would find him sitting on his bedroom floor at night crying as he slammed his Ninja Turtle figurines into one another.
“Te quiero” she would say, using the Spanish words for “I love you.”
He never responded.
For weeks she did this.
“Te quiero” before Victor left for work.
“Te quiero” at bedtime.
“Te quiero” as she tried to play with him.
Nothing. Just more tears and battered action figures.
Robin wondered what was wrong. She felt like a mother in every way, except she couldn’t understand why her love wasn’t being reciprocated.
The breakthrough came as she slept.
One morning, Josiah quietly crept across the carpet and approached her bedside.
She awoke to small lips kissing her cheek.
“Te quiero, Mamita,” he said.
And, for perhaps the 10th time in her life, Robin cried.
There’s an image that often haunts Victor.
He thinks about Nolan, that chubby cheeked boy from Honduras, and what he’s doing now. Did someone ever adopt him?
Sure, he was happy there. But would he ever have a family with whom to share such joy? Who would teach him to cope with life’s troubles? Who would offer him advice?
“What bothers me the most in the world today is when I see older kids without anybody,” Victor said. “I think about that and it just messes me up.”
After Robin gave birth to Miles, she and Victor decided to adopt again.
As they studied the Bible, they became convinced they had a mandate to care for widows and orphans.
The verse that stood out to them was James 1:27: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (NKJ).”
“We were raised in the church,” Victor said. “We thought we knew what it was to live out our faith. It was attend church, don’t cuss, don’t drink, have all the appearances of goodness. And if you do those things and you pray to Jesus in your life, then really everything’s going to work out and everything’s good. You’re a good Christian. … But what God did in Honduras and what he continues to do today is challenge us in our faith. Really, what does that look like? And so our faith now moves beyond the church doors into our everyday life.”
As the Crawfords’ faith grew, many Christians across the country began undergoing similar changes.
The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution supporting adoption in 2009, and last year Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church called on Christians to help solve the orphan crisis. Other prominent Christian pastors such as David Platt and Francis Chan also voiced their support for adoption.
“There is an explosion of church-based ministries that are looking at international adoption,” said Thompson, the adoption lawyer.
The downside of this movement was that some agencies saw it as a business opportunity. Robin and Victor read horror stories about children being taken from loving families abroad to be adopted by unsuspecting American couples.
Although their international adoption experience had been positive, the Crawfords also knew there were children in South Carolina who needed families, too.
They unsuccessfully tried to adopt through the state Department of Social Services for two years before they heard about a little girl who was in the care of their friend, a foster parent.
As the stateside adoption progressed, Robin was sure she and Victor were making the right decision. The boys would share a room. The girl would have her own.
But when the girl’s grandmother moved her to the Midwest, the Crawfords began looking internationally again. They were careful about selecting an agency and went with Adoption Adventures in Portland, Ore., the same group that had helped them find Josiah.
The agency highlighted two countries that seemed to match the Crawfords well: One was Ethiopia and the other was Moldova. Essentially, they would have to choose between a black child and a white one.
Robin had made so many excuses in the past. She’d said Ethiopia would never be an option. She worried about HIV and other diseases the children might have. And she wondered how her family would react.
“As bad as this is going to sound, it all boils down to race,” she said. “So for the last few years, I told God no.”
“It’s an issue with our community,” Victor said.
Despite her resistance, Robin said she felt drawn to Ethiopia. That, she said, is where God wanted her.
“I just knew he wanted my complete obedience,” she said. “Until I surrendered everything, I was not going to be at peace.”
Although they initially planned to adopt one child, late last fall Victor began to wonder why they’d limited themselves. On the way back from preaching a sermon about the demands of faith, he told Robin he wanted to adopt two children.
The idea surprised her, but she agreed. Their agency soon found biological brothers, 8-year-old Robel and 3-year-old Nahom. Their father had died and their mother was too poor to care for them.
The only question was where to find the tens of thousands of dollars to adopt them.
The thumping on the door started at 7:30 a.m.
Victor was showering before work, so Robin answered the knock.
The man outside wore a green City of Conway uniform. His work truck idled by the street.
“Here’s 50 bucks,” he told Robin, handing her cash. “God told me to do it.”
As she tried to refuse, the man added, “it all comes back to me anyway.”
Although touched, Robin wasn’t surprised by the generosity. In the last year, she’d become quite familiar with the concept. It’s the same attitude she saw in the teenager who handed her his allowance.
She saw it in the couple who slipped her $20 at El Cerro Grande.
And there was the lady who spotted Victor buying shorts at J.C. Penney and handed him cash.
Someone even mailed them an unsigned card with a $100 bill inside.
There were also the dozens of others who had purchased barbecue plates, chicken bog tickets, T-shirts, pizzas and car washes. Their gifts ranged from a single bill to hundreds of dollars.
Yes, some folks had money to give. But others didn’t. Robin is certain some of the donors skipped lunches so her family could have a few more dollars for the adoption. The donation total recently surpassed $16,000.
Along with giving money, friends have offered to help in other ways.
Shane Robertson, a pastor friend of Victor’s, plans to take his 14-year-old son Ayano by the Crawfords so he can teach the boys English.
The Robertsons adopted Ayano from Ethiopia three years ago. He speaks English as well as two common Ethiopian languages.
When Ayano first moved to the Robertson house in North Myrtle Beach, he couldn’t understand English. To ease the transition, the family turned to the owner of a local Ethiopian restaurant.
“It was tough at first, but she really made a big difference,” Robertson said. “Ayano remembers that, how much it helped, so he’s offered to help the Crawfords’ boys.”
Realizing the purpose
Unbeknownst to Robin, Josiah started making a poster.
Using white posterboard for a background, he attached photos of him smiling with Robin and Victor, and of him laughing with Miles. At the top of the poster, he wrote “adoption.” In orange marker, he wrote “I was adopted from Guatemala.” In green marker, he wrote I John 4:19 (“We love him because he first loved us”). In various hues, he wrote “adoption is partnering with Jesus to see lives transformed.”
There’s a blank space on the poster, too, a place for the picture of the brothers he’ll soon meet.
This is encouraging to the Crawfords. Josiah seems like the typical all-American boy. He plays the electric guitar. He roots for the New York Yankees and the Chicago Bulls. He plays baseball and soccer. His report card shows all A’s.
But the Crawfords don’t want him to see sports, music and material Americana as his life, the reason he’s here.
That’s why they worry when he makes his Christmas list in July.
“We’re not bringing [orphans] to America because America is salvation,” Victor said. “Your salvation is not in the American dream. It’s not in the American culture. It’s not in any of that stuff. Your salvation is knowing Christ. It is the gospel.”
The call about the little girl came during Robin’s lunch break.
She spent the afternoon talking with the girl’s grandmother, Victor, her sister-in-law and God.
“Explain this to me,” she prayed as she drove down the road.
When she got home, she and Victor discussed converting their garage into an extra room. They talked about setting up bunk beds.
“What do you think?” Robin asked Victor, referring to the girl.
“If the opportunity presents itself,” he said, “we’ll adopt her.”
She asked at what point they’d have enough kids.
“Will it be 20 children?”
They decided to give the grandmother options. If she could pay for the lawyer fees, they’d adopt the girl. If she turned the child back over to the state — which wouldn’t guarantee she’d go to the Crawfords — they’d try to adopt her that way.
The conversations and the questions continued until late that evening.
Sitting on their living room couch, Robin worried about time. If she had five children, would she be able to go to their ballgames, help them finish homework, read them the Bible?
At 10:10 p.m., Miles toddled over to her. He wanted to watch a movie.
“Mommy can we snuggle?” he asked.
At this moment, she needed sleep. She needed to plan. She needed to find answers.
But the little blonde boy, he needed his mother.
So she relaxed, accepted not knowing and made some popcorn.
Published inThe Myrtle Beach Herald, August 30, 2013 (Myrtle Beach, SC)
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