Brooke: Our adoption story started six years ago when I was a junior in college. I traveled to Uganda for the first time on a short-term mission trip, by myself with 30 other strangers. We spent a lot of time at a children’s home in Jinja, where I met my sponsor child for the first time. It was on this trip that orphan care and adoption first found a home in my heart.
Zach says that I came home different. I was emotional, had zero desire to continue college (although this desire came back), and just wanted to be back in Uganda with people who I missed so wholeheartedly. I would never be the same, emotionally. My aspirations, dreams, and hopes for the future had all changed and I knew that God had laid it on my heart to adopt one day. I prayed for quite awhile before my initial trip to Uganda that Zach would somehow feel the same love for Uganda and go back with me.
In June 2011 Zach and I traveled to Uganda with Visiting Orphans. On this trip, he became BROKEN for Uganda and the children that he met. We talked a lot about adoption and the hopes we had one day for our future family. He says now that he saw the light and love in me when I returned and wanted to feel it too.
Zach: Traveling to Uganda the first time really changed my outlook on life, family, and the idea of adoption. My first trip was the first time I had been out of the country and the first time I had experienced such extreme poverty and conditions. I have always had a heart for children but these Ugandan children hit a special place in my heart. These children had no family, barely enough food to survive, and nothing to call a home. Until you are able to experience a glimpse into their lives and hold them and love them it’s hard to understand the hardships they have had to endure their entire lives. I think once I experienced this, I had a small place in my heart that wanted to give an orphan/orphans a home and show them the love they deserve.
Brooke: Uganda’s culture and the simple, yet beautiful way they live their lives was something that we wanted to be a part of and live our lives invested in. We fell in love with the smells, the sounds, the voices, and most importantly the people themselves. Throughout the years we’ve traveled to do mission work in Uganda, we’ve built lasting relationships with both children and adults. On one of those trips, we met a young couple who were starting their own children’s home for children who have been affected by HIV and AIDS. They asked us to come spend several weeks with them and get it up and off the ground. When we first arrived in country, they told us about their very first child that was brought into the children’s home. They told us that he had been living with his grandmother and she couldn’t care for him any longer due to her age, farming, and lack of money.
When we first met our little boy (we aren’t using his real name online right now until he comes home to us – for now we’ll just say “M”), he was so incredibly malnourished and could barely walk at the age of 2. His hair was white, his body was swollen, and he had a hard time opening his mouth. The moment I looked at him, I knew God sent us there because he was going to be our child. I remember breaking down into tears, picking him up out of the dirt, and just holding him. I will never forget the way M smiled at me that day. Throughout the next few days he spent time with us at the orphanage but would have nothing to do with Zach. It was difficult for Zach to build a relationship with him and therefore at first Zach did not feel the same desire to adopt him as I did. Keep in mind that we were also not married yet (we were newly engaged). However, Zach knew that I felt God was asking me to be this little boy’s mother. Being the level-headed guy that he is, Zach wanted to get married first before even thinking about starting a family. He never once said “no” to me but I knew he needed God to reveal it in his heart as well. So, for the next several months (as we were wedding planning) I prayed every day that God would open Zach’s heart to the idea of M one day becoming our son. One day, I asked Zach jokingly, “so, when can we bring my sweet baby home?” He responded very confidently “let’s do it!” I started sobbing with tears of joy and excitement that God laid it on Zach’s heart to adopt as well.
Zach: I proposed the night before we left and the trip strengthened our love for Uganda and for each other. During this trip we met M and which would forever change our lives. I could tell that the first time Brooke held M, she fell in love and never wanted to let him go. I didn’t have the same initial connection to M – I think it was mostly because he didn’t want much to do with me and was so closed off emotionally to the both of us, which is very understandable. Brooke immediately talked about adopting him and I kind of shrugged it off with a “we will talk about it later” or “I don’t know.” Slowly, seeing the way Brooke was in love with M made me fall in love with him as well. After being asked numerous times by Brooke about adopting him over the time period of a year, something finally clicked and it felt like the right thing for our family, and more importantly, the right thing for our little boy.
A year later and we got married on June 8th, 2013 in our hometown of Normal, IL at the Methodist church I grew up attending. We made the decision to honeymoon in Uganda because we knew it would be a challenge to take trips once we both started working careers and had started a family.
Brooke: The day after we got married, we took a honeymoon to Uganda. We spent one month at the children’s home that M lived at. We worked on home repairs, taught in the local school, and met with attorneys to start his adoption. While we were there, we learned of Uganda’s adoption law that you must be married for 1 year before you can start an adoption and that at least one applicant must be 25 years old. Zach and I were both 24 and had only been married for a few days at that point! Less than 1 week before returning to America as newlyweds, I found out that we were expecting our first child. This stunned us and changed our adoption plans! We knew that we couldn’t pursue the adoption until we were 25 years old and now we were pregnant! We were both excited, but also devastated for M because we knew he so badly deserved a family and how badly we wanted to be the one for him!
October 2014, Our daughter, Delaney had just turned 6 months old and Zach and I had both just turned 25. Delaney is the apple of our eye! We can’t imagine how different our lives would be without her in it and are so thankful that God entrusted us to be her parents.
At this point we had finally met the requirements to adopt M and were ready to get started! We signed the papers with America World Adoption Agency as quickly as we could and took a giant leap of faith, trusting that God would take care of the financial piece of our adoption. We did a lot of fundraisers in the beginning to help us get going with the initial fees, home study, dossier process and etc. We had a garage sale, had a puzzle piece fundraiser, wrote grant applications, and much more! On November 11, 2014 we were officially accepted into AWAA’s Uganda Pilot program! We were 1 of only 6 families adopting from Uganda with our agency.
On November 25, 2015 we received the call we’d been waiting for! We had a court date just one week later. We immediately started rushing around, getting documents signed, packing our bags, making arrangements for Delaney, and booking flights! We were thrilled because it had been SO long since we had seen our son! We arrived in Uganda on December 2nd, one day before we were supposed to be seen in court. Reuniting with M was an experience I will never forget. It was emotional and surreal. I never wanted to let him go again. He was so happy and looked so much healthier than the last time we had seen him. He was almost ours! On the day of our hearing, December 3rd, our judge called and said he was canceling our hearing and would let us know when it was rescheduled for. Because of the holidays, courts close for a month in the middle of December. We were getting closer and closer to that deadline when he finally rescheduled our hearing for December 15th. That day he heard our case for over 2 hours. When it was finally over, he told our attorney that he would not have our guardianship order and ruling complete until he returned from vacation on January 8th and that we should return home. We were devastated because we thought Zach would be staying in Uganda until M’s documents were ready for him to travel as well. Saying goodbye to M again was the hardest moment of my life.
Zach and his father returned to Uganda on January 12, 2016, four days after the judge ruled positively on our case. They then began to work on M’s passport and medical clearances as they waited for the written ruling. Eight weeks later, our written ruling was finally signed and in Zach’s hand. By that point, they had missed their visa appointment because the ruling wasn’t signed, and they had also experienced one of Uganda’s biggest presidential elections in history. M and Zach were bonding, and grew very attached to each other while Delaney and I were going crazy here at home without them!
Once Zach finally had the ruling, he was able to schedule his three appointments with the U.S. Embassy to obtain our son’s visa. The first document filing appointment went off without a hitch! Zach even said the officer was kind and from the St. Louis area! The second appointment seemed to go very well too. At this appointment, our son’s grandmother was interviewed. After this second appointment, you typically receive your Visa Exit Interview immediately as a part of the i-600 process. However, Zach was not given an appointment. We heard nothing for 2 weeks and wondered what could possibly be wrong with our case. Finally, on March 22, 2016 we received the news that our son’s visa had “delayed approval” and our case was going to be investigated by USCIS headquarters in Rome. We were blindsided and devastated. Zach had to take M back to be fostered by the children’s home directors because he had already been overseas for 11 weeks and had to come home to work. It is something that still brings tears to Zach’s eyes when he talks about it, something that he never wants to have to do again.
We were told that it would take 45 days for our case to process with USCIS in Rome and that we would then receive their decision, either an approval or a request for more evidence. We immediately hired a U.S. Immigration Attorney to walk this road with us. 45 days came and went pretty quickly and we heard nothing. Our phone calls and emails were replied with very vague answers such as, “we cannot discuss open cases.” This went on for so long that we finally got our U.S. congressman and senators involved. They tried their hardest, and they still couldn’t do anything to help. In the mean time, M was not going to school because we thought he would be coming home any day to live with us and start school here in America. We were still paying for his weekly foster care and checking in frequently. Finally on September 9, 2016 (day 163) we received USCIS’s decision. We were given a request for evidence. In this request for evidence, they gave us clear directions on how to gather the evidence in which they wanted to approve our son’s visa. We immediately got started working to obtain this evidence. Our case went back to the high courts of Uganda on November 17, 2016 to amend our original ruling and guardianship order. Just this week the judge signed our new ruling and order to name us the legal guardians of our son! At this point, we are waiting for USCIS to adjudicate and approve our son’s visa and then he will be able to come home to his forever family.
There have been many times throughout this journey that we have asked God, “why” or “can just ONE thing go right?” At times we have felt like every week it just keeps getting a little worse and we have even felt like we can’t handle much more. Yet, God has never given us more than we can handle and He is teaching us lessons on how to persevere, how to have patience, and how to stick together as a married couple. Every time we look at a picture of our son or watch a video that Zach took when he lived with him for 11 weeks, we are reminded that this fight is going to be won for our son. God has already won the battle for US and M WILL come home!
Zach: As you can see from the rest of our story, the adoption process has been a roller coaster; a roller coaster with more downs than ups sometimes! We have tried extremely hard to not let the politics and red tape get in the way of the final goal of bringing home M. We have always told each other we will do whatever it takes to bring this little boy home. We feel like the luckiest parents in the world to be able to give him the love, education, and life he deserves.
We would be so honored and humbled if you joined our village and supported us in the process of bringing our son home from Uganda. Whether you feel led financially or through your prayers, we would love for you to forever be a part of his story!
June 8th, 2013
It Takes a Village
Growing up I always knew I wanted to be three things: a teacher, a wife, and a mama. Today, I am fortunate enough to have been blessed with all three of those “job titles.” I was born and raised in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois where we still live today. I always thought I would leave my hometown and explore the world. However, I quickly learned after my first semester of college (a few hours from home) that I was much more of a “home body” than I thought I was. This is why I was so surprised when I felt God nudging me to travel to Uganda on my own for the first time my junior year of college. I took a giant leap of faith, jumped on a plane with 30 strangers, and quickly fell in love with a country that has torn my heart into pieces.
I have been teaching in the school district Zach and I grew up in for 5 years now. I love watching my students get excited about what they’re learning and enjoy those moments with them where you can’t help but laugh at the funny things kids say. Although I love being a teacher, God gave me the greatest gift when he made me a mom. Our daughter, Delaney, keeps me on my toes and has me wrapped around her finger. She’s mischievous and so smart, just like her daddy. I am fortunate to have a career where I get a lot of time off with her and our future kiddos. Our favorite things to do are go on walks, do puzzles, go swimming or to the park, go out for ice cream, and snuggle on the couch. Exploring new things for the first time with her each year as she grows always makes me a little emotional and excited. There is nothing better!
Zach is my high school sweetheart, my best friend, and my cheerleader. I think it is safe to say we know everything about each other. The good, the bad, the ugly! We balance each other out and help each other turn our weaknesses into strengths. We encourage each other and push each other to be better. This journey we are on, building our family in more ways than one, is exciting and scary all at the same time. However, there’s no one I would rather be doing life with.
I was born in Bloomington, Illinois and have lived in the area my whole life. I am blessed to have been raised by the two most selfless and loving parents that were, and continue to be, amazing role models. I owe so much of who I am today to my mom and dad, who have always encouraged me in my faith and have shown me the true meaning of sacrificial love. I have been privileged to be surrounded by a large, tight-knit extended family who have been nothing but supportive of every challenge I’ve taken on in life.
Brooke and I met in junior high school and instantly became good friends. Although we attended separate high schools, we eventually started dating our sophomore year and it didn’t take long for me to know that she was who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. After high school, we were forced to make a long distance relationship work because I moved to Wisconsin to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering and play Division III soccer. I have played competitive soccer my whole life and knew I wanted to go into a field of engineering so it felt like the perfect fit.
Adoption was never on my radar because up until Brooke started going to Uganda, I had never been exposed to it. However, I always had a love for children and knew I wanted to be a father one day. Our daughter Delaney and our soon-to-be adopted son in Uganda are my two greatest joys in life. I have loved watching Delaney grow and learn new things over the past three years and cannot wait to see what the future holds for our family. I dream of the day I can play soccer with our Ugandan son and teach him how to be loved unconditionally. I have a passion for the people of Uganda and a burning desire to be a father to the fatherless. When I am not busy with my family, I enjoy working out and playing soccer.
Delaney is almost three years old and is full of life! She is incredibly smart, sassy, and so joyful. She is in the stage where she knows what she wants! Delaney is a little shy at first but once she warms up, her personality quickly fills the room. She loves to sing, dance, and play with baby dolls. She is ready for her big brother to come home and prays for him every night to have a full tummy and a happy heart. Delaney will be the best little sister. She gets her love for music and creativity from her daddy and her bossy, extrovert personality from her mama!
We decided to have M meet us at a park in Entebbe (6 minutes from the airport) rather than at the airport itself. The Uganda airport is super chaotic and overwhelming, so we knew Delaney might not handle the hustle and bustle of it very well. Through Facebook, I met a woman named Julie who does photography for Noonday’s Ugandan artisan business. She just happens to be here adopting and doing mission work as well. She met us at the park to capture our “Gotcha” moment. Sylvia drove with M all the way from a region near Mbale and left around 6 am. They didn’t arrive at the park until after 3 pm. Poor little guy, had a long day of travel! When the van pulled up, we could see him sitting in the front seat giggling and squealing with excitement. Sylvia opened the door and he started sprinting to us! Now, let me back up a minute. Over the last few weeks we have had a fun little argument with Delaney about who got to hug M first. Of course she said she got to, I said I got to, and Zach said he got to. In reality, we knew he would probably want Zach first because of their bond after 11 weeks of living together. However, something amazing happened. M ran right too ALL of us and we did one giant group hug. Laney said “Hi M” and gave him a hug and a kiss. He then picked her up like a baby. Next up was Jjajja. He JUMPED into her arms, it was the sweetest thing. We will never forget what it felt like to see M and Delaney meet, having our 2 worlds collide. It definitely wasn’t how we pictured they’d meet 2 years ago….but it was perfect. Right away they started chasing each other, giggling, and playing on the playground. Laney is obsessed with her brother and talks his ear off! She calls him “buddy” and thinks she’s the older sibling! We instantly became a family of 4 on Thursday, in a foreign country, after 2 days of practically no sleep. We are tired. We are emotional. It will take some time to adjust to our new life. Please keep praying that our approval is COMING within the next week or two so that we can journey back HOME together!
Over the last two weeks, we have been wrestling with the news that our family is faced with yet another delay that could be up to 2.5-3 months. We are jumping through hoops, fighting red tape head on, and waiting on God’s perfect timing. However, the last year has been HARD on everyone involved, including our tireless village of prayer warriors & supporters. We’ve cried all the tears and praised God for all of the little victories. Yet, here we are still half way across the world from our son. We are READY to be a family of 4 and do not want to miss out on anything else in our son’s life, not another missed tooth, not another sickness, not another accomplishment in school.
Until we can bring our son home, we are taking home to him!
So, the big announcement? Delaney, Zach, and I will be boarding a plane to Uganda at the beginning of March. Until we can bring our son home, we are taking home to him! We are expecting to be in Uganda for 1-2 months and will come home together, all 4 of us. We are both blessed to have employers that have been nothing but supportive and have granted us our 12 weeks FMLA (unpaid of course). Therefore, this further delay (and temporary move to Uganda) comes with a lot of extra expense that we weren’t anticipating. WE HAVE ONE MONTH TO RAISE $13,000 in order to pay for additional attorney fees, expenses at home, and expenses in Uganda.
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