Today marks our 1 Year Anniversary living in the Congo. In honor of this special milestone for our family, we created a fun little Q&A for our family and friends! Many of you have inquired about life in DRC and our adoption journey, so we took time to answer your questions and give you more of an insight into this crazy adventure. We hope you enjoy it!
<<< LIFE IN CONGO >>>
Q: What are some of the most hilarious moments this past year?
- Our first time getting into a taxi when my parents were visiting. Mom, Dad and I were getting into the back and Jeremy started walking around to the left side to get in the front seat. Dad said in disbelief, “Is Jeremy going to be driving this taxi??” He didn’t realize the driver’s side was on the right. LOL!
- This is one of those “it’s funny in hindsight” moments, but when I was shopping at the market with a Congolese lady for food, a lady came up to me and started begging for money. When I refused her request and continued to shop, she just proceeded to reach inside my bag with no qualms about it and tried to take my stuff! It was appalling at first, but looking back now, it’s pretty hilarious.
- Playing Quelf with our neighbors. Our friend, Melissa, came to spend a month with us and brought over Quelf. If you’ve never played it, you should go buy it today! It’s hilarious and makes you do some of the most ridiculous things. Playing this game in our living room with some neighbors one night is a night we won’t soon forget. We were laughing so hard we were crying.
- Coming up with song lyrics to the song “Nobody Knows the Trouble” with Melissa while waiting for hours and hours in town to get a passport for the girls. I will eventually post those lyrics for you to enjoy….but trust me, now is not the time. Let us get out of Congo first.😉
- Potty moments with Justice. Two come to mind, in particular. We were waiting at the airport for our friend to arrive when Justice informs us that he had to go potty….#2. Since there are no toilets at the airport, we had no choice but to let him go outside in the grass right in front of everyone. The other instance was at church. The church is an open-aired building, and the young kids normally play around outside during the preaching. One Sunday he comes walking inside to where we are sitting, pants in hand, and announces that he just went pee-pee outside and needed help getting his pants back on. Priceless.
- Shoe shopping for Crocs. Most everything, from clothes and shoes to toys and home goods, is sold on the side of the road by individuals who have second-hand stuff that they have bought at a low price to resell. We found out about a lady who only sells sandals, flip flops, Crocs, etc. and have bought from her a few times already. I went back there to see if I could find anything for Jeremy since his are paper-thin now. She wasn’t out front at her shop, so I asked another lady where she was. She yelled for her and she appeared a few minutes later. She asked me to follow her down a little dirt path and then welcomed me into her small, dimly-lit home. Her whole family welcomed me….3 kids and husband. Then she proceeds to dump HUGE bags of shoes right in the middle of her floor for me to go “shopping!” I am not exaggerating when I say that there were at least 200 pairs of shoes in the floor in a huge mound. So, low and behold, the whole family and I start digging through shoes together on our hands and knees trying to find something that would work. Unfortunately we couldn’t find anything for Jeremy, but I was able to find a cute pair of Croc knock-offs for Moriah and a pair of dressy flip flops for Segera.
Q: What are the 10 most exciting things that have happened to you while in the Congo ?
- Meeting the girls for the first time.
- Finally Family Day – bringing the girls home….at last!
- Celebrating with our friends at the Greek Club after we got custody of the girls.
- Camping on top of the waterfall with our friends.
- Having my parents visit us here for a month.
- Spending some girl time with my friend, Melissa….especially that night under our “fort!”
- Christmas morning with all of us together (the girls visited for the day since we didn’t have custody of them yet). And we ate a whole package of bacon! Don’t judge. We don’t get bacon here very often and you’d feel the same way if you were limited to bacon a couple times a year.
- Sitting in the front seat of a taxi…quite sure it’s more exhilarating and terrifying than any ride at Six Flags! And of course, experiencing the various taxis here, i.e. the tuk tuk and the motorcycle.
- Going to the zoo and on a little semi-safari outside of town to see the animals.
- Taking French lessons with Jeremy.
Q: What has been the best part in spite of the challenges?
Despite the struggles and longings for home, the best part of being here is simply the fact that we haven’t missed out on these precious months in the lives of our daughters. I cannot possibly imagine being gone for this past year and missing Moriah’s first birthday and Segera’s 4th birthday. I can’t imagine missing that first Christmas together. I can’t imagine not seeing Moriah walk for the first time or miss out on the opportunity for her to understand that I’m her momma and hear her utter those words. The best part is just being….together.
Q: What did people do or say that was helpful and unhelpful?
We have had boatloads of people who have been helpful to us throughout this journey! The most helpful thing that I have experienced was just the empathy and compassion of our neighbor, Karen. On several occasions, she would bring over flowers along with notes of encouragement with Scripture. Other times she would just let me cry and would listen attentively to our frustrations or even cry with me. Just a simple, “I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this. This is incredibly unjust and wrong!” is all you need to hear at times. Also, our friend Melissa collected photos and encouragement letters from our friends and family back home and brought them over to us when she visited. Each morning, she would bring over a note and say, “Special Delivery!” That was a really special month!
As far as unhelpful, the biggest thing is just comments that people make unintentionally that end up being hurtful or inject fear or doubt into your mind. Those things can end up being destructive. For example, we had so many people who were discouraging us from coming here in the first place because of the Ebola outbreak last year. Every comment was fear-based. Ebola wasn’t even within 2,000 miles of Lubumbashi, yet people thought it was unwise for us to bring our family here. To think of what we would have missed out on had we submitted to those fears makes me sad.
Yet others questioned our adoption because of all the hardships and struggles that we were facing the first eight months of being here. Questions like, “Are you certain that you’re in God’s will with this adoption” or “Maybe these girls aren’t meant to be your daughters….there are others out there that you can adopt”….you know, those, “Why don’t you just give up and move on?” types of responses were so incredibly frustrating for us to hear. To question God’s will or calling on someone’s life just because things get hard is essentially a lack of faith in that person’s heart. Has God not made it clear that we WILL have trials and struggles in this life? Why else would he constantly remind us throughout Scripture to be strong and courageous, to persevere, to press on? When others are struggling, friends, don’t question the journey they are on. Let the Lord do his job and change their course if that’s what needs to happen….but don’t put those seeds of doubt and discouragement in their minds. Encourage, encourage, encourage!!!
Q: What seem to be the most distinctive characteristics of Congolese people/culture?
- Friendly – you can’t walk down the street without receiving many greetings and smiles.
- Calm and laid back (unless you’re in a taxi…that’s a whole other story). We always laugh about how the only people in a rush are the taxi drivers, but once you get to your destination, it’s slow-paced.
- Time isn’t important and deadlines don’t exist. Relationships are what matter most…in some cases, more than the law itself. You learn to wait and be patient or you go crazy. The American mindset of efficiency, timeliness and productivity doesn’t work here.
- Everyone loves listening to music….VERY loudly.
- People want to look their best when they go out in public, i.e. clothes ironed, shoes shined, cars cleaned. Car washes and shoe shiners are EVERYWHERE.
- The people find their identity in groups, i.e. women wearing dresses made out of the same fabric designs, or church denominations having their own fabric for people to make outfits to attend church, whereas we as Americans tend to be more individualistic.
- They very much depend on each other for money and survival. If anyone is in need, they will not hesitate to ask their network of friends and family for financial support. However, in America, independence is highly valued. We often take out loans or use credit cards if we are short on cash in efforts to survive on our own.
Q: What aspects of Congolese culture seem to be most similar to “our” culture, whether Western, American, southern, Christian etc.?
- Many people go to church but not everyone lives it out in their daily lives. A lot of it is for show, but there’s no real relationship with Christ.
- People here, especially in the cities, want to have nice clothes, houses and cars to impress others. Everyone has a phone….or two or three.
- People value education like in the States, but, unfortunately, not everyone can afford it here. Sending your child to school and then eventually to university is quite expensive and difficult for most families.
- Sports are HUGE here, especially soccer. You will hear shouts, cheering and horns into the wee hours of the night when crowds are gathered around TVs watching matches.
- They enjoy a good party! The Congolese know how to party and do it up right when it comes to graduations, weddings and birthdays.
Q: What do you like most about Congo culture?
The pace and simplicity of life. People here make time for things that matter. We aren’t distracted by television or busy schedules. We have adequate time to spend together as a family each day and can enjoy long walks, talks and meals together without having to worry about getting to the next event. This time here has made us realize that Americans are often too busy, in general, and seem to find pride in overbooked itineraries….like it makes us important to have a lot going on. We intend to be counter-cultural in this area when we return and maintain this simplicity in our family life as much as possible.
Another great thing that we love about Congo is the fact that our children are not bombarded by the media and other negative influences that are so prevalent in the States. The kids don’t bug us for “stuff” because they don’t have all these new gadgets and toys in their faces all the time. They are content with what they have and are happy to play outside all day long with sticks, bean pods, dirt and water.
Q: What has been your proudest moment since living there?
That’s an easy one…bringing the girls home on April 16 after all the blood, sweat and tears that went into getting us to that point! Being all under the same roof after all that time, doing life together, was simply indescribable and brought us more joy than we could have imagined!
Q: What are the 10 things you like least about living so far from home and family?
- Lack of quality medical care: When Justice got really sick our first week here, we were taken to what was supposed to be one of the best hospitals in town. It was HORRIBLE. One of the hardest things for me as a mom to swallow was the fact that there are risks about being in a country like this, and when your kid gets really sick, it can be a nightmare when you don’t have good medical facilities to go to. That has been the one thing that about made me pack my bags and go home.
- Language barrier: It’s incredibly hard to connect with people when you can’t speak their native language. In some other African countries, people know some English so you can communicate at least on a basic level with them. However, people study French instead of English here in Congo, so we haven’t had a chance!! Thankfully we know some Swahili, so we have survived thus far on that as far as getting around in taxis, shopping, basic conversations, etc.
- No babysitters! Jeremy and I have had ONE DATE….one date, people….in the past year. Aside from that, we have been with our kiddos 24/7. We love ’em and all, but for the love, after months and months of being on our own with no break, there are nights where I’ve found myself under my mosquito net in the fetal position!
- Missing our church and LifeGroup: We have an amazing church back home and a group of people that we meet with on a weekly basis. We have missed those folks (among others)…you know, the core group of people that you can go deep and be real with. We’ve missed that sense of community.
- No access to a gym: Jeremy and I were working out several times a week back home. However, since being here, it’s so hard to motivate yourself to do something on your own at home, especially with kids running around.
- No personal vehicle: it’s been over a year now since we’ve driven a car. YIKES! We miss the convenience of just hopping in our car and running here or there in town. We look forward to that freedom once we get home. Here, it’s an ordeal to get into town on taxis, especially if we have the kids with us…you might get hassled by police, squished into a backseat with several strangers, or get dropped off far from your destination in the pouring rain and have to walk through the mud and muck to get your groceries. Needless to say, we miss our little mini van. And taxi drivers….don’t get me started with them. I almost got myself arrested one day over a taxi driver when my parents were in town. Seriously, they are gonna be the death of me. They like to agree to a price before you get in the car, then when you get to your destination, they argue with you and try to make you pay another $1-2 for various reasons. For the love.
- Missing our friends and family and various get-togethers: don’t get us wrong, we are happy to be here with all of our kids. However, it’s so difficult to watch life happen on Facebook while our friends and families celebrate weddings, holidays, sporting events, and birthday parties. We have missed out on a lot this year, it seems, so we look forward to being back in the mix once we return.
- No price tags: seriously, I enjoy a good barter from time to time. It can be fun on occasion. But to have to negotiate bargains on EVERY SINGLE THING is so exhausting. I can’t wait to hit up Wal-Mart and Target when I get home and just roll up to the checkout line with my stuff….in complete silence. Oh, what a glorious day that will be! Plus, prices here are SO expensive for most things that expats enjoy, i.e. ice cream, coffee, cereal. Ice cream runs you about $8 for a small tub, a small bag of terrible coffee costs between $8-10, and cereal has price tags up to $15! I’m not even exaggerating.
- Poor electricity: do me a favor. Go into your bathroom and turn on your HOT bath water. Go in your kitchen and turn on the oven. Isn’t that amazing….it comes on! Now imagine if you could only do that about 3-4 hours a day when your generator comes on. I do all my cooking for the day during the lunch hour because our generator comes on then. So most every evening we have cold/lukewarm food because it was cooked at lunch and put in a container until dinnertime. Electricity is a biggie….looking forward to having power on a consistent basis, and I’m definitely looking forward to hot meals at dinnertime!!
- College sports! We have already missed out on a whole year of college football and basketball. College football season kicks off next weekend. We are in mourning.
Q: If you could show everyone one aspect of where you live, what would it be?
We spend a lot of time outside on the property where we live because of the serenity and beauty here. Coming home from the craziness of the city to where we live, a place called “Restawhile,” is what refreshes us and keeps us sane. Here are a few pics of the property where we roam and play. You will see the tree house on our neighbor’s property where we play with the kids, the tree swing and play set, the benches and table where we have our afternoon drink, and the fire pit….we spend MANY evenings around the fire with the kids. This place is very special….our first home together as a family.
Q: When will you get to come home?
Unfortunately we have no idea. The earliest would probably be October at this point, but there is just no way to know when that time will come because it’s all in the hands of the Congolese government. If we are home by Thanksgiving, we would be stoked because are so anxious for our families to meet our kiddos!!
<<< OUR ADOPTION >>>
Q: How did you come to decide on the two girls that you have? With so many children needing homes it has to be really hard to make a decision.
Thankfully, international adoptions don’t work this way. We aren’t given the opportunity to “select” our children. Best practices and policies have been put into place to protect children from child traffickers. Instead, we were approved by the US government through our Home Study to adopt 2 children from the Congo, boy or girl, ages 0-5. We were able to say whether or not we wanted to adopt a child with special needs and if we would be open to children who weren’t related. Our agency then worked with their partner orphanage to match us with children based on our Home Study approval, preferences, and family dynamics. We were sent profiles of our 2 girls in January 2014 and were able to say “Yes” or “No” to those referrals. (Once we saw their faces, though, it was GAME OVER for us.)
Q: What was it like to meet the girls for the first time?
I remember being so nervous and equally excited that morning! We had only seen them in pictures for 9 months….and now we were finally here on their turf, ready to look into their eyes for the first time. When we were first led into the room at the orphanage, it was dimly lit and I can remember trying to be courteous by maintaining eye contact with the director who was talking to us about the children and the home. However, I was secretly scanning the room trying to find my girls every chance I could get during the conversation. I finally laid eyes on Segera in her little ruffled dress. She looked so scared at first as they finally led her over to us to make the introduction. Our hearts melted during that first hug. She was so precious…so fragile. Then they brought out Moriah from another room. She, too, had a look on her face like, “Who are these people?!” but we were so happy to scoop her up and kiss away on those cheeks. Those first few minutes were awkward, for sure. Jeremy and I were the main ones who were elated and happy….the kids were most definitely confused and a bit terrified. But as the time went on during the visit, they opened up a bit and you could see them relaxing. We gave them little pillow pets and blankets for their first gift. We wanted them to have something special for their bed each night. The hardest part, though, on that day and the many weeks and months after, was leaving them behind at the orphanage when it was time for us to go home. UGH…I am so glad those days are over. That was the worst feeling as a parent to leave your child behind day after day when they should be in your care.
Q: What was it like to see Justice’s first reaction to meeting his two new sisters?
Justice was so sweet during that first visit with the girls (he’s been so sweet to them on most every occasion since!). Inside the orphanage when we first met them, he was just right by my side taking it all in. I mean, he was just under 3 years old and didn’t FULLY understand what was going on. He just knew that we were finally meeting “sissies.” He sat with us on the couch and helped us get out the gifts to present to them. We pulled out some snacks later and he was quick to help us serve the girls. Later he pulled out my phone and wanted to show Segera some of the games on there that he likes to play. We were really proud of him that day, and continue to be proud of the way he cares for them on a daily basis! All three of them love each other so deeply.
Q: Tell us about all three of your kids personalities and how you have seen them come out over the past year!
Justice is our little energizer bunny boy. This kid is up at 6 or 6:30am every day and is ready to rock ‘n roll. As soon as breakfast is over, he’s ready to change clothes and hit the outdoors. He is so happy to be outside and spends the majority of his day there. He and Segera will pretend play for hours, and they will cook (using bean pods, mud, water, etc.), take care of babies, and clean. He loves his cars and trucks, too, and will play with them inside when he’s resting from the heat of the day. He is very independent and has grown in his desire to try new things and accomplish things without our help. For example, he saw our neighbor riding a bike with no training wheels and took the notion to hop on his bike and take off on his own without us even being outside to help! And the crazy thing is….he did it! Aside from this, he’s a very sweet boy and has such a gentle spirit about him. He loves to cuddle, hold hands, and give hugs and kisses, and he loves the beauty that is found in flowers and sunsets. I see him go up to Segera and Moriah out of the blue and give them kisses on the cheek numerous times throughout the day, and he is constantly picking flowers for me and wants me to put it in my hair.
Segera is going to be our little class clown. That girl is hilarious! It didn’t take her long to come out of her shell after our arrival in Congo, but man oh man, her personality shines even MORE since coming home to live with us! She is so dramatic and funny, and loves to make people laugh. She, too, has the best laugh and will just bend over in giggles when she does or says something funny. She has the best faces and is incredibly sassy. She enjoys playing outside with Justice throughout the day. Half the time they are out doing their own thing as they have become little buds. She is very observant. I am not exaggerating when I say that it takes her 45 minutes to eat her meal because she is so busy taking everything in. She loves to watch people and will comment on their every move. We have to tell her to eat over and over because she is so into her surroundings. Also, she is very inquisitive and wants to know EVERY detail. Whether it be through an overheard conversation or something that she sees, she will ask a million questions in attempts to gain a better understanding of the situation and what is to come. This girl doesn’t miss a thing. She is also opinionated, smart and confident.
Little Miss Moriah. That girl is something else. She’s 19 months old now and we can tell that she is going to be a little fire ball! She tries her very best to keep up with Justice and Segera throughout the day. She can’t stand it when they are doing something that she is not allowed to do….it drives her bonkers! Moriah has quite the temper and will throw a giant fit if she is scolded or told “no.” She likes to have things her way and makes it very known what she wants. I’d say she has found her voice! She has come such a long way already since coming home to live with us, though. At first, she was stuffing her face so quickly every meal time and eating adult portions, then getting upset when I refused to give her more. Now she is eating normal toddler portions and has slowed her pace dramatically. Her stomach has gone from bloated and hard to a normal, soft chubby belly from having a balanced, nutritional diet. She has steadied her gait and can almost hit a jog where she chases the others around all day. Her speech is starting to kick in, too, and she’s saying more and more words: momma, daddy, bird, night-night, baby. She is an excellent sleeper….in the bed by 6:30 or 7pm every night and sleeps all through the night. Lastly, she loves loves loves to give hugs and kisses! I will hold her in front of my face and ask her to give me a hug. She puts her arms around my neck and squeezes so tightly…then will eventually back away and give me a big wet, slobbery kiss. She will laugh and giggle and will repeat that several times until one of us tires out. Love that sweet little thang.
Q: Are your daughters adjusting well to your family?
We think so. It’s been amazing to see the transition that they have gone through in the last 4 months, but they seem to have bonded well with both of us, Justice too, and are truly happy little souls. We have gotten into a nice little rhythm each day which has been helpful because they know what to expect and seem to be secure in our family routines and practices.
<<< OUR FAITH >>>
Q: What has fueled your hope?
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.”
Q: How has this journey brought you even closer to God than you were before it began?
Our faith walk is full of peaks and valleys just like when we were living back home. In our experience, that hasn’t changed regardless of where we live. In all honesty, we can’t necessarily say we are closer to God. There are some days that seem like God is near and others when he seems like he’s nowhere to be found. When you’re wading through struggles in your life, it’s often hard to see the forest for the trees. Hindsight is 20/20 and we’ve seen how God has used the struggles and adversity to develop our character and address things in our personal lives that we should have dealt with years ago. Living in an entirely different culture and experiencing a whole new way of life has a way of doing that to you. As a result of our time here in Congo, we’ve learned to not sweat the small stuff of life, to be patient and embrace our journey no matter how difficult it may be or where it will lead us, and to trust that things are happening behind the scenes even though we can’t see them while they are happening. Our faith in God has increased and has enabled us to experience his peace and contentment in a very tangible way.
Q: What has been one of the most reassuring and real abiding truths of the Lord through the past year’s experience?
This is a hard one. We have learned so much about God’s character and purpose through this journey. It’s hard to sum it up. Probably the biggest one for us is the fact that we may never understand God’s timing or why he allows certain things to happen, but we can trust that he is sovereign and in complete control throughout the chaos. He always has a greater good in mind that we may not ever see this side of heaven. We had some really dark moments during our time of fighting for custody of the girls and our faith was tested. We questioned the Lord and even felt as though he had abandoned us at times, but we realize now that He was always there and sustained us through that darkness, even though we couldn’t feel him or see him at work. He was working all of it for good, and our job was to just persevere and trust. His grace was sufficient and the suffering eventually came to a close, just like he promises.