“I have four children. Two are adopted. I forget which two.”
– Bob Constantine
In December, I attended the annual Christmas party in Fresno hosted by Family Connections Christian Adoptions, a full-service adoption agency with six locations throughout California.
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Established in 1983, Family Connections is a state-licensed nonprofit organization. The agency imposes no religious requirements upon clients. The word “Christian” is used to highlight the fact that Christian ethics are at the core of the agency’s mission.
This was the third visit I’d made to a Family Connections celebratory event since my 6-year-old granddaughter, Julia, was welcomed into our family in 2010 following a 13-hour flight from South Korea to Los Angeles.
The noon gathering took place in a large recreation room of a church in central Fresno. After enjoying a hearty potluck lunch with my family, including Julia and her 11-year-old brother, Nico, I decided to meander about the room and take in the scene.
There were at least 25 families present, maybe more. While the majority of parents were Caucasian, the children represented all ethnicities imaginable, from black and brown to Asian, and all variations in between. There were infants sitting in highchairs and high school teenagers texting and talking on their cellphones. Some youngsters had obvious physical and mental disabilities, while others were devoid of any discernible impairments.
After visiting with several of the guests informally, it struck me that there were phenomenal, awe-inspiring stories in this room that needed to be shared. Many parents had traveled thousands of miles to bring home children with special needs from varied cultures in faraway lands. So, after the exhilaration and hullabaloo of the holiday season passed, I contacted the group, then made arrangements to visit with a very special family in Fresno.
Upon arriving at the home of David and Erin Obwald in late January, I was greeted at the front door by Cohl, a handsome, well-mannered boy of 12. He invited me in, then introduced me to his three sisters: Kirra, 11, Jenna, 9, and Aunna, 2, and then his little brother, Ty, who is 4.
Aunna, who was sitting in a highchair being fed by her sister, Jenna, was sporting a grin as broad as that of the Cheshire cat in “Alice in Wonderland.” Her other sister, Kirra, was at the kitchen sink rinsing off dishes, while Cohl sat quietly in the living room doing schoolwork.
We were soon joined by their mother and father, the latter, a co-pastor of a church in north Fresno. Erin began by telling me that the three oldest children were their biological offspring, while the two younger ones were both born in China.
“I’m very fertile, so having more babies was never an issue,” she said, “but, for nearly 30 years, I’d had this passion to adopt internationally.”
When asked to elaborate, she told me her life changed forever when, at the tender age of 8, she overheard a nightly news report about little girls in China being left by their parents on the side of roads, abandoned, and left to the mercy of the elements. She knew that at some point in her life, adoption would be part of her story. What started as a little girl’s dream evolved into a passion that burgeoned and intensified over time, and persists to this day.
The passion that started with Erin as a child has become a shared enthusiasm of their family to care and advocate for orphaned and vulnerable children. David added that he’s witnessed firsthand the wisdom of the aphorism that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. “We’ve already received far more in blessings from these kids than we’ve given,” he said.
I was pondering the nurturing and congenial Obwald home environment when Erin alluded to the special needs of Ty and Aunna.
Ty has two full-size fingers on his right hand and three that are fused due to amniotic band syndrome. He has no right foot. Fortunately, a prosthetic is on the way from a Shriners children’s hospital. Aunna has two fingers on her right hand, no left hand, and one toe on each foot.
Diane Niswander, branch manager of Family Connections’ Central Valley office in Fresno, told me that 95 percent of the group’s international adoptions involve children with special needs. Whether international or local, however, the agency’s primary priority is a passionate commitment to adoption as the connecting point between loving families and waiting children.
Later, while ruminating over my joyous hour with the Obwalds, I couldn’t help but reflect on a simple truth. Adopting two children, as they have, won’t change the world, but for those two children, the world will change.