The Paradies flew to Ethiopia to meet — and bring home — their new daughter in May. Six-year-old Meaza has been counting down the nights to her first Maine Halloween. She’s never seen “Beauty and the Beast” but can’t wait to be Belle.
The Whites brought Abraham and Julia home two years ago. Through a translator, the children’s birth mother told the family that she’d prayed for Christians to find them. The Whites’ oldest daughter had asked for a big sister. That’s what she got.
The Warrens met Alex, a 7-year-old orphan with a fused hip, in Romania. They were hardly new to adoption. Years before, while pregnant with her eighth child, Barbara Warren had brought home two babies from Thailand.
The Buckfield mother told her family she’d only adopt Alex if all 12 of her kids agreed.
In all, a dozen families with ties to the East Auburn Baptist Church have adopted more than 20 children from overseas in the past decade. Many of them met during mission trips.
One of the families, the Legeres, seem to have kicked it off when they met their three daughters in a Romanian orphanage in 2000. The Legeres are in Uganda this month adopting two more girls. Church members say all of the activity has created a resource from which to draw inspiration, hope and sanity, and sometimes for sharing grief.
Next weekend during Orphan Sunday — a national effort to bring attention to the issue — East Auburn is launching its new orphan care ministry, adding a support group and classes. The effort is being led by Marti Howard and Melissa Winslow.
“Dealing with adoption agencies is not as nice as it should be,” said Associate Pastor Tim Howard. He and Marti adopted Marta two years ago in Guatemala after 10 years of false stops and starts. “Make sure you do it with your eyes wide open and realize it may be several years, or God may change the road.”
‘Their worlds are so much bigger’
Tim Howard was on a mission trip to Ecuador in 1998 when he met a toddler with special needs. The Howards weren’t able to adopt her, but the little girl got them thinking.
“Seeing her was the moment I said, ‘If I can love someone so much, I need to think about having kids,’” he said.
The couple tried China; more roadblocks. Finally, Marti met Marta in Guatemala in 2006. The adoption was finalized two years later.
Hurdles such as countries that open and abruptly close their borders to outsiders are a common experience among church members. In 2001, the Warrens and the Legeres finalized adoptions in Romania, while another local family has been waiting eight years to adopt twin girls there.
“They still have a bedroom for them,” said Sarah Abacha, East Auburn’s office manager.
East Auburn families have adopted from China, Ethiopia, Romania, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Estonia and Ecuador. Five of 11 church elders have or are in the process of adopting children from overseas. Another two have adopted within the United States.
Services at East Auburn draw 1,200 people each weekend. Howard said it’s possible even more families are in the process of adopting, or are weighing adoption, that he’s not aware of.
Though it varies by family, there are frequent frustrations. International adoption can be expensive. It can take months or years. Children, and new parents, can have trouble adjusting.
“We took her from every person she ever knew, every food she ever knew,” Howard said of Marta. “We took her here. ‘Hey, aren’t you lucky?’ It’s kind of naive and disrespectful. The hiccups are digging deep and getting help. You have people who know exactly how you feel, and that gets you through it.”
Tara Paradie said she and her husband spent time searching for an agency that let them choose their child’s gender and that followed the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. They searched for a country with a “low travel” requirement so they didn’t have to leave their three children back home for long.
Since adopting Meaza in May, “there’s been amazing adjustments,” Paradie said. Church friends have provided them with meals. “They let me know I wasn’t crazy; they supported my husband. There are different stressors with a dad.”
One thing she didn’t expect: Meaza has been welcomed by members of Lewiston’s small Ethiopian community.
“They had heard an Ethiopian child had been adopted,” Paradie said. “‘Oh, yes, we’ll braid her hair; you come over.’ We’ve been over for an Ethiopian celebration at a family’s house.”
It’s been good, she said.
“It’s amazing to me,” she said. “It’s amazing and it’s enriching. My children are so, so blessed from this, my biological children and Meaza. Just their worlds are so much bigger.”
The White family: From ‘What if?’ to best buds
About three years ago, with two young children at home, Tina White says she started thinking, “What if?”
“I felt the leading first. My husband was, ‘No, we’re good! We don’t need any more kids,’” White said.
After some time, “the Lord spoke to his heart” and Leon came around. A boy and a girl made sense. Africa, she said, made sense, too.
Knowing other families at church who’d pursed adoption was a positive thing, White said. “The children were thriving, the families were great, so why not?”
Within a year of initiating the process, the Turner couple had been matched with 3- and 6-year-old siblings in Ethiopia.
“We got there to pick them up and (Abraham and Julia’s birth mother) had requested to meet us. We were like, ‘Whoa, let’s process that, because that was huge,’” White said. “She gave us her blessing, and it was a very emotional time, but such a gift. I’m able to say when times get rough, ‘OK, remember, this is what your birth mom said.’”
When the kids came home in August 2008, Julia spoke a little English, younger Abraham spoke none. The family got by with gestures. Now, White home schools all four.
“On paper, our boys are six months apart and our girls are six months apart. God only knows exact ages, but they’re best buds,” she said.
The Paradies: Meaza makes four
Tara Paradie remembers coming back from a church mission trip to Romania in 2007 thinking her Auburn house looked a lot bigger than she remembered.
“I had the opportunity to recognize our relative wealth … ‘Look at all this space we have,’” she said. “Before I left, I had felt cramped.”
The next summer, daughter Emma joined her on another mission to Romania.
“She worked with the children in the orphanage and was smitten with them,” Paradie said. “When we came back this time, she said, ‘Mom, why couldn’t we give one of these children a home? I was feeling led in that direction, too.”
She and her husband, Verne, prayed on it until the timing felt right. They decided on a girl under 4, so she’d be younger than their youngest.
“We looked at this country; we looked everywhere. We were just trying to see where God would have us go,” Paradie said.
They landed in Ethiopia
“We had read ahead and done every kind of possible preparation, but there’s really no class on how to meet a child who’s not biologically yours who suddenly is,” she said.
They met Meaza’s birth mother and learned that she just couldn’t care for her little girl with meager resources. The transition has gone smoothly since May, with some homesickness and cultural bumps.
“When we first got home, she hawked a loogie on the floor at Longhorn Steakhouse. I’m like, ‘Oh my god!’” Paradie said, laughing.
That, they told Meaza, isn’t done here.
Now a kindergartner at Park Avenue Elementary School in Auburn, “she’s doing an amazing job,” Paradie said. “She is very, very bright and excited about learning and interested in being like the other children.”
The Warrens: An unexpected addition
Barbara and Roland Warren weren’t looking to expand their family when they joined East Auburn Baptist Church members on a mission trip to Romania in 2000.
“We had 12 children all grown up, here we are in our late 50s,” Barbara Warren said.
Their included eight biological children and four adopted, two from Thailand, one from India and one stateside.
Little Alex made 13.
He’d lived in a state orphanage and walked with a limp. Once home in 2001, surgeries at the Shriners Hospital helped fix his gait.
Barbara called Alex, now 17, a remarkable young man.
“From a teenager, I had a deep desire, even if I had a lot of kids of my own, I wanted to help some of the other kids in the world that didn’t have some of the opportunities my own kids would have,” said Warren, 67. “It’s been a wonderful experience, overall.”
She admits, though, to having soul-searched back in 1976 when she discovered she was pregnant and had just committed to adopting two 3-month-olds from Thailand.
“I thought I could look after two, what about three babies?” Warren said. “I was sharing my concern with a lady one day. She said, ‘If God provides the kids, he’ll provide a way to look after them.’ I felt that was my answer.”
Andrea Tedesco: For her, it’s the next-best thing
She only met him for 24 hours. That was enough.
Andrea Tedesco of Turner took her first mission trip with East Auburn Baptist Church last November, traveling to Nigeria. They visited care centers that were home to neglected and unwanted children and spent the night at one.
That’s where she met Godfrey.
The 9-year-old had been living there a week with his younger brother, Obediah, dropped off when their uncle decided they were a handful. Three years earlier Godfrey had been hit by a motorcycle, deforming his left foot. It had never been repaired.
“His foot was flipped right up over so he was walking on the top of his foot, so his heel kind of pointed upwards a bit,” Tedesco said. “He even ran on the thing, which totally baffled me.”
She sat across the table from Godfrey at dinner, knowing Nigeria doesn’t allow adoptions, yet falling in love.
“His personality probably did it most for me,” Tedesco said. “After a while I just couldn’t help myself, I was crying and crying.”
It’s been hard to keep tabs, but Tedesco has been in touch with a traveling nurse who told her that Godfrey has had two corrective surgeries on his foot, with a third, and maybe final, this month.
A cello player, Tedesco held a “Music Night with Andrea and Friends” fundraiser to replenish the center’s medical account, raising $2,400. She’s in the process of waiting to sponsor Godfrey and Obediah, a $100 commitment each month that helps with food, clothes and care.
She’d like to visit them again, with her husband and two sons.
Tedesco told the traveling nurse that she was praying for Godfrey during his surgeries. She hopes the nurse passed it on.