The People Who Didn’t Give Up

by Sherrie Buscemi

     Because we married in our 30s, my husband Steve and I never thought we’d have children. As our 30s drifted away, we researched bed-and-breakfasts as a retirement option. We’d finished a business plan for The Penwheel B&B, but at the last minute decided to visit one called Bonnie’s Christian Bed & Breakfast to find out how a Christian B&B would be different than others.
     Only— Bonnie refused to talk with us about the business! Instead, she told us that God wanted her to talk with us about adopting Asian children. We laughed in her face! And then ... she showed us photos of her daughters from Korea. And then ... she showed us their old, crumbling adoption certificates and gave us the phone number of Holt Adoption Agency. When we went back to the room, Steve wondered how many children God would give us. I was like Sarah and laughed some more.
     It turned out that Korea only wanted young parents, but Holt told us that we would qualify to adopt from places like Russia and China. We settled on China because only one adoptive parent would have to fly to China, and at the time I was terrified of flying. We signed up with Abilene Christian Family Services as our international agency, but then they quit working in Chinese adoptions. The next agency didn’t work out for other reasons. The next social worker quit. We rolled on for four years like this until we became known in local social work circles as “the people who don’t give up.”
     Because the process was taking so long, we started praying to be referred twins whom we gave the waiting names of Morning Star and Bright Star. Eventually, a small Chinese agency submitted our papers to China when wait times were well over a year. But just six months later, on Christmas Day 1998, we trudged around the snow and luminarias in Old Town Albuquerque with our family as we celebrated the referral of our first daughter, known as “Little Lady from Gaoyou City.” Then I realized ... I am going on that plane to get my daughter!
     When we met her on March 1,1999, we thanked the Lord she wasn’t twins because she was 30 Energizer Bunnies all wrapped up in one strong little toddler! We named Morning Star after Halley’s Comet—because she was so fast in every way. On the flight home, I mentioned that I was glad that my flying days were over for good. Steve twinkled out these words, “Oh, I think we’ll be back many more times than we can imagine.” I rolled my eyes.
     During the long wait for Haley Marie, we fell in love with a 13-year-old girl, Gloria, and since they were from the same province we tried to adopt her when we went to pick up Haley. At the time, however, China required a year between adoptions. Unfortunately, Chinese law says that, at age 14, orphans become ineligible for adoption. Although she aged out legally, we adopted Gloria in spirit from afar and were given a unique privilege to sponsor her directly when all sponsorships at the time had to go through non-profit organizations.
     After we got home with Haley, the Chinese government asked us if we wanted to use those papers to adopt a different child. Our hearts couldn’t stand more heartbreak over an older child at the time, so we said we would accept a healthy baby and settled in to wait at least another year for daughter number two. But just six months later, on Christmas Eve 1999, Steve, Haley, Grandma Buscemi and I landed at the Albuquerque airport with sweet little Bright Star—Christmas Holly! Her Chinese name means “child of the Good News.” The doctors told us that, had she stayed at her place in China one week longer she would likely have been dead from severely high lead levels.
     We were sailing along as a little family of four when we decided to learn more about our daughters’ spiritual roots through a class called Worldwide Perspectives. It’s a story for another day, but through that class about six months later in 2001, we boarded yet another plane to China! Our family ended up on a rural mission field where we managed a beautiful B&B called Beth Shalom; it was designed to give foreign missionaries, especially ones who worked in orphanages, an affordable rest in the Chinese mountains. Before we left the U.S., predictions were made that we would return with another child. Our response: “No way!”
     The faith-filled British owners of Beth Shalom had established strong connections, understandings, and work with orphanages, so we asked if they would allow us to invite Gloria to Beth Shalom for Chinese New Year in 2002. They gave permission with the caveat, “We can tell you right now that no orphanage director in all of China is going to allow a 14-year-old orphan to travel by train for an entire day to come stay with unknown foreigners for even a day much less a few weeks. You can ask, but don’t be disappointed when they tell you no.” To everyone’s great surprise, the orphanage director answered, YES! After that, Gloria Grace spent almost every summer and winter holiday living with us in China for the next four years!
     In fall 2002, the government closed the B&B and we moved to northeastern China near Russia to work as English teachers at a medical university. A family in America asked us to try to adopt an older child they had failed at adopting; we said we would look into that. The whole thing was yet more heartbreak over older orphans, so we slid back into our tough turtle-shell stance: We are NOT adopting any more children as our tears and finances were threadbare.
     But family from Santa Fe relentlessly pursued us. The mom had promised her Chinese daughter that she would find a family for the girl who had stolen food to keep her daughter alive at the orphanage. She sought families all over the world for this tough little girl who told her that “she would never get a mama” because of her hearing problem. In the end, the mom learned that, because Chinese rules prohibited pre-identified adoptions, only a family living in China would be allowed to adopt this girl under the relaxed rules for expats. When we told the mom that our search for other expats to adopt this young lady failed, she asked us to adopt her. We were preparing to write an e-mail to tell her that we just couldn’t afford it, but opened her e-mail first. The words tumbled off the page: “I will pay for the adoption. Itemize the cost and I will send the money when you get a referral.”
     A translator contacted the orphanage for us about this girl but told us we didn’t want her, there was a problem with the girl and that they thought we would be happier with an older boy from their place. We were denied a request to visit her ourselves but it was agreed that we could have a Chinese doctor come see her. Upon his return he told us that she was fine, so we pressed on for her.
     Gloria went with us when we adopted this trembling nine-year-old—Harmony Joy—during the 2004 Moon Festival. After a few days, Harmony decided she didn’t want to be adopted. Gloria told her through the voice of experience that the aunties in the orphanage could care for her basic needs, like food and shelter, but at the end of the day they all go home to their own families and she would someday be left alone. And, through the tears, Gloria told her that we were offering Harmony a LAST NAME, a real family; an opportunity Gloria lost at 13. So even though she was scared, Harmony stayed. Then more salty, silent tears dripped from Gloria’s face into our hearts forever as American families with babies (and our family with Harmony) filed past her while she waited outside the U.S. Embassy in Guangzhou for the children to be issued visas to the U.S.
     She quietly said, “If only I were a baby I could have a family too.” Be still, my heart!
     Our family stayed in China for six months after Harmony’s adoption. After she lost her Chinese but hadn’t learned much English, Harmony became language-less. As soon as she did acquire some English, we started making a memory book with her about her nine years in China. That’s when she shocked us by telling us the truth. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to come to America. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a family. I just wanted my best friend to come with me, but the aunties told me that if I said that to anyone, bad things would happen to me.” She believed it because bad things had happened to her in the past.
     We said we would try to find a family for her friend, but we ran into dead ends because Harmony didn’t know quite the right Chinese name. Eventually, a Chinese friend sorted it all out but told us that the girl was going to turn 14 within months even though everyone we knew said she was only 12. We agreed to sponsor her through Love Without Boundaries until a family came forward for her. Steve was in nursing school so we were out of the picture as a potential family. Then one day in April, just after Steve started work as an RN, our Chinese friend wrote to say that if a family didn’t start now, there would not be enough time for this girl ever to be adopted. Harmony pleaded with us to adopt her. Holly prayed then told us in her straightforward fashion, “Done. We’re getting another sister.” We didn’t laugh as strongly this time.
     It was the hardest of all adoption processes because the U.S. had just signed on as a Hague Treaty country for international adoptions and no one knew how to do it. Eventually, we had to get Senators and even presidential candidates involved to make the adoption happen. To save precious time, in faith, Haley, Steve and I flew to China before China had even approved the adoption! The approval came to our hotel one hour before we met her! Harmony couldn’t go because she was scheduled for surgery during the adoption time. (Steve popped over to China to sign the papers and then immediately flew back to take Harmony to L.A. Shriner’s Hospital). By then Gloria had been kicked out of her orphanage when she turned 18 and had married a nice young man she’d met on the bus she took to school. They brought their tiny baby girl Anna Rose to be with Haley and me during this adoption
     Our new daughter got her last name just one day before she turned 14! The Chinese offices told us that almost every Chinese adoption official had heard of this miracle adoption from Beijing downward. We had given her the option of keeping her Chinese name, choosing her own Chinese name or of using Melody since she was friends with Harmony. She said she wanted to choose an H name like our other girls so we gave her a list of names. At the last minute, I added “Honour” to the list, which is what she selected. At the time, neither she nor we knew that Honour was a translation of her name in Chinese! It was also the same as Gloria’s first name in Chinese! Just as their middle names Grace will tie them together forever, His Grace stitched every piece of our adoption tapestry.
     Some of the stitches are still painful, like the girl who cried for two solid weeks after Honour left, and eventually dropped out of school from depression when a few months later she aged out and never got a family. Some of the stitches amaze us—like how the boy the orphanage wanted us to adopt became part of an American family and is now good friends with Harmony and Honour! Some of the stitches are unfinished, like the mystery part of the tapestry: how we can best use the heart that God has given us for older orphans.

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     Sherrie Buscemi is a longtime friend of Jenna Wiley. They were college roommates. Sherrie’s husband, Steve, is a nurse practitioner working in the sleep disorders program in the UNM Health System. They will be moving to Albuquerque from Tucson this summer, as soon as daughter Holly graduates from high school. We hope O.I. members can get to know the Buscemis well.

Excerpted from the April 2016 edition of the Operation Identity Newsletter
© 2016 Operation Identity