By Celia Dewoody
For The Associated Press
HARRISON, Ark. (AP) — After 52 years on opposite sides of the world, a mother and son have been reunited.
William Whitescarver — or Jo Kyung Nam — of Harrison, and his South Korean birth mother, Choi Chun-Hak of Seoul, met for the first time in more than half a century, when Whitescarver and his children traveled to South Korea in October.
Now, at her home near Seoul, the 81-year-old mother is wearing a necklace her American son gave her, with half of a metal coin dangling from a chain. Back in Arkansas, Whitescarver is wearing a necklace with the other half of the coin. On the coins, the Mizpah blessing from Genesis is inscribed, “May the Lord watch between me and thee while apart from one another.”
Whitescarver, a 54-year-old building contractor, has lived in the United States since he was adopted as a toddler through the Holt International Adoption Agency by Shirley and Jimmy Whitescarver of Redding, Calif. He’s lived in Harrison, Ark., since 1977, not far from his adoptive mom, Shirley Childs.
Throughout his entire life, Whitescarver had no information about his Korean birth family — until this June, when he got a call out of the blue from the Holt Adoption Agency, saying they were trying to get in touch with William Whitescarver.
The social worker read him some letters the agency had received from a woman in South Korea who believed that she was his birth mother.
“It took me by surprise,” Whitescarver said. “I didn’t feel anything emotionally until I hung up the phone and turned to one of my guys who was standing there, and started to try to tell him about the letter. I only got two or three words out, and I was overcome emotionally. I realized that there was a very strong possibility my birth mother was looking for me.”
Whitescarver wanted to be sure before he moved forward by arranging for DNA testing, which confirmed that he and the South Korean woman were mother and son.
On Oct. 19, Whitescarver and his family went to the Holt agency in Seoul.
“When we walked in, they were waiting for us — my birth mother and two of her sisters. They stood up and were smiling,” Whitescarver said. “The interpreter introduced us, and my birth mother approached to hug me. It was a warm and cordial greeting with hugs and smiles.”
He was surprised by his mother and aunts — their short stature, and how very healthy and vibrant they looked for their ages.
Conversing with each other through an interpreter, the Americans and South Koreans showed each other photos and exchanged gifts. Whitescarver gave his mother some skin-care lotions and the Mizpah necklace, and his children gave her a photo album.
“She gave me a personal letter that she had written and translated … explaining a little more of the past,” Whitescarver said. “She also dug out of her purse some candy to give me and the kids, while apologizing for not having gifts for us. The candy was ginseng-flavored gummies, not exactly our liking, but we thankfully ate it anyway.”
His birth mother, who has been in the Christian ministry for more than 40 years, had some questions for him and his family.
“ ‘Are you going to church? Are you Christians?’ ” were her main concerns, Whitescarver said. “She encouraged us strongly to go to church.”
The Whitescarver family and their South Korean mother and grandmother got together several more times during the visit, going to Choi Chun-Hak’s home for a home-cooked feast and out to several restaurants.
Choi Chun-Hak is a retired Christian minister, and Whitescarver said her church family is very important to her. They had been praying with her for years that God would help her find the son whom her husband’s family had given up for adoption without her knowledge or permission. At this point, Whitescarver does not have any information about his biological father, other than a few black-and-white photos of himself as a baby with his parents. He does not know if his father is alive.
“She wanted to see us to the airport the next day on our way back to the states,” Whitescarver said. “She gave me a big bag of ginseng candy and ginseng root chips soaking in honey, since I liked it so much. I was actually getting to like it by [then]. She stuck close to Nic and me until we had to check in, and we said our good-byes.”
Choi Chun-Hak and her American son have stayed in touch since he got back home, with the help of his Korean American friend in Harrison, Lee Hyung Woo, who interprets their letters.
Plans are being made for the mother and son to get together again. Whitescarver said he has volunteered to help with a building and repair project at the Holt orphanage in Seoul next year, and he is hoping to fly his mother over for a visit in Arkansas next fall.
Meeting his birth mother was “the experience of a lifetime,” Whitescarver said. ♦