By Laura Catoe
the Associated Press
GADSDEN, Ala. (AP) — A radio broadcast led two elementary school teachers on an adoption journey to China.
Chad and Jennifer Strawn were married in 2000. Jennifer was driving Conner, their then-18-month-old son, to daycare. She had the radio tuned to “Focus on the Family,” which was doing a series on adoption.
After listening to the broadcast, she couldn’t get the idea of adoption off her mind. Going to sleep that night, she made the offhand prayer, “God, if you want us to adopt from China, you have to make Chad want it, too.”
The next day, Chad met her at the door when she arrived home. He was eager to show her a Web site, cryoftheorphan.com, because he’d been listening to the radio and a broadcast about adoption. It had caught his attention.
“I just knew it was something I needed to bring up to Jen,” Chad said. His wife surprised him by starting to cry.
“I told her, ‘Hey, we don’t have to do it.’” Chad didn’t realize his wife’s tears were caused by surprise and joy.
Chad and Jennifer were 29 and 28 at the time. The Chinese government won’t allow anyone younger than 30 to adopt internationally.
The Strawns spent the next year preparing for adoption by reading, connecting with other adoptive families, and knitting.
As teachers, the Strawns felt equipped to handle a special-needs orphan.
China’s special-needs orphans (referred to as “waiting children”) are children with medical needs.
With these children, China sends out batches of referrals at a time. Adoptive families are able to consider the children and their needs before embarking on the process to adopt them.
In February 2008, there was a message from Until All Have Homes, a ministry dedicated to orphans with special needs. They were sending out a list of waiting children whose files were about to be sent back to China.
“These will be kids with serious needs,” Jennifer thought, but she proceeded to look. One particular girl, Ming Ming, a 2-year-old with congenital glaucoma, caught her eye.
“I read her profile, and I knew,” said Jennifer.
The Strawns obtained Ming Ming’s file and researched her condition. They were nervous about the fact that she could become completely blind. By the spring of 2008, they began to receive more photos of Ming Ming, who they had decided to name Charli Grace.
They were troubled that Charli’s eyes looked worse.
“Call it mother’s instinct,” said Jennifer. “Something just didn’t seem right. She was also missing some of the spark we saw in earlier photos.”
The couple decided to see if they could obtain any medical help for Charli before her adoption. The organization Love Without Boundaries was able to arrange an eye exam for her. It was determined that nothing more could be done for her eyesight in China, so the Strawns contacted the Grace Children’s Foundation in New York.
On Mother’s Day, the Strawns received an e-mail from Nancy Robertson, president and founder of the Grace Children’s Foundation.
She told them if they could find a doctor willing to treat Charli, she could get airfare and a medical visa for Charli.
The Strawns found Dr. Wade Joiner with the Callahan Eye Foundation at UAB, and he agreed to provide free service for Charli. The Grace Children’s Foundation came through with the medical visa and airfare from China.
Charli arrived in Washington, D.C., at midnight on the Fourth of July.
When the Strawns gave Charli a granola bar, the first thing she did was break it in half and hide part of it in the couch cushion beside her. Children in orphanages are often accustomed to hoarding food because it can be scarce.
Since living with the Strawns, Charli has begun attending preschool.
“She loves school,” said Jennifer. “She’s just blossomed.”
The care Charli has received from Joiner has improved Charli’s vision, but when she’s older, she’ll need a corneal transplant.
International adoption is an expensive endeavor. Charli’s adoption cost about $20,000. The Strawns financed it through a combination of grants, church support, fundraising, and a low-interest adoption loan.
Charli’s adoption was finalized in China in April.
They flew to Beijing, and Jennifer kept a blog about the trip, where she answered questions from her first grade students and posted pictures of China.
The Strawns want to encourage others who have considered adoption to take the next step.
“There are a lot of orphans out there, not just in China,” said Jennifer. “There are thousands in the United States who need homes. If I had just brushed off the urge, we’d have missed a tremendous blessing.” ♦