José hid in the corner, with his head down and arms wrapped around his legs as if to take up the smallest amount of floorspace possible. He hadn’t meant to spill the milk, it had just happened. He was chasing Samuel around the house, playing tag, when his arm brushed past the table and knocked over the glass.
Worry seeped into all the empty places in his mind, and his heart pounded as he thought, “Please don’t send me back…”
At age two, José and his older sister Carla were found abandoned in a run-down apartment in Nicaragua’s bustling capital city. No one knows how long the pair had been alone, but it was a miracle they survived. Separated and placed in different orphanages, the brother and sister would not see one another again for six years.
In the span of a few days, José lost every single family member he had ever known.
While Carla benefited from a better placement — with exposure to kind and generous caregivers who sometimes even took the children out on field trips — José never left the orphanage property. He, along with the other children, rose at 4:00am to get a jump on the morning chores. After a cold shower — when they had fresh water — each child had to wash the prior day’s clothes (by hand) before receiving their breakfast rice. With money scarce, adequate nutrition was rare. José grew, but only slightly, probably teetering right on the edge of a “failure to thrive” diagnosis for much of his childhood. That didn’t matter much, though, because all the kids were in the same boat…
Eventually it came time for José to start school. But all students in Nicaragua are required to have a uniform and certain supplies to attend. The $50 (US) price tag is a week’s salary for the working poor, and virtually unattainable for many kids. Maybe some worker drops off some uniforms and supplies one year, giving José an opportunity to finally learn in a classroom. But then the stuff disappears, and the TV becomes his only education.
At one point, when he was perhaps five or six, he received the most amazing news: he would be leaving the orphanage to go live with a family! For the first time in his memory, José likely had a few things to call his own… the best part was having a mom who was with him all of the time! And he didn’t have to share her with anyone else!
Until that one day.
What had he done? Why was this happening… again? It was perhaps the culmination of months of events that ultimately led to the one thing José dreaded most… losing yet another family.
A few years went by before José was once again called to the director’s office with news of another potential family. José didn’t dare to believe anything might actually come of it, though. He’d already lost so much, so why should this time be any different?
Only it was.
Right from the start, he realized this new family wasn’t just a mom, but also a dad! And five siblings! Not only that, but Carla too!
José really didn’t want to mess this up. So he tried as hard as he could to be good. He tried to understand the new language spoken by the new family, and to respond appropriately. He worked hard at learning to share, to enjoy new foods, and obey the rules.
But sometimes he made mistakes. Sometimes he did things he could tell weren’t right. Even if he didn’t completely comprehend the words being spoken, he recognized the tone or facial expressions.
So he hid. And waited. And worried.
One night, after he’d lived with the new family for four whole months, he sat on the couch near his new mom. He had been particularly upset that day, wondering when she, too, would leave him. Finally, when he couldn’t stand it any longer, he spoke up, “Momma? When?” He didn’t know the word for “break” in her language, so he made motions with his hands to get his point across.
When will this adoption be broken, like the last one?
Letting it out was like a huge release. He had bottled up so much emotion; it seemed to pour out all at once, saturating the space between them with all his pain and fear.
“Oh, José…” she enveloped him as understanding crept into her mind and she recognized the years of abandonment and loss this child had experienced. “This adoption will not break! Not now, not ever! We love you. We want you! You are a part of our family, forever!”
About a month later, a judge officially gave him his new last name. José felt as if an enormous weight was lifted from his shoulders. After almost a decade, he finally had the one thing he’s always wanted: a family to call his own.
In the words of José’s mom, “We knew that God would take care of anything that had bruised our son. His past was not his fault. He is a normal child that just needs a chance… A chance to grow and develop into the talented adult God meant for him to be. José is smart, athletic, creative, and only was lacking loving parents to help train him. He especially needed a father. He had never been around men hardly at all and now he eats up every single moment with his dad, and his brother. God has a bright future for this precious boy.”
Worldwide, there are too many older children waiting in orphanages for their chance at having a family. But everyone wants a baby… I get it, I really do. And yet, having supported adopting families for the past two years, I’ve seen that the age of the child at adoption is not the best indicator for future success.
“What we learn about brain science and how children learn about the world around them should give solace to many parents who worry that they have missed giving their children crucial experiences in the early years. Much of what we learn happens throughout our lives. What we missed at one stage, given different circumstances, can be made up later on. The work of neuroscientists and of educators points to the resilience of the brain, to a lifelong ability to learn new things.” – Frontline
The best indicator for success, at least as far as I can tell, is how prepared and committed the family is to uncover the child’s strengths and weaknesses, then — with God’s help — walk with them through adolescence and into adulthood… together… forever.
If you’re considering adoption, please pray about an older child. Many adoption agencies have programs specifically targeting older children, because the need is so great.
Finally, please consider supporting our adoption care work in Nicaragua. Every dollar goes directly to helping us meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of families traveling to Nicaragua to adopt orphans like José.