I was asked recently about my most memorable encounter in Nicaragua. I didn’t really have to think very long about the question, despite the fact that I have traveled there several times each year since 2006 and had experienced an earlier introduction to the country in 1990. I have had many wonderful, frustrating, inspiring, motivating and sad moments during those visits. But there is one that stays with me like no other. It’s a moment from my earliest visit that will be in my heart and mind forever, one of those transforming moments that further shapes who I am. I relate it frequently when I speak on behalf of the Foundation and I share it here for your consideration:
The back end of the pickup truck was absolutely filled with kids. They sat scrunched and huddled there, seemingly glad to be done with the outdoor church service we had just attended, and eager as could be to learn something, anything, about the North American visitors who had come to their community. Not many of us had come to this part of Nicaragua, perhaps. For some of the littlest ones- maybe three or four years old- perhaps we were the first gringos they had seen. But they hung on every word we spoke through rough translation and pounced on every question we asked as if it belonged to each of them alone.
I had connected with one young boy in a special way. We had greeted one another earlier in the day, in a location very distant from where we now stood. Yet, when I climbed off the bus which had brought us to join this neighborhood church service, suddenly there he was, hand extended again, a friend from an earlier hour. I had no idea how he came to be at this place.
Fernando was maybe ten, but certainly more shrewd than his years. We talked and joked in gestures. And seated in the back of that pickup truck among so many other little faces, Fernando finally asked me if I had any children of my own. With great pride I pulled my wallet and flipped to the pictures of katie and our kids. The entire truck sagged to the back end as the children strained to see the pictures. They laughed in delight. But Fernando sat back, his face serious in thought. Amidst the laughter, I wondered what was on his mind.
He leaned forward after a bit and put his fingers to his eyes, as if to appear Asian. It had not escaped his notice that all four of my children are Korean-born. He puzzled over it because Katie’s picture clearly showed that she is not Korean.
I explained, as best I could, that my four children were akk adopted from Korea, but my children nonetheless. He asked if I loved them. I said, with all my heart.
Then, he pierced my heart. He asked whether I would adopt him. That his mother and father would not mind, as long as he was going to a better life. That he was a good kid. And that he was sure that I could love him. He didn’t know the half of it. Looking into the dark eyes and faces of those children, I could have been seeing the beautiful, dark features of my own kids. I was chilled to think of them in this impoverished environment. Perhaps as Fernando’s own parents were. The idea that Fernando believed his parents would be accepting of his adoption in order to find “a better life” has haunted me for twenty-four years.
A fellow adoptive parent once said about our kids, “Well, you know, they are not really your children. They are universal children, belonging to all of us. As all children are.” In one very real sense, he was absolutely correct. We- you, me, all of us- are responsible for the lives and the well-being of our kids. And I came to truly know the truth of it in the face of a little boy called Fernando….