‘No one told him he was being adopted. No one prepared his little heart for so much change. The day we arrived to meet him, he was absolutely terrified.’: Mom adopts 4 children into forever family, ‘My heart just knew’

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“I was at recess in 5th grade when I first told my friends I was going to adopt a child when I grew up. God planted that seed in my heart at such a young age and continued to water it through many different people and experiences throughout my life, ultimately leading to the formation of the family I now get to call my own today.

It all started out with a young boy named Theo. He was adopted from Ethiopia by a family in our small farming community in Central Washington and he was the first black friend I ever had. In fact, he was the first African person I had ever met. Theo shared so many stories with me of his life in his home country, of his biological mother, and of his adoption story. Everything about it captivated me…the heartbreak, the hope, and the resiliency he built through it all. It was my friendship with Theo that initially lit that fire in my heart for orphans, for adoption, and for knowing the world beyond this tiny little town I was growing up in.

Theo passed away in a tragic plane accident the day after I graduated from high school. The legacy he left in this world is truly remarkable (and an entire story of its own), but the personal impact he had on my life literally helped shape who I am, the family I am now blessed with, and our personal story of adoption we are now so honored to share.

My heart for kids, particularly those from hard places, continued to grow stronger as I grew up. And when I met a cute boy online in 2010 who shared my faith, my sense of adventure, and this desire to pursue orphan care, I swiftly took him off the market. We about gave our parents a heart attack when we were engaged within 4 months after meeting over the internet!

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker
Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

Patrick and I announced to our families over Christmas 2013 that we had signed on with an adoption agency to adopt two babies from Ethiopia. Both of our families were ecstatic! But after about a year and a half of paperwork and payments and prayers to welcome these babies into our lives, God shifted everything. It was May 13, my 28th birthday, when I was sitting on the couch in our living room and I scrolled across a Facebook post from our agency advocating for three older siblings in Ethiopia in need of a family. At the time the kids were 3, 6, and 9 years old.

We had never talked about older child adoption.
We had never talked about adopting 3.
We had never talked about some of the other big aspects of this adoption that needed to be considered (financial, medical, etc).

But my heart just knew, these were our kids.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

But honestly, I also didn’t think there was much of a chance that Patrick would be on the same page as me with this. It was all so completely different than what we had been planning and preparing for.

Isn’t that just exactly how God works, though?

I immediately emailed our agency for more information and expressed an interest. I gathered the details and I prayed God would open Patrick’s heart to this. When he walked through the door after work that night, I don’t even think he got his shoes off before I flooded him with everything I knew about these kids.

And guess what? He didn’t say no. In fact, he was excited and he wanted to dig in and explore this direction more. We called doctors, we called schools, we called therapists, we called other adoptive parents. And a couple of weeks later, we officially accepted a referral to become the parents to Nikoy, Atuk, and Mudjok.

But the referral was really just the beginning. We watched our kids grow up through photos that we received via email over the next year. With every picture we came to know their personalities, we worried about their health, and we longed to bring them home. We sent care packages and photo albums and letters to them every chance we got. But the adoption process in Ethiopia continued to slow down, and after a year of sending our love long-distance, we bought plane tickets to go and meet the kids in person and tell them to their face how much we loved them and how hard we were fighting to bring them home.

Just weeks before we were scheduled to fly across the world to visit the kids, we got word that the officials from Ethiopia were actually making a trip to the States to check in on the children who had previously been adopted and to evaluate the U.S. adoption program as a whole. A few groups of Ethiopian representatives were going to hold meetings in a small handful of cities across the country and adoptive parents were invited to meet the officials in person and share their stories and experiences and updates on their children.

I just felt it in my gut that I needed to go and advocate for our case, so my mother-in-law and I drove 4.5 hours to attend one of these dinners. It just so happened that the head official, the ONE person who needed to sign off on our paperwork allowing us to receive a court date and complete our adoption, was the man who was at that dinner table sitting with us that night. I shared our story, told him all about the kids, and ended the evening taking a picture with him.

A few weeks later, we packed our bags and flew to Africa for the very first time. I could never explain in words just how magical it was to have the kids run across the courtyard of their orphanage and into our arms the day we first met them. Each day, we got two separate 2-hour windows of visiting time to spend with the kids, so whenever we weren’t at the orphanage, we were pouring every second into trying to advocate to move our case forward. The first week we were in the country, we made daily trips across town to meet with the officials. Remember that photo I took just a few weeks prior at that dinner meeting? That got us past the guards and granted us access up the stairs to their office!

God moved mountains in so many incredible, unexpected ways throughout our adoption process. Our one week trip to visit the kids turned into 7 weeks in Ethiopia, getting the signatures needed, completing court, and bringing our children HOME!

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker
Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

That was adoption number one.

This past year, we added another new son to the Rooyakker clan! With a completely different process, an entirely different timeline, and a unique set of challenges, our family travelled to Nigeria to adopt a 6-year-old boy named Greatness, and oh, how great he is! I was there for four months start to finish before we were able to finally bring him home.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

These were hands down the hardest four months of my entire life. You see, no one told Greatness he was being adopted. No one prepared his little heart for so much change. We weren’t allowed to send him photos or gifts or letters like we had sent the other kids. The day we arrived to meet him, he was absolutely terrified of us. And those first months of transition that were spent in that little Nigerian 1-bedroom apartment were filled with trauma-induced meltdowns, fear, and frustration. It was the most heart-wrenching and exhausting experience I’ve endured, and my struggle through it all paled in comparison to his.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

Adoption is anything but easy. But the beauty and the blessings that come on the other side of all the pain and hardship is so abundant, too. And it’s worth it. It’s worth every single minute spent filling out documents and completing training, and it’s worth every single penny you have to save or fundraise to make it happen.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

Just before adopting Greatness, we took Nikoy, Atuk, and Mudjok back to Gambella, Ethiopia to see their older brothers and relatives they hadn’t seen or talked to in years. Brothers, in fact, we didn’t even know they had until the kids learned enough English and told us one night at the dinner table all about them! While we were visiting their aunt, with tears in her eyes, told us through a translator that when their mother died, she was taking care of the kids, but she couldn’t afford to feed them.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

When she took the children to the orphanage and signed the papers for them to be adopted, many people in the community were disgusted and so upset with her. But God gave her a dream that the children would be adopted by a loving family and that this was truly what was best for them and their future. She was completely overjoyed to see the kids again, so grown up, healthy, and happy.

God is so faithful.

Today, Nikoy is about to start her first year of high school. She loves soccer and Jesus and she will read a good book with every free minute she has. Nikoy will do anything for anyone.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

Atuk is our little engineer; always curious as to how things work. He wants to be a pilot when he grows up and he has the most tender, compassionate heart a boy could ever have.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

Mudjok is a firecracker. She sings and dances her way through every minute of the day, always laughing and full of joy. She is our little social butterfly.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

Greatness, AKA Big G, is equally as feisty as he is sweet. He’s a total lovebug, super silly, and always wanting to take charge.

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

Adoption has been our biggest faith-filled ‘YES’ we’ve ever given. Yes to all the unknowns. Yes to the financial commitments. Yes to the indefinite amount of time you may have to live abroad. Yes to the medical and logistical uncertainties. Yes to the call God had in our hearts to pursue this. Yes. Because every child deserves a loving family.”

Courtesy of Aleena Rooyakker

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Aleena Rooyakker of Apple Valley, Minnesota. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her websiteSubmit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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