I have a new brother!!!

As you know, I worked with adoptions in Liberia for about 3 years. During that time I helped my family as they cared for many foster babies. It was hard to see them go on to their respective adoptive families, yet we knew it was the right thing to do. Some babies we were closer to than others and it was even more difficult to say good-bye. I often prayed that God would let my family keep at least one of these babies. Well, my dream has come true! In what is truly a miracle, especially considering the current state of adoptions in Liberia, my family has welcomed a new child - Jonah - into their family.

Here is the story as written by my mom. (View the original post on her blog here.)

On Making Jonah a Sheppard

In 1986 I was pregnant with Nathan when Mark and I, along with toddlers John Mark and Melodie, left Minnesota's cold and snow for mission work in Liberia's never-ending summer. It turned out to be a life filled with more adventure and challenge than we could have possibly imagined. Despite many harrowing experiences in the years that followed - a civil war and its subsequent work among the refugees - by God's help we and our children (Heidi and Jared made five) not only survived, we learned to thrive.

(Sheppard Family in 2003)

After nearly twelve years in refugee work in the Ivory Coast, when the war ended and we returned to Liberia our focus was on the training of national leadership. All of these were adults, of course. However, God opened a door for us to touch lives through fostering. With the help of our children we took in numerous Liberian babies and toddlers who were later adopted into the homes of Americans. It was one of the most amazing ministries God ever gave us as missionaries. We had the opportunity to touch a child - in some cases to literally save a life - and then send that little one on to a loving Christian home. During this process, as we were out and about or when people came from the States to be united with their child, we were often asked if we planned to adopt a child ourselves. We always replied by saying that if God wanted us to adopt, He would have to make one child stand out.

At the end of 2008, after our one year home assignment in the States, we flew back to Liberia with Heidi, Jared and Melodie. Melodie, now a young adult, felt God was leading her back to Liberia to minister in her areas of greatest passion - the discipleship of women and the care of needy children.

(Melodie with neighborhood kids in December 2008)

After a busy Christmas and New Year 2008/2009 conference season in the interior of Liberia we returned to Monrovia, excited and primed to resume fostering. Melodie was already involved in the lives of a group of needy children from a local orphanage and within weeks we had three little boys sharing our home.

(Jonah at 12 months in January of 2009)

Boy #1, Jonah, was an extremely sad, 11-pound, one-year old. He had suffered several serious illnesses and was in desperate need of the love of a family. Boy #2, Titus, had a similar story. He, too, needed that same special attention as he waited to go to his "forever family." Boy #3, Levi, was a severely handicapped little guy and extremely close to death when he came to us. Our house and hands were full.

At the end of January 2009 an event occurred that would change the course of our lives forever. The Liberian government placed a moratorium on all international adoption. This sent our world, and that of many others, into a spin. I begged God for His mercy on the Liberian children with adoptions in process. I deeply feared for the future of the little boys in our home whom I loved so much.

(Titus and Heidi in 2009)

In the blackness of the African night I struggled with understanding the promise of Romans 8:28-29. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" (NKJV). While I was very familiar with those verses and had seen them played out in my life literally hundreds of times - that ultimate "good" of becoming more like Christ as a result of trial (vs. 29) - I could not imagine a scenario produced by the moratorium itself that was anything other than heartbreaking.

Time passed. After three months, Levi, who was now in great health but whose needs were more than we could handle permanently, went to live in a well-run special needs orphanage. Meanwhile Titus and Jonah learned to crawl, walk, and finally, run. We went through all the toddler stages with them. Finally, because his adoption decree had been signed before the moratorium, sixteen months after his arrival in our home Titus was allowed to go to his adoptive parents. We loved him tremendously, but rejoiced without reservation that the door had opened for him to go to the precious young couple that had prayed and waited so long for him to join their family.

                                                (Titus, Nancy, Jonah and Mark - June 2010)

Jonah had no such decree and the moratorium remained in place with no end in sight. One child. One special child to whom we were attached at the heart. It gradually dawned on us that God was doing just what we had said He would have to do for us to know that we were to adopt. One child was standing out.

The decision to adopt Jonah was a big one, but, nevertheless, it was much easier decided than done. After waiting and waiting and waiting, through what can only be called a miracle of God's grace, He placed our case and the case of one other missionary family on the heart of the person in the administration of the government of Liberia who could allow an exception. While the moratorium for international adoptions continued, our two families were allowed to proceed as residents to adopt our long-term fostered children. There was no explanation for the mercy being extended to us other than God touching hearts as a result of the thousands upon thousands of prayers that had gone up on behalf of these two little boys. The following weeks were a flurry of activity as we did all within our power to prepare the documents necessary to adopt. The home study was done, the case study prepared and personal documents secured. The relevant papers were submitted to a local attorney who prepared the adoption decree to present to the judge. And then more waiting. Several more weeks. But at last, on October 27, we received the signed decree.

                                                       (Jonah after a baptism - January 2011)

Two years and nine months after his arrival into our home, Jonah became a Sheppard. As we look at this precious little boy who has become such an integral part of our lives, we are awestruck at the cleverness of God. Only He could have arranged a situation so perfectly that we would know beyond any shadow of a doubt this child was meant to be ours.

Years ago, as I agonized over the implications of the moratorium, I could not see how anything good could ever come from it. Ever. But there is no denying it grew us spiritually. And, among other things, through it God allowed me to see a side of my husband I had never seen before as he fought for the hurting children of Liberia. The moratorium also revealed my weakness, an unpleasant but necessary "good." I, who thought I had grown beyond not trusting God in trying situations, learned that certainly was not the case. Over and over I had to give my fear for Jonah's future to God, knowing if I didn't I would be consumed by it. God has been more than faithful and He has taught me, once again, to rest in Him.

Mark and I are totally humbled by the grace God has poured out on our lives. Despite our fears and doubts, God has used the thing that initially filled our hearts with dread - the moratorium on adoption in Liberia - for good. It is the reason we have a new son. His name is Jonah. He is our miracle.

Mark and Nancy Sheppard

                                                     (Jonah James Sheppard, October 2011)


Heart4Adoption said...

I am so exciting for your WHOLE family:)