BRYAN, Ohio — The thousands of miles between a 5-year-old orphan in Kenya, Africa and a Bryan, Ohio, couple that hope to adopt him is bridged with hope and love that this will be the year they are united forever.
It’s a story of incredible coincidences that the Rev. Mark Holbrook, pastor of the New Life Worship Center in Bryan, and his wife, Susan, feel deeply is God’s will and, as she emphasizes, “a divine appointment.”
Their faith and the attachment they have developed for little William in a few short visits have ignited their optimism through many challenges. After nearly four years of working with orphanages, adoption agencies, and enduring endless paper work in Africa and the United States and three trips to Kenya, Mark and Susan are encouraged it shouldn’t be much longer.
Mark’s first meeting with William is a tear-jerking story that began in 2008 when he was in a northwest Ohio missionary group that traveled to Kenya with a goal of visiting orphanages. Rather than visit the large facilities that are commonly seen by tourists, they asked to see a small, less known orphanage in the village of Mwingi, near Nairobi, with only 30 orphans.
When Mark was handed a very small 13-month-old boy to hold his heart melted. “I thought at first it was a girl because he had on pink pants,” he explained, adding that in Kenya just having clothes for the children is a priority and not the color.
The child that was left on the steps of the orphanage, still with the umbilical cord attached, was named William by the attending doctor Coincidentally William was also Mark’s father’s name who was also pastor at the New Life center.
Mark will never forget the magic moment, and has a photo to prove it, when William held his head up to stare into Mark’s face and then, quickly, put his head snugly on Mark’s shoulder.
“I was done,” he said of the initial bonding. Back home in Bryan he didn’t tell Susan about a desire to adopt the little African boy for two months. “I wanted to be sure it was what my heart wanted and that I was not just emotional,” he said.
Susan admits that her first reaction was normal for a mother with three grown daughters.
“Are you sure you want to start all over again?” I asked him. “You know our baby is now 16.”
The Holbrook daughters are Jackie, 26 years old, Catie, 23, and Sarah, 18. They all are very happy about welcoming William into our family, Susan said. Susan works in the accounting department at Chase Brass Copper Co. in Bryan.
With both in agreement, the hassle of adoption between continents began. “Red tape is alive and well as a part of the international adoption process,” Susan said.
They first registered and filled out many papers with an adoption agency in Wisconsin that was recommended as being qualified to facilitate African adoptions. After waiting a year, the agency declined their request.
Disappointed but not giving up hope, they searched the Internet and found the American World Adoption Agency in McLean, Va., that was more receptive and has field offices in Ohio. After filling out more reams of papers, including federal documents in Detroit, and being visited by social workers in their home, their application was submitted to the National Adoption Council in Kenya three months ago.
Without telephone calls or any contact with William, the Holbrooks stick close to their memories and photos of their last meetings with him. When Mark returned to Kenya in 2010 and with Susan in 2011 and spent time with William it was obvious that he remembered them.
While the Holbrooks are waiting for the go-ahead from Kenya, travel fund-raisers are underway in the Bryan community. Their daughter Jackie is selling her decorated cupcakes and Mark’s brothers, Jimmy and David, are planning a public summer concert. The New Life church also has a special fund.
If the council approves the adoption Mark and Susan will be required to stay four months in Kenya to bond with William and be assessed by a social worker. In the meantime William is attending school in an orphanage with a housemother responsible for 10 children.
The orphanage has requested that they not send gifts for fear it would build William’s expectations. But, if all goes well, come his birthday on Oct. 2, there will be plenty of presents along with an American birthday cake with six candles.