Thursday, October 30, 2014

A 14-Year Journey: From Russia to Zambia

Denise Reynolds:

My silly man photo bombing my efforts to capture
Sarah departing home to work in an orphanage in Africa 

Tomorrow my beloved husband's reason for being in Africa will come to an end. Mr. R's mission in Zambia will be complete. He'll watch and wave as a bus carrying Sarah departs the capital of Zambia, for an rural region 17 hours north. He told me today when we talked via Face Time that he knows he will weep as he watches that bus pull away.

Those words are hard for a wife to hear from her big, strong man. And yet, I'm full of peace knowing that his tears will be a salty mixture of grief and joy. Both of us are shedding tears of sorrow this week borne of our deep feelings for Sarah. Of, course we love her...we're her parents and that's what parents do. However, we also really like Sarah. She is a wonderfully giving young woman whose love of Jesus shines from her face day in and day out. We will miss this special light in our home. We're grieving the mere thought of her being nearly 8,000 miles away. We will miss her.

At the same time, we're also weeping tears of joy as we say our good-byes. You see, we've been on a 14-year journey with this precious girl. It was in late 2000 that the Lord began to nudge each of our hearts independently. His prod? Older children in Russian orphanages needed homes.

That nudge took us into an arena we'd never planned to enter ~ the heart-rending theater of the world's neediest. Honestly, we entered the arena of orphan care dragging our feet. We were SCARED. We didn't know anyone who had done something this...radical. We wondered, "Are we crazy? We already have the perfect family." However, we couldn't deny the need. World-wide 143,000,000 children were fatherless.

In the end, we decided to adopt one Russian child between the ages of five and eight. Then we read, "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if one of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11) We knew the Lord was leading us to add a brother and sister. But as it turned out, that wasn't His plan either. When we finished the required home study, our adoption agency told us they had the perfect children for us. There was just one catch. There were three of them.

Double our children from three to six? Surely this was just to much for God to ask. We wrestled and prayed and wrestled some more until we turned to looked at the cross. Jesus died for our sins. He gave up His life that we might have eternal life. Could we do less than our Saviour had done? It was time to surrender our plans. It was time to deny self and take up our cross. We told our agency yes, we'd adopt the two sisters and their little brother.

On the first day that international flights returned to service following 9/11, we were in the air. We were about to become parents to three kiddos who didn't speak a word of our language, three children who'd only known abuse and neglect. But God had said feed my lambs. So we went, whispering, "We love you, King Jesus. We'd do anything for You. Even this. Oh, help us pleeeease, God!"

With the thud of a gavel in a Russian court room, Zhenya, Sarah and Matthew, ages eight, seven, and five, became our forever children. And thus began our day in and day out care for Sarah that will culminate tomorrow in her launching out on her own in Africa.

When we came to the conclusion 14 years ago that it was up to us to care for the orphans the Lord would put in front of us, Mr. R and I didn't enter the orphan care arena to simply provide food, clothing and shelter. We chose to adopt because we had a story to tell. We wanted to share the best news in human history ~ Jesus' life and death and resurrection ~ with kids whose life in an orphanage was likely to keep them from ever hearing the great good news of God's gift of redemption and salvation.

We also had a dream. Our hearts' cry was that some day these former orphans would want to tell others about Jesus' love, about His free gift of saving grace. So Sarah's trip to work in an orphanage in Africa didn't really begin last week. It is a journey that began nearly 14 years ago. And we send her off into rural Zambia with tears of joy. Because this former orphan wants to tell orphaned children about Jesus.

Sarah's Russian name (now her middle name) is Svetlana, which means light.

God is so good.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

No Photo...Only a Sweet Memory

Denise Reynolds:

Last night as I was upstairs working on yesterday's post about Mr. R and Sarah's safari in Zambia, the sweetest noise was drifting up from the kitchen. Hope (age 12) and Eliana (age 10) decided to make sugar cookies. I could hear them giggle their way through the preparation of the dough and the baking of the one batch of 12 cookies that all their effort yielded.

I was concentrating so hard on posting photos of cheetahs and giraffes and zebras and wildebeest that I didn't hear the precious young bakers enter my bedroom. A stifled giggle from the duo broke my concentration. I then turned to look at my two youngest daughters. They stood hand-in-hand holding a plate of decorated Christmas cookies wearing enormous grins. They giggled again and broke into "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." The cookie elves offered me one of their dozen treasures and then slipped out of my room. As I went back to work on my computer, I heard the faint sounds of them going from room to room where their older siblings were doing high school or college studying. At each stop, the girls sang their course and delivered a Christmas cookie to a brother or sister. Ahhh...the friendship of these two former orphans who are now sisters is such a sweet gift from our good God!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More of Sarah's Wild African Adventure

Denise Reynolds:

Today Sarah and her daddy had an unexpected blessing. They were able to go on a safari! They reported to us via Face Time that they traveled about 50 kilometers on very rough roads from Lusaka to a preserve of about 4,000 acres.

While they were in transit, monkeys ran in front of their vehicle just like deer would in most of America.

Our happy girl just before the big adventure.

The vehicle in which they traveled. 

Mr. R texted me, "Gad gave us the chance to see cheetahs, hyenas, pumas, wildebeests, gazelle, zebras, storks and an elephant."

Here are the photos they texted us:

They were told the wing span of a stork can extend more than two meters!

They couldn't remember the name of the species, but the gazelle pictured here lives only in Zambia.

This preserve had a one additional elephant ~ a baby ~ but it died two months ago. I can't imagine what it is like to lose an elephant!

Mr. R and Sarah were startled to witness the worker grab the tail of a cheetah. Apparently he was trying to "herd" a group of them closer to the vehicle. Better him than me!

I'm biased, but this my favorite picture of the day.

Sarah and her daddy are experiencing a culture landscape and animal population that is so vastly different that that which they are used to. Our God is marvelous in His creativity.

I sure love these two!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sarah and her Dad's Journey to Zambia

Denise Reynolds:

All of these photos were taken by our daughter Sarah. I'm posting them for her due to the challenges of getting electronics to cooperate during international travel. Even with those challenges, our whole family is so grateful to God for the advances in technology. Sarah texted these photos to me using an free app called "What'sApp", and it looks like I'll be able to share them with you through this blog post. Amazing! When Mr. R and I married, cordless phones didn't even exist!

Sarah and her Dad left Omaha on Saturday night.

Chicago as they were preparing to land.

A very tired world-traveler in the Dubai airport after a 14-hour flight.

I think father and daughter look marvelous for all they'd already been through!

There was not doubt that Dubai's culture was unlike the upper midwest in the USA!

After a 12-hour layover which allowed for a short night's sleep in a hotel near the airport, Sarah and her daddy were on there way to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. This is a view of Dubai from Sarah's plane window.

And this is the view from the air as they left the Middle East headed for the southern part of the African continent.

The Lusakan landscape as their plane prepared to land.

Sarah's short-term tourist visa. The people with whom she will work at the orphanage will help her to obtain a longer term visa, Lord willing.

Sights as they entered the city.

Sarah texted that she was disappointed that she failed to get a photo of the bike rider carrying two goats in baskets on the back.

My beloved and our dear daughter showered and ready to see the city by foot and get some dinner. 

We thank God for His tender mercies in allowing their travel to go so smoothly!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Learning to be a Mommy

More on William's birth day coming soon. Until then, here's a photo I love of Alison's in her first hour of being responsible for a new life.

To God be the glory!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Zambia Bound!

Mrs. R:

Since she was adopted from Russia at age seven, our daughter Sarah has dreamed of working in an orphanage. Even before Sarah was fully fluent in English, she began to articulate that she wanted to return the love and care she'd received. She has also dreamed of telling children without hope about the eternal hope she has as a child of Jesus. Sarah longs to share the good news that her Savior loves little children and even has a special place in his heart for fatherless children (James 1:27, Isaiah 1:17,18).

Although a desire to work with orphans has been in Sarah's heart for years, for a long time she didn't have a sense of where the Lord might be calling her to serve. All that changed last year. Sarah and I attended the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) Summit in the spring of 2013. At this international gathering of those involved in all types of orphan care, Sarah had a rare opportunity. She was able to meet and talk with both Zambians and Americans involved in caring for the fatherless in the AIDS-ravaged Zambia. Sarah's heart was won! She left that encounter crying tears of joy. The puzzle was solved. She knew the Lord was calling her to serve in the African nation of Zambia.

And today, after months of preparation, the day to begin chasing her dream arrived. Sarah left our home packed for a four-month stint. The three of us were in agreement that working there for four months will give her enough of a taste to see if she wants to return for a longer stay.

Here is a link to the the orphanage where she will be working: Kazembe Orphanage. If you click on the "Our Children" tab, you'll see some of the children with whom Sarah will be working. Apparently four-year-old Peter, pictured on that page, has been inquisitive about the new teacher. Sarah was told that he asked, "Is she a kind Sarah?" Our daughter is very tickled that she will be working with the toddlers and preschoolers.

We'll miss the sunshine Sarah brings to our home. She is a walking smile that brightens each room she enters. Sarah laughs often and readily welcomes others into her sphere of happiness. She looks for the bright side when problems occur and is eager to serve when opportunities present themselves. 

Sarah's love of Jesus has given her a tender heart for anyone whom she senses is suffering. She cries especially easily over the plight of orphans.

Knowing how the Lord has knit our Sarah together, we share her excitement over the opportunity that lies before her. Sarah's dad has worked with her during the past year or so to help find just the right place for her to care for fatherless children in Zambia. Today all of us made our way to the Omaha airport to see her off. Her daddy will see her all the way to Zambia.

Since the two of them were traveling internationally they had to arrive at the ticket counter three hours before flight time. An upside of this requirement is that there was no line in which to wait.

Once Sarah and Mr. R were checked in, Sarah focused her attention on making sure her electronics were ready. The two have a long trip ahead of them. They flew from Omaha to Chicago. as I write this they are on a 14-hour flight from Chicago to Dubai. That flight alone is 7,521 miles! They'll have a 12-hour lay-over in Dubai and then fly to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. Whew!

After topping off her phone, Sarah called her oldest sister Anna to say good-bye.

Soon Sarah had switched from traditional phone service to Face Time so that she could watch the antics of her nieces. 

Finally, though, the long wait following check in was over, and it was time for Mr. R and Sarah to make their way through security in order to board their flight. We each had the difficult task of saying good-bye to Sarah.

As happy as she is to finally be following her dream, the goodbyes were heart wrenching for Sarah as well. Tears fell on both sides.

As those of us who are staying home walked through the parking garage, we had this view of the plane our loved ones were on. It felt surreal to know what an incredible adventure lies ahead for this much-loved father and daughter team! I'll update our readers as I get news from the other side of the world. Your prayers would be much appreciated.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lost Posts: Watermelon War

This past year has swept by so quickly that I've missed some significant moments in the life of our family. Tonight I share 2-year-old Brielle's interactions with summer's classic icon.

Ultimate winner of the Watermelon War? Brielle!

Friday, October 10, 2014

An Exceptionally Happy Moment


This week has held so many joys for this grandmother. One of the reasons for my bliss has been having Alison's older sister, Anna, here for the birth of the family's newest addition. Anna's husband, Aaron, kindly offered to take four days off from work to care for their little girls. Even though her daughters are in such capable hands, Anna has really missed the duo. Thanks to today's technology, however, she has been able to "see" them several times a day. Here two-year-old Brielle had just enthusiastically chirped, "Hi, Mommy!" upon seeing seeing her mama as Anna held her nephew in Alison's hospital room.