The crowd waited patiently at the international arrivals gate, holding signs and posters, whispering to each other and frequently shifting left or right like a giant caterpillar. A group of 50, young and old, eagerly awaited their first glimpse of the little girl. Four young women donned the letters of her name on their T-shirts: E-L-L-A.
After more than an hour of bated breath, gasps and sighs, the crowd finally saw them—two weary but glowing parents and one happy little girl, sitting on her mother’s hip while waving to the crowd. The terminal erupted in cheers; it was a special moment more than 13 years in the making.
The McDurham family finally was home.
David McDurham is young adult minister at First Baptist Church in Arlington. His wife, Amy, is a mediation facilitator and an adult, family and couple therapist in the church’s counseling center.
After 10 years of infertility treatments, the McDurhams “wrestled with God” and came to the conclusion they were supposed to adopt.
From that point, they embarked on what they call a faith journey toward international adoption.
That journey brought a series of turnarounds, wrong-way signs and detours. Initially, they planned to adopt from China through Buckner International. But when the waiting period increased to more than five years, they began to question whether China was God’s will for their family.
“There’s a much bigger picture here,” Amy McDurham said in an interview two years ago. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get what that is.”
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Now she knows.
The McDurhams believe God’s will for their family was realized in April 2008, when they received the first photos of their daughter—a beautiful, smiling Ethiopian girl. And it was further confirmed with a climactic 3 a.m. phone call from their caseworker Oct. 13, telling them their court date passed and their paperwork was complete. Eleanor Yanet McDurham was legally theirs.
Less than three weeks later, the couple arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“I just can’t believe that we’re in the same city as her,” David McDurham said aloud, almost in disbelief. The moment they were waiting for finally had arrived.
The next morning after their arrival, the McDurhams bounced in the backseat of orphanage director Tegist Mesfin’s truck as they traveled down a long, uneven dirt road toward the Buckner/Bright Hope Baby Home in Addis Ababa.
They passed roaming goat herds, donkeys and horse-drawn carts along the way until the truck pulled up to a wrought iron gate before a towering peach-colored home. The sounds of children floated over the fence.
As soon as the gate opened, a rush of toddlers greeted the couple with hugs and kisses. The children spoke to each other eagerly, in rapid rhythmic Amharic, occasionally mentioning her name: “Yanet.”
The McDurhams wound their way through the orphanage and up a narrow staircase toward the nursery and their daughter.
“Oh my goodness, she’s even more beautiful in person!” Amy. McDurham cried out as she rounded the corner.
Sitting in the middle of the room, amidst a row of cribs and bright colorful pink walls, was the little girl the McDurhams had prayed for more than 13 years before. Her curly brown hair was braided, and she was wearing the purple birthday dress they sent her weeks before.
Mrs. McDurham laid down on the floor next to Yanet in effort to warm her up, but it was too much for the shy little girl to handle. So, she swept her into her arms as Yanet’s caregivers looked on from across the hallway. Each was smiling.
“The only way I can describe that moment is surreal,” her husband said. “After being childless for so long, it almost didn’t feel real.”
The first few days with Ella Yanet were tough, Mrs. McDurham said. They had been warned that Yanet was a bit “reserved,” but that seemed to be an understatement. The McDurhams struggled at first to get their daughter to even smile.
“I never really worried about her not bonding with us,” Mrs. McDurham said, even though she admitted it was more difficult than she expected.
The McDurhams spent the first few days with Ella Yanet, leaving her at the orphanage overnight. It wasn’t until they took her back to spend the night in the guest home that she finally began to blossom. Within a couple of days, she was feeding herself, laughing, smiling, waving to strangers and playing peek-a-boo with her mom and dad.
“Tegist kept saying: ‘Who is this child? I don’t know who she is!’” David McDurham said. “She just transformed. Tegist said she was waiting for her parents for her personality to come out.”
The McDurhams spent two weeks in Ethiopia, bonding with their daughter and soaking in the Ethiopian culture. One final appointment with the U.S. Embassy sealed their future as Ella Yanet received her U.S. visa.
“It took a while to overcome the sensory overload” in Ethiopia, McDurham
said. “But after we were there for a week, I felt very comfortable.”
Children in Ethiopia are orphaned for many reasons, but among the most prominent are AIDS and poverty. There are an estimated 4.8 million orphans in Ethiopia.
Ella Yanet was orphaned due to poverty.
Ethiopia is experiencing the largest increase in U.S. international adoptions in 2008, from 1,255 to 1,725 adoptions in one year, according to the State Department. It is the fourth-most-popular country for international adoption, behind Guatemala, China and Russia respectively. Thousands of children live in desperate need of a family, and the country’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs is working hard to place them into homes.
Buckner has been providing adoption services for Ethiopia since January 2008 when the Buckner/ Bright Hope Baby Home opened. Buckner has placed three children into Christian families, including one older boy adopted to a family in the Dallas area, and seven families are in the adoption process.
Buckner also supports orphans in Ethiopia through community development programs, feeding and humanitarian aid distribution programs, foster and kinship care, a community development center in Bantu and short-term mission trips.
For David and Amy McDurham, bringing Ella Yanet home is both an end and a beginning. It’s the answer to 13 years of prayer, grief and hope. And it’s the beginning of a new phase of blessings and greater understanding of God’s provision.
“I’ve learned to trust God in ways I’ve never known before,” McDurham said.
Even their child’s name is a confirmation of God’s plan. Their chosen name, Eleanor Grace, seemed to match perfectly with their daughter’s African name, Yanet, which means “the Lord is gracious.”
“God has taught me to trust him because of who he is, not because of anything he has done or could do for us,” Mrs. McDurham said. “And that’s a scary thing. That’s scary trust because it makes you vulnerable.”
Now that she’s home, Ella Yanet represents a physical expression of God’s love. In many ways, adoption symbolizes God’s grace for each and every Christian, they reflected. All Christians have been adopted as God’s sons and daughters.
“You know, we’ve been through a lot,” David McDurham said. “There have been a lot of difficult times. But it really does all just fade away. There’s a payoff in the end.”
“We were there when we were supposed to be,” his wife added. “When you trust in God to lead you, you have to trust him the entire way. The illogical becomes logical when you trust God and when you’re doing what God wants you to do.”
To read more about David and Amy McDurham’s adoption journey to Ethiopia, visit www.beafamily.org.