In his book No Little People, Francis Schaeffer wrote that “in God's sight there are no little people and no little places. Only one thing is important: to be consecrated persons in God's place for us, at each moment.” For four years during the 1990s WORLD annually ran a set of features with specific examples of Christians who were doing God-glorifying things out of love and obedience but without recognition. We continue that tradition in this new series on people who glorify God by serving others without getting any money or publicity in the process. —Marvin Olasky
Kurt and Vicki Johnson decided early in their marriage they would let God decide how big their happy family would become. The answer was six children, now ages 7 to 18. But as the door closed to Vicki’s child-bearing, God opened a place in their home for one more child, a 2-year-old special-needs girl from China they’ve named Hope Evangeline.
On Nov. 8, Kurt and Vicki, ages 49 and 52 respectively, traveled to China to bring home Hope—her Chinese name is Ying—to South Carolina. The trip concluded a nearly two-year process of seemingly endless forms and fees required by U.S. and Chinese adoption authorities, investigations into their income and family life, and inspection of their house and finances.
The idea of adoption was birthed through an adoption fair billboard on her daily drive, an adoption support group notice she saw in the local newspaper, and a newly opened adoption agency near their home, Vicki said. She estimates it was about the time Hope was conceived.
“We’d all be sitting together as a family, and it seemed someone was missing around our table,” Vicki remembers. “I’d say, is everybody here? It seems like someone’s missing.” In a family of eight, headcounts are routine, but the feeling of a missing child when all are present seemed otherworldly to Kurt and Vicki. They felt God was up to something.
As they explored the possibilities, their options narrowed to international adoption and finally to China. There the Johnsons’ age and the number children they have were not barriers to adopting an orphan with special needs. Vicki collected notes from the family to Hope in a shoebox, along with nickels, dimes and dollars that the children contributed to help pay for the adoption. Kurt said the children knew the process is a financial burden and wanted to help. The Johnson’s extended family helped with the fees as well, which cost around $30,000.
The most challenging form was called “The Desired Child,” which listed special needs from mild to most extreme. Kurt and Vicki had to choose the special needs they felt their family was best suited to care for. Most of the descriptions were in medical terms neither understood, so they consulted with their pediatrician.
Based on their answers, they were presented a baby girl with a hemangioma, a birthmark growth on the side of her face. Then came a five-month wait for final approval, “a hard wait,” Kurt said. “They originally told us from two to three months.”
A week before leaving for China, Vicki took a call from a social worker with the adoption agency who said Hope may have other issues along with the hemangioma. They didn’t understand until they showed up at the orphanage in China, where the institutional environment had deprived Hope of 6 months of development.
Without the nurturing touch of arms to hold her, eyes to bond her, and a voice to soothe her, the 2-year-old Hope was left to interact with crib mates or invent ways to occupy herself. Kurt said the room contained 30 or more cribs lining two walls with a double row down the middle. Each crib was occupied except the one left empty by the little girl in his arms. “It broke our hearts,” Kurt said.
They stayed in China for two weeks filing more paperwork, getting a guided introduction to Hope’s Chinese culture, and taking a tour of Guangzhou, where she was born. Best of all, they spent time getting acquainted with their new little girl.
Hope could only eat formula out of a bottle. “She wasn’t eating finger foods or anything [else],” Vicki said. The first day and night she refused to take the bottle from them. By morning they were concerned and Kurt was ready to call their guide when Vicki discovered Hope would only take the bottle lying flat in her crib.
“She grabbed it and gulped it down,” Kurt said. So they began feeding her everywhere but the crib—laying her flat beside them, on the couch, on the floor—and touching her, “trying to get into her world.” That was the beginning of small steps to teach them more about Hope and build her trust in them.
Friends and family met them at the airport when they arrived home Nov. 21. Everyone, including the children, keeps a respectful but reluctant distance. Following the advice of others who have adopted orphans from China, Vicki devotes herself to Hope and to her gradual integration into the Johnson household.
To wean Hope from her bottle, Vicki has tried to get her used to a plastic spoon by touching it to her lips and face, which delights her. Then she adds a little pureed food.
“We celebrate small victories,” Kurt said.