by LAUREE PURCELL
In the summer of 2015, Ben and Krista Ham looked back on their seven-year marriage and knew they were ready for their child, but they needed help.
After much prayer about whether to pursue fertility treatments or adoption, they started researching both international and domestic adoption options and eventually chose an agency in Seattle to help them adopt a child from China. Unlike some countries, the adoption process in China is stable with lesser risk of extortion or unreasonable delays. A social worker from Northern Virginia visited their home, reviewed their medical history and checked for criminal background.
The adoption process was scary and expensive for Ben and Krista, but their parents, extended family and church community supported them emotionally and financially. Active members of Church Downtown, a contemporary Baptist church that meets in Staunton’s Visulite Theater, Ben and Krista formally announced their intent to adopt on Orphan Sunday in November 2015. Their pastors gave them a chance to share their story and kicked off a fund drive to help them cover $30 to $40,000 in adoption expenses. In the following months, Ben and Krista sold starfish charm bracelets, homemade wreaths and Christmas ornaments. In addition, they applied for 15 grants from non-profit organizations and received two.
The adoption process was an eye-opening experience that changed Ben and Krista’s focus from their need for a child to an orphan’s need for a family. According to Krista, China’s international adoption program is a special needs program since about 2007. Special needs range from minor to more moderate or severe. All Chinese orphans become ineligible for adoption when they turn 14, and they are forced to leave the orphanage when they turn 18—often with little education and few skills to make it on their own. Chinese orphans are stigmatized and cast aside in the public schools, so it is difficult for them to get the educational opportunities they need. Their orphan status is often made clear by the last names the orphanages give them. The 2500 Chinese U.S. adoptions each year represent only about two percent of orphans in China.
“He was always meant to be our son and this is just how it worked out for us to get to him.”
After a home study, the federal government approved their paperwork in January of 2016. They submitted their 99-page dossier to the Chinese government and became eligible to accept matches from China. There were lots of bumps along the way, and their church community lifted them up in prayer each time. Sometimes Ben and Krista became discouraged by negative conversations that cast a dark cloud, but “we prayed through it, and God quenched those fires,” Ben explained.
Of the Chinese children now eligible for U.S. adoption, about 72 percent are boys. The youngest are usually over two years old, and Mason was three when Ben and Krista first read his adoption file on the Rainbow Kids website and knew he was their son. The University of Virginia adoption clinic reviewed his medical file to offer insight about his special needs, any medical concerns and expected prognosis. Because of a brain bleed during premature birth, there are a few unknowns surrounding his brain and heart, but he is thriving. In September of 2016, Ben and Krista sent their letter of intent to adopt Mason. China approved the adoption in December 2016, and then, in February 2017, the U.S. government approved their request to bring him home as their child. Once China issued their final approval, the Hams bought their plane tickets. Everyone at Church Downtown sent them off with prayers before they flew to China in March.
The two-week trip in China was far from a vacation. They arrived on a Saturday, and his primary caregiver dropped off Mason at their hotel room the next day. She cried as she slipped out. “We’re lucky his orphanage was a really loving, supportive one,” said Krista. “He cried for about 45 minutes, but he has not openly grieved since.” By the next morning, the family had bonded, and they felt as if they had always been Mason’s parents. He had been abandoned when he was a week old, and no one knows the identity of his birth parents. The orphanage had named him Qiu (pronounced “chew”). So now he goes by Mason Qiu. For the next week and a half, they went with four other families to appointments and meetings to take full custody and obtain U.S. passports for the children. With long car rides, many meetings and stays in unfamiliar hotels, the trip was tough on Mason. He was just as happy as everyone else when the long plane ride to Virginia was over.
With a great smile that lights up his face, Mason seems happy and well adjusted since coming to his new home. He and his parents are communicating well despite lacking a common language, and he’s quickly picking up English words and phrases such as “I love you.” He’s a little overwhelmed with all his toys and prefers helping Krista and Ben with housework and yard work over less structured play. He sticks with Ben as they mulch and weed the yard. Krista wants to encourage and nurture his strong work ethic and gift for hard work so he will always be a good citizen. When they give him something to eat or drink, Mason tries to give them some, too.
In a process called cocooning, Ben and Krista are limiting the number of people Mason sees at first to help bonding. Mason will remain at home with his parents until near the end of this school year. The Augusta County school system, where Ben and Krista work, has allowed both parents to take six weeks of adoption leave to help him adjust to his new life. His grandparents will care for him for a few weeks before summer vacation, and then he will attend Cambridge Learning Center in Stuarts Draft in the fall.
A truss engineer, Ben teaches manufacturing engineering at Stuarts Draft High School and is the faculty advisor for the Technology Student Association. They participate in competitions all over Virginia. Krista teaches sixth grade language arts at Stuarts Draft Middle School and is chair of the language arts department. They have been married for nine years.
Their advice to those who are considering adoption but are apprehensive is “Go for it!” Krista and Ben agree the blessings of having Mason far outweigh the challenges they faced. They stress the importance of doing thorough research. They had worried about how they would afford the adoption costs, but that has worked out with time. In addition to the fundraisers, grants and help from their family, Ben got a call from a former engineering employer asking him to design trusses from home in his spare time. They consider that extra income to be an answer to prayer.
Their faith has been strengthened as each roadblock was removed through prayer. “We surrendered our fears to God, and he intervened,” said Ben. “This child is such a perfect match for our family,” adds Krista. “He was always meant to be our son and this is just how it worked out for us to get to him.”
LAUREE STROUD PURCELL serves as an editorial consultant for Living. She and her husband Steve have two daughters.