November is a month used to highlight adoption–the need, the stories, the celebration. I'm often asked where my passion for adoption, fostering, and helping kids in trauma stems from. There are many things that shaped it, the first being the legacy of adoption in my family. I've compiled some of the stories within our family and hope to have the vision and focus to turn it into a book at some point. Since it's not taking book form at this time, I'm posting one here that shares how my grandparents became adoptive parents.
I figured after tragic, heartbreaking world news this week we could use a bedtime story that reminds us of God's faithfulness. Here it is. Part 1 of the Moses Story:
Pearl DeJong was a strong Dutch farm girl from Washington State. She was bright, practical yet filled with dreams, and ambitiously ready to serve Jesus. She milked cows while dreaming of far off countries. She devoured books about missionaries, specifically White Queen of the Cannibals about Mary Slessor telling natives in Africa about Jesus, and Johanna Veenstra, Pioneer Missionary to Africa which was about a woman from Pearl’s own Christian denomination going to Africa alone. After completing high school in three years, driven by a goal to become a medical missionary in Africa, she began school at Calvin College. Her dreams and future fueled her determination to work hard in college and stay focused.
Pearl’s idea of how her life would play out began changing when she wasn’t accepted into medical school. The schools were inundated with GIs applying during the 1940s and there was no room for her in the program. The news came and derailed the future she imagined. She had been so certain that it was God’s call she was answering and working towards. Deflated, she was at a loss. Her already deep faith required that she trust God’s hand was still at work and yet she didn’t have a back up plan. Her goal as medical missionary was the plan she had thrown all her efforts into.
Life took another unexpected turn when she was swept off her feet by a Dutch immigrant who had moved to the U.S. to attend Calvin College. Rits Tadema was passionate about theology and working hard to get a handle on the English language. He quickly noticed Pearl and wooed her by inviting her to a Reformation service (quite the setting for a first date). She was intrigued and accepted. He brought a pocketful of peppermints for them to share through the service. She hid a smile when she realized they were Tums, not peppermints. She spared his pride, respectfully ate them and her intrigue in him grew. They were equally smitten. Shy glances and anti-acid treats grew into a courtship.
Soon they were hoping to share Jesus with others together, although he dreamed of Alaska while she dreamed of Africa. Their differences were many–she was in her element milking a cow, he was in his element with books and theology. She painted images with paints and brushes, he painted images with words. Her native tongue was English and his Dutch. All of these differences paled next to what they had in common–they found a deep bond in their love for Christ. Their passion for Jesus manifested quite differently. Rits was known for fiery zeal. His loud, reformed conviction was broadcast through research and sermons. People flocked to hear his messages on repentance and obeying God’s Word. Pearl was marked with deep compassion, expressive worship, and sweet intimacy. Her easy hospitality and ability to integrate the love of Christ into every conversation caused people to flock to her. It was the meshing of the two that would define the Tademas. They were married the next summer.
Pearl’s dreams were wrapped up in big ideas for serving God, for sharing Him with unreached people, and travel. She never planned on growing a large family but after she and Rits were married they had three girls in a row. It seemed God had His own big plans of how she would invest in her own children and build a home grounded in Him.
The Tademas believed each child was a gift from the Lord. They celebrated every pregnancy and birth. Beginning ministry filled their time but not their pocketbooks. They refused to fret over the matter. Instead, they celebrated their children and never believed life would be easier or better with fewer. Being stretched was an opportunity to build dependance on Jesus, not give in to doubt and fear.
Rits and Pearl went from school to full time ministry with their growing family. They began pastoring a church in Everson, Washington. Pearl's dreams of missions and Africa were once again were placed on the back burner as they settled in a small, conservative farming community much like the one she grew up in. After college and big goals, it was a strange and not-so-exciting twist to suddenly be back in a town growing a family so similarly to the way she grew up. Pearl trusted the Lord and believed it was His will to follow and trust her husband as he led the way. The Everson church was bursting at the seams as people gathered to hear the Dutch preacher who spoke so directly about surrendering to Christ. They saw that Rits and Pearl didn’t merely deliver the message. They lived it.
It was there in the tiny town of Everson in the 1950s that Rits and Pearl were given an opportunity to go to Nigeria as missionaries. When the opportunity presented itself and they were able to go to Africa supported by their own denomination, they seized the dream. Pearl was elated. It wasn’t the way she had originally dreamed of going as a single medical missionary but now she would take her family and follow her confident, tall husband across the world. Their doctor told them they were naïve and foolish to take their young family to a malaria-infested foreign country but they believed the opportunity was from the Lord and He would take care of those details.
The Lord had not forgotten the passion He had planted in Pearl years before when she was a young girl. It had been dormant, and Pearl had accepted it might not be realized. This time around Pearl’s passion had become Rits’ and he was ready to lead the way. They sold their belongings and kissed family and friends goodbye. They left for Africa with three small blonde daughters and their first son growing in Pearl’s belly.
They were quite a sight–white and domesticated contrasted against the wild landscape and the natives' ebony skin. But although Pearl was blonde and beautiful, she was also six feet tall and incredibly capable. Certainly the natives saw what transcends language and culture–a hardiness formed through discipline and work, and a laughing smile with kind, perceptive eyes formed through wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The hard working farm girl was able to transfer her practical skills to a remote African tribe. People found her approachable and she used every opportunity to love and teach Jesus. Rits preached, trained, learned yet another language, and made a way for them among the Tiv tribe. He did what many missionaries at the time did not–immersed himself in the culture instead of expecting the tribe to conform to his ways.
It was there in 1956, in the quiet remote village far removed from civilization, that adoption began in the Tadema family. It began not as a sought out process, not with official paperwork, and not with preparations typical of an arriving child.
It began quietly with a man and an elderly woman arriving, holding a six-month-old baby riddled with scabies, a starvation belly and toothpick arms. His skin was blue-gray and his eyes stared into space, oblivious to the events unfolding around him.
The man and woman explained to empathetic, nurturing Pearl that his mother died in childbirth. His aunt had been nursing him along with her own baby. When her own baby died of malaria, she blamed her sister’s baby. Their tribe believed every death is caused by another person. The aunt had pinned the crime on her infant nephew. It was the only way she could rationalize both the baby’s mother and her own child’s death. She refused to feed him, standing by with milk in her breasts while he starved. The tribe was grieving and the scapegoat child was dying.
Pearl didn’t focus on this baby as unwanted, or the hopelessness of his already starving, sunken cheeks. She knew him to be a beautiful child of God, with purpose and potential. Determination set in. Full of faith for what God could do in this little one; Pearl used an eyedropper full of milk to feed him. She stayed up through the night to keep working at filling his little belly. Initially, he had no energy or suckle left to drink. She wiped up the drops that escaped and trickled down his cheek, determined to get some ingested.
With prayers and in the quiet as she held him close, Pearl chose to call him Moses. It was fitting as he had been rescued from the bush for God’s purpose, just as the Moses of the Old Testament had. She bonded with him as she fed him milk hourly using the dropper. She prayed for him, believing for his future and for restoration of his health.
When Moses was able to drink from the eyedropper, Pearl got creative. She taught his grandmother how to trick Moses into drinking a bottle by offering her own breast and then slipping the bottle in. It worked! He was gaining strength and had enough fight in him to keep eating. Pearl was sure they could now return to their village with Moses on the road to health. She had grown attached to the little boy fighting for life but also knew she had done what she could do to help in his situation.
The next day Pearl prepared to say goodbye to little Moses. She explained to the man and the grandmother that he was ready to go back to the village. Instead of receiving her instructions to care for him, the man and grandmother placed Moses into Pearl’s arms. They explained that the village refused to take him back, still believing he was a curse. It was matter of fact and already decided- Moses would not be returning with them.
Pearl was surprised and devastated for vulnerable, innocent Moses. She tried to explain that this struggling little boy had no part in the deaths of tribe members. She tried to reason. Her protests were unheard. The tribe was determined and they were completely closed to having Moses return.
It then became clear they hoped the missionary family would take him in. As they relinquished Moses to her, sorrow for the malnourished baby gave way to delight that she wouldn’t have to give up the sweet boy she was already falling in love with. In an instant she was a mother all over again. In her arms was a baby she had already bonded with, and his name had even been chosen. His story was unfolding and the Tadema family was a privileged part of it.
Rits was on a trip eighty miles away at the time, and came home to a new son and a family delighted to raise him. It seemed to be decided that he would become part of the family, and Rits was an easy win. Moses became an unofficial Tadema.
The Tademas nursed Moses to health and put salve on his scabies until he was a chubby, smiley baby with shiny black skin. He was doted on by three older sisters, kissed on by adoring parents, and believed for by a family who refused to reject him. The family joked that he’d never learn to walk the way the girls always chose to carry him around. He was a “twin” to Rits & Pearl’s oldest son, Clifford who had also been born in intense circumstances in remote Africa. Cliff was tall and blonde, Moses was short and dark but none of that mattered to any member of the Tadema family. The boys toddled together, explored and caught bugs together.
Stay tuned. This one has a twist....
Just throwing myself out there a bit...