After Rits and Pearl returned to the United States their lives filled with more children, more ministry, and a constant stream of people in and out of their home to care for. Their experience in Africa and with Moses caused them to live with open doors and open hearts, instead of closing down in fear and disappointment. They ultimately adopted two little boys from Korea after the Korean War, adding them to their six biological children. (Ah, but those are miraculous stories for another day.)
The Tademas always had room for one more around the kitchen table, if everyone would scoot over a little bit. Pearl could add another cup of broth to the soup and set another cup of dark coffee out without feeling a smidge inconvenienced. Their attitudes were passed along to their children who blessed them with forty-five grandchildren. Twenty-three of those grandchildren were adopted with miraculous stories of their own. (Like I said...stories for another day.)
In 2003 Rits and Pearl’s daughter Laura called with an announcement. “Mom, I’m lonesome for Moses. I am praying that we can find him and get in contact with him.” Laura had been young when her family left Africa, but she couldn’t shake the memory she had of carrying around the little boy she called brother.
Pearl was surprised by her daughter’s determined idea. Her response was realistic but as usual, acknowledged God’s ability to work miracles. “Wow, Laura. I don’t even know if he is still called Moses or if he is alive. If he is alive, where would he be living?” Pearl’s mind processed the possibility as she spoke, “For forty-five years we have had no contact with him…" Then Pearl’s voice took on her familiar faith filled laugh, “But, I guess God is a mighty magnet and can find any needle in however old a haystack.”
Having Moses as part of the Tadema family hit an unforeseen glitch early on.
Moses was from the Ion tribe and Rits and Pearl were living with the Tiv tribe. The Tiv and Ion tribes had a history of strife and conflict. The tribes did not mix and tensions ran high between them. Rits and Pearl were hopeful that including an Ion baby would be an example to the Tiv people. It was not a smooth start. The Tiv people, who were learning about the love of Jesus, struggled as they watched a starving Ion baby join the loved missionary family. They were learning of an unconditional love that knew no barriers and stretched far, to all who sinned and fell short. They had heard the words of the missionaries that this Jesus was for all sinners and some had even accepted Jesus and chose to follow Him. Yet they couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that the same Jesus could be for a Tiv person and an Ion person.
Rits and Pearl’s hired housekeeper was a Tiv boy named Akaa. He had recently declared his belief in Jesus and was seeking to follow Him. He drew the line with Moses. After watching the scene play out in front of him, he announced to Pearl that he would not be washing Moses’ diapers. He told her with great disdain, “His ancestors were cannibals and ate my ancestors. It is not right for me to wash his diapers. I quit!”
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.
We were discussing James 1:27, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you,” when my prayer group friends gave me a new perspective: “It doesn’t say caring for orphans will immediately fix their distress. It doesn’t say ‘bring them to your clean life and they will live a clean life, too’. It says to care for them in their distress. I suppose that means we are bringing trauma and distress into our homes when we welcome those in distress.”
God commands us to care for orphans and widows. His love pours out of His people, making them able and even passionate to care for children that have been overlooked or uncared for.
There are many Scriptures that describe how God adopts us–giving us His blessings, His legacy, and His inheritance. Earthly adoption is often compared to God’s adoption of us. “We want to adopt because God adopted us.” While this is true and a beautiful example that points to God’s ability to redeem and call us His own, it is also flawed.
I had just pulled Haley Kate out of the bath and perched her on the counter while I brushed her thick dark hair. She was the inquisitive age of three. She was chatting up a storm and playing with her belly button when her curious eyes met mine.
“This bellybutton had food?”
I could see she was recalling a conversation I had with the older kids about food traveling through an umbilical cord to nourish an unborn baby.
“Yes, there was a cord with food going straight into…” I playfully poked her tummy, “there!”
“Me and Everett were in your tummy? Then we were just-born-babies? Both of us babies?” She cradled her arms like she does with her dolls.
I hesitated, realizing quite suddenly that the direction of the conversation required a truthful but gentle response.
“Yes, Everett grew in my tummy. Haley honey, do you remember that God gave you a different mommy’s tummy to grow in? You grew in another mommy’s tummy–“
Her eyes widened. Indignantly she protested, “No! I not WANT that Mommy’s tummy! I only want YOU!” As though by voicing her objection, she could change her history.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...