“So, are they brothers?” the woman asked. My wife Maria and I, jet-lagged from just returning from Russia, looked at each other wearily. This was the twelfth time since we returned that we’d been asked this question. When I looked back at the woman’s face, she had her eyebrows raised. “Are they?” she repeated. “Are they brothers?”
This lady was looking at some pictures, printed off a computer, of two one-year-old boys in a Russian orphanage, boys who had only days earlier been pronounced by a Russian court to be our children, after the legally mandated waiting period had elapsed for the paperwork to go through. Maria and I had returned to Kentucky to wait for the call to return to pick up our children and had only these pictures of young Maxim and Sergei, our equivalent of a prenatal sonogram, to show to our friends and relatives back home. But people kept asking, “Are they brothers?”
“They are now,” I replied. “Yes,” the woman said. “I know. But are they really brothers?” Clenching my jaw, and repeating Beatitudes to myself silently in my mind, I coolly responded, “Yes, now they are both our children, so they are now really brothers.” The woman sighed, rolled her eyes, and said, “Well, you know what I mean.”
Of course, we did know what she meant. What she wondered was whether these two boys, born three weeks apart, share a common biological ancestry, a common bloodline, some common DNA. It struck me that this question betrayed what most of us tend to view as really important when it comes to sonship: traceable genetic material.
This is the reason people would also ask us, “Now, do you have any children of your own?” And it is the reason newspaper obituaries will often refer to the deceased’s “adopted child,” as though this were the equivalent of a stepchild or a protégé rather than a real offspring.
During the weeks that Maria and I waited anxiously for the call to return to Russia to receive our children, I pondered this series of questions. As I read through the books of Ephesians and Galatians and Romans, it occurred to me that this is precisely the question that was faced by the apostle Paul and the first-century Christian churches. …
When Maria and I at long last received the call that the legal process was over, and we returned to Russia to pick up our new sons, we found that their transition from orphanage to family was more difficult than we had supposed. We dressed the boys in outfits our parents had bought for them. We nodded our thanks to the orphanage personnel and walked out into the sunlight, to the terror of the two boys.
They’d never seen the sun, and they’d never felt the wind. They had never heard the sound of a car door slamming or felt like they were being carried along a road at 100 miles an hour. I noticed that they were shaking and reaching back to the orphanage in the distance. Suddenly it wasn’t a stranger asking, “Are they brothers?” They seemed to be asking it, nonverbally but emphatically, about themselves.
I whispered to Sergei, now Timothy, “That place is a pit! If only you knew what’s waiting for you—a home with a mommy and a daddy who love you, grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and playmates and McDonald’s Happy Meals!”
But all they knew was the orphanage. It was squalid, but they had no other reference point. It was home.
We knew the boys had acclimated to our home, that they trusted us, when they stopped hiding food in their high chairs. They knew there would be another meal coming, and they wouldn’t have to fight for the scraps. This was the new normal.
They are now thoroughly Americanized, perhaps too much so, able to recognize the sound of a microwave ding from forty yards away. I still remember, though, those little hands reaching for the orphanage. And I see myself there."
It is very depressing to think that there are children like these all over the world, as you are reading this, who have also not seen the sun or felt the wind. Who have not been loved or comforted when they cried. And who may never hear the name "Jesus."
But there is hope in knowing that we have the ability to change that.