We were driven from Lomonosov, on the outskirts of St. Petersburg along the Bay of Finland, to our rented apartment which our Russian aid, Ilya, excitedly told us was on one of the more upscale streets in the heart of St. Petersburg. Indeed, the outside looked beautiful. But once we entered the building’s foyer, we had to step over puddles of urine left by the homeless to climb the marble steps to our home away from home. Once inside our apartment, we found a tiny kitchen, large great room, one bedroom and a loft.
During our first night, we discovered we were not alone. The place was crawling with cockroaches. My brother, who slept in the loft, found them in his bed and swatted them off his body all night long. It became routine to reach into the kitchen before entering and flip on the lights, watching the multitudes run for cover. We were too exhausted and focused on our business to care much. Our priority was getting a court date to adopt our kids in Russia, get Russian passports for each, catch a train to Moscow, secure visas, and get out of the country and back to the United States as quickly as possible.
God had other plans . . . plans for faith strengthening.
Before we could go to court for the Russian adoption, we needed clearance from Moscow. Children in the national adoption register needed a document certifying they had been in the system for the required amount of time before an international adoption could be finalized. Anna and Zachary met the requirement but we had not yet received the document. Consequently, we could not set a court date. All our Russian liaisons were unsuccessful in helping us procure the document.
One afternoon, we decided to go to the American Consulate for help. We piled into the back seat of our driver’s small car. Just a couple blocks away from the Consulate, our car was broad-sided by a garbage truck, shattering all the windows and covering all of us with glass. Miraculously, no one was hurt except for some surface cuts. We felt horrible that our driver’s car was so badly damaged being that he was a father of two, working a number of side jobs to put food on his family’s table. Police were called. Eventually, after what seemed like forever, they came and led us in the still drivable car with no windows to the station to file a report. There was no insurance. The car was a loss. We helped our driver to the best of our ability at the time.
The American Consulate made a number of calls to Moscow for us, trying to get our necessary signed paper. No such luck.
We began calling our Wisconsin state senator’s office to see if he would help. His office made several attempts. No luck. We were at the mercy of the Russian government—at the mercy of people we did not know and would never see. After the years of filling out forms, completing interviews, getting physicals, going to the police station to get fingerprinted, getting passports, waiting months to travel once we had chosen our children—it came down to this—one document, not signed, not sent. No document, no court date. No court date, no adoption. No adoption—the strong possibility that we would have to leave the country with no children.
Doubt set in. Had we heard God wrong? Were we not meant to adopt? Were we being redirected, after all this?
I opened myself to the possibility. I opened my heart to God and prayed . . .
God, we thought we were following your lead. We want to do your will. This door is too big for anyone to open and if it’s unopened, we will return home, empty armed. Is this what you want? Or, will you make a way where there seems to be no way? Will you intervene and cause that document to get signed and get faxed so we can go to court and adopt these two children of yours? We have exhausted our options. Our backs are against the wall and the clock is ticking. You are our only hope!
We missed our flight home. The situation looked ever more bleak. How does one know what to do when stranded in a foreign country with no guarantee that the government will cooperate and no guarantee that the children already in your possession will even remain in your possession? I had visions of having to take them back to the orphanage and leave the country without them. How could something so horrible be happening?
So we set a date with God. If we didn’t get that signed document by the date we set, by the time we set, we would return our children and leave the country. Never have I prayed so boldly. I wondered if it was even right to pray such a thing—to put God to the test like that. But we did. And we were open to whatever God had planned, even though we did not understand what was happening or why.
The days passed. We tried to live normally. We rode the subway and buses to grocery stores and learned even more Russian than we had learned prior to arriving. We cooked great meals and celebrated Zachary’s fourth birthday with cake and watermelon—a Russian tradition, we were told by Ilya. And we waited.
Day after day—no word. And then the final day arrived. Our deadline was 4:00 PM. The clock ticked and the hours passed and I never, ever wanted to stop time as much as I did that day.
And then . . .
We received a call. At 3:00 PM we received a call telling us that the document had been faxed and received and the document—was—signed! God delivered in the final hour! We were going to court to officially adopt our children!
Once in front of the judge, she questioned us about why we were changing the children’s names. Thankfully, our translator broke in and told the judge the name changes were in the best interest of the children because it would make assimilation into their new culture easier since their Russian names clearly identified them as Russian. I had to fight feelings of guilt for changing their names but then I remembered what each name means and found new strength and conviction. “The Lord has favored me.” “The Lord remembers.” Yes. The names fit perfectly.
After leaving the courtroom, official parents of Anna Christine Johnson and Zachary Charles Johnson, we were told that Russian international adoptions had just closed. Only those in court that day would go forward. All others were to be placed on hold. And we were the last case of the day on the court docket. Once again, God answered our prayers in the final hour and made a way for our children to come home with us. International adoptions open and close periodically in Russia, usually due to concerns about child welfare. This time, adoptions remained closed for two years and opened again right when we felt led to adopt again.
With adoption papers signed, we made reservations on a night train from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Arriving at the station, I felt like I was in some dark, old movie watching people coming and going on the train platform. Our Russian liaison, ever concerned for our safety, told us to be careful on the train.
“Lock your compartment and keep it locked.”
He didn’t need to worry about our compliance. I was hyper vigilant already.
As the train pulled away from the station, I wondered if we would ever see Ilya again. We had grown fond of him and he of us. Ilya walked a few steps alongside the slow moving train, waved, and smiled. We waved back and I felt deep gratitude for the constant care of Ilya through all our challenges. Swallowing hard, tears in eyes, I lowered the blinds and blocked the St. Petersburg night. We changed Anna and Zach into their pajamas and tucked them into the sleeper car’s pull-down beds. Moscow bound, Todd and I tried to catch some sleep ourselves.
Join me tomorrow for a harrowing story of challenges and last minute grace in Russia’s capitol city . . .