How far and how long can the love of family endure? For Rachel and Kerry Hein and their three young daughters of rural Hillsboro, it spanned literally thousands of miles, and endured five years of hopeful expectations stymied by bureaucratic disappointments and delays.
Love finally prevailed March 23, in a Washington, D.C., airport, when 4-year-old Kathy and her 3-year-old brother, Bo, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, fell into the waiting embrace of their forever family from Kansas.
“They pretty much didn’t let go,” Rachel said of their two newest family members. “They just hugged all of us, and knew we were mom and dad and (daughters) Malorie, Trudy and Nora. It was amazing. It didn’t feel real, to be honest.”
A seed is planted
And for good reason. The journey began in January 2010, as Rachel and Kerry watched coverage of the devastation caused by an earthquake in Haiti.
“We saw pictures of kids who had lost their parents, or had no homes,” she said.
That weekend, when the couple was on an anniversary trip, Kerry turned toward Rachel and said, ‘When we saw those pictures on the news, didn’t you want to bring one of those kids home?’”
Rachel admitted at the time the thought hadn’t crossed her mind.
“But over that weekend we talked about having the space in our house, we felt we have resources to take care of another child,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we give somebody a home who didn’t have one?”
At the time, daughter Malorie was 6, Trudy was 4 and Nora was 1.
“We decided this was God just planting the seed, and it might happen in the future,” Rachel said.
Not long after, friends of the Heins adopted a child. Rachel and Kerry began researching international adoptions, focusing on countries as well as agencies. In June 2012 they contacted A Love Beyond Borders Adoption Agency based in Denver.
“We felt comfortable from the beginning with them,” Rachel said.
The couple chose to adopt from Congo because they were told it was a nine-month process—shorter than most—to receive a child, and they only had to travel to the country once.
“We were wondering about leaving behind our other three kids, and we’re not world travelers,” Rachel said.
Kerry said their faith commitment was prompting them to take action.
“We wanted to be part of God’s bigger plan for everything,” he said. “We wanted to give somebody hope that didn’t have any hope. We also knew the death rate of kids in Congo was really high—50 percent of kids don’t pass the age of 5.”
The Heins then moved from the research stage to the paperwork stage.
“It took us about six months to gather all the paperwork, get our home study done, gather documents, get a blood test, fingerprints and all the rest,” Rachel said.
Stage 2 was complete by mid-fall. In December, the couple received word they were matched a Congolese boy named Zeus.
“Six weeks later he passed away,” Rachel said. “That was heartbreaking. The girls call it the day Mom cried. I cry a lot, but that was like real crying.”
The couple stepped back for a month to rethink their reasons for adoption.
“We were talking to our agency again, saying we’re not sure, but we’re thinking we might move forward,” Rachel said. “All of a sudden, they sent us a picture of another boy.”
But there was more to it.
“The week before that, two things happened,” she said. “One, I had a dream, and in my dream I was on the phone, yelling at the agency, ‘What about the sister? What about the sister?’ I thought, that’s weird.”
The next week the agency sent the Heins a file for a boy, and the couple had already chosen the name “Bo.”
“We started looking at the paperwork and at the bottom it said ‘sister Kathy,’” she said. “We’re like—what?
The next day, Rachel called the agency.
“I was put on hold a very long time when I asked about the sister,” she said. “Sometime later they said, yes, he has a sister named Kathy. Her paperwork got separated from him, which never happens.”
The agency offered to move ahead with Bo’s adoption, but the Heins knew what they truly wanted.
“We had processed our finances and said we’re going to trust God to carry us through—we felt like that’s what prepared us to make the decision,” Rachel said. “We said we would take both.”
By May 27, 2013, Kathy and Bo where legally adopted by the Heins in Congo.
“Our lawyer represented us over there so we didn’t have to travel for the court date,” Rachel said. “Their names were changed to Hein and they were legally ours.”
That summer, the adoption was approved in the U.S. as well.
Meanwhile, the Heins’ adoption agency called and recommended that the Heins travel to Congo to file paperwork because it would speed up the process.
“We were like, this isn’t what we wanted,” Rachel recalled. “We wanted to go once and get our kids. I couldn’t imagine leaving (Kathy and Bo) after seeing them.”
Rachel and her sister flew to Congo and spent a week with the children.
“It just felt so good to actually touch them, to hold them—things went really well that week,” Rachel said. “We didn’t have problems with them at all.
“When I left in tears, our in-country representative was saying, ‘one month, one month, you come back and get them one month.’ That’s what helped me through the next week when I was home and just missing them.”
But “one month” turned into many months.
Change of heart
By September, the process seemed to be moving again. The Heins had a visa appointment Oct. 3 and were advised to travel two weeks after so Kathy and Bo could acquire their visa to America.
At this point, all the Heins needed was an exit letter from the Congo government, and they would be set. They bought airline tickets for Oct. 20.
But on Sept. 25, Congo suddenly announced it was no longer issuing exit letters; no children would be allowed to leave until the government was sure the children were being assigned to safe homes.
“I still feel it was a power struggle,” Rachel said about the announcement. Congo said the suspension would last up to year, but a year passed with no action.
Another trip to Congo
In summer 2014, Rachel traveled to Congo to see and hold Kathy and Bo. But when she returned the waiting resumed. Weekly visits via Skype was their only link.
“Every once in a while, we would hear that some kids (in Congo) would get released on medical emergencies,” Rachel said. “A lot of kids were taken out of the country illegally, and whenever that happened it would stop things from progressing.”
Congo announced in September 2015 that it finally had a plan in place: The government would reevaluate every file; as adoptions were approved, the government would issue exit letters.
“We were very hopeful last summer that things were going to start moving—and then nothing happened until November,” Rachel said.
After issuing 69 exit letters, the Congo government announced it was done. Kathy and Bo were not among the 69.
“That was hard,” said Rachel, who was aware that around 1,000 adoption cases were backlogged in Congo, including 400 involving U.S. families.
In January 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives stepped in. A visit to Congo by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House resulted in a promise from Congo leaders that within 15 days waiting, families would see movement.
The day before Rachel left for D.C., Congo promised to issue exit letters for 150 more children’
“That was a huge victory,” she said. “Our trip really turned into ‘thank-you for what you did.’”
Unfortunately, Kathy and Bo were not on the list of 150 children.
Shortly after Rachel returned home, a second list was issued. Kathy and Bo were not on that list either, even though the Heins were told they should have been.
“It was really confusing and I was pretty much sick for two weeks,” Rachel said. “I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat.”
The good news the Heins had been praying for finally arrived in March.
“We got that news on a Friday and by the next Wednesday we were on an official list. Then we knew it was for real.”
Rachel, Kerry and their daughters traveled to D.C. for “a little vacation” before heading to the airport to unite their new family permanently.
The Hein family has been adjusting following the homecoming.
“They’ve been normal kids,” Kerry said about their two newest children. “They want to be played with, they want to be loved. They can’t speak a lot of English, so that’s one difference. But they’re just normal kids.”
Rachel said for some families, children adopted from Congo have had issues with food and sleep.
“They’re sleeping good and have eaten just about everything we’ve given them,” Rachel said. “The struggles other people are having, we’re not having.”
The Heins’ three American-born children seem to be adjusting well, too.
“I think the hardest part was going back to school and having to get homework done and missing play time with (Kathy and Bo),” Rachel said with a smile. “I think we’re doing pretty well now.”
As agonizingly long as their adoption process felt at times, the Heins say they have no regrets.
“There’s so many lessons I feel God taught us through the wait, that I can’t say I wish it had been different,” Rachel said. “I would have missed out on those lessons I had to learn through hard times, and just growing close to God.
“Another thing I’m very thankful for is the ages of our girls,” Rachel added. “They’re old enough to help and do things on their own. I feel like that’s helped me be able to focus on (Kathy and Bo) more.
“If we would have brought them home three years ago when they were 1 and 2, and these girls were three years younger, it would have been very different.”
The Heins also are grateful for the support they received from others.
“There have been a lot of friends and family supporting us in numerous different ways, especially in the past month or so,” Rachel said. “We want to thank all of them for helping us make this transition easier—it’s been a huge help.”