Opening hearts, homes to Ethiopian children

Toys flew around the playroom and six children laughed as their Tinkertoy towers tumbled to the floor in David and Mendy Henderson's home in Harrisburg.

It was a simple play day of bike riding and sidewalk chalk before the kids packed up their book bags for another school year.

But for two of the children, all this is new.

About a month ago, 5-year-old twins Garemew, who now goes by Garrett, and Tizita, now called Tia, were living in an orphanage in Ethiopia.

But now they're part of the Henderson brood, which includes the Henderson's four children: Megan, 14, Kaylee, 13, Jacob, 10, and Lindsay, 6.

Now Tia has tea parties in the pink bedroom she shares with Lindsay, and Garrett shows off an Ethiopian flag above his bed.

"My bed!" said Garrett, pointing in the room that he shares with Jacob.

He had shared a bed with three other children in the Ethiopian orphanage, where children sat on the floor to eat and do their schoolwork.

The Hendersons are part of a circle of families who have recently adopted children from Ethiopia.

David Henderson is the lead pastor of University City Fellowship, a church that meets at Jay M. Robinson High School in Concord.

After several church-sponsored mission trips to Ethiopia, some church members felt compelled to help further after they saw the poverty of the African nation and the countless children living in orphanages because their families couldn't afford to feed them.

Several other families from the church have adopted from countries across the world, including China, Guatemala and Romania. Overall, about 20 adopted children attend the church with their families.

Focus on Ethiopia

David Henderson selected Ethiopia as a country in which the church would focus some of its missionary work about five years ago.

In 2006, church members Trent and Carmen Post of Charlotte went to Ethiopia to see the sports camp ministry the church planned to support.

It was on that trip that the Posts met Kalkidan, a bright-eyed, 3-year-old girl who would eventually become their daughter.

The young couple had talked about adoption, but soon after they returned from Ethiopia, Carmen Post learned she was pregnant with their son, Gavin.

It wasn't until after another mission trip to Ethiopia and another visit with Kalkidan that the Posts realized she was meant to be with them, they said.

They brought her home on Christmas Eve in 2007 when she was 5 years old. She'll turn 8 this month.

On her first birthday in the U.S., Kalkidan's new family threw a party for her. She opened present after present.

"She had no idea the gifts she opened were hers," said her mother.

The Posts said they're open and honest with Kalkidan about her adoption and her heritage.

"She's never had to question or not know where she came from," said Carmen Post, who was also adopted.

The family has made several trips back to Ethiopia, and last year, they visited Kalkidan's birth mother, who was a 14-year-old living on the streets when she gave birth to Kalkidan.

She showed Trent a makeshift tent made from a tarp on the street.

"That's where she was born," she told him.

Continuing mission

The need to help children has gripped several church members.

Church members Renae and Ross Mull of Kannapolis are in the process of adopting an Ethiopian boy. They're hoping to have him home by early November - just in time for his second birthday.

"We decided this could be the way to get our family started," said Renae Mull.

Tim and Robin Rhodes of Charlotte returned home in August with an 8-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy adopted from Ethiopia.

"Our house is big enough, and certainly our hearts are big enough," said Tim Rhodes.

Another couple who attends the church, Lonnie and Angela Clouse, have sold their Harrisburg home and plan to move to Monterey, Mexico with their three children to work with Back2Back Ministries, a organization that cares for orphaned children.

The Posts are planning to soon move to Ethiopia to work as missionaries.

Learning all the time

The Henderson family traveled to Ethiopia in June for a court appearance required for Garrett's and Tia's adoption, and by early August, the twins were at home in Harrisburg.

They took turns riding bicycles with their new siblings last week, gliding down a small hill into the cul-de-sac where the family lives.

They had never ridden bikes before, and they're still learning. As Tia came down the hill, she tried to stop but tilted the bike, sending her tumbling. Her dad swiftly scooped her up off the ground, and she was soon back on the bike.

The twins started first grade last week at Harrisburg Elementary School, where they'll be enrolled in English as a second language courses.

They shouldn't have much trouble fitting in. Their wrists are already decked out in Silly Bandz, the popular rubber band bracelets that form shapes.

Garrett pulled one off his wrist. It was the shape of a "G."

"G for Garemew," he said, pointing at his chest.

The twins are quickly learning English, and the rest of the family has learned several phrases in Amharic, the language the twins spoke in Ethiopia. They frequently say "gobez," which means "good job."

Mendy Henderson said keeping the twins' attention is difficult because they're surrounded by so many new things.

"They're curious about everything," said Mendy.

Goal is to help children

As white parents with black children, the families aren't immune to confused or disapproving looks from strangers.

Tim Rhodes said he's become more aware of those looks.

"I'm not looking for disapproval or approval," he said.

David Henderson said people have debated with them about whether people should adopt children of a different race.

The Posts have a simple answer.

"God doesn't see color," said Carmen Post.

Even Kalkidan has been asked by her classmates why her parents are white. Her mother said they've talked with her about her adoption, so she'll know what to say when people ask questions: "Because God chose my parents."

The parents said they're often asked why they chose to go through with international adoptions rather than adopting children from the U.S.

Their goal is to help children everywhere, they said.

"My god is not a Charlotte god, a Concord god or an American god," said Trent Post. "My God created the world."

David Henderson said their decision to adopt wasn't based on the trend of adopting children from other countries made popular by celebrities. It was based on recognizing the poverty and vulnerability of children and knowing they could do something to help, he said.

"This isn't some suburban adoption club," he said.

Back up on her bicycle last week, Tia braved the hill one more time.

"Brake," warned her dad as the momentum carried her down the hill.

Her brow furrowed in concentration, Tia spun the pedals backward, bringing the bicycle to a slow stop.