By Lauren Hollon
Twenty-two-year-old Natasha Potts flipped through her scrapbook, cleared her throat and began reading aloud nervously.
“I look back on the life I had before and I can’t imagine how it would have turned out if Mom and Dad never adopted us,” she said. “I have dreams that I never would have dreamt of back in Russia. I have grown, learned, expressed, and loved every step of the way that made me who I am today, thanks to this loving family.”
Natasha and her brother, Pasha, were adopted from a St. Petersburg orphanage at 12 and 13 years old. They were some of the lucky few.
After the age of 3, the chances of a Russian child being adopted are slim, said Natasha Votyakova, country director for Buckner in Russia.
“After 7, there is no chance,” she said. “I mean, it’s zero. There are no adoptions in Russia that are done by Russian families after the age of 7.”
Saturday April 2, at a reception that felt more like a big family reunion than anything else, families who adopted older children through Buckner’s Russia program met to share their journeys with other adoptive families and people considering adoption.
Tiffany and Garth Wilkins said they had longtime plans to adopt, but wanted to conceive a child first. They suffered a miscarriage and felt God moving them to pursue adoption.
After reading a story about the Angels from Abroad program and doing their own research, the Wilkins’ hearts were broken by the grim reality faced by young Russians after growing up in orphanages.
“After they are emancipated from the orphanage at 16 or 17, 10 percent of the kids commit suicide within the first three years,” Garth Wilkins said. “Forty percent turn to alcohol and drugs, and 40 percent fall into a life of prostitution or crime. As we learned more about it and got a little closer to the situation, we decided that’s what we wanted to do.”
They adopted Vlad five years ago at age 11.
“We really felt like we had always had him since he was little,” Wilkins said. “There’s just a supernatural fusion that takes place there.”
Last April, they added a 9-year-old girl, Sasha, to their family.
“All the children have different obstacles to overcome,” said Tiffany Wilkins. “But the second part of that is that as parents we have our own obstacles to overcome, and we bring our own issues into the relationship as well.”
They have grown, adapted and adjusted, and according to the Wilkins, it’s simply amazing how the children learn to be part of a family.
Adoption was never on James and Tracy Blakely’s radar. They met Dima in 2000 on a Shoes for Orphan Souls mission trip and felt a connection instantly.
They sent him mail and visited him once or twice a year for several years. They felt they were meant to be his family, and they adopted him seven years ago at age 11.
“Everything just fell into place; it was definitely something God had a hand in,” said James Blakely.
Children who graduate from orphanages face many challenges, and few of them can succeed in life without the support and guidance of a family.
“For older children, adopting them is really like giving them a chance in this life,” Votyakova said.
There are currently eight Russian children between ages 8 and 13 available for adoption through Buckner. To learn more, call 1-866-236-7823 or 214-319-3426, or read some of their stories here and here.
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