Adoption agency celebrates 40 years of operation
Q: Why did you start this ministry in the first place?
DENIESE: Well, Jerry is a visionary, and I'm the stick in the mud. And he definitely had the idea. He had the vision long before I did, and he caught it because he happened to go to a Rotary meeting and he happened to meet someone who mentioned Korea and orphans there.
JERRY: How do you really know how it started? Because I would say it started when I was five when my dad died and how through adversity and pain in our life God speaks to us in our readiness and His timing. And when that converges -- for me it happened that day at Rotary. The timing could not have been worse. We had never discussed adoption work.
So as we began to realize in our life how the Holy Spirit invites us to join Him, looking back, I can say now during that moment at Rotary it was God through the Holy Spirit inviting us to join Him with these orphans.
Q: How much of a spiritual decision was it to do this, especially over against what some people would say sound business?
DENIESE: Oh, I think it was. We prayed a lot about it … When we finally realized that this was not going away, we couldn't forget about it. Then we wanted God to be that partner with us if this was supposed to be.
And that calling was very strong, but I think we limited it because we thought if we helped 100 children over a period of five years, that we would have done a great thing. And in the second year of operation, we placed more than 600 children. So we realized that God had other things in mind and that we needed to step back and get out of the way and let Him do them. Some of those things that came to mind with that calling was that a lot of children needed to stay with their birth parents.
And then could they be adopted in their extended family or in their country of birth? How much better that would be, but not to grow up in an orphanage? And then if we brought children to this country, we needed to have families really prepared to understand that this child was never going to look like them.
So we realized how very limited our thinking had been in terms of after the child comes home, all of the things that we need to have families prepare for and that we needed to be prepared to serve those children and their families.
Q: Forty years ago, international adoption was really sort of new territory, wasn't it?
DENIESE: It was. And we really had to ask that question, are we taking families away from local children? And what we discovered as we did our research that there were a lot of agencies placing children domestically and that there were not very many that were looking outside the boundaries of the U.S. So what happens to children around the world? You know, we felt that there were children that were waiting and waiting and waiting, and no one was looking at those children.
Q: Tell me the story of the first adoption. What do you remember of the first placement, the child, the family?
JERRY: Revell family.
DENIESE: Buck Revell is a big guy, and he meets us in Seoul, Korea, and meets his little girl for the first time and she's maybe 14 months old and she's very tiny. I have never seen a more sensitive, careful touch that he had with that precious little girl. And she just seemed to know that he was her daddy right then.
JERRY: Korean Airlines 747. They put Buck up in the 747 in the upper level, and I went up there. It has an open area and there he was on the floor with a blanket with her, this big guy. I mean, 6 feet 5 inches, 290-pounder, and this little baby. Her stomach was hard as a rock, malnourished, and to see that tenderness of Buck saying, ‘If you do it, I want to be the first -- we want to be the first to adopt and then to see and hear about her life growing up.’ That family was so close and so tight.
Q: What would you want the people 60 years from now to know about the first year of this ministry being in operation?
DENIESE: I think that I would want people to know that it was a calling and that it felt very much that it was God’s idea, and we let it dawn on us as we could, and it unfolded to be so much bigger than we are. We realized very early on that it was much bigger than we were.
JERRY: God always provides a backup plan in a father/mother role, whether it’s adoption or whatever. He will provide us the wise counsel through others, through the Scripture, through prayer, through combination of our interaction and our pursuit of our love for each other and love for Him and what is – to please the one who loves us the most is our Heavenly Father.
And so that first year for us was one of discovering just how intimate He is in all of life's issues when we feel that we are called to do something that we are not able to do. We can't rely upon our ability, our knowledge, our professional skills.
Q: When you see orphan children, what stirs your heart? What motivates you?
DENIESE: I think as a parent you see your own child, and you think this could be our daughter, this could be our grandson. And your heart then is connected with the desperation of that child or children. And you can't escape that emotion of ‘I've got to do something.’
It's a compelling thing and I think that a recent experience I had in a very bad orphanage, one of the worst I have been in, was that it was silent. There were no cries. There was no laughter. It was a big orphanage with more than 200 children of all ages. And it made me almost ill to walk through it because there was not any sense in crying. Nobody was going to come.
And my heart was so heavy, and I wanted to touch every child and say, ‘Jesus loves you, Jesus loves you,’ and then it dawned on me that He was already there. And He was there with those children and because of my overburdened heart, I thought, ‘I'm paralyzed. I can't even think what to do or how to help.’ And then the realization that He's already there made it possible for me to think more clearly what can we do, how can we be a voice, how can we make things better for these children.
JERRY: Deniese and I always wanted to have a large family. We wanted to adopt -- as anybody in this work has a desire because you go in an orphanage and they have these children tied down on a long bench on the toilet because of toilet issues. I mean, changing diapers, they don't have the staff to do it or children line up in baby cribs, some of them eight or nine years old, handicapped, and they're hanging over. And you walk in and they're reaching for you. You want to do something more than anything you can do.
Q: Through the years as the ministry has evolved, you've added components ranging from education, life skills training and humanitarian aid as support -- why is that? Why not just be satisfied with saying, well, we're an adoption agency. That's all we do.
DENIESE: Well, I think it's important that a country knows that we're not just interested in taking children from their country. We're there to serve the children of, say, Vietnam. International adoptions ceased for the U.S. in Vietnam. So we could no longer place children in that country, but we had a commitment to more than 400 children.
Our commitment has continued all these years since the adoptions have closed, and those children -- some of them are now in vocational schools. They're in college. And we are following those. We know when they're making their grades. We know when they graduate and we celebrate with those children. So that commitment needs to be there because we don't want to just walk away when adoptions stop.
Q: ‘Until every child has a home,’ what does that mean?
DENIESE: Well, it's something of a mission statement in itself that we really can't rest until every child has a home. And reality tells us that that's not possible, but there are such things as good orphanages and a child could have a good growing up experience with good caretakers that they could identify as a parent or someone who loves them.
So in the broad sense, we think that we have to keep saying that and doing that, making sure that our mission is fulfilled and paving the way for every child to have a home.
Q: If you think about the last 40 years and the number of children and then the number of families and so forth, Jerry and Deniese Dillon have literally affected and changed the lives of thousands and thousands of people. How do you respond to that?
JERRY: Well, to know that we've had a part in it and to know it's really God at work and we were privileged to be a part of that, we really can't comprehend it. It's overwhelming to try to comprehend the impact just in that one child and one family and to think of it as thousands of it. There's just no way to understand the extent of that.
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