Liberian Orphans Find Homes in North Carolina
Over the past 23 seasons, Oprah has met hundreds of families and heard many heartwarming stories, but she says this is one of her all-time favorites.
In 2003, Lysa, a North Carolina mom, and two of her daughters attended a performance by a boys' choir from an orphanage in Liberia, a West African country ravaged by 14 years of civil war. As they sang, Lysa says she felt God speak to her heart. "[He said,] 'Lysa, two of those boys are yours,'" she says. "I did not go there for a major life change. I went to hear this concert, but God had different plans."
After the concert, Lysa and her girls met two of the boys. "They wrapped their arms around me and gave me a big hug and they just called me Mom," she says.
Lysa called her husband, Art, and told him about the teenage boys who were calling her Mom. Although Art says he was initially "shell-shocked," the couple decided to welcome the boys into their home.
At first, Lysa says her four best friends were skeptical about her decision to adopt…until they went to a choir performance and met the boys. "As they started to sing, something happened," says Genia, Lysa's friend. "I just realized that there is a strength in them that resonated with me."
Genia and her husband, Rob, already had two adopted children, but after some thought and discussion, they decided to welcome Robert, another Liberian orphan, into their home. Lysa's three other friends also decided to adopt—including empty-nesters Debbie and David, who adopted six kids!
That fateful concert was just part of the miracle that was about to happen. By January 2007, 14 families from the same North Carolina community had adopted 33 children from the same orphanage.
"We're not famous. We're not wealthy. We're just ordinary people," Lysa says. "Yet when these boys were in front of us, it was no longer a remote social issue. When you see this child in front of you that has real tears and real hopes and real prayers for a mommy and a daddy, we just couldn't walk away."
In the two years since Oprah first heard their story, eight more families in the community opened their homes to 11 more children—a total of 44 children, with more on the way!
The Schwag-Heart family is the largest family of the bunch. They have a total of 10 children and are waiting for their 11th child, a Liberian boy, to arrive. "I have always desired to have a large family," says Sonya, the mother of this blended family. "I think from a very young age, God instilled in my heart that adoption would be part of that large family."
When Bob and his wife, Elizabeth, decided to adopt in 2008, they traveled to Liberia to meet their two children for the first time. There, Bob says he was struck by how much they had in common. "I was overwhelmed first by a sense of, 'Wait a minute. This is not different at all. These are people that are just like me.' They happen to be living in a post-conflict country, but we play the same," he says. "We like the same things. We can talk about the same things."
The families all say they've gone through an adjustment period, but the Liberian children are thriving. In June 2009, 10 of the adopted teens graduated from high school. Many plan to attend college, while others continue to work in the community.
"You all continue to inspire a nation—our country and everybody else who's watching—about what it means to extend your heart in kindness and graciousness and open up to a new family," Oprah says.