Rachael and Ryan McCleary of rural Holmes City with their twin boys, Burka and Buche. The boys were adopted from Ethiopia and this was the first time Rachael and Ryan held the boys. Contributed photo
Rachael and Ryan McCleary, of rural Holmes City, had no doubt about their twin sons. The very first time they set eyes on their twin boys, Burka and Buche…they were their sons.
Rachael always had the desire to adopt a child, and Ryan’s call was ignited during his mission trip to Haiti in 2010, after its devastating earthquake. The McClearys are members of Lake Community Church, and the couple, along with their five biological children, waited for the moment when adoption would become real.
“I told Ryan, we can do this. Adoption is a beautiful thing,” Rachael said. Soon, the God-moments that brought two little twin boys from Ethiopia to the McCleary family, began.
The Adoption Process
It had been a desire of Rachael’s for more than 10 years. The process for Burka and Buche’s arrival to the family took a little over one year. Rachael and Ryan began with the Bring-Love-In (www.bring.love.in) ministry, which was started by Levi and Jessie Benkert. The ministry pairs widows and orphans with a “forever family” and is based out of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Extreme poverty is the root of children becoming orphans in Ethiopia. Rachael and Ryan began the relationship with Bring Love In, who referred them to Wide Horizons Agency (whfc.org), a worldwide adoption agency that began in 1972 which has placed close to 13,000 children from nearly 60 countries into forever homes.
Rachael McCleary holds Burka at the ophanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Contributed photo
Rachael and Ryan’s paperwork included background and financial checks, as well as meetings with a social worker, before making their first trip to Ethiopia. “Lots of meetings, endless paperwork,” Rachael smiled. Through the paperwork the family was matched with Burka and Buche, who had been in an orphanage for a year. “It was suggested that we put down two children, not one, which was our original plan,” Rachael said, continuing, “We met the criteria of what they were looking for. We have five biological children, and when we put down that we would accept two, it was just a God-moment because that brought Burka and Buche to us. It was meant to be.”
“The minute we saw their picture, they were ours, and it was meant to be that they are our sons. Although they were 2 years old, they were only 13 pounds,” Rachael explained. The entire McCleary family, including Zachary , Amanda, Hannah, Grace and Greta, journeyed to Ethiopia and spent a week with Burka and Buche. Tears were shed as they had to leave on an airplane without them…after spending a week together and bonding as a family. The adoption process would take another long month, until the boys came home to Holmes City, Minn.
“They have been a gift for our family since their arrival,” Rachael said with tears in her eyes. “Christmas Day in Ethiopia is Jan. 7. And on that day, Jan. 7, 2011, we found out that the boys were ours to adopt. The final steps would begin.”
The McClearys had to wait for the United States Embassy in Ethiopia to complete the adoption paperwork, get passports, do medical testing, and make the arrangements for Rachael and Ryan to appear in a court hearing to finalize the process. At the end of June 2011, it was time for the couple to make their trip to Ethiopia…and bring their new sons home.
The boys were small and fragile.
Buche came home to Minnesota in a cast. His weak, fragile body took a tumble right before departure, and he broke his leg. “The flight home was the longest 30 hours of my life,” Rachael smiled. The 30-hour flight was a scary thing for two little boys. Rachael said the boys had a language of “toddler talk” between them, as twins often do, and, “We knew a handful of words from their national language, yet we had to rely on body language, facial expressions, talking with their eyes, and a lot of prayer. That is what bonded us immediately. It’s amazing how quickly they picked up English,” Rachael explained. “It was definitely God working when Buche broke his little bone while still in Ethiopia. He had to be very dependent on me, from the beginning. Of the two, he was the more independent one. The amazing thing is, God knits families together, we bonded immediately. The twins were our boys immediately.”
“Adoption is a beautiful thing,” Rachael said. With tears brimming over her eyes, she added, “It’s painfully beautiful, yet involves so much heartache because another mother is either no longer living, or is unable to care for her child, or children, because of the extreme poverty, lack of health care and medical needs, hard labor and lack of education. When I got home with my twin boys I knew I would have to do more. I was asking myself, what is causing all the pain, what is the answer. I need to focus on Ethiopia and find a way that I can help.”
The countryside near Addis Ababa. Contributed photo
Rachael knew she had to do something. While Rachael and Ryan were in Ethiopia in 2011 to adopt their twin boys, they met Jerry and Christy Shannon who started Embracing Hope Ethiopia which has a focus on the poor, on children and orphans who live in a section of Addis Ababa known as Kore’ (or Korah). This area of the city is very poor and is known as a forsaken place. “Kore’ began decades ago as a leper colony, later becoming the site of the city trash dump and now has become a slum of 120,000 residents, many of them the poorest of the poor,” Rachael explained. “Kore’ does not have running water and most live under a tarp or in a mud-room house,” Rachael explained. Jerry and Christy Shannon moved to this region about six years ago. The ministry and mission of Embracing Hope Ethiopia includes a day care center and school, a skills center and a missionary training center. Rachael continued, “Mothers that are served at Embracing Hope Ethiopia were previously begging…bringing their children into dangerous work and environments, unable to work and being trafficked.”
Rachael continued, “The mission of Embracing Hope Ethiopia is to partner with God, individuals, and the local church, in ministering with the poor, orphans and vulnerable children (and their families) of Ethiopia using compassionate, holistic practices that promote sustainability, transformation, community, and Christian discipleship which invades all areas of life for this and future generations.”
Carrying out the mission…
In July 2015 Rachael and her mother, Linda Linde, of Alexandria, traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on an Embracing Hope Ethiopia vision mission trip with One Child Campaign (www.onechildcampaign.com), which facilitates short-term trips that specialize in connecting individuals, families, churches and communities to strategic ministry partnerships around the world.
“Jerry and Christy Shannon helped us put this trip together,” Rachael explained. Rachael asked her mother, Linda Linde, to travel with her. Linda also had the call in her heart and was eager to go. “I wanted to see and learn about the culture of my new grandsons,” she explained, adding, “It was also a call from Jesus. It was amazing to witness the unconditional love of the people there. They called me ‘a-mama’ and respected and treated us all with love.” Linda witnessed the work of Jesus as she was there. “The kids are pure joy; their faces are pure joy, all in the midst of extreme poverty and poor living conditions.” While in Ethiopia, Rachael and Linda stayed at a guest home provided by Stay Holy Savior(stayholysavior.com).
Rachael and Linda participated in Bible studies with mothers and children during their mission trip. They also met people from the mission, Out-of-the-Ashes (out-of-ashes.org), a ministry to help women and children escape from exploitation and rescue women and girls from the sex trade, prostitution and slavery, creating a brighter tomorrow.
The work will continue
Rachael sees and understands the beauty of adoption, and yet wants to assist in prevention for those mothers who love and want to raise their children. “I want to connect with those mothers. I want them to know we can work together. These moms love their children. Mothers wish to raise their children. I want to help in any way we can…to help them regain their dignity.”
Rachael now takes care of the online store founded by Jerry and Christie Shannon. The online store sells products that the moms at Embracing Hope Ethiopia have made, such as baskets and paper bead jewelry as well as T-shirts. There are also many products in the store that you can buy to give to a family in Ethiopia, such as a Bible in their language.
Another ministry that Rachael is involved in is His Kids Orphan Ministry at Lake Community Church in Alexandria. HKOM is a ministry that gives grants to Christian couples that are in the adoption process. It’s a great way to come alongside local families that are pursuing adoption.
Meanwhile…in the McCleary household…
Rachael home schools her children, and the couple’s oldest children are in college, Zachary is attending UMD in Duluth, and Amanda is attending Mankato State University. Hannah, Grace and Greta continue their education while the family twins, Burka and Buche have embraced exactly what 6-year-old boys embrace. They love French fries and they have caught up physically in size to other boys their age. The undernourishment of their beginning life has disappeared.
“They are a perfect match and meant to be a part of our family,” Linda said. And, as a proud grandmother of all the McCleary children, she smiled, “They are so smart.”