The moment Kristin and Will Banker saw Tariku, they knew he was their son.
Their introduction to Tariku, then a 7-month-old boy in Ethiopia, was through photos and a file created by their adoption agency outlining his story. The couple began the process to adopt a child from Ethiopia almost two years before receiving the “referral,” or match.
It was about four months before the family met saw the boy in-person and almost 18 months before the adoption was finalized, but the Bankers never gave up their fight to bring their son home.
“I keep pinching myself,” Will said as he looked at 2-year-old Tariku. “He’s finally here. He’s home.”
A revelation while traveling
The couple adopted their first son, Ethan, at his birth in Pensacola in 2008. Ethan’s adoption was quicker than most, taking just six months. The Bankers knew Tariku’s adoption would process would be longer, but believed it would take only about a year to bring their child home.
In the summer of 2009, the Bankers hosted a boys choir from Kenya through their church.They fell in love them, and their “eyes were opened” to the bleak outlook for the large number of orphans in the area, they said.
“Most children who need a family don’t make it to their fifth birthday,” Kristin said. “If they age out of the orphanage, the outcome is not good.”
Kenya does not have an international adoption program, but Ethiopia does for 5 million children without families, Will said. Kristin felt a calling to adopt, and with time Will did as well.
“When God tells you to do something, you just do it,” Kristin said.
But as they looked into international adoption their minds began to change. A new policy in Ethiopia required prospective adoptive parents to make two trips. The extra cost and time required for travel seemed too much.
“We prayed long and hard about it,” Kristin said.
They started to switch their paperwork to a domestic adoption. But as Kristin traveled home to Santa Rosa Beach from a Christian adoption conference in Minneapolis, a series of incidents convinced her Ethiopia was where they’d find their child.
“I had an appointment with God,” Kristin said.
The airport shuttle from her hotel was full, so Kristin hired a taxi. The driver, who was supposed to end his shift 45 minutes earlier, was from Ethiopia. As they talked about her desire to adopt from his country, he gave her his phone numbers in Ethiopia and Minneapolis in case she changed her mind.
Before she boarded her plane, Kristen overheard a grandmother and granddaughter discussing their seats being separated on the flight. Kristin, who was sitting next to one of them, switched seats so they could be together. One of the boys sitting in front of her new seat had a picture of Africa in the colors of the Ethiopian flag on his shirt.
She missed her next flight in Atlanta, and as she sat at the gate she began talking with a young woman. Her son turned out to be adopted from Ethiopia.
After talking with Will about her experiences, they decided to speak with his boss about the time and money needed for the international adoption. He eased their fears and they decided to continue.
“Every blessing had been answered,” Will said.
Hope and disappointment
They underwent their home inspection and scrambled to compile their dossier, a collection of notarized legal documents to offer a detailed look at them as prospective adoptive parents.
By September 2010, everything was in order and the wait began for a referral. They requested a child or siblings younger than their son, who was about 2 years old at the time.
In January 2011, they received their first official referral. As they looked at the picture of a beautiful little girl, they sensed something was wrong.
“I just knew it wasn’t my daughter,” Kristin said. “It’s hard to explain.”
She was close to Ethan’s age, but developmentally she was older. They wanted to keep the birth order of their family intact, and decided to turn down the referral. They made their peace with the decision, confident the little girl would find a family.
“The last thing you want to do is say no to a child,” Kristin said.
The Bankers continued their wait, and in July 2011 Tariku’s referral came in. It was love at first sight. They could see him as part of their family.
“That’s Ethan’s smile,” Kristin remembered thinking. “Those are Ethan’s eyes.”
International adoption in Ethiopia must be approved by local courts with the prospective parents present. The Bankers traveled to Ethiopia for their court date in November 2011. They got a chance not only to meet Tariku, but to hold and feed him.
But at the hearing they learned that letters approving the adoption from the southern region of Ethiopia where Tariku is from had not been sent. Everything came to a halt.
“We’re sitting here feeling like our hands are tied,” Kristin said. “How do we advocate for our child?”
Perseverance pays off
The Bankers returned home, redid all their paperwork, updated their home studies and developed a plan. As days stretched into months, they banded together with 14 other families experiencing the same halt, met with members of Congress and raised awareness.
They watched Tariku grow older through photos and videos in their monthly updates.
“It was heartbreaking missing out on all those milestones,” Kristin said. “We’re making up for it now.”
Last December — 13 months after their first visit — the adoption finally passed in Ethiopian court. The Bankers decided to go to Ethiopia about three weeks before the embassy approved the adoption to spend time with Tariku. They secluded themselves in a guest house and got to know their son with a “strong personality.”
They also went to Tariku’s village. His mother disappeared shortly after giving him up for adoption, but they met his birth grandfather. They gave him an album of the photos they had of Tariku and took some of their own photos to show Tariku one day.
The grandfather described Tariku’s early days and learned about the Bankers.
“God created Tariku for your family,” he said through an interpreter.
They finally made it back home in early January. Their new life as a family of four has been an adjustment for everyone, but they’re settling in to a new kind of normal.
“He fits perfectly in our family: Loud and proud,” Kristin said of Tariku.
Their adoption journey was long and full of ups and downs, but the Bankers said they would do it all over again.
“These are gifts from God,” Kristin said. “They’re his kids. Whatever you have to go through, it’s worth it.”