When Leah and Jerry Schwenke returned home from Korea with their son Jonas, it was the end of a journey that had started years before on the other side of the world. Of course, the family’s newest journey together was just beginning!
A long time coming
Ever since Leah was adopted from Korea at eight months old, she has known that Korean adoption was part of how she wanted to build her family. “It’s been a long time coming,” she said, adding that she has always wanted to have both biological and adopted children.
Likewise, the Schwenkes’ son Joel, 5, and daughter, Jaimee, 3, have known about adoption for as long as they can remember. Shortly after Jaimee was born, the Schwenkes decided that adoption was the next step for their family and immediately included their two children.
Waiting for a baby brother
Since adoption can be a difficult subject for children to understand, Leah and Jerry tried to explain it in kid-friendly terms. A baby brother or sister was waiting for them on the other side of the world, they said, and he or she was going to cry…a lot! The toddler sitting across from them at church was just about the same age their new sibling would be. Each night, they prayed together for “Baby Korea.”
Leah stuck a photo of Jonas on the refrigerator when the family received their child referral. Joel and Jaimee pushed up chairs so they could kiss it. Before his arrival, the siblings would wonder if Baby Jonas was getting up for the day as they got ready for bed. “He was definitely on their minds,” Leah said.
Jonas arrived home in 2012 at 18 months old. The first few months were challenging for the family as they dealt with the emotional and financial adjustments. After the first two months, Jonas began understanding English, which Leah called a “huge step for our family.” Now, he doesn’t get frustrated as quickly and can communicate through signing.
Besides adapting to a new language, Jonas also had to get used to having siblings—and sharing Mommy and Daddy with them. But just as Leah and Jerry were impressed with Joel and Jaimee’s quick acceptance of their new brother, the family has also been discovering the special way that Jonas loves and trusts his siblings back. “He follows them everywhere, copies them, looks to them for help and is accepting toward people they show love to.”
Seeing adoption from all sides
A Holt adoptee herself, Leah has a unique perspective as an adoptive parent. “It made me grateful for the whole process,” she said. She has come to appreciate not only her own parents’ love and sacrifice in adopting her, but also the compassion of the social workers and caregivers involved. “Sometimes you think of yourself as an abandoned kid, but a lot of people really loved me—and loved Jonas.”
For Leah, adoption shows her kids that they need to love everybody, including others who don’t have a forever family. Already, Jaimee has talked about going to Korea to get a baby when she’s a mommy, an idea that thrills Leah. “It would be so meaningful if they understood the importance of adoption,” she said.
The Schwenkes look forward to what the future will bring as they continue to learn about each other and welcome Jonas into their lives. “We’re excited to continue showing him our love and God’s love. We want to let him know that this is his family.”
Learn more about International Adoption through EVOLVE.