LIVE OAK (FBW)—A childcare assignment on a 2008 mission trip to Haiti has become a lifelong commitment for the Herrington family in Live Oak.
To Phillip Herrington, pastor of First Baptist Church, their adoption of young Jack is a living picture of the grace of God.
“As believers, we are adopted into God’s family by grace, and we can extend that grace to this little boy,” he said.
Herrington’s wife, Cristina, was part of a medical mission team from First Baptist that traveled to Haiti in January 2008. With no medical training, she counted pills in the pharmacy for a short while before being handed a “limp, lethargic” child, a new arrival at the Cabaret Orphanage in Bercy.
Although his grandmother and aunt, who left him at the orphanage, said he was three months old, the Cabaret staff suspected he was older, but malnourished.
“She handed him to me and said I was his mommy for the week. He was completely my responsibility,” Cristina Herrington said. “I thought, ‘No, not me. I don’t do babies. I don’t have a nurturing bone in my body. He is too sick.’ The list went on and on in my head.”
But, remembering the key to mission trip success—flexibility, she took the child in her arms and “immediately fell in love with him,” she said. After one week in Cristina’s care, the tiny boy was sitting up and trying to smile.
As her week in Haiti drew to a close, she began to fear for the life of the boy the orphanage staff called “Jack Jack.” She wondered who among the busy staff would make sure that he ate peanut butter, the only food he would take.
“Sadness overwhelmed me. I had fallen in love with this little Haitian boy, and the thought of leaving him in a country with no food and no family caused my heart to ache,” she said.
Christiana Herrington remembers crying all the way back to Live Oak, and it was two weeks before she could speak of Jack Jack without crying. Cristina told her incredulous husband almost immediately that she wanted their family to adopt the child she had cared for in Haiti.
“I said, ‘You’re crazy. If you want another child, we’ll have another biological child,’” Phillip Herrington said.
It took two years, from January 2008 until January 2010, for the couple “to get on the same page with each other and with the Lord,” he said.
“It became, for me, about obeying the Lord. It became clear that our next step of obedience was adoption,” he said.
The Herringtons told their daughter, Emma, who was seven at the time, about their desire to adopt Jack. They told her he would come to live in their house, and he would be with them permanently, just like her.
“She grasped what we told her, and she was ready for it to happen immediately. She became more impatient than Cristina and I to get Jack home,” he said.
One week after the Jan. 12, 2010, catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, the family notified Cabaret Orphanage of their desire to adopt Jack. Among the many things they discovered about their upcoming adoption process in Haiti was that one person of the adopting couple must be at least 35. Phillip Herrington had turned 35 January 12.
Since Cabaret is not an adopting orphanage, the Herringtons contacted A Love Beyond Borders, a licensed, Hague-approved, Christian agency to facilitate the adoption. They chose the agency because of its reputation as an agency that operates above-board and refuses to pay bribes that are often part of the process in Haiti, he said.
The family received support in their decision from their extended family and the congregation of First Baptist. He preached on the love of God in a Valentines’ Day sermon, and told Jack’s story and showed his pictures.
“It was an overwhelming show of support from our wonderful church family,” the pastor said.
The couple was part of a mission to Haiti in March 2010 and they found a healthy, smiling Jack at Cabaret.
Although Jack did not recognize Cristina, it was a “confirmation moment,” Herrington said. They returned in December, and Jack “picked us out of the team immediately,” he said.
In May 2010 the Herringtons’ dossier was submitted to the Haitian government, and the adopting agency told them theirs was “one of the cleanest ever submitted.” However, problems arose with their file “at every step,” he said.
He said it seemed that every time he reported a positive step in the process to friends and family, a backward step followed within a week.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions. One of us would ask, ‘Did we mess up?’ but the other one would say, ‘We’re doing the right thing,’” he said. “We were never impatient at the same time, and one of us was always in a place of stability.”
As holidays and summers passed, the family continued to set future goals for Jack’s “coming home.” The extended process took a toll both physically and emotionally.
“This process tries your patience and your Christ-likeness,” he said.
As adoption approval was nearing in Haiti and the U.S., the process was delayed again by incorrect spellings and discrepancies in language and dates, Herrington said. The Herringtons’ Homeland Security fingerprints and background checks expired once during the wait, and was only one day away from expiration when the adoption was approved.
Phillip, Cristina and Emma Herrington flew to Haiti Oct. 15, 2012, to get Jack, and the family returned to Live Oak Oct. 16. As they arrived around 10 p.m. the family was welcomed by church members who lined the streets waving flashlights and glow sticks.
“A whole light parade was there, and some of them followed us to our house,” he said.
Life at the Herrington home changed immediately.
“We have gone from having one little girl doing her thing, to also having a five-year-old boy who is wide-open, adventurous and not afraid of much. He challenges our will,” Herrington said.
Jack Herrington is a pre-kindergarten student at Suwannee Primary School. After learning to speak Haitian Creole, he comprehends more English than was expected, and total immersion in English has contributed to his learning the language. Jack is “catching up with American ways,” said his father, and he loves to eat hot dogs and Cheetos.
The long wait for Jack’s homecoming has made the family appreciate the journey.
“Our perspective is faithfulness and obedience. We were faithful to the journey, walking step by step while looking to the goal. We knew in the right moment Jack would be home,” Herrington said. “Jack has rolled with us, and he loves his big sister. It is a beautiful picture to see God put our family together like this.”
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