Reagan Berry has seen firsthand how some children in Africa suffer. Berry, of Whitesburg, has returned to Africa several times since her first three-month mission trip to Senegal during her sophomore year in college.
The trip that profoundly impacted Berry’s life was when she met a little girl named Eleanor at a school in Zambia. Children at the school were dirty, hungry and without hope, she said.
One day Berry couldn’t find Eleanor at the school and was told that she was in the sickbay. Berry didn’t leave Eleanor’s side for the rest of the day once she found her all alone shivering with a fever curled up on a dirty mat. Berry held and rocked Eleanor all day.
“We tried to give Eleanor all of the love and medicine we had available,” said Berry, a native of Paducah. “I ended up having to take her to the hospital, where I had to force her down while they gave her a shot. I’ve never heard a child scream so loud. She was so scared and so sick.”
Eleanor died at age five from malaria and anemia.
“Both of which could have been cured with a little medicine and a little attention,” said Berry. “It breaks my heart. Eleanor’s life is just a glimpse of what children are dealing with and we can’t sit by and not do something to help.”
Berry said spending time in orphanages and getting to know children there was a game-changer for her.
“I feel like once you see it, you can’t get it out of your head,” said Berry.
Berry was encouraged to one day adopt children from Africa after she met families in Louisville that had adopted children from Ethiopia.
“I began to see it as a real possibility,” said Berry. “You can’t change the world, but you can change one life, and so once I saw that other families were able to do it and it was a realistic thing I was like ‘Oh, man. That is what we need to. We need to adopt some of those kids.’”
Reagan Berry met Jonathan Berry at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. They were married June 9, 2009. Mrs. Berry gave birth to the couple’s first child, Stella, on August 11, 2010. When Stella was six weeks old the Berrys moved from Louisville to Whitesburg where Jonathan Berry serves as associate pastor of the First Baptist Church.
Soon after moving to Whitesburg the couple decided to adopt a baby from Ethiopia.
“We started the process when (Stella) was five months old, but we always knew that we would adopt,” said Mrs. Berry. “We even talked about adopting before we had biological children, but then we got pregnant with Stella. We always knew it was part of the plan.”
“When I was younger I saw adoption as awesome,” said Jonathan Berry, a native of Crystal Springs, Miss. “I saw it as really positive. I saw it as what people did if they were infertile for any reason. As a kid that is what I saw it as.”
After six months of waiting to hear something from the adoption agency, the Berrys got word about a baby boy that had been born.
“They were able to prove he was an orphan and then they called us and said we have a four-monthold boy. Are you willing to be his family?” said Mrs. Berry. “That same night they e-mailed us a picture of him and all the information they had on him.”
Mr. and Mrs. Berry named their adopted son Addis after Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian city in which he was born. The word Addis means new life.
“In Ethiopia, Addis’s future would have been living on the streets and dying later,” said Mr. Berry. “His life expectancy would have been short or dying of malnutrition.”
The Berrys visited Addis for the first time when he was seven months old. He couldn’t be adopted by the Berrys before then, according to Ethiopian law. The couple went back to Ethiopia and brought Addis to the United States when the infant was nine months old.
Addis spent the first nine months of his life lying on his back in a crib while staring at a ceiling in the orphanage. He had no toys, music, television or lights. No decorations were hanging on the walls. However, Addis was used to always having a bottle in his crib.
“He didn’t like our food,” said Reagan Berry, adding that he was accustomed to eating more advanced foods.
“His digestive system was all messed up,” she said. “We tried to get him on baby food and he was used to SpaghettiOs.” He is now adjusted and is not a picky eater.
Among the bigger adjustments Addis had to make was being introduced to situations he had never seen.
“Imagine staring at a ceiling your whole life and then all of a sudden you are in an airport,” said Mrs. Berry. “There are blinking lights everywhere. People everywhere — people running around, people on cell phones. He had never experienced any of that.”
The Berrys were concerned whether Addis would have a hard time becoming attached to them as parents since he hadn’t been able to get close to the many different nannies that had cared for him since his birth.
“He had never been held for a long time or snuggled or rocked,” said Mrs. Berry. “He just attached to us immediately, which a lot of kids that haven’t learned the skill of attachment have a hard time attaching. As a baby they never learn that security and that comfort. It was really amazing how fast he attached. He has done great.”
It took a year and four months from the time the Berrys started the adoption process until the time Addis came to Whitesburg.
“That is short compared to a lot of stories,” said Mrs. Berry.
Baby Stella was a year and a half old when she met Addis for the first time.
“We talked about Addis and had updated pictures so she knew what he looked like,” said Mrs. Berry. “She doesn’t remember life without Addis now.” Mr. Berry said Stella likes to help take care of Addis, who turned two in June. Stella celebrated her third birthday this past Sunday.
The Berrys knew that they wanted to adopt another child from Africa in a few years, but weren’t planning on adopting again in the near future until Kona came along.
“A friend called one night and said there is an eight-month little girl in the Congo and they can’t find a family for her. Would you all be interested?,” said Mrs. Berry.
She said that after two weeks of prayer and conversation, she and her husband began their second adoption process after learning the little girl would most likely die if she weren’t adopted.
“We knew we were going to adopt again and then seeing the child waiting with nobody in line,” explained Mr. Berry.
Kona, who turned one year old on March 26, lives in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Berrys gained custody of Kona, whose name mean “lady,” in May and hope to be able to bring her to Whitesburg by Christmas or the beginning of 2014.
For Kona to obtain U.S. citizenship, the Berrys have to undergo a U.S. Embassy investigation that could take three to six months to complete.
The total cost to adopt Kona is about $28,000, which includes attorney fees, airplane travel, court costs and the foster mom’s salary.
“Since we adopted her she was moved to a foster mom,” said Mrs. Berry. “That was ideal because you want to get them out of the orphanage.”
Mrs. Berry has been sewing items to sell to help pay for adoption related costs.
“Adoption made me ‘crafty’ because I never crafted in my life until Addis, and then I was like ‘Oh, my gosh. I have got to make stuff to sell or we are never going to be able to pay for this,’” she said. “I just started learning how to do stuff. I had never sewn anything.”
With the help of her mother, Mrs. Berry has made about 150 infinity scarves, chevron purses, dresses for little girls, picture frames and jewelry. The Berrys will have a booth at the Mountain Heritage Festival this September to sell items she and her mother have made. All proceeds will go toward paying for the adoption of Kona.
To help with adoption expenses for Addis, Reagan Berry made specialty “onesies,” wreaths, hair bows, necklaces, hand-dyed scarves and dry erase boards. Friends helped raise money by hosting two large yard sales.
“Actually last time, people ended up just giving us donations,” said Mrs. Berry. “We never asked for donations. People just felt led to do that. This go-round we haven’t seen as much of that because most people who wanted to give gave last time. I have a friend who gave us a huge check and I called her and I am like ‘Please do not do that again’ and she’s like ‘I want to’ and I said ‘No, we do not expect you to write us a huge check every time we decide to adopt.’”
The Berrys secured $10,000 in grants to help fund Addis’s adoption fees, which totaled $32,000. The agency the Berrys hired for Addis’s adoption was a non-profit organization. The agency the couple hired this time is a newer agency that has not obtained nonprofit status yet, making it harder for the Berrys to apply for and obtain grants.
“We have close friends that do not feel called to adopt, but they want to care for orphans,” said Mrs. Berry. “It’s been really neat to see people get on board with the orphan care thing. I think the one thing we wish we could communicate to people is this is something we feel called to do. We cannot do it on our own because of the $28,000. We can afford to raise these children in our home. We just cannot afford to get them here. We do not have that kind of money.”
Friends of the Berrys have organized fundraisers. The second Friday of each month the owners of Here Comes the Bun Bakery donate 20 percent of sales to the family’s adoption fund.
Byron and Amanda Thomas, of Whitesburg, have organized a 5K race, with all proceeds going to the adoption fund. The race will start at 9 p.m. on Saturday, August 17 near StreetSide Grill and Bar in downtown Whitesburg. It is a one-mile walk or a three-mile run.
Preregistration will be held from 6 – 8 p.m. on August 15 at the First Baptist Church of Whitesburg parking lot. Registration will begin at 7 p.m. on August 17 near Street- Side Grill and Bar.
Cost is $25 per person or $20 each for groups of 10 or more. Participants will receive a T-shirt compliments of Double Kwik and one glow item compliments of StreetSide Grill and Bar. Water will be provided by Mountain Comrehensive Health Corporation. Here Comes the Bun Bakery will give one free doughnut to each race participant. An anonymous donor purchased awards for winners in each age category.
“They want to care for orphans and that is their way of doing it,” said Reagan Berry. “It is just like the biggest gift. I think it is neat how people have caught the vision. People now on their own want to do something, want to work for the Lord, want to take care of people in this world.”
Mrs. Berry said some people were confused when they started the adoption process with Addis.
“They were supportive, but they were just like ‘What is happening?’ but then they saw the whole process unfold,” she said. “They see the child and they love him. So now with Kona, ‘We have seen this done and we know how this works. A kid comes home to this family and she is going to be awesome. Let’s help them.’”
Mrs. Berry said the motivation is a lot stronger this time because church members and others in the community have seen the whole process and have gotten to know Addis.
“ They see Addis running around,” said Mr. Berry.
“And he’s happy and great and healthy, thriving,” added Mrs. Berry. “I think people have defi- nitely caught the vision. I think it is awesome that people are like ‘We want to come alongside of you and help you do this.’”
Jonathan and Reagan Berry both come from large families and both want a large family of their own.
“I think we will adopt one more time,” said Mrs. Berry.
She said older children have a more difficult time getting adopted so they will probably wait until Stella, Addis and Kona get older and then will adopt an older child.
“I think adoption is big in this area, but it is not international adoption,” said Jonathan Berry. “I am so thankful for grandparents. I am so thankful for people who adopt and chose that as an option.”
Mrs. Berry said she thinks some people are confused by international adoption “because the sentiment has been what about all of those kids here that need adopting.”
“Kids here need to be adopted,” she said. “If you are called to that then you should absolutely do it. If that is your passion you should absolutely do it.”
The Berrys have chosen to take care of the “worst case scenarios” and adopt international children.
“We are Christians first and God doesn’t see boundaries or borders,” said Mrs. Berry. “We are all God’s children and so we take care of all of them. The Bible says those who care for the least of these, which these kids in Africa are the least of these. Kids there have a great chance of dying at a young age because of lack of care.”
Mrs. Berry said people often ask her if she is going to have any more children of her own, which she considers a misconception.
“Stella is mine through birth and Addis is mine through adoption,” she said. “They are both equally mine. They are all three my own, every bit my own. The question is ‘Are you going to birth more children?’ but the way it comes across is that there is a difference in your kids.”
Mr. Berry said they have heard so much that nothing really bothers them.
“It is good for people to have education, because if Addis was older and heard that I wonder what he would think,” said Mr. Berry. “That is a common question. I imagine he will hear it one day. He’ll hear a lot of stuff one day.”
Addis and Stella are excited to meet their sister, Kona. They look at her photograph and say “Kona.”
“We’re just doing what the Lord has called us to do,” said Mrs. Berry. “If people want to get on board, get on board, and if you don’t that is okay, too. This is just our journey.”