Area woman keeps faith despite Russian adoption ban

Jody Johnson of Schwenksville, an Air Force sergeant, visiting in August with Oksana, the orphan she hopes to adopt: "I'm so confident that God really does intend for her to find her home with us."
Jody Johnson of Schwenksville, an Air Force sergeant, visiting in August with Oksana, the orphan she hopes to adopt: "I'm so confident that God really does intend for her to find her home with us."
Posted: December 29, 2012

In August, Jody Johnson of Schwenksville traveled to Russia to meet Oksana, a 6-year-old orphan with Down syndrome whom Johnson believes she was meant to raise.

The Air Force technical sergeant and single mother of three boys sat on the floor and played games with the little girl who was to become her first daughter.

But on Friday, Johnson's plans to expand her family seemed in ruins after Russian President Vladimir V. Putin signed legislation banning the adoption of Russian children by American parents.

"We have so much more than we need, and we wanted to share it with someone who might not find a home so easily," said Johnson, 37, who is stationed at Horsham Air Guard Station in Willow Grove.

The law, which takes effect Tuesday, will immediately affect 52 Russian children who were destined for American homes and whose prospective parents were in varying stages of the adoption process. The children will remain in Russia, officials said.

The legislation is viewed by some as payback for a U.S. law targeting Russians deemed to be human rights violators.

In this case, politics has led to heartbreak for parents and children, said Gloria Hochman, director of communications for the National Adoption Center, an advocacy organization.

"These particular families frequently have already been to Russia, met the children, left photographs of their families," Hochman said. "The children are expecting them to come back."

More than 100,000 children are waiting to be adopted in Russia, Hochman said. About 120,000 children are in foster care in the United States, 1,600 of them in the Philadelphia area, she said.

"Every child is valuable," Hochman said. "We hope that this is not a closed story,"

Johnson credits her faith for her belief that Oksana will one day join the family.

A divorced mother of sons ages 6 to 18, Johnson began considering Russian adoption about a year ago. She talked with her boys and each gave his blessing, although Reagan, 12, worried that other children might pick on her.

"I told him, 'Well, that's where you step in as her big brother,' " Johnson said.

Johnson had worked with special-needs children as a high school student and studied American Sign Language in college. She wanted to adopt a special-needs child.

So she registered with the Global Adoption Services Inc. agency in Bel Air, Md., and began a process that was expected to cost nearly $50,000.

Johnson wrote about the extensive home study process and paperwork in a blog called "A Servant at the House Beautiful." Along the way, Johnson became part of a online support group of parents seeking to adopt Russian children.

In August, she traveled to Russia to meet the little girl who had been referred to her.

At first, she looked "a little scared," Johnson said. "They brought her over to me and our translator, and we each took one of [Oksana's] hands in ours."

The translator spoke to Oksana in Russian. Johnson tried out a few words that she had learned and showed Oksana, who doesn't speak, the corresponding gesture in sign language.

"It was pretty great," Johnson said.

She flew back to the United States and took steps to finalize the adoption. She kept track of the Russian legislation's progress with the help of the adoption agency.

Even Putin's signature on the bill hasn't destroyed her hopes. Too many things have signaled that Oksana is destined for Schwenksville, Johnson said.

Her friends at Calvary Baptist Church in Lansdale have pledged their support and babysitting time. Friends have donated money and sold handmade crafts to help with the financial cost. A woman who heard about Johnson's effort to adopt donated $13,000 to help. Johnson found a $588 flight to Russia when others seeking to adopt were paying $2,500.

"Everything was just falling into place," Johnson said.

She still believes that Oksana will one day get to sleep in the brown and turquoise room full of toys, books, and clothes she has prepared.

"I'm so confident that God really does intend for her to find her home with us," Johnson said. "I can't say it's in the timeline that I thought. But when she is supposed to come home, she will."


Contact Kristin E. Holmes at 610-313-8211 or kholmes@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Carolyn Davis and Jonathan Lai contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.

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