The sign consisted of one word, written in marking pen and held by a driver waiting for a couple that had just traveled halfway around the world to bring two new children into their family.
It said, simply, “Lee.”
For Spokane Stake President James Lee and his wife, Lisa, the journey to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, meant traversing over 8,200 miles from the Inland Northwest to a nation situated in the Horn of Africa and acknowledged as one of the first-known sites of human existence.
Spokane Stake President James Lee and his wife Lisa visited Ethiopia last month as part of a process to adopt Daniel (left) and Jaleta, or “Jet,” (right).
One of the many unique aspects of this historically rich nation begins with its calendar. In Ethiopia, it is 2004, not 2012, because the people of this country discovered Christ eight years after He was born and began charting contemporary time at that point. For the Lees, the trip to this region featuring some of the world’s tallest mountains and lowest points below sea level, was part of a process to adopt Daniel, 9, and Jaleta (Jet), 17 months, both of whom live in an Ethiopian orphanage
The 10-day stay turned out to be an experience that would change their lives forever.
“As we went through the process, we learned about miracles, acting in faith, following the spirit-all in new ways,” said Pres. Lee. “We are grateful for the way we were taught these new lessons even though they are sometimes difficult lessons.”
The Lees spent 10 days in Ethiopia, located in the Horn of Africa.
Strolling down a dusty road in Addis Ababa one day, the Lees encountered a modern-day illustration of the parable of the widow’s mite. The experience would be indicative of the bright and considerate spirit of the Ethiopian people they would encounter throughout their visit.
“We were walking down the street and a young mother sat on the side with a toddler laying in front of her on the dirt with a shawl gently placed over him,” Pres. Lee said. “As we were approaching, a very old and tired looking man stopped and emptied his pockets of the few coins he had left and gave them to the young mother. I believe this was all his money.”
Pres. Lee said the poignant lesson was one of many reminders of how values and priorities can transcend a temporal sphere.
The origins of the Ethiopian dynasty go back to the second century B.C.
“The people have very little worldly wealth, but they are wealthy in kindness, love and happiness,” he said. “Their wealth of important things was more noticeable than their poverty of earthly things. They are a very friendly and loving people. We made many dear friends, and thanks to Facebook and email, we can stay in touch with them.”
Natives of Spokane, the Lees have been married for nearly 23 years and are parents to 12 children, 10 of whom still live at home. Pres. Lee and Lisa met after he served a mission to England. They were married in the Portland Temple. The decision to adopt began last year after talking with another LDS couple that had recently welcomed two Ethiopian children into their family.
“We actually felt like we were all here and were not seeking adoption, until a prompting came just over a year ago.” Sis. Lee said.
Daniel and Jet both live at an orphanage in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia
The Lees met Daniel and Jet for the first time on a sunny day at the orphanage.
“The moment they opened the gate we recognized Daniel,” Pres. Lee said. “He ran to us, hugged us, and called us mommy and daddy.”
The Lees soon discovered that Daniel knew the names and hobbies of all the other children in the orphanage. When they brought him a treat, he would divide it 50 ways and distribute it among the other kids and workers.
One of the many impressions Pres. Lee had of Ethiopia was the wealth of the people “in kindness, love and happiness.”
“Both boys are remarkably similar to our other children,” Sis. Lee said.
In another one to three months, the Lees will return to Ethiopia to finalize the adoptions. Pres. Lee said he “is so grateful to have the (Spokane) Stake family to help us raise these children.”
“As we took classes and met with social workers, they stressed the importance of support systems to assist in the process of adopting children,” he said. “As we looked at the Church through that lens we became aware and grateful on a new level for what the kingdom of God does for us.”
The Lees have already met an Ethiopian family in Spokane that speaks Daniel’s language. The elementary school he will attend has a well-respected ESL (English as Second Language) program. As far as other challenges involved in the transition, Pres. Lee said his family’s approach will center around one, basic principle that sustains them in all things.
The Lees are working to generate awareness for the orphanage by collecting donations to deliver upon their return in a few months.
“We try to rely on the Lord,” he said. “When things are frightening, we exercise faith, when things are overwhelming, we do what we can do and try not to worry about the rest. We truly believe that if God asks us to do something, He will prepare a way. It might be on the third try after Laban has stolen your money, but He will always prepare a way and the trial is not ‘worthy to be compared’ to the blessing that comes. “
While the Lees await their trip back to Ethiopia, they are working to generate awareness for the unique cause they discovered on their journey. Their goal is to bring back funds and supplies for the orphanage when they return. A donation of $10 is equal to 170 in Ethiopian birr and would provide a two-week supply of food for a small family. Those who are interested in helping or finding out more about possible adoption opportunities in Ethiopia can call the Lees at (509) 922-2985, email them at email@example.com or send a donation to 15520 E. Wellesley, Spokane, WA. 99216.
“Even small donations are greatly appreciated and very useful,” Pres. Lee said.