There is scripture that says people make their plans, but God orders their steps.
Brad and Stacy Houser, a couple with no desire to become parents, learned that lesson in a big way recently when they became mom and dad to three teenagers from Haiti.
What does a road look like that takes a couple in Blount County with no intentions of becoming parents to the destination of becoming responsible for raising three Haitian children and working more than two years to make it happen?
It started in April of 2008 when Brad, 46, went to Haiti for a short-term construction mission trip with Restoration International Outreach Revolution Church.
He went to lend a hand and came home having left his heart to three children. It wasn’t long before Stacy, 39, felt the same way.
“We went down as a construction crew,” said Brad. “We started a new building, and four of us did renovations to a dormitory and kitchen. That is when I met these guys. The day that lives in infamy! Look what we have from that mission’s trip.”
Brad met all three children on that trip. Anaika was 11; Guerlande, 14 and Emmanis, 10.
“The one who stuck out big time was Anaika,” Brad said. “She followed me all week long.”
In September, Brad took another RIO missions trip to the same community in Haiti. Guerlande introduced herself to him. “She worked at the mission. She walked up and gave me hug and said, ‘I’m Anaika’s sister.’ I remembered I had spent lot of time with her sister, and I began to get to know her as well. Then my brother-in-law (started talking) to Emmanis,” said Brad.
The thought of adopting was just a passing idea after the first trip. By the end of the second, Brad Houser was letting the idea take root.
Brad and Stacy have been married 12 years. “We just never wanted children,” he said. “We knew when we got married we weren’t going to have children.”
Stacy said she never really thought she wanted children, but did have on her heart a thought that if she ever did, it should be through adoption. “My father was a minister and did work with the Children’s Home. I always said I would rather be a parent to a child who doesn’t have a parent,” she said.
But Brad said when he left for Haiti that first time, he wasn’t thinking about adoption. “Adoption was absolutely the last thing on my mind when I went to Haiti. It was not in the cards,” he said. “But then when I got to Miami, I called Stacy and said, ‘I brought a little one home from Haiti.’ Stacy was upset.”
Stacy said she was not at all sold on the idea of becoming a parent to three children. “I said, ‘No way. We are not adopting these children,’” she said.
Brad Houser said his wife wouldn’t even talk about Haiti or adopting. His thoughts, on the other hand, couldn’t focus on anything else.
Stacy said her husband’s whole life began to revolve around helping in Haiti, returning three times the first year and nine times total since the first trip. He immersed himself in the culture, even teaching himself the Creole language in a year’s time.
In December of 2008, RIO did a Christmas event in Haiti, delivering gifts to everyone at the orphanage. This time Brad convinced Stacy to go with him. “I was able to drag her along, kicking and screaming,” he said. “We dragged her down kicking and screaming and then could barely get her back on the plane to leave.”
Stacy Houser said what she saw was that the life of a youngster in Haiti is not easy.
“Only 60 percent of the kids make it to age 6 because there is so much malaria and typhoid,” she said. “There is a lot of infant death.”
Stacy immediately had a change of heart about adopting the two girls and boy. “You go down and see the look in their eyes and what they live in, and you can’t help but want to love on them and spend time with them,” she said. “You fall in love with the country and the people. Their response to us as Americans is unbelievable. I think that is what killed me the most: These kids have nothing except love to give, and they give it all.”
Stacy immediately bonded with Emmanis, who had met Stacy’s brother on the previous strip. “When Emmanis found out she was Jerry’s sister, and those two were like glue all week,” Brad said. “He’s a momma’s boy, but he doesn’t like to be called that. He’s 12 going on 25 and is going to be the next Michael Jordan. He’s grown two inches since he’s been here.”
Anaika and Guerlande are sisters and Brad learned that the girls’ mother was alive, as was Emmanis’ birth mother.
“I got to know the girls’ mother at the orphanage, because their mother would say, ‘Good morning’ to me,” he said. “The last day we were there, she came in, and I told her half jokingly, ‘I want to take your girls home with me,’ and she said ‘Oui.’ The director talked to her and came back and said, ‘She is begging you to take them.’”
Brad said that on the last day of the Christmas mission trip in 2008, he and Stacy told Guerlande they were going to start the adoption process. “We started the process in January of 2009, and it took six months,” she said. “You wouldn’t believe the stack of paperwork we had to fill out.”
The couple also had to go through a home study where their home life was examined, and they had to go through psychiatric testing, in addition to being finger-printed at a facility in Atlanta. “Then all that had to be translated into French,” he said.
Stacy said she and Brad took the paperwork to an attorney in Haiti in the middle of June. “On the Haitian side, they had to take each of the kids and get all their paperwork together. That took from June to September,” she said.
The paperwork was finally all submitted to the government in Haiti in September. The Housers had been told the wait would be an additional six to 18 months, but then got word in December that their paperwork was moving along quickly.
“That was definitely not in our hands,” said Stacy. “We were just waiting on the one signature from a judge who sees all adoption cases in Haiti.”
They went back to Haiti in December of 2009 and met with the attorney. “He told us to be back in February to get the kids,” Brad Houser said. “Then the earthquake hit on Jan. 12.”
The Housers said they didn’t know if their children were safe or if their attorney was safe. They certainly didn’t know if their paperwork was still in tact. “We found he had every bit of our paperwork in tact. I went and met with him and went to the U.S. embassy,” Brad said.
Stacy said when her husband went to the U.S. embassy in Haiti, the Haitian government had closed the border. When he went to the embassy with the children, they had closed the border.
“There was one person who had to review all paperwork so they could get visas and leave. They would not let anybody go. He couldn’t get through to me,” he said. “Phone service was bad before and none existent afterwards. He finally got through by texting. They wouldn’t let him leave or give him a time frame.”
It was at this point that Stacy went to her boss, Green Bank vice president Mike Lewis. “He had me tell the whole story. Then he said, ‘Go back to work and don’t you worry. We’ll see what we can do.’”
Lewis spoke with State Sen. Doug Overbey, then State Rep. Joe McCord and then got in touch with individuals from both Sen. Bob Corker and Sen. Lamar Alexander’s offices.
“Someone from Lamar’s office was in contact with Embassy. They had our files pulled, and they were marked with a Congressional seal so that when anyone could leave, they would be one of the first ones out,” she said.
A short time later on that Friday at about 5 p.m., Lewis got a call from Alexander’s office with a message for Stacy to pass on to Brad in Haiti. “The person said, ‘Tell Mr. Houser to get to the embassy and get out.’ It was the first time I had ever been able to dial straight through to Haiti. I called, and Brad answered. I said, ‘Go to the embassy.’”
Brad said he initially didn’t believe her because it was late, and the embassy was closed for the weekend. “We argued a bit, and I finally went,” he said.
Brad said that with the earthquakes, the embassy had become a base for the Marines. He figured out early in the week that there was always a line to get in. “I already knew you did not wait in line. You walk up to a Marine and say, ‘I’m here for an adoption,’” Brad said. “The Marine looked around and said ‘We’re going to take you in a different way.”
They went to another gate. “They asked for my passport and said, ‘You wait here.’ They disappeared, and then he came back out and said, ‘They want you to come in.’”
Brad Houser said he had to communicate with embassy staff from behind bullet-proof glass. “This guy said, ‘We have your stuff. I’ll come back out and get you when we have something,’” he said.
Brad and the children staked out some mattresses situated on the floor and watched CNN on television.
At about 9:30 p.m., an embassy staffer came out to speak with Brad. “This lady said, ‘I’ll tell you what. I have got your paperwork ready, and I can get you out of the country if you’ll take 10 more kids,’” Houser said. “So we escorted 10 more kids.”
Brad said they got to the airport around 10:30 or 11 p.m. “They put us on a military plane, and we sat there until 2 in the morning. Finally the plane pushed off, and we got to Florida about 4:30 or 5 a.m. That was a long night,” he said.
They flew back to Miami on Jan. 30, and Stacy picked them up the next day. “We found a shuttle to the motel, and we all four crashed and waited on her to drive down,” Brad said.
Since returning home and becoming fulltime parents, the Housers said life has changed but they’ve learned a lot. Stacy has learned just how close and caring her work family is at the Green Bank on Joule Street.
“What’s amazing is the people I work with at the bank,” she said. “They are so awesome. They started bringing me clothes. Let me tell you, they each have more clothes than I ever thought of kids having because of the number of people helping us out,” she said. “It has been amazing.
The experience is almost surreal, said Stacy. “It has just been unbelievable. I never would have imagined everyone pulling together and helping us. They kept saying, ‘These aren’t just your kids, they’re all of our kids.’ Mike Lewis is going to have to be their grandpa.”
Stacy said she couldn’t be happier being a parent. “They are such good kids, and they just love you, and they’re happy and don’t get upset,” she said. “They truly, really are good kids and make any effort on their behalf worth it.”
Brad said it has been an adjustment. “It’s a life-changer for dang sure,” Brad said. “For the last year we have known that one day these children were going to end up here, but we didn’t have any idea when,” Brad said.
“You can’t prepare for it. You think you might know what is going to happen, but it is totally different. It’s more than what you expect, but it has been fun and is fun.”