Following the long process of international adoption, Frank and Suzanne Bennett officially welcomed three new children to their family in November. The Bennetts, parents of three biological children, adopted three orphans from Ukraine in answer to a call from God.
Through spiritual books and a study in the biblical book of James, the Bennetts felt an urging to adopt more than two years ago, beginning then the process of research and approval. Having served through mission work in Russia, Frank Bennett felt led to Eastern Europe.
The Bennetts and others like them have opted for international adoption to provide a future for children of foreign countries. According to the U.S. State Department, international adoptions have recently seen steep decreases with less international adoptions recorded in 2011 than any year since 1999 -- when statistics became available.
During this time, international adoptions peaked in 2004 with 22,991, decreasing each year since to 9,319 adoptions in 2011 -- a 59 percent decrease over the span of seven years. Of the 9,319 adoptions this year, 640 came from Ukraine -- three of which now reside in Bartow County.
Through friends, the Bennetts were introduced to a couple who adopted from Ukraine and have since founded Mercy's Hope, a faith-based organization aiding families and children in Ukraine.
With three children of their own, the Bennetts began with the intent of adopting one child, a little girl. Picking out the name Marion, the family placed a stocking on the mantle for Christmas 2009 and have prayed for their future daughter ever since. Little did they know "Marion" already had two brothers.
"In Ukraine, you have to adopt the sibling group. You can't separate them," Suzanne Bennett said. "Things that I had prayed for for Marion, for the little girl that we thought we were going to adopt, so many things fit -- we just didn't know she had two brothers."
Frank and Suzanne got the call for their interview in October and traveled to Ukraine where Frank would remain for six weeks throughout the adoption process.
Approved to adopt up to three children ages seven and below, the Bennetts were shown profiles of numerous children -- seemingly none of which would meet the family's approved criteria. As children's' profiles were presented to them, one after another was eliminated until only one remained -- an answer to their prayers.
"All the kids are in folders and all the folders just kept going off the table until there was only one left and it was the folder of these three little kids," Frank Bennett said. "We felt like God was limiting us, but what was happening was God was taking away the options and making it clear. Our prayer was that God would make it clear."
The Bennetts now have six stockings above the mantle. Their biological children are the oldest: Madison, 13; Landon, 10; and Logan, 7. The newest additions to the family have taken American names with their Russian names used as middle names: Lawson, 7; Marion, 6; and Lincoln, 4.
Before the Bennetts returned home with the new brood, family and friends were hard at work to ready the house for two unexpected children. When they left for Ukraine, their intent was still to adopt only one child. With three new children, the Bennett's home needed a renovation with more bedrooms and additional recreational space.
Serving as the Worship Pastor at Cartersville First Baptist Church, Frank Bennett gives credit to church members for adding rooms and finishing the basement while they were in Ukraine.
"The church knew we were going to adopt a child, but when they heard we were going to bring home three children ... the church came through for us. We had people come build things out for us and finish bathrooms for us and bring furniture," Frank Bennett said. "Our church really came to our aid ... and if it wasn't for that I'm not sure that we would have made it."
Lawson, Marion and Lincoln still speak Russian but are learning English and progressing each day as the two oldest attend Mission Road Elementary where the Bennetts praised faculty, staff and administration for "going above and beyond."
The transition has been difficult at times but the family is aided by a Russian-speaking nanny who lives in their neighborhood. Frank and Suzanne also gave credit to their biological children for their help through the transition.
"Even though it's hard, I think they all see that we were called to this as a family. This is a family thing and I think they realize that these children otherwise would probably not have had a Christmas," Suzanne Bennett said. "If they would have been in the orphanage their whole lives and grown up that way without any family visiting or being involved in their lives, when they graduated out of the orphanage it would have been bleak. They wouldn't have had the skills they needed to succeed."
Last week, the Bennett family eagerly awaited the arrival of Christmas surrounded by friends and family. Lawson, Marion and Lincoln joined their new siblings this holiday season in a parade of tradition and celebration, a sight Frank and Suzanne will cherish.