~David and Kerry Avilla – A Walk of Faith

by Kelly Barbazette, The Gilroy Dispatch
Christmas Eve, 1999

They gaze at their brightly lit Christmas tree through eyes that have never witnessed a holiday of warmth in a home of their own. Spending most of their lives in institutionalized care in Russia, this is the first year Elisaveta, 5, Vanya, 6, Tamara, 8, Svetlana, 9, and Lena, 12, are spending Christmas together with their new mom and dad. “They’re looking around at all of this stuff,” Dave Avilla, 45, said, his eyes sweeping over the Nativity scene and the brightly wrapped gifts under the tree. “We can’t believe this is really happening.” Avilla and his wife Kerry adopted the five sibling over the past three years – a choice they call their “walk of faith.” Born into an impoverished family, the children spent most of their years in separate adoption homes. Now reunited, the children, who are quick to offer a shy smile, seem as if they were never separated. “From start to finish, we’re still in awe of everything. We didn’t know what was going to happen and the path just kept rolling on and yet here we are,” Kerry Avilla, 44, said.

In the Beginning
The Avillas were acquainted for years, first meeting at their church in San Jose. Their friendship blossomed in 1991. Kerry describes their courtship as a whirlwind romance. “He just swept me off my feet,” she said. The couple were married in March 1992 and bought a condominium in San Jose. David, who has two grown sons from a previous marriage, and Kerry decided they wanted children of their own.

After a few years it was evident that they weren’t able to conceive. Instead of attempting costly fertility treatments, they opted for adoption. “The goal I wanted was a family,” Kerry said. “When it came down to it, it was incidental whether they looked like me.” She began scouring the Internet in 1995 for adoption agencies and located an international one that October. “We prayed and asked the Lord, ‘We’d like a little girl, about 2. We’re not going to pick. The first one that fits the age group, we’ll accept. That one’s from You,” Kerry said. In August 1997, they saw their first picture of Lise, who was 2 at the time.

1996 lise

The adoption was proceeding smoothly, then Kerry got a phone call from the agency in November, 1996. They notified the couple that Lise had four siblings that were discovered after Lise’s brother moved to the same adoption home in Russia that October. By law, an adoption agency is required to notify the adoptive parents of any siblings.

“When I hung up the phone, the first reaction I had was shock,” Kerry said. “I likened it to being a pregnant mom with multiples. I sat down and thought, ‘I’m going to be the mother of five children”.

Questions Arise
David and Kerry said the reasons not to adopt all five children quickly surfaced, including financial worries and possibly cramping their lifestyle. But they said all of their reasons were based in fear. Instead of asking themselves “How could we?” they began to ask “How could we not?” “We didn’t know how we were going to do it,” David said. “We thought if it was meant to be, God would open the doors and make it happen, and if it wasn’t meant to be, He would find a way to close them.” “We really believe that God brought Lise to us, and if we really believe that, He had to know about the others and that He had a bigger plan for us,” Kerry added. Their family and friends gave them cautious support. “No one ever said we shouldn’t do it, but you could tell they were concerned,” David said.

On December 23, 1996, the couple received a court date in Russia for January 8th. The next two weeks were filled were a frenzy of activities as they prepared for their journey. They credit their online support group of other adoptive parents for helping prepare them for what to expect both during and after the trip. “A lot of it was going into an abyss of unknown,” David said. “It was a complete adventure. You would never guess what the reality was going to be like.” On Jan. 5, 1997, the couple left for Russia. The day they met their daughter is one they’ll never forget. “It was the most amazing day of my whole life,” David said. “We didn’t know what was going on. We were going to meet this child. Our future would never be the same. It was magical.”

The first visit-and consecutive ones for the next three weeks-are chronicled on video tape. During their first meeting, a shy Lise wearing a red-checked dress stands stiffly, watching David intently. She turns one cautious eye when Kerry kisses her cheek. By the end of the visit, she’s cuddling on David’s lap. Her smile is quicker and brighter as the visits continue.

1997-1 day 1b

A “Hard Life”
Lise had been in the “baby home” from three days after she was born to age 2. She was relinquished at birth-not an uncommon occurrence in Russia and other eastern European countries where there aren’t foster homes, said Marge Talbot, executive director of Growing Families Worldwide, an international adoption agency based in New Jersey. Most children, particularly ones living in Eastern Europe, are given up because the parents are so impoverished, she said. “The life over there is so hard,” David said. “People literally live in shacks. The houses in this area here were barely inhabitable. It’s a hard life. The weather is tough. What that does is create an absence of hope and choices that aren’t always wise.”
David and Kerry stayed for three weeks in frozen Russia in the dead of winter. The couple said they could feel their friends’ prayers during their stay that they describe as “a charmed existence”. Most of their time was spent at the orphanage, visiting with Lise and other children at the home. They also were able to visit Lise’s brother, Vanya, whom they planned to adopt next.

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“It was neat to be in her environment, getting to know her and her caregivers,” David said. They said they not only left Russia with their child, but also with a greater appreciation for their own lives. “You go over there and you come back humbled,” Kerry said.

Faith in God
The couple says their faith in God and their trust that He would find a way has helped them through the past few years. The couple had financial troubles in the past and the adoption bills were stacking up. An overseas adoption costs approximately $20,000. With one child and the hope of four others, their worries mounted. “There wasn’t a day that went by since January 1997 that we didn’t ask ourselves ‘How do we get from here to there?” David said. Then, suddenly the resources started surfacing. David, a software salesman in San Jose, got a few sizable commissions. They began searching for a larger home-a former weekend pastime. They found a model they liked in Gilroy, but it would be another year before they moved in. In the meantime, Vanya’s adoption was finalized in August 1997. In September, he joined the growing family. The couple said they could feel God smiling down at them during those months. “I believe if you take a step in the direction of your heart, God will provide for you infinitely. We’ve seen it happen time and time again,” David said. After they moved into their new home, the adoption for Lise’s three sisters, whom were living in a different children’s home in Russia, had been finalized. The girls arrived in Gilroy with their mom and dad in March of this year.

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Making Adjustments
The three older sisters hung together for a couple of months, then began to play with Lise and Vanya. “Now, you would never know that they weren’t together since birth,” Kerry said. David and Kerry said the children have adjusted well – emotionally and culturally. The couple watched their children carefully, relieved to discover that they didn’t develop any side-effects that adoptive children from Eastern European countries have the potential of developing, including learning disorders and post traumatic stress disorder. “I really feel we’ve beat the odds five times,” Kerry said. All the children but Elena, 12, didn’t speak English until they arrived in the United States. But they all picked up the language quickly. The simplest things such as car washes, department stores and elevators left the children awestruck. For Tamara, “everything” was scary at first, including “big stores,” she said shyly. Mom and Dad also have adjusted, the biggest change being loss of time. “There’s no time for the fun stuff. The icing, hobbies,” Kerry said. “We signed up for this life. We have to carve out a whole new one.” A former insurance broker, Kerry has taken on the task of homeschooling their children. Used to tackling pages of “to do” lists, she said she has learned to take the pressure off herself and do what she can. “I’m just not requiring as much from myself because my plate wasn’t as full before and I just have to be happy with the small bites I can get.” The couple finds time for themselves on Sunday evenings, or “date night”, when the children are at kids’ Bible club. They also block out time to spend with each child. David takes turns running errands or playing a game in the evening with a different child that the children fondly refer to as “dates with papa”. David and Kerry say they have no regrets in the way their family came together – only joy. “I have something now that I didn’t have before. It’s really precious,” Kerry said.

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