It was through mutual Facebook friends that Seminole ISD Strength and Conditioning Coach Dustin Rotan and his wife Meagan became acquainted with a Ugandan Pastor named Eridard Okwiri. Living at opposite ends of the planet, under profoundly different circumstances, they had little in common with Pastor Okwiri, other than one very meaningful exception, their Christian faith.
Little did they know at the time that their own journey together was about to make a radical detour. In hindsight, Dustin, 29, and Meagan, 30, see this connection as something that was purely Providential.
For the Rotans, in February 2013, there would have been little reason to believe that their paths would ever cross with Pastor Okwiri outside of a couple of years of occasional dialogue on social media. But then the Pastor, whose own ministry involves the startup of new churches in a country that is 85% Christian and 11% Muslim, did the sort of thing that church leaders do when they tend to their flock.
On September 6th, Pastor Okwiri had posted photos of two small, orphaned Ungandan girls near his community, seeking anyone who would consider giving them a permanent home. Underneath one photo was the caption: “International adoption can be arranged.” The Rotans’interest was piqued, and with some further inquiry, a clearer picture of these children’s lives began to emerge.
Even in a part of Africa where grinding poverty is the norm, five-year-old Babita and her younger sister, three-year-old Mutonyi, knew only an existence well below the poverty line in the Busia District of Uganda. Neither of them would have any real memories of their parents – their mother died two years ago, roughly a year after their father passed away. Their sole means of support was what little could be provided by their elderly, widowed Grandmother inside a tiny mud hut, a mere eight feet across, with a leaky grass roof and a dirt floor. For them, hunger was the rule, rather than the exception.
It was a completely different world than the one enjoyed by a solid middle class family in Seminole, Texas. Dustin and Meagan, both Midland natives and graduates of Texas Tech, moved to Seminole three years ago, when Dustin was recruited by the school’s Athletic Department. Meagan went to work for Shane Wimmer at the Memorial Hospital Physical Therapy Clinic. Son Caleb was an infant when the couple arrived in Seminole, and since then, 18-month-old Anna and eight-month-old John have arrived as members of a growing family.
From day one, the Rotans weren’t necessarily on the same page on the adoption issue. Meagan had been open to the idea for at least a year. She felt that there was an important message to her in scripture: “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27). She later would feel something even greater stirring soon after learning about the two sisters. She likens it to the feelings of anticipation and newness of life that a mother feels when she’s pregnant – in her case, both “in the natural”, as she puts it, and spiritually.
Everyone moves at his own pace, however, and Dustin was not quite there yet. He could not envision any possibility of loving other children as much as he did his own little threesome. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a sense of urgency was heightened when the little family’s hut burned during the late summer. It would have taken the two girls and their grandmother but for the rescue efforts of neighbors in the village.
Dustin’s attitude about adoption had evolved over 2015, and it was the photo of the children, holding a blanket that had been donated after the loss of their home, that inspired him to come to a conclusion that these girls needed to become a part of his family’s future. The photo had been intended as a “thank you” to their American donors. It was September 6th, a date that is etched in the minds of Dustin and Meagan Rotan.
“That’s when the Holy Spirit led me to want to do this,” Dustin explains.
“I had been waiting for this,” Meagan added.
The information that the Rotans were getting from Pastor Okwiri about the family’s status, a month after the fire, was not good. The hut was yet to be rebuilt and the Grandmother had become increasingly ill. Meagan and Dustin began evaluating their own budget and decided to do everything they could do to help. Three other families pitched in and a gift of $650 was provided for the family’s short term needs, and for the rebuilding of the meager dwelling.
The dialogue increased with Pastor Okwiri – now “Eridard” to the family, who soon reported that the girls’ maternal Uncle had balked at the notion of allowing the children to leave for America. He had heard sordid tales of children being sacrificed in the U.S., or being sold into slavery. He was also deeply distrustful of an adoption trade in his own country that was often corrupt.
“He (Pastor Okwiri) knew, and we knew, that there was a major step in the process that involved the consent of the family,” Dustin explained.
A flight to Uganda was soon booked so that Dustin could make the appeal in person, meet the girls, and allay the Uncle’s concerns. Dustin came armed only with his faith, necklaces for the girls, and a photo album that offered some glimpse of what their new life would look like in the Rotan’s home.
After his arrival, the Uncle remained skeptical. The anticipation was palpable, but after much patience and prayer, and some convicted but soothing words from Pastor Okwiri, within an hour he finally gave his consent – with one caveat, that the girls would be able to return for a visit at least every two years. The celebration was on, and in a show of ultimate selflessness, the old lady danced in joyful celebration for her grandchildren and their new prospective parents.
Meagan wrote on her blog, “On her side…two grand daughters suffering from hunger and the lack of basic necessities and in serious danger of becoming another statistic…she surrenders her heart to God in the best interest of her daughter’s only memory to her. No words for this.”
After learning the good news, Dustin was reminded of the words of Emmanuel by one of his African escorts: “When God says yes, no man can say no.”
While nothing happens in Ugandan adoption law without such consent from a designated relative or guardian, the battle for hearts was won. Now as Ugandan government lawyers begin the process of a full investigation that will lead to a referral, and ultimately a court hearing, the Rotans prepare for the new additions to the family in Seminole. The Rotans have established a relationship with an accredited Amarillo non-profit adoption agency called “Little Miracles”.
The couple has hired a language tutor to begin teaching English to Babita and Mutonyi, and Pastor Okwiri has arranged for the girls to live with him, his wife, and their six children – three of them orphaned – in their 600 sq. ft. home, while the process continues. With the children’s ministry at The Worship Center in Lubbock picking up half the cost, three new bunk beds will be provided for the Pastor’s home to help make the adjustment.
As for the “widow” of James 1:27, the construction of Grandmother’s new hut is under way. She will become the proud new owner of an actual bed – possibly for the first time in her life.
“We hope to bring them home next summer,” said a hopeful Dustin Rotan. That would be just in time to enroll five-year-old Babita into the SISD Kindergarten program.
It is not an easy process, nor an inexpensive one. The Rotans recently raised some $4,400 in t-shirt sales toward the $5,250 it takes to just get the process started through the adoption agency, and cover the cost of the investigation in Uganda. It is a journey that will ultimately cost as much as $30,000, but the family is prepared to meet the challenge, re-evaluating their own budget and looking at ways to “cut the fat.”
“We’re not above being a little less comfortable,” Meagan explains.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to some, they’ve put their 3,000 sq. ft. home in Seminole on the market in an effort at downsizing.
“But if it doesn’t sell, we’ll fill it up,” Dustin says. “God put this on our hearts, and we’re going to pursue it with everything we have, whatever that looks like.”
The couple are looking at other options for another home in Lubbock that was purchased barely a month before the call came in from the SISD, a house that is currently being rented. The sale of that house is another option.
For the Rotans, the returns are far greater than the sacrifice.