KOREAN DISCOVERY by Fred Sievert
My daughter Dena is a Korean orphan that we adopted at the age of five months in early 1979. When we adopted Dena, we knew very little about her background; only that she was given up for adoption by her unwed mother and was living with a foster mother until she departed Korea for the long flight to the U.S. and to us.
We started the adoption process with the Dillon Adoption Agency years before Dena was even born. There were several bureaucratic delays and, unlike the adoption of her older sister Heidi, this process seemed to take forever. However, the delays proved to be well worth the wait as Dena has been a wonderful, loving, and happy child who has blessed our family dearly. She has a strong faith and is very compassionate, often volunteering time in her teen years to provide comfort to the sick and elderly. Before going away to college, she often visited the Waveny Nursing home in New Canaan, Connecticut, simply to sit and talk to some of the elderly residents. There was an elderly blind lady in the home who was as sad as we were when Dena went off to Calvin College in Michigan for her undergraduate studies.
As a college student, Dena had arranged to spend a semester abroad in China during the fall of 1999. Before her departure, I asked her if I could meet her for a few days in Korea on her way back from China in December. This would be our annual trip together for that year. She was excited by the prospect and I began to plan the trip.
Although Dena never asked much about her birth parents or the circumstances surrounding her adoption, I thought it appropriate to offer to do everything possible to discover more. I was willing to make contact with the adoption agency and the Korean authorities to see what we could uncover, and, since the trip wouldn’t take place for several months, it occurred to me that there was ample time to pursue the idea. We knew that our parental relationship with Dena was as strong as any biological parents’ and we were eager to assist in filling that void in her knowledge of her own ancestry. So, that summer, as we were planning for Korea, I asked her if she wanted me to attempt to track down information about her birth parents. I must admit that even though it was a wonderful and touching moment for my wife Sue and I when Dena quickly responded, “No Dad, you and Mom are my parents,” we were somewhat disappointed that we wouldn’t be experiencing that challenging but exciting adventure. After that talk with Dena, I didn’t think about the matter again, but, as it turned out, God had more in mind for us on that front.
That December, we met in Seoul and had a wonderful three days together despite the cold weather and the difficulty of finding anyone who spoke English. In fact, during the entire trip we encountered very few other Caucasians. In shopping malls and on crowded city streets, I stood out quite noticeably as a tall American Caucasian man. Whereas I was somewhat uncomfortable at times, I honestly think Dena felt more comfortable and “at home,” as many people approached her expecting her to be fluent in Korean.
On the third night, after observing Dena’s wonder at visiting this beautiful country, the locale of her own ancestry, I asked her if she'd like to try to visit one of the many orphanages in Seoul. This would give her a chance to see what life might have been like for her if she hadn't been adopted. She agreed and through the concierge at the hotel I arranged for a visit to a local orphanage the next morning.
We arrived at the orphanage and were greeted warmly by its executive director. He took us on a tour, and Dena got to play with many of the preschoolers there, as it was a weekday and the older students were in school. It seemed to be clean and well managed, but it was hardly the ideal home for a child. It was clearly missing the most important element of a home: loving and nurturing parents. Even though she was enjoying the visit immensely, I couldn’t help but think Dena’s mind must be wandering into that “what if” territory.
After the tour, we sat briefly with the executive director of the orphanage in his office. During the conversation, he indicated that twenty years prior, when we had adopted Dena, he was the executive director of a nearby adoption agency. He suggested that we visit that agency to see what it would have been like for Dena, as an infant in the arms of her foster mother, to visit such an agency for periodic medical visits. He wrote down the address, with directions in Korean, which we handed to the non-English speaking driver who drove us to the agency.
When we went in, the agency was bustling with many foster mothers and infants. Realizing that she once was just such a babe in the arms of her foster mother must have given Dena an unusual emotional sensation. How wonderful, I thought, that those women volunteered in this way with babies that were largely rejected by their society. I thanked God for these heroines and for the care they gave to our beloved Dena.
We were greeted by a young girl who asked us a few questions and took us around the place. Before we left, she asked if I remembered Dena's Korean name and volunteered to look her up on their computer database. I gave her Dena’s birth date and her Korean name: Jung Ja Moon. To our delight and surprise, she actually found her in the database, but there was no information other than the name of the adoption agency: The Dillon Agency. The young girl suggested we visit Dillon, which was only a couple of miles up the road. By this point we had begun to sense that this was destined to be--that God was guiding us on this journey. We were both intrigued by our progress and, in a definite change from her reticent attitude in August, Dena was eager to take the next step.
Our driver took us to The Dillon Agency, where we were once again greeted by a young adoption representative. She too found Dena on her agency’s database, and asked us to wait in her small, cluttered office. In three or four minutes she returned with a three-inch thick file in her arms. Despite telling us almost nothing when the adoption took place in 1979, we were amazed to discover that the Koreans had maintained very extensive records. Most papers in this file were in Korean, but amazingly, embedded in the file were the original handwritten application documents that Sue and I had filled out twenty years before.
When I saw those application documents, I instantly recalled the excitement and anticipation from twenty years before, when Sue and I had contemplated adding another daughter to our young and growing family. At the time, I didn’t realize how Dena would bless us immeasurably over the ensuing years. God probably knew then that I’d be sitting here next to her, profoundly reconnecting with that past. I silently thanked God again as I fought back tears of joy.
Dena and I listened intently as this young and dedicated agency representative spent well over an hour interpreting Dena’s file, which included transcripts of interviews with her birth mother, and the details of the family and personal situation that led to her being offered up for adoption. We were enthralled, particularly by the photographs of Dena, her birth mother, and her foster mother.
I could not have been this successful in locating this information if I had spent months on the phone or writing letters trying to track it down. It took a personal visit to the right locations that could only have been guided by the loving hands of God. This indeed was much more than a coincidence.
We left with a copy of the file but without making an attempt to locate Dena's birth mother. The documents indicated that her mother had left her small village and traveled to Seoul to give birth before anyone in her family even knew she was pregnant, and we felt it would have been inappropriate to attempt to track her down and open that can of worms in front of her family.
Nevertheless, we left Korea with deep satisfaction, gratitude to God and a sense of closure. We now know the circumstances surrounding Dena’s adoption, and though we probably never will speak to her birth mother, we are grateful that she made the decision to offer up precious little Jung Ja Moon for adoption. Sue and I know her mother would be proud indeed of her baby, who has become a beautiful, well-educated, compassionate and loving young lady.