You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Marisa Butterworth. Today we have the opportunity to hear from two AGCI adoptive moms that have recently returned from a visit to Ethiopia and the AGCI Tim Tebow Foundation House of Hope. I virtually tagged along thanks to their social media posts, but I am so excited to hear about their experiences and the stories that they’ve returned with.
Kerri Dawson is the mom of four school age children, two of whom she and her husband, Nate, adopted from Africa. She says that their adoption journey changed her entire worldview and deepened her understanding of God’s love for us all. Kerri works as a nurse and is a gifted photographer and decorator. Camille Bendick is the mom of four children, the youngest Lila, adopted from Ethiopia at age five.
When Camille and Matt said yes to God’s call to adopt, they never knew how transformative the experience would be for them. Camille teaches kindergarten and loves traveling the outdoors, reading, and spending time with friends and family. I hope that you all enjoy hearing from these women as much as I do.
All right. Hi, you guys. Thank you so much for joining me today. I told you both separately, but I. And seriously, so excited to hear from you both. I. Like I just was saying, I, like, stalked your social media for posts while you’re in Ethiopia. I’m not even joking. I wish I was, but I’m just so excited that you guys are here.
I am. I am ecstatic to hear more about the home and your experiences and just all of it. So welcome. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Mary. Thank you. So, I have to like basically like just talk through you guys were at the Tim Tebow Foundation & the AGCI House of Hope. You also did other things that you can share as you would like.
I like I said, I’m totally jealous because I love my coworkers that run it. I see pictures and hear stories of the girls. And I’ve just fallen in love with Ethiopia because my daughter is from there as well. So, can you both just tell us a little bit about like what you were doing there and why this was an important trip?
Yeah, it was incredible to be back in Ethiopia again. Camille and I met ten years ago when we were adopting our daughters from Hannah’s Hope, and we just created a close bond then and we’ve kept in contact over the years. And so, we always dreamed of bringing our girls back. So, it was really special. I love it. Yeah.
Kari reached out to me, I guess, earlier this summer and said, Hey, what are you doing in August? And like, nothing much. So, we had talked about that on our last trip to Gambella though right age to bring our girls back, which is now. And we saw that they were ready and we know how important it is for them to see where they’re from, return to their home country and experience all of that and have some of their questions answered.
So, it was just the right time. And we got to we didn’t we weren’t able to get to Gambella, so we stayed in Addis Ababa and then we also had the chance to spend some time with their birth families, which really felt like a true miracle to. Yes, it was. It was wonderful. So. And then, of course, some time at that house of hope.
So and then Kari was there an extra week? So she even had more time. I was just there a week. She was there, too. Oh, my gosh. So it’s so cool and so cool. And can I ask, are you guys comfortable and telling me how old both of your girls are? So yeah. Yeah, my daughter’s 12 now and Lyla is 15.
Okay, so that was like a good age and stage for your girls. That’s great to know. I’m taking notes over here. So it was special to see the bond the two girls created after reuniting. So it was all around. Amazing. I love it. I love it. Yeah. They didn’t know. Even though they were both from Hannah’s hope, they were so little.
And because there’s a little age difference between them, they weren’t really in the same house. They had Hannah’s help. So this was their first. We had them face time once before and which was kind of awkward and I can imagine for yeah, they’re like, Oh my gosh, yeah. So we were a little nervous, but basement about it literally took 2 minutes and then they were glued to my mother the whole time.
I love it. That’s like so it’s so perfect and special and I love that they had even though they didn’t have memories of each other like that, they there is obviously something there and that they could experience. All of that together is a really special gift. I don’t know, that seems really cool that they would be able to be there together.
So I would love to hear your first impressions of the home. Like what were you expecting when you got there? And then what was it like to actually walk in and what hit you first? So I think for me, the thing that really stood out is that the House of Hope is a home. It’s not an institution. It’s beautiful, it’s clean.
I think what struck me immediately, besides the smiles on the girls faces, were my eyes went directly to in that and Martha and they were the two caretakers of the girls that were there. And I just kind of burst into tears because they took care of Elsa ten years ago. And it just really I really think that Elsa did so well because they taught her how to love, how to trust.
And it just really immediately I just they remembered her and I remembered them, and it was just so special. Oh, my gosh. I would have been crying my eyes out. That with you. Yes. And for me, it really was just as I envisioned it to be, I envisioned it to be somewhat similar to Hannah’s hope. And it was just that it was warm and welcoming.
Inviting, clean, organized. And like Carrie, I had I had tears in my eyes before we even got out of the car or just being there. And the doors were open. And the girls that had this celebration of from being made welcome signs there were cheering. I think they were singing a song. They threw confetti while I was trying not to melt into a puddle of tears.
Because here I thought we were going to be the ones to immediately make them feel so loved. But they beat us to it and got to that first. And so it was it was very is very special, very memorable for sure. And my gosh, I’m like even now I’m even more jealous are like what you’re like Betty amazing that it was it was it was a celebration.
I love it and I love that they were thoughtful and did that. So just for anyone listening that’s wondering what Hannah’s hope is to do, one of you want to fill them in or should I? Well, Hannah, Hannah’s hope was the transition home that all God’s children had for our children that we’re going to be adopted when adoption was open internationally in Ethiopia.
And it was truly a place of healing and not only building up health and, you know, healing from what’s happened in their past, but really just transitioning the kids to be be ready to be in a new family. And so it was so special. And a lot of the staff who worked at Hannah’s home now work at House of Hope.
And so it’s it’s amazing just the commitment these people have to children. So. Yes, and they were I’m with you like I credit the caregivers that were with Harper for her being able to attach to us and like holding her looking at that she was so loved and taken care of and yeah, too, to see the caregivers right there, I think I would have just totally broken down.
But that’s that’s Hannah’s hope. And it’s not it’s not there any more at this point, because international adoption is closed down right now in Ethiopia. So we had to close Hannah’s help. But House of Hope is doing something very special and unique. So how did both of your girls react to visiting their home? Were you guys able to participate in any special projects or like, it sounds like you interacted with the girls at the home right away?
What were they working on? When did you get to dove into where our our girls were so excited to go be there and they were welcomed right away. It was special to see the House of Hope Girls sing for us and do a little program for us. And also we played games with them and the staff interactive games and everybody was laughing and cheering and having fun.
And it was really special because our girls, you know, when it was time to rest or time to eat, our girls wanted to go with them. So we spent. Wow. Right, Kimmie? All right. Yeah, I love that. So you guys got to eat with them and just participate in their day? We really did. We just kind of walked in and and just participated alongside whatever they were doing.
And our girls, there was no apprehension, no nerves. I know Lyla kept asking, even before we left for Ethiopia. When are we going to see the girls going to read and see the girls? And we got there several times a day. When are we going to see the girls? So she and also could not wait. And they, I think, ran into the House of Hope and jumped right in.
And so their first reaction was just one of excitement and just wanting to be be with them. I love it. So what kind of things did you do? I saw. Did you guys bring manicure kits? I feel like I saw nails painted in pictures. So what kind of activities where they where he got besides the manicures? Well, we joke that the girls taught our daughters how to pray and worship.
Yes, we taught them how to do nails. That’s perfect. It’s like the balance we’re bringing, I guess. But, you know, it was it was we had a lot of fun doing that. Some also some drawing activities right now. As I said, a lot of them are nails and all. Like we said, we did some outdoor games, which was so fun.
It was led by the staff. Oh, good. It it was just a simple game of throwing these balls into a bucket, but it was actually very hard. And we broke up into teams and it got very fiercely competitive and very fun. I was really some of the most fun I’ve had in a long time, so we did that in the hour.
We did. We made some bracelets and necklaces with the girls. I love it. It was just a sweet time. And like Harry said, they they they had a prayer and worship time and our girls just jumped in. And even though there was the language barrier, it didn’t it didn’t faze them at all. They just sat right alongside join that circle.
And that, for me was one of the sweetest moments getting to witness that, because I really saw how dedicated those special mothers are to giving those girls that foundation of your love, your love by God. And He will see you through your pain and give you peace and strength. So that was a very tender moment for all of us.
Yeah, it was also it was also special to see them. Just have fun. One day, one of the days we actually loaded 22 people in a van. So we’re all like sardines in this spill. My gosh, that’s impressive. Yeah. And we got to go on a field trip with the girls. And I swear, kids are just the same everywhere, no matter what.
So we’re at the park, everybody’s playing and playing and playing. And of course, the girls get a hold of my phone and I have about a thousand selfies just like my daughter does. So, my gosh, I love it. So, yeah. And then we went out to a little fast food restaurant for Ethiopia. I guess it’s kind of like a in and out.
It’s called Enjoy because oh served chicken. But it sounds perfectly Ethiopian very much so. So, you know, we got to sit in a little booth and talk with all of the girls and they’re asking, you know, what’s my favorite color? You know, what’s my son like to do? They started asking more questions about my son who was there too.
So that was kind of funny. Yeah. Oh, my gosh. It was great. It was great. I love it so much. I love just like that little snapshot of a day there and that you guys got to participate. And the team there, like our staff, they are competitive. So I mean, impressed. Yes. I’m like I could see. But that’s so fun.
I love I mean, I love that example of everyone being involved and playing because that’s where connection happens. That’s where kids start to let down their guard and feel safe. And, you know, that’s a really special moment that you guys get to participate in. So I know obviously Ethiopia is close to all of our hearts on this call for obvious reasons because of our kids.
And I’m guessing that you have both been watching this kind of project unfold over the last couple of years. What did it feel like to experience it in person after hearing about it or seeing pictures of Ed? What did it feel like for you? Oh, I was hearing a lot about the TBI model that I was using and that I feel like is just transformative in all ways.
Not only to know that the staff there are trauma informed and aware, but to see the actual TBR eye approach take place in the lives of these girls is truly transformative. It was amazing to see that these girls came and scared her severe abuse and to just see that there truly is a place of healing that’s taking place and people that are invested in their lives and their future.
So what about you, Camille? And for me, experiencing the House of Hope really confirmed what I already knew to be true. And that’s just bedside dedication to serving children and families. The love is there, the attention to detail is there, the passion for serving is there, the organization is there. And I just can’t say enough good things about this staff.
They really I just had such admiration for what they’re doing and how professional they are and how serious they take their job while balancing fun with these girls because they’ve been through so much. And that’s a difficult balance, I think, to to be doing something that’s so serious and serious work. But then they’re relaxed too. And they that I think the girls pick up on that they’re that they’re relaxed.
And I think that’s what lets them to have fun and to be kids. And so that was but really impressed me and just the fact that they also want to take serving these children, extend it to their families, too. So just watching that be the focus, it was just incredible. But, you know, we we know how great AGCI is.
And so also, I think the transparency AGCI communicates in these projects and missions through House of Hope. It was just as it’s been explained, and we just got good folks. I’m so glad because that’s part of what I do. I mean, I’m not in charge of that, but I’m so glad that it was what it what we’ve said it is, especially when I haven’t been there yet.
But I do know the team there and they’re just the most incredible people ever, as you guys can attest to. And I, I trust them implicitly that they’re doing what they say they’re doing and they’re just they love those kids and families so deeply and so genuinely. I’ve never seen anything else where people just like they know everybody’s names, they and they, they have truly dedicated their lives to serving their people.
And it just there’s some of them I don’t say this like casually. There’s some of the best people I’ve ever met in my entire life. Every time I leave from being with them, whether it’s in Ethiopia or when a couple of people came over and we’re able to be here in the States, I just leave a better person inspired, like I’ve learned something from something they’ve said.
So I love hearing that about them because they are they’re just they’re incredible. That whole that whole team out there. I love it. And so after coming home, what stories do you both find yourself telling people? And it doesn’t have to be just one. I want to hear the story, but I think for me it’s just the transformation in the girls.
Not only do they physically heal, grow and change their guard in their heart, you know, the guard goes down and I was able to witness the home, had 13 girls when they first arrived. And then by the time I left, 17 girls had come into care. And just to see the staff care for those new girls. The girls care for the new girls that were brought in.
It really it shows the intentionality towards the healing and I’m sure that they are trying to develop in these girls. What did that look like? You still curious like how did the girls react to that were already there? And how did the staff care for the new girls coming in? Yeah, just a sense of a welcoming and a sense of protection and safety that I think that these girls haven’t experienced.
You know, all like I said, all the girls had had tremendous abuse in their past and they fled and they were straight children living on the streets. And the police would pick them up and take them to a government orphanage. And that is when the House of Hope was stepping in and creating healing. But when I was there, I learned that the AGCI had started training the police officers and the trauma informed care, and they were creating relationships with the police.
And so it was amazing to see that the street children would be bypassed there, bypassed the orphanage and come straight into the house of hope. And to me, that is life changing in itself. Yes, I’m right into a place of healing and protection. Then it’s really one less trauma in their life because the the government orphanage is not a good place.
I’ve been where they go and it’s one of the most awful places I have ever visited. Yeah, yeah, I agree. And it’s nice to know that the police and the government officials, they’re starting to become aware of trauma informed care and what it means to step into the lives of these children and help them. So it was it was amazing to see.
Amazing. I love that. What about you, Camille? And I would say the stories I keep sharing are just they’re smiles. They were. So I can’t get over how knowing everything they’ve been through, but the fact that they’re still smiling. And I think that’s a testament to the agency staff and what they’ve done in such a short, relatively short amount of time.
Another story I keep sharing because I don’t want to sugarcoat anything by how smiley and funny or as one day or the day when we were out playing outdoor games, somebody scored a point. And so we were all jumping in, celebrating the hugging. Well, one of the girls, she was faced away from me and I went to hug her, put my arm around her.
Well, she really flinched and reacted. And and I know that touch scared her, which was an indication of what she’d been through. And then she turned to face me. And then she saw my face and she I kind of just her body language just softened and she, like, had a look of relief. And so then we hugged. But I keep holding on to that moment because I it was just such an example of what they’ve been through because of her reaction.
And so I’ve been sharing that story, too. To me, that spoke volumes because they’re not they’re sharing their personal stories with us. And we’re not asking that, of course. Yes, but we know it’s there. So that was one way we could see the level of trauma that they have experienced. And so that’s when I keep kind of holding on, because it’s just an example of why the work is so important and then wanting to share that with others.
So that’s the hope coupled with yes, pain, the reality of what why they’re there in the first place for sure. And the House of Hope is a place where, you know, these girls are getting that kind of care with the goal of being reunified with their families. And then their families are getting that TBI training and therapy really too, because for them to go back home, their their family needs to understand what happened to them and how to care for them in those moments where they have that kind of reaction, where they jump or where something is triggered because of what they’ve been through so that they can get proper care at home as well,
which is what so important and why we’ve been so fortunate that the girls are able to stay with their with their families at this point. For them at this point, you know, sometimes that might not always be the case. But yeah, that’s one thing that they save. 14 girls have been reunified to their families this year.
Yes, we were there. And all of them have stayed in reunification, which know that’s pretty unheard of, I think, too. So that just is a testament to show that the family is getting that counseling and the trauma informed care approach to. So yeah. And they have things to work through themselves and and so it’s so important but we’ve been so fortunate to see these girls going home and there isn’t necessarily a timeline of like some girls have been able to go home sooner and some are there a little bit longer, but it’s just in the meantime, such a beautiful, safe place for them to stay and get the care that they need.
And I just love it so much. So after visiting, do you feel like the House of Hope is going to be able to make a long term difference in Ethiopia? Oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Even just like I spoke about with the police officers, the government officials are starting to get word about what is taking place there. And truly, the girls are being transformed right before our eyes.
I mean, it’s speaks volumes with the impact that will have on the country, I think. Yeah, I think so too. Yeah, I think that is House of Hope helps just one life of a child. Then they’ve helped Ethiopia, which we know. I learned that there were 14 girls who’ve been reunified and there was a mural of a tree, a painted mural on the wall.
And when the girls leave to be when their before they leave, to be reunited with their families, their put their handprint on the tree, on the branches. And I love that as a visual because I just think it shows the long-term difference that House of Hope will make in extending that hope and healing to the families which will take root and grow.
So, I love the visual of the tree and the branches and how it will extend through Ethiopia. So I love that. Yes. That’s why I feel the same way, obviously, which is why I do the work that I do. But it’s just so powerful and impactful to me to hear you guys talking about it and seeing it firsthand.
It makes me all choked up. Yeah, just even whenever we get like that picture of the little of them making their little handprint, I feel that same way. Can we all where it’s like just that one life right there is going to make such an impact on an entire country, on their family, on the legacy that they create as they get older and the healing that they’ve encountered there and will be able to bring with them their entire life.
I just think, gosh, what a beautiful model and what it’s like to be loved by Jesus too, and that we all matter and that we’re all important. But yeah, I love that it’s a living testimony for sure and the lives of each of them. So. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Every time you get to share, I’m like, ooh, I’m going to start crying like, Oh.
And so I think most importantly, where are you guys planning on going again? And how do I get an invite? Because I want to bring my daughter and she’s not quite ready for the flight yet. She’s like, I don’t know, that sounds really long. I’m like, Oh, it is, but but yeah. Are you do you guys have any plans to ever go back with the girls or do you feel like that that was kind of it for the time being.
I think that they’re ready to go. Yeah, yeah. They’re going to give us a choice right here. I so we’ve been told they are. She’s already going. She’s like, can we go over here? Come on, Mom. Yeah, I didn’t think either of them. Well, next time here, if they don’t mind the younger girl coming with them, I mean, next year she’ll be 11, so come on, it’s pretty close.
Yeah. Yes, you’re coming. Okay, good, good. Yeah, you’re in my cell, and I’m so, like, I just. I love you, too. I just. Both of you are so incredible. Thank you for taking your girls back. It’s so important, I think, as we can to get our kids home that to their home where they were born and do whatever we can for that connection for them and I so first of all, just appreciate you guys doing that and taking that seriously.
And also, I just think the world of both of you, I appreciate you sharing and coming on here. I know sometimes it can be nerve wracking and I just love hearing all of the stories. So thank you guys both like seriously so much, you know, thanks for having us. Thank. Here, there it was our favorite topic. So it’s yes, mine too.
We keep talking all day. Yes. Yes, we might after this. Okay. Stay here as the thanks for listening to Together by AGCI. That was Carrie Dodson and Camille Bendix sharing about their recent experience at the AGCI and the Tim Tebow Foundation House of Hope in Ethiopia. For more information on how to support the work we’re doing at AGCI, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
You can visit our website at allgodschildren.org. If you like what you heard today, please share our podcast. You can also go on and rate and review us wherever you listen to your podcasts. Follow us on social media at All God’s Children International. Thanks so much for listening.