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Youth pastor Bruce Sperling and his wife hoped to adopt a child, but their plans were cut short when he drowned in 2006 while trying to save an imperiled kayaker.
Now, nine years into widowhood, Jill Sperling is pursuing that dream with efforts to adopt a boy from the impoverished Caribbean nation of Haiti. Her adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services, cautions that the process could take close to four years under Haiti's newly tightened procedures, but Sperling is undeterred.
"There's been frustration that the government is moving so slow," she said. "Have I ever wavered in my commitment? No, I have not."
Sperling, a 40-year-old school administrator from Orland Park, Illinois, started the process in November 2013 and is braced for a timetable that could stretch until mid-2017.
"It takes a lot of patience, a lot of prayer," she said. "I'd love to raise my kid with my husband, but I can definitely support a child even though it will be on my own."
Sperling has yet to visit Haiti, but says her interest in the country was kindled by the devastating earthquake in 2010 and reinforced by accounts she heard from fellow church members who did mission work there.
In Wauconda, Illinois, just 60 miles north of Sperling's home, two brothers from Haiti have settled in with their American parents, Jodi and David Mork, after an adoption completed through Bethany in January 2014.
Jodi Mork, an elementary school teacher for 25 years, left her job in order to home-school the boys — Sean, 8, and Jesse, 7 — and says they're thriving.
They had been living for several years in an American-run orphanage in Haiti — God's Littlest Angels — after their impoverished mother decided she could no longer care for them. For the Morks, it was love at first sight when they saw photos of the boys in a listing of children available for adoption.
"They felt familiar to my heart, like I already knew them," Jodi Mork said.
Sean and Jesse were among 464 children from Haiti adopted by Americans in the 2014 fiscal year, up from 388 in 2013. However, U.S. adoption advocates expect the number to drop significantly this year due to Haiti's new approach, which includes tougher screening of prospective adoptions and expansion of alternative programs in Haiti for abandoned children.
Mork said she had mixed feelings about the concept of international adoption, but was sure that the decision to adopt Sean and Jesse was the right one.
"There's a lot of beauty in Haiti," she said. "But I also realize that for the boys to be able to learn and grow, the opportunities here are so much greater."