Volume 5 Number 3
by Elizabeth Terrill
On Thanksgiving Day 1999, the Reverend David Perkins became a parent.
While many of us were polishing off Grandma’s oyster dressing and settling in to watch some college football, Perkins was in family court, convincing a Russian judge he was prepared to become both mother and father to four maternal siblings he’d only just met. Today, gathered in the living room of a historic home in Terre Haute, Indiana, the Perkins household looks like a prototype of the well-adjusted American family.
Perkins, a 1982 PTS graduate, didn’t start out thinking he’d adopt four children. Working with Hand In Hand, an international adoption agency with offices in Indiana, Colorado, and Arizona, Perkins was hoping to find two brothers in need of a loving home. Though Hand In Hand connects with orphanages in approximately ten overseas countries, the search was limited to China and Russia, the only two that allow adoptions to single men. As China will only adopt one toddler-age male child to a single man, Russia became the country of choice.
The process started smoothly. In March of 1999, Perkins entered a three-month training process to learn something of the culture his prospective sons were growing up in. Before long, he was matched with two brothers from an orphanage in Ryazan, Russia, a city that’s part of an ancient principality about three hours southeast of Moscow. A video and written information introduced the boys, and Perkins was immediately hooked. The adoption paperwork was filed; all seemed to be in order.
Then without warning or explanation, the process stalled. For five months, little information came from overseas. Perkins, his family and friends, and Hand In Hand racked their communal brain, trying to discover the problem. In late September, Perkins called a family meeting. The Russian brothers had two sisters. If the adoption was failing because the family resisted being split, could he handle being the sole parent of four children?
The response was uniformly positive. “My brother said, ‘There’s no way you’re going to look at those little girls and tell them they have to stay behind,’” Perkins says. “Besides, the real challenge wasn’t going from two children to four children, but from no children to any children.”
Hand In Hand assured their Russian contacts Perkins was willing to adopt all four siblings. Suddenly, the obstacles were cleared. Perkins prepared to travel to Russia to meet the children.
He arrived in November and met the boys and one of the girls at the orphanage where they’d lived for nearly five years. The second girl had been moved to another facility four months before, but it wasn’t long before all the children were reunited. Within a few days, the necessary decisions had been made: Perkins and company were on their way to court. Soon after, a brand new family, using makeshift sign language, boarded a jet bound for the United States. On December 4, they were home.
The children are adapting remarkably well. Russian children don’t begin formal studies until they are seven years old, so all four are playing catch-up in school. But eleven-year-old Sergei is a math whiz who is quickly reaching his peers’ educational level while scaling back in other areas.
“Sergei’s biggest challenge has been learning to be a kid again,” says Perkins, who the children call Pa. “He had to be the head of the family for five years.” Athletic, mechanically inclined, and a skilled artist, it was Sergei who worked so hard to keep his siblings together, even declining to be adopted by a family who had wanted only one child. Perkins has given each child an American middle name. Sergei’s is David, after his new father.
Nine-year-old Oksana’s middle name is Gwyn. Oksana is also sports-minded, has a good singing voice, and thrives on responsibility. Perkins says she is artistic and helpful, as well. “They’re all helpful, “ he adds with a grin. “All aggressively helpful, sometimes.” Oksana’s sister is her fraternal twin, Victoria, who now carries Pa’s mother’s name, Aline.
Victoria Aline goes more often by the nickname Vika, and Perkins describes her as “a sweetie. She’s easygoing, and the one the others rely on to help them get things done. And it’s really hard to talk about her with her sitting right here.” Vika, engaged in doing her homework under a lamp on the end table, peeks up over the page, giggles, smiles, and goes back to her work. “Oksana and Vika are twins,” says their father, “but you wouldn’t know that by watching them. They’re completely different.”
The youngest of the siblings is Dmitri Evan, Dima for short. Dima is eight years old, affectionate, playful, and doing quite well keeping up with his classmates at school. “He’s the one who’s needed the most nurturing,” Perkins says, “the one who’s most needed me to be mother and father.” Dima has fewer lasting effects from his time in the orphanage, a fact Perkins puts down to his being the youngest. He’s looking forward to playing soccer this summer, an activity all four children will participate in.
There have been many changes in the Perkins home over the past year and a half. Perkins’s priorities have undergone a transformation, shifting from “me and my job, to the children, my job, and me.”
While the children are in school Monday through Friday, Perkins performs his duties as solo pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Terre Haute, then brings his work home so he can be there when the children arrive in the afternoon. If there is a meeting or event scheduled at the church in the evening, the younger Perkinses often accompany their father, or are looked after by part of an army of loving family and friends. “I work different hours than before,” Perkins explains. “Sometimes I work shorter hours each day, but I work every day. My basic life is the life of any parent.”
Perkins thinks back on his days at PTS with fondness. “My three years as an M.Div. student were probably the happiest of my life,” he remembers. “They prepared me well for parish ministry, and indirectly for family life, too. Like parish work, being a parent is a reciprocal kind of ministry. The children need me, just like I need them in order to grow and be nurtured. They’ve brought a whole different world to me.
“A good life lesson,” he continues, “is don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone. God moves in mysterious ways. To grow, you have to be willing to grow.”
© Copyright 2001 Princeton Theological Seminary