by Britt Aamodt
Feb. 8, Esther Dixon received an email from her adoption agency. Nearly a year before, she and husband Bjorn had decided to adopt from Ethiopia.
The Zimmerman family was weeks from a referral. Soon they’d get that call that meant their 3-year-old twin girls, Liana and Amaya, would finally have their new baby brother.
“We got a mass email,” said the couple a few weeks later, older, wiser and a little shell-shocked.
Because they and every other family working with Christian World Adoption out of Flat Rock, N.C., including a couple other local families—Katie and Ryan Vick and Leah and Matt Krotzer—received two emails that day.
The first email didn’t make sense to Esther.
“It was from the director of our agency referring us to a new agency,” she said.
New agency? Why would she need a new agency?
Esther pulled up CWA’s website. The site was down. She tried to call. No one answered.
The second email explained why. CWA had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The agency was closing its doors, and whatever money the families had paid was, to put it simply, gone. As were the Dixons’ hopes of having their baby home for the holidays in 2013.
Esther called her husband. She got hold of friends Katie Vick and Leah Krotzer.
“Esther sent me a text message that said, ‘Check your email,’” Katie Vick recalled.
Her response was similar to Esther’s: This can’t be happening.
The bankruptcy was a double blow for the Vicks because this was the second time they’d had an adoption derailed. Previously, they’d tried to adopt from Haiti. But summer 2012, the country approved ratification of the internationally-recognized Hague Adoption Convention.
It would take years for Haiti to meet the standards, and more years for the Vicks to welcome their baby home. So they opted to go with CWA and an Ethiopian adoption.
The local families affected by CWA’s bankruptcy met through Central Lutheran Church in Elk River, where they are members. Individually, they’d made the decision to adopt, and through talking to each other learned about CWA.
Each of them had made extensive inquiries into the agency. It was one of the top agencies for Ethiopian adoptions. Families who’d adopted through CWA swore by it. CWA was Hague-accredited.
That accreditation is something of a gold standard for international adoptions, said Ryan Vick, who, with wife Katie, took out a loan to help pay the $32,000 adoption fee required by CWA. CWA asked families to pay most of that up front.
The Vicks and Dixons only had plane fare and other incidental expenses left. They’ll be paying on their loans for years to come, but there will be no child at the end of it.
The Krotzers weren’t as far into the process. But all of them feel the emotional devastation of the bankruptcy.
The Dixons had undertaken renovations to their house. They’d moved rooms around. Their daughters still ask when their brother is coming home.
For Bjorn Dixon, adoption was a lifelong dream. An associate pastor at Central Lutheran and the pastor of WHY Church at the YMCA, he wanted to provide a stable, loving home to a child who otherwise might never have one.
“There are millions of orphaned children in Africa,” he said. “They’ve been orphaned by malaria and the AIDS epidemic.”
“But we’ve seen a decade of decline in adoptions,” Esther said. “Not because there are fewer orphans but because of bureaucratic measures, some well-intentioned.”
After the dust settled, the families had to decide if they would try adopting again. Could they trust another agency?
“What I’d like to see is some kind of oversight of these agencies,” Ryan Vick said, so that what happened to them won’t happen to others.
They still don’t know what exactly went wrong at CWA. But all three families have decided to continue the adoption process.
“The bottom line is,” Katie Vick said, “There are millions and millions of children in need of loving families.”
Central Lutheran Church is trying to help that miracle along. They’re sponsoring a fundraising spaghetti dinner, 5-7 p.m., Friday, March 22.