Family Without Boundaries

A Letter from Jed and Jenny Koball, serving in Peru

June 2019

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The happiness in Mielan´s face lit up the computer screen that sat across the dining room table from her mother, Carmela. She expressed a joy that I, too, was feeling that day. It was Mother´s Day — my first as the parent of my own sweet Thiago.

Mielan´s brother Julio sent me the photo of his sister Skyping with their mom. As some will contend, Julio is not her “real” brother. Nor is Carmela her “real” Mom. To some, they were just playing a role. They are not really family, some might say — at least not in the traditional sense. But what I know, and what Mielan knows, and what Carmela and Julio know is that the familial love they share transcends anything limited by tradition.

Mielan Barnes, former YAV in Peru, shares a hug and a smile with her host mom, Carmela.

Mielan was a Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) last year here in Peru. Carmela was her host mother. A unique component of the YAV program that I coordinate is that of the host family. I place each YAV with a family that not only provides them a place to sleep and food to eat, but also the nurture and guidance any young adult needs as she encounters a world of challenges, disappointments, success and growth. Carmela and her son, Julio, would be just that for Mielan, providing her the love and encouragement she would need not only to survive but to thrive throughout a year of service in Peru.

I have learned not to care so much about how others define family. More so, I have learned that those who attempt to place boundaries on family are often those who live in fear of the unknown. When Jed and I started the adoption process that led us to our son, Thiago, we encountered such fear even among people we know and trust. It was not unusual for us to be confronted by such questions as: “How can you love a child that is not your own?” or “If you do not know anything about the birth parents, do you not worry that your child will grow up to be a criminal or drug addict or worse?”

Initially, such comments and questions filled me with anger. They also left me dumbfounded because many of the people who were expressing such ideas were mothers themselves. I had hoped they would have been more sensitive and accepting. However, in the workshops that Jed and I were required to take as part of the adoption process, we learned that adoption is still a very foreign and even taboo concept for many here in Peru. Family in Peru is so often defined strictly by blood. But, this did not dissuade us from forming the family we always knew we were meant to be. Both Jed and I had dreamed of adopting a child one day, before we even knew each other. For us to meet one another and fall in love made the idea of adoption feel like it was part of God´s will for us. So, there was never any question, or thought, or fear expressed to us that could separate us from the love of our child-to-be — our sweet boy, Thiago. And when doubt did creep in, it was the YAV host mothers who gave me hope.

The 2018 YAVs say good-bye to Thiago before heading back to the U.S. at the end of their YAV year.

As the YAV site coordinator, I understand my calling as not only that of walking alongside young adults during a year of cross-cultural service and learning, but also as an accompanier of host families and service organizations here in Peru who are also learning through this experience of welcoming a foreigner into their lives. And so, while I spend a lot of time instant messaging with the YAVs during the year, I also spend a lot of time talking on the phone with the host moms who may call me at any time of day with urgency, seeking advice and saying, “Jenny, I am worried about my daughter …” And what is so clear is that they are genuinely worried about their YAV daughter or son, for whatever reason, as if they are speaking of their very own child by birth. There is no doubt that they have indeed welcomed that young person into their lives with the widest of open arms, accepting them for who they are despite not only differences of race, language, nationality and culture but also potentially conflicting ways of thinking about the world and different beliefs about our God. For this reason, the YAV host moms are the heroes of this story. They defy the norms of the culture, striving to love their unofficially adopted young adult children with all of their hearts, souls and minds.

In a couple of months, we will receive a new group of YAVs who will begin their year of service for a lifetime of change. We encourage you to pray for them and their families-to-be.

And, one year from now, Mielan will be coming back to Peru as well! Her brother Julio is getting married, and she has already scheduled her return for the festive family occasion. Jed and I will be there, too, with Thiago. And, together, our unique families will celebrate what it means to love one another, regardless of who we are, where we come from or how we came into this world. We will celebrate the power of such love that is not defined by the blood that runs through our veins, rather by the welcome we receive at the Table to partake of the Bread broken for us and the Cup poured out for us.

For all of you who share such welcome with us and our partners through prayer, thought and deed, we are grateful. Your support of this ministry we share echoes through the lives of countless people and families who are committed to loving one another as God first loved us. Until the day comes when we can sit side by side with you in your homes and with your families, know that we hold you in prayer and think of you constantly … especially when your own joyful photos come scrolling across our screens!

In Christ,

Jenny Valles


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