Chance meeting in Ethiopia leads Indiana family to adopt boy
SELMA, Ind. -- Jason Buck and his wife Staci still remember the phone call they had after Jason's mission trip in Ethiopia in December 2011.
How could they ever forget?
After communicating through email for a week, Staci asked how his trip went. But there was only one thing on Jason's mind.
"I met this boy in Mekelle," he said.
It wasn't at all what she had expected to hear. And little did she know then, but that phone call was about to spiral into a series of events that would change their lives forever.
That boy's name was Sofani. A car crash and two botched reservations put Jason in the guest house in Mekelle, where the two met and bonded for three days.
It was the last thing Jason expected from the trip, but the thought of the young boy who lost most of his family weighed on his heart upon his return to Selma, Indiana. It was Christmas time, but Jason's holiday spirit was distracted in a big way. He couldn't stop thinking about Sofani.
It seemed crazy at the time - it still does - but after returning home, Jason emailed the man who ran the guest house to thank him for his hospitality, and he asked about the possibility of adopting Sofani.
"I learned his story the last night I was there and that's a lot to carry around," Jason said. "We were in a position that we could do something in his life and we just had a really unexplainable connection those first few days."
Through it all, through the dragged-out adoption process, the sacrifices he, his wife and other children - Avery, Jackson and Anna - made and the acceptance from the community, the Bucks still can't believe that the final piece of their family was once more than 7,500 miles away.
It was almost eight years ago when a 10-year-old boy put his faith in a man he knew for less than 72 hours to return halfway around the world and give him a new life.
It was almost eight years ago when the Bucks' lives really began.
"When Sofani arrived, the adventure really kind of started with our family," Jason said. "And it's been a neat, crazy ride ever since."
The Bucks had no idea of the sacrifices that everyone in their house would have to make.
There's no instruction manual for this sort of thing. Patience was tested, tears were shed and frustrations were expressed when Sofani first moved to Selma.
But they wouldn't have had it any other way.
Since he spoke almost no English when he arrived in July 2012, the plan was for Sofani to be home schooled his first year.
But Sofani was having none of it. He's always been a bit stubborn and ready to take on any challenge in front of him. So, they sent him to school at Selma Elementary School just a mere two weeks later.
"Everything was so different for me," Sofani said. "The school, I didn't expect it to be like that at all."
The differences included learning inside a classroom instead of an open courtyard, adjusting to the organization of the American school system and dedicating a majority of his time to learning a new language while being bombarded with questions from his curious classmates.
What Sofani couldn't answer, he'd turn to his brother, Jackson, who had become a translator on top of a brother, roommate and so much more.
"I remember all of the kids just going up and asking a bunch of questions and if he couldn't answer it, they would ask me about it," Jackson said. "Most of the time, I didn't have a better answer to give them."
When the prospect of getting a brother the same age as him was introduced by his father, Jackson was all in. He traveled along with Avery and his parents to Ethiopia once the seven-month adoption process was finalized.
In the first 56 hours with his new family, Sofani slept about four. In the beginning, he and Jackson were inseparable. They shared everything from toys, clothes, friends, playing time in sports, you name it. They went on adventures together, building a homemade raft like Huckleberry Finn and making a zipline out of dog leashes.
"I had always wanted a brother just being around my sisters the whole time and it was really cool to have that relationship," Jackson said. "Just having someone always to do something with and that kind of kick-started a lot of our adventures. It was fun and definitely a learning experience for me, too."
Sofani was always curious, too. Whether it was emptying out the junk drawer onto the kitchen floor, taking apart the toaster when it wasn't working properly or hot-wiring the lawnmower as an 11-year-old after Staci hid the keys from him.
Yes, he hot-wired a lawnmower.
"I think Staci and I both, we learned that you need to pick your battles," Jason said, laughing thinking back to it now. "Like, you can't fight them all. ... Our level of tolerance has been raised so high and nothing surprised us, nothing."
Jason added: "We've all had sacrifices to make and changes in our roles, so it's been a real period of growth for the family. Some days it's been hard. There's been periods of times when it was harder than others and sometimes there were times of pure joy and fun."
During his trip in 2011, Jason was supposed to stay at a hotel in Mekelle, but was moved due to government meetings happening there at the time.
On the way to an inn with his contact in Ethiopia, Jason got into a car crash that totaled the SUV. After being dropped off at their next destination, he learned that the reservations were incorrect and - with his contact dealing with police at the scene of the crash - he was stuck.
He had nowhere to go, until the woman who ran the inn invited him to stay at her guest house. With no other choice, Jason obliged.
It was there where Jason met three children, the oldest of whom was Sofani. He bonded with his contagious smile immediately. The two didn't speak the same language, but as Jason learned his story and got to spent time with him, he had to hold back tears when it was time to say goodbye a few days later.
It may have been an accident that brought them together, but Jason knew that it wasn't an accident that they met. Upon his return home, he sent the email.
A few months later, the community began to learn of Sofani's story, which Jason documented in a blog he wrote named, "A journey into adoption, the fatherless, love and justice."
When Matt Luce, athletic director at Wapahani High School and friend of the Bucks' for more than a decade, first learned that Jason and Staci wanted to adopt, he wasn't surprised.
"It's just the kind of man that Jason Buck is and the type of family that the Bucks are," Luce said. "I don't know how to explain it. They're very unselfish people, very spiritual people and it didn't surprise me one bit."
But neither Jason or Staci knew just how hard the adoption process was going to be. It took seven months - which is relatively short compared to most international adoptions - to gain legal custody over Sofani.
And both sides took a leap of faith to make it happen.
Jason and Staci took multiple trips to and from Ethiopia for court visits and filled out endless amounts of paperwork.
Meanwhile, Sofani, who was just 10 at the time, checked himself into an orphanage in Addis - about 450 miles away from his home - in order to be eligible for adoption.
He was by far the oldest child among a number of infants and younger children where he spent five months. He was homesick and hated it, but he trusted that Jason would come back.
It's almost unheard of that a child his age gets adopted internationally. Usually, prospective parents want to adopt babies or smaller children. That's part of the reason why neither his teachers nor his friends believed him when he said he was going to America.
There was nothing telling him that it would happen for sure, either, but Sofani had faith. And he stayed at the orphanage.
"When I was a kid, I always knew, this seems - I don't know - but I always knew I was going to be in America because I would always watch movies and I always said that I was going to be living in America," Sofani said. "And it's weird, like, my dream kind of came true."
Last summer, Sofani made his first trip back to Ethiopia. He saw relatives, who came far and wide to visit him, and showed his family where he grew up and went to school. It was an exhausting trip, both physically and mentally, but one that Jason felt was important to be made.
"I think it was important for him to see that - you know - it'll take you a day to get there, but it's a couple plane rides away. It's closer than you think," Jason said. "For him to return and go back as a man, to realize that a couple thousand bucks in plane tickets and stuff, you're back there. If you want to go.
"I think it seems like a world away and it's important to realize, 'Oh, we can do this.' 'We can go back there.'"
Sofani's curiosity became evident on the first trip to Selma.
At the airport in London, he was fascinated with the stores, moving walkways and escalators that he rode backwards. He pressed all the buttons in his seat on the plane and stuck his head out of the family's sun roof as they drove down the highway on their way back home.
He's always had a particular interest in planes. In the future, he wants to join the Air Force, which is fitting considering one of the first times he flew in a plane was on his way to Selma.
"Just, like, hands on, lots of buttons and freedom," Jason said. "The skies have no rails, you know? To me, it's a very fitting profession for him to want to be interested in."
That is, of course, if soccer doesn't work out.
When he first arrived, Sofani quickly saw that the sport was less popular in the middle of Indiana than it was in Ethiopia. But the talent Sofani developed on the streets of his home country immediately translated. And his new family was just as obsessed with the sport as he was, watching Premier League together on Saturday mornings.
Now seniors, Jackson and Sofani have played varsity soccer at Wapahani since their freshmen year, when they went 0-12-2. While the team is still improving, Jackson and Sofani have helped the Raiders to one of their best seasons in recent memory.
On the field, Sofani is a threat to score at any time. In Wapahani's 4-1 victory over Blackford, Sofani scored on a penalty kick with 32:18 left in the second half and broke away to score a goal 40 seconds later. Jackson also scored in the contest, leaving Staci cheering "Go Bucks!" in the stands.
But Sofani is more than just a talented scorer who leads the team with nine goals this year. First-year coach Josh Kauffman said he's been impressed with how he's developed into a leader for his teammates.
"I don't care how many goals he can score, because he can go out and score a lot of goals," Kauffman said. "I've been most impressed with the attitude he's shown. In the past, I've been told that he's dealt with attitude issues and he's stepped up to be a leader and our team has played 10 times better because of him."
Sofani also plays basketball and runs track at Wapahani. It's uncertain what the future holds for him or Jackson, but with everything they've already done, it's hard to doubt what either of them can accomplish.
Source: Star Press
Information from: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com