by Dennis Dalman
For their deep love for children, for their determination to adopt despite great odds against them, Tony and Lisa Schneider of Sartell were honored with an “Angels of Adoption” award last week in Washington, D.C.
The award was presented by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who represents Sartell and other areas of the 6th Congressional District. Bachmann, the mother of five biological children, has also done foster care throughout the years for 23 foster children. She and her staff nominated the Schneiders for the “Angel of Mercy” award because they had become familiar with the Schneiders who had sought help for adoption through Bachmann’s office. Bachmann is co-chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Congressional Coalition on Adoption.
“We’d heard of that award, but Tony and I didn’t feel we’d done anything so extraordinary to deserve it,” Lisa said.
There were 145 Angels of Adoption awards given – to families, individuals, groups and agencies, all of them either adoptive parents or involved with making adoptions possible and successful.
The award was presented in the National Guard Building. Later Bachmann and her staff gave the Schneiders and their four children a personal tour of the U.S. Capitol, a tour that delighted the entire family. Because the nation’s capital was practically a “ghost town” because of the government shutdown, the Schneiders got to spend more time than expected with Bachmann and her staff.
The Schneider children are Caleb, 7, (biological son); Micah, 5 (adopted son); Ian, 4, (adopted son) and Anaya, 2 (biological daughter).
The Schneiders journey toward adoption was a long and at times very arduous one, full of twists and turns, setbacks but most of all, when all is said and done, triumphs.
Tony works in medical sales, and Lisa is a stay-at-home mother and former physical therapist for seven years. They met while students at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, and began dating at that time. Tony grew up in Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Lisa in Hawley, Minn., near Fargo, N.D.
The year 1999, the year of their marriage, Lisa describes as a “glorious, exciting time, living in student housing in Colorado Springs, which was quite an adventure. I went there to finish my clinical affiliations.”
Three years later, the couple tried to have a baby, without success, despite some fertility treatments. Years passed, and during that time the Schneiders were certain the Lord had a plan for them.
After much prayer and research, their hearts were drawn to the orphaned children of Central Asia.
During her college years, Lisa had watched some videos of orphans in Eastern Europe. That, she said, is when the Lord began stirring her heart.
They started the adoption process for a baby in Kyrgystan in Central Asia. By 2005, they’d chosen their adoption agency. The long and daunting mountains of paperwork, the seemingly endless task of filling out forms had begun. Then, one day during a lull in the paperwork, the Schneiders were stunned when they learned Lisa was pregnant.
“We were in shock,” Lisa said. “Disbelief. What had the Lord been doing?”
They decided the Lord had an even bigger plan than they’d thought.
Caleb was born in 2006.
“It was such a blessing,” she said. “He was such an energetic, eager baby.”
When Caleb was 18 months, the Schneiders resumed their adoption efforts.
In March 2008, they received word that a 4-month-old orphan baby in Kyrgystan was available.
“We fell in love with his photo,” Lisa said. “The biggest brown eyes you’ve ever seen.”
He was called “Baby Z.”
Then, sadly, a month later adoptions from Kyrgystan came to a sudden halt. The government had placed a one-year moratorium on all adoptions because of political machinations. It was a heartbreaking time for the Schneiders.
“But the Lord sustained us,” Lisa recalled. “He gave us hope and showed us how to hold onto it.”
Disappointed but not defeated, they checked into an adoption from the Ukraine, which used to be part of the Soviet Union, like Kyrgystan had been. That effort was not a substitute for Baby Z, which the Schneiders vowed never to give up on.
In the Ukraine
Finally, on April 7, 2010, they were called to an appointment in the Ukraine. After a long train ride through Eastern Europe, they finally met the boy child. Within seconds the child charmed them utterly, and he was crazy about them. He had a slight cleft palate that would require fixing. A Ukrainian judge decreed the Schneiders as the boy’s parents. However, they had to leave him behind, return to the United States and wait for the court decree. After a few weeks, they returned to the Ukraine with Caleb. They were elated and named the boy Ian.
Back in Minnesota, Ian had two surgeries to repair his cleft palate, and he underwent countless hours of speech therapy.
“Ian is such a witty personality,” Lisa said. “He has a gift of making people laugh. He’s doing just great now, and we thank God for him.”
Three months after their return with Ian, the Schneiders received another bit of stunning news. Lisa was pregnant again.
“We were thrilled, but we would not give up on Baby Z,” she said. “After a month or two of needless worry, we finally listened to the Lord telling us He’d work out His perfect plan for us. And, of course, he did.”
Their daughter, Anaya, was born in June 2011, a year after bringing Ian home.
“She’s such a precious little girl now who keeps the boys on their toes,” Lisa said.
After thinking of Baby Z for almost four years, one day finally they heard the news that Kyrgystan passed a new adoption law. There was finally an “open door” and renewed hope. But it was dashed hopes for many families whom the Schneiders learned were denied adoptions from that country.
“It was heartbreaking to learn that,” she said.
Every time the phone would ring, the Schneiders’ hearts would jump into their throats. One day the phone rang, Tony answered it and Lisa could tell it was good news.
“So he’s still there and we can adopt him?” Tony asked of the person on the phone.
Lisa burst out crying with joy.
One day in March 2012, Tony, Lisa and Anaya boarded a plane and flew to Kyrgystan to meet their new son after a four-year wait. At the orphanage, swarms of children, so happy to see visitors, gathered round the Schneiders.
Then they saw the boy who would be named Micah, and their hearts melted.
“He seemed to be thinking, ‘Who are these strangers that my caretakers are giving hugs?’ That was written all over his face,” Lisa recalled. “We met Micah on my birthday, and it was the best birthday present I’d ever received.”
A bonding period began, with the Schneiders visiting Micah twice a day for 10 days.
But suddenly, a snag developed. They couldn’t get a court date before their planned date to go back to the United States.
“We were so scared, so fearful,” Lisa recalled. “Maybe we would never see him again. They might change adoption, like they did before.”
It was a very long and very sad trip back to Sartell. Thankfully, a couple weeks later a court date was set. It all went smoothly. On June 9, 2012, Tony brought Micah home. At the Minneapolis airport, Lisa, Caleb and Ian were waiting for the joyous moment. There were smiles, hugs, tears.
“Caleb was finally able to embrace his new brother,” Lisa said.
Even in their joy, the Schneiders’ hearts ache for the many families who had waited years for orphans in Kyrgystan and still have had no luck in the adoption process.
“It’s so sad,” Lisa said. “So many families are still waiting.”
Through all the trials and tribulations of their adoption journey, the Schneiders have realized their unbounded faith in God is what helped them most.
“Would we go through those years again to bring our children home?” Lisa wrote in an essay about the adoption process. “Absolutely. Will we adopt more children one day? If it’s the Lord’s will, of course, and I hope so! Have our hearts been changed so much that we will always, tirelessly advocate for the orphan? Without a doubt.”