Sara Van Zee, a 2000 Northwestern graduate, lives in Orange City with her husband and five children. Her life is hectic. As I speak with her on the phone, I can hear children’s voices in the background. “It’s so busy,” she apologizes. I reassure her that I understand and we try to figure out a time for an interview. “My children keep me so busy,” she laughs lightly.
Van Zee has had a heart for children since a high school mission trip to an orphanage in Mexico. “For the first time I began to understand what the word ‘orphan’ truly meant and God began to prick my heart in complete love for the fatherless.” Although she did not know where that would lead her in her later life, she claims that she knew God was placing in her heart the desire to help the helpless. Following her marriage to her husband Tim, the couple went to Nicaragua on a mission trip. The poverty Van Zee saw affected her greatly. “I will never forget meeting a three-month-old named Timothy who was the size of a newborn and was only able to be fed three bottles a day. Both of his parents had died and people in the community took care of him.” It was then that Van Zee became sure that God was calling their family to become adoptive parents. After having three biological children and adopting one child domestically, the Van Zee couple began the international adoption process in January 2008.
Tim has a college friend whose family had started an orphanage in Haiti, and the families were still in contact when the devastating earthquake took place. Although it is not common to be able to adopt children under the age of three so quickly, the family was able to adopt their son Albear. Sara admits that it was definitely God-ordained. “Albear was abandoned at birth almost exactly a year after we had begun our international paperwork. It amazes us that even before anyone was aware of Albear, God was preparing a way for us to get him,” she said. And that is not the only miracle surrounding Albear’s life; he was found just three days after being abandoned. It is a wonder that he survived.
Albear’s adoption turned out to go less smoothly than the Van Zee family had hoped. “Children were being cleared rather quickly if they were in the process of being adopted; however, that quickly came to a halt when the 10 Americans were found to be taking children out of Haiti illegally. The Haitian government then changed the process and a few more applications were required for Humanitarian Parole. Most people were fine with if it meant making sure that children were being kept safe and everything was legitimate.
“One of the things that happened was that now the Prime Minister wanted to see each file and sign off on it before a child could go. This seemed very reasonable but did prolong the process a little more. During this time, we were told that we needed to have our bags packed and ready because, at any moment, we could get a call that Albear had been cleared and was getting a flight out. We then had to go to Florida to complete more paperwork. Finally we got word that Albear was going to be on the Prime Minister’s list on a Monday.” Delay after delay occurred, but finally Albear was on a flight to Florida on the following Tuesday. The family met him with joy and Albear instantly became a part of their family.
“We will forever have ties with Haiti, as that country is part of our extended family. Our love for Haiti runs deep,” said Sara proudly. She knows full well the struggles that college students face when trying to make an impact where it is needed. Her advice to students is that researching the roots of the problems facing other countries will help to bring the issues into a wider view. Her time at Northwestern showed her the call that Northwestern feels toward serving, and she charges all students to take part in that integrating of faith and learning so famously preached from all offices on campus.