by: PHOTO BY: ELLEN SPITALERI  - Anna Ahrens poses with 'Fly fishing,' one of her favorite watercolor pieces currently on exhibit at Big Dog Coffee in Oregon City. Anna and Philip Ahrens know their children are in Ethiopia, but they just haven’t met them yet.

The young Oregon City couple started on the long road to adopting a boy and girl from Ethiopia nearly three years ago, and they are still waiting for a match.

So what’s the hold up?

“When you’re working with a Third World government there is at least nine months of paperwork — it’s like a paper pregnancy,” Anna Ahrens said.

Add to that the fact that the Ethiopian government revamped the adoption process recently, resulting in only four cases per day being processed, compared to 40 cases per day under the old system.

In addition, the couple has been waiting 19 months to be matched up with two children younger than 4, when they originally were told it would take four to six months for a match.

The government needs time to check and make sure there are no trafficking issues, and if any family members are still in the picture they must testify that the adoption may proceed, Ahrens said.

“Each Christmas we’ve thought that this would be the last Christmas with just the two of us, but it has been three Christmases,” she added. “And it is hard to know that the children are celebrating Christmas with no family.”

Some people might be tempted to give up, but the couple made a conscious decision to adopt a boy and girl from Ethiopia, and they are staying the course, Ahrens said.

“When we decided we were ready to start a family, we looked at agencies and countries, and we picked Ethiopia. There is very little child abuse there. Most kids placed in orphanages are there because their families could not take care of them,” she said.

Once the couple has been matched with two children, then they must fly to Ethiopia twice — once to meet the children, and the second time, about eight months later, to bring them back to Oregon City.

“We are praying for a match in a month,” Ahrens said, adding that originally they planned to adopt just one child, but when they realized how time-consuming the process would be, they decided they might as well bring home two.

The two children may not be birth siblings, but “the kids will have each other,” and be treated as siblings, Ahrens said.

Fundraising puzzle

Big Dog Coffee in Oregon City currently is hosting an art exhibit of Ahrens’ watercolors and her sister-in-law Juliana’s drawings to help raise money for the couple’s adoption expenses.

Anna estimates that with agency fees, paperwork costs and travel expenses, the total needed will be around $30,000.

All proceeds from the sale of the artwork will go to help with adoption fees, Ahrens said, adding that she has always looked at art as a hobby and has never exhibited her work. She finds it scary and mind-boggling at the same time, she said.

She also has a blog,, that charts the course of the couple’s adoption process, and offers advice to others who want to adopt a child.

“It’s hard to keep writing it, when all we’re doing is waiting,” Ahrens said.

However, the blog has an unusual fundraising component featuring a 1,000-piece lion puzzle. People can go online and buy a piece of the puzzle for $10, and then Ahrens will put the donor’s name on the back of a puzzle piece. When the entire puzzle is complete, the couple will sandwich the lion between two pieces of Plexiglas, so the donors’ names will be visible from the back.

“It is 52 percent sponsored. Donations have come from missionaries, high school students and people who are struggling financially. It is so lovely and so humbling. We’ll show it to our kids, and they’ll know they will be loved. So many people will be looking forward to meeting them,” Ahrens said.

Most of the comments on her blog have been supportive and positive, but others have questioned why the couple is set on adopting children from Africa.

“This is our first option to start a family, and we’re looking forward to bringing in children who don’t look like us, and who did not start out speaking English,” she said.

But for now, all the couple can do is wait.

Ahrens added: “We love the culture and people of Ethiopia. Our kids are over there, and when we meet them, it will be worth the wait.”

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