FARGO — From a very early age, Beret Huck knew she would adopt a child someday.
“Adoption was always part of my vocabulary, part of my reality,” she says, noting that a good friend of hers had been adopted. “To me it was just normal life, and it made sense to me, that that was a great way to grow a family.”
Around age 12, that decision was cemented in her mind through an article she’d read. “The ban on multiple children in China was just coming to light. I remember reading about it and thinking, ‘That’s not right, I want to be part of doing something about that,’ and the logical solution was to adopt.
When she married Jason Huck many years later, after meeting him as a student at North Dakota State University, Beret shared her dream to someday adopt. Jason wasn’t opposed.
The Hucks eventually had two biological children: Aidon, now 11, and Kieran, now 9. And life was good. But Beret’s heart was not settled, and the adoption idea emerged once again.
After researching many options, the Hucks zeroed in on Ethiopia as a country in need, as well as being most open at the time to international adoption.
They prayed, processed and began preparing — both the necessary paperwork and their sons for what might come.
Following a waiting period, a request came in. A match had been found — a little girl, age 3, and her baby brother, 1. Would the Hucks be interested?
At the sight of the photos on the computer screen, the Hucks melted. Yes, they would be glad to welcome these children into their lives.
But more waiting was in order. To help them cope with the unknowns, the Hucks purchased a clock from Ethiopia to keep track of the children they already loved, but could not yet hug.
“We would sit down to dinner at night and say, ‘Oh they’re sleeping now,’ or we would get up in the morning and think, ‘They’re having dinner and getting ready for bed,’ ” Beret says. “And we’d pray for them, that, if it was morning, they had something to eat, and if bedtime, that they had someone to tuck them in.”
“That helped solidify the idea for our boys,” Jason says.
“We always left room for the possibility that it wouldn’t actually happen, because that’s a reality, so we always put it in those terms of, ‘If this is what God wants for our family, it will happen,’ ” Beret explains.
Finally, a year after learning about them, the Hucks traveled to Ethiopia to joyfully meet and welcome their two newest family members, Sarah, then 4, and Zach, then 2.
Many would be thrilled and content with such an outcome, but the Hucks did not feel altogether settled. Having visited the home country of their adopted children and witnessed the poverty firsthand, another yearning followed.
“It became clear quickly that more was expected of us, that we couldn’t just pat ourselves on the back and say, ‘Good job, you adopted a couple of orphans,’ but that it’s bigger than that,” Beret says. “Where they live, Ethiopia, they were two of 4 million others. That’s a hard realization, and we just feel a strong responsibility to the country and people of Ethiopia.”
Soon, they learned they were not alone. Another couple, Kyle and Kathy Freier, also had adopted from Ethiopia. The four had met while learning about international adoption in a required class during the preparation process.
Together, they began discerning how they might make a difference in Ethiopia.
In January 2014, Beret and a group that included her mother and sister, Krysta Severson, traveled to the country to touch down and better discern the needs.
“The culture is amazing. In spite of their extreme poverty, the people are filled with hope and joy,” Severson says. “Considering all we have here and how there are still so many unhappy people, to go to a place where people have nothing and yet their hearts are full of joy and gratitude, they blessed us way more than we did them with the things we brought.”
“The first day back, (Beret) said, ‘Our family has to move there for at least a year,’ ” Jason recalls.
“He was not quite on board with that, but it facilitated a discussion about what would be reasonable for us right now, and how far are we willing to push ourselves?” Beret says.
After considering the practical implications, the Hucks joined forces with the Freiers and began formulating ideas for a nonprofit endeavor.
They’ve named it Project 1:17, after the Bible verse from Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”
“It was kind of borne of the idea of wanting to be able to do this in an effective way. We attend different churches, so it was a way to have one entity that brings it all together,” Jason says, noting that they attend Atonement Lutheran, while the Freiers worship at Calvary Methodist.
“God put us together hand in hand as we went,” Kyle Freier says. “But always, what really linked us was a lot of the whys behind what we’re doing it. We’re not that great, we’re plenty selfish, and lot of days it would be easier to go to all the ball games and not miss any, but God made it clear in our lives by calling us to adopt, to live out his work for us through taking care of the orphan in different ways.”
The Freiers have three biological children, along with Ana, whom they adopted from Ethiopia in 2009, and now two additional children through foster care.
In May, the Hucks traveled to Ethiopia to begin hands-on work with the church there with which they have partnered. While there, they taught a group of 90 kindergarten children hygiene, helped replenish a playground, and walked alongside teachers to offer ideas and, with the help of Jason, a computer software engineer, computer education.
They’re also helping facilitate small-business loans for families on the brink of poverty, and have helped provide looms for women to craft scarves they can sell to earn an income.
“One thing we noticed with the ladies weaving, they just feel so much better about life. They have a light about them they didn’t have when we met them last time,” Beret says. “The fact that they’re able to support their kids and doing it on their own power rather than depending on people, that’s really what they want.”
It’s about giving a hand up, not a handout, Jason says.
In the end, love begets love, as the Hucks have proven through love for their children, which ultimately led to love of a whole country.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The above piece ran in The Forum newspaper on July 11, 2015.]