This Unsung Heroes project has really taught me so much about what is important in life. Each person has such unique lessons to impart and share with the world. Erin Steinhoff is no exception. She is an unsung hero with lessons to teach all of us, but the one I would like to focus on is this:
Life Principle: Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone
So often we get caught up in trying to solve the big picture, when the truth is we need to humble ourselves by doing for one what we wish we could do for everyone (the above principle is from Andy Stanley). I met Erin on a trip I took to Africa with some friends. It was a trip of a lifetime, and I met so many amazing people who had servant hearts. During that trip, I saw Erin preparing to adopt Levi and it really touched me. I left, but through the magic of Facebook, was able to keep up with her story and the new addition to her life, Levi.
Erin knew she wanted to be a mom, and that she had a heart for orphaned children. This is her story of how she did something about it. I believe stories like this need to be told, because if Erin’s story inspires others to address the massive issue of orphaned children by doing for one what they wish they could do for everyone…well, that is how real change happens. She and Levi are now living in Texas, where she grew up. Erin is working full-time for Karama, which is an organization that sells amazing products made by African artisans who might otherwise be resigned to a life of poverty.
I interviewed Erin as part of this project. You can read the interview below.
How did a girl from Texas end up in Tanzania?
I long had a desire to go to Africa and first had the opportunity to go on a trip to visit a child I sponsor through Compassion International, to Uganda in 2007. I just went, with few expectations at the time as to the role it would end up playing in my life.
When did you know and how did you know you wanted to work in Africa?
I knew over the course of time and experiences that I wanted to give what I could of my life to help others in great need in Africa. I decided to move to Tanzania after two short-term mission trips to Africa, as those two trips had truly opened up my eyes and changed me. Katie Davis’s blog had incredible impact on me as well and played a big part in me being ready to move to Africa and be ‘All In’ with my life. But most importantly, the example of Christ and his love and service for the ‘least’ in this world have been my daily example, motivator, strength, and guide in striving to do the same.
What were you doing in Tanzania?
During my first year in Tanzania, I taught at an International Christian school (Hopac). I got involved with Karama that year as well. I went back on staff with them my 2nd year. From the beginning, though, I went to Africa with the desire to help orphans. I got involved with an orphanage in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where I volunteered with the kids weekly.
How did you know that you were going to adopt? What was going through your mind / heart?
I long have had the desire to adopt. Just knowing the needs of orphans in the world and how many children are without families had a huge impact on me. It was probably within the past five years that I started considering it as a single person. After going to Africa, I went with the thought/desire/prayer that I was ready and willing to do it if it was feasible. After my first year there, there seemed to be nothing stopping me so after plenty of prayer and discussion with others- I knew it was time to pursue it. The need was most certainly there, so why would I not do what I could to help?
What lessons have you learned about life because of Africa?
Wow. Big question. I’ve learned that we are usually more content with LESS. The “more stuff” that we have in the West doesn’t make us happier, and it usually has more of the opposite effect. Lives of simplicity are usually full of more contentment and appreciation of true/real blessings in life. However, on the other side of that thought: HALF of the world is living on $2 a day and has *very* real needs: access to basic healthcare, access to clean water, regular nourishment, education for their children. There is great injustice in the world between the rich and the poor and those of us who are blessed with so much have great responsibility to help bridge the gap and change the injustices that exist (people who make over $30,000 a year consist of the top one% of the world’s population).
What lessons have you learned through adopting Levi and being his mom?
It’s hard for me to see it as an experience that I ‘learn lessons from.’ Now, I’m just his mom and he’s my (precious, adorable, incredible) son. It’s very natural. I know I was made to be a mother and am doing what I was made to do. Not to say that I haven’t learned many things in the process and that I won’t continue to, but I guess I just don’t see it from that point of view… it’s just who we are now.
How have people come along side you to support you?
Friends and family have been very supportive from the start. They have supported financially but also emotionally, which has been the most important. They threw me baby showers, and have given many needed gifts, but most important has just been the desire to spend time with us and integrate us into their lives.
What books have you read or resources that have been influential / helpful that you might recommend to others considering this?
Katie Davis’s blog was one of my biggest inspirations in moving to Africa and wanting to adopt (she now has a book out called Kisses From Katie.I have also read other great books pertaining to adoption that have been very helpful in my transition with Levi:
These two books were very helpful.
What have been the challenges so far?
My biggest challenge has been moving from Africa to America (and all the major culture shock and change that comes with that). That was more of a challenge than going from being a single person to a mother. Levi has done incredibly. He has adjusted so well and is truly flourishing here (at ‘school’, with his peers, in his attachment to me as his mama, in his language skills, in his growth and health and abilities, in his learning, in his general happiness… he is the happiest child; others comment on that all the time: “he is such a happy child!”). Yes, it’s been a process with a lot of adjustments but very doable and very much worth it.
What does your life look like as a single mom with an adopted son? How do you get everything done and manage everything?
It is a lot to manage, but it is very much doable and not overwhelming or ‘too much.’ I do work full-time, but I am very blessed to be able to work from home so I can have Levi around for a lot of it. We are in a great routine and life is full of a ton of joy and laughter and blessing every single day.
One of the most important things for us, though, has been making sure we regularly see and spend time with others, so that we don’t get or feel isolated. Levi makes that easy as he is very social and his first question to me most mornings is, ‘Who are we going to see today?’
What is the biggest thing you wish everyone knew about adoption?
That it is an INCREDIBLE BLESSING and that there is GREAT NEED. There are roughly 147 million orphans in the world. It seems like there have been enough ‘stories gone wrong’ that now everyone seems to want to prepare anyone considering adoption with all the horror stories and difficulties that may arise, so that most people now regard adoption as this incredibly difficult task that is only possible for a superhuman. However, I would counter that and say that anyone who is or desires to be a parent should consider adoption. ‘Hard’ would not even be one of the top 10 words I would use to describe my experience…Incredible, blessed, wonderful, life-giving, fulfilling, redemptive, beautiful, yes… but ‘difficult’ is not one of the first words that comes to mind. I’m not saying there haven’t been any difficulties, or that there won’t be more to come, but ‘difficult’ is definitely not one of the main words I would use to describe our experience. Has it been the greatest blessing of my life? Yes, without a doubt. If you are or have the desire to be a parent, I would say you should consider adoption. It may not be for everyone, but I think a lot more people should be seriously considering it. There are too many children already in the world in need of a family for us to not do our part in alleviating that.
Can you provide a brief overview of how you went about the process of adopting Levi?
I used a US agency and did an international adoption out of DR Congo. I wasn’t able to legally adopt from Tanzania. I basically did the same process as anyone living in America would. I adopted as a US citizen who was just living internationally at the time.
Is there anything else you want to add about your story?
Just that it has been God who has empowered me to do any and all of this. I would not be who I am or able to do anything that I do without His daily strength and my daily dependence on Him. I would not have moved to Africa or had the strength to sustain me there if it weren’t for His power, His example, and His heart that loves the least of these and asks us to do the same. And I truly believe that He brought Levi and me together – that it was His plan for me to be his mom and for him to be my son – and I am so overwhelmingly thankful and blessed by that. We do our part in obeying and following Him, and He works out His perfect plan to bless us ‘more than we could hope for or imagine’ (Eph. 3:20), which is exactly what He has done with us.
Erin’s story is truly inspiring. Please share this with friends and family you feel would benefit. Lastly, here are some helpful links with additional information:
Click here to check out Karama gifts and consider purchasing beautiful gifts that have meaning.
Click here to read Erin’s blog. You can contact her through blog if you have any questions or want to reach out to her.
What can you do for one that you wish you could do for everyone?