Friday, June 8, 2018

Two Humble Farmers Who Pioneered the International Adoption Revolution

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” James 1:27
Have you ever wondered how International adoptions came to be so prevalent?  We’re pretty accustomed these days to being around mixed race adoptive families, and my family enjoys that privilege as well.   If it weren’t for the remarkable couple you’re about to meet, we would not have our precious little Thai granddaughter.  
Interracial adoptions may be common today but when I was a child in the 1950’s they were unheard of.   Adoptive parents were carefully paired with infants who looked like them and it was often kept secret.  In many cases the child didn't even know!   
So how and when did this all change?  
By 1950 Harry and Bertha Holt had six biological children and had built up successful lumber, farming, and commercial fishing businesses in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette River Valley.    But life had not always been easy for this hard working couple.    They began their married life in 1927 in South Dakota where Harry was a farmer and Bertha, a nurse and midwife.   The Great Depression had forced them to lose their home and land to back taxes and in 1937 they packed up and moved to Oregon to get a new start. 
And then Harry had a massive heart attack.  
Alone one evening as she thought of the blood flowing through Harry’s arteries, she remembered the blood of Jesus Christ. The Son of God had died so that all who believe in Him could have everlasting life. Though they had grown up in the church, Harry and Bertha realized that they never truly had committed their lives to the Lord. 
Together, the Holts sought a personal relationship with God. They also asked God to give them some work, some way of serving Him. A few years later they got an answer.” 1  
In 1954 the Holts saw a documentary on the plight of starving homeless children living in squalor on the streets and in orphanages after the Korean War. Over 100,000 Korean children were orphaned either as a result of being shunned because their fathers were Caucasian GI’s, or by the death of their parents during the war.   At first the Holts helped by sending money, but later decided those children needed loving homes.   
Harry and Bertha concluded they wanted to adopt 8 orphaned children.   But this was legally impossible unless somehow they could get both the House  and Congress to pass a new bill.
By faith Harry left for Korea in 1955 while Bertha stayed behind to mind the children and farm, and petition the federal government.   Miraculously, just two months later Congress passed the “Holt Bill” allowing for the adoption of war orphans.
At age 51, Harry brought home their 8 new children,  ages 9 months – 2 ½ years.    It became a family affair as the Holt’s biological children, most of them now grown, eagerly pitched in to help  care for their blended family of 9 girls and 5 boys.
Not long after settling in with their extended family, the Holt’s began receiving calls from people inspired by their incredible story who wanted to adopt children from Korea.   Using mostly their own money, the Holt International Children's Services was founded in 1956 and Harry was off to fetch 500 more children while Bertha stayed home matching them with families.  Thousands of children would soon follow.  
But the Holt’s work for the Lord was not without opposition.  American social workers opposed them and North Korean propaganda claimed they were selling the children as slaves to plantation owners.   None of this phased the determined couple.
In 1961 Harry established the Ilsan Center in Korea  which today serves about 300 special needs children.    But Harry was not well, and suffered several more heart attacks.   He died in South Korea in 1964 at the age of 59.
“Grandma Holt” remained unflinching in this work of God.  A powerhouse of energy, Bertha carried on advocating for homeless children and for those with special needs until the time of her death in 2000 at the age of 96.    Her funeral took place in South Korea where she was buried alongside her beloved Harry.  A military band and many dignitaries including Korea’s First Lady were in attendance.   
Bertha received many honors in her lifetime including America’s Mother of the Year (1966), National awards from Korea and the Philippines, and several honorary doctorates.   Additionally, in the 80’s and 90’s Holt International played a leading role in writing and passing the Hague Convention Treaty setting standards for International adoptions.    
Today Holt International and its partner affiliates work in many countries throughout the world and have found loving homes for many thousands of orphans.
Even though the legacy these selfless people left behind is immeasurable, it was Bertha’s sincere desire to simply be remembered as 'that lady who loved the Lord”.2
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  1. What a wonderful story! One I had never heard! <3
    -Laurie Duffy

    1. Thank you Laurie! So good to hear from you!