By Melinda Espinal
My story began in 1990 when I was placed in a Hungarian baby orphanage a week after I was born. Around the age of two, I was moved again to a second orphanage. Thankfully, a short time later I was reunited with two of my sisters, Agnes and Katalin. Even though they were much older than me, they were moved to that orphanage so we could all be together. My other sister, Kriszina, always lived with my grandmother and never went to the orphanage. I also had three brothers who were much older than me: Zoltan (age 9), Attila (age 12), and Laszlo (age 14). My brothers lived with our birthparents for awhile, but were finally taken from the home and placed in a government orphanage as well. My birthparents were both alcoholics and couldn’t take care of us. I only remember visiting my brothers a few times in their orphanage. My older sisters always took care of me in the orphanage; they fed me, changed my diapers, and loved me with all their hearts. They basically raised me and were the only family I knew. We all shared a special close bond. They were not only my sisters, but my mothers, and my best friends.
My sisters knew that because they were so much older than me, they would be forced to leave the orphanage at some point, and I would be left alone without them. I was pretty young when Agnes and Katalin came up with a plan. They decided to write a letter asking for someone to adopt me. Even though they knew they might never see me again, they thought how much worse it would be to leave me to grow up in the orphanage with no family left to watch over me. At that time Agnes was 18 and Katalin was 14, and it was that fear that compelled them to try to help me find a loving family. It is still hard to believe they had the courage and faith to write such a letter and believe that somehow it would end up in the right hands. But God was watching. He knew the loving hands that would receive the letter and carry it halfway around the world to place into the waiting hands of a family He had already chosen for me! An amazing woman named Maria, who directed the AGCI Hungarian adoption program at the time, was given my sisters’ letter. She attended an AGCI picnic that summer. My parents attended that same picnic and were in the process of trying to adopt another child. Maria placed “The Letter” in their hands and, in an instant, everything changed. They knew I was meant to be a part of their family!
A Family Forever: I remember the day I sat outside the director’s office with my two sisters and waited for my adoptive parents to walk through the door. A huge smile spread across my face and my sisters’ faces. They knew the letter they had written a couple years before to find me a better life was about to pay off. The image of the day I met my new family will forever be seared in my memory. I walked into the orphanage director’s office with my two sisters by my side, hope in my eyes, fear in my heart, but a smile on my face. I am amazed at what I can remember at the age of seven, but some memories are meant to stay in the heart forever. I guess these are the memories that change your life forever—the ones you don’t ever want to let go so you will always remember the most important events and people in your life!
My memory is that a family of three boys, a mom, and a dad walked through the door. My first thought was, they all look like me! From that moment on, everything fell into place. I was going to go home soon with a family, everything I had ever dreamed of, and all my hopes were coming true. I was so happy to be with my new family, but I knew I was leaving behind everything I had ever known. I was about to start a new life and travel to a new country where no one spoke my language. Although I was happy, I also felt like my heart was breaking. I knew I had to go because my sisters had worked so hard to give me this second chance at life! But as I left Hungary with my adoptive mother, I didn’t realize that my sisters were not coming with me; I never considered that they were not going to join me and live with my new family. I was devastated when I finally realized I may never see them again. Yet somehow I also knew deep down inside that this was not the last time I was going to see my sisters. So at the age of seven, I vowed to myself that some day I would go back for them. God is so good. My new family made sure the bonds of my birth family were never broken. I love them for making a way for us to see each other and stay in touch!
My New Life Unfolds: The transition into my new life seemed to go by so fast for me. I remember not speaking English and struggling to communicate with my mother, until we met my Hungarian Angel (godmother) at my doctor’s office. She knelt down and started speaking Magyar to me and translating it to my mother. We have been close ever since. Learning the culture was a bit of a shock for me too. The concept of family took a while for me to understand. I was not used to rules, dinner time together, or doing chores. It took me a couple years to adjust to my new life in America. I was a bright little girl though; I caught on quickly and when I wanted something, you can bet I was going to get it or make it happen. I bossed my brothers around, and even my friends. I learned quickly that Americans did not respond to that very well, so I learned to be more polite. Since English was my second language, I had a hard time in some subjects in school, but nothing that a tutor and a little bit of extra effort couldn’t fix. We also found out I had a learning disability and ADHD. In Hungary, they couldn’t afford to test orphans to find out these things, so if you did not do well in school, they figured you were not trying hard enough or you were slow. But in reality, neither was the case. After all the testing was done and the diagnosis was revealed, I got all the help I needed and I took off like a rocket! During those years, I saw two of my sisters three times because they were able to visit my family in America. I am so thankful we were always able to stay in contact.
Fast forward a few years and I began attending a private Catholic grade school, Saint Ursula Villa. I was a good student, earning As, Bs, and the occasional C. My parents were always proud of me and my grades, especially since English was not my first language. I also turned out to be quite athletic. I had a lot of energy so my parents decided to put me in sports. My father encouraged me to try tennis and a few years later, as I entered a private Catholic high school, I found myself playing on their tennis team and running track for a year. God blessed me with all the opportunities in the world. In high school, I worked hard, kept in shape, and before I knew it, I was enrolling in college! All this happened in such a short amount of time; I was starting college at the University of Cincinnati a very blessed girl.
So Thankful: I have come so far, from the little girl in the orphanage with so much hope in her eyes, fear in her heart, but always a smile on her face, to a woman still filled with hope in her eyes, an amazing amount of love in her heart, and continuing to embrace life with that same smile on her face! I am 20 years old now. My sister Agnes, who moved to the U.S. to be near me a few years ago, decided to move back to Hungary with her fiance. She missed her home. I completely understood, because I often miss Hungary as well. I keep in touch with her and my other sisters through Skype. Kati speaks little English so we use a translation dictionary while we chat on Skype; it’s great to be able to see each other’s smiles! Through Skype, we both keep in contact with my other sister, who grew up, met the love of her life, and had a baby. I could not be more proud of all my sisters. They are amazing young ladies, and they are my inspiration!
I am also so grateful that I was adopted and given the opportunity to live in this wonderful country—to be free to attend school and do whatever God wants me to do with my life! Another act of God: I met the love of my life, Domingo Alfredo Espinal, a United States Marine. We just married earlier this year. We are living in North Carolina while he is in active duty. He is my rock and supports me wholeheartedly in my dream to help the orphans of my country. I am so thankful for him. How amazing—I moved to this country and I end up marrying a man who fights to keep it free! I am extremely thankful for my parents and my siblings. They gave me so much and loved me unconditionally through all of my growing pains! Last but not least, I cannot be thankful enough for my sisters. They saved me; they gave me a chance to be loved and live life to the fullest! I have a lot to be thankful for, but above all, I thank God for all the blessings He has poured into my life.
A Promise Kept: I am keeping the promise I made to myself so many years ago to do everything I can to never leave an orphan child forgotten or left behind. My heart will forever be connected with theirs. I truly believe that orphans have this unique bond, no matter how old or young they are upon adoption. For me, this bond goes all the way back to when I was a little girl. I remember when one of us struggled, all of us struggled. We went through the same trials, strife, worries, laughter, and tears, together. Most importantly, we shared the bond of hope, and years later, this bond continues to hold us all close together. We hope for a better tomorrow, for a better future, and for love and a family. I promised to myself that one day I would come back and give those left behind the hope they longed for. I promised that I would never forget them. I am still just as intent on keeping my promise, to help keep hope alive for the orphans of Hungary who continue to hold such a special place in my heart.
The Need Never Changes: The orphan children left behind living in orphanages around the world will never get the chance to attend a private school or play and compete in all kinds of sports like I did. So many won’t get to experience the love of a real family. I will forever and always be grateful to my parents for giving me these opportunities. If these children aren’t offered these opportunities, they will hope and dream, wonder and pray, day after day. All I experienced and accomplished would have never happened for me in Hungary. The women who care for these children in orphanages have 50 children to care for at one time, not just four or one. It is impossible to make sure that each and every child’s emotional needs are met. This fact affects a child more than people realize. Orphan children need love, they need a chance to find the life God wants them to lead, just like the one I am living today. I would not be who I am without where I came from, or the trials I endured. Nor would I be the person I am today without God picking me up and placing me in the arms of a loving family. I pray for all the orphans whose families have not yet come. I believe with all my heart there is a family out there for every fatherless child. I want to help the orphan children who wait to find a family and help care for those who may need hope and care today. They have and will always remain forever in my heart. I have not forgotten them. God has not forgotten them.
In the end it was the love of my sisters that God used to give me the love of a family. In one miraculous moment on that particular day, they penned words that touched a family’s heart. They gave me a new life by taking a leap of faith and signing their own Signatures Of Hope. What if they had never written “The Letter?” Where would I be? Just think about it. You may be a child’s last hope. Maybe it is through your signature of hope that another orphan child will find the mercy it takes to change their life forever. So please go donate to All God’s Children at www.allgodschildren.org.