2013-10-03 / Community

Couple opens hearts and home as they adopt Haitian twins

By Sylvie Belmond


WELCOME TO THE FAMILY—Monica Lee and her husband, Jim (not shown), are adopting twins Merline and Merlande Lundi from Haiti, joining the Lee’s children, Michah, 8, and Karissa, 11, at right. WELCOME TO THE FAMILY—Monica Lee and her husband, Jim (not shown), are adopting twins Merline and Merlande Lundi from Haiti, joining the Lee’s children, Michah, 8, and Karissa, 11, at right. In June 2012, Jim Lee, director of spiritual life at Oaks Christian School, and a group of 20 students were visiting an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti when Lee noticed a tiny girl who reminded him of his daughter.

As he knelt down to speak with the child, she gave him a smile and, unexpectedly, introduced him to her twin sister.

Less than a year later, Lee and his wife Monica, who live in Oak Park, resolved to make the twins part of their family.

“I did not go to Haiti looking to adopt, but something inside me just happened. My wife Monica’s heart soon followed,” he said. Lee has traveled to Haiti four times in the past year and a half to visit the twins.

Lee and his wife have been married for 15 years. They and their three children—Karissa, 11, Micah, 8, and Shane 5—are preparing their hearts and home for the arrival of the twins.


AN ARMFUL OF LOVE—Jim Lee is excited at the newest addition to his family, twin Haitian girls Merline and Merlande. Lee and his wife, Monica, met the girls during a mission trip to Haiti and are working with an orphanage inside the country to adopt them. AN ARMFUL OF LOVE—Jim Lee is excited at the newest addition to his family, twin Haitian girls Merline and Merlande. Lee and his wife, Monica, met the girls during a mission trip to Haiti and are working with an orphanage inside the country to adopt them. “It’s a huge step of faith for us. Our kids are excited and so are we, but we are also nervous,” Lee said.

The twins, 7-year-old Merline and Merlande Lundi, survived the 2010 earthquake in Haiti that killed an estimated 300,000 people.

The twins were 4 years old when their birth mother brought them to the orphanage because she was too poor to care for them.

“They are incredibility sweet girls in a really bad situation,” said Monica Lee, a professional singer and stay-at-home mom who traveled to Haiti with Karissa in February to meet the girls.

Because the twins had parasites and were malnourished when Jim Lee saw them, he had them moved to an orphanage called New Life Children’s Home managed by Miriam Frederick, an American who has worked in Haiti for 34 years.

In June, Frederick obtained the consent of the twins’ mother to move the girls to her orphanage, which cares for about 130 children on a 5-acre property.

The mother also agreed to let the Lees adopt her daughters.

While the girls’ lives have improved, nothing can replace the love and care of doting parents, said Monica Lee, who praised her own children for their willingness to share their parents and their home with the twins.

Over the past six months, the Lees have returned to Haiti several times to visit the girls alone—and with their two oldest children.

“We want to bond with the girls. Everyone has met the twins except for Shane, but we are all going over (at) Thanksgiving,” said Jim Lee, who will visit the girls again in October.

Jim and Monica Lee have participated in mission trips throughout the world. Both have fathers who came from poverty and immigrated to the U.S. to build better better lives.

“That’s why we want to share our blessings. My wife and I feel so blessed,” Lee said. “We have so much. We’re not rich, but compared to the rest of the world, we are rich.”

A Bible teacher and junior varsity football coach at Oaks Christian, Jim Lee is working toward a Doctor of Ministry degree.

The daughter of an identical twin father, Monica Lee said she looks forward to bringing the girls home.

“I’ve been dealing with the dynamic of identical twins my whole life,” she said. “Aside from providing a good and loving home, educating them and giving them a leg up in life, I look forward to the concept of parenting identical twins.

The Lees are working with an orphanage in Haiti and a U.S. adoption agency to assist with the complex adoption proceedings. Some families wait for years, missing important stages of the kids’ lives, Monica Lee said.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how arduous that is,” said Jim Lee, noting the adoption could take up to three years to complete.

To adopt in Haiti, couples must be between the ages of 35 and 50, and married for at least 10 years. Haiti recently introduced new national laws in an effort to become a Hague Adoption Convention partner. The laws seek to protect children from sex trafficking.

The Lees anticipate they will need about $45,000 to pay for legal and adoption fees, immigration and travel costs, and other expenses.

The family has partnered with the Calabasas Talbert Family Foundation to raise funds for the adoption.

Founded by Lloyd and Julie Talbert, the foundation offers financial aid to families with members who face serious illnesses. It also supports other causes, such as Hospice of the Conejo.

The Lees have raised about $ 20,000 through the Talbert Foundation’s website.

The couple is also forming a team called Haiti Times 2 Fund, which will be one of two dozen groups participating in the Talbert Foundation’s 2013 Calabasas Classic races on Nov. 10.

Julie Talbert said the Lees are impressive people who are not easily deterred.

“The girls will come into a family with big huge open arms and unconditional love. That’s the way they see the world. I love the Lees. I think they’re amazing people,” Talbert said.

While the intent is to help the girls, Jim Lee expects that Merline and Merlande will also bring new insights and blessings to his family.

“Our three kids will grow up with two girls who have grown up differently than our kids, with far, far less. I know they are going to teach us a lot,” Jim Lee said.

To join the Lee’s Calabasas Classic team or to donate, visit www.talbertfamilyfoundation.org/pages/HaitiTimes2.

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