When Mary McFarland and Debi Mangrum visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, they had no thoughts of adopting while they were there. But both Oklahoma City residents soon found themselves called to do just that.
"God put it in my heart to do more. You can do more to help these people, because there's a lot of need in this area," said McFarland, who adopted Matungulu, a 15-year-old boy. "Through a series of circumstances, one specific boy was put on my heart."
Mangrum felt called to adopt after McFarland did. She had originally been asked about adopting a pair of twin girls before learning they also had a brother. That just didn't feel like what she was meant to do, she said. Then she met another little girl in need of a family.
"I just knew that she was the one. There was no doubt about it," said Mangrum, who adopted 9-year-old Uzima.
Mangrum already had a 22-year-old, but this is McFarland's first experience with parenthood. Not only has it taught her a lot about raising a child, it's also increased her appreciation for parents and for the advantages to living in the United States.
"I realize every country has problems, and things can happen anywhere, but today, we feel safe for the majority, which is quite a different experience," she said. "They only feel that some of the time there, because they never really knew when rebels might show up."
For Mangrum, adopting made her realize that sometimes her plans are not her own.
"When I thought it was my time to travel and to work on my projects that I wanted to work on, I was kind of put with the idea, 'It's not really your time, it's my time, and it's going to be redirected,'" she said. "So, it's kind of been starting all over again."
The experience has been eye-opening for both the women and the children, Mangrum said. While Uzima and Matungulu have both sad and scary stories to tell about their country, they also have happy ones, and both children love music and dancing. In many ways, they are just typical kids, McFarland said.
"Uzima loves everything pink and princess, and my son loves loud music and every kind of sport," she said.
McFarland and Mangrum had traveled to the Republic of Congo, formerly Zaire, through their work at the Oklahoma City Zoo and with a gorilla reserve in the country. They went there to ensure charitable contributions were being used properly, but soon found the area had more need than they ever could have imagined.
While the particular region they visited is safer than many in the strife-ridden country and, in fact, is a sort of a safe haven for many, rebel violence is still a constant threat, Mangrum said. While there is a clinic, university and primary school, many of the young students are war orphans and have no place to live, McFarland said.
The two women decided to create The Well, a charity that would build an orphanage for these children.
Mangrum and McFarland had discussed starting a charity since their visit in 2007, but it never seemed to be the right time. After returning from their most recent trip, however, they felt it was the next step. Both women said they realized they couldn't homeschool their children, run The Well full-time and still maintain their jobs at the zoo, so they retired in July. They've partnered with the nonprofit group No Boundaries International, basically serving as the organization's Congo division, Mangrum said.
The orphanage is about two-thirds finished, and the pair hopes to expand into agricultural programs, which would aim to assist area residents in growing their own food, instead of having to bring it in from outside the region. Eventually, residents may even be able to start small businesses through the program.
"Our goal is to empower those people in that area, because so much of what they worked their lives for has just been taken away from them by the rebels," McFarland said. "Lea Terry