Alan Brown (JD '95) and his family share their journey from their Texas home to a Ugandan courthouse to adopt a two-year-old orphan named Moses.
To: Family and Friends
From: Alan Brown
Sent: May 24, 2012
Subject: Moses Update
In case you didn’t know, I rented an SUV to drive during our time in Uganda rather than hire a driver, which is what most families do, but where is the adventure in that? I have been driving for a solid two days and pretty much have it down. I have successfully driven us from our hotel to the orphanage and back every day without so much as one wrong turn.
Now to Moses. We got all dressed up in our court clothes and headed to the orphanage to get Moses and our caseworker and head to court. The orphanage was a little crazy, and the white oxford and khakis were a little snug on Big Mo, but we finally got out the door. The traffic was nuts and fitting a Toyota Land Cruiser into a parking spot sized for a Mini was more than I could accomplish, so I finally just got out of the car, handed the keys to a parking lot attendant with a machine gun and prayed it was still there when I got back.
We went to see our lawyer, Isaac, and he tried to prepare us that the judge would grill us pretty hard. We then proceeded to the lobby of the courtroom to wait for the next two and a half hours to see the judge. Did I mention that Isaac told us as we were walking over that our judge had canceled all hearings until August, but that since we were already here his plan was to just wait outside his court and hope he would make time for us? So we waited. It was so long that Allison taught Moses how to count and was getting ready to start in on teaching him to speak Spanish. But we finally got in to see the judge at 4:15 p.m.
Imagine central casting coming up with a wise, old, gray-haired Ugandan judge looking over the glasses on the end of his nose, and that was our judge. His courtroom was really just a couple of desks pushed together and some chairs up against the wall. No air conditioning in our third-floor room so the windows were pushed open, such that many times the proceedings were interrupted by car alarms, shouting workers and sirens. He read all of our paperwork and then abruptly said, nice job, but it is too perfect, so we will have to examine the witnesses to make sure they are telling the truth. Cue the ominous music.
He started with a brutal cross-examination of the sweet lady that found Moses on the sidewalk outside her home back in July 2011. It was a little tough to follow because he asked questions in English and a court reporter then translated for her in Lugandan. Holly kept giving me very worried looks as the interrogation went on. The judge was implying that she was a part of some vast baby-stealing conspiracy that involved a handler, numerous police officials, the local city councilman, our orphanage, our adoption agency in Waco, and ultimately the entire Brown family. Fortunately for us, she held up under the pressure despite being on the stand for a solid hour. Next came our caseworker, Jerrod, who was subjected to a similar line of questioning. He was a little nervous but pulled through as well. And then came Holly.
To say she was amazing would not do it justice. She beautifully told how our family decided to adopt, that we had a wonderful home with much love to give, and that Moses was the child we had prayed for. The judge was not easily convinced. He asked her why in the world she would want to start this process all over again after having survived caring for twins. Then he got really tough and asked her what she knew about the Ugandan culture, and specifically, what significant celebration was being held today in Kampala. Holly looked a little stumped, but if a thought bubble could have appeared above her head it would have read “the Miss Uganda Beauty Pageant?” Good thing she didn’t respond because that celebration isn’t until next week.
However we found out later not even our attorney knew what the judge was talking about. Today was apparently the 46th anniversary of one of the 37 different revolutions that have taken place in the history of Uganda. The judge apparently underestimated his mark, because his next question and Holly’s response brought down the house. He asked this loving mother to be if she had come to Uganda for a nice trip and decided that Moses would be a nice little souvenir. With tears streaming down her face she looked lovingly across the room to Moses and said, “That little boy is NOT a souvenir!” And with that, the judge was speechless. Not another question. He didn’t even call me to the stand. He said “Enjoy the next week in Uganda and I will issue my ruling next Thursday. You are a beautiful family, go enjoy your new son.”
We walked out of the court and our caseworker said we can go to the orphanage in the morning and take Moses with us for good. The lawyer said everything else is a formality. So we get Moses for good tomorrow. Thanks for all the prayers. We didn’t realize how much we would need them today. God is good.
Alan, Holly, and kids (including Moses)
“Together for Adoption”
It was the summer of 2010 and the senior pastor at Mid-Cities Community Church in Midland, Texas, preached to his congregation, which included Alan Brown (JD ’95) and his family, about the orphan crisis both stateside and abroad.
For many years before that sermon, Alan’s son AJ Brown, 12-year-old twin to Abby Claire, had been asking for a baby brother on his Christmas list. Annie Brown, 15, had written a persuasive essay on why her family should adopt an international baby. Allison, the eldest Brown child, was behind the idea wholeheartedly. Within a few months Holly was signed up to attend the “Together for Adoption” national conference in Austin, Texas, and though his family couldn’t wait to welcome a new member—whomever that was to be—Alan Brown wasn’t sold on the idea.
“The entire family was behind Holly,” said Alan, who is currently serving as general counsel and vice president of business development for FireWheel Energy LLC, in Midland. “Here we were in our 40s. I thought the time for this kind of thing had passed. But Holly and the kids really wanted this. I spent time praying. I realized my life was really good. I had been blessed. Now it was time to share that with someone else.”
Alan had some previous experience with adoption and with life in third world countries. His youngest sister was adopted at birth, and he spent some time living in Brazil where his parents served as missionaries.
“I was raised on the idea of serving internationally,” Alan said. “Of going beyond our little corner of the world.”
With her husband’s support, Holly got in contact with an adoption agency that directed the family to Loving Hearts Baby Home in Kampala. Less than a year later in August 2011, the Browns were number seven on an adoption list. In February they received a picture introducing Moses, a two-year-old that had been abandoned in a high-traffic area in front of someone’s home. A woman living in the home found him and reported him to a nearby councilman (equivalent to a policeman), who named the orphaned child. He was just 18-months-old at the time.
“This was our son,” Alan thought when he saw Moses’ picture. “This is really him.”
In addition to the photo, the family received medical records indicating Moses’ perfect health. Brown got in contact with family friends serving as missionaries in Uganda to help prepare for his own visit to the country to meet his new son. And through a chance meeting involving his father Dale, a member of Pepperdine Law’s Board of Regents, and his mother Rita, Alan learned of fellow Abilene Christian University and School of Law classmate, now professor, Jim Gash’s (JD ’93) temporary role as special advisor to the High Court of Uganda’s Criminal Division. Though the Gash and Brown families had kept in contact via e-mail, it had been more than 15 years since they last saw one another. When Gash’s wife, Joline (’92), heard the news, she notified Alan and Holly, informing them that she had already met Moses when she volunteered to assist with a medical screening at Loving Hearts Baby Home, where Moses was living. The insight Joline shared about how well Moses was doing was priceless.
On May 21, the Brown family boarded a plane bound for Kampala, Uganda. They traveled to Loving Hearts the next day to meet Moses in person for the first time.
“There were 26 children in the orphanage with Moses,” Alan said. “Moses was among the oldest. That shows just how many infants are being left behind.”
The family immediately noticed Moses’ rambunctious spirit. In a note to family and friends, Rita Brown described Moses as “so full of personality that pictures don’t begin to capture it. He will mimic anything. You can make silly faces at him as long as you can stand it and he will mimic every one of them and laugh hysterically. He is curious and seems to love to learn.”
Moses spent the next three weeks with his new family. He went swimming for the first time and rode through the African flatlands on a safari. When the court hearings were through, Alan returned to Midland with Allison, Annie, AJ, and Abby Claire, to get their home ready for Moses’ arrival. One week later, on Father’s Day, more than 75 people wearing t-shirts bearing the words “We Love Big Mo” greeted Holly and Moses at the airport. Four months after his picture was sent to the Brown family, Moses was finally home.
“We aren’t naïve that there will be challenges,” Alan said. “Even a natural birth at this stage of life would cause attention. And of course we aware that he is a black Ugandan boy and we are white Americans. There may be issues on the outside. Social issues. But we are so confident that we are doing what we are meant to do. Someone made the comment, ‘What an admirable thing you are doing.’ I don’t see it that way. I just see it as what God has called us to do.”
That calling, in part, led to the topic of the upcoming 2013 Nootbaar Conference at the Pepperdine School of Law. With a focus on inter-country adoptions, orphan rescue, and child trafficking, the conference, slated for early next year, will tackle the legal framework surrounding international adoptions.
“The story of Moses and the Browns is the bright side of inter-country adoption. But there is also a dark side. ” said Robert Cochran, director of The Herbert and Elinor Nootbaar Institute on Law, Religion, and Ethics and Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law. “Inter-country adoption can generate human trafficking, baby-stealing, and fraud. Next year’s Nootbaar conference will explore how the law help to rescue endangered orphans, without exposing them to more danger.”
Jay Milbrandt, director of Pepperdine’s Global Justice Program, said that the Nootbaar Institute hopes to foster dialogue about the legal dynamics of international adoption to make the process smoother for families like the Browns.
“Inter-country adoption remains on the frontier of International law: complex and often chaotic,” he said. “The laws of both countries need to work in harmony for adoption to happen, which is no easy task.”
The Brown family agrees that the discussion is a necessary one.
“We saw firsthand that the system needs reform in order to effectively connect willing families with children in need,” Alan said. “I am grateful there we have some of the best legal minds addressing this significant issues and are hopeful it can lead to true reforms.”