— “There’s Ry,” Tommy Paul told Duchaine, his newly adopted son from Haiti, as the two walked down a tunnel at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
The 10-year-old took off running toward the group of well-wishers who had come to greet him.
“Wow, he got taller,” Ryan Dennis, 9, said when he saw his friend coming.
The two hugged each other and renewed a friendship that began when both were toddlers at Cap Haitien Children’s Home, about 100 miles north of Port-au-Prince.
The reunion came less than two weeks after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti on Jan. 12 and capped a remarkable saga that first saw Ryan adopted — and years later, Duchaine — by separate Christian families in the same southeastern Oklahoma town.
Dr. Bruce Dennis and his wife, Sheri, traveled to Haiti for the first time in 2000, leading a mission group from the Southwest Church of Christ in Ada. Bruce Dennis is a board member for the Haitian Christian Foundation.
Although they have three biological children — Zac, 19; Holly, 17; and Coleman, 15 — the couple said they had felt a calling throughout their marriage to adopt a child, too.
Seeing the living conditions in Haiti — and the faces of the children at the Cap Haitien orphanage, which is associated with Churches of Christ — brought focus to that calling.
“The poverty was so overwhelming,” Sheri Dennis said. “We just thought, ‘That looks so bleak, but we can help one.’”
Sheri Dennis returned to the orphanage in December 2001 and met Ryan, then about 6 months old.
“He had these really kind eyes and wanted to be held,” she said.
She fell in love.
But the couple also considered adopting Duchaine.
In April 2003, Bruce Dennis flew to Haiti to meet both boys. Ryan already had the paperwork required to start the process; Duchaine did not.
After her husband returned, Sheri Dennis spent three months in Haiti completing the complicated process of adopting Ryan. She endured tropical storms and witnessed an airport shooting.
“My boy was there,” she said. “I had to bring him home.”
In October 2003, mother and son arrived in Oklahoma.
By Christmas, he refused to speak his native Creole anymore.
“I can’t say those words anymore,” he told his mother.
But Ryan never forgot Duchaine.
When told of the earthquake that claimed more than 200,000 lives, Ryan asked, “Is Duchaine OK?”
“Yes, Duchaine is fine,” his father told him.
“OK, then,” Ryan said.
‘SOMETHING ABOUT THAT PICTURE’
More than a year before the earthquake, Tommy Paul, a member of the Southwest church in Ada, made his first trip to Haiti.
His wife Kim Paul’s grandfather Reese Scott started going to Haiti in the 1980s and played a leading role in starting the orphanage.
Tommy Paul, a chiropractor, did a weeklong seminar at the Center for Biblical Training on health, nutrition and wound care.
While there, he spent a couple of evenings at the orphanage and met Duchaine.
“I came home and told Kim about Duchaine,” said Tommy Paul, who showed his wife a photograph of Duchaine.
The parents of six — Kami Rodebush, 23; Clint Bowker, 21; Kasi Bowker, 18; Chase Bowker, 16; Eli Paul, 12; and Scott Paul, 10 — decided to add a seventh.
“There was something in his eyes,” Kim said. “I had never thought of adopting, but I don’t know, there was something about that picture.”
When Tommy Paul called, though, he found out a couple from Tennessee already had started the process of adopting Duchaine.
But a few months later, Tommy Paul returned to Haiti to check on a widows’ housing program that the Southwest church sponsors.
He asked about the progress on Duchaine’s adoption and learned it had fallen through.
“This has just become a very expensive trip for me,” he joked to a friend.
QUAKE BRINGS UNCERTAINTY
Tommy Paul and his wife spent about a year working on adoption paperwork.
“We were just about to move Duchaine to Port-au-Prince to have some medical examinations done,” Tommy Paul said. “So when the earthquake hit, my fear was it would be years before we were able to complete that adoption.”
The week after the earthquake, a group that included Tommy Paul and Bruce Dennis traveled to Haiti to visit church members and assess needs.
Just before they left, Tommy Paul learned that adoptions already in progress could be granted a humanitarian parole and the child given an emergency visa to enter the United States.
At the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, an official reviewed Duchaine’s paperwork and dispatched him and his new father to board an Air Force C-17 cargo plane bound for Florida.
Weeks later, Ryan and Duchaine agreed to an interview with The Christian Chronicle,
in exchange for their parents taking them to McDonald’s.
“He’s my best friend,” Ryan said of Duchaine.
Why? “Because I met him when he was a baby.”
What do you remember about him? “Well, I remember that he was tiny.”
Duchaine, what do you remember about Ryan? “I remember when he would bite me.”
Does he still do that? “Nope. He stopped that.”
Arms around each other, sitting in the same chair watching television, the boys acted like they’ve known each other forever.
Which, of course, they have.