SELMA, Indiana – Jason Buck and his wife Staci still remember the phone call they made after Jason's mission trip to Ethiopia in December 2011.
How could they forget?
After communicating by email for a week, Staci asked how her trip went. But there was only one thing on Jason's mind.
"I met this boy in Mekelle," he said.
Not what she expected to hear. And little did she know then, but this call was about to turn into a series of events that would change their lives forever.
This boy's name was Sofani. A car accident and two failed bookings put Jason at the guest house in Mekelle, where the two met and joined for three days.
It was the last thing Jason expected from the trip, but the thought of the boy who lost most of his family weighed heavily on his return to Selma, Indiana. It was Christmas time, but Jason's holiday spirit was largely distracted. He kept thinking of Sofani.
It seemed crazy at the time – it still does – but after returning home, Jason e-mailed the man who ran the guesthouse to thank him for his hospitality and asked about adopting Sofani.
"I learned his story the last night I was there and that's a lot to carry around," Jason said. "We were in a position where we could do something in your life and we had a really inexplicable connection in the early days."
Through it all, through the protracted adoption process, the sacrifices he, his wife and other children – Avery, Jackson and Anna – made and community acceptance, Bucks still can't believe his family's final play was over 7,500 miles away.
It was almost eight years ago when a 10-year-old boy trusted a man he had known for less than 72 hours to return halfway to the world and give him a new life.
It was almost eight years ago when the lives of the Bucks really began.
"When Sofani arrived, the adventure really started with our family," said Jason. "And it's been a clean and crazy ride since then."
Bucks had no idea of the sacrifices everyone in his house would have to make.
There is no instruction manual for such things. Patience was tested, tears were shed and frustrations were expressed when Sofani moved to Selma.
But they would have had no other way.
Because he spoke almost English when he arrived in July 2012, the plan was for Sofani to be educated at home in his first year.
But Sofani had none of that. He has always been a little stubborn and ready to face any challenge ahead. So they sent him to school at Selma Elementary School just two weeks later.
"Everything was so different for me," said Sofani. "The school, I didn't expect it to be like that."
The differences included learning inside a classroom rather than an open yard, adapting to the organization of the American school system and devoting most of their time to learning a new language while being bombarded with questions from their curious peers.
What Sofani couldn't answer, he turned to his brother Jackson, who had become a translator on top of a brother, roommate, and more.
"I remember all the kids getting up and asking a lot of questions and if he couldn't answer they would ask me," Jackson said. "Most of the time, I didn't have a better answer to give them."
When the prospect of having a brother the same age as him was presented by his father, Jackson was at home. He traveled with Avery and his parents to Ethiopia when the seven-month adoption process was finalized.
In the first 56 hours with her new family, Sofani slept about four. In the beginning, he and Jackson were inseparable. They shared everything from toys, clothes, friends, playing sports, etc. They went on adventures together, building a homemade raft like the Huckleberry Finn and doing a zip leash for dogs.
"I always wanted a brother to be around my sisters all the time and it was really nice to have this relationship," Jackson said. "Having someone to do something with always and that kind of action started many of our adventures. It was fun and definitely a learning experience for me too."
Sofani was also always curious. Whether he was emptying the trash bin on the kitchen floor, disassembling the toaster when it wasn't working properly, or hot-spinning the lawnmower at the age of 11 after Staci hid his keys.
Yes, he installed a hot lawn mower.
"I think Staci and I have learned that you have to choose your battles," Jason said, laughing, thinking now. "Like, you can't fight them all … Our tolerance level has increased so much and nothing surprised us, nothing."
Jason added, "We've all had sacrifices to make and changes in our roles, so it's been a real period of growth for the family. Some days have been tough. There have been times when it was harder than others and sometimes there were. times of pure joy and fun ".
During his 2011 trip, Jason was due to stay in a hotel in Mekelle, but was moved due to government meetings taking place there at the time.
On the way to an inn with his contact in Ethiopia, Jason got into a car accident that totaled the SUV. After being dropped off at his next destination, he found that the reservations were incorrect and – with his contact dealing with police at the scene of the crash – he was arrested.
He had nowhere to go, until the woman who ran the inn invited him to stay at his guest house. With no other choice, Jason agreed.
It was there that Jason met three children, the oldest of whom was Sofani. He joined in with his contagious smile immediately. They didn't speak the same language, but as Jason learned his story and spent time with him, he had to hold back tears when it came time to say goodbye a few days later.
It may have been an accident that brought them together, but Jason knew it wasn't an accident they met. Upon returning home, he sent the email.
A few months later, the community began to learn about Sofani's story, which Jason documented in a blog he wrote: "A Journey to Adoption, Orphans, Love and Justice."
When Matt Luce, Wapahani High School athletic director and friend of the Bucks for over a decade, first learned that Jason and Staci wanted to adopt, he was not surprised.
"It's exactly the kind of man Jason Buck is and the kind of family Bucks is," Luce said. "I don't know how to explain it. They are very altruistic people, very spiritual people and it didn't surprise me at all."
But neither Jason nor Staci knew how difficult the adoption process would be. It took seven months – which is relatively short compared to most international adoptions – to obtain legal custody of Sofani.
And both sides took a leap of faith to make it happen.
Jason and Staci made several trips to and from Ethiopia for court visits and filled in countless paperwork.
Meanwhile, Sofani, who was only 10 at the time, housed in an orphanage in Addis – about half a mile from her home – to qualify for adoption.
He was by far the oldest child among a number of babies and younger children, where he spent five months. He missed home and hated it, but trusted that Jason would return.
It is almost unheard of for a child his age to be adopted internationally. Generally, potential parents want to adopt babies or younger children. This is part of the reason why neither his teachers nor his friends believed him when he said he was going to America.
There was also nothing telling her that this would happen for sure, but Sofani had faith. And he stayed in the orphanage.
"When I was a child, I always knew, it seems – I don't know – but I always knew I would be in America, because I always watched movies and always said I would live in America," said Sofani. "And it's weird, like, my dream kind of came true."
Last summer, Sofani made her first trip back to Ethiopia. He saw relatives, who came far to visit him, and showed his family where he grew up and went to school. It was an exhausting trip, both physically and mentally, but Jason thought it was important to do so.
"I think it was important for him to see that – you know – it will take a day to get there, but it's a few miles away. It's closer than you think," Jason said. "For him to come back and come back as a man, realize that a few thousand dollars on plane tickets and stuff are back there. If you want to go.
"I think it looks like a world away and it's important to realize:" Oh, we can do that. "We can get back there."
Sofani's curiosity was evident on the first trip to Selma.
At London Airport, he was fascinated by the shops, moving walkways and escalators that he walked back to. He pressed all the buttons on his seat on the plane and poked his head into the family's sunroof as they drove down the road on their way home.
He has always had a particular interest in airplanes. In the future, he wants to join the Air Force, which is appropriate considering that one of the first times he flew a plane was on his way to Selma.
"Just, like, hands in hand, lots of buttons and freedom," Jason said. "Heaven has no tracks, you know? For me, it's a very appropriate profession for him to want to be interested in."
Of course, if football doesn't work out.
When he arrived, Sofani quickly saw that the sport was less popular in the middle of Indiana than in Ethiopia. But the talent Sofani developed on the streets of her home country was immediately translated. And his new family was as obsessed with the sport as he was, watching the Premier League together on Saturday mornings.
Now seniors, Jackson and Sofani have been playing varsity football in Wapahani since their first year, when they were 0-12-2. While the team is still getting better, Jackson and Sofani have helped the Raiders to one of their best seasons in recent memory.
In the field, Sofani is a threat to score at any time. In Wapahani's 4-1 win over Blackford, Sofani scored a penalty with 32:18 remaining in the second half and stepped aside to score a goal 40 seconds later. Jackson also scored in the contest, leaving Staci cheering "Go Bucks!" in the stands.
But Sofani is more than just a talented top scorer leading the team with nine goals this year. First-year coach Josh Kauffman said he was impressed with how he became leader of his teammates.
"I don't care how many goals he can score because he can come out and score a lot of goals," said Kauffman. "I was very impressed with the attitude he showed. In the past, I was told that he dealt with attitude issues and that he became a leader and our team played 10 times better because of him."
Sofani also plays basketball and runs at Wapahani. It's uncertain what the future holds for him or Jackson, but with all they've done, it's hard to doubt what either of them can accomplish.
Source: Star Press
Information From: The Star Press, http://www.thestarpress.com