From: The Case for Grace
Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. Of all the gifts of grace, adoption is the highest. (J. I. Packer)
Stephanie Fast has never known her father. She suspects he was an American soldier – possibly an officer – who fought in the Korean conflict that started in 1950. There’s even a chance he’s still alive somewhere. There’s no way to tell.
I managed to track down Stephanie, that fleeting voice from the radio, and flew from Denver to meet her in her tidy townhouse in a wooded neighborhood in the Pacific Northwest. She’s petite at five-foot-three, her black hair falling in soft waves past her shoulders, her almost eyes animated. Her husband, Darryl, a good-natured former missionary, brought us some coffee but left us alone to chat in the living room.
Stephanie is thoughtful as she begins to answer my questions, a gentle Asian cadence in her voice. At times she looks off to the side, as if reliving the experience she’s struggling to describe. Other times she leans forward to gesture with her hands, as if soliciting understanding.
I settled into a chair opposite her. Looking for place to start, I said, “We were both born around the same time.”
“I don’t know exactly when or where I was born,” she replied with a shrug. “Possibly, it was in Pusan, since I was told I had an accent from that region. But when? I don’t know, although it was definitely in the same era as you.”
“My earliest memory,” I said, “was my third birthday. My grandparents in Florida gave me a wooden sailboat as a gift. But when we went back to Chicago, I accidentally left it there. I was crushed.” I chuckled at the thought. “Such are the traumas of a middle-class white kid growing up in suburban America in the fifties. I’m sure your earliest memory is much different. What’s the first thing you recall?”
She thought for a moment and smiled. “I was about the same age – three or four,” she replied. “It was the harvest festival in Korea, when family members come to the ancestral home. I remember all the fun – the sweets and games and wearing a beautiful dress – but I vividly recall my mom being so sad and sorrowful.”
“Do you know why?
“Well, that night I heard arguing between family members about the choice that she had to make for her future.”
“What kind of choice?”
“After the Korean War there wasn’t a place for biracial children in that country. That night, my mom was being given the option of a marriage – and I was not part of that option. Family members were saying that they had found a man who was willing to take her, but she couldn’t bring me along. For her, the choice was, ‘Do I want a future? If I do, then I can’t have this child with me.’ There was a lot of arguing and shame and guilt. I remember my mom crying and holding me all night.”
“Was this because of discrimination against children born out of wedlock?”
“Yes, especially biracial ones. We were a reminder of an ugly war. I don’t know the English word, but Koreans have a strong conviction of purity, and when I was younger I looked different from the other children. My hair and skin color were lighter, I had a crease in my eyes that most Koreans don’t have, and I had wild, curly hair, which was quite unusual for Koreans. So people knew I was a half-breed.”
“How did the family drama end?”
“At some point my mother reached her decision – she would entrust me to someone else. She told me I was going to my uncle’s home. Within a few days, I remember walking down a dirt road to the city with her. It was the first time I ever heard a train. I asked her about it, and she said to me, ‘That’s where we’re going.’
“When the train came, she got on board with me. Asians didn’t have paper bags back then, so they would take a cloth about the size of a scarf and tie it together as a satchel. Inside I had a lunch and a couple of extra sets of clothing. She put it on a shelf above the seat, got on her knees, and told me, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ She said I should get off the train with the other people and my uncle would meet me. Then she left.”
“What happened when you eventually got off the train?”
For a moment she didn’t answer. She slowly shook her head.
“No one came for me.”