Jo-Ben Barkey (’01) is no stranger to adversity. As a child to missionary parents who raised him in the heart of the Amazon, he learned at an early age how to overcome difficult circumstances with prayer and determination. This strength became quite useful when Jo-Ben moved to Canada by himself at the age of 18, self-funded his education at Trinity Western by planting trees all summer, and then purchased a Soccer Shots franchise in Southern California.
Throughout his career as an athlete, coach, and entrepreneur, Jo-Ben has been presented with one challenge after another. So when he and his wife Amanda found a child they wanted to host and adopt, and were subsequently denied, he knew this was just another obstacle to overcome.
“Telling me that something is impossible is just about the most perfect response they could have given,” says Jo-Ben. “You tell me it’s not possible and I’ll find a way.”
Back when Jo-Ben and Amanda were just dating, they shared a passion for adoption. But after getting married and having four kids of their own in a period of five years, they began to wonder if adoption was really something they should pursue anymore.
“It was a lot of babies in a short amount of time,” says Jo-Ben. “At one point, I had three kids all laying on their backs waiting to be changed, and I was like, ‘I think we made some math errors here. This is too many poopy diapers at once!’”
But in early 2017, Jo-Ben saw a post on social media about KidSave, an organization that hosts children available for adoption. It was while looking through their website that he saw a smiling young boy from Colombia named Sebastian.
“The description of him read like a combo of all the rest of our kids,” says Jo-Ben. “His likes, favorite colors, interests, etc. He was even doing a pose that my youngest constantly does.”
Jo-Ben tried to visit another page on the site, but the link glitched and sent him right back to Sebastian’s profile. Immediately, Jo-Ben took a screenshot, sent it to his wife, then emailed the host organization to learn more.
rejection and the next steps
Jo-Ben and Amanda knew right away that they wanted to bring Sebastian into their family, so they started the hosting and adoption process at the same time. Sebastian came to America and stayed with them for the summer of 2018, where they were all able to get to know each-other.
It was an incredible time for the whole family, and they hated having to send him back to Colombia at the end of the summer. Each of the Barkey’s biological children expressed a desire to have Sebastian stay with them forever and couldn’t understand why their parents would send him back to an orphanage when he could stay in America with a family who would love him.
Jo-Ben and Amanda were delighted that their children had so fully embraced Sebastian as their own brother. But when applying for financial aid from various organizations, they were faced with rejection. They learned that most grant organizations don’t support adopting out of birth order. Because Sebastian was older than the other children in the home, it was deemed too risky.
“Amanda and I were pretty frustrated that someone would dismiss what we wanted to do with our family just out of policy, without even talking to us,” says Jo-Ben. “When asking God for guidance, we felt He was saying to take one step in faith and trust Him on step two.”
So that’s what they did. Unwilling to let finances get in the way of bringing this boy home, Jo-Ben stepped out in faith and spent the next 14 hours straight sending out emails and texts to everyone he could think of, asking them to share their story. Before long, word started to spread, and people began donating money to help support the family.
gathering support and facing the trolls
Throughout the journey, the Barkey family took little videos to document every detail of the adoption process, hoping to share it with Sebastian one day. They had parted with him in August, but by early September, they were ready to share their adoption plans with Sebastian. The family spoke with him over video chat, and each member took turns holding pieces of paper that formed a sentence in Spanish asking him to be part of their family.
It was an emotional video filled with tears and laughter, and was originally meant to be shared with just family and close friends. But shortly after it was released, someone contacted Jo-Ben asking if he could add subtitles to it and share the story to a broader audience. He believed it could change people’s mentality around older child, international adoption. Jo-Ben agreed, though he didn’t expect what happened next.
Right away, the video started trending across social media.
“It’s got more than 150 million views online total, plus we were featured in magazines, newspaper articles all over South America and Europe, and we were featured in television news reports across the U.S. and parts of Europe. It’s been pretty crazy,” says Jo-Ben.
Just like that, the Barkey family was flooded with support. But even though most of the comments were encouraging, there were some negative reactions.
“Prior to receiving those types of negative comments, I had no idea there were people who were so anti-adoption and so strongly dug in with their opinions that they felt obliged to tell you how wrong you are,” says Jo-Ben.
Rather than letting it get them down, Jo-Ben has decided to share many of those comments on his social media when he receives them, hoping that it will raise awareness to the negativity that exists and to encourage those who are pro-adoption to make their voices louder.
“We have lots of overwhelming support, many people might not have that,” says Jo-Ben. “Adoption is lonely and hard, and you can feel like no one gets it. Then someone steps in and makes racist or ignorant comments—sometimes with the best intentions, but they come across hateful. I think if we can create some awareness, it can prompt people to be more proactive in their encouragement.”
Sebastian comes home
The whole adoption process took about seven months, making them the fastest family the agency has seen in twenty years! Just in time for Christmas, on December 20th, 2018, Sebastian came to America to live with his new family. Though he didn’t speak a word of English when he arrived, six months later he is now fluent!
Throughout the whirlwind journey, Jo-Ben and Amanda have been amazed by the incredible support they’ve received. Despite obstacles and uncertainty, the Barkey family can now sit back and thank God for how He made the impossible possible and completed their family.
If you’d like to learn more about the Barkey family’s journey through adoption, or see videos of their experience, visit https://www.facebook.com/barkeyfamily . You can also reach out to Jo-Ben or Amanda anytime to ask questions.