11 years and an ocean apart
At Ignite Hope, we love providing personal stories from people who are involved with adoption and fostering. A few months ago, we provided an interview with Pam Ritchie, whom familiarized us with her personal journey to become a foster parent. Today, we will get an inside look at Luke Akinsola's experience being raised by his guardians after a post-9/11 crackdown on immigration turned his parents' six-month visit to Nigeria into an 11-year separation from their children. Luke Akinsola is currently an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who shared his story with us. Read on to hear more!
Luke (center, black tie) with his mother (from left), 2 older brothers, and guardians
Could you provide some background about your experience living with your guardians?
Just for clarification, my brothers and I were not technically foster kids like most people think because my guardians aren't foster parents. A foster parent gets paid by the state to take in kids, and the state did not pay my guardians at all. The state was going to split my brothers and I up. My guardians had two options: 1) to go in front of a judge and say that our parents abandoned us, or 2) care for us without receiving any financial aid from the state. My guardians felt like it would have been a decision that lacked integrity to tell a judge that we were abandoned because our parents didn't abandon us, so my guardians felt like God was calling them to be bold and trust Him, even if it did bring extra trials financially.
How old were you when you went to live with your guardians, and how long were you there?
I had just turned 6. My mom and dad left in the summer of 2000 and were supposed to be gone for six months. That turned into a really long process after 9/11 with immigration officials tightening up the borders and making it difficult for foreigners to return. My guardians already had three kids of there own and they weren't planning on taking us in — none of us were — so we were all trusting in God and going with the flow.
The time apart lasted 11 years. I moved in with my guardians in the summer of 2000, and my mom didn't come back until the summer of 2011. My dad passed away in 2009. When my mom came back, she stayed with my guardians. Both of my brothers were already in college, so they weren't living at home. I was a senior in high school.
I can't even begin to imagine. Was it easy to rebuild that relationship when your mom came back?
Not at all. It was extremely difficult, probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. She is my mother, so there was already a bond that was created before birth because she brought me into this world. However, that bond was affected negatively because she wasn't here for almost my entire upbringing.
It wasn't her fault, but I grew up and when she came back, I was a whole new person. I didn't really know her. She tried to go back to square one and act like things never changed. I was thinking, "Woah, you haven't been here for all these years — you can't tell me what to do!" I had a really prideful state of mind, and I was really ignorant to it, too. It truly shows me how sinful my heart was at that time. God used those times of bickering and pride to expose the troubles of my heart and how wicked I am deep down. Looking back on it, it's really cool to see how He used those tough times to help me become closer to Him.
What has Jesus taught you through this difficult experience?
He has really taught me the truthfulness of Psalm 68:5. It describes God as a "Father of the fatherless," and I have seen His grace as my Father in so many ways. I'm fortunate enough to essentially be getting paid to get an education at UNC, which is crazy. Habitat for Humanity gave my mom a free house last summer. And I've also seen His grace because other less fortunate families are benefiting from my mom's generosity because she is sending money back to Nigeria to establish scholarships for the fatherless. To some extent, I do see how He works, but He is so big that I don't always see it.
I've also learned how truly selfish we all are, like I was towards my mom when she returned. Only the Gospel can help alleviate our selfishness and make us selfless. This is because Jesus died on the cross, which is the most selfless act you will ever see.
God has also taught me a lot about faith. He is going to reward unwavering faith. That's just something I've seen and experienced. That's not the prosperity Gospel, that's just me realizing the importance of keeping faith because I want to be more Christ-like at the end of my trials. Being more Christ-like will make me love others better and, by the end, I hope that others will see Christ in me.
It is really sweet to hear how you used suffering to push yourself deeper into God and make yourself more Christ-like instead of using hard times as a reason to separate yourself from Him.
Before everything started getting better, were there moments where you felt like God didn't care about you or that He had abandoned you?
I don't think so. I definitely thought, "This is annoying." I'm just very optimistic, so I just try to think, "Things can only get better from here." I tried to see it like this: God is working for my good because I love Him.
At what point did your relationship with God really start mattering to you?
My sophomore year at Peace College, I applied to transfer to Carolina, and I didn't get in. I had also applied to Carolina the year before and it didn't work out. I had so much of my identity in what girls thought of me and being a good basketball player. I just wanted to look good on the outside; I didn't really care about the inside. I was just out for my selfish motives. I wasn't happy.
I had older brothers who set the path for me in high school, so it was really easy for me then. I was popular, good at sports, and people liked me. When I was at Peace, it was a smaller school, so things were stripped from me. I was questioning myself, often thinking, "Who am I right now? What is my worth?" because Peace wasn't really a well-known school. I was just trying to find answers, and I knew that my relationship with Christ had to change.
At the time, I considered myself a Christian my whole life. I grew up in church, and my father was a minister, but I had no relationship with Jesus. At Peace, I got plugged into a small group and really started reading my Bible. God just started to work in me.
By God's grace, the following year, I was accepted into UNC as a transfer student.
The element of redemption is very important in conversations like this because I know when times are hard, at least in my life, it's hard to trust God. It is encouraging to hear how your suffering strengthened your faith!
Are there any other specific things you would like to share, whether good or bad, that stand out in your mind from this whole experience?
The two main events that were key factors in my turnaround were my dad's death in 2009 and not initially getting accepted into UNC. My dad really wanted us to come to the US and go to good schools. I knew a degree from UNC would benefit me more when looking for jobs after graduation, and it doesn't really get much better than having a degree from UNC. My dad was very ambitious, so I was the same with my education. He didn't want us to settle for anything, which is why I kept applying for admission to UNC.
When you look back on everything now, can you say with confidence that it was for good that you went through the prolonged separation from your parents?
Absolutely. I wouldn't be the person I am without those hard times, so I wouldn't trade it for the world. It's easier to say that looking back on it, but it was definitely for His good and His glory. We serve such a good God. He loves us so much and wants to give us good gifts. He is a good, good Father. When we get gifts, we try to use them for our glory and tend to get big-headed, but all gifts come from Him. When I start feeling conceited, I just remind myself that all good things are from Him.