In a riveting story of hope and redemption, Carolyn Koons tells how she, as a single woman, felt led by God to adopt a young boy she encountered in a harsh children's prison during a mission trip to Mexico. (Part 2 of 2)
John Fuller: You know, so often it seems as though God does not work on our time line. And we wonder why He takes so long to answer some of our prayers. Carolyn Koons was in that situation. She hoped to get a 9-year-old boy out of a Mexican prison very quickly. It made sense to her, but God had other ideas.
Carolyn Koons: And God said, "Carolyn, do you know why it took me 2½ years to get little Antonio out of prison, and not three months like you wanted? Carolyn, it took Me 2½ years to get you ready."
End of Recap
John: Well, it probably made her want to argue a little bit with God, but you'll hear why Carolyn was willing to go down that road and the journey that she had with little Antonio, "Tony" as she calls him. And we'll have an update from Carolyn later on in our program. This is "Focus on the Family." I'm John Fuller and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, for the benefit of those that didn't hear last time, let me recap what was stated in the last program. Carolyn Koons was a single woman, a teacher at Azusa Pacific University with a passion for ministry in Mexico. And I love her heart just for that, to want to reach out to the less fortunate. On one of her mission trips, she was devastated to find a children's prison and I didn't even know those existed.
John: I did not either.
Jim: And in that prison was one little boy who captured her heart. His name was Antonio, "Tony" and he had been falsely accused of murdering his baby brother and left in this prison at the age of 5. I mean, I can't imagine what that little boy was going through.
Incredibly, as we just heard, it took 2 1/2 years to get Tony released from prison and at one point he disappointed and was presumed dead. We're picking up the story at the point where Carolyn has found Tony again, gotten him released from prison and has hidden him with friends in a Mexican village, while she finalizes the adoption paperwork in Los Angeles.
John: This is an amazing story and it's worth pointing out that Carolyn wasn't trying to adopt Antonio herself. She knew a couple who wanted him, but they backed out at the last moment and Carolyn then had five days to prepare for the fact that she would become a mother. Now here's Carolyn Koons with the rest of the story, speaking at Azusa Pacific University on today's "Focus on the Family."
Carolyn: I was so good at planning my whole life out. For the first time, I couldn't predict what was going to happen tomorrow. I couldn't even predict what was going to happen that afternoon. And you know what I was worried about? I'd only seen little Antonio three times in 2½ years. What if he wasn't that cute little kid anymore? (Laughter)
What if that smile wasn't on his face? What if I walked in the door and he was one of these tough dudes in the prison? I lot could happen in 2½ years. And we walked into that little shack and I was so glad. Across this [sic] wall-to-wall beds, I saw this big smile and these big eyes; I go, "Oh, thank you, Jesus." (Laughter)
I got little Antonio and we took him back up into Lupe's office before we crossed the border, because that night we'd be back up here in Glendora in this nice little condominium and Lupe wanted to see him. By now, Lupe's a lawyer. She has a little office above a garage. We got up into Lupe's office and they danced around, little Antonio--this little kid, dirty little kid with a pair of cut-offs that were filthy, no shoes, nothing else, a battery and a piece of string. That's what I adopted. They danced around.
Lupe pulled him up into her lap and she put a document into the typewriter. She says, "Okay, Carolyn." She says, "Two more decisions and you're on your way." And I says, "Well, what's that?" She says, "Well, when do you want his birthday to be?" I says, "What do you mean?" She says, "You know, we cannot find a single document as to when Antonio's birthday is. When do you want his birthday to be?" And I said, "Well, Lupe, why don't I give birth to him today? Let's make it, you know, let's make it July 18th." So, she typed in July 18th and she says, "Okay, Carolyn, how old do you want him to be?" (Laughter and Applause)
And I go, "All right!" This parenting is going to be a cinch, you know? Gee, just tell you guys what to do, and so we did some calculating. We decided to make him 12-years-old. She typed in "July 18, 1965" and she put her little arms around Antonio and she says, "Antonio, today's your birthday. Happy Birthday. And this is going to be your birthday for the rest of your life." And my son put his little skinny hands across that paper as if he was trying to read it like Braille, just make sure that those words were not gonna disappear and he started crying. He started crying. It was so moving.
But I gotta tell you something. They wouldn't let me out of Mexico with him. They said, "You can get him out of prison; you cannot get him out of Mexico." No one, no border, no authority would let me through the border. You know what they told me? They told me I was gonna have to quit my job, come to live in Mexico for 2½ years to establish residency and then they would let me across the border. And my immediate reaction was, "God, that is not part of this deal." (Laughter)
By an absolute miracle of the Lord, the governor, the governor of the state heard about our plight and at the end of that week, Carolyn Koons and her brand-new son walked over that border, down into San Ysidro, and when I hit the dirt on the California side, I got down and I kissed the dirt. I was never so glad to get out of Mexico. And we have a picture of Carolyn and her brand-new son with his green card plastered over his face--Antonio Hernandez Sanchez Darcia Koons. (Laughter and Applause) Every Mexican needs a good German name at the end there, you know.
Now wouldn't it be great if you were to say. "Whoa!" Wouldn't it be nice it chapel was over and we would say, "And they lived happily ever after?" (Laughing) And as we drove up Highway 5 and the sunset came down over the, you know, the Pacific Ocean and we could say, "The end." Are you kidding?
I had a feeling that the last 2½ years was nothin' compared to what I just got myself into. 'cause see, I had just adopted a kid that spent seven years of his life in a prison for murder, that was beaten, that was tortured, and who knows all what could happen to him. And his life before that was terrible. Norm Wright, marriage and family counselor, a good friend of mine that teaches over here at Talbot Seminary, said, "Carolyn, that's about as close to adopting a wolf boy as you possibly could get." Thanks, Norm.
You know what? Antonio, I was going to say he couldn't speak a word of English, but he did have two words: "McDonald's" and "Coke." I will never know where he got them. And guess what? No habla [sic] Español. (Laughter)
Sign language was big in our house. And you know what? He couldn't read a word. He couldn't write a word. He is 12-years-old and can't write his name. So, where would you put him in school? So, he belonged in preschool, so we put him in the 6th grade, right over here in a school in Glendora, and I'll never forget that first day. He says, "Mom, do I have to go?" "Yeah, Tony, you have to go." How would you like to go to school? You cannot speak the language; you cannot write your name; you cannot add; you cannot subtract. And you are now in the 6th grade?
We decided it's be better to catch everything up to his age as much as possible. I'll be really honest. I was never so glad to get back here at the university in September. And at our faculty orientation that we always have a week before you students arrive on campus, they introduced me as Carolyn Koons, Azusa Pacific University's new unwed mother. (Laughter) To all the new faculty members, you could just see their eyes. (Laughter) And we celebrated the joy.
Third day of school I got my first call from the principal's office. (Laughter) "He's run away." I said, "What?" They said, "He's run away." I jumped in my car. I raced through Glendora. I went by Finkbinder's Park; he wasn't there. I got home and I'm telling you, our condo was locked. It took me forever to get into it and as dark as you could make your living room in a September day here in sunny California, it was dark. I walked in. I could hear screaming. I mean, it was horrifying. And there he was. Tony was over there on the couch. He was curled up in this prenatal position.
It reminded me of that little kid that was being beaten by the guard and he is screaming out of control. I have never heard anybody or seen anybody in a flashback. And he is screaming, "Please, don't hit me; don't hit me. I promise I won't do it again. Please, don't hit me." And he's going on and on. Man, I ran over to him and I jumped on the couch and I pulled him into my arms. And his skinny little body was just convulsing and tears were streaming down his face and his eyes were glared [sic] over. He had no idea who I was. It took me almost an hour to calm him down.
I kept saying, "Tony, I love you; I love you. You're okay. I'll keep you safe. Tony, I'll keep you safe." You know what keyed that off? Over there at school, that teacher couldn't get the class quiet, so I don't know what he took. You know how there's a six-grade teacher, the third day of classes. The kids were still pretending like it was summer vacation. I don't know if he took a ruler or a yardstick, but the teacher, just to kind of shock the kids to attention, just started walking down the aisles, hitting the desk, hitting the desk. Everyone just sort of jumped to attention.
My son didn't see a teacher with a ruler in his hand. My son saw a bodyguard with a billy club. Man, he ran out of there to save his life and he kept begging me, "Mom, Mom, please go back over to the prison there and get all those kids out just like you got me out." He thought school was a prison. Boy, did I learn a lot. No. 1, I knew that things were going to be tough and I knew that Tony had a lot of scars in his background, but I had no idea how many scars.
You know what I learned about our culture? I learned that if you're from a different culture and you come here to the United States, well, we've got all kinds of rules and expectations that we just kind of know how to function in this culture and we assume you do, too. My son went over to that school. He kept breaking rules, because he didn't understand the rules.
I also found out that kids in the school, just to be mean, would set you up and get you in trouble and get you to chew gum, because they said, "If you chew gum, we'll be your friend," and then that would get him in trouble. And he would break the rules and he didn't understand why he kept getting called to the principal's office.
I also found out, well teachers, if they couldn't get you quiet, especially the big guys, they'd grab you on the side of the neck and shake you when you're in the sixth grade and tell you to straight up and to sit down and get that gum out of your mouth. And I also found out that my son learned professional karate in the prison and he kicked the principal and he kicked the (Laughter) teacher.
And hey, I didn't get called to the principal's office once or twice. I got called on an average of three times a week. I kept going to the principal's office. "Tony's in trouble." Well, you know what? There was one kid that liked him. His name was Donnie. I think in your class you had a Donnie. Remember the little kid in your class that was the runt--hyperactive runt--talked too much, pants were too short? You know that kid? (Laughter)
You were convinced his mother had him on tranquilizers, right? (Laughter) My son and Donnie were best buds. I also found out that the big bullies of the school liked to beat up on Donnies. And after school one day, four big bullies for no reason at all, about a block from the school, just started beatin' up on Donnie. My son, Tony, saw Donnie being beat up. He raced out there. In a professional karate, he annihilated four big bullies. (Laughter and Applause)
And for the first time, after several months of getting in trouble himself, he finally was a hero for about an hour. (Laughter) And we got the call from the principal's office. We walked in the principal's office, and there sits one very understandably irate mother and there sits one very embarrassed, oversized bully with a bandage around his head. And if you looked real close, you could see the imprint of a tennis shoe just slightly under the bandage. (Laughter)
And that mother looked at me and she looked at my son and she says, "Why did you ever adopt this dirty, rotten Mexican for? We don't need any Mexicans in our town." She says, "I've heard about your son. He's always in trouble; he's always in fights; he's always getting kicked out of school. And I want to tell you, I've got a lot of clout in this town." She says, "If I see your son on the streets, I'll get him thrown in juvenile hall." And we were shocked. The principal said, "Carolyn, I think you need to go find another school. I think you need to start over." It was only December.
John: You can hear the grief in her voice and the desperation. That's Carolyn Koons on "Focus on the Family" and you'll hear how Tony's life eventually did turn around. And we'll get an update from Carolyn about how life is for them now. You can get a CD of this program, the complete presentation and information about how you can make a difference in the life of an orphan when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459. Or get the instant download at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let's go ahead and return now to hear from Carolyn Koons, who was a single mom, teaching at Azusa Pacific University when this story took place.
End of Program Note
Carolyn: So, we took a long vacation. Tony spent several weeks just kind of hanging around the school here, 'cause he got kicked out. You know what he said to me and he was right? He says, "I don't get it. In Mexico, I would be a hero if I saved my friend's life. In the United States, I get kicked out of school? I don't think I like it here in the United States. I think you have a bunch of stupid rules and regulations here in the United States. Anyway, all these teachers do is they push you around and I just want to be these kids' friends [sic], and all they do is set me up and get me in trouble. I just want some friends."
And after Christmas vacation, we drove nine miles out here to the local Christian school. Well, at least they understood and they'd prayed for him while he was in prison. They knew he had been in prison; I didn't have to hide anything. They had prayed for him. They knew that he had been in prison, accused of a murder he didn't commit. You know what they didn't know? They didn't know that their basketball coach was a hidden alcoholic, like so many Christians, living a life, standing there, trying to give on the image that everything's okay with us. But you know, all those hidden sins--that drinking, that addiction, whatever it is--that thing that's sooner or later that's gonna just fly out of hand in our life and start destroying us.
That basketball coach, man you put an abused child in the same room as a basketball coach that's trying to hide his alcoholism and we thought things were going well for a couple of months, and (sound of explosion) it started to sink. Boy, one day, Tony came home with burn marks around his neck; the basketball coach got so angry.
And Tony was so angry. He came home and he would say things like, "I hate it here." He said, "The Christians, they're not any different. They yell at you; they push you around. I thought Christians were supposed to be different." He said, "You have a bunch of stupid rules here." And then all of a sudden, he started turning on me. And it wasn't because he wanted to, it was because he was so terrified inside. And he says, "Why did you even adopt me for? Why did you take me out of Mexico?" He said, "I was better off in the prison. At least I understood the rules of the prison. I don't understand the rules here. Doesn't anybody like somebody like me?" And then he started turning on me. He says, "You're not my mother. Well, I don't have to listen to you."
I want you to know, I was so terrified to let you know how much I was hurting, even though I was your teacher. And I want you kids to know. If you haven't heard anything I have heard, you need to hear something. Those professors, those leaders, those dorm resident counselors, these deans, those of us that stand up there in front of you, there's many times we're hurting. We're hurting.
And at the end of two years, my son was annihilating me. I couldn't teach. I'd walk into my classes; I'd look at my teaching assistant and I said, "I have nothing to teach." Even though a couple of years earlier I'd won "Outstanding Teacher" awards, I couldn't so much as go to my office and answer a phone call or a memo.
I tell you, I went home one day, and anything to make Tony happy, anything, 'cause life was sinking for us, I prepared his favorite meal. He sat down at the table. I bet you you've done this to your parents. He looked at that meal and he says, "I don't want it." You know what I wanted to do? I wanted to pick it up and throw it in his face. Yeah, Professor Carolyn Koons. I walked out of that room. I was so terrified I was going to do something I shouldn't. I walked out of the room; I locked myself in the bathroom. And I tell you, there came a point, at the end of having Tony for two years, I broke.
And I was so angry with God. And I locked myself in the bathroom and I looked in the mirror and I hated who I saw. I said, "God, why have You done this to me? God, I asked You to change my life; I didn't ask You to destroy my life. And God, as far as I'm concerned, You're destroying me and this isn't fair and I don't deserve this. And look, God, I turned my life around. Look at what I'm doing in ministry for You. I'm taking thousands of kids to Mexico. Why did You give me this kid?" God says, "Carolyn, Carolyn, you're just where I want you." I says, "Oh, no, I'm not." (Laughter)
And He says, "Oh yeah, you are. Carolyn, do you know why I gave you Tony?" And I'm telling you, if God has ever spoken to me in my life, it was that moment in that bathroom when I was so angry. He says, "Carolyn, because he's just like you."
All of a sudden, it hit me. He was. He was just like me. I was so angry when I was younger and I still have to deal with that at times. You know, I was 8-years-old. My mother held a loaded .38-caliber gun in my face and told me my dad hated me so much he'd kill me. I was raised in a very angry, abusive, violent, alcoholic home. I was an explosive kid. I tore up schools; I tore up churches. I tried to burn down churches. I hated Christians.
I started drinking when I was 6-years-old, because I was going to get even with my dad. Are you kidding? I was becoming just like him--a very angry, violent, explosive kid. I got kicked out of my home when I was 13 and when I was about 17, this Christian lady found me--this angry, violent distrusting kid--and she would not let me go. And she led me to Jesus. Boy, she took my abuse.
And I'm standing in the bathroom and all of a sudden, my life was passing before me and God says, "Carolyn, Carolyn, I changed your life. Would you trust Me? I'll change Tony's. But Carolyn, you don't understand. Carolyn, I'm not done with you, yet." And all of a sudden, it hit me. You know what I felt? I felt I was responsible to change Tony's life and I began to realize, wait. God says, "I'm not done with you."
I walked out of that bathroom. I had adopted Tony now for over two years. I walked out. All of a sudden it hit me. I walked out. I looked at the table. He's still sitting at the kitchen table an hour later. Tears were streaming down his face. You know what? God was working on him out there, while God was working on me in here. (Laughter)
And I went out and I looked at him and I took his skinny little hand. You know what? That is the moment I realized this was my son. The bonding took place at that moment. I says, "Tony," and tears just streaming down my face. I said, "You know, we're gonna make it." And he took his other little hand and tears were streaming down his face. He says, "I know, Mom. I know. We're gonna make it."
I cannot describe to you what happened, but all of a sudden, things began to change. They began to change. Let me close with this. He graduated from the 6th grade, 7th grade, 8th grade. He's now in school three. I mean, we didn't change overnight, come on. Give us a break. And the seniors and the 8th graders were having their graduation that year and I got to speak at my son's graduation. And all the parents were there and all the seniors and all the junior highers and of course, the cutest kid was the little eighth-grader grad--little Mexican kid right there, my son.
And before I spoke, they introduced my son. By the way, you have to understand, he's a little bit shy. He wasn't about to speak in front of a whole bunch of people. They said, "Before Carolyn comes to speak, her son has asked if he could say a few words about her." I went, "Oh, no." (Laughter) Maybe he'll tell about the time we got in a karate fight. (Laughter)
And my son got up in front of that whole group and put his hand in one pocket, so he'd look cool. (Laughter) And he put his hand on the podium, so he wouldn't pass out. (Laughter) And he looked into this huge audience of hundreds of people and he says, "I want to thank this school for everything you've done for me." You know, he knew they could have kicked him out, too. "And most of all, I want to thank my mom for adopting me and taking me out of Mexico, because it's the greatest thing that ever happened in my life."
And right in front of all those kids, my son started yelling into the microphone, "Mom, I love you! I love you!" And he turned around. Tears were streaming down his face. He ran back and he threw his arms around me and we are standing in front of hundreds of people--all of his peers--sobbing our eyes out. (Laughter)
I want you to know, young person, to hear my son say, "I love you" made all the difference in the world, and I'd do it again and again. Maybe some of you need to remind your folks that you love them.
John: A priceless image of little eighth-grader Tony with that tribute to his mom, Carolyn Koons. And we're gonna wrap up there with Carolyn's story on today's "Focus on the Family.
Jim: And John, he's all grown up now and in fact, one of our producers got ahold of Carolyn between trips to Mexico and asked her for an update and Tony is now married with four kids and they live just a half mile away from her home in Glendora, California. Here's what she had to say, looking back at this journey.
Prerecorded Phone Call:
Carolyn Koons: One of the most amazing things is, that what I've learned out of this experience, you know, I never grew up thinking I was gonna adopt a kid. I never had it in my mind. I just felt that when God changed my life that and so radically changed my life, that all I wanted to do was serve God. And I found that this journey of faith and trusting God and just listening to God's voice and as God takes us from one step to the next and He just opens another door. And when God says, you know, that, "Carolyn, I want you to adopt Tony," it was probably one of the biggest steps I ever took, but I took it, because I knew this is what God wanted.
And it has been stretching; it's been amazing. It's been difficult at times as a single parent, but it has been God's plan for my life. And I look back at my life, what God has done in my life and I look at what God has done in Tony's life and his wife's life and now his grandkids. You know, it's one of the greatest things I ever did.
Tony could still be living in a prison today, because that was their plan, that he was gonna grow up as a child, an innocent child in a prison. He was gonna grow up in Mexico in a prison. And I just couldn't do that. And so, you look back at God's hand and the plan that He has for our life, it is one of the greatest journeys we could ever have.
End of Prerecorded Phone Call.
John: Well, so many adoptive parents understand what Carolyn was saying there. You can't ignore what He asks of you and it's difficult, but as she said, one of the greatest journeys she could ever have. And that's Carolyn Koons, who relied on God and followed Him into what became an incredible walk and story for herself and for that child, little Tony.
Jim: And John, I really believe this illustrates how much God values human life. We're made in His image, that He would orchestrate all of these events to rescue one little boy from a Mexican prison. It's just mind-boggling, but it shows His goodness.
John: And His heart for the orphan is the subject of a film, Jim, that we're very excited about, a movie about the rescue of hundreds of abandoned babies. It opens here in the U.S. tonight and tomorrow night in Canada.
Jim: It does, John, The Drop Box movie will be in theaters for just a few nights this week. And you've probably heard about it by now, the story of a South Korean pastor who created a warm drop box right in the door of his apartment there in Seoul, South Korea to receive babies that moms could no longer care for. It's a powerful story.
So, join us for The Drop Box tonight and the next two nights, March 4th and 5th in the U.S. and just March 4th and 5th in Canada. To get your tickets and to learn more, look for a link on the Focus on the Family website.
John: That is such a powerful story of Pastor Lee in South Korea. I wept during that film, Jim and as we've heard today, the plight of the orphan, a disabled baby, a 9-year-old boy in a prison cell, it continues today and it's so near and dear to God's heart.
Jim: It really is, John and I want to take that next step and make the CD of this broadcast available for a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family. And we'll put those donations toward the Global Orphan Care Fund, which is going to support the ongoing work of Pastor Lee's ministry in South Korea, as well as our own adoption and orphan care initiatives here at Focus on the Family.
John: Learn how to be a critical part of this great work when you call 800-232-6459 or you can find details and donate online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . And as Jim mentioned, we're happy to send the CD of Carolyn's presentation to you. It's our way of saying thank you when you contribute to the work here at Focus on the Family.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. Dr. Kathy Koch returns to talk with us about how technology is impacting your children and what you can do about it, trusted advice next time to help your family thrive.
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Carolyn KoonsView Bio
Carolyn Koons retired from Azusa Pacific University after 50 years of serving in teaching, ministry and leadership capacities. She is currently the president of Life Bridge Ministries International and the executive director of Rancho El Refugio, a ministry based in Ensenada, Mexico. Carolyn is a public speaker and the author of four books including Single Adult Passages and Beyond Betrayal. She has a grown son, Tony, and four grandchildren.