I'm on my way to the airport

to pick up Dave Ballard and his family. They live in Tampa, Florida, and we don't get to see them nearly enough. We are very excited for their visit. I am a little reminiscent about another trip to the airport exactly four years ago from today. It was the day Derrick joined our family.

Derrick, Rachel, Steve, Lucy and Emily. January 6, 2005

Here is his story, as written in March 2005, as requested by his 9th grade English teacher. It is a very personal story that was written in his words, edited by me for easier reading, and is posted with his permission.

My name is Derrick Graham Horner. I was born in East London, South Africa. My mother and I lived with eight other family members in Buffalo Flats. In one room there would be me and my mother. In another room was my aunt and her children. In the other room were my grandfather and my cousin who was an orphan. I never knew my father. My mother was a good lady who worked as a nurse. While she was at work, my grandmother looked after me. My mother had eleven brothers and sisters, and she was number nine.
When I was in grade three my mother passed away. I came home from school one day and my aunts were at my house. They said that my mother was not good at work and had gone to the private hospital. She was in the hospital for two weeks. I visited her every two days, but at the end they wouldn’t let me go in the room with her because they thought I was going to cry. She passed away in October of 1998. I knew she was going to die; something told me it would happen. But that didn’t make it any easier.
I remember her funeral. It was held in Coffee Bay in the Transkei, where she grew up. It was a four-hour drive from East London. The funeral was in a big tent and there were maybe a thousand people there: workers, friends, and family. I sat by myself during the funeral.
After the funeral we went back to Buffalo Flats. I stayed in the room all alone. I was scared to sleep in there by myself. So I went to go live with my Aunt Shirley. She was the eldest living of my mother’s siblings, so that is why I went to go stay with her. She lived in Southernwood with her three sons: Timothy, Tyrone, and John Paul and two of my other cousins: Eric and Gabriel. Her husband, Patrick, had lived in Quigney near the beach, but she had moved away from him because he smoked and drank. He was a good guy, even though he drank. He had passed away from cancer three months before my mother died.
I shared a room with my cousins Eric and Gabriel. Their families still lived in the Transkei, but they came to Southernwood to live with Shirley so they could get a better education in the city. Our room was fifteen feet back behind the house. We shared two beds. Eric and I slept in a double bed and Gabriel slept by himself. We used a candle for light.
In January 2002 I met the Ballards. They came to South Africa to teach at a college in East London called Border Technikon. The first time I saw them, they were sitting in the front right corner in church. They came over to Shirley’s house for Family Home Evening every week. They took turns giving everyone rides on their scooter.
One night Steve came over and asked Shirley if I could go with them on a backpacking trip to Capetown. I had never been away from East London, except for the Transkei, and I was very happy. They gave me a list of things to pack for the trip, but I was confused and didn’t understand everything like: tennis shoes, swimming suit, or what hiking was. (I thought they meant we were hitch-hiking to Capetown.)
The next morning we left with Linda, who was their supervisor, for Capetown. We first went backpacking with a group or Boers, or Dutchman. They sat around the campfire eating meat and singing songs. I learned what hiking was, and it was nice. I had never seen tall people like Steve and Emily before. They were different because they were kind to me. After the hike we kept driving towards Capetown. We ate at restaurants, went shopping, and went to an amusement park called Ratanga Junction. It was my first time riding a roller coaster. Steve and Emily gave me a journal on the trip. I asked them what a journal was and they told me. I wrote every night in my journal.
I was sitting in the car with Emily one night while Steve and Linda were in the store. I asked Emily how many children they wanted to have. She told me maybe six, but maybe they would adopt some. I asked Emily why they didn’t adopt me since I had no family. Emily said maybe they would try.
I became good friends with them and was so happy that they took me with them to Capetown. I went over to their flat often because I was on holiday from school. Then it was time for them to go home to Utah. I was sad and I thought that I would never see them again. Jason Flowerday took them to the airport and he asked me if I wanted to go with them to say goodbye. It was hard to see them leave. It rained a lot. And I cried.
I wrote letters to Steve and Emily and sometimes we would send messages over the computer. They sent me letters and packages. They tried to adopt me, but they couldn’t find anyone that would help them. They had a baby girl in 2003 and then another girl in 2004. They kept trying for me to come, but then there was a problem with the Hague Treaty so they couldn’t do adoptions through South Africa. I still hoped that they would find a way for me to come to the United States and live with them, but I thought it would never work. After so long, they thought it would never work too. They kept in contact with Stephen Flowerday, who was my bishop at church. He is a good man who has helped me a lot. He told them they should try again.
In June 2004, my bishop at church called me into a room and asked me if I would like to go stay in America with Steve and Emily. I told him yes, I was so surprised. He told me I must go home and think about it for three days and to tell him how I felt on Sunday. I couldn’t sleep all night because it was so exciting. I told him yes, for sure I would like to go.
Steve and Emily wanted me come to the United States on a visitor visa. I would go to Utah for six months. We started to get my passport and my visa. My passport was easy to get, and I had tickets to fly to Salt Lake City on December 7, 2004. But then it took long and was difficult to get my visa because my mother had passed away. I had an interview at the United States Embassy in Johannesburg. It was my first time on a plane. They asked me questions about my age, my family, and what I was going to do in the United States. I told them I was only going to visit the Ballards and that I would go back to my family and friends in South Africa. They denied my visa and told me that I had no family and no reason to return to South Africa. I was so upset that I cried. I didn’t enjoy the plane when I went home and I felt like killing myself. Then my bishop came and talked to me. He told me I shouldn’t worry and to stick to my books. Maybe I could come to America when I was older.
The Ballards read lots of things on the computer about getting a visa. They wrote letters to the senators and asked them for help to make it possible for me to come. They were sad to cancel the tickets they had for me to come. But they did not give up. I scheduled a second interview with the embassy for December 10. Emily got me new tickets to come December 12. Senator Hatch helped me and told the embassy to let me come over. The other senator told Emily that there was no use trying because I would never get a visa.
There was a man who interviewed me the second time. He seemed so good and was better than the woman who had been there the first time. We brought lots of papers with us. My aunt came and told them she owned two different properties and had money in the bank. She told them that she was my family and would not allow me to stay on in the United States. They asked me more questions. The man asked me if they gave me a million rand if I would stay in the United States with the Ballards. I said no. I thought I was going to get my visa, but it was denied again. This time they told me it needed administrative clearance. The man went and phoned the Ballards at five in the morning and spoke with Steve. He told Steve he had never phoned like this before. He could have denied my visa like the lady, but he thought I was nice. The man told Steve if I was not back in South Africa that he would call and notify Homeland Security that they were breaking the law. He was very rough on the phone and made a lot of threats to them. Steve and Emily were so excited because they thought I was flying out the next day.
The embassy told us they would phone us and not to bother them. They were very rude and made my Aunt Shirley cross. She sat by her phone the whole time we were in Johannesburg. It was time for us to go back to East London, but they still hadn’t called. We went back to the embassy on Sunday. They told us they were only open to Americans on Sunday and to come back on Monday. We could not stay in Johannesburg longer. But I had already packed up all of my clothes from East London and I didn’t want to have to go home and unpack again.
We went home to East London and I tried to forget about it because I knew I could never try again. My tickets were cancelled and I was cross, angry with the embassy, and upset for packing all my luggage for nothing. It was a Monday they called me in East London to say my visa was declared. They needed my passport. I sent it with a courier to Johannesburg. The bishop’s friend took the passport to the embassy and they were fussy to him about it. They asked why he had my passport because he was not Derrick Horner. They took it away and wouldn’t give him the visa. It was a few days after Christmas that I finally got my visa and my passport back.
Steve and Emily couldn’t figure out why my bishop wasn’t responding to their emails. They didn’t know what was happening. January 4, 2005 they finally phoned my bishop and he asked why they hadn’t responded. He had sent them lot of emails that they never got because they had been accidentally blocked from their email. My bishop had already given up and thought the Ballards must have changed their minds. I thought it wasn’t worth it and it wasn’t worth the use because the visa had to be used by January 9, 2005.
Emily found a new flight and made new arrangements. The man who gave me my new tickets in Johannesburg told me that my visa stamp meant that I had to be back to South Africa by January 9 and that they would not let me into the Untied States. I flew out on January 6, 2005. Steve met me at the airport in New York because he was worried about me getting through customs. The airplane ride was long and I was tired of flying. I was scared that I would not be able to get into America because of my stamp. But the people in New York let me in through immigration. Forty-four hours after I left East London, I finally arrived in Utah. And that is the story of how I met the Ballards and how I came to America.

Derrick Horner. January 2005

The next few weeks were extraordinary, despite the uncertainty of his situation. We didn't know how long Derrick would be able to stay with us, so we tried to fit in as many activities as we could. Derrick saw snow for the first time, went to Temple Square, and even went to Disneyland with Rebecca and Tyler. He was the recipient of much generosity and many acts of kindness, including the All-Star shoes shown in the picture above and a new pair of soccer cleats, given annonymously.

Four years later, and even in light of the difficult situations we have recently faced, I can confidentally say that we have been blessed to have Derrick in our family. It required much faith and many miracles for him to come to America. More miracles have taken place that have allowed him to stay and become a permanent member of the Ballard Family. Derrick, we love you and are proud to have you in our family.

Rachel, Steve, Lucy, Derrick and Emily at Temple Square. January 2005

Derrick and Goofy. January 2005


The Conlins said...

Very touching and inspiring story. I knew it was a difficult process but never knew the entire scope of it. Thanks for sharing.

Julee said...

Thanks for sharing! I hope Derrick realizes what great parents he has...:)

The Ames Family said...

It is nice to know that I was not the only one who had problems getting my Visa to come over to the US. I remember that day at Temple Square. We took a bunch of pictures, I need to go and look for them. How is Derrick doing on his mission?


Jaime said...

What an incredible experience for all of you! I'm positive there are blessings on both sides. You are good people.
Oh- & tell Dave HI!

Rebecca said...

Wow. That was such a touching story. It made me cry to read that story in Derrick's own words.

You are an amazing family and I am glad that Derrick is my nephew:)

Thanks so much for sharing that Derrick and Emily:)

Rachael said...

I had never heard that whole story before, Emily! That's really neat! Thank you for sharing.