13-year-old Joseph (‘Joey’) experienced his first Thanksgiving as a full-fledged member of an American family.
His adoptive parents are Ohioans Tom and Melissa Brown.
Joey’s name at birth in China was Zexi Xu.
At age 3, he was severely burned in a field fire accident. The disfigurement from the burns made life very difficult for his Chinese family. “China is primarily and honor or shame country, and so your performance – and also your appearance – is very pertinent to your success,” explains Joey’s adoptive mother, Melissa.
“Joey, specifically being burned, was a typical manifestation of [perceived] bad fortune, meaning for some people, they saw him as a sign of bad luck or that his family had done something that would bring tragedy to their family.” When his parents would take him places some people believed that an evil spirit was involved, and Joey and his parents were often treated with disdain. “As he grew older, that was essentially his life experience – that there was something wrong with him.” Everyday life was difficult.
Life gets better
In 2015, Joey, age 5, was able to travel to the United States for reconstructive surgery at Shriners Hospital for Children. Melissa became involved when a fellow church member told her Joey needed a host family to stay with during treatment. The Browns prayed and agreed to share their home with the boy.
After the medical procedures, Joey returned to China. But four years later was back in America for additional surgeries. Again, he stayed with the Browns. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Joey could not return to China for a long time. His Chinese family, who had posed the question of adoption once before, again asked the Browns if they would consider adopting their child. After lots of consideration and prayer, the Browns said, “Yes.”
International adoption is not simple, but God made a way
“We told the Lord that if this is what he wanted us to do, then he would have to make it happen, with both finding an attorney and providing the financial means to complete the adoption process,” said Melissa. “We found one attorney from Dayton who was able and willing to help us. And the Lord has provided the money as well.” And the Lord opened every door that needed to be opened. Dr. Chao Liu, assistant professor of psychology at Cedarville University, from China himself, assisted the Browns in translating court documents, becoming a mediator between the Browns and Joey’s parents.
The adoption was finalized in September of this year. Joey is 13 years old. The Browns are now a family of six.
“People often ask if he speaks English. And yes, he certainly does. He has lived here in the States for four-and-a-half years. He’s doing well in school, reading and writing. He’s made a number of friends. He is really doing very well,” smiles Melissa. “Joey made a profession of faith several years ago. He loves to read God’s word. He’s actively involved in discussion at church in a youth group. And he talks a lot about how the Lord can use his story for God’s glory as he gets older.”
In our complete interview podcast just below Melissa shares her prayers for her son’s future – a very touching personal hope.
Editor's note: We want to thank Mark Weinstein and Sarah Mummert with Cedarville University for assisting us with this encouraging story. Melissa is a counselor and teacher at the Ohio Christian school.