Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I Have a Father and He Knows My Name

Lola and Taiye's Story

Early one October morning in 2007, the phone rang in our Philadelphia home. My twin sister Taiye and I had been living there together while I attended graduate school and she pursued interior design studies. After several rings, Taiye groggily picked up the phone. “Hello?” A woman’s voice answered: “Hello, I’m Fatasen and I’m looking for a family member – may I speak to Dadee Oladapo?”

Taiye explained that no such person lived there, then added, “But I’m an Oladapo.”

The woman asked how Taiye was part of the Oladapo family.

“Our dad is Nigerian,” Taiye explained. “David Oladapo.” Then she asked hesitantly, “Do you know our dad?”

“No,” said Fatasen. “But let me ask my cousin.”

By this time, Taiye had come to find me and I sat next to her, watching her intently as she held the phone to her ear and relayed what was being said.

Fatasen began to speak rapidly in a heavy British accent to another person on her end of the line. Taiye heard a male voice in the background say, "Those are the twins!" Suddenly a man’s voice burst through the phone. “I am Martin,” he said excitedly, “and your father David Oladapo is my first cousin!”

Taiye and I stared at each other speechless, and I was overcome with emotion. Taiye carefully asked questions of Martin, to make sure this was not a mistake. Through joyful tears, I choked out, “We’ve found our father!” And then I wept in earnest. Within four hours of that first phone call, we were speaking directly with our dad, David Oladapo, in Abuja, Nigeria.

Looking back, my sister and I can see that God had been moving in the weeks and months leading up to that phone call, as our desire to know our father and our heritage had grown intense. We had grown up without our father, with only mentors filling the void along the way, living with our single mother on the West Coast and then later in a tough neighborhood in Washington DC. Although we bore our father’s surname, we had only known a few details about him. Our mom had told us that he was Nigerian, that he stood six feet tall, loved to dance, enjoyed flying, and that he had been deported shortly after we were born.

For as long as I can remember, there was always an absence in our hearts, a longing for family and a place to belong. As Taiye and I entered our late twenties, the absence of our father affected us in a new way. While we grew and established ourselves, embarking on the adventures of home ownership and new professional horizons, we felt adrift and disconnected in many ways. We felt keenly our lack of family and cultural identity. While we had Nigerian names, we had no connection whatsoever to our Nigerian heritage. Attending a friend’s wedding, we were painfully reminded of what we did not have. As our friend’s father walked her down the aisle, I got a lump in my throat. Our friend’s family was from Malawi and the wedding was packed with relatives, some of whom had flown in from Africa to join in the celebration. Vibrant music, color and laughter filled the reception hall as proud relatives smiled brightly and shared in traditional Malawian chants and dances. We stood there with smiles frozen on our faces, rejoicing for our friend but also aching inside at the vision before us – a vision of what we did not have.

From a very young age Taiye and I had sensed someone divine watching over us, but it was not until high school that, through the outreach of Christian friends and Young Life leaders, Taiye and I came to faith in Jesus Christ. Over the years, we grew as Christians and came to know God as our Father, grateful for His unconditional love and protection. Still, we always wondered about the father that God had chosen to give us life.

A few weeks before that life-changing phone call, we were given a gift – a clue that God was getting ready to answer our prayers for family and identity. We were visiting a new church, hungry for that familial connection, and during the service we heard a song entitled He Knows My Name that ministered to us in a powerful way. As the words washed over us, it was as if our Heavenly Father was speaking to us. You are not alone. You are not abandoned. I am your Father and I and I hear you when you call. We left that church service with new hope in our hearts. Come what may, we had a Heavenly Father who loved us.

And then miraculously we were reunited with our earthly father, who also knows us by name! During that first phone call, cousin Martin had told us that our father, unable to return to the U.S. himself due to visa issues, was always asking Martin to search for us. “Any time I travel to the United States, your father asks me to find you. He tells me, ‘My twin daughters are in California I think. Their names are Lola and Taiye!’”

The floodgates have opened in the ensuing months, and we have become connected with more aunts, uncles and cousins than we could have ever dreamed of! From Arizona to New York, from Nigeria to the United Kingdom, we have discovered family members who have embraced us with open hearts.

We spent the first year traveling and participating in an array of family events – our cousin Tuby’s wedding in AZ, the christening of our twin niece and nephew in DC, and a mini family reunion in Philadelphia.

The journey to this place and time in our lives has been thrilling. Nevertheless, we know it won’t be complete until we finally see our father face to face.

This is where you come in, all our friends, family and co-workers and even strangers. We are asking you all to help us complete this journey by supporting us with your prayers and financial resources as we prepare to travel to see our father for our 30th birthday at the end of July!

Our aunt, our father’s sister, has graciously agreed to travel with us to Nigeria to facilitate our meeting. With the help of you, our dear friends and family, we seek to raise funds to help us cover the cost of our trip this July. We need to have $6,000 by the end of April in order to purchase reasonably priced plane tickets and your assistance is greatly appreciated. We seek to raise enough funds to cover our expenses, which include immunizations, passport and visa fees, in-country travel, food, gifts, and accommodations. (If you have questions about our itinerary or budget, please feel free to ask.)

Please know that no amount is too small. Having worked on the Obama campaign, I know how thousands of dollars can be raised by thousands of individuals giving as little as $5.00.

Also, in an effort be a blessing to others, we have decided to donate any extra funds that we might raise to Young Life DC, to support the work of this ministry that shaped our lives and introduced us to God our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

Thank you in advance for choosing to be a part of our story and our journey! May the God of Heaven continue to bless you as you have blessed us!

For information, please e-mail