The moment she cradled him in her arms and he looked up at her with his big, beautiful eyes, she knew.

Eddie, short for Edison, needed to become part of her family.

"He felt like our child," Rachel Van Eerden said.

No matter that he had some health problems, was cross-eyed or had Down syndrome. It didn't matter that it would take a great deal of work, time and money to adopt a special-needs child from Ecuador. It didn't matter that they already had 10 biological children. She and her husband, Jim, knew Eddie was meant for them.

"It was love at first sight for us," Rachel said.

She and Jim first met Eddie in Quito, Ecuador, during a mission trip in 2004. On their last night, the couple, along with their two oldest children, toured a local orphanage for special-needs children. Rachel noticed 5-month-old Eddie and asked to hold him.

She had a brother with Down syndrome and had majored in special education in college, so special needs hold a special place in her heart. As they held him through the rest of their tour, tiny Eddie captured all of their hearts.

Five years after that fateful orphanage visit, Jim and Rachel finally brought Eddie home to Stokesdale and made him a part of their family.

The adoption took years and was full of bumps and ruts. Some well-meaning family friends even questioned whether adopting Eddie was meant to be, but the Van Eerdens didn't waver.

Their church, Christ Covenant in Greensboro, family and friends helped them financially and emotionally make his adoption a reality.

"Our faith played a huge role," Rachel said. "That kept us strong through the whole process."

Jim, a socio-entrepreneur, and Rachel Van Eerden, who works two nights a week as a caregiver, were recognized for their work in advancing the cause of adoption recently when they received the Congressional Angels in Adoption Award. They were nominated by U.S. Rep. Howard Coble to represent North Carolina's 6th District and honored in Washington in October.

Sponsored by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institution, the Angels in Adoption program gives members of Congress the opportunity to recognize an individual, couple or organization from their districts who have made an exceptional contribution on behalf of children in need of homes.

"The Angels in Adoption program draws special media attention to the tremendous impact adop-

tion makes in the life of a child," Coble said. "I am thrilled to honor the Van Eerden family with the Angels in Adoption award and congratulate them on welcoming Edison into their family."

"We felt so less deserving than so many other families we know who have adopted, but we decided that we'd be intentional about why we were there (in Washington)," Rachel said. "We want to be a voice for adoption and make adoption easier for other families; there's thousands more Eddies out there waiting to be adopted."

The story of how Eddie became an orphan tears at the heartstrings. A carpenter found the newborn near a dump in Quito, the capital city, and called the police. The Van Eerdens had volunteered earlier in their trip at that very dump through a ministry that helps those who live there.

"Eddie was found wrapped in a trash bag, and the carpenter saw the bag moving," Rachel said, overcome with emotion. "God watched over him."

The baby was named Eddie, after a policeman who took him to an orphanage.

The Van Eerden's brought Eddie home in 2009 after three trips to Ecuador for court hearings.

He quickly adjusted to his new surroundings.

"It was instant bonding," she said. "We say he's been a missionary to our family, teaching us to love unconditionally."

Including 10-year-old Eddie, the Van Eerden's have five children younger than 18 living at home, plus a 19-year-old son living at home while going to college and a 23-year-old daughter, an elementary school teacher, who recently moved back home.

The couple tore down some walls and created one big boys' dorm room with bunk beds and a girls' dorm room. Eddie sleeps in the boys' room with four of his brothers.

He attended public school for a while, but Rachel is home-schooling him, and he receives speech and occupational therapy.

"He tries everything at 150 percent," Rachel said. "He's such a joy."

Asked what he loves most about his family and all his brothers, sisters and cousins, he replied, "Everything!"

The couple said that everywhere they go, Eddie, whom they describe as a connector of people, makes friends. He has an infectious smile and exhibits a loving demeanor that draws people in from the moment they meet him.

"He's more of what the world needs," Rachel said. "We are the receivers on this end."

Several of the couple's children have traveled to other countries on mission trips since Eddie's arrival, and Jim and Rachel hope to travel to Mexico with their 17-and 19-year-olds in February. They'd also love one day to take Eddie to visit his native country. As to whether they'd consider adopting again, Rachel said they have no short-term plans.

"We are so open to the idea, though, especially to adopting domestically through the foster-care system," she said. "We know God has surprises."

For now, they are content raising the rest of their children and lavishing Eddie with love.

"He's truly blessed our lives," she said. "He's taught us more of what our lives are about — reaching out and loving people."

Contact Jennifer Atkins Brown at (336) 574-5582.

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