Love Without Borders

Dina Vinson had always wanted to be an adoptive mother. It’s a passion that she realized after a mission trip to Ethiopia that set her on the long and life changing path to adopt a son and daughter internationally.

By Angela E. Thomas, Photography by Katie Childs

Vinson Family

Dina Vinson is a degreed social worker. She has worked in long-term care for the elderly, with children with intellectual and development disabilities and in a middle school as an assistant to the therapist. Each of these steps along her career path has prepared her for “heart work,” within her home and without.

Today, Vinson works with a private adoption agency, helping prepare potential families for the adoption process. “I’ve always known this was my passion. This is where I wanted to end up. It’s my heart, my passion, to care for these families,” Vinson said.

When she performs home studies, she prepares the families for the joys and heartbreaks associated with adoption. She does so with compassion, from a place of true understanding and experience: She and husband Kent are the loving parents of two adopted children, Tyce, 7, and Jett, 5.

“Kent and I talked about children early on. I expressed that I didn’t have a desire to carry a child. He had a heart for adoption as well,” Vinson said.

The couple spent their first years traveling and simply enjoying their family of two. A mission trip to Ethiopia to build a playground at an orphanage planted the seed of their desire to grow the Vinson household.

“We spent a week in an area with no running water and [very limited resources]. I had this pair of blue Pumas. They’d become so full of dirt, and I’d sat for the longest, trying—in vain—to clean them when a woman from the village took them from me. Later, while I was eating dinner, she tapped me on my shoulder and handed me the shoes. They were spotless,” Vinson said, with great emotion. “She’d seen that getting those shoes clean was important to me, and she went out of her way to clean them. And they were spotless. I was changed in that moment.”


So much so that she and Kent decided to adopt a child from the country. “When we came back, we began to talk about adoption and how we’d fallen in love with the country. I was changed there. We knew that’s where we needed to start.”

The Vinsons began the adoption process in mid-2009. “We hoped for a son, so our younger children would have a big brother, but it didn’t matter,” Vinson said.

Several trips back to and from Ethiopia, a ton of paperwork and two and a half years later, Tyce officially became a Vinson. He was just 18 months old. Holding him in her arms that first time, knowing he was finally hers, Vinson said she felt, in that moment the responsibility of parenthood.

“A year later we started talking about adopting again. We met with an agency and started the process again,” Vinson said. This time, they sought a child from South Korea.

“We took a different route due to changing circumstances and unknowns in [Ethiopia]. And we actually felt God was leading us elsewhere.”

She explained their decision to adopt their children simply, eloquently and as a matter of destiny. “People ask me, ‘Why did you adopt internationally?’ I tell them, ‘Because my son was in Ethiopia. My daughter was in South Korea.’ It may sound smug. Everybody has various reasons for adopting internationally, but we did it because that’s just where our children were.”

She’d fallen in love with each of them, instantly, that first time she saw their faces on a computer screen. “I get so uncomfortable when people say ‘Those children are so lucky to have you,’ because, no, I’m lucky to have them. I often feel people adopt to ‘save somebody,’ but you end up being saved.”

“If you’re intentional and want what’s best for your children, you’ll learn about their cultures and traditions. Adoption requires that you step out of your normal. Adopting internationally requires this more so,” Vinson said.

She realizes their family is unusual. She describes herself as color aware as opposed to colorblind. “When you receive placement of an African or African American boy, you must realize the way people see him at 2 years old, holding your hand is not the same way they’ll view him as a 27-year-old man,” she said, frankly.

Thus, she and Kent are relying on family members and their “village” to help them understand and to help teach Tyce things they cannot. She reiterated, “You must be intentional.” To ensure that Jett learns about her culture, they enrolled her in a Korean daycare, and they’ve also cultivated relationships there.

“Our lives aren’t just about us anymore. It’s not about what makes us comfortable. We want our children to grow up knowing that we’ve been intentional about honoring where they’re from. The artwork in our home reflects that. We celebrate holidays [that originate from their countries]; for instance, we recently had a coffee ceremony, [which is a big part of the] Ethiopian culture. We also celebrate Children’s Day, which is celebrated in Korea,” the mother of two said.

“You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have all the answers, but be honest. Continually educate yourself, and do your best. It’s OK to be uncomfortable. Give yourself a break.” Vinson laughs as she speaks of the various foods served in their home; they include cheeseburgers, Korean and Ethiopian foods as well as traditional Mexican food, such as tamales, as her mother is from Mexico.

Vinson said it’s also important to share with your adoptive child his story in age appropriate terms. “Adoption is built on loss. Yes, you gained a child, but someone made a selfless decision to create an adoption plan for their child because they believed in their heart that it was best for him. You get all of your child, which includes his story. It’s important to respect their stories. Yes, it’s messy. It’s beautifully messy.”