Mrs. Harry Holt, The Seed from the East, 1956

Source: Mrs. Harryo Holt as told to David Wisner (Los Angeles: Oxford Press, 1956), 232.

The Holt family on the back stairs of their home in Creswell, Oregon.

This is how Bertha Holt recalled the events that led her and Harry Holt to adopt eight Korean children and facilitate the adoptions of thousands of others. The story began in 1954, when the Holt family attended a meeting in Eugene, Oregon. Bob Pierce, the president of World Vision, showed several films, spoke about the organization’s missionary efforts in Korea, and asked people in the audience to sponsor orphans for $10 per month. In addition to their shared Christian faith, the contrast between Korean racism and American tolerance was fundamental to Pierce’s appeal. Holts’ subsequent efforts continued this theme, emphasizing Americans’ special responsibility to act on behalf of the “GI babies” left behind by military men. Bertha Holt’s book concludes with a special prayer “to help the mixed-race children of Korea. Father. . .we especially plead for the negro-Korean children.” The Holts’ international adoptions, and those depicted in narratives like The Family Nobody Wanted played crucial political roles during the Cold War, addressing racial dilemmas at home as well as humanitarian crises abroad.

Then came the scenes that shattered our hearts. We saw before us the tragic plight of hundreds of illegitimate children. . .GI-babies. . .children that had American fathers and Korean mothers. . .children that had been hidden by remorseful mothers until it was no longer possible to keep their secret. Finally the children were allowed to roam the streets where they were often beaten by other children who had never known Koreans with blond hair. . .or blue eyes.

Following this documentary evidence of the shameful result of undisciplined conduct, Dr. Pierce related to the audience more of the things that he, himself, had seen. He told how he had driven a jeep by an army dump on one occasion and noticed what looked like a human form almost hidden beneath the garbage and flies. He stopped the jeep to investigate and found, beneath grime and indescribable dirt, a little boy. His skin was light. His eyes were blue. His hair was brown. He was a GI-baby. He had been left there to die.

“The Koreans are very race conscious,” Dr. Pierce said. “Mixed-race children will never be accepted into Korean society. Even the youngsters, themselves, are conscious of the difference. At a very early age they seem to sense that something is wrong.”

Dr. Pierce continued with severe criticism of the men who had turned their backs on those tiny, outstretched arms.

I looked at Harry. He was motionless and tense. I knew every scene had cut him like a knife. I was hurt, too. There is so much we have never known. We had never thought of such suffering and heartbreak. We had never heard of such poverty and despair. We had never seen such emaciated arms and legs, such bloated starvation-stomachs and such wistful little faces searching for someone to care. . . .

To Harry and me had been allotted ten orphans. . .all from an orphanage near Taegu. They were divided evenly—five girls and five boys. The folders described them as being in good health. None were blind or crippled. None were mixed-race children. Their ages ranged from three to fourteen. The youngest and the oldest were both girls. Their parents had either been killed during the war or had succumbed to disease following the war.

We especially enjoyed the letters that came with the pictures. They were composed of carefully written characters placed horizontally across the page. Since the numbers are the same as ours we recognized the date of the writing (12/15/1954). The letters of the pre-school children were written by older children who lived in the orphanages with them.

Kim Un Lyon’s letter was typical of those received.

“Dear My Sponsor, How are you getting along who are thousands of miles away? I am well and study hard with the help of God and Jesus Christ, our Lord, and your favor. Nowadays in Korea the winter has come and snowstorms are falling. I am very curious to know about the weather in the country where you are living. I am very happy when I think that my letter will be answered, after it is read by you, and I don’t know what to do. Indeed I am very happy. Hoping your good care and love. Bye for now. Kim Un Lyon.”

We all read our letters aloud. We loved each one. . . .

More and more I found myself wishing we could bring some of the Korean orphans into our own home where we could love and care for them. I would walk from room to room thinking of how we could put a cot here. . .and another bed there. It even occurred to me that some of the rooms could be partitioned and made into two rooms without depriving anyone. In fact, some of the rooms even appeared empty as I looked at them.

There was certainly no problem where the other areas of the house were concerned. Our living room was never full except when we had a large Bible class attending. Our dining room might possibly be small. . .especially when we had company. . .but between the dining room and the living room was the library and that could just as easily be considered an annex to the dining room. Isn’t it true that when we want to see something materialize, we’re always able to make the necessary adjustments?

In thinking about particulars, I decided that eight would be the number we could actually absorb into the family. Any more might work a hardship for the children themselves. . . .

On Friday, April 15th, Harry voiced the burden on his heart.

“I’ve been thinking I’d like to go to Korea.”

“I know. I’ve been hoping you’d go.”

For a moment he just sat quietly and looked out the window. Then he spoke again.

“Every night when I go to bed, I see those pictures all over again. It doesn’t make any difference where I am or what I’m doing. I think about those kids over there. I look out here at this beautiful playground God has so generously given us and something inside of me cries out at the thought of those poor little babies starving to death, or being thrown into dumps to be gnawed by rats.”

Again there was silence but I knew he had more to say and would appreciate saying it as he felt it. So I just sat still and listened.

“I think we ought to adopt some of the GI-children.”

“That’s the way I feel, too.”

“How many do you think we could take care of?”

I knew what I wanted to say. I had thought of it many times and I felt like bursting out with the number eight. Somehow, I lacked the courage. I knew Harry had thought long and hard about the matter, too, and I had no idea of the number he felt would be right. Finally I answered in a far-off squeaky little voice.

“I suppose we could care for six.”

“Oh my. . .we have plenty of room for eight. . .or ten. . .or even more.”

I felt a sudden, joyful release. Now I knew that Harry’s number even surpassed mine. . .and then I heard him continue to say, “Suzanne and Linda’s bedroom is big enough for two or more beds. We can put cots in some of the other bedrooms; and the game room can be partitioned off along that ceiling beam to make a big double bedroom.”

As I listened to Harry repeat almost word for word the very things I had told myself could be done, I realized that God was working in our hearts. Only God could bring about such a miracle.


Source: Mrs. Harry Holt, as told to David Wisner, The Seed from the East (Los Angeles: Oxford Press, 1956), 25, 37-38, 42, 44.

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