It was a quirk of fate — they say it was a miracle from God — that allowed a Nevada County couple to adopt a 7-year-old girl from Haiti, just minutes before the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake that killed 200,000 or more.
Debabie and Scott Bryditzki were scheduled to arrive in Haiti at 4 a.m. on Jan. 12 to pick up their adopted daughter, Claire, and fly back to the United States an hour later.
Lucky for the family, the flight was moved up four hours. They took off instead from a Haiti airport at 1 a.m., just 15 minutes before the earthquake rocked the country.
Had the flight taken place on schedule, the Bryditzkis would have never arrived in Haiti that day, and no one knows if Claire would have survived.
"It was like God's mighty hand and His work piecing everything together," Debbie Bryditzki said during Sunday's Cornerstone Church service at Lodi Middle School.
The couple told an interested crowd at the Cornerstone service about their nearly three-year quest to adopt Claire. The family lives in Lake of the Pines, off Highway 49 about half-way between Auburn and Grass Valley, but they came to Lodi to tell their story because Cornerstone Pastor Ron Payne was once their pastor in Auburn. In fact, he conducted their wedding ceremony in 1982.
Claire was placed in an orphanage by her parents when she was 1 year old because they felt they were unable to take care of her, Bryditzki said. The couple met Claire in February 2007 during a mission trip to Haiti, and they bonded with the girl, then 4.
"Claire ended up being in my arms the entire week," Bryditzki said.
Though they had three grown children, the Bryditzkis decided to adopt Claire.
"We knew it was truly a calling in our lives," she said.
Bryditzki described the adoption process as an "agonizing wait" because the government didn't know how to get things done.
The couple was so frustrated that they prayed to God to get them in touch with the media so they could tell their story. While they were praying, there was a knock on the door. It was someone from their church, who handed them a note that read, "KCRA Channel 3 is on the way to interview you right now."
As it turned out, a family friend knew the chief pilot for media mogul Ted Turner's private plane and arranged to fly the Bryditzkis to Haiti.
They picked up Claire after quickly getting a visa for her, and flew to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and then to Sacramento.
"God strung it out, strung it out, strung it out, strung it out," Scott Bryditzki said. "We didn't know why. But through this, we've been able to share our story."
Haiti at a glanceSize: Slightly smaller than Maryland.
Island: Hispanola. Haiti takes up one-third of the island, while the Dominican Republic takes up two-thirds.
Population: Slightly more than nine million.
Economy: Considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line and 54 percent in abject poverty.
Religion: 80 percent Roman Catholic, 16 percent Protestant.
Literacy: 52.9 percent of those 15 and older can read and write.
Source: Central Intelligence Agency
Claire, wearing a black blouse, black-and-white polka-dot skirt and white ribbon in her hair, sat remarkably still for a 7-year-old as her adoptive parents told their story, Payne gave a short sermon and the church band performed.
That's because in Haiti, children are required to sit quietly for services, which usually lasted for three hours in there, Debbie Bryditzki explained after the service. So it wasn't a problem for her to sit still during a service that was half as long.
As for the formal wear at church, Bryditzki said, "She's all about the dresses. Don't put a pair of jeans on her. She'll say, 'Claire no pretty.'"
Claire has had to go through some adjustments in language and American customs. Since French and Haitian Creole are spoken in Haiti, Claire is just learning English. She delighted the audience when she sang the song about knowing her "ABCs."
But Claire has to get used to some behaviors that are acceptable in Haiti but not in the United States, her mother said.
"They push, they shove, they kick," she said. "So the playground is an interesting place."
Bryditzki explained after the service that children learn to shove themselves to the front of the line because there's only a certain amount of goods available.
"Food's a big deal with her," she said. "She treats it like every meal is her last meal. If it's too small a plate, she gets angry."
That's because orphans in Haiti were often fed only once a day, but that one meal was a very large plate of rice and beans. So she's used to big plates of food.
And Claire isn't used to the family's TV with surround sound. That's because it feels like an earthquake, and planes flying over their house scare her.
"She's doing very well," Debbie Bryditzki said. "She's a total fish out of water."