Trip to Guatemala a special one
As long as she can remember, Natalie Marion has known she was adopted.
Natalie’s parents Leslie and Jason Marion made no secret about it.
“I’ve always known I was adopted,” Natalie said. “All of my family is white, except my cousin Annie who was adopted from Vietnam. We always joke that we are the only brown ones in the family.”
It was Annie’s adoption that fueled the Marion’s desire to adopt as Leslie learned she couldn’t have children. The couple prayed about the decision for a long time and God led them to Guatemala.
Eighteen years ago, the Marion’s traveled to Guatemala and adopted a five-month-old girl on May 5, 2001.
For years, Natalie, a 2019 graduate of Burleson High School, has wondered about her birth parents. The Marion’s had met her mother in Guatemala during the adoption process but had no other information about her or Natalie’s father.
“I knew where I came from,” Natalie said. “That was about all I knew. I wanted to know about my biological family. I had so many questions.”
An opportunity to possibly answer some of Natalie’s questions arose four years ago during a meeting at church camp.
A simple question from Alsbury Baptist Church Teen’s Pastor Tim Newton opened the door.
Newton had pulled the freshman members of his youth group and asked them where they would like to go for a trip.
In a flash, Natalie answered, “Guatemala, let’s do it.”
The wheels had been set in motion for Natalie to return home.
Two years after, the trip moved closer to reality when Tiffany and Terry McConnell, who attended First Baptist Church of Burleson, packed up everything and moved to Sololá, Guatemala.
Unbeknown to Natalie, the McConnell’s moved to Guatemala to work at Eagle’s Nest International, the children’s home that Natalie was at before she was adopted.
Once the senior mission trip to Guatemala became a reality, around 25 church members expressed a desire to go on the trip that would be headed to Eagle’s Nest International to work there.
The next step for Natalie was raising the $1,000 to cover the entire trip.
“I was surprised it would only cost a thousand dollars,” Natalie said. “Everything was included in the price other than souvenirs.”
Natalie set up a GoFundMe account and in just over six hours had raised the money necessary.
The church group flew to Guatemala June 17 then traveled to Eagle’s Nest International.
For Natalie, her return to the place where she lived before being adopted was a great experience.
“I had big expectations and it met my expectations,” Natalie said.
When Natalie was at Eagle’s Nest International the complex had just three buildings. It is much larger now. One of the first places she visited was the building where she had stayed.
“I was like wow it was crazy thinking this was where I was,” Natalie said. “I’m still trying to process it because when we were there it was just kind of go, go, go and I really didn’t have time to think about everything.”
While a group helped with road construction at the facility, Natalie worked with special needs children at another local facility. There she met a 4-year-old boy named Chellito with whom she felt an immediate bond.
“He’s very sweet and he stole my heart,” Natalie said. “I wanted to talk my parents into adopting him but Guatemala shut down international adoptions in 2008.”
Natalie was in awe of the scenery that surrounded the Eagle’s Nest. There is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and volcanos.
“I was very speechless when I was there,” Natalie said. “It was so lovely there.”
Natalie’s parents didn’t get to go to the Eagle’s Nest when they traveled to Guatemala to adopt Natalie so it was also the first time for Leslie Marion to be there. Jason Marion didn’t get to go on the trip because of a family emergency.
“My mom was thinking this is where you are from and where you might still be if we hadn’t adopted you or your birth mother hadn’t given you up for adoption,” Natalie said. “It was eye-opening to see where I could have been. My mother definitely loved it and was glad she was able to go there with me.”
The best part of the trip was yet to come for Natalie.
She had gone on the trip hoping to meet her birth mother but wasn’t sure it would happen. Natalie said she kept her expectations low because she didn’t want to be let down or hurt.
Out of the blue, Natalie was told the next day she would have the opportunity to meet her birth mother in the nearby city of Quetzaltenango.
The experience was an emotional one for all involved. Not only did Natalie meet her birth mother, Patricia Sontay Xilog, she also met her older sister Andrea.
Natalie saw the family resemblance with her sister immediately.
“We look like we could be twins,” Natalie said. “I look like my birth mother but she is definitely an older version of me.”
After giving her birth mother a huge hug, Natalie broke down and cried.
“I hadn’t cried on the trip before that,” Natalie said. “It was very emotional.”
Through a translator, Patricia apologized for giving Natalie up for adoption. When Natalie was born Patricia already had two young children and knew she couldn’t give her the kind of life she deserved.
“I told her she didn’t need to apologize,” Natalie said. “I told her you gave me up so that I could have a better life than you could provide me with. I have never been hateful or mad at her because she was a mother that had two kids and couldn’t afford another child so she gave me up for adoption so I could have a better life.”
Natalie gave Patricia a bracelet she had made for her and also had many questions about her family background answered.
“I got the closure that I needed,” Natalie said.
Natalie learned she has three siblings in Guatemala, Andrea, a brother Jose Israel, and a younger sister, Angela.
Since the trip, she has also learned she has a 16-year-old sister named Megan, who was adopted and lives in McPherson, Kansas. She also found out she has a brother named Christian who was adopted and lives in the United States.
“I haven’t found anything about Christian,” Natalie said. “He’s the last puzzle piece.”
The next step for Natalie will be attending Dallas Baptist University in the fall where she will major in early childhood education.
Natalie’s life couldn’t be better thanks to the decisions made by her birth mother and her parents.
Once at church camp, the lesson was about sacrifice. That brought her birth mother to mind.
“My birth mother sacrificed so much for me,” Natalie said. “I never really thought about it that way. She sacrificed to give me a chance at a better life. She was very strong about me having a better life.”
Natalie said she is overwhelmed by the love her parents have given her.
“My family is so strong and they have unconditional love for me,” Natalie said. “They brought a stranger into their house and treated me as their own. I have never felt like I’m adopted. They treated me like I was their own from the start.”