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Johnson Family Wins The Lottery of Love

June 17, 2012, 10:03 PM by Nicole Winters

Johnson Family Wins The Lottery of Love

Five years ago we brought you the story of a Sioux Falls family's adoption of an Ethiopian boy and girl. Brendan and Jana Johnson went through a nearly year process to bring the children home with them.

Now, after working through the struggles of getting to know and understand each other, the family is closer than they ever expected.

Playing a game of basketball is a family affair in the Johnson house. 13-year-old Peneal is the star player, but his 15-year-old sister Trualam also seems to shine.

"They get almost straight A's. They play a lot of different sports. Beyond that they're just really great human beings," Jana said.

The Johnsons consider themselves lucky to have Pen and Tru as their children and older siblings to their two young boys.

But life for the Ethiopian natives is much different now than just five years ago, when they both were in an orphanage waiting to be adopted.

"They got me a picture of the boys and them and the house, that was pretty cool," Pen said.

Then just eight-year-old and ten-years-old, Pen and Tru had no idea their lives would change forever, until the day Jana and Brendan flew them across the world.

"I was really scared because I didn't know who I was with. They just got me and expected me to live with them," Tru said.

"It was so hard. I didn't understand what people were saying," Pen said.

Neither Pen nor Tru spoke much English, making communication and the transition to a new culture a major challenge for everyone.

"It is a process that you have to go through. It's not instantaneous that your family is the Brady Bunch, its work," Brendan said.

"It makes it really hard to explain how our world works here and to discipline, just all the basics of communication was really, really difficult," Jana said.

It wasn't just the difference in culture and language. The Johnsons went against advice to not adopt children of ages they hadn't yet parented. Their biological children were only one and three. So, taking in Tru and Pen was, as they say, interesting at times.

"I remember when my daughter got here saying to my wife, she has so many issues. Then I went to her first soccer practice which was full of seventh grade girls and came home and said compared to those other girls, she's great," Brendan said.

There were a lot of kinks to work out. But the family stuck together and worked to break down the barriers.

"I love that the smaller children are exposed to another culture. Our older children are the most amazing big brother and sister," Jana said.

"They’re both incredibly loving children, great kids, they have brought so much to our family and hopefully we've given them opportunities they wouldn't have otherwise had," Brendan said.

Tru finds herself out numbered by the boys in the family, but says that helps mom spoil her. Her relationship with dad was hard at first, but has grown into something special.

"I’m like really close to him now. He's my awesome dad. We tease each other and stuff and he picks on me, he's still great," Tru said.

Brendan is teaching her to drive. By the sounds of how it's going, she's lucky her parents have a sense of humor. They're able to find a different kind of excitement watching Pen excel at sports, which is a big pride for the Johnson's.

"My daughter is the smartest, hardest working and he's the best basketball player. But, that's just the way I see it, and I won't have anybody tell me otherwise," Brendan said.

Even though their lives have changed drastically, Tru and Pen are both thriving teenagers happy to be part of the family.

"Being adopted is great, I love my family," Pen said.

"I’m thankful because they gave us a better life," Tru said.

While they may be thankful for what they have, they may never truly understand they are the true gift.

"I couldn't imagine having a father's day without Pen and Tru," Brendan said.

"At their core they are so solid and so loving, and just the greatest kids we could have ever hoped for. So for us it was like winning the lottery," Jana said.

A lottery filled with an endless amount of love.

During holidays the family incorporates both cultures into meals. The Johnson's are planning a trip to Ethiopia in the future so the whole family can learn more about Pen and Tru's heritage, and to see family members they keep in contact with.

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