Merhawi Stephen Lake usually goes by Stephen because it’s easier for people in Roseburg to pronounce, but lately he’s been liking the name Merhawi.

By Emily Hoard (The News-Review) |

When Merhawi Stephen Lake of Roseburg was 8 years old, he traveled from his place of birth, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to join his adoptive family in the United States.

“It’s definitely different from being Ethiopian and coming here, but everyone was very loving and very welcoming to me,” Merhawi said. “I don’t think there was a time when I felt homesick.”

From a very young age, Merhawi, now 16, lived with his biological father in Ethiopia, who found it was hard to work and take care of a little boy by himself. Merhawi’s godfather, along with his older brother, Berhanu Tenker, thought it would be better to send Merhawi to an orphanage so he’d have a chance at a better life elsewhere.

From age 5 to 8, Merhawi lived at the orphanage, where he enjoyed playing soccer with the other children. He described his time at the orphanage as a good experience with a lot of friends.

He said it’s funny how people in Roseburg have their own perceptions of what his life was like in Ethiopia.

“I’ve been asked if I speared my food or if I hunted lions or stuff like that,” he said with a laugh. “I never saw a wild animal in Africa.”

“I remember when you were in elementary school, and someone asked you if you were one of those kids you see on a poster with flies in their eyes,” said his mother, Gretchen Lake, to Merhawi. Addis Ababa is a fairly well-developed, metropolitan city, his adoptive father Chris Lake added.

When Merhawi was adopted, the Lakes gave him a list of new names to choose, so he chose the name Stephen.

He usually goes by Stephen because it’s easier for people in Roseburg to pronounce, but lately he’s been liking the name Merhawi.

“If new people I meet wanted to call me that I’m okay with it, but it’s just when they butcher it I don’t like that,” he said. “If they can say it right, I like it when they call me Merhawi.”

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The Lakes adopted him through the Gladney Center for Adoption in Texas. They had previously adopted their youngest daughter Micah, now 13, from the U.S. The other Lake children are Rebecca, 22, Daniel, 20, Anna, 18, and Sarah, 15.

“We approached Gladney, and they said it would be effective if you sought an international adoption, that way we could find the right fit for the family,” Chris Lake said. “They said they had openings in Ethiopia, so we got very excited, and then it was a long process.” When Gladney presented Merhawi’s paperwork to the Lakes, they agreed immediately to adopt him.

Merhawi came over for a couple weeks in the summer of 2007 to get to know the family. One year later, in 2008, the family visited Ethiopia and completed the 14-to-16-month-long international adoption process.

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