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Sisters’ adoptive Oklahoma family reflects

BY ANN KELLEY Modified: April 11, 2010 at 12:15 am •  Published: April 11, 2010

© Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman

FAIRVIEW — It has cost more than money for Ardee and Penny Tyler to give five Liberian sisters a better life in the United States.

It’s cost them their reputations and their privacy, and scattered their family. Would they do it again? Yes, but they’d do it differently.

"We would have gotten the right kind of help from the beginning,” Penny Tyler said. "We had no idea the cultural and behavior issues we’d be dealing with. But we’ve all grown.”

The Tylers weren’t shy about telling their adoption story which has landed them two felony convictions for child abuse and has their son jailed for molestation. They say an act that started out of compassion somehow turned into a bitter fight over their daughters.

A child welfare worker removed the girls Friday night from their parents’ custody after the child welfare case was reopened last week. The girls all say they want to remain with their parents.

"We love them and they love us,” said Mary Tyler, 16. "We want to be with them. And we’re not being abused.”

Obliged by scripture
Penny Tyler, 45, said they contemplated adoption for years. The Tylers have a son and daughter together, and a son from Ardee Tyler’s first marriage, but said they were compelled by scripture to have more children.


In 2005, Penny saw an advertisement for the West African Children’s Support Network, an adoption agency-African orphanage searching for American families to pair with Liberian children. She soon learned the group was looking for a home for sisters whose mother had died giving birth to the youngest only months before.

"I cried when I heard their story, and then I was told they might be split up,” Penny said. "Ardee and I decided right away, we wouldn’t let that happen.”

Round trip airfare from Oklahoma to Liberia was more than $14,000. Adoption fees paid to the African government were $30,000. There also were costs for a home study and adoption legal fees in the United States.

To finance the endeavor, they tapped into savings and were assisted by fellow church members at the Mennonite Brethren Church in their hometown of Fairview.

Three months after Penny Tyler responded to the magazine ad, the Tylers were in Liberia picking up their daughters.

Liberian hardships
Civil war has devastated Liberia. The Tylers saw people living in shacks with no plumbing or electricity. Men walked the streets with rifles and handguns. And it was indistinguishable who was there to keep the peace and who were the predators, Ardee Tyler said.


The Tylers stayed two weeks while the government processed their adoption paperwork.

Fatu was practically a newborn and Bindu was a toddler. Mary, the oldest, was 11 and Mahawa was 6. The fifth, and second-oldest girl, was 8.

"From the moment we got there, they were in our care,” Ardee Tyler said. Penny Tyler said the girls’ natural father, James Andrews, was excited his daughters would be living in the United States.

No place like home
The modern amenities of the western world fascinated the girls. They spent the first days in their new home flushing toilets just to hear the water.


The Tylers moved to Oklahoma about five years before and built a spacious, 5-bedroom log cabin. The grounds include an above-ground swimming pool, gardens and a large workshop where Ardee, a carpenter, works.

The Tylers raise livestock for meat and can vegetables from their garden. They have chickens for fresh eggs and a dairy cow for milk. Penny Tyler homeschools the children.

She said the girls were undernourished and suffered from exposure to lead paint in Africa. Along with learning disabilities, they were academically behind other children.

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