Reece’s Rainbow Report #12: Vitter Family

Author’s note: For the first (and probably last) time in these Rainbow Reports, I make a personal appearance!
“We have to leave Italy. Now.” Only two days later, the exact date that Italy closed its borders in March of 2020, Robert and Lara Vitter and their five children were on an America-bound airplane.
The family of seven had packed up their eight years of European life in less than 48 hours, barely making it out before Covid-19 restrictions slammed the doors of international travel ― and therefore any hopes of starting an international adoption. The Vitters, American missionaries from Florida and New Jersey, had their eyes on Maxim, an adorable Ukrainian toddler with Apert Syndrome.
Vitter Family Christmas Photo 2021
But their story of Italy-to-America-to-Ukraine-and-back begins much earlier ― and in the United Kingdom.
“On our first furlough back to the U.S.A. in 2014, we were in the London customs line and met Nick and Crystal,” Robert says.
Nick is my husband and in the U.S. Air Force. We were stationed in the U.K. at the time and on our way back from an anniversary trip around Europe. One of the Vitter's young daughters was understandably fussy at the long airport wait, and we did our best to distract her and give Robert and Lara a break.

We began chatting, discovering many shared interests. By the time we exited Heathrow, we had an invitation to come visit the Vitters at their home in Fuccechio, a small city in Tuscany. We did so in 2016, sharing how we were adopting a five-year-old Armenian with spina bifida with the help of Reece’s Rainbow (RR). 
L: Maxim's waiting child photo from Reece's Rainbow
R: Crystal and Lara, in Italy, with two of their children
With a long history of caring deeply for disadvantaged children, Robert and Lara were instantly captivated. Lara’s parents had adopted a son from foster care; in 1989, he became one of the first known children to die of AIDS. Furthermore, Robert and Lara had served in a home for abused girls for three years before moving to Italy to work in sports ministries in 2012. And though they had five biological children and were living overseas, maybe they were meant to add another place to the table. Was it even possible?
“With God, all things are possible,” Robert now says. “It would have been impossible for me to imagine all the blessings that God has given us in Christ Jesus — I could have never planned something like this!”
The Vitters began surfing through RR’s photolistings, finding a boy with spina bifida. But when he was matched with another family, they waited and wondered about their next steps. That’s when Lara found “Cohen” and showed Robert his photo. It was February 2020, and both their hearts were stolen. 
L: Robert & Lara, meeting Maxim for the first time
R: Maxim leaving the orphanage forever
They had no idea of the fast-and-furious adventure that awaited them.
“We thought we only wanted to adopt an older child, but we were drawn to this little boy,” Robert says. When it became clear that the world was shutting down, they “decided with two days’ notice to pack our bags and come home [to Florida] so we could start the adoption.”
The Vitters touched down on U.S. soil just in the nick of time, immediately beginning their homestudy. 
Maxim's first day as an American citizen &
Maxim with his new "artificial twin" brother
Neither Robert or Lara had heard of Apert Syndrome or knew what it entailed. But after asking me, I steered them toward Kim and Jed Johnson, Ukrainian missionaries who adopted Vlad, a teenager with the condition. Robert and Lara studied as much as they could, quickly realizing that Maxim would require dozens of surgeries and intensive hospital stays for his craniofacial and limb issues.
They still said yes. Assisted by the heroic Serge Zevlever, Maxim became an American citizen on May 29, 2021, instantly charming his five older siblings, hospital staff and everyone else he met. 
“Maxim is fun-loving, intelligent, resilient, helpful, energetic and he loves our family so much!” Robert says. “The best thing about him is the way he loves us!”
Maxim is now three years old and has already had three major surgeries in the States. At least three more are planned for 2022 alone. And yet Maxim records videos from his hospital bed, his sweet small voice chirping, “I am Maxim! I am strong! I am brave! I am courageous!” 
Beloved son Maxim, with his parents
Robert agrees. “I believe that seeing his resilience in all things, and especially in his surgeries, has given me a great encouragement to be more patient,” he says.
No longer confined to a Ukrainian baby house, Maxim loves helping his father on their Florida farm. Occasionally he wakes in the middle of the night and begins cracking eggs to prepare for family breakfast ― entirely on his own. And when Robert reappears, even after only being gone an hour, confetti practically falls from the ceiling for Maxim. “DADDY!”
He knows he’s a beloved son, home in his father’s arms. And he’s never, ever leaving, no matter which country the Vitters call home. 
Crystal Kupper
Crystal Kupper is a freelance writer specializing in magazines and special projects. Since earning her journalism degree, she has written for clients such as Zondervan, Focus on the Family and the Salvation Army, among many others.