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Ten years ago, the lives of a dozen Liberian orphans were forever changed when they visited a tiny North Carolina community.
The young boys had traveled to the U.S. from the West African country of Liberia to raise awareness of the needs of children whose parents had died during the country's years-long civil war.
From Virginia to Ohio to Minnesota, they traveled in buses and sang together as a choir, fundraising for their orphanage.
Lysa Terkeurst, a mom of three girls who lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, was so moved by the boys’ performance at a local church that she was inspired to do the extraordinary.
“These 12 beautiful boys from the other side of the world got up and started to sing from the depth of their soul, just the most beautiful music,” Terkeurst told TODAY's Jenna Bush Hager. “I was very challenged by the reality that these boys who had been singing and smiling and just had such joy in their life, that they had nothing.”
Terkeurst asked to adopt two of the boys, Jackson and Mark, who were barely teenagers at the time. The two are not related, but consider themselves brothers.
When Mark met Terkeurst, he felt a natural connection and called her “Oma,” a term that’s equivalent to “ma” in English. Jackson, who had lived in an orphanage since the age of six after his parents were murdered, quickly followed Mark’s lead.
Now 24 and in college, Jackson has spent the past 10 years as part of the Terkeurst family.
“I'm living a dream that I once dreamed of when I was a kid,” he told TODAY.
He’s grateful that when he wakes up in the morning he no longer worries about the violence that once terrorized him as a child.
“You never know what's gonna happen anytime, any moment,” he said of his life in Liberia. “Now, I'm in a safe home and a safe country.”
Jackson and Mark weren’t the only orphans to leave Liberia behind after their fateful visit to the Charlotte, N.C. area.
Since that 2003 visit, more than 45 children have been adopted from that orphanage.
Genia Rogers, a close friend of Terkeurst’s, adopted a boy named Robert, who is now 21.
“Well, I think what has happened is, [it’s] like a pebble gets thrown into the pond and then the ripples grow,” she told TODAY of the community's many adoptions.
Terkeurst remembers fondly the day when Jackson walked into the kitchen and asked her how to slow dance.
“And so I took his hand. And he took my hand,” Terkeurst said. “It was beautiful. That was one of those moments where I said, ‘I love you.’”
Jackson whispered back, “And I love you.”