Editor's note: This is the second of three stories about Northwestern High soccer player Dennis Moore, who spent most of his childhood in Liberia. Click here to read the first installment. Coming Tuesday: Kristi Moore and her new family move to Rock Hill, where Dennis becomes a soccer star at Northwestern High School.
The plane landed at the Monrovia, Liberia airport in Africa carrying cargo and passengers that included Kristi Moore and a group of nine Canadian women.
It was November 2003.
They were there on a mission trip to help at an orphanage -- the Daniel Hoover Children's Village -- an hour and a half away in Dixville.
The group traveled to the U.S. Embassy to register and inform the American authorities of their business. They were told that a travel warning had been issued because of tensions from the country's second civil war, which had just ended with a peace agreement. They should get back on a plane and go home.
"No way I was leaving," said Moore, who now lives in Rock Hill. "I had come there to help the kids and I wasn't going to leave until our job was finished. I was there to install a water purification system."
Moore, 31 at the time, had graduated from Texas A&M in 1992 with a degree in marine biology, but work in that field was scarce. Her church in Texas ran the orphanage in Dixville, and a fellow member asked Kristi to install the water system.
"The Embassy people left it up to us, so we boarded our bus for the trip to the village," Moore said. "Armed helicopters flew over our village every day. We could hear gunfire and explosions every day, but the entire month we were there, no threats were made to our village."
'My children were there'
Moore discovered a home with 400 children wanting to learn to read and write.
She also noticed one special 12-year-old boy.
"I almost didn't see him," Moore said. "He was hiding behind a bigger kid. He was shy and stuttered at first because he was dealing with post-traumatic stress. But Dennis and I bonded. It was instant."
Dennis Wesseh was sneaking looks at the friendly American lady. He was overcome with an emotion he hadn't felt in years.
"I looked at her and thought that I sure wish she was my mom," Dennis said. "I knew in my heart that I wanted her to be my mom. I wanted a parent so bad, and the first time we met I wanted it to be her."
Moore stayed in Dixville for just a month, which had been pre-arranged by the church group.
When she left, Moore realized her work was not completed. Six months later, in May 2004, she returned.
"I had to go back. My children were there," she said.
She ended up staying two and a half years. She helped at the school, teaching the children to read, helping the teachers set up classroom curricula and doing anything else that was needed.
She also continued to bond with Dennis. One informal gathering helped solidify her plans to adopt.
"I was in the chapel with a group of children and they were telling me their stories," she said. "Dennis was shy and stuttered. ... But he opened up and told his story, all of the adversity he had faced at such a young age. I listened as he talked. The more he told, the more I knew I wanted to be his mom and take him home with me. It wasn't something I felt I needed to do. It was something I wanted to do, to adopt him so he would be my son."
Sister and 'little brother'
After she started the adoption process, Dennis had a request. He wanted Moore to also adopt Helena, his birth sister, and Caleb, the "little brother" he was assigned to look after at the orphanage.
"All the younger kids had a big brother or a big sister," Moore said. "As a big brother, Dennis had to get Caleb up each morning, make sure he brushed his teeth and was on time for breakfast and school.
"After school, Dennis made sure Caleb had his living area cleaned. Dennis said he liked him and picked him when he was asked to make a choice."
Caleb, too, was taken to Moore. Each time the children were outside, Caleb was stuck to her side. The other children called Caleb "Kristi's handbag."
Dennis, Helena and Caleb all have tribal names as well as the American names they were required to have. Dennis was born Seplah, which means first born. Helena is Mahnadeh, meaning mind your business. Caleb was named Nimmenah.
Caleb's English name was Emmanual, but workers at the orphanage were so taken in by his smile that they called him Romeo. After he was adopted, Moore asked if he wanted to be known by either of his English names. He said no and chose Caleb, after the biblical character.
Moore had decided to stay in Liberia until she could find the means to adopt all three.
When Dennis' adoption was completed, he and Kristi moved into an apartment in Monrovia. She still worked at the village and took Dennis with her. She was determined not to leave the country without Helena and Caleb.
A church group in Waxhaw, N.C., heard of her plight and agreed to foot the bill for Helena's adoption. Then, a family friend in Texas who didn't want the three children broken up agreed to pay for Caleb's adoption.
'This ... is our new home'
Moore left with Dennis and Helena in March 2006, but Caleb was temporarily left behind because of a problem with his visa. Five months later, Moore returned and brought Caleb to the United States, too.
Munty Teahn, dean of the village's school and its assistant pastor for nine years, was there when Dennis initially was sent to the orphanage and when Kristi and the three children left.
"Kristi was passionate for our children and the work she did at the village," said Teahn, who moved to the United States three years ago and lives in Oregon. "She could have been making lots of money in the United States. But she gave that up to come back and live at our village and help with our orphanage.
"She is a great teacher and worked for us in a lot of positions. She is a very good person and everybody at the orphanage liked her. The things she has done, not many people would do them."
Moore returned to Dallas with Dennis and Helena while they awaited Caleb's arrival. She would be there only two weeks, to introduce her family's newest members.
She had decided while in Liberia to raise her children in another part of the United States, sort of a new beginning for all of them. So Kristi folded a map, closed her eyes and dropped her finger to a spot.
"This town," she said, "is our new home."