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Faith siblings leave behind Ethiopian orphanage for better life and different football

Brothers Eli (left) and Isaac Oliver are much more than football players at Faith Academy. An early life in an Ethiopian orphanage gives them an appreciation of ‘the little things.’ Staff photo by Daniel Clifton


MARBLE FALLS — Until eight years ago, Isaac and Eli Oliver faced a world most of us will never know. It was one in which they saw people literally starving before them.

The two boys spent several years in an Ethiopian orphanage before moving to the United States when Jack and Rhonda Oliver adopted them. Now the brothers are enjoying one particular American tradition: football.

Isaac is a sophomore at Faith Academy of Marble Falls while younger brother, Eli, is an eighth-grader at First Baptist Christian School.

Isaac is a running back and linebacker for the Flames varsity football team but prefers playing linebacker “because you get to hit people instead of being hit,” he said.

Eli is a safety and running back for Faith’s junior high team with 95 rushes for 964 yards and 16 touchdowns. While he doesn’t attend Faith Academy, the school allows First Baptist Christian School seventh- and eighth-graders to participate in its sports program.

Isaac, who is also on the Faith basketball team, played soccer in Ethiopia but decided to try football when he enrolled at Faith Academy last year because it was different and looked fun.

In Ethiopia, the two boys faced a series of hardships. Their father died when Isaac was 2 and Eli was a baby. With their mother unable to care for them, an uncle made the tough decision to place the boys in an orphanage.

“You learn to appreciate the little things,” Isaac said about their years in the all-boy orphanage. “It’s a completely different environment for sure.”

Isaac lived there until he was 9 and Eli was 7. The two were part of a group of 30 orphans selected to go to America to live with a family for two weeks. The boys stayed with the Olivers in their Spicewood home. Afterward, the brothers returned to the orphanage to pray and decide if they wanted to be adopted by the Olivers, while Jack and Rhonda also prayed over the matter.

Ultimately, the Olivers and the two boys realized they made a family.

“We decided we liked the people we stayed with,” Isaac said. “The whole process (of adoption) took nine months.”

One of the challenges they’ve faced was learning to speak English. Isaac said he knew a little but realized he would have to pick it up quickly. Eli, however, didn’t know as much at the beginning but was able to learn it at a much faster pace.

In Ethiopia, Isaac saw firsthand people who were starving, and though the children were served three meals a day, it was sometimes scraps.

So it bothers him when he hears Americans say they’re starving.

“No, you’re not starving. It’s completely different,” he said. “I’ve seen people who are starving. It makes me think about what I have. Half the time, I tell them that.

“We all need to appreciate the little things in life,” Isaac said. “We don’t think about that. We expect to eat three times a day.”

For Eli, living in the United States is summed up in six words: “Better food, more people, better education.” His favorite food is chicken, no matter how it’s prepared.

One of the biggest adjustments was living in a home with far fewer children, Issac said. At the orphanage, there was always someone to talk to or play with.

Playing on a team is a lot like the orphanage, he said, because teammates and coaches become a family.

Isaac wants to be a Navy SEAL after graduation, noting he’s read many books on the SEALs and likes the challenge of becoming one.

As he reflected on the feeling he gets while playing football, Isaac might have been describing his and his brother’s lives.

“When you break free,” Isaac said, “that’s one of greatest feelings.”

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