Photography by Martin Harris, BritSnap
Claim to Fame
Zoe Portis is in 7th grade at Trinity Presbyterian School. She’s got a large, loving family and a great group of friends. But only a few years ago, a seven-year-old Zoe’s picture looked much bleaker. She lived in a mud hut in Ethiopia where she had to walk miles for water and felt the pangs of real hunger all to often. She had no education. After the deaths of her entire family, her future was uncertain. But when Cole and Joy Portis adopted Zoe and brought her to their home in Montgomery, she was given the opportunity so many children take for granted, the chance to go to school. And it was a chance she seized. Despite not knowing a syllable of English, she entered 1st grade. Her enthusiasm for learning pushed her past the language barrier, and by the end of 2nd grade, she was in the highest reading group and won the trophy for most Advanced Reader points. “It is the accomplishment that I am most proud of,” she said. “In the beginning, I had trouble with school. I didn't understand how to study. By the time I was in the 4th grade, I figured it out, and now I am able to study well.”
Zoe’s academic progress has been stellar for any student and made even more impressive by what she’s overcome. Her pure determination and zeal for life have earned her the admiration of teachers and friends. She was recently voted class favorite. “I think it was because I am an optimistic person and a friendly person,” she said. She runs cross-country, plays soccer and basketball and is learning more of her native language, Amharic.
But her gratitude and gracious manner truly set Zoe a part. “God has been so gracious to me that I haven’t really had a major challenge that I had to overcome because of moving to a new country. I have a wonderful family and friends who accepted me and welcomed me with love and encouragement. I am blessed to have each and every one of them. “
She’s considering devoting her life to mission work. “I have always wanted to be a missionary because I want to teach God’s word to those who haven’t heard of Him or His son, Jesus.” But she’s also interested in being a model. “I love fashion and being in front of the camera. I am always posing for the camera and I love it!”
Time for Fun?
“My favorite things to do outside of classroom are reading, going shopping and spending time with friends.”
PG (Parental Guidance) Rating
“My parents have done so much for me I don’t even know where to start. First of all, they adopted me and gave me a future. They brought me to their home, and I am able to say I have a Mom and a Dad. They have been great role models to me by showing me what love is and teaching me about Jesus. They have allowed me to go to a wonderful school where I am blessed to be.”
Cole, a local attorney, and Joy, a stay-at-home mom have been overjoyed to see the young lady Zoe has become. “When she got the AR trophy, I was blown away,” Joy said. “She attacks everything with that same passion: soccer, piano, basketball, running, friendships, helping with her siblings, missions, etc. She realizes she is blessed with many opportunities and she doesn't take them for granted. We are blessed to call her daughter! “
Cole and Joy know that some of who Zoe is comes from her early childhood, and they work to nurture the positives that have come out of her hardships. “She has so many life experiences that have shaped her character and attitude. I just encourage her to keep her focus on Christ and His plan for her and the gifts He has given her,” Joy said. “She recently returned to Ethiopia on a mission trip and her passion and love for Ethiopia is so evident. As her mom I try to recognize areas where she is gifted and areas of interest and provide opportunities to mature them as she explores life.” Cold echoed his wife. “Even after losing her biological mother and father, as well as her beloved grandmother, God instilled in Zoe a wonderful nature to be content in her circumstances and to do her best in the environment where she is placed. Zoe now understands that God was working all things together for good. She understands that God is in control and will never forsake her. As a result of her confidence in God, she genuinely is kind and generous with others,” he said.
Cole and Joy also work to teach Zoe and her siblings that they don’t have to be perfect. “We let her know that we will always love her and support her. I think children can put too much pressure on themselves to be perfect and they don't feel they have the freedom to fail. So many character-building lessons can be learned through those tough times. We don't try to prevent them but instead try to equip them and support them through it,” Joy said.