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Stuck in Africa for Four Years: Our International Adoption Story

Stuck in Africa for 4 Years Our International Adoption Story

“Wheels down in Chicago!” That was the first text I sent to my wife, Ashlee, when I arrived back in the United States with our daughter, Lilly. From starting the international adoption journey, to the exit process leaving Africa, to going through customs here in America, to watching her eat her first McDonald’s Happy Meal as we waited for our final flight home to Kentucky, there she was. Our little girl was sitting across from me, dipping a chicken nugget into a tiny amount of bar-b-que sauce, which, by the reaction on her face, contained more artificial sweetener than she’d had in her entire seven years of existence. Everything was going so smoothly, considering all the pain and frustration our family had felt for the four years leading up to that moment.

International Adoption: A Lifelong Desire

Adoption and foster care had always been a desire for my wife and me. Three of our nieces and nephews had been adopted internationally. Given the consistent command throughout Scripture to care for the fatherless, we knew that this journey would be part of God’s overall story for our family at some point. We just didn’t know how or when. After six years of marriage and growing to a family of four, Ashlee came to me and began to express how God had laid upon her heart the desire to begin pursuing our first adoption.

If I’m being completely honest, I wrestled with whether it was the right time, seeing as we were in rural southeast Kentucky and living on a youth pastor’s salary. We weren’t exactly in a “comfortable” place financially to begin walking down that road. At least, that’s how I saw things at the time. 

After much prayer on Ashlee’s part and graciously allowing the Holy Spirit to work in my own heart, it wasn’t long before God brought me to a very clear point of realization. The fact that we did not have enough money was not a good enough reason to say “no” to this. In fact, it was the best reason to say “yes.” In this way, at the end of everything, God would receive the maximum amount of glory for what He and He alone would do. It was at this point, at the beginning of our journey, that I came across 1 Thessalonians 5:24. “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

Our International Adoption Process

There are so many details I could share pertaining to raising funds and all the miraculous things God did to get us to the point of travel, but for the sake of time, I’ll save that for a later article. We were told that the entire process, from the acceptance of a referral to having her home, would take approximately 11 to 12 months. We were on track to meet that goal when Lilly legally became our daughter in a Congolese court in July 2012. In the weeks that followed, we began to make travel arrangements and applied for visas while eagerly awaiting the green light to head to Africa. The excitement and anticipation of finally having our daughter home as a part of our forever family was becoming unbearable. Unfortunately, the unbearable excitement was about to turn into unimaginable confusion.

Stuck in Africa

In September, mere weeks before we were planning to travel, we received word that the government of her home country was temporarily placing a hold on international adoptions and would no longer allow adopted children to leave the country. While they stressed this was a “temporary” situation, they never gave a potential date for when they planned on resolving it. This led to monthly phone calls with the State Department, in-person meetings with senators and other members of Congress, trips to Washington, D.C., and numerous interviews with news outlets on both a local and national level. Hundreds of U.S. families were in the same situation as us. 

Beautiful Additions to the Family

After nine grueling months of uncertainty and wondering why God wouldn’t just lift this suspension and let her come home, He began to show us how He was sovereignly at work in the midst of our waiting. We were ecstatic to find out that we would be welcoming our third biological child into the world. Still, our son wouldn’t be the only new addition during the wait.

God’s plan was bigger than what we had in mind, and He was writing a better story than we could ever imagine. So, with no end to the suspension in sight and with the heart God had given us for children in need, we decided to begin the long process of becoming foster parents. In June of 2015, a little four-month-old boy entered our home. As with almost every fostering situation, we assumed this was only temporary, but again, God was writing this story. Little did we know that this child would enter our home and never leave.

Our Daughter Was Coming Home!

Now, we found ourselves as a family of six with our seventh family member stuck on the other side of the world, unable to come home. But praise be to God, that was all about to change. After four long years of waiting, we received an email saying we were one of over 120 families whose children had been approved for an exit visa. Our daughter was coming home! Within a week, I said goodbye to my wife and children and hopped on a plane with a one-way ticket to Africa, not knowing when I would be back. I just knew I would not be alone when I did get back. 

After six days in-country, my daughter, whom I had known since she was three but first held in my arms when she was seven, was boarding a plane with me to meet her forever family. This wasn’t what we expected. This wasn’t the way we imagined it would all happen. To be fair, God never told us what to expect or how it would happen. He tends to do that. All we knew from the beginning was that He had called us to this. When we walked through the terminal after our final flight, embracing our family for the first time together, it was as if I turned my head to look back over the last four years, clearly seeing God’s faithfulness and sovereignty over every step of our journey.

God’s Sovereignty in Our International Adoption Story

As with all stories God writes, it’s impossible to predict what the next chapter is going to hold and how the events of that chapter are going to play an integral part in bringing us to a place of awe and wonder. But we can rest assured that whatever He does, when all is said and done, it must be for our good. In the midst of our confusion, not knowing why God would wait to bring a little 3-year-old girl home to her forever family, God was sovereignly working to bring a little 4-month-old boy home to the same forever family to be her brother. As we look forward, we remember the verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 that says, “He who called you is faithful. He will surely do it.”


Cover National Foster Care Awareness Month

National Foster Care Awareness Month

Do I Belong? Reassuring Kids Adopted from Foster Care

Help even when they don’t ask.

Kids (and families) need help, even when they don’t reach out. Wherever God is calling you, you can get involved.

Father and son play basketball