Our journey to Jenny began on March 1, 2015. That was the day our biological daughter, Vivien, was born. Until then, orphans and adoption were abstract thoughts for my husband, Justin, and me. Adoption was something that movies were made about; something people who couldn’t have children did. It wasn’t something that had ever touched our lives in a personal way. But on that afternoon when our daughter was born, all that changed. 

Vivien was loved beyond comprehension. Every night as we rocked her to sleep, our hearts would break for children around the world who didn’t know the love of a parent or family. 

Something inside of us— the Holy Spirit—was opening our eyes, and we began to see the gross injustices being done to the innocent and most vulnerable among us. And what started as a tiny spark grew and grew, even without us realizing it. 

People began to ask, as they often do, “When are you going to have another baby?” To our surprise as much as theirs, our automatic response became, “Well, if we do, we’ll probably adopt.” What? Where was this coming from?

In The Pages of a Magazine

Church friends who had adopted or fostered began to come out of the woodwork to share their experiences with us. But what could we do? The possibilities seemed endless and overwhelming. Foster or adopt? Domestic or international? Part of me even wanted to stand on the steps of an abortion facility holding a sign that read, “Give us the chance to love your baby.” (Part of me still wants to do this.) 

Then our November 2016 issue of Citizen came in the mail and I read the article by Crystal Kupper entitled “From Armenia to America,” documenting her family’s journey toward adopting a severely disabled little girl from a country that considered her less than human because of her afflictions. She described an organization called Reece’s Rainbow, which advocates for disabled orphans around the world.

I cried my way through most of the article, then passed the tear-stained pages to my husband. I left the magazine on our kitchen island as a reminder that we needed to do something. As Christians—as part of the Church—we knew it was our responsibility to care for the innocents abandoned because of circumstances beyond their control. Life, no matter how frail or disabled, is precious to God, and therefore precious to us.

I’m ashamed to say that issue stayed on our kitchen counter for well over a month as our hectic lives bustled around it. Occasionally its pages gently peeked through the coupons and clutter, and God continued to prompt and prod. 

Just after Christmas, we finally made time to visit the Reece’s Rainbow website, and like Crystal, we cried and prayed as we scrolled through pages and pages of children who needed to be loved. We sent a donation to Reece’s Rainbow and included a letter explaining how we had learned about their ministry through Citizen and how we hoped to one day become adoptive parents ourselves.

We thought that would be good enough to satisfy the Spirit’s calling.

We were wrong.

Starting the Process

As we scrolled through different children’s stories on the site, one stood out to us. She got stuck in our heads and our hearts: Little “Jenny.”We couldn’t stop thinking about her, and now we know why. God, in His perfect wisdom and timing, had chosen us for our own journey toward adoption. Before we even knew it, God’s plan was already in the works. Wheels were spinning, and our roller-coaster ride toward adoption was just beginning. 

As of this moment, Jenny is a four-year-old from Eastern Europe who has spent her entire life in the hospital due to “chronic respiratory failure” at night. Along with a small, grainy photograph showing off her dark curly pigtails and tracheotomy scar, that’s all we know about her. It’s more than enough, however, because this path was ordained by God from the very beginning.   

Adoption is hard. It’s emotionally taxing. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve cried over the process, the paperwork, the waiting, and the uncertainty. It’s expensive, too! But we know God will provide. We’ve entered into His plan for our family with obedience, and we know He is faithful and just and true.  

By the beginning of this summer, we had successfully completed our home study and applied to the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration for approval to adopt internationally. We are currently waiting for Jenny’s country to agree that we are a perfectly eligible forever family for her.

With their approval and by God’s grace, we hope to bring Jenny home within the next six months. 

A Divine Connection

Shortly after we began the adoption process for Jenny, I felt God telling me I needed to reach out to Crystal Kupper to let her know how much her article had impacted us. She deserved to know the effect her words had made and that, because she chose to share her story, there will be one less orphan in the world. How many times have you read something that impacted you enough to completely and literally change your life? How many times do you actually get to tell the author about that impact? God wanted us to tell Crystal.

So I wrote her the following email:

Hi Crystal, I just wanted to let you know that my husband and I read your article and we were touched and inspired by your story. For the past two years, we have felt a nudge in the direction of adoption. As you know, it’s a scary leap to make, but God is calling us. We have begun to pursue the adoption of a little girl. I just wanted to thank you for fueling that fire that God had already put in our hearts. Thank for you raising awareness of Reece’s Rainbow and know that your story is being used by God in mighty ways!

Less than four hours later, she replied: “I have the biggest smile on my face! For the past week, I have been praying for you by name, that if it was God’s will, you and Justin would have the faith to take the leap and adopt.” 

She was praying for us by name!? How did she know our names!? Once my heart started beating again, I continued reading. It turned out the director of Reece’s Rainbow had shared our letter with Crystal and she had been praying for us ever since.  

Crystal and I continued emailing back and forth the rest of the day. God works everything in His timing and for His plan—and He wasn’t finished with us yet.

It turned out the Kupper family lives about 25 minutes from us. The next weekend, our families met for dinner and instant friendship blossomed.  

We got to meet (and instantly fell in love with) their adopted daughter, little Guyana, the spitfire chatterbox star of the article that started it all. Our daughter Vivien instantly bonded with Guyana and their three biological children, Jack, Jude and Avinly.

Now the Kuppers are not only among our best friends, but they are also our mentor family and our official “adoption warriors,” committing countless hours to increasing awareness and raising donations for our adoption fees via the Reece’s Rainbow Family Sponsorship Program. Crystal even took the photos for our adoption announcement! We could not be more grateful for all they’ve done and all they’re still doing for us, for our little Jenny, and more importantly to spread the awareness of orphans in need.

With God, nothing is coincidental. We believe He works everything for good to those who love Him. And His timing is everything. Being a military family, I know the Kuppers are only here temporarily, but they are here at the exact right moment to be our mentor family through not only the adoption process, but the first few fragile years that Jenny will be home with us.  

I don’t know what the next few years hold for our two families, but I can  imagine there will be plenty  of baseball games, barbecues    and trips to the beach. And I know with even greater certainty there will be many difficult conversations over cups of coffee and tear-drenched hugs as we travel this road of adoption together.

Because There’s a Need

Not everyone can adopt; we realize that. But everyone can do something. The Bible has plenty to say about caring for orphans. God has a special heart for these members of society because of their vulnerability. We are tasked to care for them, there’s no denying that. “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan” (Exodus 22:22). “Vindicate the orphan and the oppressed” (Psalms 10:18). “Defend the orphan” (Isaiah 1:17). “For in you the orphan finds mercy” (Hosea 14:3). 

That day last December when we visited Reece’s Rainbow for the first time, we were blown away by the number of children who need loving forever families. We wanted to take them all into our home, into our arms, and share God’s love with them. Our hearts break that we can’t make a difference for all of them.

Or can we? We pray for those precious children. Every day and every night, there is at least one Reece’s Rainbow child who crosses our minds and makes his or her way into our prayers. We have literally seen the power of specific prayers change a child’s status from “Waiting” to “My Family Found Me.”  

This entire journey has made us become full-fledged adoption advocates. We’re challenging everyone we meet to partake in this journey with us by praying for the orphans who need forever families, by giving time or resources to families pursuing adoption, or even by considering adoption themselves.

Right now we’re focused on dotting our I’s and crossing our T’s to bring Jenny home as soon as humanly possible, but we know her story is bigger than this. Crystal shared her story and it touched our lives. Why can’t God use our story to do the same? We realize we’re just one ripple on this vast ocean—but God can use our little ripple to make big waves.  

“Why are you adopting?” someone recently asked me. 

“Because there’s a need,” I replied as I thought of those Reece’s Rainbow kids again.

We want to share the story of Jenny’s adoption into our family, but more than that, we want to share the love of Jesus. After all, it’s only because of His love that we are able to embark on this privilege of adoption. Like every child, Jenny’s life has a purpose, and we imagine great and mighty things for her, just as we do for Vivien. We pray that both their lives and their journeys would honor God and point to Jesus.

We’re growing our family by one child, but it’s already been so much more than that. Nearly every day we come across another member of the adoption community—those who have already adopted, those who are in the process like us, those who someday want to, and those who support with their words, time and prayers. The outpouring of support from everyone has been such a blessing.  We’re truly in this together.

“So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.” (Ephesians 2:19, NASB). How cool is that? We’re all part of the same family already. 

For More Information:

To follow the Etters’ adoption journey, visit thejourneytojenny.blogspot.com. To learn more about Reece’s Rainbow, log on to reecesrainbow.org.

Originally published in the November 2017 issue of Citizen magazine.