“In my mind, adoption had always sounded like such a wonderful thing to do, but I figured it would be ‘one day’ in the future. Not desiring to have biological kids, many automatically assume I am unable to when I mention our adoption journey, but I’ve learned to use my response with grace, as a teaching moment, to bring awareness about how to us, adoption is a responsibility by choice to be the family a child needs. I was never intentional about pursuing adoption prior to the day I met my children, but little did I know God was already planting the seed through a passion for international missions in my heart, and would lead me on a journey to Malawi, a beautiful country known as ‘The Warm Heart of Africa.’ Growing up in the Bronx, New York, I attended Times Square Church with my family for many years, and it was there where I learned about supporting orphans around the world by sharing the Gospel united with love in action, and their stories touched my heart. Out of all the places I learned about, something incredibly special about Africa won my heart, but I had no clue which country.
Fast forward to less than a decade later, I moved to Alabama and got married to my husband, Chris, who also had no desire for biological children. After being married a year, we started attending a newly planted church called Lighthouse Baptist Church. As our church became more established a couple years later and began to support several missionaries, I noticed we did not have any on the list for Africa. One day, after starting a new job the Lord blessed me with, I asked Pastor Wright if he knew of any missionaries from that region I could personally support. After the next service, he handed me five different missionary newsletters sent from his former church and said, ‘Read them all, pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to the one you’re supposed to support.’ After praying and reading all five of them, the one which stood out the most was from Dr. Gardiner Gentry, a missionary to Malawi and the founder of Good Samaritan Children’s Home. This was the only letter that mentioned one word God burdened my heart for: orphans.
Shortly after beginning our support and adding them to our church missions list, Dr. Gentry and his wife, Alice, came to speak at our church and shared their ministry with us. I’ll never forget when he said: ‘In order to find the will of God for your life, you must make it a habit to ask God what He wants you to do at the start of each day, and do that very thing, just like brushing your teeth every morning.’ At the end of the service, he encouraged Chris and I to visit Malawi one day and see it for ourselves. Because the Lord had just blessed me with a new promotion and provided Chris with yearly bonuses, within the next four years, we saved up as much as we could to plan a trip. In 2016, we finally had enough to purchase our tickets to Malawi and volunteer for a short-term mission trip. I ended up traveling by myself due to Chris’s work schedule. Several others expressed interest in wanting to go with me but were all unable.
As soon as I got off the plane train to get to the international terminal at the Atlanta airport, I froze in my footsteps before I rode the escalator. Suddenly, I became so nervous about flying halfway across the world by myself to a place I had never been, but God’s still, small voice reminded me I was doing exactly what I needed to do. As soon as I arrived at the Blantyre airport in Malawi, Ms. Thandie, the director of the children’s home, was accompanied by two other staff members and two children from the home. A beautiful baby girl named Lilly was sitting on her lap, and Ms. Thandie said, ‘She is the youngest child at the children’s home, and is currently in the process of being adopted by a family in Indiana.’ This was the next seed God planted in my heart for adoption. On this trip, I volunteered by teaching Bible lessons to the children, spending time playing, and getting to know them. I finally got to see the place we had been financially supporting over the years, and it was a blessing to experience it all with my own eyes and embrace the beautiful culture in this country.
A last-minute decision is what led us to bringing our family together the day before I was supposed to fly back home. Ms. Thandie asked, ‘I was just contacted to place five children in the home, and the Minister of Social Welfare will be accompanying us to sign the paperwork. No other visitor has ever experienced this before, but would you like to see how this process works and what life in the village is like?’ I already planned to do one last Bible lesson with the children, but I quickly answered, ‘Yes.’ With a change in plans, we drove about two hours and met with the minister, Honorable Dr. Patricia Kaliati, as she invited us into her home. From there, we went into a remote village where the children lived. The sight was unreal. By the time we were about to leave, six children were placed, and suddenly a group stopped us and desperately asked Ms. Thandie if three more children, who were not on the list, could also be placed. I walked into a house with no roof and no door. It was the moment I laid eyes on a child, left abandoned with his sisters, lying on a dirt floor with a towel, which changed my life forever.
It left me broken with tears for someone I never met, yet I felt not even a fraction of the pain they’ve endured as they were living to survive. She was hesitant to place the three siblings because it is very expensive the younger they are, but thankfully the decision was made to place them all at the home. On the ride back, I asked to hold little Aubrey on my lap. As David Platt once said, ‘Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.’ I went in with an open heart, not knowing what to expect, and my heart came back full. It was the day my children were born in my heart and love was beginning to grow. A couple months later, to my surprise, there were young children in photos needing sponsorship, including Aubrey, and I knew doing nothing wasn’t an option. After making the decision to sponsor him and share my experience from the trip, I received a message back saying, ‘You should adopt him, hint hint.’
I spoke to Chris about it, and at first he was unsure and prayed about it. After meeting up for lunch the following week, he said, ‘I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day at work, so let’s go ahead and begin the adoption process.’ Filled with excitement, I called the adoption agency based out of Kentucky and left a message. We then filled out an application in November 2016, and from there our journey of paperwork, fees, and waiting began, in hopes of completing the process in two years as we initially expected. We had so much support from our family, church, and friends who donated, prayed, and encouraged us throughout our journey. After it was all completed earlier this year, two years became three and a half years with many unexpected delays, frustration, fear, doubt, daily uncertainty, and so many different emotions, all worth experiencing for the sake of our children. We began the process for Aubrey and then added Donatta in 2018, after doing research on sibling adoptions. Because we were unsure if it would get approved, we kept her a secret until the day everything became official.
2019 was the hardest year to get through. We had already submitted everything on our end were only waiting for a court date. What helped the most during this dark season was meeting every week to pray with my pastor’s wife, Ruth Wright, and a couple others on behalf of our adoption. This type of support and encouragement is how I got to see God work in my heart as He was preparing me to become the mother my children needed. There were days I didn’t have the words to speak and only tears were shed. I also prayed scripture back to the Lord based on what His Word says, regarding His hand on the judge’s heart: ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersover he will.’—Proverbs 21:1. My faith was in God’s sovereignty, and He already knew the date we were waiting for. Though I was hoping we would hear something before the fall, I couldn’t bear missing yet another Christmas without my children, so I purchased plane tickets to visit for Christmas and had the option to change the dates in case we received a call about a court date sooner.
A few weeks after booking the trip, I received a letter from Dr. Gentry, and on the envelope he wrote a note saying, ‘St. Priscilla, don’t forget these very needy ‘no home’ orphans while you are waiting to bring yours home.’ That simple message changed my entire perspective on the wait and made me realize how blessed my children were to have a family waiting just for them, but also how important it was to help those who will age out from the children’s home and one day be on their own. With the help of so many in my local community, many items were sent in my luggage such as medicine, baby formula, etc. That was a memorable Christmas I’ll always hold near to my heart, and I finally got the chance to spend quality time with my children as we got to bond. On January 23, 2020, at 8:23 a.m., soon after going in to work, my watch began to vibrate with a call I missed from our agency and I immediately knew it was important. I called back and said, ‘Is this it?’ and the director replied, ‘Yes, this is it. The call you’ve been waiting for.’ I broke down in tears and overwhelming joy filled my heart.
Our court date was set for the following Friday on the 31st, and we only had four days to pack and prepare for a trip we were told could last about five weeks or more. A total of four families received court dates within two weeks of each other. When we finally entered the judge’s office, we were so nervous and excited all at the same time. The most encouraging thing she said was, ‘You are both fit to be the parents of your children, but God will ultimately give you the wisdom you need to raise them.’ That is the truest statement God has proven over this past year, especially in the moments where we really needed His strength and direction. The kids and I spent nearly six weeks in Malawi after waiting for their visas, and Chris had to fly back by himself to return to work. On the way home, we got to spend time with my parents as I got to show Aubrey and Donatta around Times Square. They were amazed at all the tall buildings and how cold it was.
We finally made it to Atlanta to meet up with my in-laws and drove home to Alabama on the late evening of March 10th. The next day, NYC began locking down due to COVID-19, and two weeks later, Alabama began lockdowns. Talk about perfect timing! God protected us all the way home as the pandemic had just began. Though the entire world was changing each day as lockdowns began to be in place, this extra time allowed us to bond, and God provided exactly what we needed when we needed it. This time was very special as we got to experience many firsts. With any adoption, there also comes challenges and the healing of emotional trauma. As an adoptive parent also learning as a first-time parent, I am blessed to be their mommy as they have been teaching me so much as well. God has used this long journey to teach me about His goodness in who He is. He is the ‘Great I AM’ in every situation we face, exactly when we need Him in every moment, and His goodness becomes even clearer after a season of darkness, giving me a greater appreciation of the things that only He can do.
We are taking each day at a time and allowing the Lord’s love to continue bonding us as a family. Our children have adjusted very well because of how open they are around us, recalling memories and details about their past, which is their story to tell. The therapist at the International Adoption Clinic even noted it is very uncommon for older adoptees to open up at such an early stage, which proves how faithful God is when He sets the lonely in families and gives us the strength and love we need to give to our children. Though what we do know is only scratching the surface of the deep, emotional impact of what they’ve been through, having lost both birth parents, we are thankful to now be a part of their lives as we embrace this new season together, while also acknowledging how God was in every season of their past as He is now.
I give all the glory to Him for all He has done for us, and am so thankful for each and every person who has been a part of our journey in any way! We all have the choice to make a difference in a child’s life and it doesn’t always look like adoption. The difference made will look different for everyone, but if everyone made even the smallest effort in the area they are led to be involved, imagine how much of an impact could be made here in the United States and around the world by simply choosing to love the least of these. Every single child in this world deserves the same chance to be known and loved. ‘Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.'”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Priscilla Garner of Attalla, Alabama. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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