Friday, December 20, 2013

Adoption Stories: Emefa

You may remember me introducing you to little Emefa who I have blogged about previously HERE and HERE. Emefa is an HIV orphan living in Asikuma, the little village in Ghana that Kingdom Cares International visits frequently. Our team happened upon Emefa on our January 2013 trip – all alone, lethargic and sick. With Emefa’s parents both deceased, her elderly grandmother had become her primary caretaker, but was struggling to be able to provide Emefa with the intensive care and life saving medicine that she needed. At first KCI began sponsoring Emefa to cover the medical expenses of her drug intervention, as well as taking over the responsibility to get her to her doctor visits. But eventually the Lord began speaking adoption plans over Emefa’s life. As only the Lord can do, He began setting things in motion in Emefa’s life, as well as in the lives of the family that He had picked out to adopt her - well before any of us had a clue that she was going to be adopted! That family turned out to be our friends, Tim and Amber Van Loo, who took their first trip to Ghana with Kingdom Cares earlier this year in March 2013. They had no idea what God was setting into motion that trip. You can read about the first encounter that Amber had with Emefa HERE – that account is from the eyes of another team member who had journaled out the experience because it was so touching to him. Eventually Emefa was relinquished for adoption and Tim and Amber stepped right in with a strong conviction of knowing that Emefa was to be their daughter. In the months since, Tim and Amber have faced no shortage of adversity in their adoption journey of Emefa. They’ve persevered through a country-wide shut-down of all Ghana adoptions as well as needing to switch adoption agencies which has cost them time and money. YET, God is faithful and sovereign. And this past week Tim and Amber tasted His goodness as they made a trip to Ghana to visit Emefa, and were able to actually get a court date while there and PASSED! Today I am posting Amber’s write-up from their trip and I will continue to keep you updated on their journey! Amazingly, Emefa’s adoption has not been the only way in which God has flung open Tim and Amber’s hearts (and front door) to take in the fatherless. I know I will get to share more of their story from the past year when the time comes and I just can’t wait! For now, I am rejoicing once again over the depths that the Lord will go to in defending the overlooked and ignored, and choosing to re-write their story via adoption. In Amber’s words…..

Meet Emefa VanLoo, that is her name now in Ghana! We now need to file all the papers on the U.S. side so we can bring her home!

After a week's journey to Ghana and back we are home and thankful to be, although wishing we could have brought Emefa with us. It was so very hard to leave her, but soon we will go back and bring her home! Our trip was very productive and very exhausting! We did a lot of back and forth driving all over Ghana, pretty sure one day I will die driving in a car in Africa (wow it was an experience)!

Here is a short summary of our trip...

We arrived in Accra Tuesday night and stayed the night not as planned, but had an awesome friend of a friend take care of us. Of course our bags did not come in, but no surprise there. Wednesday morning we went to Asikuma to see Emefa. Once there our first stop was to visit the site where Kingdom Cares International is building a children's center. The progress is exciting to see...

Then we were off to Emefa's school to see her!!! As we walked through the tiny dirt path my heart was racing. I can’t even explain the thoughts going through my head, holding back tears of joy and scared to death all at the same time. She was quite shy - she even hid in the middle of a group of kids. Wisdom (a pastor in the village who has helped us a lot in the process) called to her and got her to come out. Tim greeted her first but she wanted nothing to do with him.

Wisdom then brought her to me and said, “Emefa, this is mom”. She slowly looked at me and allowed me to take her into my arms. When Wisdom said those words my thoughts went to oh my goodness yes I am your mom. This tiny girl with sores all over her body and her skin so much darker than mine is now my daughter. She continued to just stare at me but allowed me to carry her back to visit her grandma and then onto our hotel.

We ate some lunch and man can Emefa eat! I am sure it is because she is not used to having a full plate in front of her. And we tried to be careful as to not fill her belly too much to hurt her. She also loves orange Fanta along with Tim. In Ghana they do not use their left hand to eat as that is the hand they use to go to the bathroom. I am left-handed and as Emefa watched me eat she switched hands and did everything I did. As more time went on I realized that everything I did she copied me. When we were done eating we went down to the fish farm that Kingdom Cares also started for the village.

Emefa was scared to death of the water! Our guess was that she had never seen a lake before and this one is huge. It is the largest manmade lake in the world. The few people that were with us got on a boat and went across the water to the fish farm - we stayed back with Emefa up on the beach. After about an hour of showing her it was okay and getting her to trust me by using the fun of taking pictures with my camera, we were able to get her by the water.

Just as she was close to putting her toes in the water this Ghanaian fisherman that had been watching us and talking to us came up behind her, grabbed her, and put her right into the water. She completely freaked out! I was so mad at this man as we had worked for an hour building up trust and then he comes and crushes it. She screamed and ran into Tim’s arms. The fisherman went back to working on his boat and we again started showing Emefa the water was okay. After a short time she decided to put her toes in and realized it was okay.

We played for awhile - skipping rocks and showing her that water was fun and refreshing.

This time was so good to build some trust and for her to know she was safe in our arms. We then went back and hung out the rest of the evening bonding more with her in our hotel room. We shared a picture book of our family and practiced everyone's names. She loved looking at the pictures of our family, each of the kids, our house, things we like to do, and even our dog.

She loved to point at each picture and look at me to tell her who it was. She then would repeat each name or anything I said. She repeats all names and English words very well. We feel she will catch on quite fast to English. Later in the evening we decided it was bath time…I went into the bathroom to start getting ready and in comes Emefa, she pulls down her underwear and just pees on the floor. I started laughing and called to Tim. I’m guessing this little thing has never used a toilet. :)  So I showed her how to sit on the toilet and go. We continued to work on this and I think she caught on pretty fast.

Thursday morning we had to be up at 4:30am to leave by 5am to drive two hours to another village to be seen in court at 8am. Emefa’s aunt had to go with us too, I am not sure why but she needed to have a family member with us. So six of us squeezed into this tiny car and headed out. We arrived at 7:30am and proceeded to sit in a Ghanaian court room that was about 100 degrees until 11ish and then were told that the judge would finish all cases for the day then see us! After Tim got yelled at by a police officer for sleeping in the court room, around 1pm we finally were able to sit with the judge. He accepted our application and we passed court! So in Ghana's eyes Emefa is our daughter! This was a huge accomplishment and helped me emotionally so much. When the morning had started, Emefa was completely fine with me but when her aunt showed up Emefa totally changed her attitude and wanted nothing to do with me or Tim. Satan was attacking me all morning with this aunt and doubt. I feared with everything in me that we came all this way and the aunt was going to say she wanted Emefa. So when the judge approved us I was so overwhelmed and felt God surrounding me saying “trust in Me and I will provide” Psalm 28:7 ~ The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song

We then made the drive back 2 hours to Asikuma, ate dinner with Emefa's aunt, and went and visited more with Emefa's grandma. We gathered Emefa's things which all fit in one small back pack and said goodbye to Grandma. We then were off to Accra for another 3 hour drive. Our friend Michael was able to find us a nice hotel with air conditioning and a shower - cold shower - but a shower :) Tim, Emefa and I were out for the night. Sometime in the middle of the night I felt Tim jumping out of bed with Emefa in his arms…he was yelling “she is going to pee in the bed!” He ran into the bathroom with her and put her on the toilet. She had woke up, pulled down her pants and was ready to pee in the bed between us. I guess we need to work on the toilet more!

Oh and we finally got our bags!

Friday morning we hung out in the hotel bonding with Emefa. It was great! She loves taking pictures with my camera and especially loves selfies. She loves to color and we worked on letters and numbers. She also caught on fast to using the toilet. She began to say to me “potty” and would go in and use the toilet. Praise God! When we said we would adopt one of the things I did not want was a baby or toddler that I needed to potty train. I hate potty training and am very thankful to be done.

We also found out that Emefa is as stubborn as I am so adding her to the family is perfect! She does not like to be told no and we experienced her first was it a fit! We will work on that once we are home :) Also, when she is hungry she gets cranky, also just like me! She likes to play hard to get with Tim. When Tim has food to offer her she loves him, other than that she plays hard to get. Although by the end of the morning she was playing hide and seek with him nonstop. She would hide behind the door, knock on it, then hide from him. Super cute…she liked when he came and “scared” her. She was good with me, calling me momma and running to me when she was scared of Tim. I enjoyed this and Tim commented on this, but honestly I was truly thankful she was attaching a little to at least one of us vs. not liking either of us. We went to eat lunch with Michael, his mom, and Daniel - another friend from Accra. Again Satan began attacking as Emefa had not completely gotten over her fit in this time and she latched onto Michael’s mom - wanting nothing to do with Tim or I. I knew this was an attack from Satan and I tried so hard to fight it. I fought back tears and wished we would have stayed in the hotel. They took us to a restaurant right on the ocean - it was beautiful! One small way for God to show me His beauty and help with my emotions.

We then checked out Michael's school he runs for unprivileged children in Accra. We made one other stop to a store and Michael’s mom stayed in the car with us. She had realized how Emefa was going to her vs. us and was trying to help. She kept telling me it will be fine and Emefa will change. I knew all of this but it was so hard when she would turn her head from me and wanted nothing to do with me after having such great bonding time. At the store Emefa had to go potty and I was the only one who could take her. This was a funny way for God to once again show me to trust in Him. Going potty made her want to be with me again. Then we went back to the hotel as we were tired and wanted to bond some more with Emefa after the rough moments of the day.

Overall I think bonding went well with her and us. I feel that each time Satan attacked me or us, God came through. There were so many small signs from Him. One awesome thing in Ghana is that it is a Christian nation and they are very open about it. Tim and I made comments about how we wish people in the U.S. were like this. Everywhere you look - on the back of cars, on signs along the road, there is always a verse or a shout out to God! I found these very encouraging and great reminders for all the emotions going through my body! One verse that I said over and over in my head was Psalm 91, to know that God would protect us and not let anything happen to us. Then we turned the corner while driving and the van in front of us had “Psalm 91” in giant yellow letters across the back window.

Then there was a group of school kids and their uniforms said “God never fails”.

Over and over God showed me that I needed to rely on Him and trust in Him.

Saturday morning we again spent time inside and outside of the hotel bonding - cuddling in bed, coloring, running around outside, playing hide and seek, and taking pictures. Michael then picked us up along with Comfort (she is the foster mother who is caring for Emefa now) and we went to the market. Again Emefa attached to Comfort, but by this time I knew it was okay and had prepared myself for this to happen…the Ghanaian women are who Emefa feels most comfortable with right now. We had bonded some and we have shown her our love. I just kept telling myself over and over that it was okay. I am her mother and one day she will know this. Tim also reminded me of this and helped my emotions throughout the day. At the market Emefa picked out a new dress - it was fun to see her opinion of colors and style. We then went to Comfort’s house, stayed for awhile, and then had to say our goodbyes. Poor Emefa. I feel she was very confused by all of what happened during the week, but we feel she is in great hands and we will be going back for her asap! Hoping in the next three months! Pray BIG for us!

Our week was very exhausting but so worth it! We feel so blessed that our friends Jake and Janel have made such great relationships with the village and people in Asikuma and Accra. It made our time there so much easier. We had a peace with who was taking care of us and translating for us.

Even though this journey is crazy, it is so awesome. There were so many times this week in airports, in lines, at restaurants that we were able to share about our faith in Christ. When people ask “where are you traveling” and “for what” the door is wide open to share. I have never been that good at sharing and I never want to offend anyone, but this adoption journey would not be happening without Christ. It naturally comes up in conversation about what we are doing. And I love it! I know Tim does too. It is also a journey that is teaching us so much about ourselves, our sin, and how we should be living for and loving Christ! That is a whole other story in itself…

Please be praying for the paperwork and steps that need to happen on this end to move quickly and smoothly! Emefa is a sick little girl and needs help. We need to get her here with clean living conditions, good nutrients each day, to doctors that can care for her, and on medicine that will heal her little body! This week we dealt with some bleeding sores and a pinched finger in a car door that was bleeding. I had thoughts go through my head of what are we doing? Why do we think we can care for an HIV+ child?  BUT, we found out that we can. It is very easy to deal with a bleeding finger and once we get her on better meds hopefully her sores will go away. Again this was another way for Satan to attack me. Then, once again God came through...on the way home we were in Turkey at the airport and started talking to a doctor from Michigan. He is a pathologist and was telling us about work he has done in Africa and how bad HIV is. But he said that in the U.S. the medicines have come so far. That bringing Emefa home to the U.S. will be life changing for her. She can live healthy and normal. It was so reassuring to hear from this random doctor all of this information. So again, God told me to just trust and He will provide!

Also please pray for the finance side of this journey. We spent more money on the trip then planned with taxi rides, money at court that was not planned, etc. But the awesome thing is we had the money to cover what we had not planned on. Again, God has provided for us and we know He will continue to do so. We have one more big chunk that is due to our agency now that we passed court, and then we are on the home stretch to bringing Emefa home!

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. ~Luke 12:48~

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Running From Your Life

Can I be real for a moment? Adoption is hard. Yes we have the cutest adopted kids in the world. But behind the cutesy pictures is a struggle. It’s hard parenting and connecting with children who are not my flesh and blood. It is draining learning to love sacrificially when the feelings inside of me scream otherwise. It is ugly having my own sin and depravity exposed again and again, day after day, via adoption. I am still as selfish, rebellious, and unlovely as I ever was. Adoption hasn’t changed that, rather it has brought it to the surface even more. I am coming through a season in which it has crossed my mind more than once of how I literally want to run away from this anointment, this calling that God has put on our lives to take in orphans into our family. It would be so much easier not to. Life would be a lot prettier and a lot less messy. Yet, through those raw emotions I hear God whisper that perseverance must finish its work in me so that I will be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:4). Perseverance is not one of my top qualities. I would rather run the opposite direction when things get hard and ugly and messy. For awhile now Jake has been listening to sermon podcasts while he works out in the morning and he kept telling me that I should try it. I am usually glued to my music for work outs, but the other day I was led to a boatload of online sermons and the title of one of them caught my attention ~ ‘Running From Your Life’. I listened to it while working out the other day and it brought me truths from the life of Elijah that I had never seen in scripture before. If you can relate to anything I’ve said above then I hope it encourages you too...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Invitation: Join us for breakfast on December 13th, 2013

I wanted to invite all of you to a breakfast that we will be hosting on Friday, December 13th, 2013 from 7:30am-9:00am at our Kingdom Courts facility. The purpose of the breakfast is to continue to share the vision of Kingdom Cares International. We will use this breakfast as an information platform to share about our projects in Africa as well as some local projects we are looking to take part in over the next 12-18 months. We are also going to use that morning to kick off a major fundraising campaign, The 1200 Club, in which we are looking for individuals to get behind the organization as a whole as we try to meet the needs of those locally and globally.

Below is a brief preview of the various projects that will be discussed at the breakfast event:
  1. Development of the Kingdom Cares Mission Center and Children’s Outreach home in Asikuma, Ghana. Construction has already begun and we are excited to share with everyone the full scope of the project. 
  2. Development of a youth sports center in Chad, Africa in partnership with Athletes in Action and Campus Crusade for Christ.
  3. Clearly paint the vision for the new program we kicked off locally this fall called Beyond Ball Ministries. We will paint the vision for how we see Beyond Ball making a difference not only on the basketball court but more importantly making a lasting impact for the local community of Des Moines.
We hope you will consider joining us for breakfast on the 13th as we look to take major leaps forward as an organization. PLEASE RSVP by email to if you would like to attend.

Jake Sullivan

[Kingdom Courts facility location: 6095 NE Industry Drive, Des Moines, IA 50313]