One family's journey to hear God's calling, overcome our fears, and be obedient to Him!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Trip to Haiti

The Trip to Haiti to pick up the girls went smooth.
We landed in Port-au-Prince early on Thursday 12/13/12. 
The girls were waiting for us at the airport.
This is just after arriving.

Our first stop was to see our Haitian attorney,
Madame Nathalie Cyprien. She had the girls'
IBESR Exit Letters, Passports, Visas, and
U.S. Customs Documents all prepared.

Then we stopped for lunch. 
Our friends Jabet & Marieflore drove us around PAP.

Jesula was happy to see us again.

Redjina was happy too.

A very nice restaurant for downtown Port-au-Prince.

Pork, Beans, Rice, Plantains, and Pikliz.

The streets of Port-au-Prince near our hotel.

A remarkable contrast from the streets of Port-au-Prince
to the other side of the gate at The Palm Inn.

Trees and shade highlighted the beautiful grounds
inside the small compound.

A Christmas Tree just outside our room.

A simple room with two beds and a bathroom.

The only thing the girls brought with them for the trip
home is what they are wearing here and a smile. They
left the rest of their things with the girls at the orphanage.

Around the Palm Inn.

Redjina sitting at the pool.

Redjina relaxing in a new dress with some orange juice.

Jeusla and her new dress.

My precious girls.

Sunset at The Palm Inn.

Breakfast at The Palm Inn.
Haitian Omelet, Fresh Mango & Pineapple, and Coffee.

Friday morning 12/14/12 just before leaving for 
the Port-au-Prince airport and The Trip to America.

The Trip to America coming soon...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First Things First

Ramblings about a few of the girls' first travel experiences...

Airports & Planes

Bringing the girls home was such an interesting experience. They had obviously never been to an airport, likely never even seen a plane. Entering the airport the morning of departure they were both understandably nervous and quiet. They certainly found passing through security interesting. And for some reason in the Port au Prince Airport you have to pass through three security points before finally entering the terminal boarding area. So, that's three times of taking off jackets, belts, shoes, etc. and having those items pass through scanning machines and then putting everything back on. I have no idea what the girls were thinking. Based on their puzzled expressions I would imagine the first time their belongings went down the conveyor and into the big metal box they figured they would never see them again. Maybe they thought they would go home barefoot. When their things came out the other side perhaps they thought they had been washed. But then we had to do it again, and again. It must have all been very bizarre in their minds.

They were very quiet waiting to board that first flight from Port au Prince. As we boarded the plane the girls had a very tight grip on our arms. Neither one had any interest in looking out the window. Both glanced out momentarily when the plane began to move to taxi out. As the engines roared to push the plane down the runway for take-off, both had pretty big eyes and a solid hold on our arms. During the planes initial climb we experienced one really good bump of turbulence. Redjina let out a "whew". Jesula never made a sound. After the flight leveled out they appeared to relax. They enjoyed the juice from the flight attendants. Their eyes were constantly scanning the environment around them. I told Redjina I was going to the poddy (lavatory), and she said "Popi, the plane has a poddy?" So, she went too. The noise of the descent into the Miami airport and the big bumps touching down onto the runway seemed slightly less scary to them than take-off.

Once off the plane in Miami they were fine. Jesula almost tripped. She likes to slide her feet when she walks. That works great on the concrete floors in the orphanage, but didn't work so well the first time she has ever walked on carpet. Then she kind of kicked at it trying to figure out what it was.

Over the course of our next two flights on the journey home they both became more comfortable with air travel. Redjina ventured to the lavatory on every flight. Jesula never left her seat. On the final flight into Knoxville they both wanted to sit by the window. Jesula slept for a little while. Then she stared out the window never making a sound. At one point we were flying over a solid mass of white clouds as far as could be seen, and Redjina said "Popi, is that the sea?"

Hotels & Food

After arriving in Miami and clearing passports and immigrations, we headed for the Miami International Airport Hotel which is located inside the airport terminal. On the way we had to take three long escalators which Jesula didn't care for at first. She had a hard time negotiating the getting on and off process. But by the third one she thought it was fun and was giggling as she jumped on and off.

The girls were fascinated with the hotel lobby which had a beautiful Christmas Tree, and the check-in process. They were fascinated with my visa card which happens to have their picture on it. The elevator ride up to our floor was interesting. Jesula didn't want to get inside the elevator but decided she would since we did and she didn't want to be left behind. Up and away came with big eyes and then smiles. The small white plastic card that opened the hotel room door seemed strange to them.

The rooms were not spectacular, but very nice and comfortable compared to our room the night before in in Haiti. I will never forget seeing Jesula and the look on her face, within minutes of walking in the room, spread all out on her back on the soft pillow-top mattress and a sea of fluffy pillows. Jesula loved the big flat panel television, the remote control, and the number of channels to surf through. They had never before experienced hot water or lying in a bathtub. Needless to say, they loved the warm bath.

After trying to explain food options, the girls decided to try pizza for supper. So we headed down to the California Pizza Kitchen in the terminal mall area. The two ladies working there were Haitian. They were fascinated with us, and the girls, and went on and on about how beautiful the girls were. Redjina got a personal size peperoni and Jesula a personal size cheese. They both ate every bite. They love it. They had orange juice to drink. For that matter they had orange juice on every plane and with every meal along the way. We are already on gallon number two of orange juice on the third full day of being home.

More firsts to come!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Adoption News ~ Welcome Home!!!

Praising the Almighty

Welcome home Jesula Cunningham and Redjina Cunningham

The girls officially became United States Citizens on Friday, December 14, 2012 when they stepped off the plane with us in Miami and cleared immigrations. The girls arrived at their new home on Saturday afternoon, December 15, 2012.

This picture is just after arriving in the Knoxville airport today 
to reunite with Ashley and Matthew!

I want to again thank all of our family and friends who have provided prayer support, financial support, and much needed encouragement throughout our 27 month journey to adopt Jesula and Redjina and finally bring them home. We could not have made it without each of you and for you we are very thankful. Our God is an Awesome God!

Lord, you are my God: I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things. Things you planned long ago, have now been accomplished.  Isaiah 25:1

Sunday, December 2, 2012

God Works in Mysterious Ways!

Our adoption case file had been in the hands of the U.S. Embassy in Haiti for three months. During that time immigration services and the consulate would occasionally ask questions, or request additional documents. A United States' government process that typically takes two or three weeks to finalize a foreign adoption appeared as if it would never end. Then during church service at Faith Promise Church on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, one of the pastors prayed over us. He prayed specifically for U.S. Immigrations to finalize our adoptions in the coming week and schedule our girls' visa interviews. It was an emotional time. Within a few days God answered those exact prayers.

The girls' cases were quickly approved and they had their visa interviews. Just like that it was time to make plans to go get them. We hadn't really thought far enough ahead to consider the cost of the trip we had been praying would happen for 27 months. The cost of final immigration services, medical exams for the girls, airline tickets, hotels, final Haitian legal fees, etc. will be about $5,000. That is a daunting amount of money any time, but even more so just before Christmas. I got a little stressed worrying about the cost to say the least.

While I was on my laptop shopping for airline tickets, I saw a Joel Osteen tweet on my phone. It simply said "You can't worry and trust God at the same time". I had one of those wow God moments. I stopped and prayed. I basically said "God, thank you for delivering me to this moment in the adoption process. You have brought me this far, so I am going to trust You will provide the finances needed to see this through". Well, He went to work.

Within a few days we received unexpected donations totaling almost a third of that cost. We received a contribution through the blog from a friend from my high school days around 1980. I didn't see her for many years after high school. A year or so ago she contacted me on Facebook wanting to give us clothes for the girls and for Haiti. We received a check in the mail from a little sister from my college fraternity. I have only seen her one time since college after we reconnected on Facebook. She has supported us continually with prayer and finances throughout this entire process. We received another check in the mail. This time from a fraternity brother from college that I haven't seen since 1986. It included a note saying his family had been following our blog and that they felt led to help.

It's not surprising that God answers prayers. He says He will. God has answered our prayers and provided time and time again throughout this long adoption process. But it has been amazing to me to see who God has selected to help us. I am so very thankful for each and everyone He has chosen. In my daily struggle to let go and just trust Him, I can't wait to see who He picks next.

God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares The Lord. Isaiah 55: 8-9

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hope is a Waking Dream!

It was 27 months ago today that I returned from my first trip to Haiti. I met Jesula the day before returning home. God clearly laid it on my heart that she was my daughter, so we began the adoption process immediately. Exactly two months to the day after meeting Jesula, I met Redjina on a return trip to Haiti. Once again God clearly laid it on my heart that she was my daughter, so we moved forward adopting both.

Looking back it is hard to believe it has been 27 months. This long journey has been filled with countless twists, turns, obstacles and delays. When we first started the adoption process in September 2010, we were told the girls could be home in 12-18 months. Of course we heard 12 months and clung to having the girls home in a year.  When "we hope to have them home by" has changed so many times I can't even remember them all.

We struggled not being with them for that first Thanksgiving 2010 and Christmas 2010. Not being with them for their spring 2011 birthdays was really hard. We hoped to have them home by fall 2011. A year came and went. We hoped to have them home by Thanksgiving 2011, and then we hoped to have then home by Christmas 2011. Eighteen months came and went. We hoped to have them home by their spring 2012 birthdays. When our file finally cleared the Haitian government and made its way to the U.S. Embassy in July 2012, we thought we would have them home by August 2012. Then we hoped to have them home by September 2012. Two years came and went. Then we hoped to have them home by October of 2012. We knew for sure we would have them home by Thanksgiving 2012.

Time and time again, what we hoped for came and went. Each time what we hoped for turned out to only be a dream. We woke up from each dream only to dream again.

Along this journey there have been so many days of joy, frustration, and even doubt that it would ever happen. But the tribulation of this 27 month process has nurtured our love for the girls. Close your eyes and try and imagine how much love you would have for your children if you were separated from them for over two years and were constantly anticipating them coming home. 

Thankfully I have been able to scatter in nine trips to Haiti over this time. The trips allowed me to have time with the girls once every few months. Those were nine wonderful trips, but they were all followed by nine heartbreaking departures.

Today I thank God that on my next trip to Haiti the girls will depart with me!

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true there is life and joy. Proverbs 13:12

Friday, November 23, 2012

Adoption News ~ Finally!

We finally received notification today from the Consular Section of the United States Embassy in Haiti that Redjina has been approved and scheduled for a visa interview.

Redjina's medical exam is underway. Redjina and Jesula will appear together for visa interviews at the U.S. Embassy next week and apply for IR-3 Immigrant Visas. Visas are typically issued about one week after the interview. Once the girls have their visas we can bring them home, together!

Thank you to our family and friends who have been prayer warriors for our now 26 month long adoption process. We ask that you please continue to pray for us as we take these final steps in our journey to bring Jesula and Redjina home. I hope to be sharing pictures and the story of their arrivals very soon!

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His loving kindness is everlasting. 1 Chronicles 16:34

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Adoption News ~ Mixed Emotions!

We received notification today from the Consular Section of the United States Embassy in Haiti that Jesula has been approved and scheduled for a visa interview. When I asked about the status of Redjina's case the Consulate replied, "Redjina's case is still being reviewed and we will let you know when a decision is reached".

Although we are very anxious about Redjina's case, and very concerned for the girls who may not come home together, we are Praising God for moving Jesula forward!

Jesula's medical exam is underway. She will appear for her visa interview at the U.S. Embassy next week and apply for a IR-3 Immigrant Visa. Visas are typically issued about one week after the interview. Once Jesula has a visa we can bring her home.

We ask that all of our family and friends continue to pray for our adoptions. Pray that Jesula's medical exam and visa interview go smoothly, that Redjina is quickly approved and scheduled for a medical exam and visa interview, and that we are able to bring both girls home together, or at least both very soon!

And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Matthew Commits to TTU!

Matthew signed his National Letter of Intent to play Division 1 baseball for Tennessee Tech University. National Signing Day was November 14, 2012. Matt signed as part of a very nice ceremony in his honor at Grace Christian Academy High School.

The ceremony opened with GCA Campus Pastor Matt Mercer leading all present in prayer over Matthew. Several people spoke about Matthew and his accomplishments on and off the baseball field. Those speaking included; GCA Athletic Director Johnny Cox, Grace Baptist Church Youth Pastor Bobby Thompson, GCA High School Assistant Baseball Coach Dwight Smith, and GCA High School Head Baseball Coach Brian Hochevar. The ceremony closed with a photo session and interviews with local television stations.

We are looking forward to Mathew's senior year of high school baseball this spring. Then it will be on to Tennessee Tech University in the fall of 2013.

We are so very proud of Matthew!!!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Adoption News ~ More Waiting!

The Consular Section of the United States Embassy in Haiti is proving to not move any faster than the USCIS. Typically a few days after the USCIS approves the I-600, the Consular Section approves and provides a date for visa interviews and medical exams. Well, ten days later and counting we are still waiting.

Several factors have contributed to the delay. Hurricane Sandy closed the Embassy for two days on October 24th and 25th. Embassy appointments scheduled on those two days had to be rescheduled prior to ours being considered. The Embassy is now closed again for two days. November 1st and 2nd are observed holidays in Haiti, All Souls Day and All Saints Day. And apparently, the adoption of multiple, teenage girls brings increased case scrutiny and simply requires a more thorough case review.

Please pray that the Consular Section of the United States Embassy approves our case quickly and provides us with an expedited visa interview appointment.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though the waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Psalm 46:1-3

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Adoption News ~ I-600's Approved!

Not to us Lord, but to your name goes all the glory, 
for your unfailing love and faithfulness. 
Psalm 115:1

After more than three months of waiting on the USCIS we finally received The Email. The USCIS has approved our I-600 petitions, clearing the way for Jesula and Redjina to come home with us!

Final steps:
1) The girls will travel to Port-au-Prince for medical exams per U.S. requirements.
2) The girls will be scheduled for visa interviews at the U.S. Embassy and apply for IR-3 Immigrant Visas.

Once Jesula and Redjina have Visas we can bring them home!!!

We are planning a quiet and unembellished homecoming with just our girls and family. I hope to be sharing pictures and the story of their arrival in about 4-6 weeks.

Thank you to our family and friends who have been prayer warriors for our now 25 month long adoption process. Please continue to pray for us as we take these final steps in our journey to bring Jesula and Redjina home!

For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.  Habakkuk 2:3

Friday, October 19, 2012

Come Monday It'll Be Alright

The Haitian Government finalized and approved our adoptions on July 1st. At that time, the girls were given our last name, legally became our children, and were issued Haitian passports so they could leave Haiti.

On July 10th our complete file of documents was sent to the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. The USCIS is the United States Government agency that oversees foreign adoptions. They must review and approve I-600 petitions for adopted children to be allowed to enter the United States. For three months all we have gotten from the USCIS is the run around. We have provided new documents, had documents attested, provided clarifications of documents, and even provided funeral pictures and videos.

They request information. We provide it. Then we wait. Sometimes we wait a week, sometimes three weeks. We wait for what we hope will be The Email announcing that our I-600 petitions have been approved, but so far it's been requests for more information. It is like an endless loop. The last time we provided information was last Wednesday, October 10th. Since then we have been waiting.

I can email them but they usually don't respond. If they do respond it is likely a form message that simply says "your case is under review". It is literally impossible to call them. If you get through you get a voice mail with a mail box that is full so no message can be left. So, I wait on The Email. Every time my phone vibrates I anxiously look in hopes it will be The Email. I run my battery down hitting the refresh button looking for The Email.

And all that said, Friday afternoon is the worst time of the week. Friday at 4:00 PM means the United States Embassy has closed for the week and that The Email isn't coming. Instead of Thank God It's Friday, it's I Wish It Was Monday. Only Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are qualified to be The Day, the day The Email finally comes. Come Friday at 4:00 PM all we can do is wait for Monday morning. And pray, that Come Monday It'll Be Alright!

And Jesus told them a parable to show them that they should always pray and not lose heart.  Luke 18:1

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fast Forward

I wish I could just fast forward to the day our girls come home. But I don't even know when that day will be. I wake up each morning, pray all day, and believe we will get the news today. The day ends!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Here I am - Send me

I traveled to Haiti again this past week, July 21-29, 2012 to serve and spend time with my beautiful girls. This was my eighth trip to Haiti and the fourth mission team I have been blessed to lead. My daughter Ashley and her husband Jeff also made the trip. Our mission team consisted of 16 people. We had an awesome group of young adults with pure servant's hearts, and many first-timers, which made for an awesome experience.

We departed Knoxville on Friday evening, drove to Atlanta and spent the night near the airport. We were at the Atlanta airport at 5:00 AM on Saturday morning. We checked 18 bags of supplies.  Our flights into Miami and on into Port-au-Prince were timely and uneventful. We arrived in Port-au-Prince about 2:15 PM. Two of our team members flew a different airline and came in just minutes after us without any issues. The process of clearing immigration, baggage claim, and customs went smooth. All our check bags were in hand. We walked straight through customs without a single bag being inspected. We loaded our bags on the truck and got on the road. The drive through Port-au-Prince and up the mountain was relatively quiet. I noticed remarkable improvements in the roads. Many areas have been newly paved. We didn't have any traffic delays and we made the drive to Camatin in about 2.5 hours. We arrived at the orphanage about 6:00 PM and the girls were waiting to greet us. Jesula and Redjina were so happy to see Ashley, Jeff, and I. Those first hugs are always so wonderful! 

Sunday morning we attended Church in Coq Chante. The Haitian people know how to worship. Ashley went up and spoke. She talked about how Haiti first impacted me, and then how it has impacted her life. She spoke so eloquently and many of our team members cried. Jeff and Leah went up and performed two songs. Jeff played guitar and Leah sang, Amazing Grace and Agnus Dei. Their performance was amazing. After church, we provided the church members with a warm meal of chicken, rice, and beans.

We served in all the area villages. We spent a day in each of Camatin, Tiapo, Beloc, and Coq Chante. Walking to and through the villages is always the serving highlight of my time in Haiti. Seeing the faces, the environment, the living conditions, the isolation is enough to break the strongest person. Our focus in the villages was providing prayer, medical attention, food, baby food and clothing, and children's clothing and toys. Everywhere we turned there were babies. We distributed bottles, formula, cloth diapers, and clothing to hundreds of babies. 

Tiapo is always a very special experience. It involves a long, steep walk just to reach the church. We provided a food distribution for church members, conducted a medical clinic, and distributed baby and kid clothing. On the walk out of Tiapo, a few of the team members met a family that obviously was struggling with a lack of food and cleanliness. The next day after another trip to the market, Nate and Allyson, with Chad's help lead blessing this family with prayer, baths, feet washing, three goats, and rice.

Beloc, the village I feel most drawn too, included several highlights. We provided complete sets of soccer uniforms to the area youth and organized a great soccer match. Babies were blessed and loved on everywhere we turned. My sweet friend Mikiana, who calls me Popi, was there waiting for me when I arrived and walked with me every step. We prayed for and blessed Mikiana and her mother Madame Islande.

Coq Chante provided several special moments and one true God moment. The first day we were in Coq Chante someone came running to our team and said we were needed as a baby had fallen into a fire and was badly burned. Jeff and two others ran ahead of the team. I can't imagine what must have gone through their minds in route to this baby. I must mention how proud I am of my son-in-law Jeff, He is a recent paramedic school graduate, and a long time EMT, firefighter and rescue squad member. He doesn't blink an eye when faced with trauma. He is hands on, and time and time again we were fortunate to have him on this trip. The baby had fallen bottom first into a coal fire for cooking. I won't describe in detail the extent of the burn, but it was surreal. Jeff, with the help of the others, treated the baby as much as possible. It was obvious that this baby would not survive without being taken to a hospital in Port-au-Prince, a three hour drive away. The team collected money to provide for the baby to be transported and admitted to the hospital. At last report the baby was stable and  expected to be in the hospital for approximately a month. I have no doubt that God placed Jeff and our team in this baby's path that day!

We blessed an elderly lady, Madame Maranta, that my daughter Ashley feels led to help. Ashley and I walked through the area market and bartered to buy chickens and beans. We took them to bless and pray for her.

While walking through a less traveled area in Coq Chante we came across a baby girl that had been born just a couple of hours prior. We gave the mother and the baby a basic medical check. We blessed the mother with food, vitamins, baby bottles, baby formula, cloth diapers, baby blankets, and several other items. To our delight the mother asked to name her baby after one of us. We arrived at the name Presley (for Preston) Marie (for Ashley Marie). Presley Marie Bien Aimes weighed 4 pounds and was approximately 18 inches tall.

We took a nice break during the middle of the week and treated all the girls and workers in the orphanage to a day at the beach in Jacmel. Everyone enjoyed the beach, the water, as a well as a nice meal of fish or pork, and plantains, and piklize (Haitian slaw). The weather was absolutely perfect.

The primary mission on the trip was to build a new house for Jesula's grandmother, Madame Elivert Labady. Jesula's parents are deceased and Madame Elivert raised Jesula since a very young age. In December 2009 realizing it would be a better opportunity for Jesula, she brought Jesula to the orphanage. Madame Elivert is a very elderly woman and is not in good health. Her previous house, which had a leaking roof, failing walls, and a dirt floor, is located in an isolated area at the bottom of the mountain in Coq Chante. She was no longer able to make the 1.5 mile walk, each way up and down the mountain to secure water and food from the market or to attend church. The new house, albeit a small one room house, would provide her with basic protection from the elements. It is close to the top of the mountain and next door to her daughter's family house (Christella's parents). They will be able to help care for her and she can now walk to the market and church. 

We had planned to build the house on Monday and Tuesday. But things don't always go as planned in Haiti. When we got to the home site Madame Elivert was not there, but the house was already being built. There was still a lot of finish work to do, but the concrete slab, walls, and metal roof had been erected the day before. I was not happy. I expressed my displeasure with our Haitian host. We had raised the funds for and our plan was to build the house.

I soon learned that God had a different plan. Within just a few minutes Madame Elivert came walking up with a smile as bright as the sun. She told us how much she loved her new house. She loved her new house so much that she slept in the house on the concrete floor the night before we arrived. In that instant I was reminded that God was in control. God had blessed her with a new house and she was very thankful. She was so thankful that she slept on a concrete floor and never again had to make the long walk up and down the mountain. We spent the best part of the next two days doing finish work. We painted Madame Elivert's house inside and out. We bought Madame Elivert a new mattress. Several team members hiked down the mountain to carry up her remaining belongings. We also painted Jesula's aunt and uncle's house next door. They were so grateful. They cooked yams and chicken for us that I know was likely there food for the week. People from all over the village gathered, watched, and even helped work.

On the last full day of our trip a few of us made one last visit to Jesula's grandmother's new house. We took her a few parting gifts, primarily food. Inside the house, I emotionally explained to Jesula and her grandmother that this would be the last time they would see each other, as Jesula would soon leave to live in the Untied States. Jesula had large tears trickle down her face and her grandmother smiled that smile of total peace that says I fought the good fight, I finished the race. I stepped back just outside the door of the house to give them privacy and just watched. They hugged and exchanged words in their native language. Then Jesula flashed her beautiful little grin, kissed her grandmother on the cheek, and turned and walked out the door. Jesula and I were the last to leave. As we walked away out the trail to the road, Jesula stopped several times and gazed back momentarily at her grandmother sitting on the porch of her new house. I would so much like to know what was going through Jesula's mind. Perhaps Jesula was day-dreaming of sweet childhood memories surrounded by her grandmother. Perhaps Jesula felt at peace knowing that her grandmother, who raised her and then lovingly left her in a better place at the orphanage, was on this day being left in a better place.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  2 Timothy 4:7