August 21, 2010 - I travel to Haiti on a church sponsored mission trip. I am not really sure why I am going. I don't know much about Haiti. I had not really paid much attention to the news about the January 12, 2010 earthquake that had devastated Haiti just seven months earlier. I have never traveled to a less developed country or been exposed to extreme poverty. Needless to say, God was about to rock my world.
August 26, 2010 - After serving all week in a large, heavily populated slum known as Savanne Pistache (suburb of Port au Prince), we make a day trip into the mountains to visit an orphanage in the remote village of Camatin. I arrive after the rest of our mission team. When I arrive the team members were playing with the orphan girls. I notice one little girl sitting alone watching the others play. I walk over and sit down beside her. I learn her name is Jesula. We communicate the best we can, laugh, and make a photo. About 15 minutes later it is time for the team to leave. Jesula gives me a big hug and a smile and I walk away. Then something unexpected happens. I cannot get Jesula out of my mind. The rest of the day and night she is all I think about. I look at our photo on my camera over and over again. Before falling asleep for the night I think, tomorrow I will fly home and return to my daily routine and my thoughts of Jesula will fade.
August 27 - September 4, 2010 - The next day our mission team flies back home to America. My thoughts of Jesula do not fade at all. She is all I think about day and night. The first few days after I get home I cannot speak about Jesula to anyone without crying. Every time I prepare to tell my family about Jesula I lose control of my emotions, start crying and walk away. They think I am completely crazy. They worry that something bad happened to me in Haiti. Little did they know. God has laid Jesula so heavy on my heart that I know what He is calling me to do. I pray and tell God that I have never even considered adopting, that my two children are in high school and college and that I am preparing for the "empty nest" years of my life. God has a different plan. Late one night I am lying awake in bed with thoughts of Jesula and obedience to God racing through my mind, and I begin to cry. My wife Shawna wakes to say, "please just tell me what is wrong with you?" To this point Shawna has yet to hear anything about Jesula, not even her name. My immediate response is, "God led me to a beautiful little orphan girl in Haiti named Jesula, and we are supposed to adopt her." Needless to say the coming days consist of a lot of prayer and family discussion. The decision is made to adopt Jeslua and make her a part of our forever family.
September 5, 2010 - We meet with our good friend Kevin Rudd. He has previously adopted from Haiti and is well versed in navigating the extremely complicated and difficult Haitian adoption process. He explains everything we have to do in the United States and in Haiti. He details out every detail of the dossier (adoption file) that we will have to amass and submit to the Haitian government to begin the process. This is day one of what will take 27 months.
September 15, 2010 - We mail our I-600A (application for advance processing of orphan petition) to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) facility in Texas.
September 22, 2010 - We call Jesula and tell her we would like to adopt her and ask her if she would like that too. She says "Wi" (yes).
October 15, 2010 - We complete our Home Study.
October 29, 2010 - Shawna and I travel to Haiti. This is Shawna's first trip to Haiti with the primary purpose being for her to meet Jesula. We spend this first day of our trip in Port au Prince at the orphanage director's house. Shawna's first meet with Jesula is just perfect. We also meet Redjina for the first time. Redjina is living here so that she can attend a quality school. Redjina is very pleasant, speaks a fair amount of English, and cheerfully helps us communicate with Jesula. Needless to say Redjina makes a very profound impression on us. We tell Redjina goodbye and head up the mountain to the orphanage to spend three days with Jesula and her friends.
November, 2010 - A couple of weeks after our Haiti trip I mention to Shawna that I cannot get Redjina off my mind. To my surprise Shawna says she cannot get Redjina off her mind either. After a couple of weeks of prayer and family discussion we are convinced that God is leading us to adopt Redjina as well.
December 2, 2010 - We call Redjina and tell her we would like to adopt her and ask her if she would like that too. She says yes.
December 21, 2010 - We travel to Nashville, TN for biometrics (fingerprinting) as required for the I-600A process. Biometrics expire in 15 months.
January 4, 2011 - We receive our I-71H (notice of approval of I-600A) from USCIS.
January 26, 2011 - We complete our Dossier.
February 5, 2011 - Our Dossier is delivered to the orphanage director in Haiti.
March 25, 2011 - Shawna and I appear in court in Port au Prince. We show our passports to a court official and are instructed to sign a blank piece of paper.
June 5, 2011 - Our Dossier is accepted into IBESR (Institut du Bien Etre Social et de Recherches or Haitian Social Services). This should have happened back in February when our Dossier made it to Haiti. Unfortunately, Presidential Election issues, political unrest, and riots in Haiti kept that from happening for four months.
July 21, 2011 - I attend a scheduled appointment with the Consulate at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to file I-600 applications (petition to classify orphan as an immediate relatively) for Jesula and Redjina. This officially opens our adoption case with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. The Consulate issues a deadline for our final dossier to be provided to them. Our deadline will be extended six times before our final dossier is provided to them.
August 24, 2011 - Jesula's legal guardian and Redjina's legal guardian travel to the U.S. Embassy for scheduled guardian interviews with the Consulate. This is standard U.S. protocol.
September 13, 2011 - Our Dossier is approved by IBESR.
December 27, 2011 - Our Dossier is delivered to The Palace for Presidential Dispensation.
March 14, 2012 - We again travel to Nashville, TN for biometrics (fingerprinting) as our original biometrics are set to expire on March 20, 2012.
March 15, 2012 - Presidential Dispensation is granted by President Mickey Martelly. Our Dossier is on the way to the Parquet courts process.
April 18, 2012 - Our Dossier completes the Parquet courts process.
April 25, 2012 - We receive notification that both girls' Acte d' Adoption has been signed and approved. This means that the girls are now legally ours in Haiti, and have been given the name Cunningham. Our Dossier is on its way to the MOI (Ministry of the Interior) process to obtain authorization for Haitian passports.
June 7, 2012 - Our Dossier is approved by MOI.
July 1, 2012 - Both girls' Haitian Passports are produced. At this point, as far as the Haitian Government is concerned, the girls are ours and can leave Haiti.
July 10, 2012 - Our approved Haitian Dossier along with the girls' passports are delivered to the Consulate at the United States Embassy in Haiti. All we need now is for the U.S. Consulate to approve the girls' files and for the U.S. Department of State to issue the girls' visas. Then we can bring them to America. At this point we are confident the girls will come home in 2 months.
August-September, 2012 - We do not hear anything from the Consulate. I send routine emails to the Consulate requesting an update. I either receive no response at all, or a standard response stating "your case is under review we will advise you when a decision has been reached."
October 4, 2012 - I receive an early morning email from the Consulate stating there are document discrepancies with Redjina's file that require clarification. I contact our Haitian Attorney and later that day she meets with the Consulate at the U.S. Embassy to explain discrepancies. The Consulate requests additional support documents. At this point we are worried that Jesula may be approved and ready to come home before Redjina.
October 10, 2012 - Our Haitian Attorney delivers requested support documents to the Consulate at the U.S. Embassy.
October 23, 2012 - Both girls' I-600 petitions are approved by the Consulate. Their files are forwarded to the Department of State (DOS) at the U.S. Embassy. At this point we expect the DOS will immediately schedule visa interviews and then issue the girls' visas. We are certain we will travel to get both girls in about three weeks.
November 13, 2012 - After three weeks, The DOS contacts the orphanage director and requests he bring both girls and their legal guardians for an interview on November 14, 2012. We have no idea why this is requested. Both girls' guardians have already completed the required guardian interview on August 24, 2011.
November 14, 2012 - Jesula and Redjina with their legal guardians go to the U.S. Embassy for interviews. Jesula's guardian is questioned and the interview is completed. Redjina and her guardian are asked to return the next day.
November 15, 2012 - Redjina and her guardian go to the U.S. Embassy again for an interview. Redjina's guardian is questioned and the interview is completed.
November 20, 2012 - We receive notice from the DOS that Jesula's I-604 is approved and that she is scheduled for a Visa Interview on 11/27/12. She goes the next day for required medical exam. We are told that Redjina's file is still being reviewed with no estimated date for a decision. At this point we are faced with the reality that Jesula will likely come home before Redjina.
November 23, 2012 - We receive notice from the DOS that Redjina's I-604 is approved and that she is scheduled for a Visa Interview on 11/27/12 with Jesula. She goes the next day for required medical exam.
November 27, 2012 - Both girls attend visa interviews with the DOS at the U.S. Embassy.
December 5, 2012 - Both girls' are issued IR-3 U.S. Visas.
December 13, 2012 - Shawna and I arrive in Port au Prince. The girls are waiting for us at the airport. We go to our Haitian Attorney's office. She provides us with the girls' passports, visas, IBESR Exit Letters, and sealed envelopes to give to U.S. Customs officials upon arrival in the Miami airport.
December 14, 2012 - Shawna and I, with Jesula and Redjina fly from Port au Prince, Haiti to Miami, FL. Upon arrival in the Miami International Airport we walk to the passport entry desk. From there we are escorted by a U.S. Customs officer to the U.S. Customs facility. After a 2 1/2 hour wait, the girls' are asked to sign their names, fingerprint, and their entry visas are approved. We walk out the door and step into America, at which point Jesula and Redjina are immediately considered United States Citizens.
We began the adoption process on September 5, 2010. Two years, three months, and eight days later the girls came home with us on December 14, 2012.