On New Years Day 2014, I had spent the day in prayer and knew I wanted to do something big to start the year off right. I had been learning to go and meet needs wherever I saw them, rather than always sitting back and waiting for a specific calling. Being called to a specific person or place and proceeding with prayer and caution is very biblical; but I was also learning the answer to helping others is already in the bible, and the answer is yes. This isn't to say everyone should become a full time missionary or even sponsor a child; but rather, that everyone is called to serve people wherever they see a need. It was on the same day that I fell in love, through a Facebook post, with an 7-year-old girl named Estefani.
Estefani lived in Honduras and was part of the child sponsorship program I already worked with. To me, sponsoring a child means being a tangible reminder of the love of God in their life through letters and visits. It means raising them up to be the first of many generations raised in love for the LORD. It means encouraging their God-given potential through feeding programs and school supply distributions. Most sponsored children have families of their own and just need the extra support. That alone was such an exciting mission.
My missions team leader had posted Estefani's picture in hopes of finding a sponsor for her. Instantly, God wove Estefani into my heart and I knew she was the answer to my prayer to do something more that year; especially upon hearing she'd lost both parents in recent years and was living with distant relatives. However, since she would likely need a lot of individual attention and I already sponsored another girl in her community, I decided to co-sponsor Estefani with a friend from the team and let that friend be the main one to form the relationship with her. It was a sacrifice, because I already loved Estefani; but I prayed and believed it was best. Little did I know how much God was about to do.
Our team traveled to Honduras in May of 2014. Throughout the week as my friend and I bonded with Estefani, we learned that her father killed her mother two years earlier, and she witnessed it. Her father later died in jail. The relatives she lived with treated her okay, we were told, but not like one of their own. They often made her go to work while they let their own children stay home. On our last night in Honduras, when we took her home from a fun day and said our goodbyes, Estefani clung to my friend and I and sobbed. I felt helpless, knowing she needed so much more. She needed a family. Shortly after the trip, Estefani wrote a letter that said, “For me it was difficult to say goodbye, because you are the mother I do not have. I love you very much and I know God fills that void in my life.”
Running to us on the first day
Over the next year, difficult choices were made and Estefani's co-sponsorship fell through. My heart was broken for Estefani as I wondered how to undo the damage. On the other hand, I knew God was working something out for our good. Now that I was her only sponsor, my mission seemed clear. I began doing research on international adoption and how I could care for her full time. What I learned, was adoption laws in Honduras are near impossible. After speaking to an adoption attorney, my choices were basically limited to moving to Honduras, or bringing her to the states on a student visa (similar to a foreign exchange student) without technically being her mom. I was willing to do either, but carefully prayed and researched to make sure the right choices were made. The phrase "heart adoption" meant while the end goal was actual adoption, I was taking on the role of a mom a much as possible from a distance while I searched for the best route to take. I wrote this letter to Estefani, which was delivered to her shortly before our next visit, explaining the change in sponsorship and offering her the hope of a Heavenly Father who would never leave her. When I returned to Estefani in July of 2015, I was relieved she had received my letter and happily welcomed me into her heart, no questions asked.
Soon after, friends in Honduras asked around and confirmed Estefani hadn't been with her family in months. Nobody in the community seemed to know where she was, and the family wasn't providing answers. Let's be real: I panicked. I received this news in the middle of the night and frantically sent a message to one of my mentors who is always willing to pray. She happened to be working the night shift that night, which wasn't typical, and called me right away to pray for my girl. We not only prayed Estefani would be found safe, but that it would happen the very next day. I hadn't talked to Estefani in 7 months at this point, so the "very next day" part was incredibly unlikely by human standards.
I stayed up most of the night praying and looking online for flights to Honduras. The next morning, I decided to try messaging Estefani's former guardians one more time. This time, I got an instant response: Estefani is fine. She is living with her aunt. Below the message was her aunt's contact information. I sent a message right away and she replied! Her aunt said Estefani had been asking for me, but she hadn't been sure how to get in touch. On my way home from work that night, my phone rang. I recognized the Honduras country code on my caller ID and pulled over into the first gas station I could find. It was my girl, and she was happy! When we hung up, I cried and thanked God.
I returned to Honduras in June 2018 and was reunited with my girl and her family for dinner at the base of Mount Celaque, the highest mountain in Honduras. We then spent the next two weeks reconnecting.
Notice the purple rose bracelet on her arm
Since this visit, Estefani has unfortunately moved homes several more times. She is currently on her 8th home in her young life, with yet another distant relative. While her current home isn't perfect, she does appear to be safe and have her physical needs met. I constantly wrestle with wanting more stability for her, yet not wanting to take her from the family she has left. While the current plan is to leave her with her relatives as long as she's safe, I have been visiting more often to provide an additional source of love and to be sure she is taken care of. My friend who lives in Honduras made the observation that it seems Estefani does better when she knows someone is watching and expecting her to succeed. I'm sure the same would apply for most 13-year-olds. For this reason, I plan to visit every few months, communicate weekly through phone calls and letters, send friends to check on her during the months I'm gone, and connect her with a more stable school and church in the area.
Unicorn frappes at a cafe for Estefani's 13th birthday
In my heart, Estefani will always be my daughter. I know, and she knows, I will always love her. I will do everything in my power to make sure she will have every opportunity to become whoever she wants to be, within the will of God. My journey is not at all comparable to a parent who has gone through a legal adoption or raised a child full time. I never intend to imply that I understand as deeply or work as hard as they do. I do believe, however, that if I follow God's lead in loving Estefani, He can fill in the blanks use that love in a similar way.