In June 2011, just 24 hours after graduating high school in the suburbs of Chicago I stepped on a plane with a ticket to Ghana, West Africa in hand. It was only my second time out of the US and my first time to a developing country. I had a suitcase of books, crayons, and games and absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. I spent three months in a bustling town working on various projects with a Ghanaian run non profit and learning the complexities of volunteering cross culturally. Three years and four trips later I stood at the same boarding gate with a ticket to Ghana in hand, except this time I had no return ticket. Yet again I had a suitcase of books, crayons, and games and no clue what I was getting myself into, but this time was different, someone else was with me. Jesus stood beside me and gently said, “follow me”. So I did. I stepped onto that plane at 20 years old and left behind all that I knew and all whom I loved.
I moved indefinitely to Ghana in January 2014 not knowing if that meant five months, five years, or if Jesus would call me home eternally while there. I moved into a little house in a small community and continued to partner with the Ghanaian non profit for projects. I hadn’t lived in Ghana for more than three weeks before I got an email. I stood in the office with two American friends beside me and read the words out loud. “Please help. 8 month old twins. Underdeveloped. No one taking care of them. ”. I had gotten countless emails like this in the past, but this one moved me into action like none had before. We met another friend for dinner that night and prayed for the nameless twins and their siblings, that they may be safe from harm, nourished in their bellies, and comfort in their hearts to know that they are endlessly loved. I called the man the following day and got more information on the situation, which turned out to be much more urgent than I thought. I quickly sprung to action and had the twins brought to a Babies Home I worked with so they could receive medical care. February 24, 2014 I laid eyes on two of God’s fearfully and wonderfully made children. They were tiny, sick, and perfect.
In the days and weeks that followed they started coming alive with the help of strong medicine and stronger prayers. Day and night they entered my mind and whenever they did I would whisper, “Jesus heal their bodies, let them know Your love, and show me their purpose in my life”. After lengthy investigation into their biological and extended family, I knew that resettlement and reintegration into their family was not possible due to the cultural stigma surrounding children with special needs in Ghana. Special needs children are often known as “river kids” and the tale goes that a “god of the sea” comes and implants a disabled child into a mother’s womb to cause hardship and be a burden due to a mistake or wrongdoing of the mother or family. Special needs children are often hidden in houses and pushed to the far outskirts of society.
With no hope of resettling the twins back in their family it remained a big question mark as to what was next for them. The Babies Home was a great short term placement for them to get medical care, but was not a long term solution. Up until that point I had seen the twins as children that I was sponsoring, but did not think I could handle fostering two special needs children by myself. I tried finding a local Ghanaian family to foster them, but that search ended in disappointment as well. After that search ended I realized that I was praying for the twins differently, not just as children I sponsored, but as my children. My heart had shifted and softened in the process that all my doubts, worries, and fears about being incapable washed away. Through much prayer and counsel from friends and family, I decided to begin the paperwork to foster both of them.
While gathering all the documents and signatures I needed tragedy struck again. May 4th, 2014 got a call from the Babies Home that boy twin named Prince had stopped breathing, was rushed to the hospital, and died in the early hours of the morning. I had just celebrated his first birthday just days before. He was gaining weight, getting stronger, and interacting more and more as the days went by. No one should have to lose a child. No one should have to lose a son. And yet, God is still good in the midst of heartbreak and unknown.
August 26, 2014 I was granted full foster custody of Ellie Grace by a judge in Kumasi, Ghana and she came home with me. It was a day of rejoicing and celebration. An orphan became a daughter and I became a momma.
Our first weeks together were spent in hospital waiting rooms and figuring out just how her body works. Ellie was diagnosed with microcephaly, spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, clubfoot, and global development delay. Ghanaian doctors predicted that she would never walk, talk, or develop beyond an infant level. Ellie set out to prove them wrong. She began twice weekly private physical therapy sessions with a Ghanaian physical therapist and gained strength to hold up her head, move her arms, and track moving objects. After that came army crawling, bearing weight on her legs, and vocalizing.
We were graciously donated therapy equipment from America, which helped Ellie greatly. Even with the equipment, Ellie wasn’t getting what she needed to develop further as Ghana does not offer Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, or Rehabilitation Services. I applied to hospitals in America for Ellie to receive pro bono care and she was accepted at Shriners Hospitals for Children Chicago. In April 2016 I applied for a non immigrant medical visa for Ellie at the American Embassy in Accra and it was denied.
Due to that denial, I had to begin the uphill battle of fighting for her adoption to be finalized. After 12 months of the highest highs and the lowest lows, chipping away at the mountain one day at a time, Ellie's full and final adoption was finalized in the High Court of Ghana. March 23rd 2017 she became a Kuntz forever. Her US immigration was approved and we arrived home to the US in October 2017.
Our journey as a family over the last two years has been the story of seeing time and time again that the grace and goodness of God covers and guides us when darkness seems to be winning. Our family verse comes from Matthew 5:16 “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”. Our story isn’t over. Join me in watching my Ellie Grace shine.