The Whole Story

Our Testimonies and Adoption Adventure

My name is Erin and my wife is Nicky; we have been married since August of 1993.  We have five children: two sons, Jody (16) and Daniel (2) and three daughters, Abbey (14), Callie (12), and Ivy (4).

My wife and I both came from emotionally unhealthy homes as children.  Even while Nicky and I were dating we were determined that our future home would be one filled with love and forgiveness, mercy and grace.  That doesn't mean that there are no rules in our home or no discipline, but it does mean that regardless of what the day might bring, there is always room for a new beginning if needed and a reason to rejoice.  We have a very big God who loves each of us more than we can possibly imagine and there is nothing big enough to block the light of His love from shining in our home.

My faith story began in 1988.  After a spring and summer being ministered to by a couple of the most faithful disciples I have ever known, I was invited to a Young Life camp on Lake Saranac in up-state New York. While there a speaker by the name of Michael "Ash" Ashburn somehow managed to take everything that I had been hearing, seeing, and feeling over the past several months, form it into a saving spike and pierce my heart of sin.

I spent that entire night sitting on a bench on the boardwalk looking out over the lake, trying to talk myself out of salvation.  Trying to find reasons why I didn't need Jesus and why I was better off on my own.  As the sun came up, something came over me and I knew I needed what Jesus had to offer... and I needed it right then.

That began my faith journey.

My wife's story is very different than mine.  She grew up just down the street from a church, always drawn to it, always wanting to go.  Somehow she knew that it was a special place.  She knew - even as a child - that God 'lived' there.  And she wanted to meet Him.

She was too little to cross the street by herself; but she still wanted to go.  Thankfully she asked a neighbor to drive her across the main road too big for her to cross on her own. This neighbor escorted Nicky to church every Sunday morning and over the years Nicky came to know the Lord and her faith in Christ and her reliance on His strength to get her through the tough times grew and blossomed.  In her times of darkness and despair she knew that there was Someone who loved her more than she could possibly imagine or hope for and she knew she could call on His name and find peace.

Although Nicky and I met in February 1988 we didn't start dating until June 1992.  I was 18; she was 19.  Somehow we knew that God designed us for one another.

It was 15 months later that we married.  Everyone said we were too young and that it wouldn't last six months.  And here we are over 17 years later, still laughing and trying to figure out what is so wrong with one another.

A year and twelve days after we were married our first child - a son - was born. A gift from God, placed in our arms and in our hearts. We didn't know for sure what were doing (and sometimes we're still not sure), but we knew we were going to fill our home with Christ and as much love as we could muster.
The years went by and God blessed us in many ways. He added two precious girls to our family. He gave me the honor of serving our country as a scout in the Army. He placed many wonderful friends in our lives. And then He called me to serve in a new way I never thought possible. I was asked to become the pastor of a small church in eastern Kansas. One day, while I was pulling the mail after an evening meeting, something caught my eye.

Among the pieces of mail, there was a hand-written envelope addressed to me personally... from Haiti.  I didn't know anyone in Haiti and could barely find it on a map.  Inside was a handwritten plea.  A now-deceased pastor named Nicholas Juste was trying to raise awareness for an orphanage that his church ran.  The children were hungry and they needed help.

My heart was forever changed by that letter.  I began to learn as much as I could about Haiti and its people.  I didn't know how, but I wanted to help.  A friend of mine and I decided to go to this orphanage in Haiti and come back and tell their story.  Everything looked like it was going to happen and then - without warning - it all fell apart. Try as I may, I never ended up visiting that orphanage and pastor Nicholas passed away before I could meet him. But Haiti was etched in my heart and I was compelled to pray for its people.

Fast forward now to 2008...

We now had four children and our fifth little miracle was on the way.  God had called our family away from the ministry and placed on our hearts the need to find a local church where Godly families were a priority. Where children were a treasure and not a nuisance. Where God's Word (not the world) was the guide used to grow a family. So we began searching – trying to find that one place that felt like home.  Trying to find a balance of family-friendly, Bible-believing, and life-challenging.

On June 8, 2008 we tried – on a whim – yet another church.  That Sunday during the announcement time they mentioned their previous mission trip to Haiti to help an orphanage and the preparations for the trip to be taken the coming January.  It seemed as if God had just whispered to me. That and many other whisperings that morning suggested that we had, perhaps, found the church home we had been seeking.

Our son Daniel was born in September and  when he was just weeks old we faced a fight for his life. Without the Holy Spirit interrupting our sleep that dark night we would have lost him.But God had other plans for our little man and he was given the strength he needed to win his fight.

 In January 2008, I joined several others from our church as we headed to Lifeline Orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti.  With a heart of joy I thought back on the failed attempts and there I was – finally on my way to Haiti.

In between the various work projects the team made time to show more than 80 orphans (each of them desperate for a hug) that they were loved. It was in these 'down-times' that I fell in love with the sweetest three year old little doe-eyed girl named Nephtali (or Dafterly - children in Haiti are often called by several different names). We formed an instant bond and I was praying that God would make sense of that things I was feeling. One afternoon I sat down with the orphanage director to discuss what it would take to adopt a child.  The list seemed daunting.  I thought it a bit ridiculous that I was even thinking about it.  But I did it anyway.

At home, Nicky kept coming across scripture in her quiet times, bible studies, and emails talking about being adopted into the family of God, children, and obedience.  She didn't have the slightest clue what I was experiencing in Haiti and how I thought God may have been ushering another a little one into our family. But she felt His presence, and knew He had a message and a reason. So she just waited for the time that He would make it all clear.

I took a many photographs and videos of Nephtali.  I wrote in a journal every day, exploring and expressing my feelings, praying for guidance and direction.  Asking God how in the world I was going to tell my wife!

When I got home I spent time hugging my wife and kids and winding down from the trip.  I didn't say a word about Nephtali.  God seemed to have taken my words. How do you describe finding a daughter? How do you convey a longing for someone you never even knew existed just two weeks before.

As I was going through the photos, Nicky was instantly captured by a particular photo... by the smile of a little doe-eyed girl named Nephtali. There was something about that photo that pulled on her heart and soul. A gentle stirring, a quiet awakening of something deep inside her. But again God seemed to have taken the words and He was holding them... waiting for His perfect timing.

The next day, as Nick was in the kitchen cooking, I began to play some videos from my trip. One was a video of that precious angel that stole my heart. In that video she was singing.  A sweet little voice singing in a language we didn't understand. But our God is bigger then that. And those words, those missing words we couldn't find... God had given them back and they were being sung by that little girl. As they floated into the kitchen Nicky come running into the living room with tears in her eyes.  Nephtali's voice was in Nicky's heart. It was that stirring and awakening.  Without even seeing the video, Nick said, "That's her!! That's that girl in that picture!"  She was right.

Nick couldn't stop asking questions about Nephtali. She said her voice was the sound of one of our children... she knew it... she had heard it before.  I told her that she needed to read my journal.  When she was done, we were assured that God intended for us to start exploring our adoption options.

In the year that followed we tried to gather as much information as we could.  Not being experienced and not having an agency that worked with the orphanage we had to try it on our own.  Unfortunately most of the information we gathered either didn't apply to Haitian adoptions or was simply wrong.  We chased our tails for the better part of a year and accomplished very little. But still we kept trying.

On January 6, 2010 our church team was headed back to Haiti.  Our supplies had not made it there ahead of time as they should have.  Nothing seemed to be going as planned.  It wasn't bad; but it became something of a "fly by the seat of our pants" mission.

Just before 5pm on the January 12th, the team had just finished a day of pouring concrete for a warehouse floor.  We had spent the day passing one-gallon buckets up and down a line.  By the end of the day we were sun-burned, tired, and covered in concrete.

I had just gone up to the the second floor of the dormitory in which the men sleep at the orphanage and was preparing to take a shower.  The water was running and I was standing in bare feet speaking with another team member when the building shook... and kept shaking.  At first I thought that one of our team's trucks had hit the building.  But I was wrong ... way wrong.

Everyone is aware of the death and destruction brought to Haiti by the Earthquake.  After about five seconds of silence, the air erupted with the screaming and wailing of millions of hurting people.  I ran down to the nursery (which was also on the second floor) with the team member with whom I was speaking.  We met another team member at the door.  Inside were six scared infants and toddlers.  Six children ... six arms with which to carry them. God is good, indeed!

We met the other team members in the field at the center of the orphanage.  Children were being gathered and with each child came the same report: "we're ok."  As the orphanage continued to gather on the field, a woman came into the orphanage saying that the front wall of the orphanage (which had fallen out toward the street) had fallen on her baby.  Several of us ran to the toppled wall.  We began digging through the rubble.  Pails and five-gallon buckets used to collect the fresh water which flowed from the orphanage to the community were crushed beneath the wall ... but no baby. Just as we thought to give up, a little boy came from behind a building on the other side of the street into his mother's embrace.

As we walked back to the group, we were informed that everyone was accounted for ... 80 children, the orphanage staff, and 17 team members.  Not one death, not a single injury ... not even a scratch or a bumped head. God had placed His hands over that orphanage. There were some who shouldn't have made it. I found out just this winter that I was one of them. A full water tank should have fallen and taken my life. But just as Jesus turned water to wine he turned water into air and the tank was dry. Praise God!

When I got to the group a little girl, whose doe-eyes were now filled with fear and relief, jumped into my arms and did not let go until I had to go about helping secure the orphanage.  I never wanted to let her go.  All I wanted to do was take away her fears, let her feel her Daddy's arms around her, let her know she was safe, and take her home.

We spent the the next day trying to determine whether our presence would be a help or a hindrance to the orphanage and whether or not we should – or could – leave and if so, how we should proceed.  We decided it was best to leave and on January 14, we got in a truck and with tears in my eyes I said goodbye to my little girl, knowing that I was leaving her in a place that, even before the earthquake, had very little.  I felt that things could only get worse.  But I prayed the Lord's protection for her and the rest of the children.  I squeezed her tight, kissed her cheek, and said good-bye.

I'm leaving an awful lot of the story out here because I could wear my fingers out trying to type it.  But after a serious of events too perfect to simply be happenstance, I along with half of our team (divinely in the company of four out of seven orphans already in the adoption process) were forced to head to the embassy because we were unable to leave Haiti due to turmoil at the airport.

When all was said and done God had worked yet another miracle and we were able to bring seven wonderful orphans home to their waiting families.  I can't lie and say that I wasn't insanely jealous. I had to leave my daughter there. It was all I could do to hand those emotions over to God.

Soon after returning the US government offered a humanitarian parole for Haitian orphans.  Unfortunately there was one very specific phase that was missing from one document and, though we had everything else needed, it brought our petition to an end.

We were at a loss.  With regular adoptions not even being processed after the earthquake and a denial for humanitarian parole, we didn't know what to do. Every day we asked the Lord: Was she okay? Did she have food today? How were we going to get her home? Adoptions resumed but we were still without guidance and direction.  We did know however, that God had a plan and still wanted us to bring her home. So we trusted  Him and kept working any leads we could.

Between then and my next trip to Haiti in January 2011 our orphanage teamed with an agency to help expedite and facilitate adoptions.

We are now using their services. There is a plan and a way to bring her home... but it isn't cheap.  There is so much work that has to be done.  Work we never could have imagined and would have been hard-pressed to complete on our own.  And we are thankful for their help.

We are asking that if these words – ours and Nephtali's story – have touched you in some way...  and you feel led to do so... that you consider helping us bring Nephtali home. A gift of any size gets us that much closer to holding our daughter, to giving her a chance in life, to making our hearts and family whole. Please know that every gift will go directly towards adoption expenses.

I cannot express just how grateful we will be. 

Thank you and God bless,
Erin & Nicky Lenth