My original post was intended as a public letter to my church where I serve on staff. The intent was to get the word out to our church family as quickly as possible and as concisely as possible. Our story however, continues to spread. We did not anticipate that God would use our story to bless and encourage so many people. We knew that God was telling a story. Now we know that he wants that story told. So, here’s the full story, the story of our adoption.
In reality, the journey to bring Chloe Laiti into our family began 12 years ago when I first proposed to my wife in Uganda, forever tying our hearts to Uganda and it’s people. Truth be told, there was a part of me that always knew a little Ugandan child would be a part of our family. Nevertheless, the more tangible parts of our journey began in October 2010 when Kelly and I were back in Uganda on a mission trip. God began moving in our hearts and we weren’t exactly sure what he was doing, but we knew our lives would never be the same.
Shortly thereafter, we began working toward adopting a child from our babies home in Bukaleba. God drew our hearts toward a shy and reserved little girl named Laiti. Laiti had been abandoned by her parents a year earlier when Laiti was just three months old. Laiti was severely malnourished on the verge of death when she was placed into the AAI’s babies home, but now she was a healthy, shy little girl in need of a family.
In May of 2012, the High Court of Uganda Family Division awarded us guardianship of Laiti, and we began the process of immigrating her to the US. However, we quickly ran into complications. Faulty paperwork, the fact that Laiti has two living birth parents, and misunderstandings during interviews at the US Embassy led the USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services) to continue to deny us the visa we needed to bring our little girl home. We aren’t angry with anyone at the embassy or at the USCIS. They were simply doing their jobs and trying to ensure that no children are trafficked. In fact, we now believe that God himself was orchestrating these events, so how could we be angry at anyone?
Nevertheless, when we received our first correspondence from the USCIS, we found ourselves in a pretty dark and desperate place. They sent us what’s called an RFE (Request for Evidence). As I sat there and read the RFE, it became clear that the cards were stacked against us. The room felt like it was spinning. I couldn’t focus. My whole body was shaking. I needed to clear my head, so I went for a run. I ran for almost a solid hour. When I returned home, I sat and soaked in the tub… and wept uncontrollably. I started to ask God why, but decided that wasn’t the best question. So I decided to ask God three “whats.”
“God, what are you doing?” That’s a fair question. I knew that he had not abandoned us, so he must have been doing something. I just didn’t understand what. “God, what are you doing?” …no answer came
“God, what are you teaching me about yourself?” I knew that if God did not act in a way that I expected, it was not God who was wrong but my expectations. I firmly believe that when God doesn’t act in a way you expect him to, he is trying to teach you something about himself that you don’t quite get. “God, what are you teaching me about yourself? …no answer came
“God, what am I supposed to do?” I knew that if God was doing something and teaching me something, that there must be some response required on my part. “God what am I supposed to do in response to what you are doing and what you are teaching me about yourself.” …and then the answers came pouring in. If you know me, you know that I rarely ever say the words “God said to me…” I’ll say God led me, guided me, prompted me, etc. But this time, God said:
“Fight for her. That’s what you’re supposed to do! Fight for her and don’t ever stop. That’s the point. You are supposed to fight for her and never give up, because I fought for you and I didn’t stop until I had you as my own. I fight for my church. I fight for my bride. I fight for my children, and I will never stop. You will fight for her, because I fought for you. That’s what I’m doing. I’m telling a story. And that’s what I’m teaching you about myself. I am relentless.”
So we started fighting. I immediately talked with an attorney who specializes in difficult adoption immigrations. I went over the facts of the case with her. She admitted that cards were stacked against us, but that it was clear that Chloe had been abandoned and therefore met the criteria of “orphan status.” She said we could win this case. Under her guidance and leadership, Kelly went back to Uganda for the third time that year (she was gone a total of 4 months), gathering the evidence that the USCIS had requested. When she was finished, and everything was mailed off we felt confident that we would convince them. But all the while, I had this nagging thought in the back of my head… “If God is telling the story about how he fights for his people, where does this story end?” I kept thinking about the fact that in the story of God redeeming his people, we couldn’t get to God. That’s why Jesus came to us. “God, if that’s the story you’re telling, do we end up going to her?”
But everyone kept assuring us that we had built a strong case. Certainly Chloe was coming home. Nevertheless, on October 22, two years after we made the decision to adopt we received correspondence back from the USCIS. I’ll never forget the way the letter started: “Dear Mr. Via, this is to inform you that it is our intention to deny…” I don’t think I even read the rest of it. I felt like I should have been shocked, but I also kind of felt like I should have seen this coming.
We already had clarity on what we had to do: “fight for her.” But we still had to figure out what that meant. What does fighting for her mean at this point? The attorney who had counseled us through our first response now counseled us to hire an attorney who has an excellent track record of dealing with this. We knew we didn’t have the money, but we drove to Virginia to meet with her anyway. After meeting with her, we were extremely impressed and encouraged. Of couse she couldn’t give us any guarantees, and she admitted that it was a difficult case, but she said “The preponderance of evidence is clearly in your favor. We can win this.” We decided that we needed to hire her. Not hiring her felt like not fighting, but we didn’t have the money. That same day, someone offered to pay the $5,000 so that we could fight for our daughter!
Our attorney put together what seemed to be an airtight case. We shared the final document with several people. Everyone felt confident we would win. Nevertheless, something was nagging at me. “I know that God is for me. But is it possible for his hand to be working against us?” After all, he told Moses to go to Pharaoh and say ‘Let my people go.’ Meanwhile, God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he wouldn’t let his people go! God did this because there was a greater glory and a greater story that only came through prolonging the trial. “Could this be what God is doing through us?”
We waited and waited. My family was holding out hope that we might have Chloe home for Christmas. That didn’t happen. On December 31, 2012, we heard back from the USCIS. They did not give us our visa, but it also wasn’t an outright no. This totally messed with our heads. Kelly and I both had reached a point where we were honestly at peace with either a “yes” or a “no.” It kind of felt like God was screwing with us by not giving us either answer. They sent us a “revised notice of intent to deny.” A quick google search revealed that this was highly unorthodox. What made things even more confusing, is that in this revised notice, they didn’t even concede a single point that our attorney made. Not a single point. So then why didn’t they just finally deny the visa? I prayed, “God, what are you doing? This just doesn’t make sense.”
We called our attorney but she was not available until January 2. We decided that was good anyway. We needed to take some time to pray and seek God. We were both filled with an enormous sense of peace. Kelly said, “What if we’re supposed to choose? What if that’s what this is about?” Wow. Suddenly it all made sense. You see, God didn’t need to rescue us. We need God, but he doesn’t need us. It wasn’t forced upon him. It wasn’t a decision that was made for him. When we couldn’t come to God, out of his sheer love and mercy, HE CHOSE TO COME TO US.
So we chose. As I write this, Kelly and I are in the very overwhelming process of packing our family up and moving halfway around the world. We will not abandon our little girl, and we will not wait until the decision is forced upon us. We love that little girl more than words can express. She couldn’t come to us, so we chose to go to her.
That’s our adoption story. But I am not now speaking of us adopting Chloe. I’m speaking of God adopting us. What an honor to be called to be a part of the story that God is telling.