By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
SELBYVILLE, Del.—Andy Ehlers, pastor of HighTide Church, remembers the first night his adopted daughter Leilani spent the night at his home.
“I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking, there’s a child sleeping in my house, sleeping in our bed. She’s safe; she’s comfortable. She doesn’t have a relationship with her birth parents and that was so foreign to me because our kids have had us since they were born…they haven’t left our sight since then,” Andy said.
Andy and his wife, Tanya, and their two birth daughters, Raychel and Camryn, have had their lives’ transformed by the family’s adoption of two children, five-year-old Leilani and two-year-old Drew. Their eyes have been opened to the plight of orphaned and neglected children, and the opportunities for Christian families to welcome these children into their homes, love them and share Jesus.
The couple began their adoption journey shortly after Tanya gave birth to Camryn. After two difficult pregnancies, Tanya was afraid to have another child, but was open to mothering more children.
Since working in Raleigh, where children in low-income areas would ask her, “Would you be my mommy?” she had always thought about adoption. She broached the subject with Andy, who was immediately open to the idea. When they explored adoption, however, they found the cost was prohibitive. They decided to explore foster care and completed the necessary requirements.
They also prepared Raychel and Camryn for the children God would place into their homes.
“Part of our family devotional time was praying that God would use us as a family for whatever foster child needed a home,” Tanya said.
Shortly after the Ehlers welcomed Leilani, they received a call from the hospital about a very ill three-month old baby. The child had no one. His parents were in jail. He was born with gastroschisis, a condition where babies are born with organs outside of their body. The baby, Drew, was on a feeding tube. Due to his parents’ situation and problems getting permission for surgery, doctors were concerned that the delay could be fatal, but Drew came through fine.
The Ehlers spent a week learning how to take care of Drew. When the Ehlers took him home, doctors said the feeding tube may have to remain for three to five years. After two months, Drew was drinking formula on his own. The doctors call him a miracle baby.
Andy appeared in court several times to speak on Drew’s behalf. As his father was led, shackled, into the courtroom, Andy said his heart was breaking as the man admitted that he could not care for the child, saying, “I have a criminal record that will not allow me to have my child. I can’t take care of myself, let alone a child. He’s better off where he is.”
“That man did the most manly thing he has ever done,” Andy said.
On April 26, they officially adopted Leilani and Drew. The Ehlers threw a huge party with family and friends. The church rallied around the family, bringing food, diapers clothes and even painting and redecorating their home.
“The church was absolutely amazing,” Andy said.
Tanya emphasizes that while the experience has been an incredible blessing, there are definitely obstacles to overcome. There are and will be emotional issues and sacrifices. There is the extra work and needs with more children. Raychel and Camryn have to share much more. But the family is joyful and they know they’re doing what God desires.
It’s not always easy. Tanya struggles with doubt. “In my prayer time, I ask God, ‘Why did you see fit to allow us to do this? I feel like I’m not the right person.’ But God chose to use us and He gives us strength and wisdom to seek after Him,” Tanya said.
Raychel and Camryn deal with the adoption in their own unique ways and say they’re going to be foster parents when they grow up.
Raychel reads and snuggles with Drew and downloads apps on her cell phone for her little brother. “I pray that he grows up to know Jesus,” she said.
Camryn enjoys having a little sister who enjoys some of her interests – soccer, singing and dancing.
When the Ehlers officially adopted Leilani and Drew, they bought each family member a necklace imprinted with Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do right; seek justice; defend the oppressed; take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.”