In case you missed the first part of the Journey to Bring our Daughter Home – Part 1:
Helina was finally in our arms as our daughter and now we were beginning the process of bonding as a family. Although we had been staring at Helina’s pictures for 19 months, fervently praying for her and falling in love with her, we were basically complete strangers in her eyes. To her we were the people that took her from the only home she had ever known, so we knew it was going to be a process of her learning to trust us. We bathed her in love and comforted Helina as we knew she was experiencing a loss. She was losing her nannies, her friends and everything familiar to her. Our hearts ached as her’s ached, but we knew the beauty and love that awaited her – she was joining her family.
After we had taken custody of Helina on Wednesday, we drove to our hotel in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, where we were staying for an undetermined amount of time as we completed the necessary steps to bring Helina home with us. First on our list was obtaining Helina’s new birth certificate with her new last name and our names listed as her mother and father! Our hope was to accomplish one or two tasks every day and get home to Texas as soon as possible. Offices would be closed over the weekends and the birth certificate office was going to be closed the following Monday so we really needed her birth certificate ASAP. Unfortunately we returned back to Addis too late on Wednesday to make it to the birth certificate office. We hoped to get it Thursday morning, however their server was down…all day. When you are staying in a third world nation, you quickly realize the many things we take for granted in our daily lives here, ie: power, working computers and consistent internet. We waited around our hotel all day Friday playing with Helina and praying for that server to start working so we would not have to waste an extra four days accomplishing nothing in the legal process. We were becoming discouraged and emailed friends and family asking for prayer. Finally at 4:00p Friday afternoon, just an hour before the offices closed, our caseworker arrived at our hotel to tell us the server had just begun working! We rushed to the birth certificate office and successfully left their by 5:00p with her new birth certificate in hand! We were so relieved and we praised the Lord for this big step.
All day Saturday and the first half of Sunday we relaxed at our hotel, just eating and playing with Helina. When we first met Helina she had very little energy and it was hard to watch. With our constant attention and affection, clean water and a variety of nutritious foods, our daughter was gaining energy and her eyes were beginning to light up. It was incredible seeing Helina slowly blossom right before our eyes. Our hearts jumped with every little smile and giggle she would give us. We spent hours and hours bonding with Helina those weeks in our hotel, it was emotional yet so special. We were also extremely fortunate to be in country with four other adopting families from our agency. We spent every day together playing with our children, eating meals together, enjoying delicious coffee, and sharing our stories. We still talk with these families almost daily, what a gift to make new friends and walk this journey together.
Sunday was a very special day as we were able to attend church together and Brett was invited to preach. There was no sound system, no instruments, no air conditioning, just what was needed: a passionate love for Jesus and a hunger for God’s presence. My heart almost burst with joy as I held Helina in my arms and worshiped the Lord surrounded by my Ethiopian brothers and sisters in Christ. Their voices sang praises in Amharic and it was unbelievably beautiful. Although I had no idea their exact words, I knew the truths they were proclaiming. I rejoiced realizing Helina was fully understanding the words being spoken, she was hearing about the Lord in her language, perhaps for the first time. Then Helina was able to hear her daddy preach (of course he had a translator), and what a great and encouraging message it was! That evening was a blessing for us all. It is always a priceless gift to worship Jesus with people in different cultures, but even more so to worship in Ethiopia with my Ethiopian daughter in my arms.
Monday morning we were able to apply for Helina’s passport, by that afternoon it was processed and in our agency’s hands! Although there were well over two hundred people in line, we were somehow in and out in less than two hours. Our agency’s in-country staff is AMAZING!
Tuesday morning we arrived at the UN Medical clinic to begin Helina’s medical process and TB test. We had to return 48 hours later for Helina’s TB test to be read and for a medical exam in order to receive the medical clearance forms. Thursday morning we were thankful that Helina’s TB test was negative and her medical check up was quick and easy. We waited for the doctor to print our forms and she informed us their servers had not even been set up yet and it would take 5 days to have her medical forms ready! Our hearts sank. Although we were enjoying Ethiopia, we were so ready to return home and be with our other 3 children and have our family all together for the first time. By this point, Brett had been gone most of the month of December (he was on a mission trip in Mexico right before leaving for ET). We were believing for God to miraculously move on our behalf and get us home. Our big and crazy prayer was to receive our medical slip by Thursday and obtain Helina’s VISA Friday morning and fly home Friday night. So we trusted the Lord to make the impossible possible. We told the doctor we were determined to get the form that day and we would return later that afternoon. God moves mountains. At 4:00p that afternoon the servers were up and running and we were handed Helina’s medical slip!
Our agency is only allowed to submit documents to the US Embassy on Mondays and Wednesdays and exit interviews are given to our agency’s families on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We did not want to wait another 5 days, so again we trusted our mighty God to move miraculously. We prayed and then planned to go to the US Embassy Friday morning humbly asking for Helina’s VISA. In faith and confidence, we purchased last-minute plane tickets Thursday night to fly out of Ethiopia midnight Friday.
Along with the other adoptive families we arrived at the Embassy Friday morning. I had received a travel alert warning from the Embassy the day before regarding a bombing that had been reported in the Amhara region, so we felt confident that the Embassy would work with us to get us home quickly. (I just want to mention that we did not feel unsafe at any point during our time in Ethiopia.) I cried when I looked through the Embassy’s windows and saw the American flag flying, although I loved my daughter’s birth country deeply I was exhausted, hormonal, emotional and ready to hold all four of my children on American soil. We all sat and waited and prayed (we were getting very good at this!) and in a few hours the Embassy employee called our family’s name. With our hearts pounding we approached the man and he asked us a series of questions. We answered his questions and he handed us Helina’s VISA and all necessary documents to bring her to America! God’s heart is for the orphan and He moves mountains. The other adoptive mothers and I all hugged and shed tears as our long journeys were complete and we would all be leaving Ethiopia with our precious children in our arms. Our time in Ethiopia had been beautiful, emotional, memorable and full of miracles. We made wonderful new friends with the other adopting families, and our time at the Sidra hotel was great, the staff was SO friendly (thank you Yohannes for teaching us Amharic and making the best macchiatos ever!). Our agency’s in-country staff worked unbelievably hard and we will forever be so grateful for them.
Now we just had to travel across the world with our new two year old daughter. Helina did phenomenally well on the loooong journey home. We truly felt everyone’s prayers carrying us through those three long flights. As soon as we touched down in the United States, Helina officially became an American citizen, what an incredible feeling that moment was for me and Brett. We stepped off the plane in Austin and hurried through the airport to see our children. After weeks in Ethiopia we could not WAIT to hold them in our arms and introduce them to their little sister. It was a moment that took my breath away. They were all so sweet, gentle and patient meeting her for the first time and Helina, although very tired, was taking it all in so well. Friends had surprised us and were also waiting at the airport to welcome us home. Their presence plus the balloons, flowers and posters were so sweet and made us all feel so loved. It was surreal leaving the airport and driving home as a family of 6. It was even better to arrive home and walk through our front door with Helina in our arms.
On December 25, American Christmas, I met our daughter Helina Noelle for the first time, then our children were finally all together and our Helina was HOME on January 7….Ethiopian Christmas! God is so sweet.
We are incredibly grateful to our many, many friends and family that walked this long journey with us. Our family will never be able to adequately express how much your love, prayers and encouragement have meant to us. What a crazy (and yes, difficult) process this was, but oh SO beautiful and miraculous. Thank you Lord for your goodness, your love and your sovereignty. Thank you for calling us to adopt, we are humbled and honored, and thank you for our beautiful, precious daughter.
Helina Noelle Millican, you were worth it all. Worth the wait, the paperwork, the sacrifices, the tears and the prayers. And, though this monumental task of bringing you home is now officially over, we know that the adventure is just beginning. We can’t wait to see the great things Jesus has in store for you Yene Konjo!
*Brett recently preached a fantastic sermon titled Our Unshakable Father which includes a retelling of the story of our miraculous time in Ethiopia.
If you would like to hear it, click here https://www.mosaicchurchaustin.com/messages/unshakable/