Our adoption journey really began when Kyle went to Haiti in 2010.
Kyle: On January 12, 2010, an earthquake took the lives of 230,000 people in Haiti. In a way that hadn’t happened before with tragedies I had seen, my heart was burdened for this people and country. The poorest country in the western hemisphere was rocked by a natural disaster that would cripple even a prosperous nation.
I went on a medical relief trip to Haiti in May of 2010. I wasn’t prepared for the graciousness, kindness, and joy of the Haitian people during the time I was there. I also couldn’t prepare myself for the pain, suffering, and poverty. I still stay in contact with a Haitian interpreter that I became friends with during our trip. It will be through people like him that real and lasting change happens in Haiti. He is wanting to empower Haitians to work on helping each other rather than relying on outside help continually.
The experiences I had in Haiti changed me forever. On the plane ride home I was given a cold glass of water for the first time in a week. I remember crying over that as I struggled with processing how I have experienced such prosperity in America while others experience such poverty.
Johanna: When Kyle went to Haiti after the earthquake, and brought home pictures of some of the most beautiful places and people I had ever seen, my heart was immediately drawn to the island nation. My heart ached for the babies who no longer had mamas or daddies, for the daddies who had to raise their babies without their mamas now, for the parents who had no children anymore. The devastation was so heavy and real to me. I Googled “adoption from Haiti” and was sad to discover we were too young and hadn’t been married long enough for their requirements. I just tucked away that desire and hoped that someday we’d be able to adopt from Haiti.
When we eventually decided, four years ago, to go ahead and pursue adding to our family through adoption, we decided to adopt from the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). While in the process, we had a surprise pregnancy (best surprise ever!) and had to put adoption on hold. During that time, the DRC shut down adoptions completely – we would have been stuck if not for our pregnancy putting things on hold months before. And at almost the same time, Haiti changed their requirements and we were now old enough and had been married long enough to adopt from Haiti! We saw the strong hand of God directing our steps in this time.
Last year, I had the opportunity to finally go to Haiti for my first time. I was so blessed by the hospitality, love and warmth of the people. I fell in love with the beauty of the ocean and the mountains and the rugged landscape. I was struck by the poverty, the likes of which I’d never seen in America. I was full of hope seeing the many incredible ministries and organizations helping to provide jobs and training to prevent orphans in the first place.
When I came home I started to learn Creole to be able to communicate with our kids and Haitians when I go back to Haiti. I met other adoptive mothers in my classes and became friends with other people who have a heart and love for Haiti. My love continues to grow for the country and our kids – wherever they are and whoever they are!
Kyle: Our experiences as foster parents has also influenced our decision to adopt sooner rather than later in life. We decided to pursue foster care after experience I had in my role as a police officer. I helped serve a search warrant at work one morning at a rural house that was being used as a place to sell drugs and keep stolen vehicles. We served the warrant early in the morning and I was tasked with helping clear the house and secure anyone inside. As I went into a bedroom (wearing full SWAT gear) I was confronted with a little boy that looked like my own son. He had blue eyes and blonde hair and was sitting on the edge of the bed with a blank stare. I instantly went from cop mode to dad mode. There was drug paraphernalia in the bedroom and the television was on. His mother was in the garage with two other guys. He was completely unresponsive to any of my questions as I sat next to him on the bed.
I came home with those images burned into my brain. I have seen lots of tragedies as a cop, but the image of that little boy is one of two images I can never get out of my head. I told my wife about it and said we needed to do something more because I couldn’t spend a career walking away from kids in these kinds of situations. It was at that point we decided to pursue foster care. I think we’ve had something like 18 kids through our house over the last 5-6 years!
Foster care has been difficult in that kids come in and out of the home and we get to know them for only a short period of time. We don’t know what happens to them when they leave our home. Yet it has allowed for opportunities to pray for these kids and share the gospel with them as they spend days, weeks or months with us.
Johanna: After his experience with the little boy, Kyle came home from and told me he wanted to do more for hurting kids in our community. I said “okay!” If you would have told me when I was a teen or even a young married woman that I would become a foster mom to 19 kids over the first four and a half years of being licensed, I would have not really believed you. I feel so strongly that if WE can do foster care, anyone can. It doesn’t take much more than a little extra space, love, unlimited coffee, and a whole lot of determination that you CAN do this.
Kids need families when their families aren’t safe. Kids need love when they aren’t being loved. If we don’t do this, who will? If there aren’t homes, where will these kids find a safe place? I’m not a great foster mom, but I’m a less than perfect one who is seeking to love and make space for those who need it. Each kid that has come through our door has been an individual who needs what all kids need: love, hugs, food, a safe place to sleep and play and someone speaking truth to them about who they are and how much God loves them. It’s become my joy to love these kids for as many days as they are in our home. We’ve had them for as short as a few hours, and some as long as five months.
Kyle: Adoption is a visible picture of what God does invisibly through spiritual adoption. My love for God’s adoption of me and our adoption of a child from Haiti has only grown as we have walked this long, winding, difficult road. God adopted me into his family and it cost him something big; the death of his Son. There have been times that this adoption process has cost us things, yet the desire of bringing a child into our home that is needing a family, and the desire to obey God’s command to care for the orphan is what motivates me. I also see that adopting a child is bigger than me. Many people have come alongside us to help in many ways. Adoption can’t be done alone and I’ve been amazed at the help of our family, our church, our friends, and our adoption agency in helping us walk through this.
Johanna: To me, on a basic and simple level, adoption means that a child without a family finds a place to belong. A family welcomes a stranger into their home and both parties learn to love and live together. On a deeper level, it means setting aside a romantic notion of adoption being all butterflies and sunshine and acknowledging that the very reason adoption exists is because pain and suffering happened. What was meant to be is not and now a family is formed from the fragments of the sadness. As a mother, I cannot imagine the depth of the pain of releasing my child to another or being so desperate for basic food and water that my alternative to seeing my child die would be to place them for adoption. As a lover of Jesus, I am called to live and love as He did. Filling in the spaces that have been broken by sin with His love and His saving grace. I pray that our children will know that love, and that their hearts will find healing as they join our family and have the opportunity to have health-care and good nutrition and love and laughter.
Growing up, my parents had an open door and bigger table policy. There was never a holiday or an event that didn’t have “extra” people welcomed in. International students from the local university were “adopted” and joined us for holiday meals. My parents are the house parents for a maternity home for pregnant women in need of shelter. I’ve had several good friends welcome children into their families through adoption and witnessed the incredible change that LOVE makes in a child from a hard, hurting place.
We have a modest house, but when we bought it, we prayed and told God of our big dreams of making our home a place of love and refuge for whomever entered it. We’ve seen God answer that prayer and dream over and over. It started the day after we moved in, when a friend and her four kids moved in with us for six months while they got on their feet after leaving an abusive situation. My parents lived with us for almost a year. My brother stayed with us for six months while he recovered from a back injury and surgery. Nineteen children from our county have stayed in our home. Two weekends a month for the past three years, a sweet girl from a nearby town joins our family for respite care. She’s become our bonus daughter. Twice a month we open our home for our church small group and it overflows with kids and adults studying God’s Word. Every summer we host a backyard Bible club and kids from our neighborhood come hear the truth of the Bible in our backyard.
We just want to be obedient and love where we are and who God gives us. Of course it’s hard to keep opening and opening and opening our hearts, when sometimes babies leave and sometimes adoptions take long and sometimes people hurt you…but Jesus never said this loving life would be easy. He did promise that He would be with us always, and that His grace would light our way. We live in His love and are led by the light of His Word. We love because He first loved/loves us.
God is good. He is writing a story in our lives that we couldn’t have imagined when we started life together ten years ago. I’m confident in His timing, though the journey has taken twice as long as we thought and gone through many more twists and turns than we could have anticipated.
I’m Johanna, an adventurer at heart – a woman who loves to try new things, go to new places, and meet new people. A long time ago I realized that change is the only constant in life, and adopted the motto “blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be bent out of shape”. As a law enforcement wife, that motto has come into play often, and I’m grateful for the small and big adventures our family has on a daily basis as we juggle homeschooling, kids’ events, daily life, and oh! the laundry. I love lazy mornings with my family, road trips, hiking, mountains, reading, and a good cup of coffee. There’s nothing I enjoy more than planning a party for people I love and having a house full of people celebrating life together. I’m like a combination of Maria VonTrapp, Monica from Friends, and Martha Stewart. 😉 When I have too much to do or feel stressed, I go into the kitchen and bake up a storm of delicious treats to share. The desire to love God and love people is what motivates me. Serving my family and our church, and shining His light in our community bring me so much joy. I recharge by being still in a minute or two of quiet or by getting in a good hard workout.
I grew up as the oldest of five kids (one brother and three sisters). My fondest memories of growing up were family vacations to the North Shore of Minnesota, being at church together on Sundays, and having parents that were involved in our lives. After high school I spent a year and a half with a disaster relief organization, an experience which led me to a career in law enforcement. Being a cop and a Christian has brought unique challenges, especially in seeing how what people really need is not a cop to fix their problems but the gospel to change their hearts. I’m also a lay elder at our church, and I can’t get enough reading in – love reading theology books, and the occasional spy thriller. On my days off I love spending time with my kids. I love to run (2 marathons and counting) and we enjoy road trips as a family to places that take us where loved ones are and new experiences abound. We love to travel and see new things, meet new people, and connect with old friends.
The oldest kid in the Puelston family, Jack is an awesome big brother. He loves to play any sport, he can run like the wind, and asks a lot of questions. He enjoys helping his mom and is quick to lend a hand to his younger siblings. He’s eight years old and really looks forward to meeting his Haitian brother or sister. Jack also likes to read, be outside, ride his bike, play with his friends, and watch football with his dad.
A six year old spunky, sweet, dramatic, kind girl; Taylor is the middle child. She enjoys creating artwork, painting, singing, and playing with her brothers and friends. Taylor likes with people, and appreciates quality time spent with our family. She is quick to help people and loves to give gifts and make special surprises for us all. Taylor hopes for a sister from Haiti, so they can play princesses together.
Grant is a four year old ball of mischief, energy, and fun. He makes our family laugh on a daily basis. Grant is happiest when he can play with Matchbox cars, look at books, and eat snacks. He has a sensitive heart, and is quick to come to a person’s defense when he feels they are being wronged. Grant loves to ride his bike, play baseball and football with his big brother and dad, and play with his neighbor or church friends. He’s a pretty easy going kid that is happy to do whatever, as long as we can do it together.
The world doesn’t stop spinning, does it? And neither does life. We have barely had time to catch our breath, much less say much about our trip to Haiti to meet our wonderful future son. The holiday season was already in full swing when we returned, and we had massive amounts of paperwork to complete to renew our home study for what we hope will be the fourth and final time before we get to bring Little Man home. Then we had a trip to Florida to see Johanna’s family on the books since summer, so we left on Christmas Day to chase some sunshine (there wasn’t much – FL hit a cold snap while we were there!) and spend time with my parents and one of my brothers and his sweet family.
But now, back in frosted Minnesota, returning to the rhythms of regular life, there’s a little bit of time to update everyone on what was an amazing, life-changing time in Haiti with our Little Man. Time that was made possible because of every single person that has donated any amount to our family’s adoption journey. Every day we were in Haiti, I wrote a stack of thank you cards. At the end of the trip, I was shocked to discover I had written 175 different cards to incredible people: amazing friends, total strangers, and supportive family members. You have each helped to change a life forever.
Our trek to Haiti started in the wee hours of the morning – by the time we arrived at the guest house on the side of the mountain, in the city of Kenscoff, we were exhausted. My parents and a photographer friend from MN came with us up the winding road to be there when we met Little Man. (We’ll call him by his name when we have the adoption decree in our hot little hands!) We dropped our bags and walked across the street to the orphanage to meet him – hearts all aflutter and nerves a little jangly.
He walked down the steps from the upstairs, wearing a blue shirt and smiling shyly. His little buddies were all yelling PAPA and MAMA with his name afterwards and cheering for him. He came across the room and sweetly gave me a hug. (Later we found out that one of the younger kids told him that mama’s like it when you give them hugs, so he should do that. Ha!) Kyle gave him a hug and a fist bump too, and then we attempted to introduce ourselves/talk a little bit.
A combination of my preschool level Creole and my mom’s much better Creole served us well, and the crèche staff and other staff members helped us communicate with him a little as we all sniffled and smiled and took photos of our first evening together. Then it was time for us to go eat supper and for him to get ready for bed, with promises of playing together the following day.
The rest of the two weeks passed, not very quickly, but with days that we tried to fill with fun activities, puzzles, games, reading books, play-doh, cooking and baking projects, playing outside, and more creative time fillers than I’ve had to come up with in a long time. J Our main job for the time we were together was to get to know him and for him to get to know us, and we had ample time for that. Each morning we’d walk over to his crèche and he’d run across the courtyard and say “MAMA! Guesthouse, mama!” or “Papa, guesthouse!”
It was a joy to see him open up and go from a shy, slightly reserved boy, to a whole-hearted, joyful and goofy version of his real self over the course of our time together. We were thrilled to have him be honest with us about what he wanted, how he felt, and how he wanted to spend our time together. And it was just plain fun to see his personality and get to know his heart a little bit. It seems like he will fit well in our family, because none of our current kiddos are like him or have his goofy sense of humor.
We learned: he loves to eat, especially cookies. He likes cars and trucks very much and is interested to watch them up close. He isn’t a leader, but can hold his own in the crowd of kids. He has a very sweet heart and loves to share with the other children, particularly when it comes to special snacks or things he knows they would like. He’s really good with younger kids and likes to make them laugh. He enjoys being held and sitting together, even if you’re not doing much. He’s average height for his age, but is a little on the skinny side. Nothing some good nutrition won’t help! He talks under his breath to himself while he plays. His little voice is sweet and clear. He has a joyful heart. He likes to play outside, and tries his best at soccer and other games. His sense of humor is so fun – he loves to joke and tease and surprise you.
The orphanage he calls home is a really great place – the staff really love the kids and do right by them. We have prayed hard that our child would be in a safe, loving environment where they were getting enough to eat, and our prayers have been more than answered. Chances for Children is a wonderful organization doing lots of good in Haiti. Check them out: http://www.chances4children.org We’re so grateful for the love and care he receives on a daily basis.
Leaving him to return home was so hard! Now that our hearts have been opened to this new little person, we don’t want to wait long for him to join our family. Our hearts are very much in two places at once now. But the Haitian process will take a good amount of time still – it could take anywhere from 10-20 months from when we met him until we’re able to bring him home.
We’re planning one last fundraising push for the last $12,000-14,000 in fees and travel costs we have remaining, so that we’re all set for each payment as it comes up in the next several months. And please be praying that from now to him coming home is shorter than we imagine! We can’t wait to introduce you to this wonderful kid, our Little Man. He’s a gift from God!
On the 15th of October, the fifth anniversary of the beginning of our adoption journey came and went. Johanna posted a “Timehop” screenshot of the status she shared five years ago when we had our initial meeting with a local agency to start the process, along with a note saying she never ever would have imagined that five years later we would still be waiting to adopt. The next day, our agency called with our match from Haiti. WHAT.
We’ve been waiting for that phone call for 26 months, and for the past eight months we’ve had a foster child in our home, so we’ve been distracted from the wait a bit. We’d almost, almost given up on our dream to bring a child home from Haiti. Paperwork necessary for adopting reached their expiry dates. Haiti was plagued with strikes in their government and judicial branches.
Then on the rainy evening of October 16, the call came. “You’re matched!” It’s a boy. He’s almost five years old. He was born just weeks after we decided to pursue adopting (not from Haiti, initially, if you’ve been around long enough to remember the beginning of this crazy adventure!). He’s in one of the most wonderful places a kid in his situation can be. (Huge answer to my deepest prayers: I’ve asked God this whole time that wherever our next child was, that he or she would be safe, loved, fed, and well cared for. He is! and has been for his whole little life.)
We are now in the midst of the flurry of paperwork and invoices for payments (thanks to our generous friends and family and savings, we are able to make the next payment right away) and figuring out childcare for our three plus one to coincide with travel dates to go meet him in Haiti.
THANK YOU, Jesus. We are so excited and grateful to finally know a new, tiny sliver of this story He is writing. Thank you to everyone who has been praying for us through to this point. Thank you for partnering with us financially. We would not be here without all the help and love and gifts you’ve given. We still need about $10,000 to bring this kiddo home, and the court process in Haiti takes anywhere from 10-20 months or so from when we meet him. So your prayers and partnership in this endeavor are still so needed! Let’s rejoice together at what God is doing! We can’t wait to go to Haiti and meet this little man soon.