Selena's story is a story that could only have been written by God. Everywhere you look His hand is visible and His pen strokes are deep. This is the story of a little girl in Guatemala that could have easily spent her life unseen, unnoticed, and unloved. But God…
Selena was born to an unwed teenage girl who lived in the mountains of Huehuetenango Guatemala. Selena was unwanted and from what we’ve been told, her mother made an attempt on her life even before birth. To make matters even more complicated for Selena’s mother, Selena was born with cerebral palsy. Her mother tried to care for her but Selena needed a lot of special care and had difficulty with even the basics of life like eating. We are unsure of how Selena survived those early months and whether she ate at all. Her birth mother turned to the woman in her life who had cared for her when nobody else would. She had been “adopted” into a family at a young age herself and knew that she would find love and support there. The woman who then cared for Selena was her “grandmother,” a woman who loved the Lord and loved Selena. Selena’s mother left her in the care of this woman. However, it wasn’t long before Selena’s mother felt that she could once again care for her daughter, and so Selena returned home with her mother.
After a while Selena’s uncle, Irlando, went to visit and saw that things were not going well for mother and daughter. Selena was sick and starving. He asked if he could take Selena and her mother agreed. We have since learned that during the time with her mother Selena had been abused and once again her mother tried to take her life. But God had other plans for her. Irlando, is an amazing man who loves Jesus. He is a pastor of a small mountain church and has a big family of his own. After several weeks of caring for Selena, he too realized that Selena needed more care than he or his family could provide, despite loving Selena dearly. He heard that there was an orphanage in the city that could possibly care for Selena. So he took Selena many miles down the mountain and to the front door of the orphanage. They agreed to take her.
Josh and I were planning our short term mission trip to Guatemala and making all our necessary arrangements: meeting with our team, gathering supplies, getting our shots and praying for God to do something big with our team. If you’ve ever been on a short-term mission trip you know that the pre-trip expectations are that God is going to do something big WITH you. The return flight home is more marked by what God did TO you, and you realize just how clueless you really were. Selena had been at the orphanage 3 weeks when we showed up. She was 2 years old.
That week we were visiting the orphanage often, playing with the kids in the yard, doing arts and crafts, teaching Bible stories in English with a translator. Looking back those kids must’ve thought we were so strange. But then again they were used to the Americans coming and going. Several days into our trip I ventured into the nursery. That, of course, was where all the babies were. They were all so cute. My heart broke for them all. There were a lot of children and very few workers. I wondered if they felt loved. It was almost coincidental that I even looked over in that corner where Selena had been tucked away, but I did. I saw the most beautiful little girl I had ever laid eyes on and I scooped her up. I thought she must’ve been 10 months old. She was so small and very weak. I was shocked when they told me she was 2 years old. I spent the rest of that day with Selena in my arms. Something painful was happening to my heart and I was terrified. I felt love for her. It was different than the love I felt for the other children. It hurt down deep. I didn’t want to leave her. I introduced her to Josh and a very funny thing happened. He lit up. He was immediately intrigued by her too and it was precious. I thought my heart would burst. Something amazing about my husband (that is even true with our biological children today) is that he has an uncanny way of making them smile. We had yet to see much emotion in Selena but leave it to Josh. He took her outside, something that nobody else had really done, and he let the sun hit her face and gently spun her around and let the wind catch her breath and she giggled. The giggles turned into all out laughter and we died! It was THE MOST wonderful thing we had ever seen or heard and we’ve never been the same. Needless to say we did a lot of spinning that week and poor Selena was probably nauseous by the time we left. That was the hardest day. I remember laying Selena down in her crib and wondering when she would be picked up again. The orphanage did not know how to care for Selena and the workers assumed that because she couldn’t eat that she wasn’t hungry. I know they were doing the best they could but I knew Selena needed more.
When we got back to the states we went into all out research mode. If you have any questions about international adoption you might come talk to me. I know a lot, but unfortunately I also learned very quickly that there was no way to adopt Selena at this time. Guatemala had shut its door to international adoption the year before and there was no timeline for reopening. We were devastated. We wrote letters to congressmen thinking maybe there would be an exception for us. We had to try. I really hate the pre-generated return letters that they send you. “We are sorry, but unfortunately there is nothing that can be done at this time.” Blah blah blah…
A couple of weeks after our trip we got an email from our missionary friend there letting us know that Selena had pneumonia and they were keeping her in the hospital for observation. I panicked and we prayed. Two days later we got a phone call from that same friend with devastating news. Selena had taken a dangerous turn for the worse and the doctors were not confident that she would survive this. I must’ve heard the earth crack in that moment. I collapsed on the floor in a heap and again we prayed. We not only prayed but we fasted and so did our friends.
After 3 agonizing days and phone calls from our friend, things began to turn around. Kailah (our friend) was at the hospital daily for hours holding Selena, praying for her and patiently working with her to take a bottle. Selena began to improve and soon was allowed to leave the hospital. Her doctors did not feel that Selena was yet strong enough to return to the orphanage, and so it was arranged for Kailah to take her home until she was stronger. That’s when we started planning our next trip down there. I won’t go into details about that trip but let’s just say it was nothing like taking a team of people on mission. It was me, it was Josh and a tiny little car called a Kia Pincanto with a map that was NOT in any way shape or form accurate…use your imagination (oh, and we did NOT speak Spanish): recipe for a great story that I will share another time. This was the first of many trips that we began taking to Guatemala to visit our precious Selena. Jump ahead a few months. Kailah had to return to her mission duties and we needed a day-time baby sitter for Selena. I had met a woman at church when we were on a trip that struck a very special chord with me. The minute she laid eyes on Selena I witnessed the same love explode in this woman that was so familiar to my heart. Her name was Mimi Echeverria. I immediately asked Kailah if she could ask Mimi to care for Selena during the day while Kailah worked. Kailah had also received the same recommendation from another one of our mutual Guatemalan friends (we had not spoken to each other) so we took it as affirmation from the Lord. We asked Mimi and it was an emphatic “YES” from her. Jump ahead a few more months: legally Selena “belonged” to the orphanage (or so we thought…loooonnnng story that I will also maybe share another time) and it was demanded that she return now that she was “doing better.” We were very nervous and Mimi was heartbroken. She loved Selena like her own daughter. But we had no choice.
It was about this time that Josh got laid off from his job. We were of course worried about finances but Josh suddenly had a lot of free time on his hands, and wouldn’t you know it, our church was taking another trip to Guatemala. He jumped on board and tagged along with them. While there, he spent every waking minute at the orphanage with Selena. He called every night to let me know he was alive and how Selena was doing (ever had a $900 phone bill?) The news was not good. She was very sick and very unhappy. He knew we had to get her out of there. I told him to do what he had to do just don’t get arrested! After long meetings with the orphanage director and phone calls with our trusted Guatemalan attorney, it was determined that Selena did not legally belong to the orphanage and that a judge could make a determination about her placement. Loooonnnngg story short: Selena was placed with the Echeverria family. Mimi, Nufito and their son Junior (with us as her “tutors,” which means, we think, her financial assistance people) were now her legal guardians! And all of this with the blessing from Irlando and family! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! There are so many more stories within this story that I could tell you about God’s love, providence, grace, mercy, protection etc. but I would literally need a book's worth of pages. Selena is now 7 years old and is still with the Echeverria family. She is part of their family. Mimi has devoted every waking moment to Selena. She has been her mother and her advocate. Because of her, Selena knows what it feels like to have a full belly, warm clothes, tears wiped, to be loved, hugged, kissed, held and on and on and on I could go. Of course caring for any child is costly, but to care for a child with special needs and being unable to work outside the home is very costly. Nufito and Mimi have given all they have to care for Selena, and God has been so very gracious in using us to help provide for them. We always wish we could do more, and God is ALWAYS faithful to provide when extra needs arise, but we feel this family deserves more. In telling you this story, my hope is that you would be moved. That you would be moved in your own heart to trust God in his plan for your life and be moved to be part of the story God has written for Selena. Selena’s story is not over. The Author of Life has more pages to be turned, more grace to be poured out and more love to shower on Selena and the Echeverria family. We can’t wait to see what He has in store. Thank you for reading this. God bless you.