For many years when my husband Wayne (pastor of Gateway’s Jewish Ministries) put our daughter Julia to bed, he told her a bedtime story. It went something like this:
“Mama and daddy got married and couldn’t have children. We prayed and prayed for God to bring us a child. God looked all over the whole world and found the perfect baby in Guatemala for our family and brought her to us. She made us so happy.” Julia loved the story and asked us to tell it to her over and over when she was little.
Julia celebrates two birthdays—the day she was born in Guatemala and the day we brought her home to the States. The latter we call her “Happy Day.” And growing up, she felt privileged to have two days—not one. Wayne and I tried to make her experience full of joy and adventure. The whole concept of adoption is very spiritual. After all, we are all adopted children born into God’s kingdom of light.
Several years ago, when Julia was 21, the three of us traveled to Guatemala to meet Julia’s birth mother, Estella, and seven siblings for the first time. It was a moment of reunion and revelation—full of laughter and tears as we learned the story that brought Julia to us.
Estella was born in San Marcos, a Guatemalan state next to Mexico. There were 18 children born to her mother—only 10 lived. Four died at birth and four died later. Estella was the seventh of the 10. Her father was a poor farmer and died when she was 11.
At that time, Estella’s mother sent her to Guatemala City to live and work for a family. She never returned home and has worked as a maid in various places since then. She conceived a son and later met and married Julia’s father, Carlos. Together Carlos and Estella had another son and two girls, but their life was very difficult. They lived with Carlos’s family who didn’t like Estella.
They treated her badly and told lies about her. When she became pregnant with Julia, Carlos’s mother convinced him the baby was not his. He threatened if Estella had the baby, he’d kill her and strangle the baby. She lived in fear and said it was the most difficult time of her life.
Carlos began to drink heavily and stayed drunk most of the time. He beat Estella and told her repeatedly to abort the baby. She fled for her life, saved the baby, and didn’t know what to do but give her up for adoption. She got in touch with a lawyer, and he contacted Shady Grove Church (now the Gateway Grand Prairie Campus) to ask if anyone wanted to adopt a baby. We contacted the lawyer immediately, and then one day he called to say that a girl had been born to Estella. He said, “I have her birth certificate in front of me. What do you want to name her?” Well, we had prayed and already knew her name: Julia Elizabeth.
It took another six months before all the red tape of adoption was clear. We flew to Guatemala City and brought her home.
After hearing Estella’s story, we understand more than ever that Julia’s life had been “snatched out of the mouth of a lion.” Those are the very words God put in my heart as we interceded for a breakthrough in those months we waited for Julia to become ours. Both Julia and Estella’s lives were in jeopardy. And although it was hard giving Julia up for adoption, it was a very loving thing for Estella to do. She could have aborted her out of fear, but God had other plans for our Julia.
Ten years ago, Estella heard the gospel and repented of her sins. She became a true believer. She prayed to meet Julia one time in her life. And God answered that prayer.
One of the most beautiful parts of the story is also one of the simplest. During our time visiting Estella in Guatemala, she didn’t call Julia by her first name, but instead she used Julia’s middle name, Elizabeth. We asked why she did this and she told us it’s the name she had chosen for her.
It’s just another wonderful, hidden detail in the story of our two families coming together. God is always bringing lives together to love and reflect His glory.
When we parted ways with Julia’s family, she turned to me and said, “Mama, it was so special to meet my biological family and hear the story of my birth, but I am so happy I get to go home with you and Daddy.” With tears streaming down our faces, we hugged and thanked God for His perfect choices for our lives.
Bonnie Saul Wilks is the Senior Writer at the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, a Gateway ministry partner. Her book, Sabbath: A Gift of Time, is available at the Gateway Bookstore. Julia serves at the Gateway Grand Prairie Campus and works as an adoption counselor at Legacy Adoption Services.