We always thought we’d keep Selah’s Ethiopian name as her middle name, but we changed our minds once we realized that Selah Beyenech Lunceford is a mouthful–and one that stands no chance of being pronounced correctly from the graduation stages she will one day walk across. And can you imagine, trying to fit all those letters on any one of the hundreds of medical, job, and school applications she’ll have to fill out? Right. We couldn’t do that to her. She’ll have more than enough things to be upset with us about in the future. Her name should not be one of them.

Besides the practical reasons that necessitated a simpler name, we also didn’t have much of an attachment to Beyenech because Google couldn’t tell us what it meant, and we weren’t even sure her birth mother had given it to her. All of that changed, though, while we were in Addis.

While filling out paperwork at the Hilton on Monday, Duni gave Ryan a copy of Beyenech’s birth certificate and told him that her name means “decision.” At first Ryan thought she said it meant “incision,” so we will probably always laugh about that. 🙂 Later, when I heard correctly that she had been named “decision,” my breath kind of caught in my chest. When I got around to exhaling I thought, “Could her name mean anything more perfect? She has always been a decision. Our decision. God’s decision.”

And it’s true. We decided to pursue adoption. We decided to pursue a little girl. We decided to head toward Africa. None of those decisions were easy, but we know now that they were right, that they were of God, and that they will always be part of her–and of us.


Three days later we found ourselves in the courtyard of the Gelgela Orphanage, the place Selah lived from July 2008 to December 23, 2008 (when she was moved to the AWAA Transition Home). After passing out beanie babies and candy to the children, we met the orphanage director who remembered Beyenech Fenta. He led me (Ryan stayed in the courtyard with Selah…we were trying hard not to expose her to too many children since many of them were likely sick) up to the baby room where Selah once slept, showed me her crib, and told me that he and the other nannies did not name her. She came to the orphanage as Beyenech. So her grandmother (the one who relinquished her) must have named her. 

If I have one regret about our trip it’s that I didn’t press the orphanage director for more information about Selah’s relatives and her time at Gelgela. I wish I had asked more questions, even if he didn’t have the answers. But here’s the thing about Gelgela: it broke our hearts faster and into more pieces than anything else we experienced while in Addis. Ryan and I were both in shock, I think, during the 20 minutes or so we spent there.

There were more than 60 children there, many of them older boys. There was no electricity. The babies had nets over them to keep the bugs away. Just like on the commercials you see and then quickly click away from on your way to NBC or ESPN. The boys’ bunk beds smelled of dirty sheets; their room void of lights and fresh air. Toys and decent playground equipment? Forget it. Medical and food supplies in the storage room? Nope. Families in the States and elsewhere pursuing all the faces we saw? Not yet.

Orphans. So many orphans. And that was just Gelgela.

“Ryan and Kristen, what made you decide to adopt from Africa?”

New answer as of April 2009: “Go there.”

When our van backed out of the courtyard, it started to rain. The weather was indicative of the mood inside the van because we were all crying. Ryan said, “Why can’t we take more with us?” Followed through more helpless tears with, “At least we saved one.”

We did. There was one less baby at Gelgela because God decided, and then we decided, to go to the ends of the earth to bring her safely home. We didn’t let fear stop us. We didn’t let discomfort or inconvenience stop us. We didn’t let money stop us. We didn’t let suburban Minnesota stop us. We made a decision and, by God’s grace, we followed through. And now we will spend the rest of our lives trying to convince other people to do the same.

Squinting through the dark room and seeing Beyenech’s side of the crib empty was the only thing that made Gelgela bearable for me. As hard as it all was to take in, and as impossible as it seemed that Beyenech even made it out of there alive, I left with great peace knowing that we didn’t just look at the orphans and turn the other way–we ran to them, to one, and decided to name her something that would forever reflect what rescued her from that dark, lonely crib:

Grace.  Selah Grace.