Photo courtesy of Brittnie Wilbanks.
0513 daughter of her own
The Wilbanks family complete: Jadon, Jonah, Jeff, Brittnie and Bella.
Bella Wilbanks is finishing her first year at South Shades Crest Elementary, but unlike her second grade classmates, this was her first year in the United States.
Last May, 9-year-old Bella arrived in the U.S. with predictable language and cultural barriers to overcome, but they weren’t her biggest walls. During her years growing up in an orphanage in India, she didn’t experience the love of a family. She was still in “survival mode” and found she had little in common with America.
But she did have something in common with her adoptive mom. Brittnie Wilbanks was adopted, too.
Brittnie’s story starts with a family unable to conceive that found out about a pregnant girl who needed help. Three weeks later, at just three days old, Brittnie was part of her forever home and family. Bringing Bella home wasn’t so easy. In fact, it took four years.
The Wilbanks’ journey began in 2008 when Brittnie heard statistics during sermons at Hunter Street Baptist Church. Brittnie said she was overwhelmed to hear more than 147 million children worldwide are orphans. At first, she didn’t think she could make a difference. Then, she realized that even with one adoption, she could make a difference to that child.
“We realized the Lord was pressing our hearts,” Brittnie said. “We had plenty of room in our home and in our hearts to adopt. We felt it was a calling.”
Initially, Brittnie and her husband Jeff, biological parents of boys Jonah, 15 and Jadon, 11, wanted to bring home a newborn girl. That is, until they heard statistics about older children aging out of programs and losing the opportunity for adoption. They also heard stories of 8- or 9-year-old girls going missing from programs or being sold to human trafficking rings.
“We realized that our daughter could be there and she could be one of those girls,” Brittnie said. “That was an awakening for us. It really fueled the adoption and we were willing to go for older children.”
Their agency matched them with a 7 year old from Aizawl, India, and they signed the papers to be her parents. A year and a half later, Bella was a member of the Wilbanks family. Brittnie, her husband, Jeff, their son Jonah and a family friend who had previously lived in India flew more than 8,000 miles to meet their daughter.
“We made eye contact for the first time, and I knew it was worth it all,” Brittnie said.
Until that point, Brittnie added, the adoption hadn’t been a reality.
“It had been a dream and then – bam, you’re not thinking, planning and hoping anymore. It was a huge step of commitment to realize ‘I don’t know her, but I love her and I want to take care of her-I get to take this on.’”
After four years of anticipation, Brittnie said her sons bonded quickly with Bella, but there were challenges along the way. They’ve had to remind Bella that she’s there to stay and she doesn’t have to be in “survival mode” anymore. But they’ve overcome each obstacle and grown together as a family.
“We realized that Christians are adopted by God into his family,” Wilbanks said. “Why not turn around and adopt someone into our own?”
Even though Bella was just one of millions of orphans worldwide, the Wilbanks have provided her with a home and family, parents, siblings, a live-in grandmother and even a dog, and that has made a difference to her. May 5 marks the first anniversary of Bella’s new life with her forever family.