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Kiel & Carolyn Twietmeyer
Interview By NA
Kiel (KT) and Carolyn (CT) Twietmeyer are walking examples of love that hopes. A personal mission that started as two parents adopting three children turned into an unexpected mission of love. While on their trip to Ethiopia for their first adoption, they saw first hand the effects that HIV/AIDS was and is having on children. Today, Kiel and Carolyn have 13 children: 7 biological children and 6 adopted children. Carolyn is also the founder of Project Hopeful, an organization dedicated to educating, encouraging and enabling families and individuals to advocate for and adopt children with HIV/AIDS. Sheila Schuller Coleman (SSC) interviews Kiel and Carolyn.
SSC: As we continue our "Love Life" series, today we are focusing on love hopes. My guests today, Kiel and Carolyn Twietmeyer, have seven biological children and six adopted children. One of their children is HIV positive and one has AIDS. Carolyn has also founded a ministry called Project Hopeful, an organization dedicated to educating, encouraging and enabling families and individuals to advocate for and adopt children with HIV/AIDS. Please welcome Kiel and Carolyn Twietmeyer.
Tell me, how did this quest for helping children begin?
CT: It began very early on for me. I was 7 or 8 years old, and I recognized a need as the Ethiopian droughts were being shown in the media. I noticed that many of these children had nothing. They had no parents, they had no toys, and my young mind didn't grasp that and it still doesn't get it now. We have so much to offer. We had empty bedrooms, we had extra food and we could provide for these children. So that's where it started and it has snowballed. It's not necessarily a need that we had; it was a need that needed to be met.
SSC: And Kiel, did you realize that when you married Carolyn?
KT: I was also of a compassionate heart, but I think as is typical, in the beginning God used my wife's maternal instincts. I believe it's very easy for a woman to understand the needs of a child because of that. Once we men can get past our logical mind, when we really learn to just lean in to God, then it's a no brainer from there.
SSC: God definitely planted that seed. He gave you His word through scripture verses that He poured into you.
KT: That is true. When this idea of adoption was initially brought to me by my wife, we agreed on one child. When I found out there were three from Ethiopia that were a possibility, I really sought my heavenly Father's heart. The more He dealt with me about it and the more I studied the scriptures, I learned there are 64 verses that tell us to care for the orphans and widows, and that we are all adopted into the kingdom of God.
SSC: That's true.
KT: I understand how God's heart is. Our identity is in Christ, and He sought after each and every one of us. He paid the ultimate price on the cross for each of us individually so it took me a little bit longer, to say the least, but it was definitely God inspired.
SSC: I love the scripture verses and everything that you shared of God's word. That's so important for us to hear as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
KT: He provides our sustenance.
SSC: Yes He does. So Carolyn, tell us about your children.
CT: All of our children are amazing. Our biological children are just as amazing as our adopted children. From the beginning, our biological children were so welcoming and loving. They had my simple mind set, which thankfully they inherited. And they didn't see or understand a reason why these children shouldn't be in families, either. So their arms were wide open from the very beginning.
It began with the first three we adopted: Rachel, Samuel and Seth. Our four-year-old son Seth is HIV positive. While we were in Ethiopia adopting these three children, we met our daughter, Selah, and at the time, we didn't know she would become our daughter. Selah is also HIV positive. I happened to see her immediately after she had been separated from her siblings, and I witnessed first-hand the desperation and despair involved in these children losing their parents and often times being plucked from their siblings.
I went back exactly a year later to get Selah. And I went all by myself, which is not characteristic of me at all. It speaks a lot for who God is and how He can strengthen you where you're not strong. I mean I couldn't even drive on an expressway and here I am in Africa by myself with a child that at that point was in stage four AIDS. I was shocked to find her at 11 years old and weighing just 32 pounds. They told me it was likely she wouldn't survive to get on the airplane and come home with me, but exactly three months later, she had almost doubled in weight after receiving treatment here in the United States. When I first arrived in Africa to pick her up, I could fit her upper arm between my thumb and finger. Three months later, I couldn't even wrap my hand around her arm. It's such a testimony to what God is able to do with our yes. Selah would not be here today if it weren't for Kiel and I responding.
SSC: You saved a life.
CT: Absolutely. Another amazing part of being trapped in Ethiopia for a month was that I was able to meet Selah's older teenage brother and sister. It's such a tragedy that these children witness the deaths of their parents and then often times they're separated from their siblings because of the fact that they are HIV infected. These children were just amazing and I couldn't fathom the fact that this little girl would lose these older siblings.
So two years later, in May of 2010, we returned to Ethiopia and brought Andarge and Eyeruselem back, as well. It had been three years since Selah had seen them. So it's been an absolutely amazing journey. Our family obviously grew from seven biological children to 13 amazing children and today we are a team.
SSC: And what a courageous couple you are because there are a lot of barriers and misunderstandings towards HIV/AIDS and adoption, right?
CT: Very much so. The reality of HIV here in the United States is it's a chronic and manageable condition. People here can live long healthy lives; they can get married and have children, even having HIV as children.
But in these countries of birth for HIV children, the reality for them is death. And it's not just in Africa. We've worked with 14 different countries. These children will be institutionalized, receive whatever medication is available in that country, and if they do survive, they'll be turned out and they'll die. There is no hope.
SSC: Wow. And yet some people here in America are still afraid to adopt. You've even found that Christians are afraid to adopt.
CT: First and foremost, HIV has never been transmitted in a normal family living situation. We want to make that clear. It does not happen. That was a fear of mine, as well, so that's a big issue for many people.
The idea of adoption being expensive and throwing your life up for grabs, as well as a few other things, is true. That does happen. Adoption is not easy but its worth absolutely everything that it takes to go into it. And as soon as you parallel that to what God has done for us, being adopted into His family, it is worth making it happen.
KT: When we began the adoption process, it was one girl and in my mind, I could rationalize and say yes. I was very compassionate and was all in for that. And then when the numbers started to get large, I thought I'm just a painter. I'm a blue collar worker and the money that's in our home is not a whole bunch, so it was frightening to be honest with you.
But the more I sought my heavenly Father, and really dove into the word about it I understood what the adoption process is and what a miracle it is. You know there are two motivators in our lives. We're either motivated by love or we're motivated by fear. So I put my hands to my side and jumped head first. That's what Carolyn and I did and I'm here to tell you the riches we've experienced since then, and I don't necessarily mean monetarily, but that's all been covered as well. God has fulfilled our lives like you cannot believe. He has been so good to us. And when we understand our identity to Him and how He feels about us, it's a no brainer.
SSC: So what breaks your heart?
KT: What breaks my heart is that we as the body of Christ don't always identify ourselves as His sons and daughters. When we see a child that's dying of starvation, what makes us not reach out and grab that child? It's fear. And that's very sad because Christ pinned all of that to the cross. So why do we still wrestle with fear when He tells us not to be afraid. He tells us that He will provide for us abundantly.
SSC: Did you want to add to that, Carolyn?
CT: There are millions of mothers and fathers on their death beds, and they are praying and begging God for their Christian brothers and sisters to step forward and care for and love their children. I can't even imagine being in that position. And then it goes a step further that these orphaned children sit in orphanages or on the streets and they beg God to just send them families. They're not asking God for I-pods and Wii's, they're asking for families. They just want to be a part of a family, and we, as the hands and feet of Christ, are showing them their value or lack thereof by the lack of our response.
SSC: So Carolyn and Kiel, people can find out more about your ministry at www.projecthopeful.org.
SSC: I want to thank both of you for showing the rest of us the way. I'd like to say a prayer before you leave.
Lord Jesus, thank You for Kiel and thank You for Carolyn. Thank You for calling them and tapping them on the shoulder. Oh Lord, may the rest of us see them and be emboldened to follow that pitter patter of our hearts that say I want to save a life, too. Thank You, Jesus. In Your name we pray, amen. God bless you, Kiel and Carolyn.
CT: Thank you so much.
KT: Thank you.