Interview: American Parents Heartbroken as Ethiopia Suddenly Closes Borders to Adoption

Josh Shepherd | Contributor to | Monday, June 19, 2017

Interview: American Parents Heartbroken as Ethiopia Suddenly Closes Borders to Adoption

One young family in Montana has been caught in the middle of a major international incident—all because they’ve committed their resources, time, and love to expanding their family through adoption.

On April 21, the government of Ethiopia halted all adoptions to families outside its borders. This decision "has left more than 200 U.S. families, and as many Ethiopian children, in a difficult and heartbreaking position," to quote a letter sent from 122 Members of Congress to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on May 30.

Nathan and Jill Bilyeu of Helena, Montana are one of those families. The couple and their two children knew for years they were called to adopt, and last year took steps to begin the process.

On June 1, the U.S. State Department noted that Ethiopia has approved “some adopted children” to be released to their American parents—but many remain waiting, as the Bilyeu family reveals in an interview from their home.

Christian Headlines: Why did you decide to open your home for adoption?

Jill Bilyeu: We've always wanted to adopt. As both Nate and I have had experiences in countries with less opportunity for people than the U.S., we felt God put international adoption on our hearts and it never went away. 

Going into orphanages and seeing them full of children made the need real—and it was something attainable, like I could give them a home and a family.

Nathan Bilyeu: I agree. For me, the stark statistical reality is that orphans in low-income countries are incredibly unlikely to experience a life with even their basic needs being provided to them as they grow into adulthood.

Christian Headlines: How long have you been engaged in the adoption process with Ethiopia?

Nathan: We have been connected to the idea of adopting from Ethiopia for years. We have friends from Ethiopia, friends who work there, and friends who have adopted from there. We just had to wait until we could afford to do it.

Jill: We sent the application to adopt in October of 2016. In the beginning it moved so fast—we had a referral by December! We were so excited and we gave our love to him freely. Two weeks after the referral, that little boy went to be with the Lord.

What an emotional roller coaster! We mourned the loss of that sweet baby and wrestled quite a bit with God.

Christian Headlines: What did you feel when you learned that Ethiopia has suddenly halted adoptions from the U.S. and any outside nation?

Jill: This was exceptionally difficult for us. By the end of January, we received another referral. Our new little girl was sick, in and out of the hospital most of March. I just wanted to be there to take care of her.

There was also fear that we might lose this child too. So when the closure hit in April, our hearts felt as if they had very little left to hope. 

Nathan: It really is a helpless feeling. We just want to have our daughter here with us as soon as possible.

Christian Headlines: Have you had success reaching out to Congress on this issue?

Nathan: Yes. Senator Steve Daines joined 46 other Senators in signing a letter to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia asking that Ethiopia lift its temporary ban on intercountry adoptions. We were impressed by the care and professionalism of Senator Daines and his staff, who continue to follow up with us on the issue.

Jill: Yes, we are very grateful for how quickly Senator Daines' office responded.

Nathan: This letter, signed by both Democrats and Republicans serving in the House and Senate, is a really effective statement. It reads in part, "While we respect your government’s decisions regarding future adoption policy in Ethiopia, we ask for your help in resolving expeditiously cases that were already underway on April 21."

These 122 Members of Congress continue: “Our constituents want to provide loving, safe families to those in need and simply wish to bring their adopted children home in a timely fashion and in accordance with the law.”

Christian Headlines: Some voices in our culture criticize Christian families who adopt, pointing to mixed motives about proselytizing minors. How do you respond? 

Jill: Our motive has always been to give a child a home, a family. 

Nathan: I know many people who have been adopted by Christians and I've never heard one person say they wish they hadn't been adopted by their families. I think such criticism tends to come from those in positions of comfort who have never longed for somebody, anybody, to care for them and call them daughter or son.

Christian Headlines: For Christians desiring to help, what action steps should they take?

Jill: We ask for prayer, which is so simple yet we have experienced His power in it. 

Nathan: If you can, please contact your Representatives and Senators and simply ask them to do what they can to ensure that international adoptions remain open in Ethiopia.

What if we could get all 535 Members of Congress to co-sign the next letter to Ethiopia? We believe adoption is a good and true cause that both parties can back without reservation. So many children need families.


Josh M. Shepherd has served on staff at The Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, Bound4LIFE International, and two Congressional offices. His articles have appeared in media outlets including The Daily Signal, Boundless, Charisma Magazine and Christian Headlines, where he serves as a contributor. He earned a degree in Business Marketing from the University of Colorado. Josh and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area. Follow Josh on Twitter @joshMshep.

Photo: Nathan and Bilyeu of Helena, Montana and their two children are prepared to expand their family through adopting an Ethiopian girl, a process recently halted by the Ethiopian government.

Photo courtesy: Bilyeu Family

Publication date: June 19, 2017

Interview: American Parents Heartbroken as Ethiopia Suddenly Closes Borders to Adoption