When James and Kaylee Wilson flew to Ghana, Africa, in November of 2016 to adopt their 2-year-old daughter Emmanuella they didn’t expect to stay long.
“We were going to be there for six weeks, not 435 days,” said Kaylee, who grew up in John Day.
While waiting for documents from the Ghanaian government approving her immigration, the Wilsons said they are staying positive and enjoying their daughter “Wella,” who is now 3.
The Wilsons say their journey, which began long before their flight to Ghana, has included setbacks and miracles.
“There is no way we could have made it without strength from God,” Kaylee said.
Kaylee, daughter of Kirk and Kim Ausland of John Day, said she’d wanted to adopt since she was young. Although James wasn’t sure about the idea of adopting when he married Kaylee in spring 2013, he said he would keep an open mind. A year later, living in Portland, the Wilsons lost a baby to miscarriage.
Making a fresh start in Temecula, California, that fall, they joined a church project to build a school for orphaned children in Kenya, Africa. After returning from Kenya in June of 2016, the Wilsons began the adoption process.
“We didn’t know if it was the right time, since we had also dreamed of opening our coffee company that same year,” Kaylee said.
One month later, the couple saw Wella’s picture for the first time. The Wilsons researched and spoke to families with HIV-positive children.
“We felt called to this specific ‘special need,’” Kaylee said.
On Nov. 9, 2016, Kaylee and James met their daughter for the first time.
“We still owed $10,000 to the adoption agency, and people called us crazy for jumping on a plane and flying across the world,” Kaylee said. “That was a huge leap of faith for us, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.”
Wella had malaria, was severely malnourished and appeared to be the “saddest child,” Kaylee said. She stayed behind with Wella while James flew back to the U.S. to work and raise funds for the adoption fees and to support his family — he was gone for six months.
Kaylee said she’d always wanted to live in Africa, but those months apart from her husband were “the hardest.” She lived in rural Kpando, without running water and limited electricity. She was also a new parent — and for a time a “single” parent.
James said he spent the long separation in a “zombie-like” state, going through the motions. Then a phone call changed everything. Officials from the Tim Tebow Foundation offered an $8,000 adoption grant.
“We hadn’t even applied for the grant,” James said.
The foundation heard of their plight through an organization called Show Hope. The funds covered most of their remaining adoption fees, and they used savings for James’ return to Ghana.
While they wait to return to the U.S., other opportunities have opened up. Kaylee started a position as a marketer and videographer for an international school in Accra in exchange for a house near the U.S. embassy.
They’ve also grown their coffee business Level Grounds Xpresso, which features beans from coffee farms in Kenya, Peru, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea. One special six-bean espresso is called “Wella’s Blend” after their daughter.
Sales cover the Wilsons’ living expenses, and the products are available at The Corner Cup in John Day or online at levelgroundsxpresso.com.
Uncertain of when they’ll return, the couple said they are trying to relax and enjoy being a family.
“She’s very caring and affectionate, and she’s grown to love us,” James said.
Kaylee said she’s amazed at how Wella has taken on many of their personality traits, including sense of humor.
Eager to preserve her daughter’s history, Kaylee has filmed much of their time in Africa.
“We want her to be proud of where she came from and proud of her culture,” she said.
James said they want to share their story to encourage others who may be thinking of adoption.
“Don’t let yourself be guided by fear,” he said. “I think God has changed me in so many ways. Looking back to the boy that I was, that’s not the man that I am today.”
Kaylee added, “(Since) we knew this is what God was asking us to do ... we knew he would get us through it.”
When the Wilsons are back on U.S. soil, they will transition in John Day, then plan to open a coffee shop, continue overseas work and adopt more children.
“Whether we’re home in three weeks, three months or three years, we are grateful because we’re learning and growing, and we are together,” Kaylee said. “We thought we had a timeline, but so far, looking back, God is in control, and his timing is perfect.”