THE PARENTS: Monica Kunz, 44, and David Kunz, 41, of Neffs
THE KIDS: Cameron, 23; Nathanial, 15; Savannah, 13; Dawson, 6, adopted April 11, 2016
THE MOMENT WHEN DAVID KNEW THEY WERE A FAMILY: When they returned from China, pulled their luggage from the conveyor belt and left the airport, with Dawson holding their hands.
Sometimes, Monica believes, God delivers a lightning bolt, like her "radical salvation" in church when the pastor seemed to be speaking directly to her.
Or the night, a few months later, when a friend introduced her to David, the man who would become her best friend - until the New Year's Eve he dropped to one knee and proposed.
And sometimes, God sends a radio commercial. The couple were already raising three children - Cameron, Monica's son from an early, short-lived marriage, along with Nathanial and Savannah, the babies they had together - when she heard a public service blurb from Bethany Christian Services.
They'd thought their family was complete; David had even had a vasectomy. But Monica couldn't get that commercial out of her mind. "I very gently asked my husband: 'I heard this commercial. I want you to pray about it, and let me know if you're open to going to the [informational] meeting.' "
In June 2010, the two found themselves in Bethany's Elkins Park office, collecting handouts about international and domestic adoptions. They talked with a couple who were waiting to adopt from Ethiopia, and that idea appealed to them; they hoped for a child between birth and 2 years old with minor medical needs.
"We thought, 'OK, in 15 months or so, we'll have a little one,' " David recalls. But if the next six years were indeed God's plan, it seemed an inscrutable one. Each adoption referral seemed to hit a roadblock. For months, they heard nothing.
In the meantime, Monica learned about a faith-based program that brought Ukrainian orphans to the United States for short home stays with families. A year after they launched the adoption process, they hosted 13-year-old Artem, a tempestuous, angry teen who, on his first night in their home, tore through the house, emptying drawers and throwing tantrums.
"I sat in his room all night because I was afraid he was going to climb out the window," Monica recalls. After a month, Artem had transformed; on his final morning before returning to Ukraine, he nestled in Monica's arms, sobbing and calling her "Mama."
"I held him and rocked him. It was so hard, driving him back to the church," she says. "We all wept the entire way."
After Artem, there was 14-year-old Roma, another troubled orphan who managed to crack a smile when David did magic tricks. Then Valentina, 15, a calm and purposeful teenager who spent four weeks with the family, then returned to Ukraine to look after her younger brother. Finally, they hosted Vatalli, a 15-year-old so malnourished he was the size of a first grader, and his younger brother, Ighor.
Bethany said they were on the top of the list for Ethiopia; the family held yard sales and hosted dinners to foot the adoption costs. Monica hung Ethiopian flags around the house and dreamed of a dark-eyed infant.
In summer 2015, the worker from Bethany delivered grim news: An adoption from Ethiopia might take an additional three years. "We thought: The doors are being shut. Maybe this isn't what we're called to do anymore," Monica recalls. "It was a hard, hard time."
Then the worker called with a game-changing possibility: a 5-year-old boy from China who had been in an orphanage nearly his entire life. He had hydrocephalus; a minor heart defect had been corrected through surgery. Would Monica and David pray about it?
"I thought: Can I do this, Lord?" Monica says. "It was overwhelming. Terrifying. But I said to the family, 'We have to trust that this is what God wants from our family. Ethiopia's door is closed; this door is open.' "
At the end of long days of preschool teaching and parenting, Monica researched and wrote grants to help with the adoption costs. They secured financial sponsors through Connected Hearts Ministry, and a corporate donor kicked in the last $9,000 they needed - enough for David, Monica, Nathanial, and Savannah to travel to China in April and bring home their son.
The day they met him, in a bland government building in Shanghai, he ran to them, teddy bear clutched in his arms, said, "Mama! Baba!" and hugged them both. That night in the hotel room, the whole family played hide-and-seek; Dawson, still getting the hang of the game, would tuck himself behind the curtains, then pop out before anyone had begun to search.
David remembers how Dawson clung to the clothes he'd worn in the orphanage; Monica recalls the orphanage itself, a hospitallike setting for 700 children, mostly with special needs.
She also remembers getting the translation of a six-page letter that was tucked into Dawson's file. It was from his biological parents, a poor, rural couple who gave birth to Dawson prematurely - and a healthy twin brother, she learned. The couple had borrowed money from neighbors to pay for the baby's first surgery, but when the shunt became infected and doctors said only another surgery would save the baby's life, they panicked and took him to the orphanage.
That happened, Monica realized, the same month - almost the same day - that she and David had attended their first informational session at Bethany. "He waited for us as long as we waited for him."
After just two months at home, Dawson speaks 100 English words, is beginning to sight-read, and walks around with a calculator, memorizing numbers. At night, the family gather to read and pray together - for Cameron, now a documentary filmmaker in New York; for their relatives; and for Dawson's birth family. He calls them "China Mommy, China Daddy, China Brother."
Monica hopes Dawson will meet them someday. In the meantime, she says, "I hope his birth mom knows how much love we have for her son, and that she has peace in her heart to know that he has been adopted. I'm thankful for the privilege that this child, whom I did not birth, calls me Mom."