Reunions are a frequent sight at the Salt Lake Airport — especially with LDS missionaries wearing their tags down the escalator. But one non-mission reunion at the Salt Lake International garnered more than 28 million views online.
Earlier this year, James and Jennifer Grover finally got to bring their two sons home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo after a four-year adoption process.
Forming a family is never easy and the Grovers have experienced their share of trials. From a government action that prevented their sons from coming home to losing their son Jacob to experiencing five miscarriages, the Grover family is no stranger to heartache.
But for the Grovers, they know which family members are theirs and no effort is too great.
The Adoption Story
Prior to becoming Mr. and Mrs. Grover, James and Jennifer sat in a truck outside Deseret Towers at BYU and talked about their future. Both of them wanted a big family but neither of them pictured adoption.
Three biological children later, adoption came into focus. While attending an LDS temple, Jennifer had a thought that changed everything.
“I had this experience where the Lord told me I had a daughter and I knew she was part of our family,” Jennifer says. “I knew she was in another part of the world and that we had to find her.”
Kid from Kazakhstan
The search for their daughter led James and Jennifer to Kazakhstan. A friend had shown photos of children in an orphanage there and Jennifer felt drawn to a girl named Veronika — who was unavailable for adoption. Jennifer still felt a special connection.
When the Grovers traveled to the orphanage, Jennifer asked if she could meet Veronika even though she knew she wasn’t adoptable.
When the staff introduced Veronika, Jennifer also met her crib mate, Lauren.
“I recognized her instantly,” Jennifer says.
With that, the adoption process started and in February 2002, the Grover family grew by one.
“Lauren belongs in our family,” James says. “She got lost on the way down and ended up in Kazakhstan.”
Children in China
After coming home from Kazakhstan, Jennifer gave birth to another son, Jeffrey. In 2012, the feeling came to Jennifer again that she had children in other parts of the world. She felt the strong impression to get on the computer, and she found Jacob’s photo. She knew he was a Grover.
Jacob lived in China and had Trisomy 21.
The Grovers worked through the adoption process and had their bags packed to pickup Jacob when the phone rang. Jacob had experienced a seizure and it looked like the left side of his body was paralyzed.
The social worker on the phone began to talk about the ramifications of paralysis.
“That’s when she said, ‘You don’t have to continue with the adoption. You didn’t sign up for this,’” Jennifer recalls. “I remember telling her I wouldn’t abandon any of my other children. Jacob is our son.”
Then Chinese New Year hit and communication with China became sparse.
“We couldn’t get anybody to even tell us if he was alive,” James said. “We went days not knowing what was going on.”
After the holiday, the news came that Jacob had regained movement of everything except his hand. Jennifer and James made their way to pick up their son.
At the orphanage, they met Jacob’s best friend, Michael, who also had Trisomy 21. They knew these two were meant to be brothers and started Michael’s adoption process.
Just over a year later, Michael and Jacob were reunited. This time not just as best friends, but as brothers.
“They were not apart from each other for more than 10 minutes a day,” Jennifer says.
Sons Down in Africa
While bringing home Michael, Jennifer had another thought land in her head. This time it was that she had two sons and they were in Africa. She received an email with a photo of Bronson and she knew he was her son. A few days later they saw photos of other children in the orphanage and they recognized that Joseph was supposed to be theirs, too.
“Both of us said, ‘That’s him,’” Jennifer says. “This is not the first time we had seen our boys. It is a recognition. We have seen them before.”
The adoption process started in early 2012 and they were told their sons would be home in 2013. When the adoption process was nearly finalized, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo issued an exit permit suspension. Even though Joseph and Bronson were legally members of the Grover family, they could not leave the country.
A Dark December
When winter arrived in 2013, it brought a series of trials for the Grovers. Jennifer was preparing to have a major surgery. Then, on December 12, Jacob had a stroke. On December 15, he passed away.
“It’s at that point when we realized God’s plan has some pretty tough turns,” James says.
When Jennifer spoke at his funeral, she titled her talk, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Jacob.”
“The UPS man would come to our house and he would hug him before he left,” Jennifer says. “He hugged and loved everyone.”
“Jacob is the most perfect human I have ever met in mortality,” James says.
The next twist and turn came just five days later, the day after the family buried Jacob. The Democratic Republic of the Congo sent out a notice that the exit suspension was still in place and would remain for the foreseeable future.
The string of hardships led the family into a period of depression and doubt, but the family relied on faith.
“Looking back I don’t know how in the world we did what we did, how we were able to survive and carry on with life and caring for our children,” Jennifer says. “We were trying to do everything the Lord would have us do and everything was crashing around us.”
Fortunately, when faith wasn’t enough, there was family.
“There were times when one of us would be strong, the other weak, but then there were times when we were all weak,” Jennifer says. “In our home there was this small group of people who very intimately all felt the same thing. There’s strength in falling apart together.”
Fast forward to 2016. The DRC government said they would release 150 children. Joseph and Bronson made the list.
“We had gotten reports that our sons were not eating and when we had been over, there were riots and people getting beheaded,” James says. “We were living with all of this knowledge of our fears and the reality that sometimes things don’t go as we hope. When the boys stepped off that plane, just being able to put all of that behind us relieved a lot of emotion.”
This year also brought another new adventure for the Grover family. Their oldest daughter, Emily, left on an LDS mission to Hong Kong.
“When she read her call, we knew instantly she wasn’t going alone,” Jennifer says.
James and Jennifer cannot help but smile when they hear their children, both biological and adopted, talk about plans to adopt their own children.
“Our family has been blessed to be put together through both birth and adoption,” James says. “If your family is not fully assembled do not have concern about children coming through either process because both processes are wonderful. The love you have for your children is not any different.”
Earn Your Wings
In 2015, more than 50,000 children became part of a family through adoption in the United States. James and Jennifer share tips for supporting adoptive families.
Help welcome the children home. “Anything you would do for a family that has added a birth child is just as important to do for an adoptive child,” James says.
Realize the love parents have for their adoptive children begins long before a child comes home. “For the majority of these adopted families, their hearts are 100 percent invested in their children from minute one,” Jennifer says.
Any financial support to orphanages or adoption agencies can help. “None of the orphanages in the DRC receive any funding from the government,” Jennifer says. “All the orphanages over there are completely supported by donations from non-government organizations.”