EAST TEXAS (KYTX) -- Carolyn Twietmeyer knew as a young girl she wanted to give back and help children. "In my head I would think, we have so much, we have food, an extra bedroom. Then I would think, the little girl across the street, they've got an extra bedroom and it made no sense that we weren't doing more," said Carolyn. But the seed that was planted, wouldn't begin to grow until many years later.
In 2002, Carolyn and her husband, Kiel, began talking about adoption. Kiel said, "At that point, it was just kind of like an idea, but we went on to have seven children, biologically."
As a single income family, they weren't sure how they could afford any more children, but the compassion to help was still there. At that point, they turned to their faith. "Because once you start to understand his plans are far better than anything we can dream, and if we'll just trust Him your life will start to unfold in ways you can't dream of," explains Kiel.
That plan originally began with the possibility to adopt one girl, but it quickly turned into three when they discovered she had two brothers. Carolyn said, "It rocked our world and changed the course of our lives as we knew it." That's because one of the brothers had HIV.
"At first, even hearing it over the phone, panic set-in. I was shaking. I was thinking, how could this woman even suggest that we endanger our entire family. You know, spread HIV all over the neighborhood. I had no idea of the reality of HIV." Carolyn goes on to say, "As I was walking out of the room without giving it a chance I thought, if I say no, then who says yes!"
Carolyn began doing research and quickly discovered HIV is a chronic and manageable disease affecting 12 million children. She learned of many misconceptions and that it is not easily transmitted. "You don't get it from sharing sippy cups and bath tubs. So that was enough information that I needed to know."
But convincing Kiel would take some time. "For the first time in our marriage we were really opposed." He turned to prayer and soon it became clear that Rachel, Sam and Seth were meant to be part of their family.
The next step was telling their seven biological children. "I told them, 'You won't be able to have your own room and we won't be able to go on vacation.' And they're like, 'But dad, they don't have a family!' And that, for me, just really sealed the deal," said Kiel.
Now, with 10 children, they learned of another young girl in an Ethiopian orphanage with HIV. "They had just literally taken her away from her brother and sister. They had to make the decision to relinquish her because she had HIV. We began to pray for her but never thought for a moment that she would be our child."
Almost a year later, they discover the 11-year-old girl had dropped to just 32 pounds and was in stage 4 AIDS. Carolyn said, "This time I went to Kiel and said [Selah] is getting sick and no one wants her and he said, 'That's a no brainier.' I totally didn't expect that."
But when Carolyn got to Ethiopia, she was told Selah's hemoglobin was so low she wouldn't survive a plane ride. She needed a blood transfusion, but Carolyn was told the blood bank was not for AIDS patients. "I said, 'I'm not leaving without her. What are we going to do?"
Carolyn donated her own blood, praying it would be a match. "I gave the blood and sure enough only God would allow it to be a match and one blood transfusion got her levels up high enough to get her on a plane."
Selah slowly began to regain her weight and strength, but her heart was still broken, missing her siblings.
"These kids have suffered so much lose and to see them be pulled apart as siblings is just terrible. And again, it really comes back to our fear that we can't do it but we serve a God who can do anything and he does if we just say yes."
So Kiel and Carolyn said "yes" again, adopting her two siblings, Andarge and Eyeruselem, from Ethiopia.
Then, with 13 children, the Twietmeyer's would learn of an 8-week old baby girl with Down Syndrome. Sofia would become their 14th child.
"She fell out of heaven practically," said Carolyn. Kiel quickly added, "She has been such a blessing to our family in ways I don't even know that I could put into words. She has really been a breath of fresh air."
The Twietmeyer's are often asked how they afford such a full house. Carolyn said, "I don't know, we don't make much sense on paper but the reality is our priorities are much different, we realize that now. It is not easy, but boy it's worth the challenge and worth the time."
Kiel said, "We don't have anything to offer except our yes and let his love overflow and only He knows if we are done."
Their efforts now are focused on getting other children with HIV adopted. They have started an organization called Project Hopeful. Their mission is to educate, encourage and enable families and individuals to advocate for and adopt children with HIV/AIDS. For more information go to WWW.PROJECTHOPEFUL.ORG.