Picture of the Keith and Lori Troyer family with Rya

The Troyer family (left to right): Heather, Ava, Lori, Elena, Rya, Keith, and Josh


“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.”


Ephesians 1:4-6 (NLT)


“I want our magazine to encourage families to consider adoption and to support those who have adopted children with special needs.”


When Marlin Miller and his wife Lisa founded Plain Values ten years ago, the magazine was built upon a foundation of three things: show Christian organizations doing good work worldwide, ascribe dignity to people with special needs, and promote the beauty of adoption. Two of those foundational stones interlocked—the Millers wanted to share stories of families who have adopted children with special needs.

Over the years, the magazine ran National Down Syndrome Adoption Network ads with photos of smiling children with Down syndrome and featured stories of special needs adoptions. Since the magazine’s founding in 2012, Marlin & Lisa Miller, Plain Values, and its associated non-profit Room to Bloom have helped with 14 adoptions.

This is one of those stories.

Keith & Lori Troyer and their four children, Seth, Ava, Josh, and Heather, of Shipshewana, Indiana, read Plain Values cover-to-cover every month. Lori was drawn to the ads and stories featuring children with Down syndrome and would sometimes mention her desire to adopt to Keith. Keith wasn’t sure how he felt about it, but he certainly wasn’t chomping at the bit to adopt like Lori was. That all changed one evening when the family met C.J., an adorable little blond-haired boy with Down syndrome. At a social gathering of friends and family, C.J. quickly warmed up to Keith, effectively winning his heart. After that, the family often spoke of adding a child with Down syndrome to their family.

Unfortunately, in 2016 Keith broke his back while working at the roofing business he co-owns. Because of Keith’s surgery and long recovery, the Troyers temporarily set aside their dream of adopting.

At some point, the Troyers met Elliot, the son of Jay & Kristine Chupp, who also happens to have Down syndrome and was adopted. At the time, the two families knew each other, but not that well. Sometime later, the Troyers read the December 2019 Plain Values story featuring the Chupps’ adoption of Elliot. In the article, one quote from Jay stood out to the family: “We have been asked whether we would encourage other folks to adopt a child with Down syndrome. Our reply is that we would never talk anyone into a decision to adopt, nor condemn anyone who chooses not to. The decision to adopt should be a unanimous one, made by a team of three: God, husband, and wife. But simply put, we sure are glad we did!”

Keith and Lori turned their hearts to God and began to pray. They felt God’s call on their hearts to adopt a child with Down syndrome.

Lori connected with Lisa Miller, who began to send her information about adoption. They also started working on adoption paperwork and telling their friends of God’s call to adopt a child with Down syndrome.

In the meantime, Lori reached out to the adoption agency—KidsFirst Adoption of Indianapolis, Indiana—and connected with the founder, Inna Pecar. Inna is an immigrant from Ukraine who founded KidsFirst in 1990 with her husband, Steve. Both Inna and Steve bring a unique skill set to the organization: Inna has a Master’s degree in Education from Ukraine, as well as a Master’s in Social Work from Indiana University (IU); Steve’s degree from IU is in law, and he has over twenty years of experience in adoption law. Since the couple started KidsFirst over three decades ago, they have helped over 800 children find their forever homes.

Lori and Inna quickly hit it off. As they talked, the subject of a hosting program came up. Keith and Lori began looking into this and considered hosting orphans from overseas. In the meantime, one of Loris’ friends saw a Facebook post about a newborn girl in need of adoption just a few hours south of Indianapolis. Knowing that the Troyers were looking to adopt, Lori’s friend forwarded the information to her. It just so happened Inna was handling the little girl’s adoption.

“Most infants diagnosed with this rare genetic disorder don’t last past a year old.”

When Lori reached out to Inna about adopting the baby girl, she told Lori that the infant had many complications and was diagnosed with Stüve-Wiedemman syndrome. According to the National Library of Medicine, “Stüve-Wiedemann syndrome is a severe condition characterized by bone abnormalities and dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary body processes such as the regulation of breathing rate and body temperature.” Most infants diagnosed with this rare genetic disorder don’t last past a year old. However, when the syndrome is diagnosed early enough, and infants are monitored closely, they have a better chance of living longer.

After reviewing the girl’s medical records and talking with her family about it, Lori told Inna, “Call us if she doesn’t get placed before Christmas.”

A Christmas Miracle

The Monday after Thanksgiving, Lori got a call from Inna.

“I’ve reached out to sixty families, and I’m down to two couples: you and an elderly couple.”

Inna explained to Lori that an infant with Stüve-Wiedemann requires intensive care, which could be overwhelming for an older couple. She thought the Troyers were the right fit for adopting the baby girl.

“Let me talk to my husband.”

Lori was in Pittsburgh Christmas shopping with her family, and Keith was back home working. She gave him a call, and they talked about what to do next: as much as their heart went out to this infant girl with special needs, they felt called to adopt a child with Down syndrome. The Troyers decided not to adopt this time around.

But as soon as she got off the phone with her husband, Lori felt her phone buzz and saw a text from him: let’s go get her.

Three days later, Lori made the three-hour drive south to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. Their now-close friends Jay and Kristin Chupp went along for support. In the NICU room, Lori held the baby girl for the first time. Her health was worse than she thought: every breath was a struggle, and she was covered in cords helping to keep her alive. Several weeks later, the Troyers brought her home on the Friday before Christmas.

The doctor told the Troyers that Elena’s prognosis was dim. He didn’t expect her to make it beyond New Year’s. Over Christmastime, the family kept a close watch on her. Her body struggled to regulate its temperature, and every breath was a battle. But Elena made it to the end of the year and continued to get better with each passing week.

Her recovery did not happen overnight, but she no longer requires pediatric hospice or supplemental oxygen today. When I visited the Troyers earlier this year, I watched as this radiant two-year-old laughed and rolled around on their trampoline as she played with her pet bunny Flopsy, her smile as bright and joyful as the sun above.

Elena playing with toys and with her pet bunny, Flopsy.

Elena playing with her toys and holding her bunny, Flopsy, on the trampoline in the Troyer’s backyard

A Dream Come True

Even with adopting Elena, the Troyers still felt called to adopt a child with Down syndrome. Lori shared this with Lisa Miller, who then put her in touch with Darren Gagnon of Lost Sparrows. Darren knew of some children with Down syndrome in Bulgaria who were being placed for adoption. So, he connected Lori with an adoption organization he trusted: AdoptGlobal, located in Bel Air, Maryland. Like KidsFirst, AdoptGlobal is a Hague-accredited international adoption agency. Its mission is to provide “pre-adoption support, education, and guidance in order to create, sustain, and preserve nurturing families.” Since its founding nearly thirty years ago, AdoptGlobal has successfully coordinated over 450 adoptions.

Lori’s contact person at AdoptGlobal was Shelley Bedford, who has ten children of her own—seven adopted from Eastern Europe—and has helped over 100 Bulgarian children find their forever homes in America. Together, Lori and Shelley worked to complete the many, many documents for adopting a child from another country.

The day the Troyers were approved by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to bring a child into the US, Shelley received a file from Bulgaria of a nine-year-old girl with Down syndrome.

“The Troyers discussed the adoption as a family and then didn’t talk about it for three days. During that time, each family member had time to think and pray about the adoption on their own.”

Lori asked Shelley to put a hold on the girl’s file to give the Troyers time as a family to consider adopting her. Shelley said she could give them a week. The Troyers discussed the adoption as a family and then didn’t talk about it for three days. During that time, each family member had time to think and pray about the adoption on their own.

After the family reached a final decision at the end of the week, Lori called Shelley back.

“We think she’s the one.”

The Troyers began the process of adopting the girl from Bulgaria. First, they gave the girl a new name: Rya, which means “dream.” It had been Keith & Lori’s longtime dream to adopt a child with Down syndrome, and now that time had finally arrived.

They were supposed to take two trips to Bulgaria: the first trip to meet the child and begin the paperwork process and the second trip to return and adopt the child. However, because they were working on the adoption during the pandemic, the first trip was canceled. Instead, the Troyers “met” Rya through a series of one-hour FaceTime calls over the course of several days.

The paperwork continued to move forward, but it was a long and drawn-out process. There were so many more forms to fill out to adopt Rya from Bulgaria compared to Elena’s domestic adoption.

Finally, the court date arrived in early 2022. Two weeks later, in mid-May, Lori and her thirteen-year-old son Josh flew to Bulgaria to bring Rya home. They changed planes in Vienna, Austria, and took a connecting flight to Sophia, Bulgaria. They spent one night in the capital city, then flew out the next morning to Varna, Bulgaria, where the orphanage was located. Bulgaria’s third-largest city, Varna is a seaside resort town beside the expansive Black Sea. It’s also rich with history—Varna has Roman bath ruins from the 2nd century, a marker for the last battle of the Crusades in 1444, and one of the largest Greek Orthodox cathedrals in Bulgaria, finished in 1886. Their contact took Lori and Josh around Varna to see some of these sites, and they enjoyed lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Black Sea.

Parked outside the orphanage ready to pick up Rya

The next morning, the trio went to meet Rya for the first time. It was a small orphanage, more like a group home, with fourteen beds. Twelve children were there when Lori and Josh arrived to pick up Rya. The orphanage was designated for children with severe developmental delays: none were potty trained, only one child could talk, and only three could walk.

While Lori and Josh were in Bulgaria, they took Rya out daily to a nearby park. She was happy to be outside and would sit on the swing with a smile as she watched the other kids play.

Lori and Josh meeting Rya for the first time

Rya prepares to leave Bulgaria to come home with the Troyers

“The Troyers are confident that God has been with them every step through the highs and lows of adoption.”

The Troyers are confident that God has been with them every step through the highs and lows of adoption. God’s presence was especially evident while Lori and Josh were on foreign soil and away from family and friends. One especially touching moment came when Lori opened a card from eight-year-old Arianna Lehman. Arianna’s parents and siblings had all helped each other compile enough envelopes for Lori and Josh to open one each day they were gone. The envelopes contained colorful cards, poems, words of encouragement, and Bible verses.

Before traveling, Lori had budgeted and prepared her US currency for each particular transaction needed to complete the adoption. Careful not to take any extra cash, Lori chose to use her credit card while there instead. The final appointment needing cash was to be at the US embassy, and Lori knew she needed exactly $325 in US currency. That morning—day twelve—Lori was disappointed to find she had only $323 left. She was two dollars short!

After searching through all their belongings, she couldn’t find a spare two dollars anywhere. Lori had to make other arrangements to get those last two dollars quickly, so she planned to leave earlier to find a currency exchange booth.

But before heading out, she wanted something to cheer her up—she decided to open that day’s envelope from the Lehman family. When she opened Arianna’s colorful card, out spilled two dollars in cash! Lori offered up a prayer: thank you Arianna, you are the hands and feet of God today!

Coming Home

At home, Rya has settled right in with her new family. The Troyers are teaching her sign language, she has started school, and she is receiving the therapies she needs to help her thrive.

Lori teaching Rya sign language

Teaching Rya how to say “I love you” in sign language

“SPLASH!” is her word for pool time, where she lays on the largest pool float and splashes the water with her hands while humming.

“JOSH!” is her word for the first sibling she met, and “DADA!” is the word for her father, Keith. Lori says that Rya has a strong bond with Josh and Keith because there weren’t any male caregivers in her orphanage.

Keith and Heather Troyer

And she loves her family. Lori said, “Any family time she can get, she will take it for all it’s worth. She loves it.”

Rya has quickly formed her very own fan club in her new community. She unabashedly doles out hugs and kisses to anyone she meets and has a ready smile for those she recognizes as her own. Sporting her trendy new glasses, she lets her feisty humor show as she teases and gets teased by friends and family.

Elena and Rya

Elena, Rya, and Flopsy

I had the opportunity to meet Rya this July when I traveled out to Indiana. After greeting Keith at their home and following him to the back porch of their house, I saw Rya seated on a white porch swing. The toy beside her chimed out with the song “The Farmer in the Dell.”

I walked up the steps and introduced myself.

“Hi Rya—my name is Nic. I am here to take some pictures of you for an article I’m working on.”

Rya looked me over for a moment, then I watched as her almond eyes squinted tight, and her mouth turned upward in a gentle half-moon smile. She eased herself off the swing, hobbled over, wrapped her arms around my legs, and gave me a hug. My heart melted at how trusting this little girl was, considering everything she had been through. Lori’s face was beaming—her little girl was not afraid. She was safe and loved.

Rya was home.  //

The Troyers have asked readers to pray for Rya and their family.

To support other adoptions like Rya’s, consider donating to our non-profit organization, Room to Bloom. Every donation is one step closer to bringing a little girl like Rya home.

Nic Stoltzfus and his wife Jen live in Reading, Pennsylvania, with their three crazy cats and rescue dog, Paul. They hope to have children soon! Nic loves volunteering in his community—he is teaching Sunday school next spring, is involved with the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority’s plan to bring back passenger rail to Berks County, and he serves as secretary of the Nicholas Stoltzfus Homestead Preservation Committee. He is currently working on a novel about the immigrant Stoltzfus family.

See other articles:
Principles for Starting by Joel Salatin
To the Woods by Rory Feek
Anastasia Genuis by Shawn & Beth Dougherty
The Sanders’ Adoption Story by Sabrina Schlabach
Orphans Die by Stacey Gagnon
Bowhunting by Jim Zumbo
Celebrating Two Years by Room to Bloom
One Minute with Marlin by Marlin Miller