Meeting Special Needs Repeatedly
Married couple Randy and Linda Kramer retired about the same time and then visited some places they always wanted to go. But not having to work anymore and traveling didn’t provide the fulfillment the Turner, Oregon, couple expected.
“I kept thinking there must be something more for us in the fourth quarter of our lives,” says Linda, 64. “We didn’t know what God wanted for us.”
The answer soon came when the Kramers accompanied daughter Angie Johnson and her husband, Andy, to China to adopt a girl with severe heart problems. Randy and Linda went along to care for Angie’s biological sons, Darren, then 8, and Justin, then 6.
“We saw the great needs there for special needs kids,” Linda says. “God got ahold of us and we decided to adopt, even though we thought we were too old.”
Five years ago, the Kramers adopted 6-year-old Josie Ann, who had cerebral palsy. The couple’s son Steve, the firstborn of their four biological children, also has the movement disorder. Nevertheless, Steve is now an Assemblies of God U.S. missionary serving with Intercultural Ministries. He is director of the Vulnerable Initiative at Canyon Hills Assembly in Bakersfield, California.
Steve, who graduated from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, says his parents constantly encouraged him.
“I would never trade a bad set of legs for a bad set of parents,” says Steve, who earlier served as an Assemblies of God world missionary in the Netherlands and planted the Chi Alpha Campus Ministries chapter at the University of Oregon. “God has always blessed me with incredible favor, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.”
“I always saw great potential in Steve,” Linda says. “We never wanted him to think he couldn’t do anything, mentally or physically, that he set his heart to do. Other people see that he’s disabled. We don’t see that.”
ROOM FOR ANOTHER
A year after adopting Josie, Linda and Randy thought she needed a sister. They returned to China and adopted 10-year-old Jennie, who had paralysis on her left side from a traumatic brain injury. But they learned Jennie had a close friend in the same orphanage, 13-year-old Grace, still dealing with developmental delays. The Kramers agreed to adopt her, too.
Despite having their hands full, the Kramers decided three years ago to adopt a fourth special needs Chinese girl, 5-year-old Annabelle. She had the most acute disability of the four, suffering from Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a rare type of epilepsy. When she came into the home, the underweight Annabelle endured up to 40 seizures a day. She received a nasogastric intubation and later a gastrostomy tube to help her eat and drink.
Two years ago, Annabelle became severely ill and spent two weeks in intensive care.
“God healed her in the hospital,” Linda says. “She hasn’t had any seizures since.” While still a nonverbal paraplegic, at 8 years old Annabelle’s cognitive abilities have improved, she is learning to walk, and she can “speak” through a communication device.
None of the girls had attended school in China or even knew how to read or write. Now they are all doing well in school, Linda says. All four have accepted Jesus as Savior.
The Kramers no longer wonder how to occupy their days.
“Our sole concentration is our girls,” Linda says. The Kramers both have retirement incomes. She is a retired county sheriff’s correctional sergeant, he worked as a railroad conductor then graduated from Northwest University before pastoring a trio of AG churches: Riverside Assembly of God in Orofino, Idaho; Abundant Life Center in Toledo, Oregon; and Skyline Assembly of God in Scio, Oregon.
However, the Kramers depleted their retirement savings on the adoptions and ensuing medical expenses.
“We live simply and don’t have a lot of extras,” Linda says. “But God definitely meets our needs. We don’t lack for anything.”
EARLIER MEDICAL CRISIS
Randy, 67, concedes that it took more convincing for him to embark on the adoption journey than Linda.
“I resisted at first when my wife showed me pictures from adoption agencies, although she never pushed it,” Randy says. “But the moment I saw Josie with cerebral palsy, I was convinced we were supposed to adopt.”
The Kramers dealt with overwhelming medical challenges early in their marriage. When Steve entered the world 46 years ago, doctors gave his young parents little hope for the survival of the baby, born 11 weeks premature. Randy, then 21, served in the Air Force; Linda was just 18.
It was an era before medical technology could do much to save small-weight infants. Steve’s weight dipped below three pounds and repeatedly he suffered breathing apnea because of underdeveloped lungs. Those touch-and-go early days also put a strain on Randy and Linda. The parents grew concerned when their 9-month-old baby couldn’t sit up and had difficulty grasping toys.
The mounting pressures of marrying young — Linda had been 16, Randy 19 — the growing medical concerns over Steve, and the rigorous military life took a toll on the Kramers. The couple separated for six months and contemplated divorce.
But a trip to a U.S. military hospital in West Germany unified them. Upon hearing physicians diagnose his son with cerebral palsy, Randy, who had been raised in a strong Christian home, recommitted his life to Christ and thus preserved the marriage. From that point on, the Kramers stuck together. Randy and Linda later had biological children Angie, Coral, and Dennis. All four of their children are married with families of their own.
“I never could have imagined adopting four children, but it seems so right,” says Randy, who has 13 grandchildren. “The sisters love each other so.”
PREPARING THE WAY
The Kramers’ oldest daughter, Angie Johnson, sparked the radical lifestyle change in her parents. She says growing up with Steve, who is five years older, prepared her to care for disabled kids.
“Steve was normal, he just walked with a limp,” says Johnson, who lives only a mile away from her parents in Turner, a town of 2,100. “Adopting special needs kids really isn’t scary.”
When Johnson came across a photo of a child on a waiting list with a congenital heart defect, she says she felt God’s prodding. The China trip in 2011 in which her parents accompanied her changed the lives of everyone in the family. The Johnsons adopted 2-year-old Raimey, who had gastro-intestinal malformation in addition to her congenital heart defect.
“Whether we have her for a few years or 50 years, she needs a family as much as anybody else, maybe more,” Johnson says. Raimey, now 10, has had eight surgeries in eight years in the U.S., including a pair of heart operations.
“She exudes joy and has great energy,” Johnson says. “You would never know there is anything major medically wrong with her.”
Angie and Andy wanted Raimey to have a sister, so she returned to China to adopt 2-year-old Bryley in 2014. Bryley’s medical concerns included a brain tumor, epilepsy, and malformed fingers and toes.
Undergoing brain surgery in the U.S., Bryley suffered a catastrophic stroke. Afterward, she couldn’t stand or feed herself. Physical therapy has helped her ongoing recover efforts. Both girls are doing well in public school, their mother says.
Vocationally, the Johnsons, who have been married 22 years, are well-equipped to raise disabled children. Angie is a public school special education teacher while Andy works for the state managing investigations of abuse of the developmentally disabled.
Lead Photo: Linda and Steve Kramer's children now include (from left) Josie Ann, Grace, Annabelle, and Jennie.
Bottom Photo: Angie and Andy Johnson's children are (from left) Justin, 16; Bryley, 7; Raimey, 10; and Darren, 18.