From Russia with love: Couple gets girl

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The end of a long, 16-and-a-half-month journey ended with an emotional  race to an international finish line for John and and Sheryl Nauta and their new daughter Elya.

"This is Elya," said a smiling John Nauta as he introduced his daughter from a Moscow apartment Friday via a Skype interview with 24 Hour News 8.
Nauta and his wife, Sheryl, had just obtained the final paperwork needed to bring Elya, 16, to the US.

The papers arrived just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation banning Americans from adopting Russian children.
The Russian legislation is part of a recent dust-up in US-Russian relations. There is  speculation the ban is Russia's way of retaliating against a law signed by President Obama targeting Russian human rights abusers.

In 2011, Americans adopted 962 Russian children, according to figures from the US State Department.

The situation was so tenuous on Friday the Nautas asked 24 Hour News 8 not to publish our interview until they were out of Russia.

"To be honest with you, we never know what they're going to do. So we're hoping everything goes well," he said.

John, who is a lieutenant with the Wyoming Fire Department, and Sheryl have five grown children of their own. He was set to retire in 2011 when they were made aware of Elya through a neighbor's missionary work in Russian orphanages.

The Nautas prayed, talked, and  prayed some more.

And they found the answer.

"It's been a difficult journey, for 16-and-a-half months," he said in the interview. "But it's been a blessing, too."
Russian adoption wasn't an easy task before the ban. It usually takes up to three trips to Russia, mounds of paper work and a lot of money.
And time was running out for both Elya and the Nautas.

The cut-off age for adopting Russian children is 16. Elya turned 16 right after the adoption was approved by the Russian courts.

Then came the other paperwork needed to make her an American citizen, and allow her to travel to her new home.

It all came down to Friday.

"A week later and we wouldn't be leaving with her," Sheryl said. "If this law goes into effect on January 1st, and we didn't have this visa right now, we'd be leaving for home without her."

"There are families here right now to pick up their child, or to visit their child and they will have to leave without them if they don't have their visas. And I can even comprehend that," John said.

The Nautas know their long journey home is only the beginning.

There will be other obstacles to overcome. Some emotional, some cultural and the obvious language barriers.

"But, you know, she's our daughter," said John Nauta, his face beaming through the smartphone video screen sent from thousands of miles away.

"She's our daughter. And that's the best thing in the world."

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