- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

ARLINGTON, Kan. (AP) - Grant Bontrager’s birthday is a day he always ponders his existence.

Days before he turned 25 this month, he sat with family members, including his grandparents’ Eldon and Mary Ellen Bontrager in their Arlington home. Eldon pointed out the window to the big farmhouse next door where representatives from Winfield State Hospital came calling back in November of 1991.

They wanted to tell them the unbelievable news that their daughter, who had severe cerebral palsy and described by professionals as “functioning at age 3 months,” had been raped and was six months pregnant. A 21-year-old hospital employee had turned himself in to authorities, The Hutchinson News (https://bit.ly/2jl1O9r ) reports.

The apologetic officials suggested a doctor perform an abortion.

The Bontragers knew their heart. They didn’t need time to weigh the pros and cons.

“In that house, around the table, that was where the decision was made,” Eldon said.

There would be no abortion.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” Mary Ellen told everyone that day.

She turned to her daughter-in-law, Mamie Bontrager, and asked if she would take the baby her daughter obviously couldn’t raise.

Without hesitation, Mamie said yes.

But first she needed to discuss it with her husband LaVon. Like everyone else he was shocked when he heard the news of what had happened to his sister. He asked for a little time to think about it. The couple had an 8-year-old son, Greg, and a 4-year-old daughter, Angie. They had wanted more children, but that hadn’t been possible.

LeVon agreed with Mamie: they should adopt the baby his sister was carrying. When their two children heard there was going to be a new baby in the family they jumped up and down and cheered.

A community prays

From the moment the Bontragers made the decision, their daughter was given a private nurse who was by her side 24/7. She was 29 at the time. A wisp of a woman; she might have weighed 89 pounds. She was examined by specialists who told the family everything that would go wrong with the pregnancy they had failed to detect for six months.

“They made it seem like it would be impossible for things to go well,” Eldon Bontrager said.

A 1991 Associated Press story didn’t name the victim, who was described by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment as not being able to see, hear or speak.

She was confined to bed. There had been no prenatal care. A geneticist said they could only speculate whether a baby might be born mentally diminished because the genetic histories of both parents were unavailable.

“Somehow we didn’t worry,” Mamie said.

She and all the Bontrager family prepared for whatever the future held.

They chose to trust God and prayed for a miracle. They rallied support from each other and their Cedar Crest Mennonite Church, a community who unceasingly prayed for them. While the newspaper reports never mentioned the family’s name, their extended Reno County community of Beechy Amish knew of their struggle.

Two months after learning their daughter was pregnant, the baby arrived so suddenly he took everyone by surprise. Eldon was in the room at his grandson’s birth at Wesley Medical Center. Mamie and LaVon arrived soon after and named the 3 pound, 6 ounce infant Joseph Grant.

He spent five weeks in the hospital before he was big enough to come home.

“He was such a fighter,” Eldon said. “He wanted to live.”

His grandparents remember a “sweet affectionate baby,” just one of 27 grandchildren who bless their lives.

Growing up with the truth

There is a family photo of Grant in Mamie’s arms, looking directly at his biological mother during a family visit to see her.

“He always knew he was adopted,” Mamie said. “When he was 6 he asked who his real mother was and I told him.”

They knew the day would come when they would tell him the whole truth. It came when Grant was 12, and LaVon told him the rest of the story ? that Grant’s biological father was charged and convicted of raping his biological mother. Grant was left with so many questions swirling in his mind, but that’s where he kept them.

“For years I knew I was different, but I didn’t want to talk about it,” Grant said. “I kept everything inside. I was wondering why my mom couldn’t take care of me and wondering where my dad was. I was trying to figure it out in my head.”

He knew he wanted to meet his father, but knew he had to feel ready.

“I didn’t understand what God had for me yet. And I had all this stuff and I didn’t know why I was dealing with it,” Grant said.

That “stuff” was emotional hurt and tension. Growing up in a house of faith, he wondered why God would allow this to happen.

“Why did I have to be the one brought into this situation?” Grant said.

Answers didn’t come easy.

There was something he knew for certain ? he always loved and appreciated Mamie and LaVon and felt they were his parents. Still, he wanted to find his biological father.

Healing the pain

The entire Bontrager clan enveloped, loved and helped nurture Grant.

“LaVon and I always felt Grant was a gift from God, as are our other two children,” said Mamie.

Despite growing up in a loving environment, Grant’s teen years were turbulent. There were things going on in his head that others couldn’t help with.

A turning point came when Mamie and LaVon sent him to counseling with Nevin and Joann Nisly at Hope Ministries, Partridge. The counselors helped Grant to find the pain and work through it.

“They helped him to see that God did not abandon him, but he had a purpose for his life,” Mamie said.

At one particular session they had him write down all the things that hurt him in his life.

“It was like Christ was responding with a thought or image in my mind,” Grant said.

As he asked why he was born, he felt a response that he was here for a purpose.

“So I can be glorified through a bad situation,” Grant said.

Through the exercise he felt more guided toward God’s plan for his life. He felt more certain that God wanted to use him to share his story of his birth. He felt led to speak at prisons and area churches.

While Grant said he felt ready to meet his biological father, it took several more years for that to happen.

Three years ago, when he was 21, he found a connection - one of his co-workers at Sturdi-Bilt Storage had served time with his biological father in prison. A meeting was set up at the co-worker’s home.

“I was scared. But it was very good,” Grant said, of the emotional visit. “It was a roller coaster.”

By then, LaVon had died. But Mamie supported the meeting.

At 6-foot-3, Grant was taller than his biological father. The two men shook hands and then he told Grant the meeting had been a long time in coming. While he was married, he didn’t have any other children.

“Then we talked about the weather. We didn’t go deep,” Grant said. “It was a good start.”

Searching for forgiveness

Grant said he never felt bitterness toward his biological father. During their visits they have never discussed the circumstances of his birth.

“He never did anything to me,” Grant said. “He is the reason I am here.”

Then more than a year after they met, Grant was asked to do a favor - baptize his father.

“He told me he and his wife had become Christians and he wanted to rededicate his life,” Grant said. He wanted Grant to help. The baptism took place at a church near Wichita. Grant and the minister took him down into the water.

“It was good,” Grant said. “It was really cool.”

Back in the winter of 1995, Eldon and Mary Ann Bontrager received a letter from the offender victim ministry asking to be forgiven. They didn’t respond right away. But when they did write back they told him he was forgiven.

Another stepping stone came for Mamie and the Bontrager family when they also met him after Grant had begun visiting with him.

While it brought up all the painful memories, it was cathartic.

“We all had to process things differently,” Mamie said. “There were stepping stones in the healing process.”

“I was so angry,” Carolyn Bontrager said, when she learned of her sister’s rape. “She was so little and helpless. But I felt if I didn’t forgive him I couldn’t love Grant the way we could.”

Her brother, Myron Bontrager, agreed. They could hate this man for what he did to their sister. But if it hadn’t happened, Grant wouldn’t be here.

The family even asked The News to not use Grant’s father’s name for this story because he has turned his life around.

“It’s such a paradox,” Mamie said.

“To do this to a handicapped child…” said Myron Bontrager, of his sister.

But, during that meeting the man who had raped their daughter and sister told them again he was sorry.

“It was hard, but it was forgiveness. It was so beautiful,” Grant said. “It was closer to home for them than me.”

And despite how painful it might have been for the Bontragers, they put their arms around the man and said he was forgiven.

Moving on

On Aug.8, 2015, Grant’s biological mother died. She was 53.

“It was very hard,” Grant said. “I was never able to have a relationship with her because of who she was. It’s something everybody wants … a relationship with their biological parents.”

As he looks toward the future, Grant hopes to have a wife and his own family some day. But that’s in the future.

“I want to keep my focus on my ministry, allowing God to open doors,” Grant said. “I want to help people who are dealing with deep personal issues and speak out against abortion because I believe abortion is wrong.

“I want people to realize that God has a plan for their life. No matter where they are or how far away from God they feel, he still has a plan.”

Mamie wishes LaVon was alive to see the man Grant has become.

“He has added so much joy and brought diversity to our family,” Mamie said. “I am thankful that God has made something beautiful out of a very bad situation.”


Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, https://www.hutchnews.com

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