I didn’t necessarily expect to find an intersection between female genital mutilation (FGM), failed adoptions, infant mortality, and life in the Midwest. Yet in the weeks since the Heart of Ministry Offering, this has happened.

My friends Jessica and Scott McCracken felt some time ago that God was asking them to expand their family’s story. Unbeknownst to them, halfway around the world, God was writing another story that would someday intersect with theirs.

A young woman named Mahawa was born in a village in the eastern part of Sierra Leone. She inherited the position of priestess within the secretive Bondu Society. This cultural society initiates young girls in a grueling and invasive procedure called female genital mutilation (FGM). This mutilation is still practiced at the rate of 8,000 girls each day and the consequences can be devastating. FGM victims endure bleeding, infection, complications in childbirth, emotional scarring, and spiritual bondage. If she survives the horrific injustice, she may suffer the rest of her life.

Mahawa was responsible for initiating the girls in her village, but this was not the life she wanted. So when her husband left the village for work in the city, she saw her chance to escape the society and to give her daughter, Bendu, a chance to grow up free of this injustice. Life was hard, but they were together. Then Mahawa’s husband died. Mahawa lost her daughter, Bendu, who died giving birth to two beautiful, but very sick twins.

This is where the two stories begin to intersect. One woman in Sierra Leone makes a courageous choice to leave a spiritually dark practice in order to give her daughter a chance she never had. This child grows up to be a young woman who then passes away giving birth to the next generation.

Another woman in the United States makes a courageous choice to expand her family to include two infants in desperate need of medical care and of unconditional love.

The McCrackens became aware of these twins’ plight and committed to “loving them home.” This was their promise: to see the twins placed in a loving home. But the twins never reached the Quad Cities. Jacobi died of numerous health complications and failure to thrive on January 10, 2013. Precious died on January 20, 2014, after several health challenges such as measles, malaria, seizures, and hydrocephalus.

Nevertheless, The McCrackens believe they fulfilled their promise to love the twins home, as Jacobi and Precious are now with Jesus.

I was honored to conduct the memorial service, a time to grieve and to lament for orphans worldwide. We gathered to mourn two orphans whose story began with loss.

“We have no bodies to bury, just hearts that yearn for heaven,” said Jessica. “Stories are funny things. This isn’t the way we would have written it and we have no control over its ending. But as avid readers know, the best stories choose you. They ravage you, change you, and redeem you.”

While this story has been full of tragedy, the family has been careful to look for opportunities for redemption. They found one such opportunity by highlighting the 2014 Heart of Ministry Offering as a place to give memorial gifts. In addition, because Heritage Wesleyan Church in Rock Island, Ill., was willing to talk openly about FGM, it has opened up a dialogue with the large number of African refugees in the Quad Cities. We are now in a position to have hopeful dialogue with women in our community who are living with severe physical challenges and social stigma as a result of FGM.

God knit Mahawa and Jessica’s stories together in unexpected ways, allowing both of these women to challenge injustice, extend love, and look for beauty in ashes.

Rev. Beth Cossin serves as coordinator for the Wesleyan Justice Network with Wesleyan Women. Read more of the McCrackens’ story.