“I was adopted when I was five,” Esther Kjolhaug said, wrapping her arms tightly around her knees as she sat up on the couch in her apartment. She recalled details of her past, looking over the top of her bent knees, hiding her mouth as she spoke. Esther’s natural beauty shines through her unnatural story of how her life began.
Esther was born in India to a Christian mom and Hindu father. Her parents’ opposing faith created contention in her home. She peered out the window as she reflected on the details of where she came from, “I found out that not only did my dad leave my family, he left because he cheated on my mom.” Esther’s father left before her first birthday, her mother died before her second.
The two were cared for by their live-in grandmother for a short period of time after their mother’s passing.“The normal thing [was] to take our baths outside and sleep on rugs- it was our lifestyle.” Esther received two meals per day with her sister, who is two years older. “Growing up [like that], life was what it was,” Esther said matter-of-factly. “That was my lifestyle- the way we did things. I never knew my mom passed away and I didn’t know how to live differently.”
Esther’s first years of life were traumatic. Her dad’s infidelity left her fatherless. Her mother’s sickness left her an orphan. Her grandmother’s work in caring for her and her sister wasn’t enough to sustain them. The two were sent to an orphanage, a nine hour trip from their hometown, where they lived for four years, until one day everything changed.
Esther came to America when she was five and her sister was seven. Their adoptive family raised the two girls to follow Christianity. Gradually, Esther grew accustomed to her new living situation. “[My sister and I] didn’t know anything- didn’t know the language and didn’t know how to live in a completely different environment. We had to learn an entirely new lifestyle.”
When her new mom read Bible stories to her, it was different. Different because Esther didn’t know the stories. With a thoughtful look on her face, Esther talked about one night when her mother said the Lord’s prayer. She doesn’t know why she tried to remember all the words, but she did. She couldn’t recall the prayer, but that night Esther knew she wanted to know more about God.
The summer of her fourth grade year, Esther attended Inspiration Point Bible Camp. She started to dig deeper into questions about God and the Bible. With the help of her counselor, Esther put her trust in Jesus that summer.
A phone call from India interrupted Esther’s life when she was fifteen. An Indian woman explained details about the orphanage where Esther and her sister stayed. The woman is the director of the orphanage, and as she spoke, the pieces of Esther’s past were put in place. Esther discovered that she resembles an aunt she never knew, gaining specifics on the religious backgrounds of both her parents through the phone call. That’s when she learned about her father’s infidelity. Anger, sadness, and confusion threatened Esther's peaceful world. She resolved that her identity is in her Father in heaven, who loves her unconditionally.
Esther’s grip on her knees loosened as she leaned against the couch. “I’m an extrovert at heart,” she said, with a beaming smile followed by her infectious laugh. “God has taught me how to love.” Esther continued, “I grew up with both my biological mom and my mom here...being Christians, but I never knew who this God was.”
The summer of her fourth grade year changed everything for Esther when she came to Christ. “I’ve always been able to show love better than I can receive it… God has taught me how to love and how to use it in a Christ-like way. It’s such a huge word...but God has taught me what it looks like.”