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In the name of the son

Fellow parishioners work to fulfill couple's hopes of adoption

Fellow parishioners work to fulfill couple's hopes of adoption

July 30, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Last December, Melissa "Missi" and Matthew Dittman got the call they'd been waiting for.

A baby boy born in Seoul, South Korea, would be theirs to adopt.

Their prayers for a child were answered halfway around the world.

They had not prayed alone.

When the baby arrived at Dulles International Airport on June 21, more than a dozen people welcomed him. Among them were the pastor of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Williamsport, Mark Sandell; his wife, Annette; and their sons, 17-year-old twins Kevin and Brian, and 13-year-old Keith. The Sandells represented the church, which had played a major role in the adoption of the baby. Andrew Dittman, 9 months old today, is a St. Andrew's baby, Missi Dittman said.

Andrew was greeted with applause when he was presented to the congregation Sunday, July 18.

He whooped and hollered and smiled from ear to ear, Missi Dittman said. Pastor Sandell thanked him for his comments.

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It took a congregation - the people of St. Andrew - to make Andrew's adoption possible. On Sunday, Aug. 1, with Mark and Annette Sandell as his godparents, Andrew will be baptized at the church for which he is named.

The Dittmans have been married since September 1999. The couple wanted a child to complete their family, but fertility problems kept them from having a child, and they started to think about adoption.

"We both love kids," Missi Dittman said.

They did some research and talked with their pastor in March 2003. He had known people who had good experiences with international adoptions through Catholic Charities.

The Dittmans learned that it would cost $21,000 to adopt a child from Korea. The figure included legal fees and the cost of foster care and transportation. The figure was not an amount the Dittmans could afford.

The couple talked with Mark Sandell, trying to think of ways to raise that much money. Together, the three wondered if the church would be willing to help.

The prospect was presented to the congregation's witness committee. The church has a mission of taking the message of Jesus Christ into the world, Mark Sandell said.

"This is one of the missions we can embrace," he said.

Literally.

The fund-raising became a project for St. Andrew Presbyterian Church's youth group. The goal was $20,000.

There were two car washes, a sandwich sale, a basket bingo and generous donations. A "rent-a-teen" project offered youth-group members' services - yardwork, baby-sitting, digging a pit - for $10 an hour.

The money was raised in six months.

"It's amazing," Mark Sandell said.

More than 100 people attended a baby shower at the church before Andrew arrived. The youth group plans another. There are more than 300 baby sitters waiting for a call.

Andrew, now 23 pounds and more than 31 inches tall, is starting to crawl and has pulled himself up to stand.

He's an easygoing, happy and friendly child. He was sweet and cheerful - even after 23 hours in the air. He said "mama" as soon as he got off the plane, Missi Dittman said, conceding that the word sounds a lot like "uhma," Korean for mother.

She reciprocates every day, saying "Saranghamnid" - Korean for "I love you."

Andrew joins the more than 200,000 foreign-born adopted children - 13 percent of the 1.6 million adopted kids in the United States, according to U.S. Census bureau figures on adopted children, profiled for the first time in 2000.

Missi and Matthew Dittman didn't have a choice of gender when they adopted their baby. They didn't care. In required classes for adoptive parents, the issue of transracial adoption was discussed. The couple was warned about questions people might ask - questions such as "Is he yours?"

There's no doubt about the couple's answer. They glow with joy and love for Andrew.

"He's a child of God," Annette Sandell added.

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