By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Andrew Bloemker had a plan.
But his wife, Mandi, had a different plan.
And God was on Mandi’s side.
“We were saving money, thinking we wanted to buy land and build a house,” Mandi explained. “But about two years ago, I felt God telling me we should adopt. And I was open to that idea.”
“But I was not,” Andrew quickly responded. “I had a plan and I was executing that plan on my own terms. But God got a hold of my heart and changed those plans over the next year.”
The defining moment came when Andrew thought he had land secured and ready to purchase. But at the last moment, things fell through.
“I knew God was telling us to adopt,” he admitted. “I told my wife, but I didn’t have to. She was already on board.”
“I knew when it was time, God would let Andrew know and that he would be fine with it,” Mandi noted.
That was in July 2016.
Fast forward 18 months.
Just five weeks ago – and only four days before Christmas — Andrew and Mandi returned from Bulgaria with Milam, their new 5-year-old son and fourth overall child.
“This was God’s plan all along,” Andrew said. “He led us through this whole process. It was a thrill welcoming Milam into our family.”
Andrew and Mandi were childhood sweethearts when growing up in Centralia. They dated off and on through high school, went to college at Kentucky Christian University and have been married for 13 years. Before Milam was adopted, they had three children – Soren, 8; Tinley, 6; and Quincy, 2.
They came to Effingham in 2006. Andrew started as the youth minister at Christ’s Church and is now the associate minister. Mandi began teaching at Discovery Garden, the church’s preschool program, in 2008.
When they decided to pursue adoption, they didn’t have to look far for information. At least five families at Christ’s Church have gone through the adoption process and proved to be terrific resources for the couple.
“We were told about Lifeline Children’s Services in Birmingham, Alabama,” Andrew said.
There was a lot of paperwork required as part of the application process. Andrew and Mandi let the agency know what type of child they were looking for, plus they provided a great deal of family information and also went through numerous home visits.
“We knew we wanted a boy since we already had two girls and one boy. But we didn’t want a baby,” Andrew explained. “We knew there was a lot of need for older children, especially those 5 and over. When they get older, they are less likely to be adopted. We were looking for one age 4, 5 or 6.”
They were also looking internationally and quickly got pointed toward Bulgaria.
“We visited their website and found out how each country does things, as far as adoption is concerned,
Mandi said. “They seemed to fit what we were looking for. So we prayed about it and were able to move forward.”
The couple noted that Bulgaria was straightforward with their adoption policies.
“Being a part of the European Union, everything was very legitimate,” Andrew added. “We heard other countries can be more difficult to deal with.”
Everything was handled through the Lifeline agency. They were the ones that dealt with the Bulgarian officials.
“They gave us a real peace of mind,” Mandi said. “They understood what’s going on over there.”
“It was smooth. There were no surprises,” Andrew admitted.
There was a list of children available for adoption. The Bloemker’s pointed out most have some sort of special needs. If they had wanted to wait to be matched with a child without special needs, that wait could have been three to five years.
Andrew and Mandi would go to the website periodically to check on the list of children available.
“One day we looked and there was information about a little boy that did not have urgent needs,” Mandi said. “We called and asked for his file. After looking it over, we felt that was the child God wanted us to have.”
In September 2017, the couple flew from Indianapolis to Sophia, Bulgaria, the country’s capital city. From there, they drove to Lom, a city of about 30,000, located on the Bulgarian-Romanian border. They described the city as a farming village.
Milam was born to a 14-year-old, unmarried girl, but then moved in with a foster mother when he was 8 months old. He was considered an “urgent need” case because his time with that particular agency and foster home was about to run out.
“On that first trip, we spent a lot of time with him and the foster mother,” Andrew recalled. “It was good that we made that connection.”
“I think that gave the foster mother a peace of mind,” Mandi added. “She knew he would be going to a good home.”
Andrew and Mandi made that trip, already knowing they wanted to adopt Milam. And before leaving, they went to a notary and signed the necessary papers.
“It was hard to leave him there,” Mandi admitted. “But we knew his situation was OK. He was loved and was being taken good care of.”
Three months later, Andrew and Mandi were flying back to Bulgaria. But when they came home this time, they brought their new son with them.
“When we returned to Bulgaria, there was definitely a bond there,” Andrew said. “He wanted to interact with us and play with us, but he didn’t really know what was happening yet. When the adoption became official, the foster mother explained everything to him and also started referring to us as mom and dad.”
“He was OK with calling Andrew dad, but at first, he didn’t like calling me mom,” Mandi remembered. “In his mind, he already had a mom.”
But by the time the three of them left, he was calling Mandi “momma.”
“We knew he was ours,” Andrew said. “There hasn’t been a doubt about that since we first met him.”
Milam has dark hair, dark eyes, olive skin and is a bit skinny. His parents describe him as full of energy, very determined (Mandi says stubborn), loving and affectionate.
“He’s a people person,” Andrew noted.
He doesn’t speak English yet.
“He only knows about 20 words, but somehow he understands just about everything we say,” Mandi said.
“And he’s learning quickly,” Andrew added.
Milam attends the Early Learning Center in Effingham.
“Unit 40 and the ELC have been so helpful and accommodating,” Andrew said. “We are very appreciative. Everyone has just been great.”
And what about the bond between Milam and his new brothers and sisters?
No need to worry.
“The very first morning, Milam was eating breakfast when the kids came down,” Mandi said. “He got right up, went over and gave each one of them a big hug. It already seems like he’s been here forever. They love each other just like brothers and sisters; and they fight with each other just like brothers and sisters.”
There have been adjustments for him. He now has rules, expectations and schedules.
“In Bulgaria, he was the boss. Whatever he wanted to do, he got to do,” Mandi explained. “That’s not how it works here.”
“He went from being the boss to being a part of the team,” Andrew quickly added. “But I think he actually likes the structure. I see him starting to thrive since he’s been here.”
It was the quite the Christmas celebration with the addition of Milam, who quickly got to know and be welcomed by the entire family. They visited Mandi’s family in Centralia and drove to Alabama to spend time with Andrew’s family.
“This was a special Christmas,” Mandi said.
Will there be more adoptions in the future?
“I’m not going to say,” Andrew said. “We’ll just have to see. We’re open to whatever God has planned for us.”