The Short Life of Viktor Matthey

It was in September 1998 when Bob and Brenda Matthey heard the call.

It came from a Brazilian missionary, Amalia Batista, a guest speaker at the regular 10 a.m. Sunday service of their church, the Flemington Assembly of God in Raritan Township.

Batista told the congregation about growing up an orphan in Brazil and how she now cared for 600 orphans there. The children needed so much - basic necessities that the folks of Hunterdon County, part of New Jersey's wealth belt, could buy them.

But they also needed something more than money, she said, a special gift not everybody would be able or willing to give. They needed homes.

She asked: Would anybody be willing to take kids and adopt them?

The Mattheys were already sponsoring a number of children overseas, but the missionary's message haunted them.

Bob and Brenda went to see their pastor, the Rev. K.M. Szierer. Bob had tears in his eyes, Szierer recounted later. "You know," Bob told him, "the Lord keeps reminding us of that service, and we'd love to help if we could adopt one or two of these kids." Then, Szierer said, "They zeroed in, saying, 'If it's two brothers, we don't want to split them up, we want to keep them together.'"

It would not be easy. Bob made about $25,000 as an auto mechanic while Brenda was home-schooling their four children. They had sold some stock for $14,000 that year, and Bob made extra money by snow plowing and by towing and repairing autos at home.

They figured if they could afford to order pizza on Friday nights, they could afford some more kids.

Because of the missionary's nationality, the Mattheys began their search for a child in Brazil. But when Batista became ill, they began looking elsewhere, helped by a local adoption attorney and an agency in Colorado.

They developed a specific profile for the child or children they wanted to adopt. They wanted boys, they said, because they had four boys already. They didn't want girls, who might cause problems when puberty approached. They wanted children younger than their youngest, who was 7, but they didn't want infants.

The way they saw it, babies, not older kids, got adopted. Bob told people that once orphans were 2 years old, they didn't have a chance at a better life.

They considered an interracial adoption. After all, they were already sponsoring seven children in Ethiopia.

An Ethiopian adoption would be less costly, and race, they felt, would not be a factor. Bob said he wasn't worried about what people would think of a family of white kids and black kids.

His only concern, he said later, was that someone might make a smart-aleck comment in a McDonald's some night and, if he wasn't in a great mood, he might yell at that someone in front of the adopted kids and make them feel bad.