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What could you do to help the orphans, as commanded in Scripture? Mark Richt, head coach at the University of Georgia, and his wife, Katharyn, talk about the decision they made years ago to adopt two children from the Ukraine: a little girl named Anya, who was born with a facial deformity, and a 3-year-old boy named Zach. Hear them share what this commitment, made over 10 years ago, has meant to them and their children.
Mark and Katharyn RichtMark and Katharyn Richt live in Athens, Georgia where Mark is the head football coach of the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Their world was rocked in 2006 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. “Katharyn handled her cancer as faithfully as anyone could,” says her friend Vanessa Miller.
What could you do to help the orphans, as commanded in Scripture?
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Bob: Mark Richt and his wife Katharyn were not thinking about adoption when they first got married. Then they heard James, Chapter 1, verse 27.
Mark: I remember discussing the responsibility of helping the widows and the orphans was that of the Church. We have a lot of great social programs in our country and our government does a very nice job in a lot of ways; but really, God’s Word says that the Church should do it. What is the Church? Is it the building or is it the body of Christ? It’s us—it’s the body of Christ. Well, what are we doing to make a difference in that area? It all kind of came together around that Scripture.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 27th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine. We’re going to hear today from Coach Mark Richt and his wife Katharyn about how they responded to God’s call to pure and undefiled religion. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition. Back when we had Coach Mark Richt on FamilyLife Today a few months ago, I remember asking you if you would rather interview a football coach or a Hollywood star. You said, “No question—the football coach.” You have always admired coaches—I guess because of the leadership that is involved in coaching. Is that right?
Dennis: Yes. I mean, what a profession—to practice your skills in front of the camera 10-12 times a year on a weekend in front of 100,000 lunatic fans—and television cameras staring at your face around every expression that you have.
Bob: And second-guessing every decision you make.
Dennis: Oh, my goodness. I practice my profession for the most part in private. I speak a little bit but nothing like what a coach does who is a coach of a football team. It’s why I look forward to this conversation with Coach Mark Richt and his wife, Katharyn. Welcome back to FamilyLife Today, by the way.
Katharyn: Thank you.
Mark: Good to be here again.
Dennis: Coach of the Georgia Bulldogs—SEC coach of the year a couple of times—movie star of Facing the Giants. Won a lot of games—beat Arkansas a lot of times. In fact, I don’t think we’ve ever beaten you—have we? —since you’ve been coaching at Georgia?
Mark: I can’t remember. I plead the Fifth. [Laughter]
Dennis: I was looking forward to this discussion because you all and our family have something in common. We both have adopted. One of our six is adopted and you all have adopted two children.
Dennis: The reason I was looking forward to this conversation was because of a little clip we saw on ESPN that you did that was one of the most powerful clips I’ve ever seen. I wept, and I know it is because I have a heart for orphans. We’ve adopted one, and it grows beyond the one we’ve had.
In fact, Coach and Katharyn, you may not know this, but about six years ago FamilyLife launched an orphan care outreach called Hope for Orphans®. There have been a lot of things happen around that. God has used the leader of that, along with other leaders in the orphan care, foster care, and adoption area, to coalesce what is now more than 100 organizations that are meeting annually, talking about how we can work together to address the needs of over 130 million orphans worldwide.
What we are trying to do is call the Church— not individuals—we are trying to call the Church to get on the playing field and to just take a piece of it—take a piece of the problem. There are 400,000 churches. If each person, listening to this broadcast, would say, “I’d like to be that person in my church to help establish an orphan care ministry,” I think we can address this issue—huge. I think, over the next decade, we can see tens of millions of orphans cared for in the foster care system in America—which has a half million foster care children. Over 150,000 of them are adoptable.
When I married Barbara, and we started out our marriage together, and we started having kids—we had had four children—over those years—I do not recall, until I started dating Barbara and married her, ever having the conscious thought of two things: Number one: a big family. I didn’t even like kids. [Laughter]
Katharyn: Oh, gosh.
Dennis: And number two: I don’t remember, as an adult, ever having a conscious thought about adopting. I was basically pretty self-absorbed. To think about expressing a heart for an orphan—someone who didn’t have a family—never crossed my mind. But Barbara, as a little girl, had prayed she would have a chance to someday adopt a child and give a child a family. That started a dialogue in our marriage. How did the dialogue start in your marriage?
Katharyn: I think it was definitely a God-thing. Mark and I both came from big families. Our desire was to have a big family, but we were not allowed to have a big family because we went on fertility drugs for both John and David. After David, we had decided we weren’t going to do that any farther.
Mark’s dad, actually, and his wife were in a foster care program and took care of some kids. We were witness to that and saw that through our married life. We talked about maybe being possibly foster parents, at some point, when our children were older because we wanted our children to be the older ones in the home, not the younger ones.
Mark: We didn’t want to change that pecking order. That was a big part of it.
Katharyn: Right. My brother and his wife, when they got married, were not able to have children together. They had been married for maybe eight or nine years, and they were looking to adopt. They were going through all the options of whether to do it here or overseas. When it is happening in your family, it kind of gets you thinking about it and things of that nature.
Then, actually, my sister-in-law, Lisa, went over to Ukraine with a friend from our church. While she was over there, we were having discussions in James 1:27 about God tells us to take care of the orphans and the widows. Actually, we were talking about that, and we were talking about Lisa being over there. That next Sunday was when pastor actually addressed the same thing. Mark and I just kind of looked at each other. We kind of said, “Well, yes, we can do this!”
Mark: We discussed that the responsibility—I remember discussing that the responsibility of helping the widows and the orphans was that of the Church. We have a lot of great social programs in our country and our government does a very nice job in a lot of ways; but really, God’s Word says that the Church should do it. What is the Church? Is it the building or is it the body of Christ? It’s us—it’s the body of Christ. Well, what are we doing to make a difference in that area? It all kind of came together around that Scripture.
Dennis: So you started to dialogue about it?
Katharyn: We did.
Mark: Billy and Lisa were—they went to the Ukraine. They brought back some pictures. Katharyn’s brother—
Katharyn: Lisa was over there. I was actually communicating with Lisa on the phone, when I could. We were just at a family dinner. We were talking about it; and we were like, “Yes, we could adopt two little boys. They would fit in our family.” Football and boys—that’s easy. It’s a good thing. We loved our two boys, John and David. I think I was pushing two and Mark—
Mark: Here is how I remember it. [Laughter] I remember that Billy and Lisa saw a boy named Andre at the orphanage. We were looking at pictures of Andre. They thought Andre would fit our family. They wanted little bitty babies, and Andre was probably already two or three years old.
Katharyn: We didn’t want somebody who wouldn’t sleep through the night. I like my sleep! [Laughter]
Mark: So, we were watching pictures of Andre; but another little face kept popping up—a little different-looking face than all the other kids. That ended up being Anya.
As this desire to adopt came, we were like, “Okay, we’ll go get Andre;” and then we saw this picture of Anya. We were like, “Who would adopt this face?” We said, “You know what—let’s adopt her.”
Bob: When you saw Andre and you’re thinking, “Well, maybe this is what God would have for us,” and your eyes keep looking at this little girl—can you describe for our listeners what her face looked like?
Katharyn: Her face, all on the left side was just—looked beat up. The right side looks totally normal. Then, the left side just looks all kind of crunched up a little bit.
Mark: There is some fibrous tissue growth in there. Anyway, we thought we’d come to America and have some doctors take a look at it and say, “Oh, that’s the problem. We’ll get it straightened away immediately.” It wasn’t quite that way.
Bob: Well, you jumped from seeing a picture of her and coming to America.
Mark: That’s true. I went too fast.
Bob: As your eyes started to drift toward—
Dennis: Yes, I want to know what you thought.
Bob: —her, what happened to cause you to go, “I wonder if we should adopt her?”
Katharyn: Well, I think, in our minds, we were thinking, “Boys.” I think that both Mark and I probably have hearts of mercy. So, you just—I said to Lisa on the phone, “So, why is she there?” A lot of the kids are in the orphanage in Ukraine because their parents can’t afford to feed them and take care of them. Lisa said, “She’s there because of her face—because her parents left her in the maternity ward because of her face.” I think Mark and my hearts just broke. We were just like, “Okay, we’ll take a little baby girl.”
Bob: Katharyn, that is a huge decision. To go from you had been thinking, “Boy,” and, now, it is a girl—not only a girl—but a girl with facial deformity. To go, “Okay,” —was it that quick?
Mark: The other thing, too, is that we didn’t know if there was other physical—“Who knows what the rest of the body has?” As it turned out, she’s extremely normal in every way.
Dennis: Speak to that though because I’ve been involved in challenging couples to consider adoption. One of their greatest fears is—
Bob: “What if there is something wrong?”
Dennis: Yes. “What are the genetics?”, “What if—?”, and, “What about this?” Speak to the fear.
Mark: Well, they are still little souls; you know?
Katharyn: God created them.
Mark: Right; so, what the heck? [Laughter]
Dennis: I have a friend who adopted a little boy, and the little boy was not expected to live. I have to say that this was one of the most powerful moments in my life because he said, “You know—he may only live two or three years; but you know what? He will die with a family around him. He will experience family instead of dying alone in a crib or in an orphanage as being a number.”
God didn’t make little kids to die alone. That is really what you are saying here. It doesn’t matter what the handicap is—whether it is a physical handicap, an emotional handicap. We all have them. Some handicaps you can just see; but you guys chose her. You chose her.
Mark: Well, I think that God put it on our heart to do it. It was an act of obedience for us. We believe, when God puts something like that on our hearts, He is going to equip us with what we need to finish the drill—like we say at Georgia. There was confidence that God was going to provide for us and He was going to help us know how to handle the entire situation—not just the adoption.
I’ll say this, too. Adoption is a little bit like marriage. The thought of adoption is exciting, but it is a life-long commitment. The thought of a wedding is exciting. It’s fun. Everybody is like, “Oh, the wedding!” —but then you stay married the rest of your life. When you adopt, don’t get enamored with just the thought of adoption because it is a life-long commitment; but it is a major, major blessing.
Bob: A lot of people think about adoption as, “We’d like to fill out our family,” or, “We’d like to add to our family.” I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that; but you guys have described there is kind of a change between “filling out our family” and all of a sudden going, “We can take care of a little girl.” It’s not about “filling out our family” —it’s about investing in the life of a little girl—pouring your life into her. I want to know about the first time you saw Anya, face-to-face—not just in a picture.
Katharyn: Oh! That was so precious because they walked me up to the room. In front of me—Mark was not there—I was in Ukraine alone, making this decision for our family; but he knew exactly who to bring out there for me because I wasn’t going to say, “No.” It didn’t matter who they brought out there. I was going to be like, “Okay.”
We walk up, and we peer into this little room. They’re sitting at the table—so quiet, and peaceful, and sweet—eating some cereal. Then, they bring them out. Well, the minute the caregivers—I see them talk to Anya and Zach—Zach pops up out of his chair and starts running towards the door. Anya starts crying because Anya is very much aware of what’s happening. Zach is, too; but I believe he is fired up to be getting-out-of-the-orphanage type of scenario—even though he was only three-and-a-half. Anya was two-and-a-half, but she knew that if they started calling me, “Mama,” that that meant that, eventually, I was going to end up taking her away from what she knew. So, she was crying. She was scared.
I believe that, in the orphanage, because of her facial deformity, she was given a little extra care and attention because what we came to find out was that when they are 15, they are then put out on the street, with the clothes on their back. They can’t afford to do anything else over there. A lot of times, girls, like her, would end up becoming prostitutes and end up in the river, and things of that nature. So, she was scared. I had to bribe her with cookies.
Dennis: So, the first time you picked her up—describe that.
Katharyn: She’s very, very, very light. It actually—I didn’t go—I kind of would kneel down on their level, and kind of just rub their little backs, and things like that. I think it took me probably four or five visits of bringing cookies before I actually picked them up and kind of swung them around. It’s not like they just start clinging to you and it’s like your own children—you know, as babies. There is a little—
Mark: It takes time to bond.
Katharyn: It takes time to bond. They’re a little standoffish because they don’t know—they kind of shift around classes in the orphanage. So, they don’t even have the same caregiver. Zach and Anya didn’t even know how long they were going to be with us. They knew they were going to be leaving the orphanage, but they didn’t know what that meant. They didn’t know that meant that they were going to be with us for the rest of their life, Lord willing.
Dennis: Mark, the first time you picked her up; do you remember?
Mark: I do remember she was light as a feather. I just played with them. I brought a ball, I think.
Bob: What a surprise. [Laughter]
Mark: Yes. Zach was showing off. He would do a seat drop on the concrete and laugh. Anya would just laugh hysterically at him. We just watched them play on the playground. They had a couple of old, rusty things there. They had a wooden slide.
Katharyn: We chased them.
Mark: Yes. It was fun. We just tried to get them to laugh, and tickle them, and all that kind of stuff.
Bob: Did you have any second thoughts as you were over in the Ukraine? You have both of these kids. Were you thinking, “Should we take one? Should we take both?” —any second thoughts?
Katharyn: I had second thoughts immediately after I told them. They came out and I said, “Yes these are the children we want.” My translator left to go start the paperwork. There was nobody there who spoke English. They ushered me, by myself, into the room with Zach and Anya. Anya is crying. I’m kneeling down, trying to take care of her. Zach is picking up blocks and starting to toss them.
Anya starts to laugh. I’m like, “Okay, he’s not building; but she’s laughing. So, this is okay.” The blocks started flying a little bit wilder, and a little bit harder, and longer. I said, “Okay, nyet, nyet,” which means, “No.” “We’re not doing that anymore,” and kind of covered up the blocks. He runs over and knocks a vase over with water. It goes all over the room. I’m like, “Oh! Nyet!” I’m trying to clean that up, and he picks up this water can. He’s dumping it all over the floor. I’m like, “Oh! Nyet!”
Anya is still laughing. I’m, at least, thankful for that; but Zach is like—and then he runs down with his head thrown back, just laughing this kind of cackle—a little scary—to the other end of the room. He picks up a stick, and he starts just wildly whacking at things. I remember—literally, like in a stance—it must have been a football stance I’ve seen them do at practice—like saying, “Lord, are we okay? Are You and I on the same page here?”
Dennis: “Did I hear?”
Katharyn: “You knew what we needed and what I would do. Are we okay?” After that, I was like, “Oh boy, what have I gotten our family into?” [Laughter]
Dennis: How long did it actually take you before you were able to leave the Ukraine and come back to America with the children?
Mark: Katharyn spent about 30 days. I spent 8 days. I got there just to handle the legal part because I had to be there. It was actually a week before camp started of our 1999 season. Coach Bowden allowed me to go at that time. It was supposed to be done earlier in the summer. It got pushed back, so I went. Katharyn did most of everything.
Dennis: There is more I want to ask you about adoption because you hinted at it in terms of it not being a fairy tale. It’s not this happily-ever-after story. There is a cost in marriage—making a commitment to another person—but also in making a commitment to adopt.
Dennis: I want to talk more about that; but I just want to turn to the listener for a moment and just ask you, “What is your response to this?” Maybe it is as simple as praying for the 130-plus million orphans in the world—that God would rally the body of Christ—the troops here in America and other countries around the world—because we’re working with other countries, too—but would rally the troops to rescue the helpless.
The orphan needs people to speak for them. That is what we are talking about here. That’s why Coach Richt decided to do this—and Katharyn—this interview. We are speaking on behalf of those who have no voice.
Mark: The body of Christ—there are so many different parts and pieces of it. I think there are a lot of people out there who might be willing to adopt but feel like they can’t handle it financially. They have the heart for it. They have the spirit for it, but they don’t feel like they have the finances for it. Even back when we did it, we had some friends of ours who had the finances to help us take this trip and help us through this adoption process.
You may not be called to adopt yourself, but you may be called to support it financially. There might be a young couple in your church that has the heart for it, but they need help and the confidence of some financial help. I want to encourage prayer—it is number one. If you can help financially, beautiful; and if you want to go ahead and do it yourself, that is great. Don’t be afraid to let people know your needs because I think we just don’t ask enough.
Dennis: We don’t. I’m glad you mentioned that, Mark. The fourth way you can help is by considering to start an orphan care/foster care/adoption ministry in your local church. This is being done in thousands of churches across America. In my opinion, it is one of the cutting-edge new ministries occurring in America. If you want to go visit where God is at work, go get involved in an orphan care ministry. I promise you will see God there.
Dennis: You’ll meet God in an orphanage. You really will.
Bob: Next weekend, our team from Hope for Orphans® is participating in a national pastor’s summit on adoption that is taking place at Southern Seminary—talking about all of the ways that individuals and churches can get involved in caring for the needs of orphans. Adoption is one of the ways we can do that, and that’s what you guys have done.
In fact, this year, Orphan Sunday—it is Sunday, November 4th. That weekend, the team is mobilizing hundreds of Christians and churches, all around the country, to host an If You Were Mine® adoption seminar in your local community, in your local church. Anybody can host this event. Our team is making the video curriculum available to the first 500 people who contact us and say, “Our family will host this,” or, “My wife and I will host it,” “My husband and I can host this in our church.”
All we need is a date and a location. We’ll send out the video seminar so that you can host the If You Were Mine video seminar the weekend of November 3rd and 4th. Again, November 4th is Orphan Sunday. You can find more information about what’s available when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. All of the information is there. FamilyLifeToday.com is our website; or call us, toll-free, at 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
And mark your calendar now for May 2nd and 3rd. The ninth annual Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit will be taking place in Nashville, Tennessee, on those days. We hope to see you in Nashville—May 2nd and 3rd, 2013. Early registration is available. We have a link, again, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like more information. Or call us if you have any questions; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800 -“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.
Now, tomorrow, we will continue our conversation with Coach Mark Richt and his wife Katharyn as we hear about their decision to adopt a special-needs child. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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