By CARTER STRICKLAND
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/18/07
The schedule called for the car to be packed by 4:45 a.m.
All four children — John, 17; David, 12; Zach, 11, and Anya, 10 — ideally would have been in place and ready to go. Then the car would slip into reverse. The world they know would fall from view. And the Richt family's trip into anonymity would begin.
The plane will come in high and stop quickly in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Here the landscape is like a starlet, beautiful and treacherous. Here poverty grips everything. More than 65 percent of families live on less than $2 per day. The path and wrath of Hurricane Mitch can still be found in the capital city. It has been nine years since it ripped through the city.
It is into this that the Richt family will descend today.
This is where Mark Richt, a man of wealth, fame and power in the college football world, has chosen to serve and teach. This is where he was needed and Richt felt his family needed to be.
"We want to help and we want to spread the gospel," Richt said.
That, more so than football, has always been Richt's mission in his adult life. The devout Baptist holds God and family closer than wins and losses. He is a man who prays about almost every decision and executes those decisions with God in mind.
This latest decision — to spend a week in and around the mountain town of Guaimaca, Honduras — didn't require much debate. Instead, conviction and understanding were at immediate play in Richt's mind when the idea was handed to him.
"Our kids lead a very charmed life," Katharyn Richt, Mark's wife, said. "They lack for nothing. All their needs are met. It is important for them to see that it is all not like that. There are people that need the basic things: food, water, clothing and shelter.
"Their life here is very good and any time we can teach our children to think about other people, be other-centered and not self-centered, it is something we want to do."
Idea sparked in 1999
The road to Guaimaca has as many bumps as it is does turns. This will be the Richt family's first indication of just how far they are away from where they have been. For two hours they will ride this road far into the country to a town of 30,000 where running water and electricity work about half the year for half the people. The main road through town is paved but is probably more pocked than any of the dirt ones that surround it.
"We knew we wanted to do a mission with the kids," Mark Richt said. "So we were going to do one. We didn't know where. Katharyn was thinking about going to Africa."
Mark wasn't so sure. But they knew they would go somewhere this summer, as this had been on their minds for years.
Katharyn and Mark had wanted to take their two oldest boys to Ukraine for the adoption of the two youngest members of the family back in 1999. That had not worked out, but since then the idea of spreading the gospel as a family had never strayed too far from the surface.
Then Todd Unzicker entered their lives. Unzicker, a member of the Prince Avenue Baptist Church family, took a one-week trip to Guaimaca in 2005 that changed his life.
"[I] returned with a calling to quit my job [he covered Georgia for Rivals.com], sell my home, and move here," Unzicker said in an e-mail. "I've seen this with others as well over the past couple years that I've been here."
In January, he stepped back into the States and into the Richt home.
"He and his family have been a real blessing to me and my ministry over the past two years with prayer, e-mails, and support," Unzicker wrote. "Last January, I simply gave them the details of what it is like for a visitor since they had already been reading my updates and knew about the work here."
"We knew that is what we wanted to do," Richt said.
The water runs hot in the Hospital Bautista. The electricity stays on. And the flow of patients remains steady.
"This is a place where they minister through medicine," said Kevin Hynes, Georgia's team chaplain.
Hynes, who is also Richt's brother-in-law, made the trip a year ago.
"It's a place where you can share the gospel," Hynes said. "They have services, you can pray with people and then you literally go door to door and hand out Bibles and just talk to people and share with them."
"The idea for the ministry here is that people will come for miles for food, water, and medical care; once they are here, we can tell them about Jesus," Unzicker wrote.
World Baptist Missions took shape here four years ago. Since that time more than 1,000 people have come through the doors of this hospital. The facility provides meals, a dorm facility that can accommodate up to 50 people and an on-campus medical staff. This is where the Richts will stay.
Anya will have to forgo shorts for dresses. The boys must wear pants. A small sacrifice, Katharyn Richt joked.
"But they aren't used to that," she said.
No one will be used to what is around them. The Richt family enjoys, or is burdened with, depending on the situation, fame. Here, no one will know who they are or what they do.
"They have never heard of Georgia football," Katharyn Richt said. "It will be refreshing that it is not totally about us."
Richt to hold soccer camp
Sprinkled around Guaimaca like crumbs from a cake are San Marcos, Los Jobos, San Jose de Guayape, and La Ezmerelda. Word will spread from each that Richt has arrived.
Word has already been spread of a football camp.
"He's going to have the Mark Richt football camp," Kathryn Richt said. "But nobody is going to know who he is. And the football they are talking about is soccer."
After working the mornings doing construction work at the hospital, (Katharyn and Anya will work in the day care facility), the Richt boys will take part in El Campo de Futbol de Marco Richt.
"I have been wanting to do something like this for the two years I've been here, but this will be our first attempt and I really think it can be a special week," Unzicker wrote.
It's not that Unzicker is particularly intrigued to see what kind of coach Richt is in soccer, but more importantly he wants to show these people what kind of man mark Richt is in everyday life.
"Guys in this society have no idea what it is like to be husband, father, or God fearing man," Unzicker wrote. "Soccer rules everything here, and men spend most of their time on the soccer fields. The Richt guys, myself, and some of our local pastors and leaders of the church will be playing soccer with the guys, providing drinks, and sharing what it means to follow Christ and be a real man in society."
And Mark Richt and his family for seven days in Honduras will start to understand what it means to step out of a society that has so much and give back to a society that needs so much.
"There are a lot of people that are struggling out there," Mark Richt said. "If you have what you need, food, water, shelter, family, you don't have to have all the things that we have in America. Not everybody has that. And we want to help those that are in need."
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