Kristi was a disobedient wayward teen, rebelling against her father’s Christian guidance, and now she was 16 and pregnant. Randy and Kathy were a young couple, unable to have children, but God had made them a promise of a child. And Randall was Kristi’s unborn baby — his life depended on what was going to happen next.
Four people, countless prayer, a host of decisions — good and bad — and God working through it all in miraculous ways, time again, that culminated in an emotional reunion nearly 36 years later!
Kristi’s childhood was not idyllic. Her parents divorced when she was 3 years old. She lived in Texas with her father and stepmother during the summers, but spent the rest of the year living with her mother and attending school in California. The families were night and day.
“My mother did not raise me in church or Christian influences,” Kristi says. “She lived a hippie/party lifestyle. My Dad and [his] family were highly active in church and ministry.”
When Kristi was 10, her mother died of cancer. She went to live with her father. At the age of 11, she became a Christian, accepting Christ as her Lord and Savior.
However, as she entered her teen years, which are already filled with challenges, three children were born into the family, and Kristi admits she felt “even more” like an outsider in her own home. She also now recognizes that she never was able to fully grieve the death of her mother.
“I never knew who I was or where I belonged. I started to be very rebellious and self-seeking,” she says.
Like many teens attempting to find their own way, Kristi took her father’s advice only in order to go the opposite way — in a mixture of proving him wrong and subconsciously living out the adage, “hurting people hurt people.”
When she was 16, she started sneaking out to party with other teens and a guy who she was infatuated with. When her dad learned of the relationship, as the young man was not a Christian, he demanded she end it.
That demand, as her mindset was already one of rebellion, drove her deeper into the relationship. She ran away with her boyfriend to live with his dad in New Mexico. A police summons brought them back to Texas, but she moved in with a friend instead of her dad.
Shortly afterwards, she suspected she was pregnant. Her boyfriend’s mom took her to a Planned Parenthood clinic where they confirmed the pregnancy. The mom offered to pay for her to have an abortion, move in with them, and Kristi’s family would never know about it.
“I remember sitting there and thinking, Yeah, that makes sense, and I am scared to be a mom so young. He [her boyfriend] and I talked and decided to do it,” Kristi says.
RANDY AND KATHY
When Randy was 15, just a year younger than when Kristi became pregnant, he was diagnosed with cancer. The treatment, he was told, had a chance of making him sterile — unable to have a child. That warning became a reality and was medically confirmed about a decade later when he and his wife, Kathy, started thinking about having a child.
Randy, who graduated from Central Bible College (now a part of Evangel University) in 1983, and Kathy had gone straight into the ministry and were working at an AG church in Memphis, Tennessee, when they started thinking about children.
“We started checking into the possibilities of adoption,” Randy recalls. “There was such a backlog that they weren’t even accepting applications at the state for infants. We started writing letters of applications, contacting other state and private agencies, but for whatever the reason, we didn’t qualify.”
The couple then heard that the PTL ministry (yes, the one founded by Jim Bakker) in North Carolina had an adoption agency, so they applied there as well. Their prayers were mixed with stress, faith, disappointment, hope, tears, and a myriad of other emotions as adopting is filled with difficulties most don’t realize.
“The adoption process is an emotional roller coaster,” Kathy admits. “A lot of people have to interview you — people making decisions whether or not you can have a child. Some ask, ‘What if you go through this process and you don’t get a child?’ And I just respond that is not going to happen — God has given me a promise that I’m going to have a child.”
CHANGE OF HEART
Ready to go through with the abortion, God allowed Kristi the opportunity to imagine killing a baby — it was a vision she could not bear. She told her boyfriend and his mother she had changed her mind; she did not want an abortion. They accepted her decision.
Plans to have a backyard wedding followed by moving to New Mexico began, but before that took place, Kristi and her father met to talk a few times.
“He offered for me to come home; all is forgiven,” Kristi says. “So, I moved home.”
God works in mysterious ways, for after Kristi moved home, she started to see her family in a different light: How she had embarrassed her Dad, who was now a pastor, and how things impacted his wife and three small children. The light was then placed on her boyfriend, as his lies and continued drug use took on a new perspective — he would not make a good father!
Kristi broke off the engagement and cried out to God for strength. Her step-mother then made a suggestion for her to consider — putting the baby up for adoption. Not long afterwards, she had made up her mind.
“I was on a plane to PTL in North Carolina to be admitted into its unwed mother’s home to give the baby up for adoption,” Kristi says.
In North Carolina, Kristi turned her heart, soul, and mind back to God. Even though she knew in her heart that adoption was the right decision, the sacrifice of that mother-child relationship loomed before her.
“I remember talking to him, singing to him, taking night walks and rubbing my belly crying,” Kristi says. “I know God carried me during that time because I was so confused.”
While there, Kristi received counseling and support, but it was up to her to choose who would adopt her baby. In her first request, she asked for application letters to be limited to young minister families. Then she revised her request — she wanted the ministers to be Spirit-filled ministers . . . Randy and Kathy’s application letter shot to the top of the list.
From the time Randy and Kathy knew about the possibility of adopting Randall, less than six months later, he was in their home, legally their son.
“We know that God’s hand was in it,” Randy says. “We know that was an extraordinary [short] time frame for that to happen . . . God formed us into a family.”
LET’S TALK ABOUT RANDALL
Randall Cartwright is the outgoing and personable 36-year-old worship pastor at James River Church in Ozark, Missouri. He and his wife of 10 years, Hannah, have three young children and they’ve been serving at James River for more than eight years.
Randall says that for as far back as he can remember he knew he was adopted – it was never a secret.
“In fact, Randall was quite proud of the fact that he was adopted,” Kathy says. “When he was young, he’d say, ‘Tell ‘em Mom, tell ‘em — they don’t believe me [that he was adopted].’ He felt like it made him special — it was never a shameful thing . . . and we all knew it was a God thing that brought us together.”
As Randall got older, his interests turned toward music. He loved everything about it, especially singing. He also started to wonder about his birth mother. However, unlike many adopted children, he had one thing from his birth-mother that helped guide his life as an adult.
The one thing? A passionate prayer that was in the form of a five-page, handwritten letter from Kristi.
A CONSTANT PRAYER
“I remember sitting on the floor with the doors closed in the shared bathroom as I read the [application] letters one last time,” Kristi says. “I remember how emotional it was to decide on the letters because it was finality. I chose his parents since their letters spoke to me the most and it fit what was in my spirit at the time. They were also ministers who met the criteria.”
Kristi then composed a letter to her unborn child, her heart full of love and a desire for her baby to serve God throughout his or her life.
“I poured my heart out and it flowed,” Kristi says. “I felt God was right there with me when I wrote it.” In retrospect, Kristi now realizes that the letter was her God-inspired prayer over her baby’s life.
Randall says that his parents presented the letter to him when he was in his mid-teens. Over the years, the letter has provided him with hope and motivation.
“She explained to me how she had given her life to the Lord and how that had become part of her decision to give me up to a Spirit-filled couple,” Randall says. “She encouraged me to live for the Lord, to give my heart to the Lord, to give everything to Him and that He had a calling on my life. The letter was filled with encouragement and hope — it was a very cool thing to have. I’ve read it throughout my life.”
When Randall received the letter, it led him to wonder about looking for his birth mother. Randy and Kathy had always made it clear that they would be willing to help him whenever he was ready to do that, but the desire got shelved as college, traveling with the Central Bible College singing group, Heart Song, and other interests — Hannah — took precedence.
After getting married, however, Hannah purchased Randall a gift — A 23-and-Me DNA test. As an adopted child, they were curious about any potential health issues in his genes and his ethnic background. The test would also reveal relatives who had taken the same DNA test — a possible link to his birth mother.
The DNA test initially didn’t reveal any close relatives — the closest people being identified as fifth cousins. For years Randall periodically checked the app on his phone for any updates and closer relative connections, but nothing materialized . . . until this past September.
“I was going through my phone and was going to delete apps I don’t use any more,” Randall says, “and I was going to delete the 23 and Me app, but a moment before I deleted it, I just felt the Lord tell me to open up one more time to see what was there . . . that was when notification popped up. It was a girl named Julie, labeled as a first cousin once removed. I wondered if maybe I could link to my birth mother through her, so I messaged her.”
Randall soon learned that Julie not only knew his birth mother — they were first cousins and very close — so she knew she had given up a baby for adoption. Things were about to get exciting!
A HARD ROAD
Following the adoption of her baby, Kristi returned home. Sadly, a resentment began to build between her and her father and stepmother. She left home, moving to North Carolina to work at a store on the PTL grounds.
Kristi’s life took a slow downward trajectory. The growing bitterness she harbored in addition to a void due to the unknown of what became of her baby, impacted her emotionally and spiritually. She married, had a second child, divorced, and then married again.
Her second husband, however, drank — a lot.
“When I met him, I drank with him,” Kristi says. “I remember when I started drinking, I thought, This is a good way to relieve my pain, mask my resentments, hide all my flaws and past hurt, and numb myself.”
The couple became functional alcoholics. Kristi used any excuse to drink. In time, the marriage deteriorated as fighting increased, while alcohol continued to mask her real problems.
“Looking back at this now, by drowning in alcohol for years I had evolved into a person I didn’t know,” she says.
Kristi tried treatment centers multiple times before and after divorcing her second husband, but nothing worked. But then, in 2018, for some reason, something clicked.
“I wanted to stop hurting myself and the people I loved around me . . . I became humbler and more open than I ever had before,” Kristi says. She also forgave and let go of her resentment toward her father and stepmother. As of Nov. 9, she had been sober for a year. “I give all the credit to God in every aspect of my healing and restoration – there is no way I could have done this on my own.”
That week in November, holds another significance for Kristi — It was the same weekend she met Randall in person for the first time.
Kristi learned of Randall when Julie gave her two pictures as a gift on Grandparents Day — the first being of her second child and his family and then a picture of a family she didn’t know.
“My first thought was, What a handsome guy and beautiful family,” Kristi says. “I thought immediately he looks like my Dad.” When Julie explained the picture, it took some time for Kristi to breathe it all in. Soon she was online watching him lead worship at James River Church, marveling at his talent and the way God was using him.
Following connecting with Julie, Randall told his parents about locating Kristi. They were thrilled for him.
A few days later, Randall spoke with Kristi for the first time by phone, speaking the words that have been in his heart for decades.
“I told her, ‘Thank you for what you did because I’ve had a blessed life,” he says, emotional still breaking his voice. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through and the decision you had to make.”
Randy and Kathy, who now serve as appointed general U.S. missionaries with Chaplaincy Ministries, say that when they first spoke to Kristi by phone, they also wanted to thank her.
“She was a teen when she made the decision,” Kathy observes. “It took a lot of courage and grace to do that — it was a very selfless decision she made, and we thanked her for that.”
“When I first met his parents by phone that was so impactful,” Kristi says. “His mom told me thank you and it was beyond powerful to me in that moment. I was so full of tearful joy in hearing how this baby had been an answer to prayer and blessed their lives.”
Following phone conversations, they decided to all meet at Randall and Hannah’s home on Nov. 6, followed by spending the next day at Randy and Kathy’s home, which was only a short drive away.
It was a time of excitement, apprehension, nerves, laughter, peace, and closure. And it began with Randall and Kristi embracing in an emotional and heartfelt hug.
Both Kristi and Randall state that they felt an immediate connection, as if they had known each other all their lives. The rest of the time, the families all unpacked their stories to each other, with all three generations of Cartwrights welcoming Kristi, sharing photographs, events, and other childhood memorabilia with her.
For Kristi, it soon became crystal clear how God had answered her prayer for Randall written so many years ago. In fact, Randall showed her the letter, which she then read out loud, sharing with the family the emotion of her decision made nearly 36 years ago.
“I could not have wished, prayed, or hoped for anything better than this,” Kristi says. “To see this in real life was beyond precious and no emotion can describe it. His parents are the best I could have ever picked. They have raised him in such strong Christian guidance and are beautiful examples of how he should be in life.”
The time with Kristi predictably impacted Randall’s life as well, but not in a way he imagined.
“Hearing my parents’ side of the story and how they have raised me — and they were the best parents I could ever have — and what she [Kristi] did, it was two different sides, but both wanted me to have the best possible life,” Randall says. “It has completely changed my view of love . . ., it’s a reflection of what God wants for His children as well — the best life possible — only through His love. It hit me . . . the motivation for it all is love and it’s changing the way of me loving my children and my wife.”
Feeling the acceptance from all the Cartwrights, from Randy and Kathy all the way to Randall and Hannah’s children, proved to continue the healing in Kristi’s spiritual life. She shared her full story with them, noting that she is living proof that full surrender to God can heal and restore — as now, even the relationship with her own father is being restored.
“God has proven to me and us that He has orchestrated every single step in His timing,” Kristi says, noting that had she not been one year sober, she could not have clearly and fully appreciated how God orchestrated it all. “I have never ever felt so much love as I did in that moment hugging Randall in person. I still am overflowing with that same love inside me and its continually flowing in all areas and relationships in my life . . . I am excited for what God has next and to fulfill the rest of His purpose in my life. I am convinced now, there is nothing God cannot do!”
Randy observes that all their stories and what God is doing in and through their lives is still being written, but as Randall says, they’re all ready for the relationships to continue to grow and expand naturally — as he learned that one of his aunts is also a worship leader, his grandfather was in a traveling Christian musical group, and his uncle is an AG missionary to Japan!
In short, Kristi sums up an incredible 36-year — and 9-month — journey in two precise words: “God wins!”