We walked into that Sunday School as newlyweds already tired and a bit jaded from recent disappointments in life and ministry. Some of those disappointments were a natural consequence to our own flawed choices, while others stemmed from the hard knocks of growing up and facing real life in a real fallen world. We had only been married a couple of years, but we realized this was our last opportunity to "sit and receive" Bible teaching before stepping into full-time ministry ourselves. So we found two seats in a classroom full of couples, and prepared to listen.
That year, the Alpha Class of Summit Baptist Bible Church made a lifelong imprint on our marriage. Forming friendships with other young married couples, many of whom were also training for ministry, resulted in relationships that continue to bless us to this day. We learned the value of intentionally making time for our marriage and striving to grow together in faith and in love. Most of our experiences that year were fun and joyful, but it was the one that wasn't that has stayed with us fifteen years later and nudged us to continue to offer a matrimonios (married couples) ministry at our church in Iquique.
One of the husbands in our class was also studying to be a pastor while working a secular job (as we all did to make ends meet and get through school!) There, he met Jason* and later Jason's wife Linda* (names changed for privacy) and their two kids. To the great excitement and thrill of this roomful of budding ministers and wives, both Jason and Linda professed to accept Christ as Savior. They participated in many of the class activities and their presence and newfound faith encouraged us all.
Not until it was too late did we realize that perhaps they had encouraged us more than we had encouraged them. Towards the end of our time together, several of us who would soon be moving on from school gathered for a meal in the cute newlywed apartment of one couple. I don't remember if Jason came, but Linda was there. After eating we made a circle of lawn chairs in the back yard and as dusk fell with the privacy it offers and in the glow of a warm campfire, we began to talk. Somehow the conversation landed on true, less-than-blissful moments we had lived as newly-married couples. From the wife who ran away for one hour (okay, that was me) to the throwing of plates at a husband's head (that was not me), the stories were shocking and funny and a reminder that we are all human and in need of God's grace!
It was hilarious and entertaining but afterward as we were preparing to leave, Linda said to me and another wife, "Wow! I didn't know you guys had problems like that. I though your marriages were all perfect." Sadly the lack of transparency until then about our own struggles had kept her from sharing theirs. Soon after, their marriage crumbled due to Jason's affair with a co-worker and Linda began to make a life for herself and her children away from him and away from church.
Marriage is hard work, never more so than now when society has denigrated its importance and redefined its meaning. If we cannot find help in our churches and hope from the Word of God and healing among other believers, what chance do we have of not becoming yet another statistic to divorce and failure? That is why the matrimonios ministry is so important to us.
Which is not to say it isn't difficult at times. When the decorations are laid and the PowerPoint is prepped and the games are planned and it is 45 minutes after starting time and Pedro and I are alone staring at each other in the empty sanctuary, we wonder if this ministry has run its course and we should focus our efforts in other areas. But when five minutes later, four couples arrive and we know the message is Biblical and fresh and exactly what their marriages (and ours) need ... and when those four couples stay late and connect and chat about life and kids and schools and build relationships with one another in this city where almost none of them have family ... and when one wife shares that they were planning to move away this December but now they won't because of this church ... we remember it is "unto the Lord" and He still has a purpose for this ministry.
Because there are still couples in need of hope and we are counseling a "Linda" right now as she begins to make a life for herself and her child in the wake of her own marriage's destruction. And this time we don't want to lose her. We are still praying for a miracle and we are asking God to protect other marriages from the same pattern of hurt and broken covenants.
This month in our matrimonios meeting, the beautiful theme of the chapter was mercy. In his book When Sinners Say "I Do" author Dave Harvey writes, "In the Bible, mercy weds the severe obligation of justice with the warmth of personal relationship. Mercy explains how a holy and loving God can relate to sinners without compromising who he is." Applying this to marriage, he states, "... deep, profound differences are the reality of every marriage. It's not the presence of differences but the absence of mercy that makes them irreconcilable." May we continue to faithfully teach and minister God's mercy in our own marriages and to those around us!
Previous posts in this series:
Coming Soon: Ministry Update Series
Ministry Update: Jovenes Mayores
Ministry Update: Valuing Life Conference
Ministry Update: Encouraging Future Leaders
Ministry Update: The Story of Hope
Ministry Update: Reunion de Damas (Ladies' Meeting)