We may not have a connection to the local water supply, we may not be blessed with the most conducive climate for home maintenance, and we may have to ask foreign visitors to risk excess-baggage charges in order to get our eager hands on some decent chocolate. But something we certainly do not lack is encouragement from those who pray for, and give to, our ministry here. Hardly a week goes by without a Facebook message or email containing something along the lines of, ‘I think what you do is just wonderful, and you’re a great couple’.
Such missives, naturally, are greatly appreciated. But when we’re repeatedly complimented on how ‘lovely’ or ‘special’ a couple we are, I’m conscious of having perhaps created a false impression by not touching so much on our failings on forums such as this. We are, of course, as fallen as anyone else. And that, more often than not, plays itself out in our marriage.
We try not to give our marriage too much online visibility, primarily from a sense of duty to friends who are single. But today I’ll be making an exception at the end of a challenging week for us as a couple.
The simple fact is that, if you are a couple in ministry, then your marriage is a core aspect – perhaps the core aspect – of your ministry. That, of course, is not just the case on far-flung mission stations; and it doesn’t just apply to ministry either.
Here, a monogamous, faithful marriage partnership is a powerful witness in itself. The culture here, as many of you are aware, is simply drenched in promiscuity. It is far from unusual for men to have two or even three families on the go at once. Many of the youth and children who come to church have more half-siblings than the genuine article. And – with grim inevitability – all too often those same young people fall into the same traps as their parents by playing with fire when they should be preparing for their finals.
And so, when we turned up here in January 2010 and declared that we weren’t going to be involved in youth ministry because our Spanish wasn’t good enough, we were strongly encouraged to reconsider our position. The silent witness of marital exclusivity was crucial.
Scripture also implies that marriages and the family unit are to be protected and prioritised; and that is as true for those involved in the Lord’s work as anyone else. Indeed, were it not for such teaching, I suspect that the divorce rates of couples in full-time ministry would be fairly consistent with the societal average.
Because Christian ministry, to a large extent, demands that we give so much of ourselves; and – wouldn’t you know it – that’s just what is required of us in marriage, too (Ephesians 5:22-30). We have found this to be particularly true in a culture like this. We westerners are oftentimes too proud to seek the help of others; it usually takes a genuine crisis for us to allow ourselves to come to a position of dependence upon others. Not so here. Asking for help is simply an accepted part of life. And so, when seemingly successful people who look like they’ve got it all together come on the scene (i.e., white missionaries!), then it is people like us who will be sought after.
Yet it is not a culture in which you get much back either, in the sense of affirmation and encouragement. I don’t fish for compliments, of course, but having preached five sermons here so far, I can count the number of times I received any kind of feedback on the fingers of one hand. So it can become easy to get into a cycle of giving the vast majority of your energies to those outside your marriage, even though the returns are minimal at best.
And it took our coming to Bolivia for us to realise just how easily one’s marriage can slip down the list of priorities – almost by default. When Amanda ‘submits to’ the needs of colleagues, when Craig ‘gives himself up for’ church members in dire straits, by the time we get home, we all too often fall into the trap of thinking we have nothing left to give. Or, we realise we gave too much to others in the first place.
And so, sins of omission rather than commission tend to rear their head. It becomes easier to talk about a tough situation with a person from our work than to talk about each other and our own needs. It becomes easier to stick a disc in the Blu-Ray player and laze on the couch than spend genuine quality time with each other. It becomes easier to arrive at a dangerous place of acceptance that, with so many needs to attend to, one’s marriage will simply have to wait.
We are thankful that, as far as we can tell, this is something we still refuse to accept. But suffice it to say that the past seven days have revealed to us how neglectful we so often are of each other, how frequently we take each other for granted, and how regularly the best of us is reserved for the desk rather than the dinner table.
I can understand why the thought of ‘doing full-time ministry together’ might appeal to couples, as much on a marital as a professional level. If you feel you’re being called to it, embrace it. But be warned: in such territory, you will most likely find a pinpoint-accurate diagnosis of – rather than a cure for – your marriage.
Flawed though I am, my best friend is still here in the trenches with me. I couldn’t do it without her. In the Lord’s strength, I hope to better demonstrate my appreciation for her steadfastness.
- For our marriage, particularly that it would be protected from any false notions of martyrdom on our part.
- Keep praying for Hernán, whose health has deteriorated a little over the last few days.
- For Craig as he preaches on 2 Peter 1:15-2:3 tomorrow morning.
- Pray for wisdom for Amanda and her fellow board members at Fundación Totaí, as they face difficult decisions.
- We now have the first batch (of many!) of our documents submitted in order to be registered to adopt. Give thanks for this, and pray for a positive outcome.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!
Craig & Amanda