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“We were looking for a miracle.”
That’s how Luna and Morris Mikel described what they were hoping to find at Re|Engage, a weekly gathering for couples and a key component of WBC’s marriage ministry.
Married for thirteen years, with two young sons, Morris and Luna had, in their own words, “hit rock bottom” in their marriage—in spite of their shared faith in Jesus Christ.
The couple first met on Canada’s Prince Edward Island, where Morris, born in Iraq into a Catholic Assyrian family, was teaching English and computer skills at a local community college. Luna, the daughter of missionaries who came out of the Jesus movement of the 1960s, was doing social work with the immigrants and refugees Morris was teaching. They dated for two years, and married in 2000.
“We’ve struggled in our marriage from day one,” Luna admits. “We came from two different cultures, very different families, two different ways of thinking —really, two different worlds.”
“Personally,” Morris says, “I was thinking about separation, because we were arguing all the time.”
Although the couple avoided arguing in front of their children, there was no missing the tension that existed in their household. “They definitely felt it,” Morris said of their two boys.
But no matter how rocky things were, neither Luna nor Morris had any desire for a divorce. “When I came to this part of the world,” Morris said, “I was very critical of the people who were divorced—especially the Christians.”
Luna, who has a history of divorce in her family, was also against the idea of divorce, but she feared her marriage would never be healed.
“We’d been through counseling; we’d done all the Bible studies and conferences,” Luna says, but nothing brought a lasting change to their relationship—until Re|Engage, a program launched at WBC earlier this year.
“All that other stuff helped,” Luna said, “but Re|Engage gave us the foundation to sit together, to see the same view with the same eyes and see what God says about us and about marriage.”
“Through Re|Engage we got on the same page and started loving each other,” she adds.
Morris, who admits he came to Re|Engage with a degree of skepticism, soon found it to be a real turning point for their relationship. “It’s God-centered, with lots of reminders of all God has done for us and how we should be willing to do the same for each other.”
“And there’s a focus,” he adds, “on looking to yourself and what you need to change versus trying to change the other person.“
They also talk about how well the format of the meetings worked for them, starting with a time of worship—a transition from hurrying to get there after work and getting prepared to really listen—followed by teaching on basic relationship principles.
The small-group portion of the evening—where Morris and Luna were part of a group led by Rich and Sandy Crane—was particularly significant for them.
“Sandy and Rich seemed to bring the right combination of putting you at ease,” Morris said, “and at the same time, gently holding you accountable.”
“Maybe it was God’s timing, “ Morris adds, “but at the beginning of our group’s first meeting, one of the couples with us just jumped into it and opened up right away. I think that helped too.”
“I said, Okay, if they are going to be vulnerable, I can too.”
The Mikels, and other participants, talk about the value of the “homework” that’s part of the program.
“The homework was a key thing that helped me,” Luna said. “We have two small children—two and four—and we actually hired babysitters so we could sit down and spend time doing the lesson and talking about it.
“It was really helpful to have specific guidelines for the questions, like, ‘Share this. Don’t respond. No comments allowed.”
Morris agrees. “That really helped us a lot, because we held each other accountable. I’d remind her, or she’d remind me. And we each accepted that.”
Both admit they still have a lot of work to do but say that Re|Engage “got them going in the same direction.”
“Re|Engage helped us turn around 180 degrees,” Luna says.
Rich and Sandy, facilitators for the Mikels’ small group—called a “closed group” in Re|Engage terminology—have delighted in Morris and Luna’s transformation.
“It’s so fun to see people come out of their shell,” Sandy said.
The Cranes, who are members of the Pathways Adult Community, have been part of the Re|Engage leadership team since the planning stages. Having been through the trauma of divorce themselves, they want to help other couples find unity and healing in their marriages.
Rich, who works in corporate finance, says that his divorce was “absolutely the worst time of my life. You feel like you can’t get much lower. You can’t pray much harder.”
When Rich met Sandy, whose husband had left her and she had to raise three children as a single mom, “It was exciting,” he says, “to find somebody who had walked a similar course but who believed in the need to have the Lord in the center of our marriage.”
Having been in that really difficult place themselves, God put it on the hearts of Sandy and Rich to help other couples. “We are busy people,” Rich says, “but when this opportunity opened up, we said yes. We believe God has taken our pain and given us something beautiful—and He wants us to do something with that,” Rich adds. “And experiencing what we went through makes you someone who’s ‘safer’ to talk to for people who are having problems.”
Rick and Tammy
Also part of the Crane’s small group, Rick and Tammy Erickson came to Re|Engage not because of their own need but out of deep concern for their friends Morris and Luna, who they knew were struggling.
Luna told them about Re|Engage after she attended the Gary Chapman marriage conference at WBC last winter, where Marriage Pastor Mark Irvin announced the program’s launch. Luna asked Rick and Tammy if they would come along—at least for the first week.
“We decided that since they were in such a bad place, we really wanted Morris to come, and we thought maybe he wouldn’t if Rick didn’t,” Tammy said.
“Morris and I are friends,” Rick explained, “so I came to Re|Engage for his benefit. But Tammy and I really weren’t going for ourselves. We’re thinking, Hey, we’re coming alongside another couple. And we felt good for Morris and
Luna, but then we were kind of surprised how God started to work in our own marriage.
“We’d been in classes before,” Rick said, “but this one took root quickly.”
A big difference was the small-group time each week. “It was amazing how quickly stuff came out—in a good way,” he said.
They also pointed to the importance of the weekly homework, typically three pages to read and five questions to answer together. It wasn’t always easy, they agreed, but well worth it.
“One time we sat in Atten Park in our car on a Sunday afternoon,” Tammy recalls, “and did a lesson on forgiveness. ‘Name five things that you need to ask your spouse for forgiveness for, and then let them explain how those things have impacted them. Listen without defensiveness. You’re only trying to listen and empathize with them.’ And I felt it was a very genuine experience—more than just use of a listening tool.”
“For me, too,” Rick adds. “That forgiveness session in the park was a highlight.”
Rick and Tammy, who have been married for more than 30 years and have two adult sons, had taken part in other marriage-enrichment classes and seminars. They agreed that Re|Engage is different.
“Part of the difference between Re|Engage and other curriculums we’ve done is the idea of actually putting head knowledge into practice and opening our hearts to let God work,” Tammy said.
Tammy says that “community and camaraderie” are two other valuable aspects of the program.
Rick also sees value in how the small group was conducted, “Our facilitators would gracefully focus the conversation rather than allow someone to dodge a difficult question or talk about their husband or their wife instead of about themselves.”
Rick admits that the small group conversations sometimes got a little uncomfortable, “but then it dawned on me that this is how our marriage is going to get better—by being honest with a group of couples we trust. And there was a lot of that.
“I would tell another guy, ‘Go to the class. Give it a try. We’ve seen it work in our marriage. We’re not done, but we’ve seen it work. We’re in a much better place in our marriage.’ Yes, it took hard work and commitment. It’s tough, but it’s worth it if your marriage is worth it,” Rick said.
Jeff and Jill
Married for 27 years, the Millers had started dating during high school. But as the kids got older and had more of their own activities, it was more and more just the two of them. “When I was younger,” Jeff says, “I always thought that marriage was just going to get easier and easier. That was my impression. I had no idea.”
Jeff and Jill learned about Re|Engage
on the WBC website, when they were looking at churches on the internet.
“We happened to be at a place in our
marriage where we needed it,” Jill said.
“Some bad patterns had crept in,” Jeff adds.
Members of a small group at their previous church, Jeff and Jill had actually led that group through a marriage curriculum. “We were making it look good to the group, but our hearts weren’t ready” Jill said, “and that’s just exhausting. We would lead the small group, and everybody would leave, and we would just go back to silence between the two of us.”
“Right now,” Jeff says, “we want to work on our marriage—really focus on that, so we’re letting some other things go for a while.”
Relative newcomers to Re|Engage, Jeff and Jill have not yet participated in a closed group, but they are already seeing benefit from the teaching and the “open” small group they’ve met with in their early weeks. Even in that setting,
Jeff says, “we’ve identified some things that keep cropping up—recurring things—and we’re starting to get some ideas of where they stem from.”
“The depth of the conversations,” Jill says, “has been phenomenal. The leaders gently ask the hard questions. I’ve never felt like anyone was being judgmental—just getting to the heart of the matter.”
The Monday-night Meetings
Welcoming new couples throughout the year, the Monday-night Re|Engage meetings begin at 6:30 pm in the Chapel (Main 102) with a time of worship, followed by biblical teaching on a marriage-related topic. Later, couples move to smaller groups—either a newcomers group for first-timers or an open group for those who are in the process of considering a longer-term commitment to the program. Those who have committed to completing the 16-week curriculum together with a group of other couples join a closed group that will continue to meet each week as a unit.
According to Pastor Mark Irvin, who oversees the program, those who have already benefited from Re|Engage in its first year include the not-yet-married, couples with marriages on really shaky ground, empty nesters who are facing the challenges of those transition years, and couples at other ages and stages as well.
Even Rich and Sandy, who are members of the Re|Engage leadership team, agree that their marriage has become better and stronger through the experience.
“To a person,” Rich says, “the leaders will tell you that it’s improved their own marriages.”
“We’ve grown in the communication area,” Sandy adds. “Even though we have a strong marriage, we still need to work on it, and Re|Engage reminds us of that. Just because you have a good marriage, you can’t just sit back and say, ‘We’re good to go for another twenty years.’”
“Sometimes when you’re too comfortable with something, you drift,” Rich says. “And maybe you hear a sermon that tells you to put God in the center of your marriage. But how do you do that? Here we have questions thrown out, and Sandy and I have to talk about our answers.”
For the Cranes, the value of Re|Engage is crystal clear, both in terms of how God has used the program in their own marriage, and even more in terms of the hope and joy they’ve seen restored in the marriages of others.
“Their whole body language toward each other changes,” Sandy says, “from barely looking at each other in the beginning—with a chasm between them that will not be filled. Then, as time passes, they’ll look at their spouse a little bit, and maybe sit closer, and they’ll start to chat. And later they’ll have a little joke, and they’ll laugh. For me it’s been fun just to see the gradual changes as husbands and wives are acting more like couples.”
“They’re getting closer to the point of oneness that we talk about in almost every lesson,” Rich adds. “It’s been so good to see people move toward that, winning a series of battles, week by week, for their marriage.”