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After the failure of marriage

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A church in Chilliwack helps the divorced-through those who have been there

Coming home from work that day, I was pumped! I had been on a company sponsored retreat and had been challenged by a motivational speaker who spoke on the theme, 1/ A whack on the side of the head,” the title of a popular book on creative thinking. I was ready to turn the world upside down. I parked in the garage and came in whistling, expecting to be greeted with squeals and hugs by my little kids. But something was strangely wrong: the house was silent as a morgue. It looked like a tornado had hit. Furniture was missing. Had we been robbed? I looked into the children’s bedrooms. They were bare.

Suddenly it hit me like a whack on the side of the head! My wife had taken the children and fled somewhere. Sure enough, my clothes were still in the closet. I went outside. The dogs and cats were gone. The old mare Jobrey was in the corral, but Dreamgirl, the young filly was gone. The squawking chickens made sure I knew they were there, but to my disgust, the chicken feed was gone. (It’s funny how little things like that bother one the most at a time of crisis).

I walked over to the lame old nag and buried my face in her mane and began to sob: I was such a failure. My second marriage had come to this. I, the son of a preacher who was happily married over SO years, had screwed up the best years of my life. I feared the shame would nearly kill my parents. At least the glue factory wants this old horse, I thought; I doubt if anyone has any use for me!

This time, I didn’t have such a struggle over my salvation like when I separated from my first wife. Then, I was sure I was destined straight for hell because my marriage had failed. This time, I knew that God still loved me, but I was overwhelmed with guilt and grief. I had so wanted to be a better father to my second family, and I couldn’t bear to be away from my children.

As time went by, we settled on joint custody. When I was transferred to the Fraser Valley, the court ordered that the children go with me. I was a single parent for 10 years, until my youngest left home for Bible school. My job as a probation officer involved dealing with hurting people and mediating separation agreements. I took a life skills course and began to offer education sessions for clients based on John Bradshaw’s videotapes on co-dependency. I became enthused about student-centred learning with modern technical aids.

Something I can do

A friend told me about a video series called DivorceCare (DC) that was part of a support group at Northview Community Church for people going through separation and divorce. I thought: here is something I can do to further the Lord’s work. I offered to run the program if the church would buy the videotapes, but the church wasn’t ready for such a controversial ministry at the time.

Then a young preacher, Brian Wiebe, came to our church, recruiting members for a church plant he was establishing in a growing new subdivision. I was impressed with his statement: “If you want to grow spiritually, you won’t grow just sitting in church listening to the music and my sermons. You need to get involved in ministering to hurting people and leading them to be Christ followers.”

Since my children were grown, I decided it was time for a change. I be-came a charter member of Promontory Community (MB) Church, Chilli-wack. I talked with pastor Brian about ministering to divorced and separated people. The church had just rented a storefront office in the centre of town and I thought it was the perfect place to offer a ministry like DivorceCare. We met Dick Hiebert, the DivorceCare leader from Central Heights Church in Abbotsford, whose excitement about the program was infectious.

DC was not about condoning divorce, but about loving people into the kingdom in a practical way. But the expense of the 13 videotapes and manuals was still a barrier for our small new church. Then pastor Brian discovered that the videotapes were available for loan at Columbia Bible College Library. We were in business!

In fall 2001, we put an ad in the paper, made a sandwich board sign for the sidewalk outside the church, and sent a letter advertising our program to all the churches in Chilliwack. Five bitter men and two very worried women showed up the first night.

Help and healing

Since then, the Lord has enabled this broken vessel to minister to more than 100 hurting people through the DivorceCare ministry of our church. The gospel is presented every week. Some are attracted by the sign, wan-der in off the street and are captivated. Others are put off by the religious approach and never come back. Some would probably be better off in an AA meeting (or even a psych ward). Some are just cruising: looking for a potential date. We usually make them uncomfortable and they move on to greener pastures.

But if they are looking for help and healing, we have plenty to offer. One of the things emphasized in DivorceCare is the need to take time for spiritual growth and healing after a failed marriage. Healing from a divorce takes a lot of time. As a general rule, we advise that a person wait one year for every four years of marriage before they enter another serious relationship.

George Barna’s research has shown that church people who claim to be born again are now getting divorced at the same rate as secular people. A casual attitude towards marriage has infected the church, and people are walking away from their marriage covenants for trivial and unscriptural reasons. The most difficult lesson of the DivorceCare Series is “What does the owner’s manual say?” God designed marriage and His manual, the Bible, says there are only two scriptural reasons for divorce: adultery or desertion by an unbelieving spouse. The Bible does not condone divorce for irreconcilable differences.

People who come back after that lesson (#6 in a series of 13) are pretty serious about making things right with the Lord. (In DC there is also help and support for persons who have fled a dangerous situation, but that’s another article.) The real joy of facilitating a Divorce-Care group is watching people start to put Jesus at the centre of their lives and begin to follow Him. There have been several conversions and recommitments to Christ. I was very skeptical that broken marriages could ever be mended, but the Lord has proved me wrong. Such miracles do happen. But nearly everyone experiences partial reconciliation and starts to communicate more politely with their former spouse.

I would encourage other churches to consider implementing a DivorceCare ministry in their church. All it takes is a TV and an open door. It is a ministry opportunity that only divorced persons can fill. We have two new facilitators in our ministry, and have also begun the DivorceCare for Kids ministry, a scriptural program to help children aged 5-12 deal with the trauma of their parents separation.

Our mission statement is “DivorceCare (and DC4Kids) is a safe place for healing the hurts of broken relationships by nurturing faith in Jesus Christ.” We claim Genesis 50:20 (NEB), “You meant to do me harm, but God meant to bring good out of it.”

*with acknowledgements to Rose Sweet, author of Healing the Heartbreak of Divorce, and Frances Marr, DivorceCare facilitator at Tokyo (Japan) Baptist Church.

—Barry Neufeld is a member of Promontory Community Church, Chilliwack, B.C., and a restorative justice youth worker, probation officer, family mediator and school trustee.

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