Chris and I were married August 1, 1970. She was 17, the product of two dysfunctional homes, looking for some stability in her life. I was 28, restless, confused, in debt, not sure what I wanted to do with my life, had little control over my temper — not really a stable shelter from the storms that would beat upon us.
How did it come to be that this marriage has lasted almost forty-two years? It certainly has not been due to goodness, wisdom or foresight on our part. The only possible explanation is the grace of God.
I had received more religious training in my parent’s home than Chris did in the home where she grew up, but it was not enough to keep me from losing my bearings amid the temptations of this world. Chris’s main exposure to Christianity came from attending Sunday School at a nearby Apostolic church for about two years and going to a Baptist summer camp for four or five summers. During one of these camps, the camp counsellor asked who wanted to be saved, she gladly prayed the sinner’s prayer and believed she was saved.
The spring before we were married, I had a conversion experience. I would not have called it that at the time — I had seen so much of superficial Christianity that I believed being born again was a phony claim of being better than other people. Nevertheless, before long I realized something had changed back there when I had prayed for forgiveness and committed my life to God.
I had been reading the Bible for about a year before we were married. As soon as we got home (Sperling, Manitoba at that time) from our honeymoon, Chris insisted that we have family devotions — with me doing the reading and praying! That was almost more responsibility than I could handle, but we started, shakily at first, and have continued ever since.
Through my reading of history, I had come to the conclusion that if there were any true Christians left in the world, they would be found among the Mennonites. I had earlier tried attending a Mennonite church in a nearby city. The service was impressive in its simplicity, but I was invisible. I walked in before the service began and left after it ended and it seemed that no one even saw me. I went twice and then gave up on that church.
Chris had never heard of Mennonites before she met me, but decided that if that was where I was looking, we had better do something about it. She got in touch with a pastor and his wife in a neighbouring town, we visited in their home and began attending their church. We went through catechism classes that winter, but in the spring we were told that they would not baptize us as we had been baptized as children. And here I thought believers baptism was what Mennonites were all about!
A congregation of the same denomination in another nearby town attracted us. There was a group of young people here who professed a genuine life-changing new birth and the pastor was an enthusiastic leader of this group. Before we could be baptized, the pastor was dismissed on suspicion of Pentecostal tendencies! That suspicion was quite unfounded, but the older members felt threatened by anything that seemed new.
The pastor moved on to yet another church of the same denomination and we followed. (All three churches were about the same driving distance from Sperling.) There we were baptized. Shortly after, Chris began having dreams that it was the end of the world and she wasn’t saved. She visited the pastor and he assured her that she would not even be concerned about the end of the world if she wasn’t saved.
We wanted to have a family. About a year after we were married some of our friends were applying for adoption. We did not see any sign of a baby arriving the other way, so we applied too. We went through the approval process and were given an application form. One line on the form caused us some struggle. It asked for our racial preference. We prayed about it and the only answer that felt right to us was to check no preference. We did not realize it at the time, but it seems everyone else checked 100% white and that moved us up to the top of the list when a little girl was born who had only 90% white ancestry.
We were hardly grown up ourselves, but now we were responsible for this tiny bundle whom we named Michelle. I could enumerate all my parents’ mistakes and thought I had all the answers to raising a child. Having Michelle brought a rude awakening — there were questions I had never dreamed of! We made at least as many mistakes as our parents had, learned from some of them and did a lot of praying. But perhaps the most important factor in forming Michelle into a fine young Christian lady was our decision to find fellowship with other true believers.
There were several moves during those early years, from Manitoba to Saskatchewan to Alberta and back to Saskatchewan. Chris had a new birth experience during our first stay in Saskatchewan. We tried several different churches, from liberal Mennonite to conservative Mennonite. We met many fine people, we still have contact with a few of them, but we were always disappointed in the churches. They did not believe and live the genuine Anabaptist faith that I was looking for.
We finally found that faith in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, where we have been members for 31 years — in congregations in Ontario, Québec and back in Saskatchewan. Many of our rough edges have been worn off during those 31 years, but God is by no means done with us yet.
Now we are grandparents, not much more prosperous than when we started out, but hopefully a little wiser, kinder and more patient . And I have come to realize that this lady who has stuck with me all these years is truly a gift from God.