A ‘muy buena’ church plant
ARLINGTON, Texas — In the heart of Dallas-Fort Worth, a…
For 14 years, Scott and Holly Emery served on a church-planting mission team in Santiago, Chile.
They returned to the United States in 2013 and now live in Irving, Texas, where they participate in the Hispanic outreach and marrieds’ ministries at their local church.
Both work for nonprofits: Scott as director of U.S. Hispanic teams for Great Cities Missions and Holly as executive assistant for Come Before Winter, which promotes spiritual renewal of Christian leaders around the world.
The couple established Misión: Matrimonio last year as a resource to help Hispanic churches serve marriages in their congregations and communities through events such as Marriage Encounter.
They have been married almost 25 years and have two children, Savannah, 19, a freshman at Texas A&M University; and Haydn, 17, a high school junior.
Scott and Holly responded to emailed questions from The Christian Chronicle.
During our time as missionaries in Chile, the most rewarding ministry in which we participated was Marriage Encounter. We saw firsthand how God used these weekend retreats to restore and even save marriages, and it quickly became our church’s primary vehicle for community service and evangelistic outreach.
As couples came to Christ as a result of their encounters and joined our church, they began serving in Marriage Encounter, and the ministry became a greenhouse for leadership development while also creating strong bonds among church families. After we moved back to Texas, we noticed the scarcity of marriage-enrichment opportunities for Spanish-speaking couples as compared to the abundance of retreats and seminars offered in English.
We serve Spanish-speaking and bilingual married couples, both those within churches and those who are not members of any church. More to the point, we seek to be a resource to help Hispanic churches reach out to couples in their communities. We target “normal” marriages — couples who experience ups and downs and have areas that need work.
We often say that no marriage is perfect, and every marriage has room for improvement! That said, every Marriage Encounter in which we have served has included at least one or two couples in crisis. Every time, we see God work miracles and restore hope to marriages on the verge of separation.
A Marriage Encounter begins Friday night and ends Sunday night. During these 48 hours, participating couples listen to stories of real-life experiences shared by a team of four testimony couples, interspersed with teaching on a variety of topics centered around healthy communication. After each group session, couples reflect on the topics covered and practice communication techniques. We do not ask participating couples to share their personal issues with other couples. Rather, all work is done between husband and wife to protect privacy.
We provide training on how to express authentic feelings in loving ways in order to approach even the most difficult subjects, such as intimacy or past hurts.
Throughout the weekend, gifts and romantic surprises are planned to help participating couples feel loved, nurtured and blessed as they work hard on their marriages. These details are covered by a team of seven couples who stay onsite but are largely unseen by our participants. A prayer chain organized prior to the weekend ensures that each of the 48 hours of the encounter is covered in prayer by believers not attending the retreat.
We have identified healthy communication as a primary need for most couples. Using the communication tools we teach at the retreat, couples delve into issues presented by our testimony couples, including:
• How our modern world tends to separate husband and wife — and how to approach life as a team;
• The masks we wear to hide our insecurities — and how to be our true selves in marriage;
• And forgiveness — how to seek it and how to accept it from God, from ourselves and from our spouses.
We provide training on how to express authentic feelings in loving ways in order to approach even the most difficult subjects, such as intimacy or past hurts. Woven throughout the weekend is the foundational principle that God is the source of hope and power to restore or improve any marriage.
We rely on participating couples to tap into their spheres of influence after their own encounters and invite other couples they know who could benefit from the retreat.
In fact, during the weekend itself, we invite participants to write down names of such couples and discuss them with their spouses. As we fill spaces for each retreat, we give preference to couples in crisis.
We specify at the orientation meeting prior to each retreat that Marriage Encounter is not designed for couples who have already separated or who are dealing with serious issues such as abuse, addiction or an ongoing affair. We are not professional counselors, nor is our weekend retreat the time or place to deal with issues of this magnitude.
However, any time we become aware that a couple is struggling with an issue that requires professional counseling, we work with our local church partners to connect these couples with the resources they need.
In partnership with the eight DFW-area Hispanic churches that participated in our inaugural encounter in February 2020, we plan to continue hosting encounters twice a year, our next one being in October. We predict that as churches grow as a result of this outreach effort, as our church in Chile did, they will want more spaces to invite more couples, making it increasingly difficult to share one encounter among multiple churches. We also hope to host other events (couples’ nights, seminars, etc.) as a complement to our weekend retreats, to help churches strengthen marriages and build community among couples.
We have seen our friends in the Hispanic community affected in many ways by the pandemic. Many lost their jobs and have had to find other ways to make ends meet, but by and large we have witnessed these brothers and sisters seek the Lord more fervently and reach out in creative ways to care for one another during this crisis.
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