We arrived in South Africa from Ukraine in the middle of their winter (July). Everything was different from being in Ukraine. The weather, the language, the landscape, the people, and the culture were unlike anything I had experienced before.

We went to the village of Thornhill in the Eastern Cape and lived among the Xhosa people. It seemed like I was in the midst of the National Geographic Channel as we went to an elementary school and the children were running up to us singing and dancing about the “white people” that had come to their village. It was lots of fun and outwardly joyful but, the more time I spent among the Xhosa, the more I realized how dark it was.

The darkness became apparent as the people spoke of the bondage of ancestral worship that has permeated every part of this society from birth to death. I began to ask all kinds of questions to get to know them better and understand how our time in their village might be a blessing to them.

In getting to know a new culture I like to ask how a person goes about getting married. The answer I received from the Xhosa was unlike anything I had heard previously. The men said, “We pay Lobolo.” “What is that?” I said. They told me that they purchase their wives with livestock. “Really? Livestock? How does that affect the way you treat your wife?” “My wife is my property, I treat her any way I like” said one of the leaders. Lest you think this response was from the pagan people, this was the response from many of the pastors and church leaders. When I proceeded to argue how unbiblical it was, I was challenged with the question, “Didn’t some men in the Bible purchase their wives?” I knew they were right and it made me question how much of my interpretation of the biblical view of marriage was simply a Western view and not a biblical one. My quest to understand a biblical marriage had begun.

I arrived home and spoke to Sherry about this dilemma and began reading and listening to a variety of pastors and leaders about the issue of marriage. Soon, we were attending an 8-week marriage class in order to check the condition of our own marriage. The things we began to learn through this time were life changing.

The next thing I knew, I was calling my friends in Africa asking if we could do a Marriage Conference in some of the villages the following summer. While the idea was met with some hesitation, I was able to talk them into it. It was now time to put all the things that God was teaching me about marriage into a format I could teach in Africa.

The first thing I needed was a name. Since I was going through God’s original purpose for marriage, the logical conclusion was, “Marriage by Design.” Next, it was content. What needed to be covered and what were things that God was just teaching me for my own marriage? After speaking with other married couples, I settled on:

–       God’s Design for Biblical Love

–       God’s Design for Husbands

–       God’s Design for Wives

–       God’s Design for Communication Part 1

–       God’s Design for Communication Part 2

–       God’s Design for Sexual Intimacy

In March of that year I was talking to some high school guys as I was preparing a youth conference for that summer. In the context of our conversation I was telling these young men about all that God was teaching me about my marriage through my studies. The more I talked, the more intrigued they became until one of them blurted out, “We need this information for us!” “Really?” I asked. So, in June, Marriage by Design was now called, “Single, Saved, and Sanctified” as I did a marriage conference for high school students. I can honestly say it was the most fruitful set of talks I’ve ever done and a huge success. I still have young people who will email and ask for this series. But, it was never intended to be for single, high school students. This was intended for the African church.

A couple of weeks after the youth conference, it was off to Ukraine where I was talking to some pastors about the following month where I would be teaching this material in Africa. Soon, they asked if we could do the seminar there in Ukraine. So, from village to village and church to church, I began to share. Somehow, word got out about this to a group of secular psychologists who asked if I could come in and give the seminar to them on a Tuesday night. “Of course” was my response.

I brought my translator with me and we went into this small basement filled with psychologists and some of their patients. A man who identified himself as Peter and the leader of this group met us at the door. “Some are patients and others are doctors. We will not tell you who is who because we want to all be treated the same. But, just so you know, we are atheists and we are communists. We want to know what the Bible says about marriage in order to help us in the practice of psychotherapy. We would like this seminar given to us in one night and don’t care how long it will take.”

So, there I was, trying to teach God’s design for a biblical marriage to a group of men and women who didn’t believe in God but wanted to know what the bible had to say. I figured I would do the first three sessions, which would each take about an hour without translation. With translation, this would take 6 hours!

We moved briskly through each topic as my audience of Ukrainians just stared at me. My jokes didn’t get laughed at and my stories didn’t drive anyone to tears or questions. They just stared at me. It was the most awkward situation I can remember.

Then, 6 hours later, I asked the only thing I knew to ask, “What did you think?” I figured everyone would politely tell me how he or she disagreed but thanked me. Needless to say, I was shocked when Peter stood up and said, “I am no longer atheist! There is no way you can believe in right and wrong and not believe there is a God who sets the standard for right and wrong.” As I looked at the others, they all agreed. I was humbled because I didn’t speak about this during the seminar. That’s just how God’s Word works. Again, a big success but the curriculum wasn’t written for Ukraine, it was written for Africa and I would be there within a week.

As I arrived in Africa I was excited due to the success of the previous weeks of “practice.” The seminar began and they HATED it! The men argued, the women cried. I was told in no uncertain terms that they didn’t agree and that this was not their culture. There was only one man who seemed teachable. His name was Joseph Bobo and he said, “This is God’s Word. If God’s Word says it, I must do it. It does not matter what my feelings or my culture is.” The women didn’t cry because they didn’t believe it was God’s Word but because they didn’t believe they could ever have a husband who would love his wife as Christ loved the church.

In subsequent years of follow-up, the church is embracing the teachings of Scripture more and more.  There is real change happening in these rural villages but change is slow. The opportunities we’ve been given in the public schools have been instrumental in seeing change happen.

The strangest time I’ve shared this material was when I received a phone call on Thursday about presenting the “God’s Design for Wives” section to a Ladies Spring Tea. The speaker had a family emergency and was looking for someone to fill in for her. Without going into detail, let’s just say it was really strange for me to be speaking to a room of 450+ ladies about how to be a biblical wife. Once the initial awkwardness wore off, it was a lot of fun.

God continues to open the door for Marriage by Design in a number of different venues. I’ve shared this seminar on secular college campuses, hundreds of Chinese people in Beijing, in Sunday school classes, and in living rooms with just a few couples. It is a huge part of my marriage counseling and still challenges me in my own marriage. It has morphed into something I never intended it to be but God continues to bless it and now we have the opportunity to bring it here to Ocala.

To view the Marriage by Design schedule and register, click here.