Feature

Love Rekindled

Marriages are blessed through ALMA-Indonesia

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“I’d rather change the spark plugs in my Jeep than go to ALMA with you!” stormed Paul at his wife, Chandra. “Leave our marriage alone. It is working fine.” But finally, he agreed to attend.

Paul works on an oil rig, so he is at sea for two weeks and then home for two weeks. Chandra often wanted to talk over family issues when he was home, but Paul had a temper, so she would have to be careful about broaching difficult subjects. “If I said something too early in his time off, he could be angry until he returned to sea,” Chandra explained. “If I timed it too late, we weren’t able to resolve the problem.”

But things changed drastically for Paul and Chandra during their “48 Hours of Love,” as we call the Alliance Marriage Encounter (ALMA) weekend. “We are so glad we went. ALMA opened a gate of communication for us. Barriers broke down. We shared things more openly than we ever had before,” said Chandra. “There were lots of changes in both of us.”

One of these came two months after the ALMA retreat. Paul remembered Chandra’s birthday for the first time ever. Even though he was on the oil rig, he e-mailed his wife and told her to look in the back of a cupboard, under some clothing. “There was a present he had hidden. I was stunned by his thoughtfulness!”

Paul and Chandra’s story is just one of many from couples whose marriages have been changed because of God’s intervention during an ALMA weekend.

Families Pulled Apart

In Indonesia, the number of divorces has risen drastically—15 percent in one year in Jakarta, the capital. Divorce was almost unthinkable just decades ago, but it no longer carries the heavy stigma and “loss of face” it once did here. Many families are ravaged by the effects.

Several factors work against Indonesian families.

  1. Money is a huge problem. In Bandung, the average wage is US$100/month. With no government subsidy for children’s education, most couples are forced to work just to provide the basics for their family. This increases stress and tension. Inflation rises, but wages do not, so couples cannot save money for unexpected changes, like the loss of a job or a salary cut.
  2. Often husbands work and live apart from their wives and children. Because of the distance, many husbands succumb to sexual temptations.
  3. More families are moving from villages to cities. But in doing so, the extended family’s constraints against divorce and the encouragement to hold the nuclear family together are sacrificed.
  4. Credit card companies promote easy access to “the good life,” but many people don’t read the fine print about interest. As a result, debt is overwhelming.
  5. Television portrays women as sultry sirens or screamers; fathers are belittled or depicted as violent. Infidelity is shown as a viable option—when the situation is difficult, TV programs subtly suggest it’s easier to move on rather than to work things out.

ALMA to the Rescue

Burdened for families, the leaders of the Indonesia C&MA asked my husband, Jim, and me to start a ministry for couples. We had attended Marriage Encounter weekends at times of transition in our ministry, when we were neglecting each other because we were too absorbed by studies or overwhelmed by new duties. God refocused us, helped us to reevaluate our priorities and rekindled the spark that had drawn us together in the first place. We saw God transform marriages, even those of couples who were ready to divorce. In a ripple effect, the renewed love between husbands and wives affected their children, parents, colleagues and neighbors. We longed to see this happen in Indonesia.

In 2002, we shared this vision with our Indonesian pastor and his wife, Taru and Tina Nugroho. The four of us went to the ALMA program in Bangkok, Thailand, to see if we could transplant it to Indonesia. While Taru and Tina experienced the ALMA weekend, we worked with the support team, praying for and serving guest couples.

To help us make the decision, about 10 Indonesian couples joined us in Thailand for ALMA. Because many Indonesian couples live with in-laws, some of our couples shared that after their honeymoons, they had never been alone. They saw the ALMA weekend as an opportunity to become transparent with each other, sharing themselves as never before.

All participants were enthusiastic—each couple had seen a renewal in their marriage. They became our first ALMA-Indonesia support team. The Bangkok team offered to train our support team and send presenters until we were capable of bearing the load alone.

Back in Indonesia, we translated follow-up materials and taught group sessions to those who had been to Bangkok. These classes discussed such topics as God’s plan for marriage, communication, how to fight, conflict resolution, parenting, finances and, yes, even sex.

Our first ALMA-Indonesia weekend was held in 2004 with 18 couples from Bangkok coming as our support team. Our combined efforts comprised Thais, Dutch, Australians, Americans and Indonesians—a foretaste of heaven!

Prayer Is the Key

Satan contrives all types of obstacles to try to disrupt ALMA. Our support team has encountered accidents, illness, hospitalizations and discouragement. We realize that God is in control and uses these difficulties to force us to our knees in prayer. We alone can’t overcome Satan’s tactics in creating disharmony in families, but Jesus can.

Prayer is the key to ALMA’s success. Before each ALMA weekend we write our supporters to ask for prayer. We have been thrilled to have more than 100 friends praying throughout each of our “48 Hours of Love.”

Samuel, a seminary professor, attests to prayer’s effectiveness. He and his wife, Tiarma, had been to other marriage seminars, so he was not interested in participating in an ALMA weekend. But he came to please Tiarma.

“Usually people come to a weekend like this, have an enjoyable time and then go home without any real change,” Samuel shared. “But I sensed ALMA was different. When I saw the prayer clock, where people sign up to pray specifically for an hour during the weekend, I knew that was the key. I was touched when I saw the name of a retired colleague who was praying. Without the Lord, there is no real change. I want my name on the next prayer clock!”

Eternal Results

Each couple who attends an ALMA weekend has a story to tell. God is at work among those who are willing to drop pretense and allow God to enter into their relationship—like Marno and Ety.

“While just a teenager, I became the breadwinner for my eight younger siblings when our father died,” Marno shared. “I felt responsible to see that they all had food, clothes and an education.”

“And I was the daughter of a polygamous Muslim priest,” Ety explained. “Seeing how things were at home with several ‘mothers’ made me determine to be the one and only wife when I married. I was attracted to Marno because he was a Christian. When we married, I was surprised that Marno never brought home any paychecks—he sent all his money back home! I was forced to start a catering business to provide for our family. Our children were invited to Sunday school, and I went along with them and soon became a Christian. I wanted Marno to pray with me, but he wouldn’t.”

“Then we came to an ALMA weekend,” Marno said. “Saturday night, God convicted me of my prayerlessness and my irresponsibility toward my wife and kids. I woke Ety up at 2:00 a.m. ‘Let’s pray,’ I said.”

Ety was thrilled. “We took home a new marriage!”

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