For decades, Bill and Geri Masuzzo have been committed to finding the cure for heart diseasethe kind that rips husbands and wives and children apart. Their commitment has given them an outreach that stretches beyond their church to their community … and even to the state of Texas.
It's easy to understand the Masuzzos’ passion when you look at the early years of their relationship. Bill was 20 years old and scared to death when he vowed life-long love to 18-year-old Geri. He knew a lot about love, but little about marriage.
Despite his fear, he says that he “just knew that Geri was the right person. … It seemed like it was time to ask her to marry me.” And like most women, Geri had visions of living “happily ever after.” A church wedding … having kids … being a good wife.
In 1971, the Masuzzos moved to Texas with their 15-month-old daughter, away from close family ties and lifelong friendships. That’s when the problems began. “We just kind of drifted apart,” Geri says.
Then in 1975 Geri accepted Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She and Bill began to put Christ at the center of their lives and marriage. They began attending a nondenominational Christian church, were active in Bible studies, and Bill was a part of a men's discipleship group.
Geri says that Bill not only became the spiritual leader of their family but also a deacon, and then an elder of their church. She, on the other hand, became very involved in women's ministry. And together, they informally mentored couples. They did all they could to help others avoid the pitfalls they had experienced in their own marriage.
The Masuzzos were part of a small group at church that focused on marriage when a couple asked them to facilitate some classes using FamilyLife’s Preparing for Marriage. Although they had never heard of this eight session pre-marriage study, they decided to give it a try. “We were good listeners,” Bill says, “… we thought, Let’s just give this a shot.”
They had no idea how God would use them to strengthen young couples.
In 2001 Bill and Geri took their first group (about a dozen couples) through the Preparing for Marriage material. As they taught premarital classes, the Masuzzos' good marriage began to flourish. “You can't teach it [marriage principles],” Geri says, “if you're not doing it.”
Many of the couples in their premarriage classes were not following God’s plan for relationships; half of them were living together. The Masuzzos started individually explaining to each couple what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “In every class we had four or five or six baptisms,” Geri says.
There was so much demand for the Preparing for Marriage material at their church that the Masuzzos eventually mentored and certified seven other couples to teach the course. These couples interned in the Masuzzos’ class before they actually taught it.
In 2009 one of the couples that Bill and Geri had taken through Preparing for Marriage told them about “Twogether in Texas.” This was a new premarital program of the Texas Marriage Initiative, an all encompassing program initiated by the Texas Legislature to strengthen marriages.
The Texas Legislature had passed a law to raise the marriage license fee by $60, but couples who went through its free premarital training “Twogether in Texas” could waive the $60 fee and the three-day waiting period. Preparing for Marriage was submitted to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) as a faith-based premarital curriculum. It was approved.
Today Geri and Bill are registered with the state as both community and faith-based providers. They do this on a volunteer basis. After couples in their church or community complete one of their Preparing for Marriage classes, the Masuzzos submit their names to the state of Texas. Each couple receives a certificate that they can take to their country clerk when applying for their marriage license.
Since the Preparing for Marriage course has been certified by the “Twogether in Texas” marriage initiative, the Masuzzos can approve couples in their church to be faith-based premarital instructors. “All of our classes are filled up all of the time,” Bill says, “and we have a waiting list for couples.”
The Masuzzos have personally taken about 175 couples through Preparing for Marriage in the past 10 years. After each couple completes the sessions, Bill and Geri share with them any concerns that they have about their planned marriage. As far as they know, only two couples have gotten a divorce out of those who completed their class. Geri says, “Those were the two that we said should not get married.”
In addition to premarital classes, the state of Texas recently asked Bill and Geri to teach more classes on marriage and family. They are currently certified trainers for seven different areas of family wellness.
Now an ordained minister, Bill says that when he marries couples (many of whom have gone through Preparing for Marriage), he encourages them to think not just about themselves, but also about their future children and grandchildren. “This marriage is bigger than the two of you,” he says. “We are talking about legacy.”
Bill and Geri don’t want families to be ripped apart by divorce. They are doing all they can to prepare strong marriages that will leave legacies of lasting love.
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