“We had 10 good years of marriage, followed by three years of hell,” says Denise Friesen of Springfield, Nebraska. Many people told Denise and her husband, Roger, that they should get a divorce. Instead, she says, “God restored our marriage.”
But that’s not what this story is about. It’s about what Roger and Denise have done in the second half of their 28-year marriage.
Something seems to happen in the hearts of many couples who have seen their marriages saved. Their experience is so profound, so life-changing, that they immediately think of how they can help other couples who have the same problems. They want those couples to understand the same biblical principles and the same hope they have. They want couples to know and experience God.
And that’s what happened to Roger and Denise Friesen.
They began by reaching out to couples in their church and business who were in crisis—major relational problems, close to divorce. But maybe they weren’t ready to dive in so deep. “This crisis stuff is wearing me out,” Roger said. They needed to find a way to help people build a foundation for marriage as God designed it.
They learned about Preparing for Marriage, a FamilyLife resource for teaching and mentoring couples who are engaged or contemplating marriage. It was the right tool at the right time; they realized they could help couples avoid many of the same mistakes they had made in marriage. They talked to their pastor about starting a premarriage mentoring program, and he was delighted to have someone volunteer to help relieve his load. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard because I don’t like premarital counseling,” he said.
Over the next eight years, they mentored and took 250 couples through Preparing for Marriage (over a third from outside the church), and trained over 50 couples in their church in how to be premarriage and marriage mentors. They’ve also trained people in a dozen churches in the Omaha area in premarriage ministry.
They are big believers in the importance of mentoring. “You don’t have to have a perfect marriage to mentor people,” Denise says. “You just need to be available to meet with them. Everybody has somebody younger than them that they should be mentoring.”
What happens now, she says, “is we have couples who have experienced the program by either going through it themselves or being trained to mentor. Then they move and want to start a ministry in their churches around the country. I can barely keep up answering questions for them and sending them materials. We have developed a training book and put most of the material on a thumb drive to make it available to give to other churches.”
The Friesens have become so committed to mentoring that they’ve begun a ministry called SOS Marriage Care, and devote several evenings a week (Roger still has a full-time job) to working with premarried and married couples. They’ve even gone back to working with troubled marriages; of the 50 couples they’ve worked with over the last year, 40 were in crisis.
In fact, the Friesens will sometimes use Preparing for Marriage to help couples rebuild their marriage—even if they’ve been together for over 20 years. “We don’t know of a better way to teach what God says about marriage,” Denise says. And if couples wonder why they are using a premarriage workbook, Roger reminds them, “You need a new marriage … but you don’t need a new spouse.”