BeginningsJuly 25, 2016
When Dennis and Barbara Rainey were newlyweds, God called them to a unique ministry to engaged couples. Hear how FamilyLife began in 1976.
When Dennis and Barbara Rainey were newlyweds, God called them to a unique ministry to engaged couples. Hear how FamilyLife began in 1976.
Bob: Back in 1976, when Dennis and Barbara Rainey joined with two other couples to help launch the Marriage and Family Emphasis of Campus Crusade for Christ®, they all thought this would probably be a short-term assignment. Here’s Dennis Rainey.
Dennis: I’d have to say I didn’t have vision for a ministry to be created. I just thought: “Yes, this really makes sense. This really—this is how the Bible starts. The Bible starts with marriage / it ends with marriage. Marriage is central to what God’s doing on planet earth. Let’s get—let’s get in this thing and find out what God’s up to.” In the process, found out that He’s up to a whole lot more than many of us understand through marriage and family.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 25th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What do you remember from 1976?
Some of you are thinking, “I wasn’t even born in 1976!” Well, FamilyLife® was born that year, and we’re going to share some of that story with you today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
Dennis: Could I—could I just do that, Bob, and just kind of kick off this? We’re starting a series of special broadcasts here and—
Bob: And you want to play the role I have played?
Dennis: I just—just at the very beginning, Bob. I just want to do it—just hang with me. Here we go.
Dennis: Rewind the music / roll it out. There we go; okay.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. This is your host, Dennis Rainey. Ephesians, Chapter 3, verse 20, says: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
To Him be the glory.
Bob: You thought to start with the benediction was the right place to start this week.
Dennis: I thought it was only appropriate. As the listeners hear the roll out of how this whole thing got started, they know where the glory belongs.
Bob: There’s a context to why we’re talking about this this week. Our staff is assembling in Little Rock this week for a 40th anniversary celebration. Most of our radio listeners know this is our 40th anniversary year—we’ve been celebrating all-year long.
The way we’ve been celebrating is by highlighting many of the stories of lives that have been impacted as a result of how God’s Word has been shared through this ministry—
Dennis: —and the anniversaries we made happen. I was in Orlando, just a couple weeks ago, Bob, and a guy came up to me and said:
“We’ve been to your conference, the Weekend to Remember®, twice—once, 20 years ago, when we were engaged—decided to come back for a little spiritual wheel alignment / come back again. Thank you for what you do. You gave us the spiritual foundation that we built our marriage on; and once again, you’ve helped us at a mid-course correction in the middle of our marriage.” We’re still doing it, Bob—we’re making anniversaries possible.
Bob: We’re going to revisit some of the history of FamilyLife and allow our listeners, who don’t know the whole story, to hear a little bit about how God has been at work through this ministry over the last 40 years. I’m going to be asking both of you to do something really hard, and that is remembering details from 40 years ago.
But, I was thinking about it—when our daughter was born / Amy—this is 35 years ago that she was born—I remember details from that day. I mean, when significant things happen in your life, you remember some of the details.
Maybe you didn’t know just how significant those things were when they were happening; [Laughter] and I guess that’s where I want to start. You both came to the University of Arkansas, as students, with something other than a spiritual mission in mind for your life; didn’t you?
Barbara: I did; although part of my story is that I chose to go to the University of Arkansas, which was out of state for me. It was also a school choice where I walked on that campus and didn’t know a living soul. But I also made that choice because I wanted to do something different and in my heart—I thought to myself: “I think that there’s something else to life. I think there is something else for me to discover; and if I stay too close to home, I’m not going to find it.”
I didn’t go seeking God because I didn’t really know what I was looking for, but I went there because I felt like it would be a place to start over.
It felt like it would be a place that was fresh and different and I might—I might learn something.
Bob: If I had asked you, when you were a freshman: “What’s your major? What do you want to do when you graduate?” would you have known?
Barbara: Oh, I would have given you an answer, but I wasn’t real confident in it.
Bob: You were a history major?
Barbara: No; as a freshman, I was an art major and then a French major. How about that?
Bob: Okay; and were you thinking, along the way, that you wanted to teach, or that you wanted to work in a museum, or—
Barbara: No; I just liked—I had taken a lot of French in high school, and I had spent a summer in France, and it just made sense—I love the language / I love the country. I just thought I’d major in it because it was something I enjoyed.
I loved art but I got into the art department and I didn’t enjoy the classes—all the prerequisites that I had to take—I wasn’t interested in sculpting / I wasn’t interested in some of those things—so that began to lose a little bit of its allure to me. French was much harder than I expected it to be! [Laughter]
Bob: Parlez-vous français?
Barbara: Oh, I could do that; but I couldn’t read Les Mis’ in French.
That was the first semester reading—was to read that in French and then discuss it in French in class. My French was not that good.
Bob: Well, gottcha! [Laughter]
[To Dennis] You transferred to the University of Arkansas after two years at junior college; right?
Dennis: I was a has-been athlete. [Laughter] I spent my first two years at a small junior college, Crowder Junior College. I think it’s now a four-year school near Neosho, Missouri. It had paid my way through school—basketball and baseball together. I wasn’t good enough at either one of them to get a full ride; but together, they paid my last semester all the way through.
I came just at the beginning of a spiritual awakening in my life, and I did not choose the University of Arkansas for that reason. It was a little closer to home than Mizzou was—I’m from Missouri—I also went out of state. I’m really not sure why other than God providentially ordering my steps. I look back on it—
—and it was a life-altering decision, where I chose to go to college—because it was there where I first really began to take some of my first spiritual baby steps at truly following Christ in the midst of a university setting that wasn’t all that friendly to faith. There was a large faith movement—followers of Christ were alive and well at the University of Arkansas—and we saw even more people come to faith in Christ over our tenure there.
I went on mission—I went on as a representative of Christ. I knew God had a plan for me. I was excited about fitting in, wherever that was—didn’t know what it was at all. I was not thinking about full-time Christian work at that point.
Bob: You were both involved, in college, with Campus Crusade for Christ, which was experiencing, really, a revival—
Bob: —the early ‘70s on college campuses was a period of awakening. The Jesus Movement was happening / you were in the midst of that.
Bob: Campus Crusade was thriving on campus—lots of young people coming. Tell us about the campus leaders at the University of Arkansas.
Barbara: First of all, I want to say that it was because of Campus Crusade that I actually became a Christian. I was on the University of Arkansas campus. I would have said I was a Christian had anyone asked me, but I didn’t understand what that meant. It was at a Bible study where I actually heard what it meant to be a Christian—I heard that I needed to invite Christ in my life. I had never heard that concept before.
I went back to my room / my dorm room, and I reread the little booklet that she’d given me and decided, “This is what I’ve been looking for all my life.” I invited Christ into my life at that moment. From the next day on, I was at every Bible study they ever had. I went to every conference I could find out about.
I was just this dry, dry sponge that was soaking up every word / every activity. It was all so new.
Immediately, because the movement was very small at the time—I mean, within a year, I think Dennis and I were two of the leaders only because we had been there some of the longest. We were leading—at least I was—I was leading a small group of girls. Once you could share your faith, and give your testimony, and lead a Bible study, you were in; and you were set free to go do that with others. It was a pretty rapid-growth kind of movement. We saw a lot of kids coming, and joining, and becoming a part, and receiving Christ. The meetings grew rapidly.
Dennis: I was—I was in the process of joining a fraternity. I’ll never forget—they were recruiting me to join—and I said, “I’m on a mission to represent Christ.” And I remember those guys were going: “Okay; come on. Bring it!” I actually joined one, and immediately purchased Bibles, and passed out Bibles to all my pledge brothers—30 of them.
I began to invite speakers into the fraternity to speak about the relevance of Christianity to my fraternity brothers.
Barbara and I, along with another fraternity brother of mine, whom she was dating, formed a group. We called ourselves Radicals for Christ—published an underground Christian newspaper that we raised the money for—had a secret, confidential post office box in another city in Arkansas that we got / where the correspondence could go to. We published these newspapers and tried to make Christ the issue on the campus; and frankly, did a pretty good job! I think they were wondering where all these Christians came from.
Dennis: And there were a lot of them! There was a church that I ended up working in and being a part of where 25 percent of the student body came to that church. It was called University Baptist Church. H.D. McCarty was the pastor of that church. Together—what was then Campus Crusade for Christ and is now Cru®—
I think we really—we really did do a good job of making Christ relevant and the issue on campus: “Where do you stand with Him? He is the one who offers the way, the truth and the life.”
Bob: There was a couple who, as I understand it, they were on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ, in Fayetteville, at the University of Arkansas, that wound up being influential in your lives; right?
Dennis: Very; very—Don and Sally Meredith. In fact, really the woman who led Barbara to Christ—
Dennis and Barbara: —was Sally.
Dennis: Don kind of took me under his wing, and mentored me, and discipled me. I was a part of Cru and was a part of the church. Barbara and I were friends. We were forming these underground Christian movements and organizations / secret organizations, storming the campus during student body elections. We ran “Christ for Student Body President and Resident of Your Life” and had His platform printed on a sheet of paper and had them all over campus.
We just had a great time. Barbara and I were very, very good friends; but we were not dating.
Bob: Is that what you want to say about that?
Barbara: Well, I didn’t know if we were going—[Laughter]—to continue to talk about Don and Sally or what the next question was.
Bob: Well, if he’s going to say, “We were not dating,” I want to know: “Why not?!”
Barbara: Well, because he wouldn’t ask me out!—to be quite honest—because I wanted to go out with him that first year that I met him. He—he says he knew it, and he wasn’t going to ask me. Is that ornery or what?!
Bob: That really is!
Dennis: Instead, I dated half of her sorority.
Barbara: He did! Yes; he did.
Dennis: I had—
Barbara: He wouldn’t ask me out.
Dennis: I think I had 17 blind dates in one month—
Barbara: He was—
Dennis: —and it was a short month. It wasn’t—[Laughter]
Bob: Why not—
Barbara: It was February. [Laughter]
Bob: Why not her?
Dennis: All I can answer is: “It wasn’t time.” I really don’t know—because I liked her / she was a good friend. Honestly, at that point in my life, I’m glad I didn’t date her. It might have not been good for her—
Dennis: —because I had a few things to learn.
All I can say is: “Probably God had some things He wanted to work on in my life, where ultimately, as a single man, I had to give my dating life to God. I gave it to Him, and God didn’t give it back for quite a while. The reason I gave it to God is I wanted God to take it and then make it what He wanted it to be so that, when I was able to start dating again, I’d do the right thing.”
Dennis: That’s all I can answer. It’s interesting—I don’t think I’ve ever articulated quite that statement to Barbara ever before, but I don’t think it would have been good for me to have dated her at that point.
Bob: That decision—to give God your dating life—was Don Meredith a part of coaching you / mentoring you in that?
Dennis: I don’t remember him doing that. I think he was teaching a class to all the college kids about marriage and family—how we needed to be holy, and we needed to be following God, making Christ the center of our lives, and doing what He tells us to do.
I think there were some areas of my life where I wasn’t doing that.
Bob: Marriage and family was really a big emphasis for Don and Sally, even in those days, at the University of Arkansas; right? What do you remember about that?
Barbara: Well, I just remember that they—they seemed so much older to us—but they were not but a few years older, but they had been married several years, and they had two kids—that seemed like a lifetime to me.
Because they were discovering about marriage, personally / they were discovering the importance of the family and what all of that meant—that what was on their heart—so that was what they started teaching. I remember them teaching about the importance of having good, healthy dating relationships. I remember them teaching about the purpose for marriage. They were beginning to plant those seeds in all of us as they were learning them themselves.
Bob: I want to jump ahead—I guess—almost six years. You graduated from the University of Arkansas. You went to the University of South Carolina, Barbara—
Bob: —and went on staff with Cru there.
Bob: Dennis, you went on staff with the high school ministry of Cru in Dallas.
Bob: The two of you reconnected in 1972 at Expo ’72. That’s where you did start to date and ultimately got married.
Dennis: It wasn’t dating—I had to show her around the town. [Laughter] She was a friend—
Dennis: —and I had to show her around. It just so happened that 52 days out of 55, I showed her around the town—Dallas/Fort Worth is a big city! [Laughter]
Barbara: It’s a big city.
Bob: [Laughing] There is a lot to show! It wasn’t dating—he says. [Laughter]
Dennis: It wasn’t!
Bob: But every day you were calling and saying, “Would you like to see another part of the town today?”
Dennis: It really wasn’t! We were—yes—we were kind of the talk of the office.
Barbara: We were—we were both working in the same office. We were working on this huge conference called Expo ’72. Because I was new to town and didn’t know my way around, he offered to pick me up and take me into the office every day. It made sense: “Save gas / why not?” He picked me up every day, and we had lunch, and he took me home, and we’d have dinner, and then he’d pick me up the next day—
Dennis: You left out that we’d have dinner and then we’d stay up—
Barbara: Well, that part too.
Dennis: —talking until—
Barbara: We’d stay up talking.
Dennis: —midnight, one o’clock / two o’clock—sitting out on the steps of her apartment.
Bob: Lot to talk about.
Dennis: There’s a lot to talk about!
Barbara: Yes. [Laughter]
Dennis: It’s a big city! You’ve got to show her the city!
Bob: [Laughing] Okay! So you marry in 1972 / both of you on staff with Cru. You move to Boulder. You work with high school students in Boulder and then you decided seminary was a part of God’s plan for your life.
Dennis: Went to Dallas Theological Seminary. In the process of all this, started having kids. By the time we graduated, we had two. We’d been a part of a small group of people who met with Don and Sally Meredith, talking about the possibility of Cru starting a marriage and family—actually, a marriage preparation ministry / not a marriage and family ministry—but a ministry just to the staff of Cru to help them prepare for marriage.
Bob: Do you remember getting a call from Don or how you heard about this idea that was being explored?
Dennis: Don was in Dallas. I was in Dallas, going to school. I’m sure I was hanging out at his house. He said, “There’s going to be a meeting in Colorado Springs with a number of leaders of Cru, and I’d like you to come.” Barbara and I flew out there. It was a cold—seems to me like it was a cold February or March day and evening—where we met together and talked about what the needs were in marriages and families back then.
It felt like there was a need to start some kind of emphasis that took the Bible and reduced it down to the fundamentals of what a marriage and family are all about to prepare the staff of Cru—for those who wanted to be married—to be married. The staff of Cru were required to go through this conference before they could get married.
Bob: If you were on staff with Cru and you were engaged, you had to go—
Bob: —get the training that you guys were going to be providing.
This was a new emphasis for Cru, and it was born out of some concern about—
Dennis: That’s right.
Bob: —staff, who were getting married, and didn’t understand what marriage was all about.
Dennis: Yes. There were some casualties, on the marriage front, within Cru. This was just really primarily a ministry to the singles, who were either contemplating marriage or engaged to be married, to go through before they got married.
Bob: Do you remember, Barbara, that meeting in Colorado Springs?
Barbara: Yes; I do remember that. Yes.
Bob: Were you intrigued? Were you thinking, “This—this sounds really good!”?
Barbara: I remember being interested. I don’t remember being necessarily excited about it. I just thought—we were newly-married / we’d been married maybe four years at the time—it just seemed very small. The idea seemed very small, at the time, to me—it wasn’t this great, expansive idea or vision for what could be.
Dennis: What we actually talked about, Bob, was there—there are really three relationships in life that, as human beings, we’re not good at. One is your relationship with God.
Second is your relationship with your spouse; and third, your relationship with your kids! We thought: “What a cool idea that you could, perhaps, be paid”—although not very much [Laughter] because you had to raise your own support—
Dennis: —“but you could be paid to help other people have a relationship with God / a relationship with their spouse and their kids.” It really was selfish! I’d have to say I didn’t have a vision for a ministry to be created—I just thought: “Yes; this really makes sense! This is how the Bible starts—the Bible starts with marriage / it ends with marriage. Marriage is central to what God is doing on planet earth. Let’s get—let’s get in this thing and find out what God’s up to,”—and in the process found out that He’s up to a whole lot more than many of us understand through marriage and family.
Bob: So the two of you—together with Don and Sally Meredith and another couple, Mick and Helen Yoder—you all said, “Okay; let’s do this.”
I think you told me once, Dennis, that you were thinking, “We’ll do this for a couple of years and then—
Bob: —“pivot and head somewhere else in ministry.”
Bob: You located in Little Rock. I’ve had people ask me over and over again, “Why is FamilyLife in Little Rock?” So, why is it? [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, there are really two reasons for that. One—there was a spiritual awakening at the University of Arkansas when we were students. There were a lot of kids / young people, who sunk some deep spiritual roots into their lives as a result of what happened there. A lot of them had gone all over the country and come back to Little Rock. One of the leaders of it were Don and Sally Meredith. They decided they wanted to get out of Dallas—the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. There are a lot of Christian ministries there / a lot of comparison.
I also wanted to get out of there as well. When I graduated from Dallas Seminary, I thought, “I’d just like to go somewhere where we can do what we’re supposed to do and not compare—and not look at something that’s bigger, or better, or flashier—
—“just do what God’s actually asking us to do.” So we moved—Barbara and I, along with Mick and Helen Yoder—to Little Rock to join the Merediths and start what was then called, “The Marriage Preparation and Family Emphasis.”
Campus Crusade for Christ—now Cru—did not want us to start another ministry / they wanted us to be an emphasis. It was really kind of funny at that point. Cru had started dozens of ministries—I think 60—and they didn’t need another ministry. They certainly didn’t want this to become a ministry—there are many, many points, along the way, Bob, where it really became clear: This was a ministry that God wanted to launch in spite of what we, as men and women, wanted to do with it—or didn’t want to do with it.
Bob: Later on this week our staff—along with volunteers from all around the world, donors, friends—
—we’re all gathering, here in Little Rock, for a couple of days to pull back and have a birthday party just to celebrate 40 years of ministry, here at FamilyLife.
I think it’s important for us to acknowledge here, Dennis, that none of what has happened over the last 40 years would have happened if it hadn’t been for some very generous people—folks who listen to FamilyLife Today / folks who believe in what we’re doing—who have come alongside us and have caught the vision for how we can provide practical biblical help and hope for marriages and families in our country and all around the world.
In fact, I’m thinking about the new mobile app that we have recently developed that makes it even easier for folks to access FamilyLife Today, every day, no matter where they are worldwide. If you have access to the web, and if you have the app on your iPhone or your Android device—
—whatever it is—you can listen, not only to today’s program, but to a collection of FamilyLife Today programs in case you’ve missed any programs recently. If you don’t have our new app, go to your app store for your device or go to FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got information there about the app.
We also have, on our website, a pictorial history / a timeline of the ministry of FamilyLife that might be fun for listeners to look at. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and that’s available to view online as well.
Of course, if you would like to make a 40th birthday donation as a way of saying, “Thank you,” to this ministry for how God has used FamilyLife to impact your marriage and your family, you can make that donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate, or you can send an anniversary card / a birthday card and include a donation.
Mail it to FamilyLife Today, PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear about the very first Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways. Back then, they were simply called the FamilyLifeConference. We’ll hear more about that tomorrow. Hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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