Viva la Difference!
About the Guest
Think you and your spouse are as different as night and day? Imagine, then, if your mate was from another country with a different language, traditions and customs. American Marla Alupoaicei talks about her life with her husband, Catalin, a Romanian translator she met while on a missions trip. Hear about the benefits and challenges of an intercultural marriage.
Marla AlupoaiceiAuthor and speaker Marla Alupoaicei is the Director of Leap of Faith Ministries, a ministry to creative postmoderns and intercultural couples. Marla also enjoys editing books, writing poetry, music, art, and other creative pursuits. Marla and her husband, Catalin, reside in Texas. They have one son.
Think you and your spouse are as different as night and day?
Viva la Difference!
Bob: All couples bring different perspectives and different backgrounds into their marriages. When Marla Deshong met and married Catalin Alupoaicei, a Romanian, it wasn’t just two people blending their differences, it was two cultures intersecting.
Marla: You start to realize that there are many aspects of our faith that people believe differently about. It might have to do with tithing, baptism, dedication of children, how many children to have, whether you should wear jewelry… but it was more difficult than I expected because that was a difference I didn’t expect to have. I just assumed, “Well, I’m a Christian, he’s a Christian.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 12th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I'm Bob Lepine. As we’ll see today, two people who love Jesus still think very differently about a whole lot of things.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us. I’ve been thinking about the subject that we’re talking about this week, the intercultural marriage. On some level, isn’t every marriage an intercultural marriage?
Dennis: Even if you’re both from America.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: We have different backgrounds, different motivations, different values… We have someone here who has spent over eight years of researching the subject of intercultural and interracial marriage. The author of Your Intercultural Marriage: A Guide to a Healthy
Happy Relationship Marla…
Bob: You’re going to try the name?
Dennis: I’m not going to butcher it. Go ahead Bob, you can say it I can’t.
Bob: Alupoaicei “Aloe poi CHAY”? How’d I do? Did I get it?
Dennis: Way to go!
Bob: “Aloe poi CHAY!”
Dennis: Marla joins us for another day. Welcome back, despite the host’s ability to butcher your last name.
Marla: Happens all the time.
Dennis: We shared earlier that you married a Romanian.
Dennis: I would just encourage folks if they haven’t heard the rest of the story; they need to hear how a Romanian man proposes.
Bob: Dennis has a much—I think he’s got a much more romantic picture of this in his mind than what really happened.
Dennis: Well, I just have had some—I’ve been to Paris a couple of times with Barbara…
Bob: Yes, but this wasn’t in Paris, it’s on a rickety old train.
Dennis: But it’s Europe! It’s Europe! Europe just seems to have—I’m sure it’s probably given to me by Hollywood, but Europe seems to have this romantic mystic to it. Does it to you as well Marla?
Marla: It does. Definitely yes.
Bob: Was there Dr. Zhivago music playing?
Marla: I wish there had been.
Dennis: We’re talking here about the differences we bring into a marriage because of these intercultural backgrounds that we have. I’m interested in knowing: what’s your favorite difference that your husband Catalin brings to your marriage.
Marla: Well, as you mentioned, as far as the proposal was concerned, it’s the romance, the exotic factor and just being with someone who is more mysterious and it’s exciting just getting to know him. You don’t take for granted the things you would take for granted in a relationship with someone from here. You’re always discovering new things about his culture and his person.
Dennis: Is his accent—tell the truth—is it still romantic to you?
Marla: He has a very very slight accent. He speaks English very well because he started translating when he was 13. So, that’s an advantage for me.
Bob: But there is still a little hint isn’t there not?
Marla: There’s a slight hint.
Bob: When he says “Marla.” (with an accent)
Bob: Does he do that? Does he say “Marla” (with an accent)?
Marla: Thankfully, he does not.
Bob: She’d just laugh at him.
Dennis: “You sound like Bob Lepine!” What would you think that he might say in terms of--well you know what? Do you have his cell-phone number? I’d just like to call him and ask him. I just want to get his voice on tape.
Marla: Sure. OK.
Dennis: Let’s call him. I just want to get his voice on tape.
Bob: You want to see just…
Marla: Oh, you want to test.
Bob: You want to see if he sounds like Ricardo Montalban.
Dennis: I didn’t mean to short circuit the system Keith.
Bob: It’s ringing.
Bob: Hello Catalin? This is Bob Lepine from FamilyLife Today.
Catalin: Hi. How are you?
Bob: I’m good, say hi to Dennis Rainey.
Dennis: Hey, how are you doing Catalin?
Catalin: Doing great!
Dennis: We have your bride here in the studio with us. I just asked her a question and I decided I wanted to find out how you would answer the question as well.
Bob: But before Dennis asks you the question, just say your wife’s name for us. Will you?
Bob: Yes. I just wanted to hear. I hear a little bit of a Romania accent, it’s kind of romantic kind of sexy.
Dennis: Ok, here’s your question, thanks a bunch for allowing us to interrupt your day. What is your favorite cultural difference that Marla has brought to your marriage?
Catalin: Wow. Where do I begin?
Dennis: That’s a good answer right there. That’s a good answer, way to go!
Bob: You started right, that’s right. You came into the marriage with cultural differences, what’s been something you’ve observed about Marla’s background and culture that you’ve said, “This is really beneficial, this has been helpful. I’ve learned and I’ve grown as a result of it.”
Catalin: Oh, that’s easy. That’s actually really easy to say. One of the things that come to mind that has a bittersweet reality to it; I grew up for the first part of my life under Communism.
Bob: You were growing up as Ceauşescu as the leader in Romania?
Catalin: Yes. I was fairly young, but I was able to see how—I lived under his regime for about 10 years. The first 10 years of my life, and I know it’s not a lot, but I was able to see a lot of the things that my parent’s generation went through and different oppression. I think one of the sad things about Communism, what it did, at least for a generation it took its hope away. There’s not a lot of hope behind the Iron Curtain.
My generation especially the young people that were born shortly after the Iron Curtain fell in the early 1990s, are learning what hope and optimism is all about. I think that one of the beautiful cultural differences between my culture and the American culture just from what Marla brings, is her optimism. I was just intoxicated with from the time that our marriage started. I will tell you that it grew on me and surely made my life a lot easier. Because, it showed me how thinking positive, and how good things do and can happen. It was a very refreshing experience for us, and for me and hearing that all around America. There was just a lot more optimism and a joy of life that liberates you.
Dennis: You know I’ve got to ask you while I have you on the phone. This scene on the train of you proposing to her: Was the moon coming through the clouds, was there music on the train? Tell me that you designed something superbly romantic to ask this American young lady to marry you.
Catalin: Well,I surely had not designed it. I think everything else around worked to set up the mood. I think it was a pretty cold November night, and we were on a train car with several different people on the train car, and it was freezing outside, but our train car was really hot because there were 6 other strangers in there, and there was a lot of—they were breathing and it was a lot warmer in there, and I think we were kind of sweating…
Dennis: This is not a good picture! This is not what I was looking for!
Bob: Dennis was looking for…
Dennis: Dr. Zhivago!
Bob: Something right out of Dr. Zhivago
Marla: I told you.
Bob: I told him it’s a rickety train in the back part of Romania.
Dennis: He’s got people sweating for goodness sake!
Catalin: Well, we have two versions; we could give the romantic version or the real version.
Marla: The real version. That’s right.
Dennis: You’ve been a good sport, thanks for allowing us to interrupt your rush hour traffic commute.
Catalin: No problem.
Marla: Thank you.
Bob: Your wife says she’ll see you later, Catalin.
Catalin: I can’t wait to see her. My pleasure.
Bob: You just can’t get past the train can you?
Marla: It was not as romantic…
Bob: Dennis is stuck on a train in Eastern Europe. Let me move off of your story and let’s talk about the reality of cross-cultural marriages, interracial marriages that are going on in the United States. I mentioned earlier this week that I grew up thinking that there might be something wrong with mixed race marriages. That sentiment has pretty much gone by the wayside, although, there’s still vestiges of that in the culture today aren’t there? And in the church as well right?
Marla: That’s true. Sometimes people try to twist or distort scripture to support that. But I discovered in my research, I did research on all of the intercultural marriages in the Bible, and what God said about them and so forth. Actually, many of the great heroes and heroines of our faith including David, Ruth, Joseph, many other people were involved in intercultural marriages, and those were marriages that the Lord approved of and blessed.
Dennis: Yes, in fact I wanted to ask you, what’s the first intercultural marriage in the Bible? Bob and I participated last fall in the first ever Bible Bee.
Bob: And you’re thinking this question might have come up with those Bible Bee contestants?
Dennis: I think it could. But anyway, do you remember?
Marla: I would say one of the first that seemed positive was Moses and Zipporah. If you remember the story Aaron and Miriam disapproved of Moses—they spoke out against Moses in part because of his intercultural marriage. God really responded harshly to that, to Aaron and Miriam. You remember Miriam was struck with leprosy for speaking out against Moses. From everything we can tell, God approved of Moses’ marriage with Zipporah and there’s nothing said about anything negative about that relationship.
Bob: But there are general prohibitions throughout the Old Testament that the Jews are not to marry women from other nations and other tribes.
Dennis: Samson for instance.
Bob: “She looks good to me” the Philistine woman. And then you’ve got Solomon who goes off with all of these women from all sorts of other countries, and God says, “You’re not supposed to do that.” Right?
Marla: That’s right. But if you look at all of the stories you’ll see that he didn’t prohibit that intercultural or interracial marriage because those people were of another race or from another culture, he did it only because they didn’t share the same spiritual values or beliefs. They didn’t worship the one true God. They worshiped idols.
So he said to Solomon, don’t go after these pagan wives because they worship idols. They’ll lead your heart away from me. But that’s exactly what Solomon did, and that is what happened. His heart was led away from the Lord. So, his later life, he did not serve the Lord.
Dennis: So it really takes us to one of the New Testament admonitions, “Do not be unequally yoked.”
Dennis: It’s talking about not the culture people come from, but where their hearts are.
Marla: That’s right, that’s really the only principle that we have now for today’s culture to go on is “A Christian is not supposed to be unequally yoked in marriage with a non-believer.”
Bob: You may be equally yoked spiritually, but you may come from very different ways of practicing your Christian faith. You grew up in church, in Terre Haute, Indiana right?
Bob: And, Catalin grew up going to church in Romania. I’m just guessing it was two different church experiences for you and him. Was that hard to reconcile when the two of you got married?
Marla: It was more difficult than I expected because that was a difference I didn’t expect to have. I just assumed “Well, I’m a Christian, he’s a Christian.” But, you start to realize that there are many aspects of our faith that people believe differently about. It might have to do with tithing, baptism, dedication of children, how many children to have, birth control, whether you should wear jewelry…
Some cultures believe that women should only wear dresses, should not wear jewelry or makeup, and that actually is true in the Romania culture. It’s very conservative, what we might consider to be legalistic, but I think we have to be careful about that too. Because in many countries of the world, the churches are just very devout, and the people are, what we might consider more “legalistic” just because they’re trying to very carefully follow biblical teachings.
Bob: The wearing of makeup and jewelry in another culture may signal something morally that it doesn’t necessarily signal in our culture. Right?
Marla: That’s right.
Dennis: Or, that we may have become so calloused to that we now are accepting of it.
Bob: Marla, in your research you’ve talked with a lot of couples who are in either cross-cultural or interracial marriages. Let me ask you about the unique challenges that interracial couples face that maybe take it a step beyond the challenges that you and your husband have faced. When you talk to couples who are from different ethnic backgrounds, what kinds of things did you learn?
Marla: Many of them especially people who are from a Christian background struggle to convince their parents or friends or other people around them that it was OK for them to get married. Oftentimes people try to talk them out of it, sometimes if one of the people is from another culture the friends or family might ask “Are you sure that person isn’t just trying to get a visa to come to America?” That’s common and actually I’ve faced that myself, too.
Dennis: Really? Some relatives?
Marla: Yes. I think that’s a common concern. But of course it is hurtful to the person when someone asks you that. But that’s common. There are a lot of issues that the interracial couples have to consider because you don’t want to alienate your family, your ultimate goal is for them to support you and love you. You really need that because the culture does not provide as much support. The culture still tends to be more judgmental toward interracial couples, and the children of interracial couples. Because, when they walk in the door you can tell they’re interracial whereas, my husband and I were intercultural, but we’re not interracial.
Bob: You look the same.
Dennis: In fact, I wanted to ask you a question about that. If you were speaking right now to a couple who are in an interracial marriage, where there does seem to be from time to time, that judgmental attitude, what’s the best advise you could give that couple?
Marla: I would encourage them to pray together, discuss the issues, I think they need to discuss with each other if there’s hurt there. Try to come up with some ways that they can overcome that, if there are specific family members that seem disapproving or are causing problems in the marriage. They need to discuss how to approach that whether they should both go together or say it is one person’s father or mother, maybe they can talk to them. Try to share biblical principles with them, pray with them and even write out why it’s important to you and share it.
Sometimes I do that in my own marriage. Just so I can get all of my thoughts down and really make it clear. They may need to seek counseling or have their pastor or someone else intervene. Maybe bring all of the family members together; the couple as well as the people who—the family members who don’t agree and try to reach some kind of reconciliation there. But, I really recommend trying your best. I know sometimes people might just be tempted to write it off and say, “Well, we’re just going to get married no matter what.”
But in my book I list many questions that individuals can ask each other before marriage during that planning process. Just to find out about each other’s personalities, habits, preferences families of origin, spiritual walk, etcetera. It’s crucial to ask those questions before you jump into intercultural marriage.
Dennis: We don’t talk about it very often, but we have a great resource called, Preparing for Marriage that has been written. It took over five years for us to develop. I still think, even though it’s been out for a while, it really remains the very best, and most thorough preparation that a young couple can go through prior to getting married. It goes through a background check of sorts, for a couple to explain to one another where they have come from and who they are. They can talk about how they are different before they tie the knot.
Bob: We’ve got copies the Preparing for Marriage workbook in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Listeners can go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of that workbook if they’re like. I was sitting here thinking about the cards that you and Barbara put together The Five Essentials for a Thriving Marriage card. We can get distracted by some of these differences that seem hug at the time, but really aren’t the main thing. To have these cards where you guys outline what are the core issues that we need to keep coming back to and have it—these are laminated cards that can go in a Bible, work like a bookmark.
Just remind you of what the important stuff is. This week we’ve been inviting listeners to call 1-800-FLTODAY and just ask for a couple of these and we’ll send them out to you. We’re particularly interested in getting these in the hands of some of our newer listeners so they can get a handle on what FamilyLife is all about, and who we are, what we believe, what kinds of resources we have available to help you out. But, anybody can call or request them. 1-800-FLTODAY, ask for The Five Essentials for a Thriving Marriage card. We’ll get a couple of those out to you.
In some ways an intercultural or an interracial marriage is a declaration of the Gospel. I’m just sitting here thinking about Ephesians chapter 2 that says, “In Christ there is the tearing down of the dividing wall. Jew and Greek are now one in Christ.” I’m thinking about Galatians 3:28 that says “there is neither Greek nor Jew…” again, the gospel says that what matters is our relationship with God and that puts us in his family. At that point culture and ethnicity and race, background, it’s not that it doesn’t matter. But it’s not preeminent.
I’m not suggesting that you need to go out and find a person of a different race or different culture to marry them in order to proclaim the gospel, but I do think that those couples who do meet and fall in love and show that the dividing wall is torn down, and that their bond to Christ is stronger than any other bond. I think it’s a powerful message.
Dennis: I think there’s some pride in our hearts in the Christian community sometimes where we find people discriminating against other races and other cultures thinking that somehow we’re better, or they’re worse, or they’re not of a higher class. It was that kind of pride God really came to root out through the death of Christ. I’m glad, Bob that you pointed that out because the love of Christ is colorblind.
Bob: I just want to find out, you had a baby boy back in July right?
Bob: Your name is Marla, your husband’s name is Catalin, so what is your son’s name?
Marla: Evan Christian.
Bob: So you picked American names.
Bob: Did you even talk about “Nikolae”?
Dennis: There’s a look on her face.
Bob: I was just wondering if…
Marla: We talked a lot about it! Let me tell you.
Dennis: I’ll bet!
Marla: For years we discussed this. It was a difficult choice we wanted to have something that sounded good in both cultures that was easy to pronounce and went well with a name like Alupoaicei, so that limits your options. He actually was born a bit early so we had to rush to pick the name, but that’s the one we decided on, and we’re happy with it.
Dennis: Since Bob asked a really tough question. Here’s another one. Have you and your husband ever talked about changing your last name because of the difficulty of spelling and pronouncing it in this culture?
Marla: We have talked about that, and came up with a few suggestions.
Bob: Dennis would like you to do that so he can pronounce it next time.
Marla: But, you realize that the name is so fundamental to a person’s identity and who they are, even scripture talks a lot about that. A person’s name has so much importance and the meaning of the last name, actually is special. I felt like taking my husband’s name is something that is meaningful to me, and it’s definitely a conversation starter.
Dennis: It sure is. I’ll tell you what will start a lot of conversations, your book on intercultural marriage. I’d just like to encourage couples who are in marriages where perhaps there’s a clash of values and backgrounds. You may have never thought about your marriage being between two different cultures, but this may be very, very healthy for you as a couple to be able to spend some time in. On the cover, I’m still trying to figure out…
Bob: That’s what I want to know.
Dennis: There’s a cheeseburger at the bottom…
Bob: We got the cheeseburger, what’s in this bowl here?
Dennis: Is this Romanian food?
Marla: No. It looks like some kind of Japanese food.
Bob: It looks like it might still be alive.
Marla: I was not involved in the cover design. I love the cover design but…
Dennis: This kind of stuff here grows on the bottom of the ocean.
Bob: There is a bowl of...
Marla: I think it’s star anise but I don’t know what this is. Some kind of Asian food.
Bob: There’s something here that I might be afraid to eat along with the cheeseburger. We do have copies of the book which is called Your Intercultural Marriage available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how you can get a copy of the book. Again it’s FamilyLifeToday.com, or call toll-free at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329. You can get more information about how to get a copy of this book. Don’t forget you can also find information about the Preparing for Marriage workbook on our website FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information about that workbook as well.
And with that we’ve got to wrap things up for this week, Marla thank you for being here, thanks to all of you who tuned in, hope you have a great weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to have physician Dr. Meg Meeker join us to talk about the epidemic that nobody’s talking about.
Dr. Meg Meeker: And I said “Why doesn’t somebody tell the kids out there that having sex when you’re a teenager is extremely, extremely dangerous?”
Bob: We’re going to talk about sexually transmitted diseases coming up Monday and I hope you can be here for that conversation. Thanks today to our engineer Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back on Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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