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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

AGTV Video

Connections: Mark and Becky Rhoades

Building Strong Marriages

Mark and Becky Rhoades serve as the national administrative couple for Assemblies of God Marriage Encounter. They recently visited with Pentecostal Evangel Editor Ken Horn.

evangel: How did Marriage Encounter get started?
It began in Spain in the 1950s. A youth minister at a church in Barcelona became a little frustrated with the kids in his youth group because he thought he wasn’t making the kind of progress in their discipleship that he needed. He discovered that it was because there were struggles in their parents’ marriages.

So he thought, I’m going to tackle this a different way, and he went to the couples in his church with healthy marriages and asked them if would they be willing to share their lives with couples in the church who struggled. The ministry expanded over time, and it came to the United States during the late ’60s.

MARK: There are about 12 different expressions of Marriage Encounter, from Catholic to Lutheran to Mennonite. It’s grown to reach 5 million couples over the years, in 100 countries.

evangel: Talk about how you got involved in this ministry.
MARK: Becky is a professor at Evangel University (Assemblies of God) in Springfield, Mo. She teaches accounting. One day she said to me, “Everybody at work is going to this Marriage Encounter this weekend. You want to go?”

And I said, “Sure, let’s go!”

It was an amazing time for us. One of the things we learned was a concept called “married singles” — and that’s what we were already, after only a year and a half of marriage. We had two cars. We had two routines. We had two big school bills. We had two ways of thinking about how we were going to spend our money. And we were thinking, Whoa!

You see it a lot. Guys go hunting and fishing; ladies go here and there. Soon they just kind of grow apart and they don’t know each other anymore. And so, on that weekend we were called to this ministry to say, “There’s a better way. Marriage is easier to do than this. You can make it. You don’t have to just walk off from each other like that.”

evangel: So you felt called to the ministry the first time you attended?
BECKY: We did, even though it was actually an Episcopal Marriage Encounter weekend. There were 40 couples there, which is a large weekend. Marriage Encounter is typically 15 or 20 couples. But on that weekend there were lots of AG couples. And for about a year after that, AG couples filled the Episcopal Marriage Encounter weekends.

MARK: Finally, the Episcopal couples said, “Why don’t you start your own?”

BECKY: This was early in our marriage — we didn’t have children — so the task of starting our own ministry landed on our kitchen table. We had a list of couples from New Jersey, Michigan and Oregon who were just waiting for it to start so they could offer it in their areas of the country. Eventually it moved to a desk, and now we are the national administrative couple for Assemblies of God Marriage Encounter. We schedule the flights, ensure the hotel bills get paid and the printing gets done, and make sure that weekends take place in different locations.

MARK: There are about 110 couples who work with us. We’re the only ones who get paid. They’re all volunteers; they all have their own lives and their own mission and their own jobs.

evangel: I’m sure there are lots of people who aren’t AG that end up at AG Marriage Encounter.
Maybe 20 or 30 percent. And we almost always have couples with no church affiliation at all. So it becomes, indirectly, a tool of evangelism. We just did a weekend in Ontario, Calif., where we had a young couple who had just recently started to attend church. So, in a case like that, Marriage Encounter serves as a fabulous discipleship tool.

evangel: Tell us what happens on a typical Marriage Encounter weekend.
MARK: The weekend is held in a hotel. We start Friday night about 8 and run through Sunday afternoon until about 4. There are approximately 13 different sessions, and each session is conducted by a pastoral couple and a lay couple. The sessions cover everything from intimacy to in-laws, and from kids to finances.

The couples hear the presentation, then immediately go back to their own private rooms. There’s no public sharing in Marriage Encounter. They don’t call on people to do anything or say anything.

So, after the presentations, couples go to their private rooms and write their responses in their notebooks. They might also use a handout. They exchange responses to help them understand more about what’s happening in their lives and in their marriage.

Then they go on to the next presentation, which might be something completely different. And the questions may get a little more challenging as they go.

evangel: A lot of people would feel a little intimidated to go to a Marriage Encounter weekend, thinking, I’m going to have to talk and be embarrassed. You’re saying that’s probably not a problem.
BECKY: It’s not. Friday night you introduce yourself, and that’s it. Obviously, you sit with people at meals and get a chance to talk, but that’s a very casual, social conversation. Other than that the communication about your marriage is strictly between the two of you. It’s a very safe, gentle environment.

MARK: We had one attendee recently who was concerned it would be a weekend filled with husband bashing. He was relieved to discover that, instead, he found it to be a weekend of getting to know his wife all over again and falling madly in love.

BECKY: Another big reason people stay away is that they think by going, it says to everybody else, “We have problems.” But this isn’t the case at all. Over the years we’ve had couples who have had problems, but Marriage Encounter is largely a weekend for average-to-good marriages.

However, about 10 years ago we realized that there were couples attending Marriage Encounter because they had problems and were in trouble. So we set up a sister ministry called Marriage Restored, which is programmed the same way: a weekend, a private setting, and so on. But the topics addressed include forgiveness, healing and trust. So we do have a weekend experience for couples in trouble.

MARK: In the case of Marriage Restore, presenters have been through the same deep water. So when they tell their story about God’s grace and the miracle of restoration, the couples say, “Wow, that can happen to us!” We call it a weekend of hope renewed, and it really is. They have hope again.

evangel: After 30 years, AG Marriage Encounter just continues to grow.
MARK: Yes it does. It’s just amazing. We have 21 locations where we hold Marriage Encounter at least twice a year, and we have Marriage Restored in 12 more locations across the country. We’re also about to do something completely different. In March, we’re going to have a midweek Marriage Encounter “weekend” for pastors, for the Potomac network. That’s going to be exciting, and will run Thursday through Saturday.

evangel: What would you say to couples looking for a good reason to attend a Marriage Encounter weekend?
MARK: Sometimes marriage just gets too hard because of everything that’s happening in life. So come find each other, come find the Lord, in your marriage. It’s an amazing, amazing weekend. For more information visit


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