A record 2,000 Seventh-day Adventist couples from across Jamaica renewed their marital vows at a gathering where they learned that the keys to a successful marriage are humility and the full surrender of self to God.
The couples, young and old, waited in long lines at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Jamaica, to gain free entrance to the couples’ conference, which is held once every five years and was organized by the Jamaica Union Conference.
“What was accomplished here today, where nearly 2,000 couples participated in this convention, is a statement to our nation that this church still believes that marriage is to be between a man and a woman as God intended it to be,” union treasurer Bancroft Barwise told the crowd as the Feb. 7 event wrapped up.
Fewer couples are tying the knot every year in Jamaica even as the divorce rate has grown from 11 percent in 2010 to 13 percent in 2013, according to the latest figures available from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica.
The most important path to an improved marriage is for the couple to be kind and loving, humble and forgiving, said the presenters, Willie and Elaine Oliver, who have been married for more than 30 years.
“The most critical ingredient is surrender: surrender to God and self,” said Elaine Oliver, who with her husband co-directs the Family Ministries department of the Adventist world church.
“Marriage is hard,” she said. “It’s hard work, and if I can focus on the other person more than I focus on myself — which is totally counter-cultural because we live in an individualistic world — then we can have a happy marriage.”
Willie Oliver underscored the necessity of humility.
“When we are humble, we will recognize that we have made a mistake and it’s OK to ask for forgiveness and apologize,” he said. “But persons might be just too proud to say, ‘I am sorry,’ and as the wise man Solomon said, ‘Pride goes before a fall.’ So if we want to stay strong in marriage, we have to be humble.”
Each couple received a 21-page workbook, “Journey Toward Intimacy,” written by the Olivers and packed with practical marital information from the Bible and the writings of Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White.
Among the questions is ”What did Jesus say about commitment in marriage?” The answer offered in the workbook is drawn from Matt. 19:3-6: “The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,”and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’”
In a section on committing to intimacy, the workbook quotes Ellen White’s Happiness Homemade, p. 24: “Determine to be all that is possible to be to each other. Continue the early attentions. In every way encourage each other in fighting the battles of life. … Let there be mutual love, mutual forbearance. Then marriage, instead of being the end of love, will be as it were the very beginning of love.”
The couples were given five- to 10-minute breaks during the conference to discuss their marriages and then list ways to enhance their relationships.
Five couples, one from each of the five Adventist conferences in Jamaica, were randomly selected and given a prize of a weekend for two at a resort.
Attendees Errol and Valerie Vaz, who have been married for 35 years, said they had filled in the workbook and looked forward to putting their new ideas into practice.
“There some areas that were discussed today that we need to brush up on, and we have made our list as to how we are going to address them,” Errol Vaz said.