RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center’s sprawling wooded campus in the Blue Ridge Mountains is idyllic for contemplative, prayerful walks -– and it makes great camouflage to ambush your spouse in laser tag.
“Marriage is an adventure,” that, unlike laser tag, too often becomes a battlefield littered with sneak attacks and unhealed emotional wounds, said Russell Johnson who, with his wife Kristi, led the Memorial Day weekend’s Marriage Impact conference sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources.
The musical duo led worship and Bible study, challenging couples to a leap of faith to greater intimacy with their spouses and with God. The conference also challenged couples to take some literal leaps on the high ropes course on Ridgecrest’s campus.
Other couples chose mountain adventures such as hiking, horseback riding, or bike riding along the historic Blue Ridge Parkway. LifeWay’s Marriage Impact conferences combine heart-pounding outdoor adventure with heart-touching inward reflection to help couples refresh their marriages.
After 44 years of marriage, Sarah Reeves didn’t think going way out of her comfort zone by whitewater rafting would be necessary.
“I am very afraid of water. I can’t swim,” the Grenada, Miss., resident said.
But, she had the faith to go out onto the water to brave the Class 2 and 3 rapids of the French Broad River. Afterwards, she admitted she was hooked.
“It took three of us to convince her to come out of that raft. She didn’t want to stop,” her husband Wyomman said.
The indulgent rapport between the two seemed effortless, and Russell and Kristi Johnson asked the two for their secret in overcoming inevitable adversity and sustaining a lasting marriage.
“You learn to live with things,” Wyomman said.
The two became Christians and were baptized together in the summer of 1965 -– in their second year of marriage. The ups and downs of four decades of marriage included the death of a child at age 15 from an aneurysm.
“You can always learn,” Sarah said simply.
The conference also had its lighter moments, such as when Russell Johnson was talking about pet peeves.
“I don’t know why, but every vehicle we’ve had, [Kristi has] tried to wean it off of gas,” he said, after holding up other props, including a thermostat, to illustrate differences between man and wife.
“Does this bother anyone?” countered Kristi, holding up a toilet seat lid. Laughter from the crowd and her smiling nod of agreement answered that question about the meaningless irritations that nevertheless build up.
Participants Frank and Sherry Ball of Pine Knot, Ky., attempted the high ropes course. Frank calmly declined the freefall swing after speeding through the improbable vertical climb, swinging bridge, beam and tightrope strung through towering trees.
“He has a seizure disorder,” Sherry explained. “In 15 years, he’s only had three, and they’ve been in his sleep. I didn’t notice the look in his eyes and he didn’t want to say anything in front of everyone.”
Sherry said she chose the conference because it looked like a fun way to continue the work on their marriage, which is on the mend after years of struggle, including being away from church.
“I see him as such a strong man. He works heavy equipment. He totally takes care of everything with me and my children,” Sherry said. “Maybe I was meant to see him not finish [the high ropes course] and to learn I had the strength to finish it.”
Newlyweds Jennifer and Greg Evans, married 10 months, chose the conference because of Jennifer’s memories of youth camp.
“Ridgecrest is so special to me,” said Jennifer, who grew up in Indonesia where her parents have served 21 years as missionaries. Now she works with international students at Campbellsville University in Kentucky, where Greg is getting his degree in secondary education.
“It’s all stuff you’ve heard but you need to hear over and over again,” Jennifer said. “It’s just been amazing to be with 40 couples, and our common bond is that we care about our marriages.”
Six of the nine couples who came from Cornerstone Baptist Church in Springfield, Ga., chose a hiking excursion on nearby Chimney Rock -– a spectacular vista made famous in the film “The Last of the Mohicans.”
“I certainly have a passion for marital health,” said Cornerstone pastor Duane Logsdon, who is writing his dissertation on marriage at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
“A lot of the times couples don’t have time to play together and remember why they were attracted to that person,” his wife Jennifer added.
She said the church organizes an annual group trip for couples. “This was something different,” she said, adding that the group already is looking forward to returning next year.
Future 2007 Marriage Impact retreats at Ridgecrest are scheduled June 22-24, July 20-22 and Aug. 17-19. For more information, contact Ron Pratt, national event planner for LifeWay Conference Centers, at 615-251-2065 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.