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19TH IN A SERIES ON LONG MARRIAGES
Jackie Ricks grew up in a churchgoing family of nine in the inner city of Washington, D.C. After high school, she enrolled at Cedine Bible Institute in rural Spring City, Tenn. When her parents drove her to campus in 1978, a young man there named Greg Samuels gave them directions to the right building. Greg, 24, had become a Christian while listening to a radio broadcast a few years before and arrived at Cedine excited to study the Bible. He saw Jackie in the car and thought little of it. But when he left, Jackie’s mother told her, “You’re going to marry him.”
Jackie protested. But not long after that, she and Greg struck up a conversation at an evangelism event. They began talking regularly about all sorts of topics and became friends. A year later, she called her mother and told her she liked Greg. They married in 1980.
The couple moved to Atlanta, Ga., for Greg to study theology at Carver Bible Institute. Jackie enjoyed learning to cook and meeting ladies at church. They had three daughters between 1982 and 1988—but by 1985, Greg, working multiple jobs and struggling to cover expenses, decided he needed a career change. So he joined the Army—and then told Jackie, who became upset. “I thought that was the craziest thing,” she recalled. “I enjoyed Atlanta. I’d met a lot of friends.”
Before we got married, we were friends, and that friendship has continued.
That wasn’t the only tension they felt. Early in their marriage, the Samuelses sensed a difference between them. Greg was more interested in spiritual things than was Jackie, who faithfully attended church but never read her Bible or prayed. Greg remembers encouraging Jackie to do God’s will but finding she “always wanted to do what she wanted to do instead of what the Lord would have her to do.” A couple of years in, Greg understood that Jackie did not have a personal relationship with God. He resolved that fact would not change his love and care for her. “To me, because I’m a Christian husband, that’s my duty,” he said.
By 2007, the Samuelses were stationed in Colorado. Greg and their daughters were each dealing with their own challenges, and Jackie, 48, felt her inability to solve their problems. One day as she listened to a pastor on the radio addressing the importance of godly mothers, Jackie felt convicted of her failure to be one. “That day I invited Jesus into my heart and life,” she said. “It was like a burden just lifted off of me. It was just so much peace.” She apologized to her daughters for not being a godly mother, and in response, two of them, one in her 20s and one a teenager, became Christians too. Jackie told Greg the news, and he remembers his response: “I was grateful, but I was still going to watch her.”
Seeing change in Jackie’s life was difficult at first, Greg says, because she was already a “morally good person.” But over time he saw spiritual fruit develop. She wanted to read the Bible and join Bible studies with others. She became more patient instead of quick-tempered. She wanted to serve ladies in the church and share the gospel with unbelievers. As time passed, he became fully convinced her conversion was genuine.
Now, Greg says, “She’s really concerned with what God wants her to do.”
In 2013, Greg retired from the Army as a sergeant first class, and he and Jackie began serving at Cedine’s retreat center for couples. Today, they arrange retreat speakers, manage the audiovisuals, and provide friendship and support for attendees. In their free time, the Samuelses visit nearby Pigeon Forge, walk outside, and go on cruises. Jackie, 61, loves having a friend who will be there and pray for her through good times and bad. Greg, 67, says, “Before we got married, we were friends, and that friendship has continued. … It just seems like we’ve always been married.”