The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
15th in a series on long marriages
High-school senior Ron Johanesen was visiting his best friend Leeroy’s house after a game of mud football when he first noticed Leeroy’s sister—a “beautiful blond girl.” Ron learned he and Sandra went to the same Portland, Ore., church. He soon asked her to be his date for a formal event at school.
Sandra, a shy sophomore, was surprised Ron noticed her. But she admired his compassion as he cared for his grandparents and befriended students with disabilities at their school. Sandra and Ron married in July 1976, after finishing college.
About five years later, Sandra became pregnant, and six weeks before the birth, they learned they were having twins and rushed to prepare. “We’d bought one set of everything,” says Ron. In the next eight years, they had four more children.
Then in the fall of 1998, things changed for the family. Ron stood on a 5-foot ladder, preparing the house windows for the approaching winter weather. As he shifted his weight, the ladder crumpled and 44-year-old Ron landed on the driveway, shattering his pelvis. Two surgeries and 12 screws followed, and Ron was out of work for three months.
With an annual income of only around $30,000 or less, the Johanesens knew those three months would be financially difficult. Yet they saw God provide during Ron’s recovery: Their church bought Christmas gifts for their kids, and Ron’s employer continued paying their health insurance premium. One night, a stranger even brought them a box of food.
There is a huge temptation to feel inadequate as a wife if you’re not seen as helping. People don’t think you’re adding to your family unless you’re making money.
Seeing God’s provision gave Ron courage, and he decided to open his own accounting practice. “If the Lord can provide for me when I’m unable to even get off my back, surely he can provide for us through these hands,” he said. Sandra agreed, and the family cleared space to put Ron’s office in the basement, beside the laundry room. Their youngest child was 4 years old.
Losing steady income and insurance was stressful: Ron paid the business expenses each month before paying himself. Sandra worked hard to stay within their budget and teach the kids to be content. Each month, they wondered if they could cover expenses, including the costs of homeschooling their kids.
Once again, God met their needs. When their daughter’s appendix ruptured, they rushed her to the hospital for life-saving surgery. The family didn’t have insurance at the time, but the hospital did not charge them for the procedure.
Sandra, though, felt friends and family members judging her for not getting a job. “There is a huge temptation to feel inadequate as a wife if you’re not seen as helping,” she says. “People don’t think you’re adding to your family unless you’re making money.” Sometimes she suggested the idea to Ron, but he reminded her how important her presence in the home was.
One morning, Sandra fought frustration as she read her Bible. Then a passage in the book of Numbers caught her attention: It emphasized the faithful leadership of Moses. Sandra felt God reminding her that He had chosen Ron to lead their home and she should trust God by not complaining and speaking against her husband. That day was a turning point for her.
Now, after 43 years of marriage, the Johanesens are empty nesters and plan to sell the large house in Portland where they raised their children. Ron still works from home and keeps an office in his garage. He is a few years from retirement, and he hopes to cut back his hours soon.
Ron reflects on the years when money was tight: “Right at the beginning, we stopped and we prayed and we asked the Lord to give us peace and that He would provide. And He did. He always did.”
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Like office workers across Europe, Luiza Chrzanowska found herself sidelined by COVID-19. A day job as an economist with the European Commission at its headquarters in Brussels turned into teleworking from home, alone. The ecumenical choir she leads, Chapel for Europe, took a sudden sabbatical as the coronavirus canceled events.
Closed borders and travel bans meant the Catholic evangelical could not return to her native Poland. “Missing Easter breakfast with my family has probably been the most difficult thing for me,” Chrzanowska told me when I reached her by phone in the Belgian capital.
Her choir no longer met for singing, “too contagious,” she said, “so we had Zoom rehearsals instead.”
That’s when Chrzanowska and several choir members from the Well, a cross-cultural evangelical church in Brussels, had an idea: They could take their singing to the suffering.
The group began with an impromptu Sunday afternoon concert outside Cinquantenaire, a private elderly care facility with hundreds of residents in the Brussels suburb of Etterbeek. The musicians, about 15 altogether, added another home for the elderly about five minutes’ walk away, where the mother of one of their members resides.
In early May when they began, COVID-19 deaths in Belgium had come down from several thousand a day in April to perhaps 600 a day, more than half of them in nursing homes like these. But a strict lockdown, already in place for six weeks, continued. Only food shops were open and shopping was limited to one person per family. Residents could leave their homes for one hour’s exercise per day, and police used drones to monitor social distancing. At the nursing homes, relatives couldn’t visit and residents were confined inside their own rooms.
Chrzanowska’s outdoor concerts quickly became anticipated events, and the singers learned to recognize each resident at his or her window. Some stood, obviously waiting for them, while a saxophonist roused others from rest. Accordion and trumpet players also accompanied the singers, with everyone in the group using their allotted exercise time to make the sessions happen.
Harmonizing outdoors and with distance takes a lot of improvising, said Chrzanowska, but soon she learned those indoors were calling them the “Choir of Love.” They were making a difference, said relatives and staff. One resident attempted suicide early in lockdown. She became the first to stand on a balcony awaiting the choir’s arrival. The Cinquantenaire director, seeing the effect, rented a hydraulic scaffold for the singers to be lifted to the windows of each floor.
“People join us in the street too. We choose songs they know, and it means so much that we are coming to show our love. There’s real bonding going on,” Chrzanowska said. “Even if you go for half an hour, it matters. It’s doing unto the least of these for all that Jesus has done for me.”
On a Sunday in June, one of the regulars didn’t show at her window. “We feared she had died of COVID-19,” said Chrzanowska, “but as we were finishing, she appeared. She had just taken a nap and was late. So we stayed longer to sing just for her.”
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Be in the world but not of it: A familiar concept for Christians, but easier said than done if the world is Hollywood reality TV. Just ask Florida couple Tyler and Amy Clites, champions of Fox’s new show Lego Masters.
Tyler, who has built with Legos since he was 2 years old, works for an independent online company designing instructions for creative brick models. His office is a spare bedroom lined floor to ceiling with white plastic drawers of bricks. The bricks are organized by type, as Tyler demonstrated, pulling out a drawer to reveal yellow 2x2x1 cylinders. Amy, a piano teacher, had no Lego-design experience before meeting Tyler. “I married into it,” she laughed.
The competition, which took place from November to December 2019 and aired this spring, consisted of 10 Lego “builds” based on different themes and judged for technical level and artistic appeal. Each round lasted 12-15 hours nonstop, and at the end of each round the judges sent one team home. Tyler and Amy had been married only about a year when filming began and hadn’t gone through any major stresses together.
The first round was especially rough. The challenge was to build a theme park, so Tyler designed an egg drop ride as the central feature. The elevator mechanism didn’t work until the last minute. The Cliteses were still getting used to the TV show world, the pressure of the clock, and building together. Plus, Amy is pregnant and had some first-trimester nausea.
The Cliteses live in Bradenton, Fla., but the competition took place in Los Angeles: Coming from conservative backgrounds, the couple felt drained by the long days filming in a highly secular atmosphere, where profanity was prolific. For Amy, who had been a missionary in Uganda 10 years earlier, it felt like returning to the field.
They faced many challenges. One was staying realistic about the outcome, since the winners would take home $100,000. Tyler and Amy had been planning to buy a house, and such a cash prize would help. So they started each Lego build with prayer: “Lord, make Your will our ultimate desire.”
Tyler was more stressed by the idea of going home and losing the opportunity to try every challenge. Amid the pressure, he constantly had to remind himself not to idolize proving himself. He and Amy used their differences to complement each other: Amy was the planner and timekeeper, Tyler the designer.
Amy pushed herself to engage and seek out deeper conversations with the other competitors. Although the producers didn’t give the competitors a chance to talk about their beliefs, they highlighted the Cliteses’ newlywed status in a positive, if caricatured, light. The couple dressed as if for date night and stole kisses onscreen.
The judges favored builds with strong characters and storylines, and that allowed Tyler and Amy to showcase both their creativity and pro-life values. One of their builds featured a giant super-baby saving the world from milk-stealing cats. Their prize-winning build, Treasure of the Griffin, depicted a mother griffin with realistically flapping wings fiercely protecting her young.
—Lego Masters is available on Amazon, Hulu, and Fox Now. Cautions: Mild bad language from one participant, and other participants include a homosexual couple.