The coronavirus challenged compassion-providing ministries in new ways
17TH IN A SERIES ON LONG MARRIAGES
Robert “Smokey” Nevins met his future wife at California’s Sacramento State University. Smokey, born blind, needed someone to drive him to a music appreciation class, so he checked the school’s list of assistant readers for, he said, “girls with pretty names.” He decided to call Patricia.
Patty remembers how, the first time she came to pick up Smokey, his father invited her to watch football. “So I instantly passed the test with his parents,” she said. After dating, breaking up, and getting back together, the couple had a 10-day engagement and a 14-person wedding in January 1980. (“We’re both … extremely lazy about wanting to do big production things,” explained Patty.)
Smokey and Patty spent the next decades raising a family and learning to love and care for one another, but health problems, Smokey’s disability, and the uncertainties of life were a constant challenge.
The Nevinses settled down in Sacramento: Patty did clerical work, and Smokey played jazz guitar at coffee lounges. The couple got creative to find things they could enjoy together. Some of their go-to hobbies were braille Scrabble and Monopoly and riding a tandem bicycle. “When you ride bikes separately, it’s hard to connect and talk,” said Patty. “We had a great time riding around and having conversation.”
Relying on His people to sustain us, His Word to sustain us, His Spirit to sustain us.
Soon after they married, Patty pointed out that husbands are responsible to provide for the family. Smokey was surprised: He dreamed of one day becoming a pastor but hadn’t had many job opportunities growing up. With Patty’s encouragement, he started working in telemarketing and eventually became an analyst for the state. His 31-year career allowed Patty to stay home and raise their children—all nine of them.
Their first baby came five years into the marriage, and after that Patty was “changing diapers for 20 years straight.” The Nevinses tried to follow advice they heard in the Christian world to raise their children right: homeschooling, Scripture memorization in the car, nightly family devotions, church activities. But as the children grew up, they realized parenting methods alone couldn’t guarantee spiritual life. Today, the couple says, some of the kids are following Jesus, some are unbelievers, and some they aren’t certain about. They have determined to trust God to save the children.
One of the biggest challenges of their marriage has been health issues. Since age 17, Smokey has suffered from epilepsy. During seizures, Smokey would lose consciousness, sometimes yelling or cursing, and then become sick and disoriented as he recovered. The couple endured treatments and drugs with painful or personality-altering side effects. Both say the prayers and support from their small church have been essential. Patty remembers one day when Smokey had a flurry of seizures and she couldn’t care for him and the kids. A church member took Smokey to his house and read Scripture to him, waiting for the seizures to stop. Smokey has not had a seizure for a year, but the challenge of trusting God with his health continues: Earlier this year, he had open-heart surgery.
Smokey, 62, retired last year and serves as an elder at the couple’s church. He loves doing ministry, though Patty says he still envies young men going to seminary. Patty is the facilities care coordinator at their church and also works at a local library. The couple celebrated 40 years of marriage in January. “The success of our life … is because of the Lord being true to His Word,” said Patty. “Relying on His people to sustain us, His Word to sustain us, His Spirit to sustain us.”
Smokey’s health problems now prevent him from balancing on the tandem bike. But the Nevinses have gotten creative about that problem too: For his 60th birthday, Patty bought a two-person tricycle for them to ride side by side.
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One Wednesday in July, Jill Page chatted with three other women in the stuffy craft room of a church outside Philadelphia. Each woman wore a cloth mask and sat by herself at a table with a sewing machine and box of supplies. Over the whir of the machines and an electric fan, they talked about Houssei Bah’s plans to get married later that month and Cassandra Gruszka’s new job at UPS. Cassandra’s first shift was that night, and she was nervous. Page encouraged her with a Bible verse—Isaiah 26:3—and added, “Set your mind on God, and He will give you His peace.”
Page started Every Good Gift, a job training program for young moms, in 2015 after almost two decades in pro-life ministry. She has seen the women in the program build friendships, grow spiritually, and move on to full-time jobs and independent housing. But running the ministry almost single-handedly is draining, and knowing how best to help the women, who may lack education or life skills, takes patience and wisdom.
Every Good Gift makes and sells gift baskets, mug cozies, face masks, and other items. Typically, four women work from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. On Mondays they have Bible study, and on Thursdays workshops—though currently due to the pandemic, Bible studies and workshops occur on Mondays via Zoom. The women sit at tables in the host church’s craft room and talk as they assemble products. Volunteers provide child care in a room across the hall. At the end of the work shift, everyone has lunch. The workshops focus on parenting and job skills, and Page brings in local pastors or church volunteers to lead Bible studies.
Employees, mostly single moms, come from all backgrounds: One was in foster care, a few lived in a shelter, and some have supportive families. Cassandra, 26, has two children, ages 5 and 2. She found Every Good Gift a couple of years ago through a Facebook group for moms. “I like it a lot,” she said. “Everyone is very helpful and friendly. You don’t get that at a lot of places. And the support is there.” She and her children live with her parents, and her daughter’s father helps with raising the children. Cassandra grew up going to church occasionally but said through the Bible studies at Every Good Gift she has grown closer to God. Now she attends church with a friend.
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16th in a series on long marriages
Lois Taylor said she would marry anyone but a pastor.
Growing up as a pastor’s kid, Lois saw her dad working long hours of ministry. She perceived her mother, who was always at home, as isolated and lonely. At church, people expected her mom to do particular ministries just because she was the pastor’s wife. Lois remembered her mom also believed she couldn’t have friends in the church, as that might look like favoritism.
Working as a student editor of the yearbook at Cairn University near Philadelphia in 1976, Lois met and fell in love with another yearbook editor, Gary. Two years later, they married. But as it turned out, Gary wanted to become a pastor.
Gary, who was also a pastor’s kid, had expectations for ministry very different from hers: He enjoyed church, led Sunday school for teens, and sang in the choir. He was excited to enter pastoral work and had come to Cairn to study music and Bible.
After Gary attended seminary, the couple moved to rural Pennsylvania, and Gary began pastoring a small Baptist church in a county that did not yet have a traffic light. With his Type A personality, Gary did his best pastoring a laid-back country church, even though he had come from the city. Five years later, the Taylors moved to another church, First Baptist of Morrisville, where Gary worked to overhaul the church budget and establish a team of elders.
Initially, though, Lois struggled in her role as a pastor’s wife. When congregants criticized Gary—critiquing his preaching or blaming him for declines in attendance—she felt it most deeply. She worried congregants would disapprove of her, too, or would try to force her into ministries she didn’t want to do.
She also felt, early on, that Gary did not spend enough time with the family. One day, she became upset and told him, right before he left to chair a church planting meeting, “You don’t care about me. All you care about is doing ministry.”
That day, instead of going to the meeting, Gary decided to stay home with Lois. She realized then that she was more important to him than his work.
And over time, Lois adjusted to other aspects of pastoral life. She learned not to take criticisms personally, and to her surprise, people didn’t try to force her into specific ministries. She worked in ways that fit her gifts and interests, such as teaching Sunday school and children’s Bible clubs. Lois also gained friends at church: Someone told her, “You are closer to some but friendly with everyone,” which is her goal. The biggest challenge, she says, is to invest deeply in people who later leave.
After 31 years at First Baptist of Morrisville, Gary, who also serves as an Army chaplain, says he has deep relationships with families in the church and has seen multiple generations walking with God.
Lois believes the joys of pastoral life far outweigh its challenges: “I know this is where God would have us, and He has us together.” She and Gary have been married 42 years, and she says it’s “a joy to serve with him.”