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Lauris and Rhonda Shepherd (Handout)


Learning the language of compassion

Lauris Shepherd dedicated his life to discipling men, but compassionately leading his family was a different challenge (Fifth in a series on long marriages)

Lauris Shepherd was serving in the Army and stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia when he first discovered the Navigators, an interdenominational Christian discipleship ministry. Later he reconnected with the group after moving to San Diego to teach math at Point Loma Nazarene University. He realized, “Even though I’d grown up in the church and had a great foundation, it was the Navigators that really helped me get on a steady growth.” He decided he wanted to be involved in men’s ministry and began to work as an administrative assistant to the Navigators’ area director to get some training.

Around the same time, Rhonda came to the church Lauris attended. Though they’d met previously, Rhonda started noticing Lauris’ spiritual maturity and “handsome features.” They spent time together through the church’s singles group: “I would come up with suggestions on how to get the group together so I could be around her,” Lauris says. One night in September 1976, Lauris’ car pulled up next to Rhonda’s at a stoplight (“answer to prayer,” Lauris jokes), and he motioned for her to pull into the nearby McDonald’s. The couple dubbed that night their first date.

Lauris was 28 when he and Rhonda began dating. Previously, his parents and friends had expressed concern at his singleness, but he was content focusing on the Navigators ministry he led at the University of California, San Diego. In November, Lauris told Rhonda that she was the one for him—if he was supposed to get married. He asked if she was OK with that, and she replied that she didn’t know but thought she could trust God. Lauris’ decision came quickly: He proposed soon after, and they married in April 1977.

Eight years and four daughters later, the Shepherds moved to Japan with the Navigators to disciple members of the U.S. Navy. Not knowing the language, they faced culture shock and medical scares: They planned to have a baby at home with a Japanese midwife, but complications forced them to rush to a hospital to save the baby’s life. In their marriage, tension arose over money. The Shepherds raised financial support as missionaries but were underfunded when they arrived in Japan. Rhonda worked to stay within their limited income, but sometimes her purchases upset the extremely frugal Lauris. Eventually, they created a budget, and their communication about finances became smoother.

Lauris loved ministry but now admits he did not “know the language of compassion.” The Shepherds had eight kids, and he wondered why their six daughters told him their problems if he couldn’t fix them. Once, Lauris decided their oldest girl should attend an eight-week piano camp. The daughter pleaded not to go, but Lauris did not listen. The night before she left, Rhonda asked him if he was sufficiently sure of the decision to risk his daughter resenting him. Her words made him think. A week into the camp, he spoke with their daughter on the phone to repair their relationship.

Over time, his lack of compassion convicted him, and he thought, “Wow, that’s nothing like Jesus.” He apologized to each of his daughters for ways he might have hurt them. In parenting, he says, he’s relied heavily on Rhonda to understand the girls. 

His efforts seem to be paying off: Recently, Lauris took the StrengthsFinder personal assessment test and was surprised to see “empathy” as one of his top strengths. He says, “I just think that’s been learned, because God’s really working on me.”

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Charissa Koh

David and Ruth Daumer with their 9-month-old grandchild (Charissa Koh)


Learning dependence

Health problems taught David and Ruth Daumer to rely on each other (Fourth in a series on long marriages)

David and Ruth Daumer celebrated their 40th anniversary this year on Jan. 6. They almost didn’t make it: David had a heart attack in 1996 at their older daughter’s 7th birthday party. She and her 1-year-old sister had to say goodbye to their dad in case he didn’t make it home from the hospital.

David and Ruth met when they were children in Hammond, Ind. They lost track of each other during high school but reconnected at a singles event during college. Their first date was a trip to the circus (“a good metaphor for our marriage,” said Ruth). Five months later they were engaged. 

In 1980, married for a year, they moved so David could attend Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Ind. He worked part time, and Ruth worked full time as an ICU nurse at a local hospital, occasionally taking classes toward her next nursing degree. A few years into David’s first pastorate, they wanted children. After two miscarriages and fruitless medical exams, they began to wonder if God wanted them to focus on careers instead of a family. 

Later, they had the opportunity to adopt and picked up their first daughter with only 24 hours’ notice. Ruth recalls, “We drove to Sears that morning, walked into the baby department, and said, ‘We’re picking up a baby in an hour: What do we need?’” They eventually adopted a second daughter. 

David also became pastor of a church in Orange City, Iowa, in 1989. Things were going well until his sudden heart attack. Ruth knew that “40-year-old men who have heart attacks have very low survival rates.” As a nurse, she was used to having control over her patients, but David felt normal and wanted to resume mowing the lawn, driving, and preaching before Ruth thought it wise. 

After he began rehab, Ruth told David she would never leave him home alone with the girls again: “I couldn’t trust that he would be OK. I wanted to be here to protect David and be a first responder.” David remembers feeling frustrated that she treated him “like an invalid.” In time, she learned to trust David not to overexert himself, and he learned to respect her concerns and ask for help when he needed it. 

The doctors were not able to pinpoint what caused David’s heart attack. For the next 26 years he took medicine and tried to build healthier habits to prevent future problems. Once again, the couple worked together. They rearranged their schedules to exercise together. They found ways to include their girls, like walking on a track at a local college. 

Then the situation switched: About four years ago Ruth started having chronic pain and mobility problems. She was not able to work. Some days she could not even get out of a chair without help. For someone who previously worked 50 hours a week, the new limits were “humiliating.” David worked to support her: He anticipated and did housework instead of waiting for her to ask. He worked on being a good listener instead of a problem solver. He avoided asking, “Are you sure you should be doing that?” He encouraged her to pursue jobs within her abilities. 

Ruth says, “He learned from my bad example.”

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A display at the Slave History Museum (Handout)


People sold here

A Nigerian port city bears sober testament to the transatlantic slave trade 

Nigeria’s Cross River state is one of the country’s prime tourist destinations, with its lush green trees, dew-covered hills, and cool tropical climate.

Located on Nigeria’s southern coast, Cross River is home to multiple resorts and attractions. In Calabar, the state capital, a bronze statue of a fisherman with his hook in the mouth of a fish symbolizes the vibrancy of the port city.

But the waterways also speak to a dark history. The Calabar River served as a transit point during the transatlantic slave trade that began early in the 15th century.

The riverfront is now occupied by a resort, with attractions like a cinema and waterside bar. Near the mouth of the river, the Slave History Museum stands in a rectangular building. 

The museum once served as a barracoon, or holding cell, for captured slaves. According to a tour guide, traders held slaves for days without food so they could fit into the slave boat. 

The transatlantic slave trade involved European merchants who sailed into the region with gifts of gin bottles, guns, and wooden mirrors for the local leaders. In exchange, the leaders provided the slave buyers with access to their people.

Sellers offered slaves at markets like one in the nearby town of Akpabuyo. Today, people still gather there every Saturday to barter goods as a symbol of remembrance.

One of the museum’s first displays is a replica of a slave boat. The lowest two levels include life-size models of captured slaves lying like sardines in narrow shelves, their hands and feet shackled. 

The top deck of a slave ship might have held barrels of palm oil and boxes of garlic and other spices. The items offset the financial losses from slaves who either fell sick or were cast into the sea when the ship faced rough weather. 

It’s a 30-minute boat ride down the Calabar River to the Atlantic Ocean. The slave buyers sailed for four to six months to transport their human cargo to the Americas. 

Once sold, the slaves went on to work indoors or in fields of tobacco, sugarcane, and cotton. The European merchants concluded the final step in the slave trade cycle, carrying the agricultural products from the Americas back to Europe.

According to historians David Eltis and David Richardson, from 1662 to 1863 nearly 200,000 Africans were sold as slaves from Calabar, the second-busiest slave-trading port in the Bight of Biafra.

A short drive from the slave museum is Government Hill, where the governor and senior state officials live. There, a two-story European building now serves as a National Museum. The “Old Residency” building was prefabricated in Britain and served as headquarters for the British colonial leaders in 1884, when Calabar was the capital of the southern protectorate. Today, its historical exhibits testify to the slave trade and to major exports such as palm oil.

On the second floor, one of the colonial master’s offices remains intact, with a white-and-black linoleum floor covering, a metal water dispenser, and an old winding telephone on the desk. The dining hall has candles on the table and a large gramophone in a corner.

The building also had an attached prison beneath what formerly served as the kitchen. The prison once held Ovonramwen of Benin, a local African leader who resisted the British takeover of his kingdom.

After Nigerian independence came in 1960, officials focused on setting up a government and, in the subsequent years, creating local states. Each state also adopted a slogan to represent the state spirit. Cross River’s slogan is “The People’s Paradise.” 

The slogan fits the region’s image of a happy tourist destination. It has also helped Nigerians turn a page on a not-so-happy history.

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