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In 1986, Hal Higley found a letter addressed to his wife in the mail. When he asked Kathi, she said it was from a friend in Louisiana, but their strained marriage had left him suspicious. Later, as they put their three kids in the car to go to dinner, Hal slipped inside to search for the letter and found it hidden in a drawer. When he read it, he said, his “whole world fell apart.” The letter was from another man.
Hal and Kathi had been married 18 years. Her father had abused and raped her, so Kathi entered the marriage expecting Hal to rescue her. Hal’s authoritarian father and military experience influenced him to control everything in the marriage: balancing the checkbook, paying the bills, putting gas in the car—and even how many children they had.
Over time, Kathi became miserable and resentful toward Hal. When the Air Force sent him to Greenland, she anticipated “a year of freedom.” Instead, managing the three young children and the tasks her husband usually handled made things even harder. On top of that, someone broke into their house, and a tornado damaged their property. Hal returned with no idea how hard things were for Kathi.
Something else was different when he got home: Kathi had started dating another man, the first of several. When the Higleys moved from Louisiana to New York, Kathi and her current lover secretly kept in touch by mail. That’s when Hal found the letter. The couple went to a chaplain for counseling, to little effect. Hal prayed, argued with Kathi, and lost 15 pounds from the stress. Eventually, he told her to return to Louisiana and decide if she would stay in the marriage.
Kathi agreed, feeling angry that Hal had found the letter but also convicted that the affair was wrong. The decisive moment came in Louisiana when the Christian friend she was staying with told her, “Go home. Your husband loves you.” Kathi said it took the friend being “brave enough to say that to me. ... I knew that was the truth.”
Hal remembers picking up Kathi at the airport: She said she had decided to stay in the marriage, but her expression said she wasn’t happy about it. Hal wondered, “How do I put this all back together again?” One important step he took was getting their family into a good church, something they had not prioritized during all their military moves, despite being Christians. Kathi remembers Hal chose to love her, despite her unkindness. She said, “The biggest thing that he did was he never brought it up again.”
Through their church, Kathi took a 12-week class about dealing with the past. The next-to-last chapter was on forgiveness: “I knew I’d come a long way, and I knew I had to forgive my parents, but I just wasn’t there,” said Kathi. So she took the class again. At the end of the next 12 weeks, she could forgive her abusive parents. As Kathi understood God’s forgiveness, she stopped holding things against Hal: “I really fell in love with my husband.” They began to enjoy talking and spending time together. Others observed the new joy in their marriage and asked what they were doing differently. The Higleys were eager to help. They started a marriage ministry in 1998.
Last year they celebrated 50 years of marriage. They live in Virginia, near some of their grown children and 11 grandchildren. “It wasn’t all roses,” Hal says, “but I can’t imagine a better situation now, loving my wife more, or any marriage that’s any better than ours.”
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Four years after they married in 1954, Charlotte and Dick Griffiths moved to the jungle of Indonesia to translate the Bible into the Hatam language. Living among the isolated tribe intensified normal marriage stresses but also brought them closer to each other and to God. Dick, now 90, has mild dementia, but Charlotte remembers both hard times and good times.
Difficulties came early. Charlotte had scored higher in their translation school, so at first she tried to handle the project while her husband worked on their hut and the airstrip. But the demands of caring for their home and child made her progress on the Bible painfully slow. Eventually, they realized Dick needed to take over. He made the translation his sole focus, working to get each passage perfectly right. This eased the process and a point of tension in their marriage.
When their first daughter was young, Charlotte remembers, she felt jealous of how happy the baby made Dick. She said he confronted her about this, and she saw her sin and repented. On Charlotte’s first birthday overseas, her frugal husband gave her a plastic garbage disposal instead of the perfume she wanted. She got over her disappointment by “considering what he was thinking: keeping within our budget carefully and realizing I was going to need one.”
On other occasions, she appreciated his thoughtfulness: Dick arranged for the missions plane to bring a wood stove from the Sears catalog so Charlotte could bake bread. She said, “Hatamers began dancing in our yard when, for the first time, they saw smoke going out that chimney instead of filling the house!”
The work was tedious and slow: Dick translated a Bible passage, then paused to teach it to the newly Christian natives. Meanwhile, Charlotte cared for their home and growing family. The Griffithses taught their four children to enjoy the jungle but dress up for dinner and remember their manners in case they one day returned to the United States. Charlotte remembers bonfires in the cool mountain air and the family eating homemade pizza and singing as one of the children played the guitar. On Fridays the family hosted game nights and invited the station’s other missionaries: “Our house would rock with laughter.”
But missionary life was not easy. Charlotte said she and Dick had strained communication and conflicts that forced them to keep close accounts with God and each other: “These ‘rocks’ became the things that drove us together, not apart.” The Hatam noticed: One man asked Dick to “train” his wife so they too could have a happy marriage. One woman told Charlotte, “Your husband treats you like a brother,” meaning her husband cared for and defended her as a brother would a sister in that culture.
Dick turned 70 in 1998 and had to retire, with the translation still unfinished after 42 years of work. Dick was devastated to leave his life’s work unfinished, but a Hatam pastor, Simson Dowansiba, continued the project: By 2009 the translation was done. Dick and Charlotte, back in the USA, now have four children, 15 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren. One of their sons lives with them and helps Charlotte care for Dick. She says she is still learning to fight her selfishness and bring to God even routine matters like planning a menu to please both men (one raised in Asia, one in Philadelphia).
Charlotte said Dick still has a sense of humor at age 90 and loves to hold her hand. She is thankful that God preserved her marriage as she learned to be “continually going to God privately with these things that were bothering me. … I found He was my best friend.”
—This story has been updated to clarify that Hatam pastor Simson Dowansiba led the completion of the Hatam Bible translation, and to correct when the Griffithses moved to the jungle.
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Last year the financial website 24/7 Wall St. declared the Waterloo–Cedar Falls, Iowa, area America’s worst place for African Americans to live. White people there have higher employment and earn almost twice as much as blacks, who have less education and higher arrest rates. Sarah Helleso, 25, is a member of Orchard Hill Church in Cedar Falls. She said residents have noticed the divide for a long time: “There are people in Cedar Falls who won’t go to Waterloo, and then people in Waterloo who have no interest in going to Cedar Falls.”
In 2013, Orchard Hill Church partnered with Harvest Vineyard Church in Waterloo to create a community development organization to serve downtown Waterloo. Out of that came a social enterprise, Try Pie. It’s a bakery that employs 13 high-school girls—some black, some white, some Asian—from Waterloo and Cedar Falls. After school the girls come to the downtown Waterloo bakery, leave their stuff in cubbies, and gather by the office to read a Bible verse and pray. They then put on hairnets and aprons. Large windows take up two of the kitchen’s walls, so people passing on the street can see the girls starting to bake.
Inside, all smells like flour and crust, and the counters and floor are spotted with flour and squished blueberries. The girls laugh and chat as they work, mixing ingredients or rolling out dough on the stainless steel counters. They develop friendships, learn about financial responsibility, and gain job skills.
One of the first bakers was Aquayla Lumpkin. She worked there for a year and a half while learning budgeting skills with her mentor. She set up a savings account before she left for college to study criminal justice. When her car later broke down, she was able to pay for the repairs because of her savings account. Now Lumpkin is a Try Pie staff member. She helps the girls participate in community projects like planting flowers—a simple act but a symbol of hope. The same goes for baking pies: no advanced degrees required.