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Early January is infamously known as the beginning of divorce season, according to Carl Caton, founder of the San Antonio Marriage Initiative (SAMI). The first day children go back to school after winter break is the busiest day of the year for divorce filings, he says. Many couples have remained together to get through the holidays, but the stress of the season pushes a shaky marriage over the breaking point.


“There are 400,000 marriages in Bexar County,” Carl continues. “Research shows one-fifth of those are struggling. That translates to 80,000 marriages that need help. Of that number, 9,000 will actually divorce, costing millions in social and economic collateral damage.”


Carl formed SAMI in 2009 to serve the needs of church-based marriage ministry leaders, mostly devoted lay couples, but also pastors, church staff, and counselors.


Couples who suspect their relationship is headed in the wrong direction may opt for counseling, but often a one-hour-a-week session is just not enough to turn things around. This was the experience of Jon R. Anderson, founder and president of Growing Love Network, one of the non-profit ministries offering hope for marriages in San Antonio.


Jon opened a private counseling practice after earning his master’s degree from Abilene Christian University in the mid 1990s. He also ran the Counseling Services department at San Antonio College but realized his heart was drawn to helping couples move their marriages out of conflict. He was discouraged that despite his best efforts, many couples with marital difficulty were unable to turn the corner and move forward into healthy relationship.


He began teaching a 3-day marriage intensive course backed by a national marriage ministry and noticed an immediate change in outcomes in the marriages of couples who participated. A marriage intensive provides focused, concentrated time, instruction and structure to really address the issues that have become obstacles in a marriage, he says.


Jon likes to use a medical analogy to explain why a marriage intensive is more effective than traditional retreats, books or even mentoring.

“If a person is critically wounded and bleeding, you wouldn’t take them to a doctor’s office. They don’t need a diet and exercise plan, they need emergency attention to stop the bleeding,” Jon says. “Likewise, a once-a-week visit to a counselor is not adequate to be lifesaving to a marriage that is heading toward divorce. In both cases, immediate, specialized treatment is needed to be effective.”

One of the resources Growing Love Network offers is their marriage intensive weekend, Love Reboot, which Jon leads almost every month. Churches often provide the space needed; Oak Hills Church has been a frequent host, he says. Meeting in churches keeps the cost of Love Reboot low. Growing Love Ministries also offers scholarships and financial assistance to ensure cost is not a barrier to any couple who wishes to attend.


In Love Reboot, Jon helps couples break down barriers and get the relationship stabilized so subsequent therapy can begin at a more effective place and growth can start to happen, he says. The goal is transformation – where mindsets are changed so thoughts, attitudes and behaviors start to look different.


The marriage intensive model has proven very effective, even for couples whose marriage might be defined as hopeless. Two different groups of graduate students studied the work and results of Love Reboot and found that an average of 75 percent of couples who worked through the intensive were still married seven years later – and these were marriages identified as on the brink of separation.


In fact, Love Reboot has even rekindled affection in couples who have already divorced. Jon recounts the situation of one such couple that was inspired by their young daughter to attend the intensive to learn some skills to improve family communication. After Love Reboot, they joined Jon’s follow-up Growing Love course, and half way through, announced their plans to remarry. And theirs is not an isolated example. As word of the positive results of Love Reboot has spread, Jon has been receiving referrals from a most unlikely source – divorce lawyers.


Carl credits changing the hearts and minds of family law attorneys as one of SAMI’s biggest recent accomplishments – a powerful needle shift in terms of moving people out of a very dark place into a place of hope. He intentionally pursued a group of Christian lawyers to inspire them to identify couples whose marriages had a chance of being saved.


“Our counselors met them and treated them with respect and honor, and it broke down some incredible walls,” he says. “Now they are identifying couples in their practice they think have hope and referring them to Jon.”


Jon suggested some questions a couple or referral party might consider to indicate a situation that could benefit from Love Reboot.


If either spouse has mentioned or is considering divorce or separation.

If there has been a recent affair.

If the marriage seems to be getting worse rather than better.

If the couple have been going to counseling or therapy and not making much progress.


“We try to prepare people for marriage, support people to develop healthy vibrant marriages and step in when marriages are falling apart,” Jon says.


You can find or more information about Love Reboot or Growing Love Network at www.growinglovenetwork.org

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Updated: Jan 5


Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Sometime people just can’t see eye to eye. Whether a business dispute or a personal problem, positions can become so deeply entrenched the situation is impossible to resolve without help.


Mike and Barbara Simpson have worked as Christian Conciliators for the better part of two decades. Mike was drawn to the field of biblical dispute resolution while earning his law degree at St. Mary’s University. Although studying to become an attorney, he was intrigued by the message of Peacemaker Ministry’s Founder Ken Sande exhorting Christians to resolve conflicts without use of the court system. The two met at a Christian Legal Society Conference where Ken was speaking.


Mike and Barbara obtained endorsement from their church to attend the next Peacemaker Conference and became certified by the Institute for Christian Conciliation (ICC). Since 2000, they have been enlisted to help resolve conflicts including personal, financial, and those within organizations and churches. Mike conducts reconciliation among church leaders, negotiating peace to preclude church dissolution or disruption. Sometimes a problem is financial — a disagreement over payment or money owed. Other times, conflict erupts over personal issues — management style, personalities, grudges. Barbara considers herself a conflict coach (helping one party in the conflict) and specializes in relational issues like family estrangement, or marital discord, while Mike is often engaged by church leaders or colleagues.


“I love conflict coaching and mediation because I long to see souls at peace with Jesus and those around them. I believe the Bible provides satisfying and lasting solutions for finding that peace,” Barbara noted on the ICC website.

No matter what the problem, Christian Conciliators believe a solution can be found that provides not just resolution, but also restoration of the relationship through the power of Christ. ICC Certified Christian Conciliators™ assist in resolving legal and personal conflict by providing private conflict coaching, biblical mediation, church or organizational conciliation, or court-approved Christian arbitration. Hallmarks of Biblical dispute resolution are the necessity of Christ, the sufficiency of scripture, the inclusion of a counseling component and the involvement of the church, Mike said.


To begin the process, he’ll present clients with applicable scripture and seek instruction from the passage about the conflict. “If I can help them identify the idols of their heart, the things they are worshipping other than God, there’s real hope for them,” he said.


The reliance on God’s word and its admonition that Christians seek options other than court involvement is a vastly different process than that found in the secular realm. In mediation, parties remain separated, only issues are addressed, and the goal is a compromise. In Christian Conciliation, parties meet together and the conciliator helps determine what’s motivating the differences in their interests.


Secular mediation has no interest in the state of the relationship after the compromise has been reached. Christian Conciliators like the Simpsons actively challenge the couple as they are mediating, express moral values and persuade clients to agree with scripture. They prepare parties to come together, help them identify their own sin and responsibility in the conflict and work toward repair of the relationship.


Mike quotes Ken Sande’s “G’s of conflict.” Conflict exists to glorify God. “How can God be glorified in conflict?” he asked. “Conflict gives us opportunities to serve others and be like Jesus. Most of the time we’re thinking about either winning or ending conflict, when we should be working to make it right.”

Christian Conciliators start with helping a client identify and “get the log out of their own eye,” owning their part of the conflict, which includes helping a client construct a complete confession and apology. Next, they help the other party recognize the way they also have contributed to the problem. Lastly, they help both clients agree to a different path going forward as they face the conflict through a Biblical lens, with the conciliator aiding them as they work through a process of repentance and forgiveness.


Christian Conciliation has some big advantages if people are willing to listen to what the Bible says about relationships, Mike added. If both parties agree to give the process a try, they can resolve their conflict in a matter of months, rather than the years a court or mediation process might take. “In the secular realm, the conflict is all about you, winning, your rights — nothing about serving, following Jesus, picking up your cross daily and dying,” he said.


“You can be in court, and you can have substantive issues resolved —are you going to get compensation, how many days you get the kids — but most people walk out of those situations still angry, hurt or deeply discouraged. Do you want to stay mad about this for three to five years?”


Mike assures clients they can work through a conflict in a way that is obedient to the teachings of scripture and demonstrates the power of Christ. “They will know you are my disciples by the love you have for each other,” he said, quoting Bible verse, John 13:35.


If Christian Conciliation seems to require some heavy lifting and soul searching on the part of the clients, the Simpsons pledge to walk alongside them until they feel confident their relationship with the other party, and with God, is in a good place. For most Christians, there is great peace knowing they have resolved a problem in a way that pleases God.


Mike was a U.S. Army Ranger and Green Beret for 21 years before obtaining his law degree in 2000. Barbara trained to be an English and theater teacher, but spent most of her career raising their four children. She also leads a Reader’s Theater group through the University of Incarnate Word. The couple has seven grandchildren. They are part of the Presbyterian Church of America.


Find out more about Christian Conciliation or the Simpsons at ICCpeace.com.

"The mission of ICC Peace is to boldly proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ by supporting peacemaking communities in resolving legal and personal conflicts and reconciling relationships in a biblically faithful manner."


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