“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” (Proverbs 18:22)
When Dennys and Delcy got married last month, the television stations and newspapers didn’t send any reporters. The ceremony was ordinary. The setting, a registrar's office, unremarkable. The couple were not noticeably different from any other young couple entering into matrimony. Judging by appearances, it would be easy to miss the fact that this little wedding was an astounding act of courage against the overwhelming pressures of society. For many Peruvians, the prospect of a lifelong, successful marriage (or getting married at all) seems like an elusive dream.
The most visible face of the problem is the decline of marriage in society. Only 28.6% of Peruvian adults are married (compared to 51% in the U.S.), while 24.6% live with a partner out of wedlock (for these and other culture statistics, see our infographic). According to Jaime Avellaneda, who serves as a pastor at Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Trujillo, most young Peruvians have no example in their lives of successful family life. They have been led to believe that they can find personal fulfillment only outside of marriage, or that making a life-long commitment to another person will jeopardize their own possibility of success. It is possible, too, that weddings and wedding receptions themselves have been glamorized to the extent that couples are embarrassed if they are not able to put on a grand party for their friends and family. Less shameful, it seems, is the alternative: living with their partner outside of wedlock.
But the rarity of marriage is only part of the problem. Even when couples marry, their family life is rarely healthy. Juan Marquina pastors Wichanzao Presbyterian Church, which is located in the most violent of the districts around Trujillo, the ironically named Esperanza District (esperanza means hope). Marquina believes that close to 90% of families in the area are fatherless, either literally or practically. “The young person either grows up to find out that the man he thought was his father when he was a child isn’t his father. Or he grows up seeing an alcoholic father,” explains Marquina. “There are very few fathers that really commit to their families.” Without godly fathers, children grow up without direction and often seek their identity in addiction and even crime. According to the Peruvian National Police, from January of this year to the present, 40% of murders in the city of Trujillo were committed by children 14 to 17 years old.
Adults also suffer. Many bear the scars of countless failed relationships and afflict successive partners with the same wounds they themselves have received in the past. The cycle seems endless, and the Church herself has not been immune to the destructive trend. It isn't uncommon to see couples in the Church walking down the same old road their parents walked down, manifesting in themselves the selfishness, abuse, and abandonment they learned from their parents, living in sin and having children out of wedlock.
Where does this all come from? For one thing, the concept of godly husbandhood and fatherhood is challenging for men everywhere, but in Latin America it seems a particularly difficult pill to swallow. Avellaneda blames this largely on Peruvians' "machistic inheritance." Machismo is the widely accepted belief that the man’s needs must always be placed above those of his wife and children. According to this belief, the wife (and, tragically, even the children) are means to the fulfillment of the man’s selfish desires. In response, women have retreated to individualism and feminism as a means of escape from the brutality and abandonment so many have suffered. According to Avellaneda, neither Peruvian men nor women are willing truly to "become one."
Avellaneda and his wife Rosa counsel couples in Christ the King Presbyterian Church, where Avellaneda serves as a pastor. Avellaneda believes there is still hope for the Church's families, and even for society at large. But he says change can only happen when husbands respond to their God-given charge to be the spiritual heads over their homes and servant-leaders of their wives. And they can only learn to be these things by turning to Christ as their example. "We try to emphasize that in the marriage the love of the Lord comes first," says Avellaneda. "That's when things start to improve."
Our churches and our ministries have responded to the marriage crisis in Peru in many ways, the most important being intensive, long-term counseling. At a broader level, our churches have held conferences, small group studies, and even a seminary class devoted to the teaching of what a godly marriage looks like. For example, earlier this year, Christ the Restorer Church in Manuel Arévalo hosted a marriage conference for couples throughout our churches, which culminated in a joyful celebration of marriage as a gift from God. Earlier this month, Pastor Ricardo Hernández began a course in our seminary on marriage and family. Avellaneda himself has been leading a group study of Douglas Wilson's book Reforming Marriage with several couples from Christ the King Church. He has found Wilson's book to be nothing short of revolutionary for himself and for the couples he and his wife counsel. For Avellaneda, the central concept of the book, that of husbands becoming the true spiritual leaders of their homes, changes everything. "If the man abdicates in this he is abdicating in everything," explains Avellaneda. "As Psalm 127 says, if God is not first, everything else is in vain."
God be praised, things are changing within the Church community. Young couples like Dennys and Delcy are taking the crucial first step to establishing families following God’s pattern: getting married. This is an important change, and follows our pastors' persistent and prayerful ministry in teaching and counseling (and sometimes church discipline, also). "We're having good results," says Avellaneda. "Because we see that the couples who haven't already made a legal commitment are now doing it. There is a great deal of interest [in marriage], because they see that [living together outside of marriage] morally and spiritually hurts them, their environment, and their children."
We are thankful, also, for the godly examples in our churches of faithful marriage. Just this month, José Madrid (an elder at Wichanzao Presbyterian Church) and his wife Elizabeth celebrated 25 years of marriage. We pray that the Lord would raise up many more couples like them to be a shining example to young Peruvians in our churches of what marriage can and should be.
We ask that you continue to pray for our families, and for the many young people who desire to be married, that the Lord would give them courage to do what is right and what the Lord requires of them, despite the seemingly insurmountable challenges in their society. What follows the vows is often an arduous, uphill journey, but the rewards are great. Here, every time a believing couple says I do, they are making a statement that has significance far beyond their family. They are effectively making a stand for godliness, and challenging their culture to change. We believe that the Lord works primarily through generations, and we believe that Peru can change, one family at a time.
Wed, May 30, 2012
by Caleb Sutton filed under