Posted by: ritagone | September 9, 2011

Russian Marriage Retreat 2012

Last year, in October,  many of you know that Michael and I went to Ryazan, Russia, to participate in  and help lead a marriage retreat.  There were 26 couples (and even some singles) who came from cities around Russia to join us and to hear Michael speak through a translator about some key principles regarding marriage that are  sound no matter where in the world you live.  It was a great event, highly successful and rewarding for all who attended.

As of 2010, Russia has the highest divorce rate in the world, while the U.S. comes in sixth.  So Russia is in desperate need of healing and instruction when it comes to marriage, especially for young couples who may not have role models of their own parents to look to.

I met for two sessions with the women by themselves.  I was told to not expect much in the way of exposure; “Russian women will not reveal anything about their lives or their problems.”  Rita and Russian LadiesWe handed out slips of paper so they could write down their issues anonymously.  What came back was heartbreaking: “How can I regain trust in my husband?” “What do I do if my husband no longer thinks I’m beautiful?”  How do you answer questions like these sitting around a table in minutes instead of months?  Where do you even start?

The  sessions consisted of Michael’s four lessons of “Travel Light,” “Stay Together,” “Follow Directions,” and “Love God,” lessons that I remember still, because they were easy to get my head around, translated well and hopefully still resonate with those who were listening in Ryazan.  You never know.  Any time you teach or speak — and this is true for every teacher, every pastor, every conference headliner —  you run the risk of being listened to and then summarily forgotten.  You have no guarantees that your message is being absorbed or that it will be life-changing in any way.  And when you’re speaking through a translator, there’s an extra thick additional layer to penetrate, plus the fact that after you leave, will there be someone  to carry on the message and the work you’ve left behind?  If not, will it all have been in vain?

The good news is that those couples kept asking when we were coming back, which is always a positive sign.  They wanted to learn more, like little birds with their beaks wide open.  But we couldn’t go back in 2011 due to scheduling conflicts.

However, now we have an opportunity to return in late September/early October of 2012.  Going to Russia is not an easy matter: there are visas, complicated travel arrangements, expensive airfares, as everyone going from the U.S. pays their own way.  But we feel God is leading us to return, so we’re applying the “open door” theory of praying: we will proceed as long as the door feels open, and until it slams in our face.  We don’t know how else to go forward.  This has always worked for Michael and me.  If God doesn’t want us there, He knows how to stop things in their tracks.

The retreat would be held at the same hotel in Ryazan that hosted us last year.  Mike Katzenberger would oversee all the travel arrangements and visas as he did before, making our life quite a bit easier.  And from what we understand on the Russian end of things, the response to the possibility of another marriage retreat has excited those who were there last year and brought tears of joy  to their eyes.

Last year we held a bunko night fundraiser over Labor Day weekend to underwrite the cost of the retreat for the couples in Russia, since they are unable to afford the expense.  The same is true again for next year’s cost, but we’ve decided to dispense with a fundraiser event, feeling that people are just plain tired of attending these evening events.

Instead, we’re looking for 20 couples who are willing to invest $500 each in underwriting the Russians’ cost of the marriage retreat of 2012.  (This means you actually have almost a year to save $500 to cover this donation.)  These Russian couples have no money, or at least not enough to cover the luxury of a three-day stay at a hotel for a marriage retreat.  They suffer under an economy much more severely impaired than ours.  Just making ends meet is difficult enough, which is why we are asking for those who feel so led to contribute to this cause.  That’s it.  We’re not asking you to give up an evening, no phone calls, just commit to $500 to allow these young couples to attend the marriage retreat next year so that their marriage can be strengthened in a climate where divorce is overwhelmingly strong and where Christian influence amazingly weak.

I’ve included in this blog some pictures of couples who attended our retreat last year.  These are a few of the couples your donation will help underwrite for 2012, plus of course some new ones.

When we return, we are planning a celebration for the 20 couples that will include a very special evening at our home, one that you will not want to miss.  But even that is not obligatory.

If you’re interested in participating in this opportunity, please contact me via either Facebook or email at  We can make a difference in the lives and marriages of young Russian couples.  I’ve seen it happen in the past, and I believe it can happen again in 2012.

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