Jill Briscoe was a 22-year-old teacher and new Christian when she began a street ministry to young thugs in Liverpool, England. Someone told her the young men might be helped by youth conferences at a retreat center called Capernwray.
"That's where I met Stuart," Briscoe said in a recent phone interview with The Bee. "He offered to help me, and that's how we got to know each other, in the company of about 200 of these wild street kids."
It worked for them -- the Briscoes have been married for 52 years and written nearly 40 books on Christianity and relationships.
In the first decade of their marriage, Stuart often was gone on evangelism and missionary trips, leaving Jill to maintain the home fires with their three young children. Then he accepted a call to be the senior pastor at a church in Milwaukee, where he served for 30 years.
Since he retired nine years ago, the Briscoes -- now in their 70s -- have traveled the world, often to Third World countries, to help equip native pastors and their wives in their work.
Jill Briscoe said "keeping focused in a very unusual marriage calling, with him being an evangelist," was the most difficult obstacle in their relationship.
"He was away for 10 months a year. That became a very big strain," she said. "But that's ministry. Around the corner of your glad 'Yes, Lord,' is 'Oh, Lord, I didn't expect this.' They were very stretching years.
"He used to call me once in a while, even though it was hard and expensive back then. The fact that we were together in calling and heart and mission is what kept us together, even though we were apart. You look back and can only see the will of God, weaving it all together. What I learned, I've been able to share in the developing world as we've shared with missionary couples."
She knows that today's American culture, complicated by the financial pressures that have led to a huge number of foreclosures and job losses, has hit couples hard. She gives this advice:
"Stick together; don't let it drive you apart -- that's number one. Stress can drive you apart or unite you more than ever. You've got to say, 'We're going to do it on our knees together, tell each other what we're feeling inside.' What happens so many times is that stress will drive couples apart. Follow through and don't make decisions until both of you are on the same page.
"The problem is often the pressure comes with a marriage that isn't very strong anyway. What you build when times are good is going to stand you when things aren't so good. If you don't have that, you hang on with your fingernails until things get better."
And they will, she said.
"We're constantly asked: What is the secret of your marriage? Stuart answers, 'You keep your promises and live a long time.' That's it.
"People have lost trust in each other. The problem now after two decades of divorce in the church is that people are marrying damaged people. The ripples go forever. So many children are growing up today in single-parent or blended households. How will they be able to find a good example or a good role model to know how to do marriage well?"
They'll learn it the same way those street gangs learned it, she said -- from hearing Scripture that will give them "new values, new rules." Briscoe believes parents and churches must take "a new look at what we're teaching in our Sunday schools."
As for this day of love, Briscoe said she and her husband don't exchange Valentine's Day gifts.
"I think the most fun gift he gave me was a book, 'Romance Verse by Verse.' I told him, 'What a funny gift.' He said, 'I needed it for my lectures.' It wasn't 'Romance'; it was 'Romans'!
"We celebrate each other every day. It eliminates the need for special days. Now for birthdays and things, we'll give each other a nice trip away somewhere if we get a chance. Go up to a B-and-B or something like that. We're bird watchers, so we go tramping. There's some gorgeous country where we live in Wisconsin and enjoy the creation of God together."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or firstname.lastname@example.org.