By Darrell Todd Maurina
Building strong marriages is a priority for Russell and Marni Hawkins, who both come from homes where their parents divorced.
To help avoid the same fate after they married more than seven years ago, the two joined what was then known as “Marriage Ministries International.”
They became volunteer leaders in a ministry they have now brought to Clovis.
The two are recruiting participants for a 14-week intensive Christian program they hope will begin in December or January.
Those interested may come to First Assembly of God in Clovis at 3 p.m. on Nov. 8 to hear a presentation on how the organization, now known as “University of the Family,” conducts its work.
There is no charge for the seminar. Donations will be accepted.
While the introductory meeting will be at the Hawkins’ church, later meetings will be at their home and participation is open to all interested regardless of church affiliation.
“It’s a ministry that meets in homes,” Russell Hawkins said. “One of our core values is the home should be a place of outreach, just like the church.”
The program is designed for long-term marriages as well as those new to marriage, and for couples who have strong marriages as well as those with serious marital difficulties.
Both Russell and Marni Hawkins said participating in the ministry has been a foundation for their marriage, first as participants and later as leaders.
“Basically we were newlyweds when we got into this ministry,” Russell Hawkins said. “We kind of didn’t have a clue about how to act when we were married.”
“It was very eye-opening,” said Marni Hawkins. “The main thing was we learned we weren’t two individuals living together, we are supposed to be a team.”
University of the Family teaches male headship in the home. However, the two said their ministry focuses mostly on building teamwork in marriage, emphasizing that God rather than personal opinion sets the rules for marriage, and teaching how to apply biblical principles for marriage in practical daily life.
“The man has to learn to be gentle,” Marni Hawkins said. “As the head of the family, he must make the final decision. He respects my viewpoint, but I have to defer to him to make the final decisions.”
The initial meeting on Nov. 8 will include long-term couples in the ministry giving their testimonies about how the principles taught in University of the Family have improved and sometimes saved their marriages.
“We see people who were on the verge of getting a divorce go through this class,” said Marni Hawkins. “God healed their marriage and they’re still together five years later.”
“(God) doesn’t expect us to be perfect, and we have no right to expect our spouse to be perfect,” Russell Hawkins said. “He works through people who are broken.”
While many churches sponsor their own marriage ministries, the two emphasized that the University of the Family program is intended to help rather than hurt existing church ministries.
“We’re here to come alongside churches, not to compete and take families away,” Russell Hawkins said. “We do our darndest not to schedule meetings when it might compete with church activities.”
The Hawkins’ pastor at First Assembly of God, Rev. Rodney Shipman, said he was happy to see the Hawkins begin a new branch of University of the Family when they moved to Clovis.
“They teach good godly principles,” Shipman said. “It helps take a load off the pastors to some extent by giving families foundations to grow without needing constant maintenance.”
“If anyone can help marriages become whole, healed, and strong, they can,” Shipman said.
University of the Family
Core values of the University of the Family program:
1. Everything we do must point people to the Lordship of Jesus.
2. Powerhouse homes flow in the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. Marriage is a covenant relationship.
4. Marriage between a man and a woman is the basis for God’s plan for family.
5. We are to make disciples of all nations.
6. We are to produce fruit with the seed of reproducibility.
7. When a couple marries, their individual call and destiny are blended together.
8. Homes are points of outreach to a lost world.
9. God views families generationally.
10. We are an army.