About the Guest
Dennis and Barbara Rainey, along with their good friends and mentors Don and Sally Meredith, recall the many ways God has blessed over the years. The Merediths reveal what it was that led them to Little Rock to start a family ministry for couples, and explain how they were instrumental in bringing Dennis and Barbara together.
Don and Sally Meredith reveal what it was that led them to Little Rock to start a family ministry for couples, and explain how they were instrumental in bringing Dennis and Barbara together.
Bob: In 1976, Dennis and Barbara Rainey decided to join with two other couples to help launch a marriage and family emphasis for Campus Crusade for Christ®. For Dennis and Barbara, there was never a plan to hang around for 42 years.
Barbara: I remember our discussion went something like this: “Well, you know, that’d be a good thing for us to do for a while.” He’d say, “Yes; I think so.” We decided, after we talked about it: “Yes; let’s go move to Little Rock. Let’s join them for two or three years. Let’s learn all we can about marriage and parenting. Then, we’ll go do something else—we’ll go start a church / we’ll go somewhere else. We’ll do something else with Campus Crusade; but in two or three years, we ought to get this down, and we’ll move on and do something else.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 22nd. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. What’s the old saying about the best laid plans?—or maybe, “My ways are not your ways, says the Lord”?
We’re going to hear more about the early days of FamilyLife® with special guests today, Don and Sally Meredith. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. We’re spending a little time, this week, listening back to a conversation that we recorded just a few weeks ago. We had your friends, Don and Sally Meredith, who were in town—they stopped by. We said, “Let’s go in the studio and just reminisce a little bit about the early days of FamilyLife.” This is a couple that was pivotal in yours and Barbara’s spiritual development.
Dennis: They were. Don and Sally Meredith intersected with Barbara’s life and mine back in 1968, ’69, and ’70 at the University of Arkansas—better known as the Harvard of the Ozarks. [Laughter]
Bob: That line—it’s a little tired.
Dennis: Is it getting tired? The Yale of the Ozarks, then. [Laughter]
Dennis: Anyway, they had a tremendous impact on Barbara and me. Sally led Barbara to Christ, and Don was very instrumental in developing me as a leader. Both of them were, I think, the seed planters of this ministry in its early days; because they taught us, as college students, about God’s plan for marriage and family. I know, as a single person, I wanted to hear what God had in mind when He made marriage.
Bob: Yes; we’ve already heard from them this week that their learning came through a lot of hard knocks. They had to go to the Bible to look for help; because they weren’t finding it, just trying to get along as a couple. Don and Sally have given leadership to Christian Family Life for five decades now / they are authors and speakers.
When we sat down with them, I asked them about how the four of you first met.
Bob: You guys were involved in campus ministry, working with Campus Crusade, on campus, at the University of Arkansas.
In the time that you were there, God was doing some really amazing things.
Bob: When did you start at the U of A? Do you remember?
Don: Yes; it was 1968. We got there in January and really didn’t get to know a whole lot of people. That summer, when we went to Arrowhead Springs, which we did back then, we only took four students. I met Dennis at a fraternity house and really hit it off with him; but by the next summer, we took 200 kids—
Don: —to Arrowhead Springs because of, really, Dennis and Barbara and a number of the football players. It was just an amazing thing that God did.
Of course, Sally’s great strength of working with women was a big part of it.
Bob: What do you remember about meeting Dennis for the first time?—anything?
Sally: He was a wild man! [Laughter]
Don: He was not. [Laughter]
Barbara: Yes; he was! [Laughter]
Don: He was a little aggressive, you could say; but he was an outstanding guy. It was a lot of fun to—the kids that were there at that time.
Dennis: And then, Sally, of course, ended up being used by God to lead Barbara to Christ. Why don’t you share the story of what happened in that little Bible study?
Barbara: —in that little Bible study?
Sally: —that little kitchen?
Dennis: That little Bible study you wandered into—
Barbara: I did.
Dennis: —as a freshman at the University of Arkansas.
Barbara: So, when I showed up on campus in the fall of 1968, I hadn’t heard of Campus Crusade. I didn’t know anything, but I had met a girl the previous spring who did know. She invited me to go to a Bible study. I remember looking at her and saying:
“A Bible study—that’s interesting. I’ve never been to one those, but I’d like to come with you.” So, Pam and I went to the Bible study.
When we got to the Bible study, it was in your apartment, and it was tiny. We all sat in a circle in Don and Sally’s little, tiny living room. There were about 20, I think, who came, at the most—probably a bunch of students from the previous year; right? I don’t know if I was the only new one or not; but we sat in a circle, and they played a tape of a message by a man named Jon Braun. It was on prayer—it was on Philippians 4:6-7.
I’d never heard anything like it. I’d never heard anybody teach out of the Bible—I mean, I was like a dry sponge from a desert. I drank up every word and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard. After the tape was over, they turned it off, and they decided—and I don’t know if you knew I was the only one in there that was green and didn’t know what they were doing—but they decided—
—one of you decided to go around the circle and have everyone share their testimonies. You explained that: “We’re going to have everyone share their testimony; and we’re going to start with you, Pam.”
Well, Pam was sitting to my left, and we started with Pam. She shared her testimony, and then went left of Pam and went around the circle so that I was last. I was sitting there, listening to all these stories, thinking: “Testimony—what’s a testimony? What am I going to say?” By the time I’d listened to it all the way around, I kind of had figured out what I could say so that I didn’t look like a fool; because I was really worried about being embarrassed, publicly, because I didn’t like doing that public stuff.
When it came to me, I said: “Well, glad to be here,” and “I’ve always been a Christian, because I grew up in the church.” I don’t know what else I said after that, but it was a dead giveaway that I wasn’t a Christian; [Laughter] because you don’t become a Christian by going to church all of your life. I didn’t know that, though—nobody had ever told me otherwise.
I don’t know what happened after that moment. I don’t know if we had other conversation; but someone closed in prayer, and that was the end of the meeting.
Everyone milled around and had something that you provided, I’m sure, Sally—dessert. As we were milling around, you came up to me and said, “I’d love for us to talk.” I said: “Sure. I’m happy to talk.”
I don’t know exactly what we did in the moment. I don’t know if you went through the four laws in that moment in that room; but I know you gave me the four law booklet. You asked me if I wanted to pray. I thought: “I am not praying in this group of people. I don’t pray out loud. I don’t want anybody watching me. That’s not the way you do prayer, where I come from”; but I asked you if I could take the booklet with me. You said, “Yes.”
I took it home and went back to my room. The next morning, I got up; and before I did anything else, I thought, “I want to get this right.” I sat down; I read that book; and I prayed that prayer immediately because I—all my life, I had wanted to know God but didn’t know how—had no idea how to know God.
It just is such a cool experience to look back on how God sovereignly orchestrated that whole thing—
—how He brought me to the University of Arkansas, where I didn’t know a living, breathing soul when I walked on that campus. God led me, along the way—introduced me to these students, who did know God—and therefore, I became a believer because of those students that I met on campus. My life was forever changed. I majored in God for the next three years of my university experience and went to class because I had to. [Laughter]
Bob: Sally, you were seeing dozens of college students coming to faith. Do you have any recollection of Barbara Peterson showing up at that Bible study?
Sally: Oh, I can see her right now; yes. I knew, when she did say what she said, that: “Okay; I needed to meet with her,”—yes. That was a very common thing that happened at Arkansas.
What we have to remember is—we were in the midst of the upheaval of the ‘60s, and God had a different plan—
—He always one-ups it on Satan. Just working on the college campus—our whole country was coming unglued; and in the midst of all of that, God was at work in Arkansas and moving mightily. We all saw it—we watched Him work—we watched kids just come to the Lord. College Life grew, our discipleship classes grew, and our friendships grew. It was a beautiful happening. There are no words to explain what we all were feeling.
Bob: I have to tell you—I’ve watched the events that are taking place in our country today; and I’ve thought, “It feels like the ‘60s.”
Sally: It does; it really does.
Bob: Wouldn’t it be—
Sally: Oh yes!
Bob: —just like God—
Sally: Yes; just like God.
Bob: —to do that work again—
Bob: —and for us to see another reviving work, because that was a revival.
Sally: That was.
Barbara: It was a revival.
Bob: I mean, we didn’t know it at the time;—
Bob: —but what was happening was not just happening in Arkansas.
It was happening all across the country—God was stirring and at work. We look back and go, “The Jesus people—they knew what they were doing back then; didn’t they?”
Dennis: They did. Out of that time of revival, there were 30 of us students who went into fulltime Christian ministry, scattered all over the country / all over the world for a number of years and cycled all over the nation for—I don’t know—half a dozen years or so until we all kind of came back here to Little Rock, Arkansas, where you—Don and Sally—you were the catalyst for starting FamilyLife, at that point, as a part of Campus Crusade for Christ; but also, a year later, started Fellowship Bible Church, which is celebrating its 40th year of ministry. That’s a church of 7,500 people. It started 95 other churches, who in turn, have started another 100 churches all over the world.
You start looking at the domino effect of how God takes something—
—what looks insignificant / Arkansas was not one of the more influential universities in the country—but has been used to touch the nation, spiritually, and is doing so even right now—how God used that spiritual awakening.
Bob: I want to ask you guys about the starting of FamilyLife; because you had already sensed God saying, “We need to be doing marriage ministry.” It was in the middle of that that Dr. Bright called and said, “Would you come do this as a part of staff?” Do you remember that conversation?
Don: I sure do remember Dr. Bright and Dennis calling me. We felt, at that point, that we would not come back on staff; and Dennis took over FamilyLife, at that point. That is the history of that—it’s been so exciting. We—because we also wanted to plant churches—
—that’s not something that Campus Crusade can do.
Don: So, we left and continued to minister in the area of the family but have started churches, as the Lord had led, down through the years. There have been seven or eight of those over the last 50 years; and they’re in various cities in the country. We do similar things, just like we did then, but mainly within churches.
Bob: Sally, you came to Little Rock to help launch FamilyLife. People have asked me for years, “Why Little Rock?”
Sally: Only the Lord did that. Don and I and a few of us others went to Dallas. So, there were a group of us at Dallas from Fayetteville; and there were a group of students that came out of Arkansas and landed in Little Rock. Eventually, we came to Little Rock. Then, people started—the ones in Dallas—
—started following us back to Little Rock.
That’s what people have said, “Why did it start in Little Rock?” We were already here. So, when Crusade asked us to come back on staff and help the couples on staff, well, we weren’t going anywhere. So, that’s why FamilyLife started in Little Rock; because we weren’t going anywhere / we weren’t moving again.
Bob: Did you all think of Dennis and Barbara; or had they already been in touch with you? How did that all happen?
Sally: Don and Dennis always were in contact. Dennis and Barbara were on high school staff with Crusade in Dallas; and then, seminary / Dallas [Theological] Seminary—they always kept in contact.
Bob: So, when you heard that they were coming back on staff and starting this marriage and family emphasis, did you guys talk about, “Let’s get in on this”? How did that happen?
Dennis: Well, back in 1975, Don and Sally led a group of leaders from Campus Crusade for Christ in Colorado Springs, of all places, interestingly.
At the Antlers Hotel, Don and Sally went through their material with all of us. You could tell that God had touched their lives in a powerful way. Don has a unique, tender heart when he speaks about marriage and family; and he would tear up and weep as he spoke. He shared some of the content he’d gotten out of the Scriptures with all those leaders.
At the same time, there was a need within Campus Crusade for Christ for its marriages to be strengthened. So, in 1975, Campus Crusade for Christ sent a single woman, Ney Bailey, and Dave and Sandy Sunde to the U.S. Congress on the Family in St. Louis. Dr. J. Allan Petersen led that. At that congress, Howard Hendricks, who was a mentor of mine / friend of Don and Sally’s as well—
—gave a message and said, “In the city of Ft. Worth, it takes three weeks of intensive training to become a garbage collector; but about all you’ve got to do to get married in Ft. Worth is to stand before the pastor or the justice of the peace and grunt, ‘Yes,’ and you’re in.” He said. “And the church ought to change that,”—he said.
Well, we ought to equip single people to be married, and Don and Sally had the content. They had the beginnings of what ultimately became the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, which actually started as a marriage preparation ministry—
Dennis: —with the staff and to the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ. In fact, if you weren’t marrying a Campus Crusade for Christ staff person, you couldn’t get in to the conference. It was all word of mouth—there was no grand strategy or campaign to figure out how to grow this across the nation to 95 cities across the country with Weekend to Remember marriage getaways taking place in them.
There will be anywhere from five to ten percent of the audience that are engaged people and the other ninety to ninety-five percent are marrieds—who are coming to make a good marriage better or coming to take a marriage that’s on life support—
Dennis: —and breathe life into it.
Bob: And about five percent of the audience, who will come to faith in Christ—
Bob: —at a getaway; because people, who want help with their marriage when they hear the Bible has answers, their hearts are open; aren’t they?
Bob: Barbara, what do you remember about the Antlers Hotel? Anything you learned at the Antlers Hotel that helped your early marriage to Dennis?
Barbara: I don’t remember anything, specifically, at that conference. We had heard a good bit of this from Don and Sally already. So, it wasn’t new information for us; but we were at a real crossroads in our journey in life, because we were finishing up Dennis’s study at Dallas Seminary. We had two little kids, and we knew it was time to make a decision on what we did next. It was a fork in the road, so to speak.
As they presented the material, and then as Dennis and I talked about it afterwards, I remember our discussion went something like this: “Well, you know, that would be a good thing for us to do for a while.” He’d say, “Yes; I think so.” We decided, after we talked about it: “Yes, let’s go move to Little Rock. Let’s join them for two or three years. Let’s learn all we can about marriage and parenting. Then, we’ll go do something else—we’ll go start a church / we’ll go somewhere else. We’ll do something else with Campus Crusade; but in two or three years, we ought to get this down, and we’ll move on and do something else.”
That’s what I remember most about the Antlers Hotel—is that naïve belief that we could learn it all in a couple of years, and then move on, and go somewhere else—and not knowing that God had something else for us, which was to stay here for 40-some odd years.
Bob: You’re still learning; aren’t you? [Laughter]
Barbara: Still learning. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; and I think what happened was—God used Don and Sally and their tender hearts for both Jesus Christ and the Scriptures but also their vision and their hearts for families / to see families built upon the person of Christ—
—I think it was the vision for that, Bob. I just—there was something infectious about: “That makes sense. That is how the Bible begins; isn’t it?—He started with marriage and family.”
Then, Barbara and I would talk about it: “What if we could get paid?”—well, not very much—“What if we could get paid to study three relationships that we’re not naturally good at: God, spouse, and raising children?” We did that, and Don and Sally mentored us and trained us. Forty-one years later, we’re still after it.
Don: It’s so clear, now, how God works; but Dennis and I have always had a real commitment and friendship. It was so obvious, when they finally got active, that he was really God’s choice for doing what he’s done.
I look back, and I’m so thankful for his gifts. I can—as I look at my life since then, I’m pretty good at one on one; but I really know that I couldn’t have done what he’s done, and he’s done it very well. My heart is appreciative of God doing that.
Bob: It’s got to be humbling to look at what FamilyLife’s become / look at churches you’ve helped plant, and go, “We got to be a part of that.”
Sally: What a privilege; yes.
Bob: And I know you guys don’t pat yourselves on the back and go, “Yes; we knew what we were doing all along.”
Sally: We had no idea. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, most—here’s the thing—most of our listeners probably have never heard the names, Don Meredith/Sally Meredith; and yet, they were used by God to start many, many things that are very significant today. It’s just how God delights in doing things.
We’re going to get to heaven, and we’re going to see some heroes of the faith, who had been used mightily by God to touch millions of people’s lives through a spiritual multiplication that started—
Dennis: —all the way back in the beginning.
Bob: Are you still checking the Texas scores regularly?
Sally: Oh, yes. [Laughter]
Dennis: Not recently—not recently, though.
Don: I’m pretty afraid Texas gave football up. [Laughter]
Dennis: As I think about Don and Sally, I think about Psalm 112:1-3: “Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.”
Dennis: Don/Sally, your offspring—not merely your physical descendants but, certainly, your spiritual descendants—
—I know a bunch of them. They are mighty in the land, and your lives have been used mightily for Him. To Him be the glory.
Don: Thank you. To Him be the glory.
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to a conversation we had several weeks ago with Don and Sally Meredith, who were here at the beginning, when FamilyLife got started back in 1976. In fact, in the front of every Weekend to Remember marriage getaway manual, there’s a note—
Dennis: There is.
Bob: —acknowledging the impact that they had in helping develop the material that we’ve taught for more than 40 years now.
Dennis: I just have to say to a younger listener, who is hearing this story: “Be careful who you allow to impact you. Make sure you are hanging out with the right people, because Don and Sally had a tremendous impact on Barbara and me that still remains to this day.”
If you’re 30 or older, then, be careful who you impact and make the right kind of impact for good in the lives of others. You just never know what kind of seeds may be planted in another person’s life and what may result as a part of what you’ve contributed to a person’s life.
Bob: Yes; and even in the midst of a busy season and a busy time of year, we do have opportunities—many of us, over the holidays—to cross paths with friends/family members and make those kinds of significant deposits. We’ve just got to be intentional about doing that.
Speaking about intentionality, I hope our regular listeners will be intentional to join with us, here, at yearend. We’ve got a matching-gift fund that has been made available to us. We’re hoping to take full advantage of it this year. Our friend, Michelle Hill, is here again today with the latest update on how we’re doing on our progress to take full advantage of this matching gift.
Michelle: Hi Bob…I DO want people to take full advantage of the match, and it’s easy…make your gift before the end of the year and whatever you give will be matched, up to four point three million dollars…and Bob? This is my final report on this year’s Match (I’m travelling for Christmas) but I’m going to be praying while I’m travelling that our regular listeners will maybe even step up their giving, because right now we’re still at about one point two million dollars
Bob: And if you’re a regular listener and you’ve not joined with us—made a yearend contribution to help support this ministry and help us take advantage of this matching-gift opportunity—it’s easy to do today. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to make a yearend donation; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can be part of the matching-gift opportunity when you mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO
Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
With that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in church this weekend and celebrate the Christmas holiday together. And I hope you can join us back on Monday—on Christmas Day. We’re going to hear a message from Dennis about where real joy comes from and how we can choose to be joyful people. That comes up Monday. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for the Christmas Day edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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