Transatlantic Love Story
About the Guest
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Alistair BeggAlistair Begg has been in pastoral ministry since 1975. Following graduation from The London School of Theology, he served eight years in Scotland at both Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Hamilton Baptist Church. In 1983, he became the senior pastor at Parkside Church near Cleveland, Ohio. He has written several books and is heard daily and weekly on the radio program, Truth For Life. The teaching on Truth For Life stems from the week by week Bible teaching at Parkside Church. He and hi...more
Alistair Begg, is the Scottish voice of “Truth For Life.” Bob Lepine interviews Alistair about how he met his wife and about their love story that spanned an ocean.
Transatlantic Love Story
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, May 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ll hear today how a teenage boy from Scotland and a teenage girl from Michigan met/fell in love, and we’ll hear the shocking story of the first time Alistair Begg kissed his wife-to-be. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There is something that you and I and our friend, Alistair Begg—something we all have in common—do you know what it is?
Dave: We like the Cleveland Browns? [Laughter]
Ann: Of course, that’s what you’d say! [Laughter]
Bob: Yes, I like the Cleveland Browns okay. They are not on my upper radar.
Dave: Well, I know Alistair is a pastor in Cleveland.
Bob: He is; right.
Dave: He’s probably been in the dog pound, yelling at the Detroit Lions; I don’t know.
Bob: Here is what I was thinking of: Alistair and you and I have all quoted pop songs from the ‘60s and the ‘70s pretty regularly in our preaching.
Dave: I didn’t know Alistair did that.
Ann: I didn’t know that either.
Bob: Oh, man!
Bob: He is pulling out Beatles’ lyrics, and Simon and Garfunkel lyrics, and—
Bob: Oh, yes.
Ann: This is one of the reasons you love him, Bob; yes.
Bob: This is/it is one of the reasons.
Dave: I love him now, too; that’s awesome.
Bob: In fact, I was at an event—and we’re bringing all of this up because we’re going to share with our listeners today a portion of a conversation I had with Alistair Begg recently—Alistair is a pastor in suburban Cleveland. He is the voice that many of our listeners hear on the radio program, Truth for Life; a wonderful Bible teacher—but we were together, and I was doing one of my patented “Name That Tune” gameshows; right?
Ann: You’re good at that.
Dave: Nobody can beat you.
Bob: I love doing this. I picked out some categories that I knew Alistair would do well on, and the final category/the final Jeopardy category was songs of Paul Simon. I knew he would nail that, but the other contestant won that category instead of Alistair. He [Alistair] was so mad—
Bob: —that he [other contestant] got his category. [Laughter]
Anyway, I have had the opportunity, over the last ten years, to introduce his daily program/be the voice at the beginning and at the end of Truth for Life. I’ve had to make sure that I call that program Truth for Life and give the phone number for that program instead of FamilyLife Today.
We sat down recently; and I just asked him about his marriage, about how he met his wife Susan. There is, actually, an overlap with Campus Crusade for Christ®, which we are a part of. It’s a remarkable story.
As our listeners will hear, I said, “This is none of my business, but when was the first time you kissed Susan?”
Dave: That’s a little personal there, Bob.
Bob: I was surprised by the answer. I think you’ll be surprised by the answer, too.
Bob: How did you wind up, as a teenager, in America in the summer? How did that happen?
Alistair: Oh, my late father-in-law would say, “Because I am a tenacious Scot,”—that’s the answer. [Laughter]
I don’t know how much of the story you want; but it was this American family—I’d never met an American family—that I met, when I was 16 in suburban London, that introduced me to Americans, who were in the UK with Campus Crusade for Christ. It was one of the girls of that American family that I had set my affection on; and without—
Bob: So wait; break that—so you meet her, and you see her—you go, “Wow!”
Alistair: Yes; yes, yes—the simple stuff.
Bob: You’re 16?
Alistair: She was 13.
Alistair: Yes, yes. [Laughter]
Bob: Did that compute for you that you are 16 and she’s 13?
Alistair: No; I never gave any thought to it at all. I never/I never imagined anything really beyond the fact that I sat down to lunch at this table with—invited to this American home—and around the table were various people/some friends. There were people in the family and, across from me, a girl. She had lovely, lovely eyes; I was just fascinated/captivated by this.
The next day, one of my friends and I went to Carnaby Street in London before we got on the train to go back to Leeds. I got a postcard on Carnaby Street, and I wrote to her. I said, “It was so wonderful to meet you. Ask your mother if it’s okay if I write letters to you.”
Bob: You were instantly smitten.
Alistair: Yes. Throughout my life, ever so often, I have had a dream that we never actually got married. I wake up in the worst condition possible until I suddenly realize, “No, it’s a dream; it’s a dream. We’re here.”
That was what started. We lived 300 miles apart from one another. Then, one day, without checking, that guy for Chrysler—what did you call him?—the famous one?
Alistair: Yes; Iacocca.
Alistair: Iacocca, without checking with me, took the American family back to America. I had to/I had to—then, the problem—it wasn’t that it was 300 miles between us; it was 3,000 miles between us. I was very sad, and there is more to that story.
My friend was friendly with her sister. I called him on the phone; I said, “Did you hear that they are not coming back?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “What are you going to do?” He said, “What do you mean?—‘What are you going to do?’” “Well, what are you going to do? They are not coming back!” He said, “Well, that’s it.” He said, “You know, it was nice. They live there; we live here. Let’s move on.”
I said, “No, I’m not doing that.” He said, “Well, what are you going to do?” I said, “I’m going to America.” It was like, “Yes, sure you are; why don’t you visit Mars on the way?” [Laughter] But I put the phone down in my hallway; and I said, “I will go to America. I’m not/this is not over.”
I wrote letters for another year. I inveigled a way to get to Explo ’72 with Campus Crusade, knowing that her folks had introduced me to Campus Crusade and discovering that they were going to go to Explo as well, taking this girl with them. After about 14 months, I then met up with her in the Adolphus Hotel, which is where I was staying with these Campus Crusade guys.
She came walking down the stairs. Now, she is 16 years old. I haven’t seen her in 14 months. I suppose it could have been that she said, “Hey; hello,” and the summer happened; but no, no, I got through that summer. Then, I said, “You know, I’m going to write to you more and more.” I mean, the—she was here [in America]; the boys were here; all the stuff was here—everything was here. All I had was a pen—no telephones, no faxes, no Twitter ®, no nothing—we had no/nothing at all.
That’s how I ended up there; and that’s how I ended up back there in ’75, because we just ran out of postage and just decided to get married; but at that point, she was only 20.
Bob: You/had you had crushes before her?
Alistair: Oh, yes, every time; yes, yes. [Laughter] Yes, I mean, always; but not/this was—
Bob: You knew this was different?
Alistair: Yes; well, we found out, after seven years of writing letters, it was different. The thing that made it different was—it was like the beginning; I was just silly childhood stuff—we have all of our letters—
Alistair: —all of our letters.
Bob: At what point did you say, “We’re done writing letters. It’s time to solidify this”?
Alistair: Well, I was so foolish and naïve about everything that I bet I told her that when I was 18: “If we keep this thing going, you know, I’m going to marry you if you’ll let me.”
I think, in the winter of ’73, I came to America. I actually sat down with her dad; I said, “This thing here/this is killing me, because I live and die for the letters from your daughter. I’m not messing around. I don’t know how this is going to work out, but I want you to know that’s how serious I am. I want to know that you are okay with that. If you’re not okay, I want to know that, too,”—because it was just devastating for me.
I think that was in the winter of ’73. She then came in the summer of ’74. Of course, my mother had died in November of ’72; and we roamed around Scotland with my dad. Bless his heart—he took us around—it must have been so hard for him.
Bob: This is none of my business: your first kiss?—where?—when?—how?
Alistair: In the back of a friend’s car; I told James Corer/I said, “Don’t look through your rearview mirror here, James.”
Bob: How long had you been writing letters at the point you kissed her for the first time?
Alistair: I kissed her on that Sunday night.
Bob: —when you met her that—
Alistair: Yes! [Laughter] I kissed her in the back of the car before she got out. She didn’t know what had happened to her.
Bob: —that first day—she’s 13. You’ve just had dinner with her, and you said—
Alistair: No, no, we went to church; it was very spiritual. [Laughter] She did not go to church in the evening, because she was not old enough for the youth group; but like you say, it’s none of your stinking business. [Laughter]
Bob: You’re a rather roguish young man to—
Alistair: —tenacious Scot! [Laughter] Listen; it was/there was something about the whole thing that was almost cosmic; you know? But it wasn’t right. If I’ve got some guy doing that with my daughters, you know—
Alistair: —like my one granddaughter is ten. I always say to girls now—I meet girls at church and everything—they come; their parents introduce me: “This is So-and-so.” I say, “How old are you?” She’ll say, “I’m 13.” I say, “Watch out for Scottish boys!” [Laughter] They don’t know what that means. I say, “Watch out for Scottish boys.”
Bob: How did you propose?
Alistair: I just said, “We’re running out of postage; will you marry me?”
Bob: Nothing fancy.
Alistair: Nothing fancy; no. We went out to dinner. I bought a ring in a department store. Her sisters, you know, they felt sorry for her: “Oh, look, what has happened to Sue,” “Look, she married a guy, who is going to be a pastor. We’re going to have to send care packages to this girl,” “This is a terrible thing; what are we going to do?”
Bob: She could have had no idea she was/what she was signing on to as a pastor’s wife.
Alistair: Oh, no, she couldn’t; especially, not in Scotland in the ‘70s.
Bob: Yes; did she ever have a season, early in the marriage, where she thought, “What have I done?!”
Alistair: Oh, probably. [Laughter] No; you know, we were actually/we were united in the thing; you know? We look back on it now—here we are—in one of the most-visited cities of Western Europe. We never did anything; we had no money. I wanted to please Derek Prime so much that, if he said, “Go visit ten people,” I would visit twenty people. We didn’t suffer from it; but she was gone from her mom, her dad, her siblings—everything that really represented security in her life—she was hanging it all on companionship with me, but she knew that that was going to happen.
Bob: The financial change—because she had grown up in a—
Alistair: Yes; pretty nice setup.
Bob: Yes; and now, she’s living on the associate pastor’s wages in Edinburgh.
Alistair: She’s good. She’s very, very good. She used to make things. The ‘70s are the era of all strange stuff; you know? But she can sew; she can do stuff. She would make these things; and then, we would drive around and sell them in stores. She would go in, and she would come out; and say, “I sold ten of them.” I go, “That’s really good! That’s really good!”
She’s not a lazy person. She decided she was going to work as a helper in, basically, a senior-citizens home. She would get up in the morning; she’d go away and feed porridge to old men, who couldn’t find their teeth, and stuff like that. No, she would make/she would make her go of it. She’s got far more of a spirit of adventure than myself. She would never be stuck; I mean, I would be stuck.
Alistair: She wouldn’t be stuck.
Bob: Did you think—or did she think—you would live in Scotland your whole lives?
Alistair: It never ever occurred to us to think of anything other; because by the time we were two years into it, Sue had miscarried in Edinburgh. Then our son was born, so all the formative elements of her life and sort of growing up in married life were all formed in this Scottish framework. She was very contented; she was very happy. My sisters loved her from the age of 13. I mean, they met her when she was, I think, 14. To this day, they are the best of friends.
Everything was good. She/it wasn’t quid pro quo: “It may be, if I do x-years here, you’ll come and do x-years there,”—no. But when the invitation came from America, then, as I say, “It was a relatively easy thing for her to come back into an environment that was not strange to her.”
Bob: If you’re sitting down with a 16-year-old young man today, what—
Alistair: This is a different day. [Laughter] That’s the first thing: “Now, this is a different day.” I mean, the level of—yes—anyway, finish your question; sorry I interrupted you.
Bob: No; it’s a different day. What counsel do you give young men and young women about thinking rightly about marriage in this day?
Alistair: Well, one of things I say—and you know, they say, “Well, you say this; but what about….” The safety valve for me in this whole thing—that you kissed this girl in the car before she leaves—but I was 300 miles away. That would have been a real problem if I lived three doors up from her or something. I mean, it was just so bizarre; right?
Alistair: It was: “It shouldn’t have happened”; “It should have happened,”—who knows?
Bob: You’re writing letters as opposed to—
Alistair: Writing letters—no, there is no—
Bob: —hanging out.
Alistair: No, we don’t hang out. There’s no way to develop that except these crazy letters.
What I would say to somebody/one of the things I say to them is always: “Never assume that a friendship has to be more than a friendship when it begins, especially in our sexualized environment, where the phenomenal, ridiculous pressure and notions that are attached to all of this.” Christian young people are going to have to be prepared to set boundaries for themselves that are regarded as absolutely ridiculous by their surrounding culture. It’s one of the ways in which the teenager can actually prove that we are a peculiar people.
Alistair: You know, I want to encourage them and help them in that regard.
Also, because as I think we probably can acknowledge, many of the marital difficulties that we deal with in pastoral ministry—I find myself, when they walk out of the door, saying, “I don’t think they’ve ever been friends. I don’t think it was that their friendship dissipated; I don’t think they started as friends,”—especially, if you add a physical dimension to the relationship on the frontend, that may actually become a driver for things; that’s one of the things.
Enjoy developing friendships without putting the added pressure on the thing in male/female relationships. Look to role models that can help you with this. Be honest with whoever it is in your sphere of influence, whether it’s your youth pastor or whatever else it is. Realize that he knows exactly what’s going through your head; he understands exactly the concerns, and the passions, and stuff. I don’t know much beyond that just as I think about it just now.
Bob: On our wedding invitation, we had 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.”
Bob: Has there been a verse that has marked your marriage? Anything that the two of you have come back to as kind of formative to what your relationship/how God has brought the two of you together?
Alistair: Well, “And the two shall become one.” Our wedding rings: engraved into hers was “And the two…”; and engraved into mine was “…shall become one.”
Bob: That’s a fun love story. We’ve been listening to Pastor Alistair Begg and a conversation I had with him, recently, just sharing about how he met his wife Susan and about how they got married. I love hearing people’s stories like that.
Ann: It’s really sweet, actually. I thought, at the beginning of the program—when you said, “Do you know what the three of us have in common?”—I thought you were going to say, “We all went hard after the love of our lives,” because you did!
Bob: That’s true.
Ann: All of you did; yes.
Bob: That’s true; and all of us have tried to put Jesus at the center of what we’re doing in marriage, which is ultimately what this is all about. It’s not/it’s not temperament or personality. In fact, even as Alistair was talking, I was thinking, “They could not have anticipated—
Bob: —“what God had for them.” You guys couldn’t—
Bob: —have anticipated. Mary Ann and I could not have anticipated. If you go in, thinking, “Well, as long as everything stays stable, this marriage can work,” it’s not going to stay stable.
Bob: You’ve got to be ready for whatever comes, and your foundation has got to be in something more than just your circumstances.
I hope our listeners will go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and download the entire conversation with Alistair. I think we talked about an hour, talking about his family, about growing up in Scotland, about his call to ministry, about his relationship with Susan. It’s just a great conversation. The whole thing can be downloaded; you can listen to it as a podcast. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and the file is available there.
Alistair has also written a new book about faith; it’s called Brave by Faith: God-Sized Confidence in a Post-Christian World. We’re making that book available; it’s in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy of Alistair’s new book, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, the book is called Brave by Faith by Alistair Begg. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
One of the things that Alistair mentioned in our conversation was how his relationship with Susan really was solidified at an event that was hosted by Campus Crusade for Christ, back in 1972, called Explo ’72. David Robbins is here with us. David’s the president of FamilyLife®. David, although we mention it every day, here, on FamilyLife Today, a lot of our listeners are surprised when they find out that FamilyLife is a part of Cru®.
David: Yes, well, what’s also fun is that Meg and I met, within Cru, in a small group there; we tried out co-ed small groups for a semester or two at the university we were at. All of a sudden, I’m like, “Man, I get Alistair and Susan’s/we’ve got something in sync with them.” I’m thinking that’s pretty cool.
I just love Alistair so much and his heartbeat for the gospel to go forward—some of those initial threads go back/one part of that story is with Cru—and that is certainly the case for Meg and me. I am so grateful to be connected to a ministry that has the Great Commission centered in what we are about—of taking the gospel to people, who haven’t had the chance to hear it, and helping make disciples who make disciples.
At FamilyLife, that’s one of the main things we are about. You know our mission statement—many of you—“To effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.” We want to be about transforming marriages and families who, therefore, go and transform others who participate with God in His kingdom being built. We are about families discipling families. Every single one of you, who follow Jesus, gets to play a part in God’s kingdom building; and your family and your home is a key part of that.
Bob: We are thankful for those of you, who pray for us/for those of you go and engage with your neighbors/your coworkers. We’re also thankful for those of you, who support this ministry financially and make FamilyLife Today possible. You’ve heard us talking about the matching-gift opportunity that is available during the month of May. Thanks to those of you who have given already.
If you’re a regular FamilyLife Today listener, and you see the benefit of how God is using this ministry in the lives of so many couples all around the world, just know that any donation you make today is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $350,000. That matching-gift opportunity is good for us through the end of this month, so let me encourage you to make a donation today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and donate online, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate.
When you do, we’ve got some thank-you gifts we’re going to send you. The information about all of that is available online when you donate, or you can ask about the thank-you gifts when you call us. We are grateful for your support of this ministry and for how God is using FamilyLife Today in so many people’s lives all around the world.
We hope you have a great weekend. I hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to spend some time looking back at some of the things I’ve learned about marriage and family over the last 28-and-a-half years that I have been co-hosting FamilyLife Today. We’re going to talk about the kind of stuff that I pass on to other people, regularly, in conversations. I hope you can tune in as we spend some time taking a look back.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch; got some extra help from Mark Ramey and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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