A Lifetime of Love and Ministry
By Rebekah Montgomery
What makes a marriage and ministry partnership last for more than seven decades?
Catherine and Carl Binkley know. Recently celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary, they recalled how early in their relationship they learned four secrets — profound in their simplicity — for long-lasting successful partnerships. Without these secrets their story could easily have been different.
Secret One: A come-what-may commitment to follow Christ.
For Carl and Catherine, steadfast devotion to Christ was a moment-by-moment, die-to-self-daily walk with God.
In 1938, this understanding came to a lanky 6-foot 4-inch, 27-year-old Carl while mucking out hog pens on his parents’ farm. He realized he was going to miss God’s purpose for his life if he didn’t go into ministry and do it immediately.
It took him a while to come to this realization and surrendering to Jesus. He also realized he might lose the opportunity to marry his sweetheart, Catherine Willson, because of his former stubborn resistance.
Although Catherine was only 14 when they met, she already knew she was going to follow Jesus no matter what. Any man who wanted her would play second fiddle to that commitment. She wouldn’t be swayed.
A dramatic spiritual event convinced Catherine she was called to ministry. “I was in my bedroom praying for direction when I saw a hand with a finger pointing that shone brighter than daylight,” said Catherine. “With the pointing hand was one word: ‘Go.’” Catherine wasn’t sure where she was to go, but she determined to enter whatever doors God opened. She had already participated in ministries traditionally not open to women of that era. In addition to filling area pulpits, Catherine spoke at several revival services. She was good at it, too. The girl could preach!
After dating Carl for four years without either his commitment to ministry or marriage, Catherine was at a crossroads. She had two clear options: she could marry a local preacher who had proposed to her or she could go to Bible College. Although in love with Carl, she decided to leave him behind and take her broken heart to Bible College.
Like the prodigal son who came to his senses in a hog pen, Carl came to his in a hog pen, too. He knew he might lose Catherine to Bible College or that local preacher, but he was going to answer God’s ministry — with or without her. When Carl announced his decision to go into ministry even if he had to go alone, Catherine simply said, “I’ll go with you.”
On July 30, 1938, they married. They intended to go to Bible College together in the autumn. Then came a test of their come-what-may commitment to follow Christ. Yet, along with the test came secret two.
Secret Two: Marriage is our only option.
Carl and Catherine meant it when they vowed to support each other in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, and never again considered anything else. Their marriage and ministry partnership simply had to work. Neither was going to quit.
Married only a month, Carl and Catherine’s “sickness and health” vows were tested when Carl became seriously ill with a mysterious ailment. Doctors sent Carl home to die.
With her husband too sick to go to college and facing what seemed an early widowhood, Catherine accepted a pastor position at a church. Carl eventually recovered, began a home study course for the ministry, and occasionally filled the Lanark pulpit. By spring 1939, their first child, a son, was born.
Although that winter was especially frigid, that following winter, Carl and Catherine remember it with special warmth because God taught them secret three.
Secret Three: Pray in secret and God rewards publicly.
It was The Great Depression, and the church paid only a small salary. There simply wasn’t enough money. A coal stove heated their parsonage, and Carl and Catherine worried about keeping their six-month-old son warm.
“With our last fuel in the heating stove,” said Carl, “we asked God to provide us with some coal. As we prayed, we heard the mailman’s feet crunching in the snow.”
A single letter contained $5 and read: “We thought maybe you needed some money to keep the baby warm. Don’t thank us. It’s the Lord’s money.”
“We still have the letter,” said Carl. “We were reminded of the verse: ‘… and it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear’” (Isa. 65:24).
Their baby survived that winter and became a medical missionary in Haiti, where the Lord is still keeping him warm. Secret four was around the corner.
Secret Four: Humbly serve God wherever and however.
This fourth secret was learned as Catherine faced a health and ministry crisis and consecutive pregnancies. After four boys came in three years (including a set of twins born in the car on the way to the hospital!), Catherine was diagnosed with pernicious anemia. “You’ll raise these children alone,” the doctors told Carl, “if Catherine doesn’t quit having babies.”
In her weakened condition, the Lord led Catherine to make her husband and children her primary ministry. She sometimes called her family “my congregation.” And the Lord added to it. Four more healthy children (three girls and a boy) were born without the doctors’ warnings coming to pass. Today, Catherine and Carl have more than fifty descendants with four on the way.
Like flowers that fade and the mist that vanishes with sunrise, seventy years have quickly passed. Yet as long as they have breath, until death parts them, Carl and Catherine will humbly love and serve the Lord, wherever and however, individually or together. They will continue loving one another, too.
Today, they share a room in a nursing home. If you sneak up on them, you’re liable to catch them holding hands. At 97, Carl’s mind, hearing, and eyesight are still pretty good, but he requires constant oxygen. At 88, Catherine motors around with a walker and laughs at her short-term memory lapses.
Ministry is still important for Carl and Catherine, too. They write encouraging letters to family and friends. They pray with visitors. Nursing staff dotes on them, frequently requesting they pray for them - and they do.
Folks often say, “You’ve been married for 70 years, served God, and reared a family who loves the Lord. What’s your secret?”
Carl and Catherine sum it up in a single word: commitment.