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Commissioners Eva & Israel Gaither

 

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Commissioners Eva D. and Israel L. Gaither fell in love during a time when interracial relationships were prohibited by law in the United States and shunned by the Church. Eva is the former national president of women’s ministries. Israel is the former national commander of The Salvation Army in the United States. They have been married for 47 years.

Eva: Because we would be the first Salvation Army officer interracial marriage in the USA, we had to be absolutely certain that this was to be God’s will for our lives.

Israel: Knowing that she was the one I should marry was not just because we happened to have been appointed to the same city; or that our friendship grew into a relationship of mutual love—it was far more.

We prayed for a sign of assurance from God … and we both received it. I remember the peace and contentment, with a growing confidence that Izzy and I were not only meant for each other, but also that God’s will was that we serve Him as a married officer couple. It was all in God’s plan for our lives—and for our joint ministry. And the certainty that we were meant for each other came with confirmation as well as a spiritual conviction.

It was only much later in our officership that we would learn just how much of a challenge it was to The Salvation Army … internationally. When our Divisional Commander Colonel John D. Waldron told us that our marriage had been approved, he had also been instructed to inform us that we needed to understand that in all probability, there would come a point in our future service when there would be no further appointment available to us in which to serve. 

The numerous steps our leaders had to take to even arrive at a decision to permit us to marry presented a major challenge to the Army organizationally.  If not for several of our very close friends—and our then administrative leaders of the day—who believed in us and stood with us, had it not been for their love and support, we probably would have become discouraged and you would not be reading this interview about us.

My parents were privileged to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary before God called my father home. And through the good, and the less–than–perfect times, my brothers, sisters, and I, always knew that Mom and Dad loved each other.  I remember the respect and value my Dad held for my mother and it was displayed in the way he treated her, and in the way he expected other men to treat her.  

Izzy’s parents, whom I grew to love so much, were more than my in–laws. Both sets of parents taught me what it means to work at cherishing love and protecting the relationship. Their successful marriages were because of their love for God. In both homes, it was clearly not so much about a “happy” marriage as it was about a deep, loving, committed relationship. Both of our parents, as couples, had marriages in which they were completely content.  

For new couples, I feel there is great value in having a mentor couple that can be trusted—and available—for practical support and for counsel and who will be honest as they provide support. Some couples approach readiness for marrying by living together unmarried—as in a practice run, or simply cohabiting outside of marriage. That is not to be the approach of couples who follow Christ and desire to have a biblically–based marriage. I’m convinced of the value of a period of Christian–based, premarital counseling that has the couple working at deliberately exploring what it means to be married in every dimension of their lives. 

We begin our day with our devotional time together.  We pray over the agenda of the day as well as our immediate family, friends, and colleagues with whom we are especially in touch. And we pray with and for each other. There is nothing more special than hearing Eva speak to God about me.

Our last disagreement does not linger in our relationship. We have different opinions on personal as well as official subjects. But we have learned, at this stage in our lives, that nothing matters more than getting the small stuff quickly out of the way and being intentional about resolving differences that really matter in our relationship.  

If I could ask God one question about marriage, I would ask why some people, who are not believers, seem to have so much joy in their marriage, while others, in Christian marriages, seem to be so miserable? And if I asked God that very question, I confess the need for forgiveness for what I might think are the answers. Eva and I know there are no ready-made solutions for a couple in an unfulfilled marriage. We have learned to withhold judgment.  

Our children believe their father is able to do anything and help them solve any problem they might have. Their adoring, unconditional love for their dad has shown me what a strong, wise man he is. If ever required, Eva would do absolutely anything, at any time, with all that is in her power to protect or provide for our children and grandchildren. Her love for them
is pure—and it is never–ending.
 

I don’t know any couple that would say they have a perfect marriage. But I do know couples who would say that they are in the perfect “marriage relationship.” In other words, they are married to the right man or woman. Some of them have been married multiple decades, but we also know couples who are in the early years of their marriage and they also seem to be in the perfect marriage relationship.

See your marriage as God’s divine plan for your lives. Put Him first in your marriage. Pursue holiness in your personal life and it will permeate throughout your marriage relationship.

For a couple on the verge of divorce, pastoral and/or formal professional counsel is not something to be feared. These are means of support that are available to help the couple to take the journey to healing.  The danger is allowing issues that cause pain and emotional and physical separation to go unattended. Divorce is not the default button. It’s not the first option to be taken when there is difficulty in the marriage. If you believe your marriage is God’s plan for your lives, then start there again.  

I want to live out my covenant to God and to my husband in the respect, affection, and care I provide for him. I want this and more to be seen from my life and through our marriage. God’s grace. I get to be blessed because I am married to Eva. And I am nothing in this marriage but a product of His great grace—and her love.

Our open secret is: Growing together in Christ; loving each other, regarding the needs of others; treating each other with respect; and being willing to take care of each other, no matter what the circumstances might require. Our marriage has been a process of continual growth.  Tomorrow can be even better than today. 


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Commissioners Eva & Israel Gaither

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