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Marriage Menders at work

CAROL MARTINDALE, [email protected]

Marriage Menders at work

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That’s not just the name of their business, it is also what they do for a living.

Sonya and Derrick McCollum believe they are more than qualified to attempt to mend broken marriages before they die in painful divorce.

The couple has been married since 1995.

But while they have years under their belt together, they are the first to admit that the start of their journey was anything but smooth.

In fact, it was so turbulent and rocky that they never thought they would have survived this long in their marriage.

After two to three years they were on course for a separation.

Ironically, it was their “bad behaviour” towards each other that led to the start of their couples ministry, and subsequently a book they co-wrote, and eventually, their business as family and marriage counsellors.

They do not hide the issues they faced in their union from clients.

In fact, they freely and openly talk about their problems and use them as teaching tools for couples whose marriages are under strain.

Sonya, 48 and Derrick 51, who are based in Atlanta, Georgia, did just that last weekend during a retreat last weekend for married couples at Discovery Bay Hotel in St James and a session at the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Government Hill, St Michael.

The two spoke to about 35 couples and 60 singles, ranging from 18 years old to late 40s.

Hours before Sonya and Derrick were set to head back home on Tuesday afternoon, they shared the good, the bad and the ugly of their marriage with the SUNDAY SUN, just like they did at the retreat.

Derrick’s pornography addition, the foreclosure of their first home, many miscarriages, caring for children with special needs and managing the marriage’s first three years, which they said were “bad”, were topics on the table.

“We talk about the things people don’t like talking about,” said Derrick.

Sitting side by side in one of the conference rooms at Discovery Bay Sonya and Derrick, who are the parents of four children, Danielle (from Derrick’s previous marriage, Sian, Sye and Derrick (Little Derrick), are the picture of a perfect couple. Their journey, however, has been anything but perfect.

Sonya, who was born in the United States but moved to Barbados and attended Alexandra School, is a licensed clinical social worker. She and Derrick are also licensed marriage and family counsellors in the state of Georgia.

Two years after the two got married, they were asked by their church to start a couples’ ministry.

They both agree that is what really saved their marriage.

“We were fighting and not getting along those first two years. When they asked us to start a couples’ ministry, we thought it was a joke. Little did we know that that was the beginning of the marriage menders,” said Sonya, who recalled her pastor then furnishing her with a list of couples who were married longer than they were.

Five couples helped to build the team.

“We started having to be accountable to the group,” said Sonya.

“It forced us to behave. We had to stop behaving badly. We had to start learning new coping mechanisms.”

During the bad times, Derrick coped by turning to porn, drinking and aggressive behaviour. Hers, she said, was profanity, calling her husband names and being in his face and combative.

“We realised that we had to find better coping mechanisms.”

Both Sonya and Derrick are proud that the couples ministry Duet, which they started, is still going strong at their church Community Praise Adventist Church in Virginia after it began about 19 years go.

The couple had since moved on.

While living in Maryland, life was a struggle for this young family. Derrick was working as a dean of student affairs at a school with at-risk students, while Sonya was running a teen group home for teen moms.

“We were in a rat race. We didn’t know how to get out of the rat race,” she recalled, listing the bills they had to pay and the high cost of living in that state.

They were still trying to figure out how to make it work.

Sonya recalled that in 2011 God told the couple they should write a book.

Her next question was how would they even find the time to write it.

Then, as she described it, God shut down everything.

“They closed the group home, they put all the kids in foster care – it was state-wide where they stopped putting kids in group homes so all of them were put in foster homes. It opened our minds to looking at other places to live. We didn’t have any other recourse,” she said.

Then, a visit to her stepdaughter Danielle in Atlanta opened the way for a move.

After much prayer, the two relocated to that state.

Sonya was hired for a job after applying on the Internet and it was while on the trip for a formal interview the couple whipped out their laptop to start tapping out the words for their book.

In 16 hours, they had a large portion of the book written.

Unlocking the Mysteries of Marriage – A Couple’s Truth To This Thing Called Marriage was then published and released in 2013.

That year also saw the start of their business Marriage Menders.

Thereafter, the two were being booked for counselling and marriage sessions.

But still, life hadn’t settled for the couple.

When they moved, Derrick was out of a job from October to January and things were getting tight, with bills mounting.

His old school asked him to return for he accepted.

For six months he was commuting back and forth between Maryland and Altanta, only seeing his family on weekends.

Then, he signed a contract for a full school year 2012 to 2013.

That arrangement, even with a companion pass that allowed him to travel free for the next 18 months, took its toll not just on him, but also on the family. Sonya was a single parent for five days a week and Derrick was getting tired of the travelling.

“The two years were stressful,” Sonya reflected, admitting that she couldn’t see at the time how it was all coming together for her and her family.

It was the bridge they had to walk over.

Now they have crossed that bridge, the couple is focused on helping others to do the same.

Sonya, with tears swelling in her eyes, is emotional as she talks about the pain she feels when she hears of marriages breaking up.

“It feels like a death. Divorce doesn’t bring relief,” she said.

With so many marriages under stress, Sonya said they are kept quite busy doing six days of counselling, resting on Saturdays. She said they counsel as many as three to four couples a day or seven or eight.

The couple, who has a website for their business as well as an app, said they counsel on the go.

It is their work with marriages that brought them to Barbados.

Sonya said it was while on a visit to their old church last summer during their vacation, that her good friend Tracy Johnson introduced them to the family life leader at the Government Hill church.

She said Harriett Yearwood, the family life director, had a vision to invite the couple to do a district-wide marriage retreat From This Day Forward.

“It was to really bring tools on how to understand roles as husband and wife and to learn communication skills when we are in conflict and learning how to love each other how we are individually created to love,” said Sonya.

For the singles, there were the “dos and don’ts of dating”.

“We talked about a gift of being single. There is a gift in where they are in their singleness. Not that they weren’t supposed to be with someone because we believe that God intended for everyone to be with someone. But if by chance because of sin or poor decisions their paths don’t connect, whatever God has for them is still a gift,” said Derrick.

The marriage menders base their work on The Bible and believe God is in charge of all lives.

Sonya smiled as she recalled the questions about “who pursues or proposes to who”.

“We believe it was always God’s intention for man to pursue the woman, and the woman to just be available to be found,” she added.