The bakery called, believing the order form was incorrect.  They were shocked when the woman on the phone said, “No, I really do need it to say Happy 80th Anniversary, not birthday.”  John and Ann Betar were children of Syrian immigrants in the 1920’s.  Ann’s parents had arranged for her to marry a man, twenty years her senior, because they felt he would be a good provider for her.  But Ann was not pleased with this arrangement because she had fallen in love with a neighbor boy who had been driving her and her friends to school in his Ford Roadster.  So, at the age of 17, she eloped to marry John, her 21 year old beau who sold fruit from his roadside stand.  Last November they received world-wide recognition when they celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary!

John is 101 and Ann is 97.  The group, Worldwide Marriage Encounter has given them the award for the “longest married couple.”  Everyone seems shocked by their 80 years of marriage, but not John and Ann Betar.  When Ann was asked their secret to such a lengthy marriage she replied, “At 17, you wonder if you’re making the right choice.  I had grown up with him and we had good times together and we knew each other very well. And it’s turned out to be 80 years. ….God seems to have been with us. And we’ve been very fortunate.”   We could learn a lot from this wonderful couple!

John and Ann had five children, 14 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren. Two of their children died in their 60s.  John said that losing those children were the most difficult times of their lives.  He then said that one of the greatest joys had been to watch their grandchildren grow up to be adults and have children of their own.  John and Ann believe their family is God’s greatest blessing and they joyfully live for the times their family can be together.

The couple are charter members of the St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  They helped found the church with a few other couples who were Christian immigrants from Syria.  John and Ann do not just attend the church, they serve their church and most importantly they serve Christ.  Christ has been at the center of their marriage from the beginning.  Ann said she and John are still very much in love after 80 years, and explained why: “He is a wonderful man. He is a very giving man to his children, to his family, to people that need it. He is a very generous, giving man,” she said. “Can you blame me for living with him for 80 years?”

John said the secret to their marriage is:  “We just live with contentment and we don’t live beyond our means.  We just go with the flow.”  Their granddaughter said, “I’m always blown away by their incredible optimism and their deep sense of compassion and modesty.  They are true beacons — inspirational people who emit such joy without even knowing it.”

The Barna Group, a Christian research organization, recently conducted a survey on marriage statistics.  Sadly, they found: “when evangelicals and non-evangelical born again Christians are combined into an aggregate class of born again adults, their divorce figure is statistically identical to that of non-born again adults: 32% versus 33%, respectively.”  In other words, being a Christian is not going to save your marriage, we need to live as Christians, with God’s priorities.  John and Ann Betar have chosen those priorities.  They are  living like Christians, with contentment, generosity, joy, kindness, compassion and modesty.  Their family and their marriage has been blessed by God as a result.

The Lord’s great priority for life is also a great priority for marriage.  Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).  This is Valentine’s week.  Consider the people in your life that you love, and those that have given you the great gift of their love.  Thank God for them and then ask your King how you can live rightly in his Kingdom.  Then he can pour his blessings into your life and your marriage as well.  I would like to celebrate my 80th anniversary someday…wouldn’t you?

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