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Preparing for the Long Haul

Traumatized but victorious couple provide marriage fortification advice for churchgoers.

During her childhood, Kate Angelo experienced living in an old school bus without electricity or running water; repeatedly being abducted by both of her divorced parents, in the process uprooted from her home and school with only the clothes on her back; her grandmother committing suicide while caring for her; being left at home by herself for weeks at a time as her father worked as an over-the-road trucker; abuse from being scalded by water, chained to a tree, and choked by her father’s girlfriend and the girlfriend’s daughter; abandonment by her mother for months with no money to care for her and two younger siblings; and ultimate placement in a pair of foster care homes.

Kate wed just after turning 18, and, unsurprisingly, the marriage didn’t last long.

Despite all the trauma and chaos, Kate today is a well-adjusted, confident, and godly 38-year-old wife and mother. She and her 43-year-old husband, Jerry — who dealt with a lengthy court battle to gain primary custody of his neglected children — today lead Marriage Awakening. The Springfield, Missouri-based ministry is designed to help congregations develop strong marriage ministries.

The counseling and mentoring the Angelos provide at marriage conferences and workshops is full of real-life examples given their ruffled backgrounds.

The Angelos want to counter the unbiblical advice many people receive — even from other churchgoers — that encourages divorce: You married the wrong person; God wants you to be happy; you need to follow your heart.

“A lot of times people get divorced because others encourage them to do it,” Kate says.

“Many churches do not have a good marriage ministry and are hungry for such a program,” Jerry says. “We want to keep Christian marriages from falling apart. People get more education before getting a driver’s license than they do before getting married.”

In early adulthood, Jerry had his own set of issues, including being a workaholic husband, having his first wife walk out on him, and losing his job when he became embroiled in a costly out-of-state custody fight for his children.

In 2012, after an 8-year legal tussle, Jerry gained full custody of his now 16-year-old son, John, and 14-year-old daughter, Haley. In court, a trio of medical experts testified that John appeared to be suffering from a condition called “psychosocial dwarfism” that had resulted in him forfeiting 10 inches of expected height because of emotional neglect. Living with his father, John has nearly regained all the lost growth. Haley made multiple allegations of abuse in the mother’s home after her parents divorced. Jerry and Kate have been married since 2006. Kate has two sons from her first marriage, Logan, 19, and Gavin, 17.

The Angelos, both of whom are credentialed Assemblies of God ministers and members of the American Association of Christian Counselors, also are in the final stages of adopting a fifth child, an 11-year-old foster child, Isabella.

With their bruised backgrounds, the Angelos, who met at a church group for singles, have learned a great deal about the need to strengthen marriages. Although Marriage Awakening isn’t exclusively focused on blended families, Jerry notes that 35 percent of the U.S. population lives in some form of nontraditional family.

Their background struggles are detailed in the new book, Forsaken: A Journey of Faith and Purpose.  

Kate says the idea of a perfect marriage is a myth. There always will be issues that cause clashes, and those who have been divorced often face additional financial, relational, and logistical concerns than those who haven’t been married before, she says.

“There are additional stresses and problems in blended families,” Kate says. “Spouses in second marriages have to work extra hard to get rid of selfishness.”

“It’s absolutely essential to have Christ as the center of marriage, and choose to love your spouse even in the difficulties that come up,” Jerry says.

Especially for blended families, the Angelos — who spent a decade volunteering at Life360 Church in Springfield before launching their marriage ministry which most recently has been involved at Evangel Temple in Springfield — suggest an irenic spirit is better than keeping score of past wrongs and insulting a former mate in front of offspring. When the children spend time in the residences of both biological parents, rancor directed against the other party can be counterproductive, they say. Kate remembers her own parents trying to brainwash her into believing terrible character traits about the other parent.

“You can’t control an ex-spouse or manipulate kids into what doing what you want,” Kate says. “Eye-for-an-eye behavior doesn’t work with an ex-spouse.”

Kate’s life has been one of forgiving — her parents, other neglectful relatives, her former husband, and strangers who abused her. Along the way, she experienced the death of her parents, a sister, and a brother. She began to heal only after accepting Jesus as her Savior.

Jerry says when God convinced him to forgive his former wife even before gaining custody of his children it lifted a tremendous burden he had been carrying.

“Kate and I have learned to persevere, despite in the pain we experienced,” Jerry says. “Sometimes, even when you seem to be doing everything right, you have to wait many years for a righteous outcome.”

John W. Kennedy

John W. Kennedy served as news editor of AG News from its inception in 2014 until retiring in 2023. He previously spent 15 years as news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel and seven years as news editor at Christianity Today.