What could be better than getting back to nature, spending a weekend in the great outdoors to relax, reconnect and gain an added measure of trust and appreciation for a loved one? Houston’s First members Joe and Lisa Calvert’s (above) invitation to spend a week at a wilderness experience in northern California more than 15 years ago turned out to be a blessing not only for their own marriage, but one that is also making a difference in the lives of couples, parents and teens in the Houston area and around the world.
"We had our eyes opened that week," said Joe. "It was a time of real transformation in relationships. We saw God performing miracles and thought a weekend version should be developed and held in other cities."
When the couple returned home, Joe and a few other men began praying about starting a local group. A few years later, Joe and Lisa traveled to Alabama where Outback America, the weekend model of JH Ranch, was held. In partnership with Outback America, the Calverts and a handful of other Houston’s First couples stepped up to start Outback Texas.
Fred and Susan Caldwell began opening up their Brenham ranch twice each year beginning in November of 2011 as hosts of Outback Texas. Today, more than 100 volunteers plan, prepare and serve couples as well as parents and teens in April and November each year.
Outback features outside speakers, specialized programs and activities for couples and families as well as time to gather around a blazing campfire — and enjoy some good ol’ chuckwagon-style cooking!
Frank and Debbie Blackwood attended the weeklong JH Ranch in 2002 as newlyweds. Years went by and their marriage was on solid ground, but two children plus a child who had undergone three open-heart surgeries after his birth caused Frank and Debbie to feel as though they were living worlds apart. Debbie spent the first year of baby Jake’s life at Texas Children’s Hospital. Frank remembers the day they almost lost him.
"One Sunday morning I looked up at Jake’s monitor and he was flatlining," said Frank. "I learned that Pastor Gregg had stopped the worship service to pray for Jake. It was about the time Jake’s heart began beating again."
Life takes a toll on marriages, and sometimes relationships need a refresh, if only for a weekend. "We needed to let a little steam out of the kettle," said Frank. "The weekend brought us closer together, so we decided to become volunteers. As volunteers, we found that we get every bit as much out of it as the guests."
A trusted friend recommended Outback Texas to Kevin and Amy Cain (right), who were struggling in their marriage. Amy’s first husband had passed away when their boys were five and one. She had known Kevin in college, and though in his 40s, he had never married. Putting their family together was more challenging than they imagined.
"We were crazy about one another," said Amy of Kevin. "Whatever we could have done wrong, we did. But our flags were planted so firmly in the soil of God's kingdom that we couldn’t get away from Him. We tried our hardest to ruin the thing, but the God of the universe kept putting it all back together."
The weekend at Outback Texas was a turning point in Amy and Kevin’s relationship. The barrier Kevin raised between them as the weekend began dissolved during an intense and tearful discussion on the green next to ‘Golden Pond.’ As Kevin opened up, Amy says the Holy Spirit opened her heart and her ears to his pain. “In the secret places of my husband’s heart, this wife had inflicted the worst kind of wounds, wounds that said ‘You’re not enough,’ ‘You don’t have what it takes’…I had for a long time, though unintentionally, enjoyed my ride as ‘the good one’ in the marriage,” said Amy.
Kevin says his cloak of shame was removed that day. “She accepted me,” he said, “God identified Himself to us there on the green. It was a new beginning.”
After returning from Outback Texas weekends, those who wish to continue cultivating the groundwork laid in Brenham are invited to Tuesday night meetings held in City Centre near I-10 and the Sam Houston Tollway.
Outback Texas is not only for couples. The biannual weekends also host parents and teens to open lines of communication and establish trust with kids as they navigate the teenage years. Wide-open spaces, specialized activities and speakers that address relationship challenges of every kind are elements of the family sessions.
“Personal values, life purpose, forgiveness and communication — those are the important issues to address in building solid relationships,” said Joe. “Outback aims to transform one family at a time.
The next Outback Texas weekend for husbands and wives to refresh their relationship is Apr 22-24. The same weekend, a program for parents and teens is offered — an opportunity recommended by our NextGen Ministry as a Grow@Home experience. Learn more about Outback Texas and register online at OutbackTexas.org.