By Andre and Gizelle-Ann Hinkson
We completed our Catholic Engaged Encounter weekend in October 2008 and were married in April 2009. The experience not only helped prepare us for marriage, but also ignited in us a desire to truly live out our faith.
As part of this journey, we became involved in the CEETT ministry in 2016, and with God’s guidance began sharing our lives, as a Presenting couple to engaged couples attending weekends, in 2019. With just a few months under our belt, the pandemic hit.
As married couples we are often faced with challenges that can throw us for a loop. The pandemic has certainly been one such challenge. However, Matthew 6:34 tells us, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
And Psalm 121:1–2 reminds us, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD….”.
Yet so often we become overwhelmed by life’s trials, bogged done by anxiety and fear. However, it is through prayer, God’s grace, and the support of our community, that we can push through, adapt and be resilient even in the most difficult of circumstances.
As a ministry adapting during a pandemic, this meant major changes to the way we had served engaged couples over the past 38 years (at that time). We decided that we would start facilitating weekends online. This meant re-imagining aspects of the in-person weekend, finding ways to continue to connect with the couples, despite the virtual forum.
Unfortunately, we had to reduce the size of the weekends, to allow for a more intimate and interactive virtual experience. This also meant increasing the number of weekends for the year to continue meeting the needs of couples preparing for marriage.
Interestingly, the number of couples getting married did not wane after the first three months of lockdown; an inspiration to us that love endures even in the midst of adversity.
However, virtual weekends, did not allow for several aspects of the in-person experience; it reduced the involvement of many of our couples who voluntarily worked tirelessly in the background.
They are the true engine and heart of the CEETT weekend experience. They ensure that the weekend runs smoothly, and the needs of the couples are met. Nevertheless, we found ways to remain connected. Couples from the ministry would pop in on the virtual weekends to greet the attendees and assist where possible (praying with couples etc.).
The move to virtual weekends also helped to broaden our outreach as we were able to facilitate persons who resided or worked abroad, including USA, Canada, and England. We were even able to partner with CEE communities in Dominica and Grenada, having joint weekends, as we ministered to our brothers and sisters across the Caribbean.
In addition to the virtual weekends, a virtual Wednesday night prayer/discussion session (now 19 months old) became a staple for the community. We would pray together or discuss assigned readings, sharing our thoughts and experiences.
We opened our arms to past weekend attendees, young married couples interested in becoming part of the community. It is this development that was a surprisingly positive outcome of the pandemic.
Our Wednesday night sharings provided greater insights into the lives of our CEETT couples, drawing the CEE community closer. It helped us to continue to develop our spirituality, take further steps in our faith journey, and grow as married couples, learning from each other’s experiences, not unlike what we do for couples on weekends.
While the past two years have certainly had its challenges, we have been able to grow as a couple and draw closer to our CEE community, which has increased beyond our geographic lines. As we slowly make our way back to increasing levels of normalcy it is with great hope for what the future holds.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer 29:11)