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Ben Zornes is our Dean of Men and worship leader here at Ellerslie Training. He and Elsje will be married in January 2012 on the Ellerslie campus. Their testimony proves once more that God indeed is in the business of scripting amazing love stories, when we are willing to leave the pen completely in His hands. May you be richly encouraged in reading about what God has done in Ben's life this past year.
1. You recently became engaged. Can you tell us a little bit about how God brought you together?
Ironically, the way God brought us together goes completely against the grain of the modern model of instant indulgence. Most of the time, if a guy sees a girl he likes, he does backflips to try to get her attention. God would allow no such behavior from me as this relationship began to form. In my situation, you could almost say that rather than bring us together, God led us to avoid each other for a season. When Elsje and I first met it was in the context of the Ellerslie training (she as a student, myself as a staff member). As my heart was drawn to her, I realized that I needed to limit interaction with her and do absolutely nothing to pursue her in order to protect the sacredness of the Ellerslie environment, and to guard her from being distracted by me. A guy showing and expressing interest, whether the girl desires it or not, has the potent capacity to be a massive distraction. When she returned home, I had no clue of any interest on her end, and I came to find out that she had no inkling of my desires or intentions. One other thing I should probably mention is, the fact that she returned home added a huge layer of impossibility because she is from South Africa. Thus, for the first six to eight months of our acquaintance – unknown to the other – God led us both to die to the desire and the hope of anything taking place between us, and to simply trust Him with our most intimate longings.
After months of silence, the only way open to me was to petition God to open the door. I knew that the risk in a relationship should fall upon the shoulders of the man, and God had clearly hallmarked her as the one He had designed for me, yet there was no clear way to begin initiating interaction without making her feel rather awkward. Thus, I invited my family to join me in praying that God would open a door of honorable communication. At the time it seemed like a massive long shot, but I knew God had given me the confidence to hope only in Him. I had no clue of her interest, we had spent such a ridiculously small amount of time in any sort of interaction, she lived half way around the world, and I had no idea if some swanky, South African hunk had already swept her off her feet. But, as I and my family began praying, God literally opened a miraculous door. For the first time ever, she responded to one of the weekly Alumni emails that I sent out to all the Ellerslie alumni. Before I began pouring forth my heart to her, I waited and didn’t respond to her immediately, even though the door had opened. Instead, I consulted with my friend and mentor, Eric, and with his wisdom and my parents’ counsel and oversight, I began corresponding with her. Over the following weeks, it became evident that God had stirred both of our hearts for the other. Once I obtained the blessing of her father to pursue, woo, and win her heart, God led us through a rather peculiar long-distance relationship overseen by our parents; it culminated in the most beautiful night on earth, which found me alone with a girl for the first time in my life, getting down on one knee, uttering words I’d never spoken to any other girl: “I love you (in both English and Afrikaans), will you marry me?” And with incandescent happiness she said, “Yes.”
Several people have asked me this question, and I love pondering it. Over the few weeks that we first became acquainted with each other, we purposefully had limited interaction. We both felt drawn to the other, but we intentionally avoided each other. Thus, I had a limited perspective on her, but it was as if God gave me peeks into the purity and sincerity of her heart. Ironically, it was not by me seeking it out, but it was by entrusting my heart to God and allowing Him to open my eyes to what He wanted me to see. So, I got a nine-week glimpse into her virtue and excellence, and once she returned home, God sort of posed me a question, “I have you shown you all you need to know of this girl. I know it seems like a long shot, but will you trust Me?”
The first glimpse of her character I was given was that, while she was a very sweet and friendly young lady, she flew under everyone’s radar and limited her social interaction in order to pursue Jesus wholly during her time at Ellerslie. While there was plenty of time for fellowship and making friends, I observed her intentionally withdraw from fellowship in order to spend time alone with Jesus. Second, in the few conversations I had with her, I was struck with the richness, depth, insight, and hunger for Christ that she constantly exuded. She had the keen ability to articulate and enunciate Gospel truth, and when she spoke, her words had a weight and gravity to them. Her conversation was always dripping with the unction of a girl who had first lived what she believed and proclaimed. And it was clear that she loved Christian biography! Third, it was the testimony others had to share about her that really showed me that she was a young woman of excellence. People spoke highly of her and they would often comment on her tender heart, her compassion, her insight into Scripture, her sweetness, and her elegant manner of life. She gave a devotion one morning at Ellerslie, and it left quite a mark on the entire student body. Even weeks and months later, people would comment on how impacting her words had been to them. While I could go on and on, (and I have come to admire her even more than I did back then), I’ll simply conclude by saying that her manner of life “frustrated,” yet also attracted me. She was a “garden enclosed.” She maintained a mystique, and didn’t openly proffer information or details about herself. There was a restraint upon her interactions, especially with myself and other guys; she was not “on the market.” Instead, she was fully given to Jesus. If you wanted to get to know her, you would have to get her through Him! I’ve always said that what a true man of God is looking for is a woman who is fully given to Jesus, no matter how odd it may look to the world. That’s certainly what I beheld in her, and still do!
Respond? Well, I took a bold step forward, and did absolutely nothing! Whether you are a guy or a girl, it is vital that you guard and protect the first feelings of attraction. I was very quickly drawn to this charming young lady, but true virtue is proven in what it does with the desires of the heart. I could have just rolled over to my desires and gone rogue trying to get her attention. Instead, I quietly laid to rest the tender desires she had awakened within me.
I have found it helpful to picture this like a seed. In the most intimate and sacred part of my soul, which had ever been a solitary place that only myself and the Lord inhabited, He gave me a seed. There, in the moistened soil of that place, a most tender and fragile seed was placed into the ground. That seed was all my hopes, longings, desires, and curiosity about this lovely lady with an enchanting South African accent. The seed had to die before it would bring forth any fruit. For the cold, hard winter, there was nothing to be seen, no apparent growth, only death to a dream and a desire. For months, I only stared at the ground where the seed had been planted, and I tenderly gave it the Living Water. When God opened the door to begin pursuing Elsje, it was as if I went once more into that most solitary place of sanctuary, and there in the soil where nothing had ever been before, except my and the Savior’s footprints, peeking up from the earth – with the slightest glimpse of life – was a tiny little shoot known as “hope.” It is pure sweetness to taste the fruit of the death that marked the first several months of our acquaintance.
How many times my heart desired to know and talk to her the way I do now. But every time that longing would arise, or when the curiosity would stir within me, I immediately placed that seed back in the earth where it belonged. It had to die. It had to perish. It had to go into the darkness of the soil. All promise of life had to be removed, and I had to simply trust in the Divine Gardener's ability to bring it to life. However, death after death was the theme of the first season of interaction with Elsje.
I think it is imperative for set-apart girls to realize that they really can trust God. Whatever the situation, whatever the need – He is always worthy of trust. Waiting on God never results in disappointment. The Psalmist says, “Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed” (Psalm 34:5 ESV). Even as God opened my eyes to see the remarkable woman He had crafted to be my bride, He asked me to simply wait upon Him and entrust Him with this most sacred desire. He challenged me to live to prove the worth of trusting God, not just in this area, but in every area of my existence.
In every stage of this relationship, I have sought to regard her with the highest level of respect, honor, decorum, nobility, and gentility. It has looked slightly different at each stage, but even as it deepens, I find myself seeking new ways to honor and show her how highly I regard her. In the beginning, I honored her by treating her with the same amount of deference and respect as all the other ladies at Ellerslie. In fact, I probably had less interaction with her than I had with other girls. I guarded my eyes, and endeavored to ensure that she would never have an inkling as to my interest. I wouldn’t look her way, neither would I go out of my way to interact with her. There was one situation when we found ourselves alone and could have spent several moments in isolated conversation, but rather than indulge in that seemingly harmless opportunity, I removed myself with graciousness in order to defend my honor and preserve her dignity.
Once we began corresponding, I continued to leave my feelings unexpressed and did not disclose my interest to her until I had obtained her father’s permission to pursue her. Once he had given his consent, I laid a foundation of several principles. First, this relationship had to show the preeminence of Jesus Christ in all things; essentially, this relationship had to be a stage to demonstrate the nature of Jesus to the world. Second, we are both called to live all out for Jesus, and therefore we must continue to live surrendered lives, no matter the cost. Third, I endeavored to exhibit to her a constant deference to her level of security. I made sure that she always knew that she never needed to disclose anything she was uncomfortable sharing.
I also refrained from expressing the depth of love or affection that God had stirred in me toward her. I deferred to her father’s discretion as to how much interaction he felt was healthy, and we had two to three phone calls per week which lasted about an hour or two each. Additionally, we began the discipline of writing a daily letter and sending it via email. We avoided “chatting” on social interaction websites, and though we could text internationally, we decided to maintain a loftier and more ennobled form of communication. Furthermore, we didn’t tell anyone, outside of our families and Eric, that this love story was being scripted. For a few months, we quietly allowed God to form and shape this story. This resulted in Elsje feeling a greater degree of safety and security in the formation of the affection and love that God was stirring between us. I also made it clear that what she shared with me would be protected, guarded, and kept sacred. I never told her I loved her until the next breath contained the words, “Will you marry me?” I always asked her father permission before discussing matters of a more intimate or sensitive nature.
While I was in South Africa, we were never alone and our only physical interaction was when I took her by the hand and placed an engagement ring upon her finger. Even after our engagement, we have not had even the slightest display of physical affection – and we won’t until our wedding day.
I would ask a question: “Is God trustworthy?” In essence, our biggest issue is that we aren’t acquainted with the exceedingly grand worthiness of God Almighty. He is so profoundly worthy to be trusted with our lives, not because of what He can do for us, but because of who He is. When the Apostle John says “God is love,” we must remember that every drop of love – true love – flows from God, back to God, for the glory of God. If you long for an exquisitely beautiful love story, you must become a yielded vessel. God is worthy of trust irregardless of whether He writes a love story for us or not. If He calls you to live a life of singleness, you must trust that your life will be filled with rich joy and delight. Further, if He does have a love story for you, can you trust that He knows the script the best? He knows when the right actors need to enter the stage.
Oh, and speaking of stages, Elsje and I have used this sort of language to articulate our desire for this relationship. We don’t want to be actors in this drama of our love story, we would rather be the stage upon which the drama is performed. In essence, Jesus is the main character of this love story, and we simply become the stage whereby He shows off all of His trustworthiness, glory, goodness, and majesty! One of the defining quotes that shaped us at the very inception of this romance is by Jim Elliot: “Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me.” Thus, we call it being a “Decision Man.” We want every stage of our ever-sweetening love story to be a fork in the road for those we come into contact with. May our lives compel souls to surrender to the Lord Jesus. That is the secret, not just to a great love story, but to an extraordinary life! Each God-written love story is unique, but it must follow one very specific guideline: prove that God is worthy of trust! You can trust Him to lead the right young man to pursue you, at the right time, and in the most God-honoring fashion. You must remain patient, waiting upon God to provide, and believe me, waiting upon God is its own most glorious reward of deepest joy. As Elsje would say, “You cannot have complete joy without complete surrender.”*
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