Originally created 01/27/01

Group helps couples bridge the gaps



It took some talking for John Ellis to explain the importance of Thanksgiving, credit cards and gospel music to his German-born wife, Helga.

The couple's cultural perspectives are radically different - but they aren't alone.

Chaplain Ellis, an Army major stationed at Fort Gordon, leads a support group for interracial, intercultural and interfaith couples. Families, including older children and young teens, gather at 1:30 p.m. on first Sundays for a potluck at the Barnes Avenue Friendship Chapel on post. The group held its first event about a year and a half ago.

Chaplain Ellis is kicking off a second group at Wesley United Methodist Church, 825 N. Belair Road in Evans, the church his family attends. He will hold an organizational meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Scheduled events will start in May.

During the interim, the post group is open to interested couples who are married or engaged.

Post couples use a resource book, Mixed Matches: How To Create Successful Interracial, Interethnic, and Interfaith Relationships, by Joel Crohn. The book from Jossey-Bass Publishers lists for $13 in paperback.

The support group for mixed couples was an outgrowth of Chaplain Ellis' work in the military and his own marriage. He met his wife when he was stationed in Mannheim, Germany. The two were married about 2´ years ago.

In marriage, difficulties can arise over gender, educational background, personalities - anything. But when a husband and wife also differ in race, faith or culture, it is harder to find common ground in parenting and other areas, according to Dr. Crohn.

Relatives may not welcome someone of a different background.

Society presents still more obstacles. Someone made a derogatory remark about blacks to a woman in the post group and was surprised to hear that the woman was married to a black man, Chaplain Ellis said.

When children of a mixed marriage grow old enough to realize there is something different about them, they need an outlet to talk about their questions and experiences.

When Chaplain Ellis' 12-year-old stepdaughter put his picture up at school, "a kid wanted to know why she had that `N-' in her locker," he said.

The incident angered the child. The Ellises talked to the school, and the administration responded "beautifully," Chaplain Ellis said.

Their daughter also brought the incident up for discussion at the post group and found the other youngsters supportive. They had experienced similar confrontations.

The others also affirmed the way she had responded at school, Chaplain Ellis said. The couples group believes it is important, he said, "to address the issues of our children."

For more information, call 791-4321.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.