Uprooted couple works at ministry

The couple celebrates their 24th wedding anniversary the end of this month.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Living Example Ministries Inc. is a testament to Valerie and Stan Cosper's Christian way of life and marital commitment. It's also the name of their premarital and marital counseling service they started in August 2004.
Though they are geographically separated because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, they remain united in love and their ministry.
She is living in Liberty Township while her husband is in New Orleans, where he is a lieutenant in the Department of Public Safety at Tulane University. He is formerly of Youngstown and has family here.
The two will mark their 24th wedding anniversary Feb. 27. In spite of the circumstances, "We've never been happier," Mrs. Cosper said. She will visit her husband in New Orleans to celebrate their anniversary and his birthday March 7.
Despite being uprooted, Mrs. Cosper said she and her husband wanted to continue their ministry. So, she established an office for the ministry in the National City Building, 16 Wick Ave., Suite 608.
The Cospers founded Living Example Ministries to "teach believers how to use Jesus' teachings and examples to pattern our lives after and to live victoriously."
First and foremost, Mrs. Cosper said in an interview at her Youngstown office, "We work from the premise that marriage is a covenant blessed by God.
"It was bothersome to us that so many marriages were ending in divorce and couples were living in the same house but unhappy," she said.
What's needed
In a phone interview from New Orleans, her husband said, "All these divorces and separations are not part of God's plan. The divorce rate is too high and among ministers it's embarrassing ... and an insult to God."
"We think we can make a difference to families," she said. "There are positive ways to change if people make an effort."
For those planning to marry, Mrs. Cosper said premarital counseling is invaluable. "They may be caught up in planning the wedding and reception. That's one day. They may not be realistic about what comes after," she said.
In fact, an excerpt from one of their brochures notes that "most couples spend more time planning and discussing their one-day wedding than their lifetime together."
"Immaturity is a big problem. Individuals are too selfish," Cosper said. "Put God first in your life ... and put your spouse first in your relationship."
Counseling, Mrs. Cosper said, helps couples discuss important issues and come to terms with expectations. The Prepare-Enrich program used by the Cospers targets issues specific to premarital couples, premarital couples with children, cohabitating couples with or without children, married couples with or without children and couples age 50 and older.
'Hot spots'
Potential "hot spots" for couples are communication, conflict resolution, personally issues, finances, sexual expectations, marital satisfaction, leisure activities, children and parenting, family and friends, cohabitation, idealistic distortion, role relationship and spiritual beliefs.
"These areas tend to be deal breakers. If you can't be in agreement, the marriage won't work," she said.
The husband and wife don't have to be carbon copies of each other; but thinking you'll change the other person once you're married is unrealistic.
"Starting out as friends first helps build your relationship," Cosper said. "Putting the other person first will make your relationship flourish and blossom. There has to be give-and-take in an honest manner. Deal with your spouse in a Christ-like way."
"Couples have to actively work at their marriage to be happy and fulfilled," Mrs. Cosper said. Attending a workshop or retreat can help couples reconnect and also learn how to better communicate with each another, she added.
"Follow the 'old school' idea that you married for life," Cosper said. "Man and the government have made it too easy to divorce. People give up too easily when things get hard."
The couple had served as marriage mentors for Families First, a program operated by Total Community Action Inc. in New Orleans. The nonprofit group worked with single people and couples to foster stable family relationships. The Cospers also are trained as premarital and marital enrichment counselors with the Prepare-Enrich national program.
A licensed and ordained minister, Mrs. Cosper was an associate minister at First United Baptist Church, New Orleans, where her husband is a deacon. The church was damaged and the congregation is deciding what to do, she said.
Mrs. Cosper has a bachelor's degree in communications from Loyola University and also attended Tulane. She left her job as a training officer with the State Juvenile Probation and Parole Office for the Orleans and Jefferson region to be a full-time minister and counselor.
Her husband graduated with a bachelor's in criminal justice from Tulane and is studying for a master's degree in urban ministry at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Cospers also have a book, "For Better or Worse, Are You Ready for Marriage?" It's available at some local bookstores. When marital workshops or retreats are scheduled, Cosper will join his wife in Youngstown.
Contact Living Example Ministries Inc. at (330) 747-3412; by e-mail to contactus@living-example.net; or visit the Web site at www.successinmarriage.com.