Mary Davis and Ben Crismon weren't thinking about romance, they were thinking about closing doors. Then the miles opened up between them and everything changed.
Mary and Ben Crismon have two children, Sallee and Shepherd, and are expecting a third in the spring. “Marriage — especially marriage with children — is a lot of work. You’re doing a lot of work together,” says Ben.
They were both raised in Methodist churches -- Mary in Hamburg and Ben in Little Rock -- and Ozark Mission Project camps were a regular part of their youth.
The first time I saw my future spouse:
She says: “It was at staff training in Conway. He was tall and I thought he would make a great director. He’s 6 foot, 5 inches and he has a presence about him that not many people do. He’s authoritative but he’s so kind — you can see that in his eyes. It’s a neat mixture for a human being.”
He says: “I thought she was strikingly beautiful, but it was one of those notions that she was really, really attractive and it didn’t even seem like an option for me to think about her romantically. I thought someone else was going to have a great time getting to date her. You know, you always think there’s always a guy who’s better than you are.”
On our wedding day:
She says: “The second Ben saw me he started bawling. I just remember thinking, ‘OK, this is the man I’m meant to be with.’”
He says: “When we took our first communion together as a married couple, my best friend was playing a song that he wrote for us on the piano. We were taking Holy Communion together and it was really that act of just uniting our hearts as one in marriage and then we were cementing ourselves in our Christian and our ministry journey as well.”
My advice for a happy marriage:
She says: “Always communicate your love for each other, especially in the way that they feel love. Go out of your way to show love and affection.”
He says: “You have to find someone you’re not only in love with and would love spending time with but also someone who can truly be your partner. Marriage — especially marriage with children — is a lot of work. You’re doing a lot of work together. Finding someone you work well with — that kind of partnership is vital.”
Ben joined the Ozark Mission Project summer staff while he was enrolled at Centenary College in Shreveport and later became a camp director, which is what he was doing when Mary got a job with the summer staff in 2007. She was then a freshman at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.
"We worked together at several camps that summer with no romantic interest at the time, just serving together and having fun at the camps and continuing to grow in who we were as children of God and as missionaries and servants," says Ben.
They bonded during "door dates" at camps in West Memphis, the first camps they worked in together.
"We were repairing doors and porches," Ben explains. "At a lot of older homes those doors get out of plumb and it takes a lot of work to make them close and lock securely, and so we spent a lot of time together in pretty close quarters working on those doors trying to make sure they were safe and secure."
Staff meetings often started before dawn, and she needed his help throughout the days.
"If I was working with a group of kids that needed help I would call Ben. Like I would say, 'Hey, I'm not strong enough to lift this lumber, I need you to come help me,'" she says. "We planned worship together, we helped the kids together and we also had staff meetings late at night so we were usually together from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m."
At the end of the summer they headed home, Mary to Hamburg and Ben to Little Rock, for a few weeks off before their classes resumed. But even though the camp routine stopped, the calls continued.
"He would call or text me and ask how camp was going and I would just think, 'Oh, he's just being a nice director guy,'" she says.
Maybe he was.
"It started off just being kind and trying to stay in contact," says Ben.
Ben didn't have air conditioning in his truck, and to keep the road noise low enough to have a phone conversation while he was driving he had to keep the windows rolled up. It was summertime in Arkansas, so naturally he kept most calls short.
"I called Mary to see how her last camp had gone and we ended up talking," he adds. But instead of the five-minute conversations he had with every other staff member, they talked for 25 minutes, and then for 45 minutes and then for an hour and a half. "I was sweating profusely that whole time but I didn't care because I was having so much fun talking with her and I was like, 'There is something here that I want to continue.' I knew that if I was willing to drive for an hour and a half in a 100-degree car that I wanted to continue talking to her."
Mary planned a trip to Little Rock to shop for school supplies and invited Ben to run errands with her -- Target, Kinko's and lunch. She even helped him with some planning for his parents' 35th wedding anniversary.
"It was kind of date-esque," says Ben.
The next week, the week before classes resumed, they went -- separately, with their own friends -- to the beach.
Ben was at Dauphin Island, and Mary was at Gulf Shores, both in Alabama. They talked on the phone, though, and that's when things became more official.
"One night Ben said, 'I'm kind of considering you my girlfriend. I really like you ... so what do you think about that?'" she says.
That was the beginning of a long-distance romance. Ben visited Mary on his way to Little Rock from Shreveport; she would take day-trips to see him at Centenary; they would meet halfway, in Hope. They strolled through the aisles of Wal-Mart in that little town, where they bought lemon sorbet to eat in the parking lot, and lingered over Mexican food at Dos Los Gringos.
Ben proposed to Mary the following summer while they were at Dauphin Island with his family.
They were married on June 14, 2009, in the glass chapel at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs.
Ben is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Benton; Mary is the children's minister there. They have two children -- Sallee, 3, and Shepherd, 13 months -- and are expecting a third child in the spring.
They can't know if their paths might have crossed even without their service through Ozark Mission Project, but that program remains near and dear to them. Ben is on the board of directors, and Mary serves on the steering committee.
"It's kind of one of those God things," says Mary, "where God put us in the right place at the right time."
If you have an interesting how-we-met story or if you know someone who does, please call (501) 425-7228 or email:
High Profile on 12/18/2016
Print Headline: Couple's mission work opened door to romance