By Rob McDaniel
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — Every morning, Lee Bivins wakes up, heads downstairs to the kitchen and makes a cup of tea for his wife. He brings it to her in bed and then they pray together. It’s a tradition they’ve had for many years and serves as a clear example of how they’ve been married to each other for 58 years.
To put it simply, Lee and Sarah Bivins have made God a priority in their lives and in their relationship since day one.
While serving as the president of the Baptist Student Union at Clemson University in South Carolina, Lee met Sarah, whom was also serving as president of her Baptist Student Union at Coker College in Hartsville, S.C.
“He got out of a boat while I was sitting on the dock,” Sarah recalled. “I looked up at his profile and thought, ‘wow, this is the kind of man I want to marry.’”
Despite going to different colleges, Lee and Sarah began a relationship that would end up lasting the rest of their lives.
The couple began dating that year, which was also Lee’s senior year in college. After graduation, he went into the Army and was stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. He continued dating Sarah, although he wasn’t able to see her as often as they liked.
“I used to really look forward to Fridays, because Lee would come home for the weekend and I would get to see him,” Sarah said. “I didn’t like Sunday nights at all because he would have to go back.”
He served 23 months on active duty and six years as an active reservist.
On August 13, 1955 Lee and Sarah got married. During the early years of their marriage, Sarah taught as a substitute and learned to cook. Lee pursued his master’s degree in animal husbandry.
Eventually, the two felt that God had called them to be missionaries. This calling led them to seminary and then to Israel.
While working as missionaries in Israel, the couple worked on a farm and at a school with Kentucky native Bob Fields and his wife, Eddie.
During their time in Israel, the two took furloughs and traveled all over Europe. Sarah has been to about 54 different countries and her home is decorated in paintings from various places they visited. She excitedly recalled visiting the mountain where “The Sound of Music” was filmed, which she said is one of her favorite films.
“We were in Israel from 1961 to 1976,” Sarah said. “We went with a 9-month-old and came back with three girls who went to Rockcastle schools.”
After their missionary work was finished, their friend Bob Fields asked them to come to Kentucky to help build a retreat center.
Lee helped Fields build every home in the CleftRock Retreat Center in Rockcastle County and he did so without pay. In 1979 he finished building the home they live in now.
Lee continued construction work, doing residential and commercial construction while Sarah earned her doctorate of ministry in counseling at South East Baptist Theological Seminary at Wake Forest, S.C.
Lee and Sarah served in various Christian counselor positions at churches including First Baptist in Somerset, Baptist Student Union at Berea College and First Baptist Church in London before being asked to become directors at CleftRock in 1989.
During their time at CleftRock, the retreat was hosting a group of Baptist leaders from Kentucky when they were asked by the group’s leader, Benton Williams to go to Saint Petersburg, Russia to help coordinate a Kentucky/Russian Baptist partnership.
They served in Saint Petersburg from 1994-1997 and then came home to CleftRock Retreat.
They credit their long and eventful relationship to God.
“When we got married, we made a covenant before God and man, and that’s something we have always taken very seriously,” Lee said. “We learned the importance of communication and constructive handling of conflict. We tell each other how we feel and we talk. We made a commitment to the growth of our relationship and to God.”
They also promised each other they would never physically or verbally attack each other, they would not be defensive and would not use negative communications or place blame on one another.
They now enjoy spending their days together, visiting their loved ones and continuing to serve God in any capacity they can.