Workaholic Learns from Mistakes

By Chris Lawrence

Before a hectic workday, Subesh Ramjattan pondered on the porch of his ritzy home near Miami. After yet another restless night, the aggressive businessman from Trinidad sought the solace of a Christian devotional.

"God, show me where your cause needs me most," he prayed.

At the time, Subesh owned 7 different businesses -- 3 in Miami and 4 in Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost island nation in the Caribbean Sea. He worked 15-hour days just to keep up with the demands. The stress was so severe that he couldn't sleep at night without medication.

Subesh was a Christian, albeit young in the faith. Only 3 months earlier, he had committed his life to follow God at a church in Miami. Soon after, he attended a 12-week salvation class, getting a clear understanding of the decision he had made.

That morning on his porch, Subesh desired to live a life bigger than himself, to join God where He was working. It was a theme he continues to pray, even today.

Yet his past weighed heavily on him. Earlier that year, he and his wife of 12 years, Phyllis, divorced, leaving 2 children in the wake. That was before Subesh met Jesus, but the wounds were still very fresh -- for the whole family. His relationship with his daughter, Michelle, was severed and remained that way for 5 years.

Several factors contributed to the divorce, says Subesh. Though he wasn't an alcoholic, he drank a lot. He worked too much, and thought that as long as he provided lavishly for his family, he was a good husband and father.

"I pretended that everything was well," he says.

But there was unfaithfulness in the marriage, and it ended painfully and bitterly.

He couldn't undo the past, but through his new faith, Subesh was changing. He stopped drinking, and though he still worked hard, he regularly attended church and Bible studies. He wanted to make money not just to get rich, but so he could give to Christian ministries.

Yet he yearned for more -- to do big things for God. Subesh continued to pray.

In January 1993, Subesh moved back home to Trinidad, and one year later he met Debbie, the daughter of a business associate. A native Trinidadian, she had recently returned from Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Australian Embassy. She was 8 years his junior, beautiful and independent. Best of all, she was a Christian.

They began dating, and the relationship blossomed. The 2 often prayed to God, asking whether they should be together or not.

After 6 months together, in the shade of a coconut tree on the beach, Subesh asked Debbie to be his wife. They married on December 25, 1994 -- celebrating their marriage along with the birth of the Savior.

It was a new beginning for Subesh. He relished having a Christian wife. They even took a trip to Israel to be baptized in the Jordan River.

Yet within a year, problems began to surface in their relationship. Subesh let his work consume him -- old patterns die hard. He began to struggle financially, but kept it from Debbie. 

When Subesh's son, Nigel, visited he served as a reminder of Subesh's past marriage. Debbie had never been married before, and when she tried to help Subesh with parenting, he rejected her advice.

When Subesh and Debbie thought about having kids of their own, they discovered a harsh reality: Debbie wasn't able to have children. The disappointment of it further alienated her from Subesh.

That same year, Subesh charted out his 7 businesses on a piece of paper, following the words from Habakkuk 2:2: "Write the vision; make it plain" (English Standard Version). He sensed the need to simplify. So he sold his businesses in Miami and Trinidad, except for one: The House of Marketing, a lumber and materials business that he started when he was 23.

Though Subesh got his work life in order, his second marriage was falling apart. The tension neared a boiling point.

One night, Subesh's son borrowed Debbie's car and damaged it. The incident started an argument that ended with Debbie giving her wedding ring back to Subesh, packing and leaving.

Subesh cried the tears of a defeated man. Despite his intentions to serve God fully, it seemed more likely that he was destined to repeat the past and face another doomed marriage.

Debbie moved back to her mother's house, but changed her mind and returned to Subesh a few days later. They agreed to talk things through.

Not too long after, Debbie and Subesh met up with their friends Steve and Cecil Mohammed, who are staff members with Campus Crusade for Christ in Trinidad.

Transparent about his struggles, Subesh told the Mohammeds about his and Debbie's problems. The Mohammeds taught them several marriage principles from FamilyLife, a marriage and family subsidiary of Campus Crusade. One principle they especially stressed was that "your spouse is a gift from God."

"That blew my mind," says Subesh.

He realized Debbie wasn't just the woman he married; she was heaven-sent. Prioritizing his role as a husband and father, Subesh realized, was a key part of God's plan for his life.

"When you have a gift, you cherish it," he says. "By cherishing her, I am sensitive to her needs." 

They also attended a FamilyLife conference.

Armed with a fresh perspective for their marriage and their life, Subesh and Debbie began to work through their problems. And as they've made progress, they pass on their wisdom to others. 

The Ramjattans have been speakers at several FamilyLife conferences, freely discussing their marriage struggles and victories. They also lead Bible studies designed to strengthen marriages.

On a Friday night, Subesh and Debbie face several couples in a circle on the veranda of a stylish home. Seven cars are parked in a garage, and soothing jazz music hangs in the humid air.

Some of the couples are making headway in their marriages; others are struggling.

"I haven't felt my relationship with my wife was right for many years," says a renowned doctor in Trinidad.

His wife refuses to come to the group. At the end, Subesh and the others pray for him.

Subesh and Debbie's marriage is also a work in progress.

"They are very real people and are not afraid to show their struggles," says Cheryl Mohammed, a 35-year-old corporate worker and mother, whom the Ramjattans coached regarding marriage.

Some tensions continue in Subesh and Debbie's relationship, including a difference of work styles.

"I want to cook in 10 pots at the same time," says Subesh, 55. "She wants to cook in one and finish it."

Debbie would prefer he slow down.

"My biggest struggle with Subesh right now," says Debbie, 47, "is that his time is for everybody and anything else except his health."

They continually work through such things -- the reality of relationship. And Subesh has also worked hard to restore the broken pieces of his past. But with a solid, growing marriage as his anchor, Subesh continues to dream big, looking for the causes where God wants to use him.

In 1998, he built a large Christian facility in the hills of Saint Augustine in Trinidad. The center showcases a large building to host Christian events, including FamilyLife activities. And in 1998, Subesh founded a children's home called Bridges of Hope. Currently there are 32 children at the 5-acre center.

"The heart of God is family," says Subesh, about a core truth he has learned. "That is why He would look after those who are widowed and orphaned."

Instead of Subesh doing this venture alone, he and Debbie are doing it together. They lead the board of directors, and visit the home twice a week.

On a Wednesday afternoon, the Ramjattans sit at a table in the spacious kitchen of the children's home. The 2 wear bright colored T-shirts with the Bridge of Hope emblem.

"Uncle Subesh, look at me," says a young resident named Leo as he cartwheels across the kitchen, his tiny frame bending in graceful arcs.

"Hey, that's pretty good," says Subesh.

Subesh has discovered that his and Debbie's marriage is a model to these kids -- many whose concept of family is shattered. Every time they visit the home, Subesh and Debbie are consumed by activity.

Standing in the kitchen, in the midst of the busyness, Subesh puts his arm on Debbie's shoulder and smiles at her as if to say, You matter to me.

Subesh has learned to value his family. That is where doing great things for God begins.