Tightly packed into the wooden pew, 11 of us squeezed in where 7 might seem uncomfortable in some cultures. Keenly aware of the aromas chosen by the people pressing against me, I sat and listened.
I cannot understand spoken Swahili. I know even less Kikuyu. My ability to communicate in the language of the Maasai is non-existent. I did, however, pass high school English awhile back. This combination of [in]abilities became clear to me as I attended my first Kenyan wedding Saturday.
I understood maybe 20% of what was said, and that was almost entirely thanks to the program, printed in English. A service performed in four languages will do that for you.
Despite the absence of verbal comprehension, I was amazed how clear the essential message came through, no translation required. In many ways it felt like a court case.
- the Prosecution: although mostly silent, they presented their impressive case simply through the state of marriage in the world today, the statistical unlikelihood of any well-meaning couple actual living out their vows until death
- the Defense: representing the sanctity of marriage and the entrance of these two individuals into holy matrimony
- the Judge: God, the author, protector, and sustainer of this sacred covenant
- the Jury: not only of their peers, but the entire community of faith in support of the nervous young couple
The couple came forward. Unspoken charges were hurled, one after another; valid, difficult questions from the Prosecution. “Why should these two be allowed to marry? Why even bother with this antiquated status update? What if they aren’t happy? What if they get bored? What if this is just a big, expensive mistake? Who in their right mind will support them? Are there any who would care enough to hold them accountable to the vows they are making? How can their marriage expect to survive in this day and age?”
In response, the Defense boldly answered each charge, calling witnesses to the stand and testify. Each testimony built on the previous one, each sworn statement providing yet another layer of affirmation and pledged accountability.
- Both sets of parents came forward, surrounding their children, affirming the decision and commitments being made.
- Visiting pastors and elders rose to introduce themselves (there were at least 12), announcing their presence as stewards of the covenant, heralds of the Word that calls for faithfulness.
- The local church pastor and visiting bishop pointed their confession to the Author himself - laying hands on the bride and groom as they knelt before the congregation, acknowledging in prayer the One who alone has the power to sustain them.
- Preaching from the Word, the minister provided evidence in support of this accord – drawing from Isaac and Rebekah’s story in Genesis (I think).
- Each of the three choirs came forward, lifting up the Name above all names, belting out exhortations to the couple, and testifying to the beauty of the eternal Covenant between Christ and His bride.
- Even the sheer length of the event served as a not-so-subtle witness in defense of marriage; THREE hours to do what an American wedding can plow through in half an hour tops.
- Possibly the Prosecution’s best opportunity came when the pastor asked the question concerning both the bride and groom, one at a time, waiting at least a full minute to see if anyone would speak out against either partner – silence followed.
- The Jury watched closely as the couple signed the marriage certificate in their presence, satisfying the legal requirements for their union.
- Finally, the couple was presented, awaiting the Jury’s decision. (I would say a hush fell over the crowd, but in truth, it was probably the loudest wedding I’ve ever been to) The applause and celebration in response confirmed the verdict in favor of marriage.
It was easy to get caught up in the excitement, the cultural differences, the loud music, and the food and dancing that followed. But I couldn’t help hearing the faint voice of the wounded Prosecution still threatening, “This isn’t over.”
And it isn’t over. The first day is easy. Everyone’s happy, everyone looks great, the honeymoon stage has begun, the couple really likes each other. But marriage is hard work, a commitment to someone for life, a covenant requiring 100% from each party, unconditionally.
And that is why the Prosecution is so successful, why their record only improves as time goes on. African or American, it doesn’t matter. They are relentless in their pursuit of discouraging couples, sewing seeds of selfishness and discontentment. They are all too happy to help accountable members of the Defense and Jury to forget, to feel uncomfortable, to avoid tough conversations and ‘mind their own business’ when they see the marriage falling apart.
We don’t want to call sin for what it is. We don’t want to call to account those who are tempted to toss aside their commitment before God. But we must.
Pray for Janet and Nehemiah. Please pray for Courtney and I, pray for your parents’ marriage, for your own, for your friends’. Please pray for all of our marriages to lean on His all-sufficient grace.
We are in desperate need because, in this court case, the Prosecution never rests.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ ” 2 Corinthians 12:9