Can you imagine if you were the first in your family or in your town to buck tradition and do things a new way? I'm talking about things that just aren't negotiable. That would take a certain amount of courage and bravery, don't you think? You would really need to be convicted that what you are doing is right and that it is something that God would want you to do.
Recently we attended a wedding that was the first Christian wedding to take place in that area. There are other Christian marriages, but the couples were either not Christians when they married or they were married outside that area. To make things even more interesting, the bride and groom had never even seen a Christian wedding. It's possible the groom had seen a western-style wedding on TV or video as he has done a fair bit of traveling. But keep in mind that their village doesn't even have electricity so they have seen little TV in their lives.
So how do you do a Christian marriage that is definitely Christian but is allowed to keep traditions that aren't contrary to the Word of God? I want you to know that this wedding took a great deal of advanced planning and council from different people as well as discussions with both the bride, the groom, and their families.
Here in Niger, at least in rural areas which is all I know about, the bride and groom don't show up to the marriage ceremony. There are usually two parts: the "tying of the book" in which the families agree that this couple are married and the bride price, etc. is agreed upon. Their uncles do this arrangement at the mosque while the women gather together at home waiting to hear the news that the marriage has been agreed to. The bride is sequestered in the back room of the house with her girlfriends. Who knows where the groom is? Then, usually later but sometimes the same day, the bride is brought to the groom's house. Again, the bride is sequestered and then is taken under cover to the groom's house. The friends and family celebrate, but the bride and groom are not in the middle of the celebrations!
So this was highly unusual to have the bride and groom come out in public.
The friends and family sat on mats and benches in the shade of a huge neem tree. All family and friends were invited. It was nice that it was outside so nobody felt excluded. We sang some songs while the bride and groom came to the gathering (can't really say "came in" since we were all outside; can't say "came down the aisle" because there wasn't one). The idea was for her parents and the representatives from his family to come in and then the bride and groom. But her entire extended family came in together. I really liked that because solidarity and community is extremely important here.Here in Niger, and especially in rural areas, engaged couples do not show displays of affection in public. So, the bride sat turned away from her groom and the groom sat with his head down to show respect and humbleness. None of this indicates that they don't like each other.
First, John gave an excellent message on marriage. He preached in French and it was translated into Songhai.Then the pastor from our church in Niamey had them stand up to exchange vows. He asked them the usual vows and also one that is done here in Niger....will you stay with each other even if there are no children? The culture here allows for divorce if the wife doesn't produce any children. During weddings brides and grooms are meant to look serious and not be silly to show the importance of the occasion. But the groom just couldn't keep the smile off his face.
The pastor and others who came from Niamey wanted the bride and groom to kiss, but we said that just isn't done in public here and it would be a highly uncomfortable situation for the bride and groom as well as for those watching. Even holding hands would cause some embarassment, but he did get them to do that. They also exchanged rings. We don't believe that the Bible says a couple needs to have rings, but the symbolism of never-ending love that is found in a ring is a good one. Look at the little girl on the ground behind them!
The pastor then blessed the couple and they knelt and the elders and pastors who were present laid their hands on them.
Because the bride is still very young, they will not live together for another year or two. As I mentioned above, this is not at all unusual here in Niger. The couple are married .... it's very much like Joseph and Mary in the Bible. They were married, but not living together at the time of Jesus' conception. Mary also was probably very young when her marriage to Joseph took place. (I love how the culture here makes the Bible come alive!)
Pulling this wedding together caused John a lot of stress for reasons I can't go into here. But in the end it was God-honoring and beautiful in its simplicity. Some young people from one of the churches were there....they also have never seen a Christian wedding, so we pray this will set the trend for many of them. Those who attended seemed to really enjoy and appreciate the wedding and I think it was a great testimony for Christ.
Here are a few more shots from the wedding day:Don't you love all the colors?