Monday, February 28, 2005

Love, West African Style!

I need to catch you up on a wonderful experience I had over two weeks ago, before the VIM team arrived. On Saturday, February 12, I had the pleasure of experiencing a Cameroonian wedding of one of my pastors, Simeon Nomo.

First, let me try to explain the marriage situation in Cameroon. There are three kinds of weddings, or ceremonies, that unite a man and woman. Simeon and his wife, Therese, have actually been legally married for six years. They have even have two young children! This was strictly a civil ceremony.

Simeon could not have a church wedding until he had fulfilled the traditional requirements of the family. The sequence of events is fascinating; first, the groom must enter the family house of the prospective bride. He must use extremely figurative language; for example, he might say, “You have a flower in your garden that I would like to pick.” The authorized spokesperson of the bride’s family, often the father, replies negatively or affirmatively, then calls the bride to ask her wishes. If she agrees, then the father makes a list of things – a dowry -- that are required for the groom to collect his bride.

This list can be downright intimidating! It includes a traditional bottle of whiskey, as well as all of the refreshments and banquet foods for the wedding feast. It may also include livestock. In Simeon’s case, he had to provide five live pigs! All in all, it is a very expensive proposition. My pastors inform me that this is one of the reasons that young people have children out of wedlock, and refrain from being married – they simply don’t have enough money to do it the traditional way!

A few months ago, Simeon had determined that he had saved enough money to finally take Therese as his very own. So he informed the family that he had collected the dowry, and he began planning for his church wedding.

I felt extremely honored to be chosen to preach at Simeon and Therese’s wedding, but was even more privileged to witness a truly joyful event! I can’t even begin to describe what it was like … but let me say that it made me happy, happy to be alive, happy to be married, happy to have children!

The bride and groom entered to much fanfare, with silly spray and confetti. And much of the service was taken up with singing and dancing. During the singing, people would come up to the married couple, who were seated on a couch at the front, and dance around them, one-by-one, in a show of respect and honor.

(I hate preaching at these kinds of events, because I feel like I slow down the momentum. So I make sure I keep it very short, then let the show go on!)

At each stage in the ceremony, including the rings, the vows, and the kiss, there was whooping and hollering all over the sanctuary!

Toward the end, the congregation took up a special love offering for the couple. As Simeon and Therese stood at the front with a basket, people lined up to bring them gifts. One person brought a live chicken, dangled it over Simeon’s head, and danced around him!

After the service, the married couple were driven a few hundred yards from the church to their home, where they were made to dance in the street under a blazing hot sun for another half hour or so.

It didn’t end there, either. The real party didn’t start until late that night, at a nearby hall, where people partied late into the night. I had to take Leah and the girls home before the reception, but it was one of the most fun experiences we’ve had in Cameroon.

It’s also going to permanently distort my perspective on weddings! I can’t tell you how many dull, lifeless, and deadly serious wedding services I’ve been privy to. In fact, I’ve probably contributed to the seriousness!

Marriage should be taken seriously, yes, but weddings ought to be uproariously fun, silly, and giddy with excitement! Just like in Cameroon!