Shepherd’s Staff missionary, Julianne Heilman, ponders the relationship between Ugandan culture and the realty of Christ’s love. In this narrative, Julianne reveals to us the costliness of marriage in Ughanda and how it displays the generosity of God the Father.
Saturday was a joyous celebration for the congregation of Calvary Chapel Entebbe. We had our first Mass Wedding service. Nine couples were officially and legally joined in marriage. That entire day is a testimony to the Lord’s faithfulness in answering prayer and providing for those who are seeking to do His will in His way.
In Uganda, the marriage process has become a bit difficult and challenging for couples that wish to be together and have a family. The cultural expectations can be very demanding and expensive for a couple to make their marriage official. This culture puts a heavy load on young men who wish to take a bride. They are required to pay a bride price, or dowry, before they are able to marry. The woman’s father and his tribal brothers set the price. They can set any price and the man is expected to buy his bride at whatever price they set for her. The price is not usually in monetary form. It typically consists of cows, goats, traditional gowns, suits, and various food items. Some dowries have included cars, television sets, and other expensive items. Some dowries can be equivalent to 3000 USD. These items are distributed amongst the tribal leaders, or amongst the father and uncles of the woman. They have a special engagement ceremony, called a Kwanjala (which means “introduction”), where the man presents the family with the dowry and participates in many other traditional rituals to symbolize the joining of the two families.
This may sound strange to the modern world, but it is a beautiful picture of a man showing how much he loves this woman. It also shows his ability to work hard and provide for a family. As he works to provide the bride price, he is displaying his capability to care for her and provide for her as his wife. It also portrays the love of Christ for the Church and how He came and paid the ultimate price for His Bride. And we are to love the way that Christ loves us. Love requires sacrifice. It should demand something from us.
But the part that makes this challenging is that if the man fails to pay the bride price, the woman’s family will not write a letter of consent for their marriage. And this letter, along with other documentation, is required by the government of Uganda in order to be legally married. Many couples who are unable to finish paying the bride price just decide to live together as if they were married. They remain faithful to each other and have a family together. Other couples complete the dowry, have a Kwanjala ceremony and gain the letter of consent. They do not have a wedding and fail to make the marriage legal. They consider the Kwanjala ceremony to be enough for them to live together and have a family. But before God, they have not made a binding covenant to be faithful to one another and remain with one until death.
At the beginning of this year, our pastor offered the couples of our church who were in this situation the opportunity to participate in a mass wedding ceremony for those who were ready to honor God in their relationships and put their house in order. We have gone through many trials and passed over many obstacles in order to make this wedding possible. And we can testify that God is faithful to provide for His people when they seek to live according to His Word. We had a beautiful sunny day for our outdoor wedding and everyone was blessed to be part of it. Each and every bride was beautiful and glowing. Many of them are mothers of several children and rarely have the opportunity to be the center of attention. Each one seemed to feel so special and joyful to have this opportunity to be a bride. It was an opportunity that they probably thought they would never have. It was so beautiful to watch them march down the aisle and be handed over to their husbands. It was so amazing to see the expressions of love and delight on their husbands’ faces as they met them that morning. It was so fun to celebrate with them as we ate and danced and laughed and rejoiced in the goodness of our God.
Our God is gracious and forgiving, always providing a second chance for us when we make mistakes and go out of His will and His way. Repentance begins with admitting our failure and asking for help. It ends with a joyous celebration in the goodness of our loving and forgiving God.
Each of the nine brides wore white, and though they were not physically pure in themselves, they are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. Their white dresses symbolized the complete cleansing and forgiveness gained through the blood of Christ. For us, it is never too late to repent, be cleansed, healed and set free from whatever sins we have committed and no matter how long ago they took place.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
1 John 1:9