Who am I?

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Monrovia, Liberia
I live in Monrovia, Liberia, West Africa with my wife and youngest son. We are recently arrived in Liberia where we are serving as missionaries with Evangelical Church Missions working under the Liberia Evangelical Mission. For most of the last thirty years we have served under ECM in Bolivia, South America. We are the happy parents of four children and the proud grandparents of two grandchildren.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Wedding Bells (Again)

I know that I like to write about weddings and have done so in the past. But weddings are such an important part of life and have the full approval and blessing of God (A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.), that I hate to overlook them. December is a big month for weddings in Liberia.  We recently were invited to attend the wedding of Alphanso and Nicketta, a young couple from the Mt. Zion Church.

The wedding was held in Virginia (a community on the outskirts of Monrovia) at the home of the bride's father. The sun was quite hot but we were given seats on the porch where we could both see and enjoy the wedding from a bit of shade.

The wedding was a mixture of a traditional Liberian wedding and a religious or Christian or Western marriage. The traditional part of the wedding began with both families sitting down (minus the bridal couple) together to hammer out the details of the marriage. While in reality these details  were already determined the wedding proceeded in the form of an impromptu drama. The uncle of the groom taking the role that Alphanso's deceased father would have played, announced that they were just passing by and happened to see something going on. . . . From there the conversation eventually wound around to the point of asking for Nicketta to become Alphonso's wife. The bride's family responded by asking about which Nicketta were they talking as they had several Nickettas. The first had to be brought from another country so the groom's family needed to pay for the expenses of bringing her. After money was exchanged Nicketta arrived on the scene covered with three or four layers of cloth on her head. As each cloth was taken off to reveal the young woman, the groom's family was expected to shell out money for each layer removed. Finally when her face was revealed it was the wrong Nicketta and she had to be sent back, which, of course, incurred more expense for the groom's family. Two more Nickettas were produced in like fashion and each one rejected but not without various payments from the other family. Finally the one true Nicketta was fetched and, after being uncovered, she consented to become the bride. Then the groom's family presented gifts of clothing to the bride's family and eventually the deal was sealed, all done with warm laughter and good feelings.

Next came the church part of the ceremony where the preacher gave a short message and then vows were exchanged. I was asked to participate in this part by giving the blessing of the rings. So the couple was married, food was served and general merriment broke out.

But this wedding represents what is a real challenge for the church in Liberia including the Liberia Evangelical Mission. Sexual immorality is rampant both in and outside of the church. Liberian men and women freely move in with each other, have babies, move out and on to another relationship with alarming frequency and seemingly without shame nor concern for the consequences. I have been told that it was not always so but that during the civil war years the moral fiber of the country was so destroyed that the current situation is the result.

Not only is there the challenge of sexual immorality but also the question of what constitutes a valid marriage. There appear to be four options in Liberia, as far as I am learning. One is to simply move in together. From the church's point of view that is not valid. I concur with that position. There is no document, no family agreement, no visible sign of commitment. The second and third options are traditional weddings, the difference being that in one case there is family agreement but no legal document. LEM has decided against recognizing that form. The third option is the traditional wedding but with a government issued and recognized document (much like a marriage license). LEM recognizes this option but with one stipulation: Both forms of traditional wedding allow the man to take additional wives. Needless to say, the church does not recognize that "right." The fourth option is the legally binding church wedding.

Another issue not yet fully answered by LEM is the question of the new convert who has multiple wives. While legal, it is not endorsed by Scripture, and the question is how to handle this situation. There is a consensus that a man under these conditions cannot take on any more wives but what is he to do with the "extra" wives and children that he already has? Several different approaches have been used in Africa across the years, perhaps none of them truly satisfactory, ranging between full acceptance of the all the wives to restricting the man to the first and requiring him to send the other wives away. Please pray with us as we come to a common understanding of the position that LEM needs to have on this very important issue.

In the meantime, I thank God for Alphanso and Nicketta and others like them who are taking the steps to regularize their situations before God, the church, the government and each other and their families. And I pray for lots of wisdom for LEM and its pastors as they grapple with these issues in the days to come.