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Monday, July 21, 2008

The Wonderful Wedding

Uchenna and Ephraim are two young Nigerians who are seeking to make a life for themselves here in Stockholm. They both attended our church and joined our praise team. Unbeknown to us, they had begun a relationship and one day last year they asked to meet with Doug. Doug came home and said, Uche and Ephraim want to get married! We couldn't believe it and after months of preparation the big event took place on Saturday, 19 July, 2008. Their wedding is clearly one of the most wonderful events in my ministry career. We got to experience first hand what is involved when someone says, "It takes a village." In this case, it took our entire congregation, especially those involved in our African Ministry where Uche and Ephraim are also greatly involved. What a thrill it was to see how people stepped forward to volunteer their time, their talents and their treasure to make this a truly memorable day for all involved, but especially the bride and groom. Uche's parents arrived from Nigeria on Friday afternoon, just hours before the rehearsal. Sadly, Ephraim's parents couldn't make the trip so another Nigerian couple from our congregation stepped in to act his parents. The wedding party included children with titles like The Little Bride, the Golden Girl and the Page boy. A ringbearer was also present. After much confusion we established that the little bride and the page boy didn't really do anything except look adorable, which they did, and the Golden girl's function is like the western flower girl. We had our concerns about when the actual events would begin since time is a fluid concept in Nigerian culture. In the end, the rehearsal started only an hour late, and remarkable, the wedding began just a half hour after the scheduled time. The service was beautiful. It was mostly a western type wedding with the bride and groom dressed in western bridal attire. The groomsmen and bridesmaids wore suits and dresses much as you would see in America. The parents were dressed in traditional Nigerian wear. And many of the African guests wore traditional clothing from their homeland. Doug and I wore high occasion clergy wear for the service. We rarely wear this attire and many from our congregation were excited about seeing us in something so different. The service was great and filled with some Nigerian touches. In spite of asking people not to take pictures during the ceremony, photographers abounded. After every amen uttered by us, the congregation echoed the same. When Doug pronounced them husband and wife loud cheers of hallelujah and hurray went up. The recessional music was a classic Nigerian song accompanied only by drums. The couple danced their way out of the church followed by everyone else in the wedding party, also dancing their way down the aisle. The couple could barely get out of the church because the center aisle had filled in with well-wishers and amateur photographers. It was a joyful celebration. The reception was held at church and a large group of volunteers had worked and worked to ensure that the the place looked lovely. One friend made the cake, another arranged for people to bring traditional Nigerian food which is a lot of rice, chicken, fish and other interesting food products. The food team hauled in enough food and drink for close to 400 people! People from our African ministry comprised the band and the music was loud enough to be heard in Nigeria! Doug and I had been asked to wear traditional Nigerian clothing during the reception. At one time the Nigerian ambassador was a member of our church and he had graciously gifted us with such attire. So, we decided, why not. We never get to wear these beautiful things so we went home and changed. When we arrived back to the party dressed like Nigerians, the place went up for grabs! The cameras came out and we basically did a photo shoot for about 5 minutes while everyone marveled at the sight of their pastors dressed the traditional dress of Nigeria. One of the women helped me with the head piece and all in all, we felt very special. Pastors are treated quite well in most African cultures and we really were special guests all day. The reception had many elements that any American wedding would have with just a few twists! Christians in Nigeria are passionate about their faith and often feel a need to include a spiritual aspect to everything they do. So often before anyone spoke, they would simply say, Praise the Lord. And then the whole crowd would answer back, Hallelujah! When the couple cut the cake, 3 observers were chosen to ensure that it was done properly. The crowd spelled out the name of Jesus and on the final "s" the couple carefully sliced the cake together. When the toast was given, as we raised our glasses, the host uttered, "In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." As the couple danced their first dance, people stepped forward and threw dollar bills at them. (I later learned that in Nigeria they use Nigerian currency. Here in Sweden, they used American dollars as the smallest bill in Swedish currency is worth more than $3.00 and so it would've been quite costly to rain 20 crown bills down on the couple.) The parents participate in a special "gift procession" where they lead a train of people bearing gifts toward the couple. And everyone dances and dances and dances to the beat of conga drums. It was such a happy time. Uchenna and Ephraim, surrounded by their beloved family members, and their caring church family, celebrating a day that they had planned for for many, many months. I left content and filled. To experience the community aspect of such a day was so wonderful. The see how the "entire village" pulled together to create such a unique experience for Uche and Ephraim was pure gift. It is also tradition for the couple to attend church the next morning and Uche and Ephraim were there, dressed alike in the most magnificent Nigerian green clothing. The first time as husband and wife, dressed in matching attire. It was splendid seeing them together. We wish them well and look forward to their continuing involvement in the life of our church.