Saturday, May 30, 2015

… which we do. I shower at 6 am, and when I come out, there are already lots of us moving around the house, getting ready for the Big Day. It’s a real privilege to be able to see a wedding while we’re here.

John, the groom, is Timothy’s younger brother. He’s a graduate of Central Africa Baptist College in Kitwe, Zambia, headed up by Phil Hunt, a Northland grad. I took a team there in 2010 and taught for a month; it’s an excellent school, conferring master’s degrees that compare well with the American equivalents, which is, frankly, relatively rare in the developing world. It appears that the future of indigenous African conservative Christianity, or at least the Baptist strand of it, will be heavily influenced by CABC graduates. John arrived at CABC just after our team left and graduated just before the 2013 team arrived in Ghana, so my only contact with him has been here. But in 2013 we enjoyed swapping stories of students and faculty at CABC. Now he’s planting a church in northwest Wa, in what they call the Water Village, near the airport (which, as far as I can tell, has little to no flight activity). And today, he’s getting married.

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The team and Timothy and his family meet at the bus at 9. A bunch of the guys are there with their motorbikes, and Timothy’s vehicle is decorated for the bride and groom’s departure, in the wedding colors, purple and pink. We form a procession through town, with the motorbikes running ahead to block intersections, horns honking, and Timothy’s boys screaming out the bus windows all the way to church.

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John has asked me to take a small part in the ceremony, so I join the village pastors sitting in the “Amen corner” at the front left of the sanctuary, where the WABC students sat during the graduation last Saturday. There’s a Master of Ceremonies who narrates the whole thing; so as the bride is escorted down the aisle by her father, he says over the PA system, “Here comes the bride, with her father and her bridesmaids.” This is the first of many little touches that underscore the difference between what’s happening here and what we’re used to.

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This isn’t really an African wedding; the church here comes from a long tradition of conservative American independent Baptists (through Baptist Mid-Missions), so it’s more an American service with a few African touches. Even so, we’re the only white people there, with the exception of Cathy Bristol, the long-time nurse at the Samuel Seidu Clinic, who’s come over for the wedding.

The bride arrives at the front of the church, and she and her wedding party take seats on the right of the platform, facing the groom and best man. About 20 photographers crowd the stage, and the emcee tells them to squat so the congregation can see; “They didn’t come here to see you!” They oblige, but soon they’re standing again, and the warning is repeated. The third time, apparently the emcee gives up, and the photogs crowd around every aspect of the service for the remainder of the day.

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As the program dictates, I open the ceremony in prayer, and then we move fairly quickly through the giving of the bride, the pledges, and the vows—but with an interesting wrinkle: the crowd cheers every step in the process. “Her mother and I do.” Cheers, clapping, whistles, almost as though there was some doubt about whether they’d consent. Any impediments to your getting married? “No.” Cheers, whistles, loud clapping. Boy, that was a relief, apparently. Do you take this woman? “Yes.” Hoots, hollers, applause. He did it! Can you believe that?! And on it goes.

Following the exchanges of rings and pronouncement, I give the prayer of dedication. The program says all the pastors are supposed to participate, but Timothy calls just me up, and they stay put, so I offer the prayer and then sit down, relieved that my opportunity to throw a monkey wrench into the works has passed without incident.

Then there’s essentially a complete church service, with the bride and groom now seated together on stage right. Scripture reading (1Cor 13) in English and Waali; special music; and a sermon on the passage from a Baptist pastor from Techiman, one of the largest towns between here and Accra. The bride, groom, and pastor then exit backstage to sign the documents, and the congregation waits quietly for about an hour while several women set up for the reception—mostly putting together a head table (what Timothy calls the “high table”) on the platform and arranging several bottles of sparkling grape juice on it. There’s some choir and other vocal music for most of the time, but even with that, it seems like it takes much longer than is necessary for the amount of work they need to get done. It’s very hot in the sanctuary, and girls are circulating with trays of sachets for any who want one.

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Finally the bride and groom re-enter, and the wedding party takes a seat on the platform. To my surprise, Timothy motions me to a seat there; apparently I’m now a member of the wedding party.

The program for the reception is as formal as that for the ceremony itself. There is a “chairman,” the chief of one of the villages and a highly respected public citizen, who offers remarks, followed by several songs by church members. The bride and groom cut the cake, and then, to my surprise, return to the table without eating it. Several of the village pastors pop the corks on the bottles of sparkling water and pour it into flutes on the table. The best man proposes a toast, and we all drink. Soon small pieces of the cake appear on the table, and then large plates of food. I’m seated at the end, between the groom’s aunt, standing in for his late mother, and the bride’s employer. (The bride is a nurse at the local hospital.) The chairman gives closing remarks; the groom’s oldest brother, Daniel, thanks everybody who played a part; a pastor closes in prayer; and all of us at the high table exit the center aisle in procession, leaving our food on the table.

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Outside there are photos—there’s an agenda for that too, with the emcee calling various groups to the gazebo to have their pictures taken with the bride and groom. After the team gets one (yes, we’re on the schedule), Timothy says he’s taking us to Mummy’s Kitchen—apparently he’s not sure the church social food prep techniques are, um, entirely compatible with our American digestive systems. So half of us jump into Timothy’s decorated car, and the other half into Daniel’s, and they drop us off at the restaurant before returning to their duties at the church.

It’ll be a while before Timothy can return, so we take our time. I order the guinea fowl again—it’s really good—and everybody else gets what they want as well. We’re tired; the service started around 9:30, and now it’s well after 2. But we get plenty at this late lunch, and we even get some Fan Ice—they have chocolate!—for dessert.

In time, Timothy returns, and we head for home, arriving about 4. We have a youth activity back at the church at 7, so several of us catch a quick 40 winks, even in the afternoon heat.

The last 2 Saturday nights, when our girls met with the church youth girls, were quite successful, and this week they’ve asked to have a co-ed get-together. There are about 40 of us, I suppose, to sing and to hear a Bible lesson by David, the group president (the same David who directs the choir). Then there’s a verse bee: about 12 kids stand in front and recite Bible verses in turn, dropping out when they can’t come up with one. The Ghanaian kids, um, clean our clock. It’s not even close.

I’m aware that these kids have been participating in this game since they were little children, and the format is new to us, so I’m fairly sure that the outcome is not an accurate picture of our relative Bible knowledge or even the amount of memorization we’ve done. But it’s another opportunity for our crew to be reminded that this is not about the Americans coming to Africa to help the poor benighted Africans. These believers are our spiritual equals, and without them what little ministry we’re doing here would be impossible. We’re partners, brothers and sisters bearing the yoke together for a few days. That’s as it should be.

Back to the house for a late supper, devotions, and a quick rehearsal for tomorrow’s special music. Long day, tiring one, but certainly worth it.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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