A few weeks ago, in West Asia where I serve, a like-minded brother in Christ [who I will call Jim] invited me and some of my friends to a non-western wedding. I have been to dozens of marriage ceremonies before, but this one was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
My friends and I accepted the invitation with gratitude hoping it would be a great opportunity to show the love of Jesus. If we honored the families of the bride and groom by being great guests, maybe it would strengthen their relationship with our mutual friend Jim who has been a great witness to them.
But y’all, I never could have guessed what happened next.
Jim called me a couple of weeks before the wedding and said, “Hey Kelly, the bride just called me. She is having some dresses brought from her home country so that 8–10 women can wear them to the wedding. She wants to know if any of you want to dress in traditional garb.”
Wow! What an honor, I thought. It took another twenty minutes to make sure this was a real offer and not a cultural nicety. “I think the bride would really be honored if you accepted”, my friend said. That was all it took. “Okay, I accept”, I said confidently. No going back now.
After a short pause, my friend added, “Also, the bride wants to show some of her culture in the ceremony. So, the people in traditional dress will do a traditional dance in front of all the guests.”
The earth stopped. “Say what now”, I mouthed silently, imagining the horror of what I just committed to.
Well, for the next week, information came in slowly that certainly added to the hilarity of it all.
“Jim, did others in our friend group accept the offer to wear a traditional dress?”
“Well, when the bride called, there was only one female outfit left to fill”, he replied.
Awesome—I guess that means I will be the only Westerner in this dance troop.
“How will I get this dress?”
“You can come to the wedding in your own clothes, and then change into the traditional ones”, he replied.
“How will I know it fits me?”
All of a sudden, he looked uncomfortable.
“They did ask me for your size...”, he squirmed.
“And what did you tell them? You never asked me about my size.”
“Well, I have learned that in American culture, you never ask a woman her size...”
I couldn't fight him on that one.
“Yes, Jim, you are right, but this is for a specific outfit...what did you tell them?”
“I told them that you are like the bride's sister. What fits her should fit you.”
I have never met the bride or her family, but we'll just have to trust his assessment. During the following days, I can’t tell you how many times my mind drifted to scenes of me in an outfit either too big or too tight trying to keep up with acrobatic dance moves that I don't know.
The day before the wedding arrived. I was invited to the family’s home to pick up my outfit, practice the dance moves, and get henna tattoos. I met up with the mother of the bride, and with no common language, she simply took my hand in hers and we walked about 20 minutes to their home.
Upon arriving, I met some of the sisters. Looking anxiously for the sister whose measurements reflected my own. A sigh of relief came over me when I discovered her. Jim did a pretty good job. She and I were the same height and build.
The bride eventually joined us. Wow, I felt privileged. They presented me with a beautiful purple outfit. The top had tiny mirrors all over it and the pants were like something pulled straight out of Aladdin!
Let's do this.
They sent me to the next room to change. Sadly, it didn’t take very long before I was calling them for help. It was too small, and I was stuck. Standing with my arms above my head, I was arrested by the shirt that was stuck at my shoulders. I couldn’t get free. This gave all the sisters a mighty laugh. Yep, that really happened. Thankfully, another dress they brought fit perfectly.
Before I left, one of the sisters looked at me and smiled. When she noticed that we had a moment of privacy, she asked if I was a follower of the Son (Jesus).
“Yes, I am”, I smiled back.
She said, “I have really loved learning about the Son. But I am afraid of my family’s reaction. I can see the difference it is making in the life of our mutual friend Jim.”
“That's wonderful...Christ has changed everything about me too, and given me real and lasting joy”, I told her.
And there it was, a brief moment of gospel testimony, the prize that awkwardness paid for.
Father, please open her eyes. May she be the first of many in that family to come to you.
Well, after breakfast the next morning, I set off to the hair salon. It didn't matter how hard I tried to explain that I wanted my makeup light. All they heard was the word “wedding”. I came home sporting some seriously pink lipstick with a completely altered face.
After packing up my things, I hustled to the bride’s apartment. Having been invited by the family to be a part of the procession to the dance hall, I felt certain at that point that I was basically a bridesmaid in this woman's wedding.
The wedding and reception ended up being a blast! Yes, it was full of awkward moments, but it was such an honor to be taken in by these families. I am hoping that beyond the funny moments, clumsy dancing, and layers of henna, these families saw a believer of the Son who loves them dearly.
What price are you willing to pay to see Christ made known to the peoples of the world? Loving on people and sharing your faith can sometimes be painstakingly awkward and embarrassing. And trust me, in the life of a cross-cultural missionary, these laughable stories come by the barrel. But, they do not deter our global workers nor the mission of God.
Check one of our latest opportunities called Hope Teams!