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Sweat runs down his back beneath his suit, but Jason grins. He surveys the Yaoundé city park, taking in its unusually festive appearance. Buildings line the traffic-filled streets around the lawn, but in the grass before him, a beautiful scene is laid out.
Red cloth chairs and white satin-draped ones are staggered across the open space beneath the mossy trees. Bouquets of balloons, flowers, and ribbons adorn the massive trunks, and a colorful banner hanging between two branches welcomes the soon-to-arrive guests. At one end is a white table where the mayor will stand, his voice projected through loudspeakers. Jason glances at his watch. He will be here any minute.
This was an ambitious plan, but twelve student couples from the Bible Institute Jason directs are coming to this park for a group marriage ceremony with other local couples. Marriage in Cameroon is complicated, even for Cameroonians, and group civil ceremonies like this one are common.
It can also be expensive, and in these students’ home countries of the Central African Republic and Chad, civil marriage isn’t necessary to the same degree that it is in Cameroon. But having their marriages legally recognized is essential to their ministry following graduation. Even though they are married in God’s eyes, the civil ceremony is what grants their marriages legal recognition in Cameroon, which will give them greater respect among the least-reached Cameroonian tribes they seek to evangelize.
Jason smiles as Richard and his wife Naomi enter the park. Richard is wearing his Sunday suit and tie, and Naomi is in a beautiful wedding gown she rented from a nearby store in Yaoundé. Like most of the other students, Richard and Naomi were married in a traditional wedding ceremony in the village, which means Richard paid Naomi’s family the required dowry to marry her, and upon receipt, the family and the society acknowledged their marriage.
But in Cameroon, there are more steps to being legally married, and if you are an immigrant from another country, it is even more vital to overcome these cultural and societal barriers in order to more effectively minister. In Cameroon, there are three marriage ceremonies to undergo: There is a dowry ceremony, a civil ceremony, and a church ceremony. The civil ceremony is the most difficult one to secure, as a mayor is the only one with the authority to perform it.
The other couples have arrived, and now the park is filled with bright colors, eager smiles, and the anticipatory whispers of excited brides and grooms as they watch the mayor take his place behind the table and greet them, his voice echoing warmly through the loudspeakers.
The mayor conducts what many would consider a traditional ceremony and even shares biblical principles. During the exchange of rings, each groom takes his wife’s hand and lifts it in the air as he recites his vows to her. He then places the ring on her finger. Likewise, each bride then raises her husband’s hand as she repeats her vows to him before placing his wedding ring on his finger.
After the couples sign the requisite paperwork to officially recognize their union, the mayor concludes the ceremony by having each groom kiss his bride. As the ceremony ends, celebratory music blasts over the speakers and the couples begin to sway to the song, their excited laughter and shouts echoing through the park. Jason’s vision blurs. It’s probably just sweat, he tells himself.
This day has been a long time coming, and even a few days ago, he wasn’t sure it would work out. But here they are, all twelve of his student couples legally married and ready for graduation and future ministry in Cameroon. For some of them, they are the first in their families to have achieved this milestone of assimilation into Cameroonian culture, and the joy and excitement of that accomplishment is evident in their smiles.
As these students come to mind, would you pray for them? Pray that this is another step in helping our churches in Cameroon grow healthier and instate leaders who are respected. Pray that these leaders set a good example for their families, their villages, and their churches.
Want to be a part of the ministry happening in central Africa? You can partner with us to help the Bible Institute in Cameroon equip more leaders to take the gospel to the least reached throughout Africa.