I stood in the corner of a Sunday school room last week, praying with nine other bridesmaids over my best friend Kayla. Her hair was curled, her dress was fastened, her music was playing, and an African groom was waiting for her at the end of the long church aisle.
Dressed in traditional Ethiopian garb for the occasion, we each stretched our hands out to touch Kayla and asked God to create the kind of wedding that would honor Him. God answered us. The ceremony displayed a very particular truth: that intercultural union, under Christ, can be one of the most beautiful things in the world.
All morning the bridesmaids had been looking at each other incredulously and saying, “Can you believe it’s today? Can you believe she’s getting married?”
Kayla had spent years planning her wedding, and we all knew it. She wrote down the details of the momentous day sometime in adolescence, listing her attendants, her colors, her location, and her menu. Beside the list item “Groom”, she wrote: “He is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.”
As you might imagine, Kayla’s priorities have shifted since the adolescent list, and the groom’s identity matters very much to her now. In fact, the groom’s identity made the wedding an extraordinary intercultural celebration. Brown people as well as white filled the church, and the wedding day divided itself evenly into expressions of American and Ethiopian custom.
In keeping with Ethiopian tradition, the groomsmen had picked Kayla up at her home that morning. They filtered into the living room, clapping loudly and singing traditional Ethiopian marriage songs. The bridesmaids came down the stairs one by one to greet them, Kayla coming last. As the room filled with the song and the groom glimpsed his bride for the first time, kissed her head, and began to dance with her, we found ourselves strangely moved. Many of us cried, knowing that such a moment could never be repeated. We felt rich just because we had witnessed it.
Kayla first felt compelled to the mission field during our teenage years. After some wrestling with God, she left for Ethiopia at the age of 18. She opened a medical clinic there. She had left America with a firm intention to bind up wounds wherever she went. She loved Ethiopia, and she loved its people.
But Kayla had been warned of the potential difficulties of intercultural marriage, and was determined not to fall in love. Obviously God had other plans for her. She soon learned that He had not called her to avoid difficulty. He had called her to great difficulty with great joy. And after many years of waiting, He had led her to the right man.
Of course, when you put on a wedding band, your relationship to yourself profoundly changes. You belong to someone else. In Kayla’s written vows, which were read in English then translated into Amharic, she promised her groom that she would never think of him as less because he was different. She borrowed the words of Ruth: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”