But at sixteen, the charismatic Pentecostal movement reached me at school. I felt like the real gospel was being preached. The music was different from the laid-back Methodist Church hymns. The only thing that scared me was that things could get really noisy in the Pentecostal church. But I liked the new church. Unbeknown to my parents, I even got baptized by being immersed in water and then brought up to the surface. I was told this symbolized the death of the old sinful man.
I was young and could not escape the emotions of that age. So, together with my friends, my brothers, we found this “sinless” way of making moves for girls. If I had my eyes on a sister, I quickly let her know that I loved her with the love of Christ.
Problem is they were too many sisters who needed to be loved! I guess that is when I learnt that women outnumber men. But still, one had to choose carefully. I could not declare my love for more than one sister per school. My situation was made worse by the fact that I was in the Scripture Union leadership. Not quite like New Edition. But my fellow leaders and I were much-sought after (to preach!)
I am grateful that we did not have cell phones then. I wonder how I would have logged the different sisters’ names on my phone.
A bigger problem came from the rules attached to the relationships. We were encouraged to pray for and believe that we would get a life partner. (Today, churches say if you honestly wait to see a sign or vision that says “Marry Harry,” you will remain single for life!) But I prayed for a life partner. When I was eighteen, I found her. She was sixteen. I was excited; super grateful.
But we lived under a welter of rules. Non-negotiable. They could be no public displays of affection (PDA). That meant no holding of hands. Movies were a no, no! Lunch dates were permitted – as long as you were at a busy public restaurant (the kind every teenage couple goes into!) I could only watch pecks (kissing someone lightly on the cheek) on TV. Worldly or secular music was prohibited. Today, my house, with my children and their different musical tastes resembles music stores, all fighting for the same customer!
One Saturday afternoon, our Scripture Union teacher invited the boys to his place for an informal get-together. We had plenty of meat to roast, lots of testimonies to listen to but wait – our Scripture Union teacher was playing the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers. We were shocked. Thankfully he realized our discomfort. He referred us to the themes in Bob Marley’s songs: freedom, the unacceptable situation of one race subjugating another, the need for social justice. And he asked whether that was not the ideal world we preached about. Did we not want an egalitarian world, one based on the principle that people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities?
He was correct there. We could not fault him. But Bob Marley? Where were our favourite Christian singers; Andrae Crouch, Dalls Holm, Keith Green? Or on the local front, Freedom Sengwayo? So while we listened to his explanation, questions remained on our minds.
Well, I grew up and proceeded to university. My life partner was then doing her A Level studies. At university, our student loan paid for our tuition, accommodation and gave us the much-loved payout for such basic necessities as toiletries and books. Because I now had a life partner, I bought her some books on marriage, especially the ones on how to make the institution a success.
Somewhere in the course of my first year, my life partner went quiet. No more replies to my letters. No acknowledgement of the books that were preparing us for the future, our future together!
Later in my life, I learnt that the books in fact scared her. She could not make the mental jump from being a student to being a life partner that easily. Looking back, I know now that I was trying too hard to play a role for which I was not ready myself.
Reading a book on marriage does not a good marriage make! The mind must be mature, clear about the choice it is about to make. You see, we make the mistake of equating love with feelings. From where I stand today, I know that love is more than feelings. It is a choice.
I believe this is why the marriage vow contains some pretty strong words: to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health until death do us part.
These words are only possible and meaningful after two people have spent time getting to know each other, in courtship and finally are convinced that this is this choice they wish to make. I am not saying praying for a life partner is wrong. As believers, it is essential to make all our needs known to God. Ultimately, however, one’s choice of life partner is a decision for two people. A pastor almost shocked me the other day when he said I could have married any of the women I met before my wife. But they failed the compatibility test – we did not have any shared values and directions in life.
Back in my day, it was taboo for women to put on trousers or slacks. Imagine the church’s horror when the pastor’s wife came to church one Sunday clad in a trouser suit. My close-knit circle of friends and I almost sought professional counseling.How could she?
But I grew up again. I like a woman who dresses well. I guess my only condition would be having the dressing on a conservative note. In much the same way she would not be comfortable with me publicly donning leotards.
Relationships – I would describe them today as a great period of learning, of give and take, of compromises, before the time comes for two people to know they are good for each other. If it does not work, there is always another try.
It is never a quick-fix solution. At least, that is what I know.