and they will become one flesh" (Genesis 2 :24).
We were thrilled that of the four couples that attended the marriage retreat, three decided to go ahead with plans to get married on December 19th. Oftentimes the financial burden of a wedding keeps couples from going through with wedding plans. The "bride price" in Vanuatu has been limited to the equivalent of $800, not a small sum of money even for people in the US. Not all the islands of Vanuatu require the groom to pay a bride price, but the expense for the wedding reception is also a daunting amount for most people here. Everyone that comes to a wedding in Vanuatu expects that afterward a large meal will be served, including the meat from at least one cow, several pigs and chickens, lots of "laplap" and rice, drink and cake. We had never organized a wedding in Vanuatu before, not to mention a multiple wedding!
We found out that pre-planning for an event like this is not as much a part of the melanesian culture as it is in western cultures. We had lots to learn, and we were so thankful for wonderful ni-Vanuatu Nazarenes and family members that took the lead in getting things organized. The wedding reception was to take place at our yard which has lots of grass and trees. The young people helped by making a large shelter where the food would be served. The Black Sands Church of the Nazarene financed and arranged the purchase of the cow and also prepared the traditional "laplap" - a food made from cassava and coconut milk. Several men from William's family came to prepare the soups and stews. A large tent was secured from Air Vanuatu. A temporary kitchen was put together in one corner of the yard. It was a little funny to find 4 cow feet nicely arranged over the fire pit after the reception. (If you look closely, you'll see them.)
Meanwhile the brides and grooms were getting ready at the sanctuary where we had met the month before for our annual assembly. Try to imagine three brides with their "flower girls" getting dressed in a tiny 2-stall church restroom in the tropics! At the wedding practice the previous night, only one bride had prepared to have flower girls. Somehow, by the next morning the other two brides had found flowergirls and dresses for them! Rona had asked a lady to make her wedding dress; Janet was wearing her mother's dress; and Aline was to wear a borrowed dress. We're not sure when or why it got started, but it is "traditional" for the grooms to wear black suits and ties. Suits and ties are not common items in stores here in Port Vila. Peter and Gideon were able to borrow suits. William was dressed nicely in a long sleeve white shirt, but alas, he had outgrown his suit coat.
The brides and grooms marched in as the congregation sang in Bislama, "To God Be the Glory Great Things He Has Done!" The brides were escorted in by men from their families. Pastor Peter led the service and David preached the sermon. One of the most meaningful times of the service was when the "flowergirls" placed a large ring of flowers around each bride and groom signifying the sanctity of the marriage relationship. This is not a usual tradition in Vanuatu, but Pastor Peter introduced it at a wedding several years ago and the ni-Vanuatu liked it. Each couple exchanged vows and rings and shook hands to seal the deal. Then we all piled into trucks and vans to drive through town, honking and hooting as we cruised along.
The wedding reception was perfect - plenty of food for everyone! One of Rona's family members was able to get a huge tub of crushed ice for the cold drink - a cool blessing for the tropical heat. The brides and grooms sat together and shared their first meal as husband and wife. The couples all cut their cakes together. There were lots of digital cameras flashing as hand in hand the couples made their first slice through the cake. And then, they sat down. We discovered it is not traditional to feed each other the cake like we do in the US.
William took a few minutes to present Rona's family with part of the "bride price." It is customary for the bride's family to respond with gifts for the groom's family as well. Not only are the bride and groom united, but the families are joined in friendship. This is the traditional way of making the marriage public and also for establishing the marriage commitment.
It was the end of a perfect day and the beginning of a new life together for these newlyweds who have invited the blessing of the Lord into their lives and marriages!