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To Africa with Love – Khaleella Arzu

The language is love; the outfit is love; everything here is love”. These words spoken by the night’s Master of Ceremonies Mr. Brad Patico, and seconded by his co-host Nicole Bembridge, resonated within the walls of the Belize Elementary Auditorium where the 2019 ODBC Valentine Fellowship was held under the theme ‘To Africa with Love’.

The saints and visitors did not disappoint, as a mass of colourful African attire reflective of Africa’s 54 nations converged in the compound. The saints in Christ sported apparel that depicted everything from African kings; queens; princesses; and princes to safari hunters. A tribesman of the Maasai people was in attendance decked out with spear and shield. He was accompanied by his family who represented the wildlife of the nearby game parks of Kenya or Tanzania that are known to attract the Maasai.

As is common in communities across the African Continent, natives and visitors gather in celebratory fashion with food and entertainment accompanied by drumming. Such was the atmosphere on Saturday night, as we ate good food and Renata shared a beautiful poem entitled ‘It is the Africa in Me’ written by Diana van den Berg. Josh played the drum as Renata orated, and the duo stirred the hearts of the saints to recollection. Malcolm and visiting drummer, Jason, played the Garifuna drums while T.J. and Jallem wowed the audience with some amazing foot-works that would leave the best Belizean Jankunu dancers stunned. The boys and drummers did an amazing job, as they delighted the crowd and almost tempted one of the emcees to take the stage. Melissa and crew featuring John, also regaled the crowd with an African dance that was enjoyed by all. Delanni, Sheryl and Sheree taught the saints some new moves that had us moving our feet in African worship style. Head, shoulders, knees and toes was a hit! The entertainment was wonderful; it was good, clean fun ODBC African style!

In true call to showcase the love we have in Christ, a game was played by married couples: Ian and Desiree, Alex and Leah and Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. Would you be able to identify your man by the mere feel of his hands if you were blindfolded? Well the couples who have been married for a while had no trouble in that department. They had the crowd in stitches with their hand touches and moustache sticking activities. The saints also enjoyed a game of keeping their single balloon in the air at their tables without venturing outside of the tables’ perimeters. In portrayal of the African proverb, ‘If you want to go quickly go alone, if you want to go far go together’, the winning saints went the farthest and kept their balloon in the air the longest by sticking together.

The highlight of the evening featured Ms. Mercy. She is a native of Ghana and came to Belize with her family over ten years ago. Ms. Mercy was the toast of the evening; she was the seamstress who skilfully tailored most of the saints’ African attires. She has indeed been gifted with an amazing craft. Ms. Mercy shared the traditional practices involved in Ghanaian engagements. It is unlike anything that Belizeans are accustomed to. In stark contrast to most Belizean marriages, Ghanaian couples don’t only marry each other. Their marriage extends to both sides of the family. As a result, the couple is never alone in their marriage. A brief synopsis of Ms. Mercy’s presentation follows below:

A woman is taken by her fiancé to meet his family, but this practice is not reciprocated. A woman can never marry a man whom her family does not accept. It is the elders in the man’s family who go to the woman’s family to request her hand in marriage; this process is called ‘knocking’. During ‘knocking’, the elders must take wine (drink) and money to present to the woman’s family as a show of respect. They must also be allowed to enter the woman’s compound (yard, dwelling, residence). If they are granted permission to enter, they present their request to the woman’s family (elders), “we have seen a rose in your house, and we want to pluck it”. At this point, the daughter is called and she either accepts or rejects the man. If she accepts, her family counsels her, and the engagement (traditional marriage) is planned.

The woman’s family writes a list for the man’s family. A typical list includes items such as 36 yards of cloth (six pieces of cloth), drinks (both soft-drinks and alcohol), depending on the family, and money. These items, called a bride price, are presented to the bride’s family. When the bride price is paid, the traditional wedding ceremony takes place; these traditional ceremonies are not always registered in the courts. As a result, a man may marry more than one wife. However, Christian families practice monogamy and register their marriages; thus, the man can only marry one woman. Since the laws of the courts and the traditional decrees intertwine, marriages need not be registered. This does not mean that all unregistered marriages result in polygamous homes. As explained by Ms. Mercy, the bride price is not payment for the woman; on the contrary, it is a token of appreciation given by the man to his wife’s family for the years of care, love, attention, and nurturing they had bestowed to his beloved in preparation for his coming to receive her.

A picture of Christ’s return for us is painted through this practice of marriage. Our bride price has been paid in full by our perfect groom. He calls us to nurture, care for, teach, correct, cover and love each other. We strive to remember and apply His teachings and practices in preparation, and expectation of His triumphant return. His is a return that will see us deemed perfectly spotless, with doe-like innocence shining in our eyes. It is a return that we watchfully wait for.

Until His glorious return, we continue to grow in love, as we sit and reminisce about another wonderful Valentine Fellowship that sent us to the lands of the African Continent. The sun has closed another day; it paints the skies with its brilliant yellows and oranges, as it sets on the plains. We watch in awestruck wonder as our Creator reminds us that ‘the heavens declare His glory'(Psalm 19:1). A solitary giraffe stands proudly silhouetted against the horizon’s flamboyance; and the trees stand majestic against the vast skies of an unconquerable continent. Unlike these creations, His church stands, and waits in hope, and in love until next year, when we will return with another Valentine Fellowship from the nation of India to shower you in our Lord’s universal language of LOVE.