A certain young Ugandan couple are getting married. The man has  found a lovely woman, and Gail and I are spending as much time as we can with them doing some pre-marital preparation in between church planting seminars.

Ugandan wedding customs are complicated and very expensive, most couples starting their marriages with considerable debt just to pay off the wedding. These two are finding every possible way to lower expenses, but the families demand much from the typical couple through tribal customs going all the way back to ancient dowry traditions. Just last week we talked to a different engaged man whose in-laws are demanding that he give the mother more than fifteen cows at a million+ shillings apiece (the average annual income in Uganda is between 4-8 million shillings.)

Because of these onerous requirements, most Ugandan couples, Christians and pastors included, get permission from the parents of the girl to “marry,” which means to move in together and be married in the eyes of the families, but they must often wait many years and multiple children before they can afford the wedding to actually get wed.

Our couple would have none of this method, so they are going full tilt toward December with the whole formal Introduction to the Bride’s family with the Wedding a few days later, both of which are very expensive.

Modern times have added some customs to the traditional ones. One is the blood test. Both must be tested, and they cannot proceed without it. This is because of normal blood-testing reasons for pre-marital couples, but also, and perhaps most importantly, because of the African AIDS plague that has decimated the population in the last thirty years. Now, through heavy education, Uganda has most of the HIV/AIDS problems under control, and the death toll has dropped dramatically in recent years. However, for a reference, the girl who manages the little guesthouse we are staying in told me that her father died of AIDS. She is maybe 25, and I have known another Ugandan woman under treatment for AIDS, which she got from her husband. So the problem is still common.

When they went for their blood tests, it was a whole half a day or more experience. They were escorted by an “official” woman from the church where they will get married. They had to meet her and take her along with them to three different clinics so the results could be officially compared and verified. Beforehand, the woman would not tell them which clinics would be used, but kept it a tightly held secret until they were in the car and on the way. This procedure is apparently due to the practice of some engaged people who want to get married but know they cannot pass the blood test.  They find out what clinics will be used ahead of time and then go bribe the clinic attendants to falsify the results of their tests when they show up the next day. So now, to prevent such deceit, no one is allowed to know where they will get the tests done until the very moment of the tests. Frankly, I never saw that one coming when I considered local wedding customs.

This couple’s tests were fine, of course, so they are moving forward with their plans. We regret that we cannot attend the Introduction and Wedding in December, but it is right up against Christmas and a difficult and expensive time to travel. We are, however, honored to be included in their preparations. Back in the day, when Gail and I worked with so many young couples preparing for marriage, we never thought this was training for the mission field. We make our plans, but God has the end of the matter, I guess. What a blessing to pull out my well-worn pre-marital counseling file and use it across the world, across cultures, and across language barriers. As my mother used to say, “Who’d o’ thunk it?”