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A letter from Kay Day in Rwanda

December 2013

Dear Friends and Family,

Advent greetings from Rwanda. Each year I ask God to show me some new truth of his coming, that I might experience this special season with a fresh awareness. He answered my request this year at an engagement celebration, of all places.

The engagement celebration is part of many African cultures. The practices in Rwanda are quite different from those in Malawi, as I learned on the first Sunday of Advent. The engagement was for the daughter of the Vice Rector of the Protestant Institute of Arts and Social Sciences (PIASS), held in the family’s side yard, a large square area. They had erected two large canopies, one on the east side of the yard for the groom’s family and friends and one on the west for the bride’s family and friends. On the north side was a smaller canopy for the bridal party, while the south was open but bordered by a hedge, to provide like a stage area for choirs, dancers and the family spokespersons.

The bride’s family and friends arrived first, and we were entertained by a choir as we awaited the arrival of the groom and his family. When the groom’s entourage was finally seated, a spokesperson for the bride began the proceedings by making inquiries of the groom’s spokesperson as to the character of the groom, to be certain that he was worthy of the bride. This was done in a question-and-answer format, with the spokespersons standing opposite one another, in front of their respective family groups. This process took about 15 minutes of bantering and ended with a toast to the families.

Once the bride’s representative was satisfied with the young man’s character, the discussion moved to the dowry, or bride’s price. That is still a part of the traditional culture. The better educated the young woman is, the higher the dowry. Traditionally the price is evaluated in cattle, since that was the traditional currency used, not paper money. The bride’s dowry had been set at eight cows. The bride is a lovely, well-educated young woman from a good pastor’s family. She has great worth. The spokesperson didn’t argue about the price the groom’s family would offer, but the quality of the offering. The bride’s spokesman wanted to be certain that the cows were of the quality agreed upon. After much discussion, the groom’s spokesman produced one of the cows, as a sample, and the herdsmen from each family came to discuss the cow. So into the yard with the elegant canopies came the cow to be examined, each herdsman offered traditional poems, the groom’s on the virtue of the cows and the bride’s on the merits of the giving for such a wonderful young woman. This took more than half an hour.

When the cows were finally accepted and toasted, the groom was presented to the bride’s family and guests. Then the bride could be presented. With great fanfare, 10 young ladies in traditional Rwandan attire danced in front of the bride to lead the way. As the bride entered the yard, the groom went to meet her and escorted her to the area set for the bridal party. There they were offered drinks to toast each other and were then seated together as the 10 young ladies danced in celebration before the final speeches from the family spokespersons and a meal for all to share. As we watched the young ladies dance my friend Pastor Juvenal, who served as my translator, told me that the bride was an orphan of the genocide, adopted by the Vice Rector and his family. To the Vice Rector this was his daughter, not an adopted orphan.

On the afternoon of the first Sunday of Advent, as we sat awaiting the bridegroom, I couldn’t help but think of our anticipation of Christ’s coming again, this time not as a baby, but as the bridegroom pictured in the parable of the Ten Virgins in Matt. 25. That became clearer when the bride’s escorts danced her into the yard later in the ceremony. I couldn’t help but think of us, the Church, the bride of Christ, waiting in anticipation. But unlike the debate over the worth of the cows, we know the price offered by Christ for us, the price paid with his very blood. We know our worth and the great worth of the offering made for us. But, even more than being redeemed, we, like this bride, are now the adopted children, made fully part of the family and offered full standing in God’s family. So we wait in anticipation of the groom’s coming for us. This is Advent. This was a powerful image for me.

I share this with you in the hope that we may share this great anticipation together. Thank you for joining with me in the ministry in Rwanda through your thoughts, your prayers and your generous financial support. I pray that you will anticipate with me what God has in store for us this holiday season and beyond as we continue to minister together in his name.

Blessed Advent,
Kay (Cathie to the family)

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, Rwanda, p. 102
The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 128
Read more about Kay Day's former ministry in Malawi
Blog: Day's Diary

Write to Kay Day
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