As missionaries in the Uganda Kampala Mission, one challenge often faced is unmarried couples who cannot be baptized and join the Church even though they are otherwise worthy and have testimonies of the Gospel. This article will outline the problem and offer solutions to help move our new friends towards marriage, providing for their entry into the Church, and culminating in temple marriage for all eternity.
Bride price has very ancient roots dating back to Old Testament times.
And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins. Ex 22:16-17
This is not just an African challenge. It is practiced in Asia, Afghanistan, and some of the Islands as well.
Bride price experienced a resurgence in Africa following World War I (1913), as soldiers returned home with their army pay, which was considerable. Upon marrying, some soldiers favored the father of their bride with large gifts to show their appreciation. Word quickly spread that a father with beautiful and well-raised daughters could expect a handsome bride price upon her marriage. This has grown into an entitlement which is unflinching in its demands.
Bride price today begins at about 3,000,000 ugx, (which might be compared to an American boy paying $100,000 cash for his bride) a figure unreachable by most young Ugandan men. And what is the result? Today’s young adults feel compelled to either pay up the exorbitant bride price, or become immoral to circumvent the demands of tradition. There are countless cohabiting couples who would like to be married, but can’t see a way to do so. They feel boxed into a tradition with no other way out.
Today, young adults mistakenly believe they have just three choices when they fall in love and want to start a family.
#1 Traditional Marriage at an unreachable bride price cost for most young adults, especially at a time of life when they are the poorest and need every shilling to start their new family. This requires approval of the bride’s father or other male family representative.
#2 Civil Marriage by a local government officer at a cost of about 385,000 ugx, plus written approval of both bride and groom parents. This process could take months and is very complex, and has the same problem of family approval as door #1.
#3 Cohabit by starting their family first, which necessitates the girl leaving home to live with the boy without parental permission. Unless the man has the funds to pay for his bride, this is the only option most couples see; hence the great problem we have today.
There is a 4th Door
With the help of a supportive married couple in your ward or branch, or senior missionaries, there is a moral, and reasonable way out of this seemingly hopeless dilemma. This works for young adults who wish to marry, as well as those who cohabit already with children.
LDS Marriage The couple may be married in an authorized chapel by an LDS Bishop. Here are the steps that can help guide the prospective newlyweds in their progress towards legal marriage and eventually temple marriage:
#1 Explain that the couple can be married at a current cost of 75,000 ugx plus the cost of travel to and from an authorized LDS chapel (like Kololo in Kampala). This covers the cost of Uganda registration. There is no charge for the marriage itself. They will not need family or parental approval for this marriage if they are of legal age. However, to protect family relationships, it is preferable to seek their blessing prior to the marriage.
#2 Support Couple can assist with negotiations by going with the prospective couple to meet with family members. In some cases, the support couple might represent the groom’s father if the actual father is not available.
- Explain the origin of bride price.
- Explain that the man cannot afford bride price at this time, but wishes to marry the daughter.
- Explain that the young couple wishes to follow Jesus Christ by having a church wedding.
- Ask for permission to have a church wedding.
#3 Determine to Marry and set a date at least 21 days in advance. This is to allow time for proper posting of notices and make arrangements for the marriage with the Bishop.
#4 Take Photos of the couple together and separately for the notice and invitation.
#5 Post notice of marriage on the notice board in your local ward/branch for at least 21 days. Get the blank form from the stake/mission. This is a government document that must be signed and stamped by the local bishop on the day it is posted. It is submitted to the stake/mission as proof of notice on the day of the marriage.
#6 Post marriage reception invitation adjacent to the legal document if you wish.
#7 Notify the stake or mission of the marriage (depending on where the marriage will be performed).
#8 Submit rough draft of marriage license to the stake/mission prior to the marriage. Get this from the stake/mission office.
#9 Plan travel to the marriage. For those in distant areas, it may be prudent to have only the couple and witnesses travel for the marriage.
#10 Prepare Wedding Program including an opening song, prayer, and a brief talk on marriage prior to the ceremony. No speeches are given by friends or government officials at an LDS wedding.
#11 Video the marriage (if desired) to show at a reception in the home ward/branch after the married couple returns. The marriage cannot be recorded inside the chapel, so you will need to hold it in a different room.
#12 Hold a reception in the home ward/branch to celebrate the union. This may be simple or elaborate as the couple wishes.
Follow Christ or African Tradition?
At our first negotiation meeting with the parents of the daughter, we witnessed a remarkable event. After we offered the proposal for marriage, the father and mother of the bride were speaking in their native tongue for some time before leaving the to discuss in private. After the parents left the hut, the young couple explained to us what the mother had said to the father. It is instructive and powerful:
We must not prevent these people from following Christ and being married in the church, just because of an African tradition.
When the mother re-entered the hut after their talk, we gave a grateful hug and many thanks for her wisdom and understanding. The young couple was married soon thereafter.
Young missionaries are discouraged from continuing to teach unmarried couples with no immediate plans to marry. However, rather than abandon a potential new family, you might refer them to a senior couple or another married couple in the ward/branch who can counsel with the family and help them pursue marriage using these steps.
We can deal with the challenge of unwed parents in a home. With patience and understanding, these precious families can marry, be baptized, and seek temple blessings including the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.