All Marriages are Precious




On February 4th, Pastor Frank Oyule fulfilled all the legal requirements of marriage in Kenya and was wed in a simple but beautiful ceremony at Ndoto Community Church. Pastor Frank has been part of the Ndoto family for more than a decade, and is a cornerstone of our program today.

He became an Ndoto-sponsored student when he was 23 and in his final year of high school. His mom had passed away in 1998, and his father in 2004. Staying with a sister, he graduated from business school in 2018. Ndoto then took the unusual step of allowing Frank to stay on as he moved to Bible college to pursue ministry.

Pastor Frank and Imelda finalizing the legal requirements of marriage

Frank did not grow up a Christian, and after he was orphaned, he went through some very dark years. He bears the literal scars of years with bad company – he has tooth damage from a fight many years ago. Ndoto has been a formative experience for him in putting him on the right path in life, and when he graduated in 2020, he began volunteering his services as a pastor at Ndoto Community Church.

Pastor Frank and his wife, Imelda, are faithful servants of Christ. A few years ago, they gave birth to twins, whom they named Mike and Allison after Ndoto’s leaders. Now 35 years old, Pastor Frank is a full-time employee of Ndoto, serving as both a pastor in the Church under Pastor Michael’s leadership and as the leader of the Discipleship team on our staff.

Pastor Michael looks on as Frank and Imelda sign their documents

Pastor Frank’s story is a beautiful one, but it’s also an occasion to delve into one of the complicated parts of working cross-culturally. Sometimes, even the seemingly straightforward things in life become complicated in other cultures, and we ran headlong into the question when we wanted to celebrate Pastor Frank’s formal wedding with our American audience, while also acknowledging that he and Imelda have been married with kids for years.

One of the things that American families know is that weddings are expensive affairs. Couples typically become aware of it in part when they get married, and in whole when they eventually marry off a daughter. The situation is not dissimilar in Kenya, but for different reasons. Formal marriage is a long process, including family introductions, betrothals, dowry payments, and the solemnization of the union in church or a civil office. The marriage may not be considered “complete” until all of these processes are done.

Dowries, or “bride prices”, are payments made by a groom to his bride’s family. A negotiating team arranges an amount, often in terms of cows, goats, and cash. A groom may pay this amount over time as he is able, which often prolongs the period of waiting for the formalization of the marriage. There is a lot that has been written about bride prices and their persistence in many parts of the developing world, but in Kenya they are a time-honored and widely supported tradition. In fact, our own Pastor Michael Omondi paid a bride price to the parents of our founder and director, Allison Schlack, when they were married in 2018. She and their children affectionately cared for their cow, Bessie, in their compound in Kisumu for years.

How does a ministry like Ndoto live in the tension of the reality of Kenya? Those in ministry know that major questions are often balanced between the ideal and reality, and this is one case of that.

Frank and Imelda had a celebration at Ndoto Community Church after a celebratory meal at a restaurant in town (first photo, above)

Genesis 29:14-30 gives us the story of Jacob working for fourteen years to earn the right to marry his beloved, Rachel. In the meantime, his father-in-law tricked him into marrying Rachel’s older sister, Leah. Does not Scripture teach that a man should be married to one woman? And yet not only is Jacob not forbidden from marrying both, but his patience is rewarded, and Leah bears him six sons. They become six of the tribes of Israel, including Levi and Judah, from whom come Israel’s priests and, eventually, Jesus Christ. The complicated state of Jacob’s marriages, and the many years of waiting, are a central part of the reality of the story of Israel.

In Kenya, the full legalization of a marriage is challenging, and many are not able to accomplish it for many years. We have long believed in recognizing the validity of marriages that have been solemnified before God, even if the legal processes are incomplete. A “common law” marriage, as we might call it in America, if dedicated to the Lord, is not a stain. Ndoto always encourages couples to continue to move toward the full legal completion of the process, but it would be counter to our values as a ministry to insist on ideals that are impossible in practice.

We’re so happy for Pastor Frank, just as we have been happy for dozens of weddings that we’ve been able to see throughout the years at Ndoto. Some have looked more like what we’re used to in the West, where young people fall in love and get married. Others happen after a couple turn to Christ and recommit themselves to legal marriage. And still others are long labors of love for a couple that we have long considered married, but that need to fulfill their final obligations. All marriages are precious to us!

Members of our team at the wedding celebration

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