Florence came to my house twice a week, selling vegetables. She carried on her back a bag weighing nearly 40 pounds. With its strap across her forehead and the load on her back, she hunched along dirt roads about two hours each way to the cluster of houses where my husband and I lived in Kijabe, Kenya. There, my husband helped start and served as the executive director of a children’s hospital, and I taught at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology.
One day, as Florence rested with me on my porch, we began to chat about her life. She told me her husband had died when her children were young. It was important that she remarry, she said, so her children could have a father figure. Her parents sought a suitable spouse, and the man they chose was her grandfather’s age. Florence smiled, confessing that at first she disliked the idea. But then she saw the wisdom of their choice. I later met him, a wonderful, wizened man—mostly blind and deaf, but dignified. Florence cared for her elderly husband, and the marriage gave her stability and self-respect.
As I listened to her, I began to think about the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4–42). And I saw parallels immediately, even as I recognized the distinct qualities of each culture. Florence’s experience with marriage seemed unusual to me, but her culture approached marriage in ways similar to the ancient world.
While in Kenya, I also learned that some couples didn’t have a wedding, but simply “set up house” together. They called each other husband and wife, had children together, and were seen by their community as married. They had no money for a wedding ceremony, and no government certificate establishing their ...