Marrying Across Cultures

by Hannah Edington

Marriage of any type comes with difficulties, but intercultural marriage has its own set of unexpected challenges. For single missionaries serving abroad, the possibility of marrying from within their host culture should involve deep considerations.

Like Moses and Zipporah coming face to face with his family’s racism, to my experiences with my husband refusing to translate the threats made against my body by men on the street, these unique marriages should not come without considering the cost. And while the external threats are extremely difficult, most of the challenges come from within the multicultural couple’s own varying cultural perspectives.

Here are four ideas to consider as you enter into a romantic relationship within your host culture.

 

1. Arguments
Before entering into a relationship (or marriage) within the culture you serve, be aware that your arguments are likely to be a little extra heated. Even if one of you is fluent in the other’s language, emotions impact how we use our words. And when arguments arise, explaining the depths of what you are thinking and feeling can cause further complications. Having said that, don’t ever marry someone, especially someone from another culture, without having experienced a fair share of heated arguments. Cultures argue differently, as do genders, and knowing how your spouse argues is crucial preparation for marriage.

 

2. Conflicting Values and Preferences
It is also important to be aware that you will likely have vastly different perspectives on money and finances, an issue which is cited for the majority of divorces in western society. Even if you are in a country with a high economic status, you may have quite different ideas on how money should be spent. Marrying within a culture that is considered ‘developing’ means you will absolutely, no doubt, have different views on where each penny should go.

These are only two examples. Parenting, clothing, how time is spent, what should be eaten, gender roles, sitting through conversations with their friends without understanding a word, and in-laws are all other things that will absolutely come into play.

 

3. Openness and Learning
Never cease to try and get to know this person before committing to them for life and never cease to try and get to know their culture.  In marrying them, you are marrying their culture. And culture comes out significantly more after the wedding than it seemed to exist before.  This means that you need to continue to be open. You are marrying their culture, but they are also marrying yours. Don’t hide the parts of you that you don’t want them to see because they will eventually come out. Some of those things may be cultural, but they might also just be a part of you. Never assume that they will learn to handle it without first being open.

 

4. Importance of Christ in us
Remember that as Christians, we have something pretty huge going for us. I was drawn to my husband because of his Christ-like character and integrity. If you can find a man or woman within the culture you serve who displays this type of behavior, that’s a good start. But don’t just see them alone, see him or her among friends. See him or her in the church.

Once you are certain that this person has the qualities of Christ-likeness that extend beyond international barriers, or that his/her view of Christ is not impacted by potentially massive theological differences that have spread throughout regions of the globe, your marriage can be God-honoring. Once you are certain that their attraction to you is based on your own representation of Christ and not the country from which your passport was issued, your marriage can be life-giving. Once you are certain that you can marry this person, and this culture, your marriage can be one of grace and truth.

Christian couples have the advantage of this grace and truth. We have the advantage of ending our arguments with lots of prayer and, I recommend, a study on Song of Solomon with some practical application that speaks to all cultures. Outside of Christ, there are no such advantages.

There are enormous considerations before entering into a marriage within the culture you serve, but entrusting it fully to Christ is the first step. Beyond that, prepare yourself. Do your part and allow God to do His. His will be significantly greater.

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Hannah Edington is a writer and entrepreneur living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Her long-term goals include writing about life in developing nations, working with widows and single moms to start businesses, and starting a family with her husband.

When You Find Love in Your Host Culture

by Nikole Opiyo

It only took a week to realize that I was going to marry my husband. We had had feelings for each other, but realizing that I was a short-term missionary and he was a local, we buckled down and had a deep talk about the reality of the situation. That talk ended in us deciding to get married. In one night all these pieces in my life fell into a place I never thought they would. I remember looking at him the next day and saying to myself, “I found the ONE” and that ‘peace that passes all understanding’ fell upon me like I had never experienced before.

It felt like a dream. A most wonderful dream. The next two years of dating were filled with all the wildness and whimsy that any dating relationship is filled with. Lots of dates and laughter and getting to know each other. Dreaming of the future and wondering what God has in store for us.

As Christians, we sought God like never before. We met with other cross-cultural couples and asked all the hard questions. We talked about culture and gender roles and family and finances. We fought. We frolicked in the beach. We served together in various ministries. I learned how to cook his traditional food and he took a liking to cheese pizza. We stayed on our knees, praying, until the day we walked down the aisle and made a beautiful commitment to belong to each other forever.

However, there is something funny that happens when a missionary girl decides she wants to be in a relationship with a local boy. Everyone seems to put on their skepticism glasses and watch from afar. I hate to admit it, but from my experience, missions agencies and other missionaries are the worst at this. Most agencies I have encountered have rules and guidelines that forbid entering into a relationship with a local. Some don’t allow any serious dating relationships at all — although I am sure they would have been a little more flexible had I found another missionary boy I wanted to marry.

I have talked to other mixed couples who, like us, found each other on the mission field. They have told me stories of how they were hastily separated (sometimes even moved to different countries or returned home), or the mission flew their relatives in to try to bring them home and discourage the relationship. Many of these couples felt like they had to hide. Others did tell their agency, but their bosses started to look down on them.

For my husband and myself, we were ignored. My husband was ‘released’ from the mission a few weeks before I came back to serve with them for a one-year term. The week I left to go home after my term was up, my husband was conveniently re-hired. No one acknowledged our relationship. No one asked how we were doing. No one was accountable to us. Some of them didn’t even show up to our wedding. Through all the wild and whimsical, there was also the lonely and disapproving.

I have asked some agencies why they have these rules, and I understand where they come from. They are worried about being taken advantage of, losing focus of the mission, and being vulnerable through emotional times. Understandable. But here is my suggestion: instead of putting on the glasses of skepticism and backing off, why not draw nearer and look closely?

You know what I really needed? Someone to walk through the journey with me. Because apart from us being in different cultures, I was still a girl who fell in a love with a boy and needed all the support I could get as I waded through this new territory. I needed someone to keep encouraging me in my relationship with Christ knowing that He would give me the ultimate wisdom I needed in deciding who to spend the rest of my life with.

I am so thankful for those who chose to draw near and listen, most of them being our local friends. They asked the hard questions, kept us accountable, and pointed us towards Jesus. Now, six years later, they are still our greatest confidants.

I know we can do better at this, especially as it’s becoming more and more common for short-termers to engage in romantic relationships with people their host communities. Let’s draw nearer, look closer, and point each other to Jesus.

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Nikole Opiyo is a small-town Canadian girl who married a Kenyan boy from the ghetto and now they serve in Mombasa, Kenya with The Rehma Project. They have two precious little girls, Mercy and Amina. As a Childbirth Educator and Doula, she is always looking for ways to equip, educate and support pregnant women in her community. She blogs at www.movingwithcompassion.com. You can also follow her on Instagram: nikoleopiyo.