(Based on a true story)
“You would eat, but only at the mercy of this woman”.
I don’t believe any of us had expected the meeting to end this way.
Three of us had gone to one of the deacons’ house with our pastor to try and resolve the issues he was having at home with his wife.
She had been coming to church with bruises and swellings, poorly hidden. And she always had stories to try and explain them away. None of them was plausible.
They had been married only months ago, and none of us at church could have expected what was unfolding before us.
Her closest friends tried to get her to talk but she would only request that they pray for her.
And then one day, an older woman that looked exactly like her came to see the pastor at church. She left crying.
Our pastor called for a meeting with three of us and told us that the woman was the mother of the deacon’s wife. She’d told him she was a woman watching helplessly as her child held on to a marriage that was taking life from her.
When our pastor confronted the deacon’s wife with what her mother had told him, she didn’t deny it. She broke down and told him everything.
His family had wanted him to marry someone else and they had continued to push that agenda even after the wedding.
At this time, although pregnant, she was no longer allowed into any of the bedrooms in the house. Her husband had packed all her belongings and told her to leave. She now slept on the floor with only a thin piece of cloth for bedsheet. And as far as his family was concerned, she was carrying a bastard.
Hearing her story, to say we were livid would be an understatement!
“Why would you allow yourself to be treated this way?” “Why wouldn’t you just go back home?” “Do you have nowhere else to go? “Do you have a plan?” “How long do you intend to continue like this?”
The questions were shot at her rapidly, from all corners. And some of us were spoiling for war!
Her argument, to our chagrin, was that God hates divorce.
“But he also did not call you to die for that man”, someone said, “Jesus already did that”. All of us nodded, as though the synchronization of that movement of our heads made the point more valid.
Our pastor said a prayer and said we would hear the deacon’s side of the story too.
He didn’t deny anything. In fact, he reveled in the maltreatment of his wife. At least that’s how it seemed.
After listening to him, our pastor told him, “Sir, you did not pick this woman from the streets. If you no longer wanted to continue with this marriage why didn’t you return her to us?”
“To you?” the deacon asked.
“At the altar”, our pastor explained, “This woman was handed to us by her father. It was the church who gave her to you. And you should have returned her to us”.
OK, so that’s what it means when the pastor asks, “Who gives this woman to be wedded to this man?” and then at some point the bride’s father or a representative gives her hand to the officiating minister. Never does he give the bride’s hand to the groom. It is the church that gives the woman to the man. They should teach these things more and, also, the responsibility of the church in these situations.
The deacon kept going on about how he was a seasoned Christian too and a teacher of the word.
“We would give you time to think about what we have said”, our pastor told him, “After two weeks, if you still want her to leave, we would be leaving this house with her”.
You would have thought our pastor had proclaimed some message of doom or something! The deacon’s wife started to cry. Even after we said a prayer and were leaving, she followed us, pleading, asking where she would go from here. “This is our responsibility”, our pastor said, “and we would take care of it, God helping us”.
Two weeks later, the deacon still continued in his boastings. When our pastor told his wife to go and get her things, she knelt down and started crying, pleading with her husband, and then with our pastor. I didn’t even try to hide my tears when they came. I got up to help her. It didn’t take long because her bags were already packed, just like her husband had said.
Before we left, our pastor pointed to us and told the deacon, “These people are here as witnesses. I am not placing a curse on you. I’m just telling you how things would be from this point forward. You would eat, but only at the mercy of this woman”.
The deacon’s rants and outbursts trailed us as we left his house that day with his wife. Also, his gloating made the whole affair somewhat putrifactious.
The church made arrangements for accommodation for the deacon’s wife, although she eventually decided to go back home to her parents.
In a matter of weeks, the deacon’s car broke down. He tried for a while to get it fixed and finally abandoned it since it was a drain on resources that were now scarce. The company where he worked fell on hard times and decided to downsize. He was affected. He could no longer pay rent and first moved in with his brother, and then with his parents. And then his health broke down and continued to get worse.
Meanwhile, his wife had given birth to a child no one needed a test for, if they wanted to prove paternity. My mother always told me that children in these situations are usually carbon copies of their fathers. I think it’s some kind of justice being served.
And then she got a job as a senior staff with a major oil company.
Imagine our shock when she came to see our pastor, years later, saying she was considering going back to her husband because he had been begging her for years to return, and, also, because God hates divorce.
“Are you familiar with the scripture about a woman being married to an unbelieving man?” our pastor asked her.
“Yes sir, but my husband is a believer”.
“By their fruits you shall know them”, he told her.
Now, she propagates the message, “It is true that God hates divorce but He does not expect you to die for anyone in the name of marriage. Jesus already did that and that sacrifice is enough. From the Bible, we know that if an unbelieving man tells you to leave, you are free to leave and even remarry if you choose to. But we forget to emphasize the point that he doesn’t always need to say it with words. Actions speak louder than words, even in this situation. So if he’s telling you to leave, by words or actions, take a step of faith. Choose life today. Trust God and run for your life. Sometimes, running is the only way to fight. And don’t be fooled by any church titles, he’s a believer only if his fruits say so”.
The Church, I believe, can only say Amen.