Wheelchairs for Nigeria

A Wedding Fit for a King

Dr. Ron Rice, November 4, 2006

It was by far the biggest wedding in the history of the village, and certainly the biggest wedding I have ever witnessed, and I have photographed and performed a lot of weddings. In the tiny village of Depuri, Plateau State, Nigeria, a village without electricity, with perhaps 30 or 40 families, between 1200 and 1500 people came to celebrate the wedding of Ayuba Gufwan and Rachael Zindam.

What made this wedding so remarkable is that Ayuba is a young man who walks on his hands, disabled by polio. As one of the political leaders said to the crowd at the reception, "In years past, a big wedding like this would never have happened, because we never thought that a disabled person could amount to anything."

Ayuba is a graduate of the College of Education Akwanga and the Faculty of Law of the University of Jos. He is the first university graduate in the history of his village. He is the founder and coordinator of the Beautiful Gate Initiative, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that ministers to the needs of the disabled of Nigeria. I am honored to be his partner in this ministry. So far we have built and donated 1250 wheelchairs to disabled children and adults, mostly crippled by polio.

Rachael was a stunningly beautiful bride. She is from Mubi, Adawama State, about 6 hours east of Jos, near the Cameroon border. She is a home economics teacher in an elite federal high school in Yobe State. Nigerian culture dictates that the wedding is in the groom's village and church, and that the bride leaves her home and becomes part of the groom's family.

Ayuba has become a hero to the disabled of Plateau State and beyond, and is changing the attitudes of Nigerian officials and ordinary folks to the needs and the potential of the physically challenged. Political leaders, law students from the university, college of education lecturers, missionaries and delegations of disabled folks flocked to this simple village to honor and rejoice with Ayuba and Rachael. For a village that could probably count on one hand the number of bature visitors (white people) in its entire history, to have 22 American and Canadian missionaries attend the wedding, astonished everyone.

Two days earlier Plateau Radio Television (PRTV) sponsored a "Caring for the Physically Challenged" day, with the presentation of 20 of our wheelchairs as a centerpiece. Twelve various schools and government institutions for the blind, the deaf and the disabled performed songs or short dramas, which were all broadcast live on the radio. Highlight was an amazing soccer match between the two blind schools. (The ball had a faint noisemaker inside.) However the biggest applause of the day from the hundreds in the audience was when it was announced that Ayuba Gufwan was getting married on Saturday! Truly he has become an inspiration and has given hope to many who have had little hope.

One of the top PRTV officials attended the wedding, along with a PRTV cameraman who spent the whole day photographing the wedding and reception. He told me they planned to televise the wedding highlights the following Sunday.

An estimated 400 guests crowded into the little village church, with another 150 outside who couldn't get in. Three trumpeters played as the bride was driven from the nearby pastor's home and as she made her way down the crowded aisle along with her bridesmaids. The wedding vows and solemnization were all in Hausa. Six different choirs sang, including the choirs from the Vocational Center for the Blind Zawan and the Mangu School for the Handicapped. The women's choir came all the way from the Police Barracks Church in Mubi, where Rachael's father is a policeman, to sing.

Earlier that week Ayuba and I had presented folding white canes that I had brought from the US to students at the Vocational Center for the Blind, and there met Musa Buba, a blind teacher, who Ayuba said did the finest job of translating English into Hausa that he had ever heard. So I asked Musa to be the translator for my wedding sermon. The Rev. Patrick Kwarbak, part of the delegation from the remote village of Kamwai, featured in my wheelchair video, read the scripture text in Hausa from Ephesians 5. One delegation of disabled came all the way from Kaltungo, about 5 hours away, where we had presented 30 wheelchairs a year ago. The University of Jos Chaplain and pastor of the huge campus church, the Rev. Ishmeal Ogboru, gave the prayer of blessing and my colleague, Professor Danny McCain, gave the closing prayer.

Following the two-hour service and the traditional group photos on the front steps, everyone moved to the village soccer field for the reception. Ayuba had rented 700 white plastic chairs and numerous canopies to shield the crowd from the hot African sun. There were probably another 700 who were standing. The canopies lined both sides of the field, while at one end was a beautiful purple canopy with two elevated throne-like seats for the bride and groom, and other seats for the maid of honor, best man and members of the wedding party. It was truly a royal setting, fit for a king and queen!

The band moved their generator and sound system from the church to the soccer field, so there was plenty of lively music, traditional village dances and many speeches. The beautiful wedding cake was brought to the center of the field and the bride and groom cut the cake and fed each other the first piece, just like an American wedding. Warm bottles of Coke or 7UP and plates of jollof rice topped by a piece of hard-cooked beef, like jerky, was served the seated guests, along with a piece of wedding cake. I don't know whether those standing also received rice and soft drinks, but I know the villagers had given goats, a cow, bags of rice, cases of soft drinks and many other foodstuffs to feed the expected hordes of well-wishers. The ladies of the village must have labored long and hard to feed such a huge crowd.

We congratulate Ayuba and Rachael and pray God's richest blessings on them as they begin their life together.

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