Solomon Shepherd, and a Mass Wedding in Massaralie Village
by Erica Hale
“I’m going to start calling you Solomon Shepherd,” I tell Pastor Sonnel as we eat breakfast around the farmhouse table in the village of Massaralie. “Because you have the wisdom of Solomon, and the heart of a shepherd.” We’re eating eggs, plantains and papaya, and drinking Nescafe coffee, and he smiles and shakes his head. Wisdom of Solomon, heart of a shepherd, and the humility of Paul.
Later, in the van, he tells me he doesn’t want to be like Solomon. At least not Solomon in his latter days, who married too many wives and was led astray by his lust.
Pastor Sonnel, married happily to one wife named Mommy Christiana, knows more about the effects of having more than one wife than most of us, because in his country polygamy is a common practice. In non-Christian communities there, polygamy is the norm and many men are married to two, three, or four wives.
To be officially married in Sierra Leone, one must purchase a marriage license and pay a steep bride price — a luxury that few can afford, so most of the villagers are not officially married. With no church to protect them and no legal means of accountability, women and children are often abandoned by their husbands with no recourse and no means of survival.
Whatever the West might think, it’s clear in Africa that Biblical marriage protects women and children. Biblical marriage is a shelter, an oasis that assures women that they are valued and important daughters of God. Biblical marriage teaches men to cherish their wives, standing out in stark contrast to a society that treats women as a commodity to be traded, used, and replaced.
Biblical marriage tells a man to love his wife like Jesus loved the church, and Jesus died for the church. He has not, and he will not ever, abandon his Bride.
Later, we’re standing on the farmhouse porch when a group comes up to speak to Sonnel. They bring with them a child of fourteen, dressed in her blue school uniform. She has been struggling in her classes and has failed to move to the next form again, and her father has decided to promise her hand in marriage to a man more than twice her age.
A man who already has one wife, and a reputation for heavy drinking.
Pastor Sonnel, Solomon-like, conducts a heated discussion in the local language with the group. He addresses the girl personally and listens to her. The group then goes to her home and talks with her father, and it’s agreed—she will stay in school one more year, and will not marry the man. Instead, she will receive tutoring after school from Pastor Ezekiel and his wife, to help her pass her classes.
Sonnel has a heart to see real change come to the villages. In the months following our visit, he’s held marriage classes in Massaralie. Believers, whose new lives reflect the sacrificial love and salvation of Christ, committed to love one another according to the example Jesus set — to love and honor, serve and protect. Forsaking all others.
And then, in a mass wedding ceremony, these villagers gathered in the church to commit themselves to a marriage covenant before God and one another.
Made one by the mystery that unites a husband and wife as well as Christ and his church, they went out as lights shining in the darkness—to live the example of sacrificial love that honors and protects through all seasons and in all situations.
Like the light of a single candle that passes its flame from one wick to the next and lights an entire room, our prayer is that these newly-wed couples will pass the love of Christ and the value of all his children throughout the villages of Sierra Leone. And we pray that more men like Pastor Sonnel, with the wisdom of Solomon and the heart of a shepherd, will carry that flame throughout Africa and the world.