Columnist Kevin Robertson, or 'Kev the Rev' as some people call him, is a gumboot-wearing-chainsaw-wielding-farm-hack and pastor-of-people at Te Awamutu Baptist Church in the beautiful Waikato region. Salt of the earth: it's what Jesus says we are. Paul the Apostle encourages us to season our conversations with salt. This column is about that: telling stories of salty people, inspiring us to imagine something we haven't thought of before, or helping us taste something differently. Porridge is better with salt!

But it’s moments like these…

Our church receptionist had a call from a young woman in the church, and as a result, an appointment was made with me for the Thursday at 10 am. The young woman was studying for her PhD at the Uni – A quiet, gentle woman with an engaging smile. She was from Eritrea, and I succumbed to Google for some help as my knowledge of Eritrea was all a big blank. 

She arrived fashionably on time! But what surprised me was that there was a gentleman in tow. A story unfolded. Now, I admit that I was green as grass when it came to cultural differences between middle-class Pakeha and what was allowed and not allowed in the cultures of the African continent. Serving in a church next to a large university started my education. A church with over twenty nationalities from across the globe served as a small but complex classroom. But sometimes, things happened out of the blue that just left me feeling inadequate as a pastor – a bit bamboozled. And so it was that morning and the days that followed.

Jane arrived (not her real name and nothing like her real name!). The bloke in tow was her ‘special friend’. He had flown in from Canada the night before our meeting and was flying out the next week. They had met for the first time on the Wednesday night for an hour under the watchful eye of a chaperone. Previously, they had talked by phone twice – over a long distance between Canada and New Zealand. They had been introduced by Jane’s sister’s friend, who was living and working in Dubai. This is all normal.

Not only had they just connected in the last couple of weeks, but their meeting with me was to ‘secure’ a blessing from the pastor on their friendship – well, that was what I was hearing and believing, but the reality which unfolded was that I was giving a blessing on their engagement! This is all normal. Although the word ‘engagement’ was not mentioned in the kōrero. Something was lost in translation! Jane left after our meeting with her man. My wife and I were invited to a gathering, a hooley, to celebrate this couple’s friendship – or so we thought. This is all normal. But wait, there’s more…

We arrived on Saturday fashionably early! The African Uni crowd had arrived. Friends had gathered. This was one big shindig they were getting ready for! We were the ‘standing out’ Pakeha. The smells from the kitchen were both enticing but unfamiliar. And then the bombshell. Thanks, Sione. Sione was there. I’d met him a few times, and we hit it off. But…this time, he was LOL. Eventually, he said, “Don’t you realise that this is Jane’s wedding? You gave your blessing, so this is their wedding…and don’t you realise you are the officiating celebrant because you are her pastor?”

Sione was my lifesaver that day. He worked in one of the Christian groups on campus, so he knew the African community well. He shared with me what the expectation was for me to preside over the wedding…and so the celebration proceeded! I was a fish out of water! Gasping!

A brother from Nigeria warmly welcomed everyone. A brother from Kenya opened in prayer (enthusiastically). Two beautifully embroidered cushions miraculously appeared and were placed ceremoniously in front of me. The radiant couple knelt before me, holding hands for the first time. I prayed. Can’t remember what I prayed, but I do remember that it was pale in comparison to my Kenyan brother. When eventually I said Amen – (I had been told, instructed, that the wedding was complete through the prayers, blessings and the laying on of hands from ‘the pastor’) – the gathered crowd erupted in whoops and laughter and loud shoutings of joy! This is all normal. 

So with no message, no vows, no rings, but the blessing and prayers from ‘the pastor’, the wedding was duly conducted, and the happy couple rose in tears of joy – married. Then, the feasting began. But only after another enthusiastic prayer of blessing for the food. This is all normal.

Many thoughts flicked through my head. I couldn’t recall in my ‘conducting weddings’ lessons at Carey Baptist College anything that had prepared me for this experience. Over the years, I’ve ended up in some very strange pastoral situations, but this wedding took the cake. Except there was no cake. But the food was absolutely delicious and the party exuberant!

On the Monday, Jane’s new husband flew back to Canada. Jane stayed and finished her PhD. After three months, Jane flew to Canada to be united with her husband, and this was all normal.

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