"Turning Point in my Marriage -- and my Life" is an excerpt from "Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief" by Anita Dennis, which tells of the author's unique love story and journey of faith. Anita's college anthropology class in the 1960s led to an incredible journey with God, as she eventually married her college professor, who was also an African chief. God sustained her interracial, cross-cultural marriage--especially as she played the role of chief's wife in a remote village in Liberia, West Africa. In her journey to world citizen, her life was full of extremes. She met the president of Liberia in the Executive Mansion--and slept in a mud hut. She visited European capitals--and lived in a remote African village.
Images of my recent trip to West Africa were rolling around in my mind -- culture shock raging within me. Would our marriage last? I had serious doubts. In 1972, as I stood in my bedroom in Flint, Michigan, my acqua carpet, floral bedspread, white walls and yellow curtains were in stark contrast to huts I had visited in my husband, Ben's, village. For the first time, I was terrified I had made a terrible mistake in marrying him. Perhaps we were a total mismatch after all and our relationship could never work. Like the Ladies Home Journal, we were classic candidates for "Can This Marriage Be Saved?"
He was sixteen years older and an African. I was an Ohio farm girl. On top of that, he had been divorced. What had I gotten myself into? A fleeting moment of respite came, I'm still young. I can start over.
After the trip, I saw Ben no longer as the college professor I had fallen madly in love with during the 1960s, but a tribal chief honoring the grave of his ancestor. I was stunned into silence when the women of the village scolded me about "taking their husband away without having a chance to sleep with him." I couldn't wait to walk the trail back over the Kamboi mountain range and get back to Monrovia, the "civilized" capital city of Liberia. The only thing we truly shared was our Christian faith and our reliance on God. Still, I had to face facts. Could I live in an African village? Serve as a "chief's wife?" My mind and heart said, "No!" I couldn't help but think back to what I'd already gone through to marry him and all it had cost me. My college career had ended when my parents took me out of school after discovering our relationship. For two years, I was at loose ends while I was away from him. When I returned to Ohio University where he was teaching, my pregnancy had forced our marriage and here I was -- returned from my first visit to his country.
My toddler son shocked me back to reality when he walked into the bedroom and said, "Mommy, I'm hungry." I forced myself to turn my mind off and do the next thing -- fix supper. I said nothing to Ben and was relieved that fall to begin my senior year and finish my college education. Immersing myself into my studies helped me muddle through my marriage until Christmas that year.
With the end of the semester approaching, Liberia re-entered my life when my husband called me from his office to tell me he had received a phone call from the Liberian Executive Mansion. President William Tolbert Jr. agreed to visit Vahun to see if building a road over the Kamboi mountain range to Ben's village of Vahun would be warranted.
What could I say to my husband? Don't help your people? I don't want you to be gone for Christmas? This event made me realize that God had a greater purpose for Ben than being a college professor. I began to accept that God's purpose for my life was to help him in supporting his people. Now forty-four years later, I have no regrets.
Through it all, the only and most important glue in our marriage was God who forgave us, led us, sustained us, and blessed us. Looking back from that fateful day, I realize what I would have missed had I gone through with the divorce. I went on to graduate from college with a major in sociology and a minor in anthropology. We had two more sons. There were numerous trips to Liberia, as well as serving a year as lay missionaries in Vahun three years after the Coup of 1980 and the assassination of President Tolbert. The tragedies of Liberia became part of our lives during its two civil wars in which bands of marauding rebel troops scavenged Vahun and murdered our relatives.
Now that we're apart once again, I don't long for "what might have been" since we had those years together before he went to heaven five years ago.
We were an example of "West meets Africa" personified. My life with him was more than a marriage. It was an education and adventure wrapped into one. He allowed me to escape my narrow cultural confines -- my journey from farm girl to global citizen with plenty of missteps along the way. Because of him, my world became one of extreme pendulum swings. I met the president of Liberia in the Executive Mansion...and slept in a mud hut. I visited European capitals -- and lived in a remote African village. I flew in huge airliners...and was carried through the high forest in a chief's hammock.
Through it all, what grounded me was Ben's love and faithfulness, along with seeing God's purpose in our lives. In the end, Ben gave me the greatest gift -- a love for Liberia and indeed, the people of the world.
It's wonderful to love and be loved -- to share a man's life, his hopes and dreams, his bed, his children -- and most of all, his faith. Love often comes in unexpected packages and with God, all things are possible.
"Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief"
by Anita Dennis
Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Nook Book $8.50