Bethuel Githere, 74, and his wife Nancy Wanjiru Githere, 68, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on June 2, 2012 with a thanksgiving service held at ACK St Paul’s Church in Nairobi West followed by a reception at Mawenzi Gardens in Upper Hill, Nairobi. The couple walk FAITH MATHENGE-MURIGU down memory lane as they recall their long life together and give useful tips on lasting marriages.
I was introduced to this wonderful couple by their grandson, Mark Kaigwa, who was very excited to be witnessing his grandparent’s golden jubilee. Mark arranged this interview at the couple’s home in South B Estate, Nairobi, a few days before the anniversary celebrations. We spent a wonderful afternoon together as this couple candidly shared their marital journey with me.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT?
No, no, says Nancy as she tells me about her early life. She grew up in Wangige in Kiambu County. She sat the Kenya African Preliminary Examinations (KAPE) in the late 50s and because there were few girls’ secondary schools in Kiambu at the time, she joined Kambui Teachers Training College for a two-year primary school teachers’ certificate. She met Bethuel in 1960 when he came to college to visit his cousin who was Nancy’s college mate.
“My cousin came to meet me with a young girl tagging along and my first thought was that she was too young to be in college,” says Bethuel. He was a constant visitor to the college and the more he saw this beautiful young girl, the more he got a liking for her.
“Though his cousin often asked me to accompany her to meet Bethuel at the nearby shopping centre, I was too young to even think of him in any other way, other than a friend’s cousin,” says Nancy who was 16 at the time and had lost her mother. Her family was looking up to her to complete college and take the responsibility of looking after her siblings from where her mother left. “It came to me as a shock when Bethuel asked me to be his girlfriend. Couldn’t he see I was only a child? His constant pestering made me start to think of him in a different light. His honesty and persistence ignited a fire within, which I couldn’t put off. I decided to give our relationship a chance on condition that marriage could wait for at least five years,” explains Nancy, adding that their friendship blossomed into a relationship that was strengthened by Bethuel’s regular visits to college, as well as letters they exchanged.
“I worked for the East African Railways in Nairobi at the time and though I wished to marry Nancy immediately she completed college I couldn’t because I was transferred to Kampala in Uganda. She graduated in late 1960s and was posted to teach at Kibiko Primary School near her Wangige home. Though miles apart, we kept our love alive through letters,” says Bethuel who grew up in Gatanga in Murang’a County.
“I grew to love Bethuel deeply. He was a great man – responsible, humble, mature, and treated me with great respect. When he asked me to marry him, I forgot the five-year promise,” says Nancy.
The couple got married on June 2, 1962 at ACK St Peters Church in Ndunyu in Wangige. A classy reception, going by the standards of those days, followed in Makongeni Estate in Nairobi. There was
even a live performance by the Kenya Railways band.
“We lived at the Kenya Railways staff houses which were small but we were happy. My wife got a teaching job in a school in Nairobi. After four months, we moved to Lumumba Estate in Eastlands, where our first child, Bella Githere, now 49, was born. In early 1963, we moved to a bigger house in Ngara, where our second child was born in December of the same year.
GOD’S OBLIGATED ROLES IN MARRIAGE…
Bethuel: Our marriage has been successful because we understand our different roles. I am the head in my house and my wife is my helper. With this understanding, we respect and take our roles seriously to the best of our abilities. The Bible defines the roles of both husband and wife, clearly spelling out the obligation they have towards each other.
To the husband, God expects him to be a servant leader, protector and provider. This is a responsibility that men should handle seriously to avoid conflicts. When a husband neglects his role, the marriage suffers. The husband is the vision carrier and priest in the home, of course with help from his spouse.
Nancy: A wife comes into marriage as a helper, a team player and a nurturer. Ephesians 5:22-24 says: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
While some women may have a problem with submission, God expects that you should submit. I have strived to do this for the 50 years I have been married. My advice to wives is to allow their husbands to assume their God-given role. Women must also respect their husbands. Respect means treating your husband with honour. This means valuing his opinions, admiring his wisdom and character, appreciating his commitment to his work, friends, and his needs and values. Marriage is fun; it is not hard as people make it sound. When you have someone to share your life with you realise how blessed you are. And who can one trust better than the father to your children?
Bethuel: Conflicts are to be expected because marriage is about two imperfect people coming together and willing to live with each other harmoniously. One thing we agreed on from the start was to always discuss issues and not let them get out of hand. We don’t allow issues to pile up because this breeds contempt, which can paralyse a marriage.
Nancy: I love my husband very much and cannot allow issues to come between us. In most cases, I humble myself for the sake of our marriage. The one thing that has made me persist in this marriage despite the challenges is the strong resolve that our marriage must work. With this kind of mindset, solving conflicts becomes a lot easier. Again, the best gift a couple can offer their children is a good marriage. We have continuously worked on our marriage and we know we have been good role models to our children.
Nancy: Our children are close in years and I am glad my husband was always there to help me bring them up. We have both been there for our children and we have instilled great values in them. They have witnessed the great love their parents share and this is a good foundation for children. We have also taught our children the fear of the Lord, as the bible tells us to bring up our children in the ways of the Lord.
Bethuel: It is important to discipline children. When you discipline children you teach them to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. Uncorrected behaviour becomes a habit that is difficult to change in the future. We set boundaries for our children from an early age and this made them grow into people who respect order and have selfdiscipline. We, at the same time, praised them often for any small good deed or achievement. This made them feel safe and grow into confident people. We are very proud of the way our children turned out.
Our five children, listed in their order of birth, are as follows: Bella Kaigwa is a graduate of the University of Nairobi in design. She got married in October 1986 and has two sons. Beatrice Githere Kariuki sat her O levels at Limuru Girls and later studied secretarial services at Reeswood College. She works as a Hospitality consultant. She is married and has one daughter. Leonard Githere graduated from the University of Nairobi with a BA in Design. He left for the US in 1990 to pursue a master’s degree. He lives in California with his wife and two children. Doris Githere is a Registered Nurse in the US and has one son. Elizabeth Githere Agoi graduated with a BA degree in French and Sociology from the university of Nairobi. She lives and works in the US. She is married and has three children.
SEX IN THE GOLDEN YEARS…
Bethuel: Sex is a vital component of marriage. It brings an important and healthy dimension of marital intimacy. Our marriage is deeply anchored in our Christian faith and we believe that God’s plan for sex is good, pleasing and perfect. Sex is not only for procreation but also for pleasure, joy and an expression of love. In a marriage set up, each person should regard his or her body as belonging to the other. Even in our old age, we have not abandoned sex because it’s the glue that makes a marriage hold.
Nancy: Our sex life has been good due to our open channels of communication. We discuss sexual matters freely. The Bible is clear that a couple can only refrain from sex if they have mutually agreed and for reasons acceptable to both. Not in the mood for sex, fatigue and boredom are some of the reasons couples advance for not having sex and these issues should be addressed when they arise, otherwise the marriage may fall apart. The quality of a couple’s sexual relationship determines the fulfilment of the marriage.
KEEPING CHANNELS OF COMMUNICATION OPEN…
Bethuel: Communication is the foundation of a strong marital union. It is vital that couples learn how to maintain open and honest communication. Many relationships fail because of misunderstandings. If your spouse is unhappy about something, you must address the issue openly. Problems must be addressed as soon as they arise otherwise when left unattended, they could fester and become major issues. Compromise is important when there is a difference in opinion. Marriage should not be built on pride but on the will to reach out to each other.
Nancy: We cherish the time we spend together just talking. This deep way of communicating has strengthened our friendship, which is extremely vital when you are left with an empty nest. We enjoy each other’s company and we are never bored of being just the two of us. We spend quality time together. There is never a dull moment in our marriage because we have learnt ways of spicing it up.
Nancy: We have never had a problem saying sorry to each other when we are wrong. Apologising remedies a mistake and keeps the friendship and trust strong. Recognising one’s mistakes and taking responsibility are essential in healing wounds in a relationship.
Bethuel: Apart from saying sorry, we have also learnt to forgive each other and let go of any anger within. Although forgiveness may not automatically create trust or reconciliation, it helps build a good relationship.
HANDLING MONEY AND INLAWS…
Bethuel: Some marriages fail over fights about money. Money has never been an issue in our marriage. We learnt from the beginning to work with a budget and to live within our means. This has worked well for us. Our budget covers all areas of our expenses and we adjust it as need arises. We both participate in planning the budget and executing it.
Nancy: When you share a strong friendship with your partner, you feel secure and nothing can threaten the marriage – not even in-laws. We have lived with different members of the extended family in our home at different times and there have never been conflicts because of the boundaries we have set. We have also shared extended family responsibilities such as paying school fees for siblings. Families are important and we must respect and accommodate each other.
ON MATTERS OF FAITH…
Bethuel: We are both born-again believers. We pray for our marriage and our children, and indeed we have seen the fruits of our prayers and we thank God. We attend ACK, St Veronica Church in South B where we also serve in different capacities. I am the Vicar’s Warden and chairman of the finance committee while my wife is in the mother’s union.
We hold fellowship meetings with fellow church members once a week. This serves as a good platform for couples to discuss issues that maybe bothering them. We are also in various other groups that help couples to stay happily married. Through these groups, we have travelled to Israel, Turkey, and Egypt. Interacting with other couples of our age has helped us because we are able to speak out issues affecting us amicably.
MY PARENTS, MY ROLE MODELS…
Leonard Githere, Son
I admire my parent’s marriage. They are my role models. They are open-minded parents who have moulded us to who we are today. They have great advice on marriage and are excellent examples to us in all aspects of life. We are a close-knit family mainly because of them. One particular trait that I have seen in them is the way they handle their conflicts. They never do it in our presence and by and large, I try and apply these principles in my marriage.