Rev Alfred Apela and his wife Grace Apela have been married for 15 years, all the while working together as a couple in ministry. The 44-year-olds, who now serve at the All Saints Cathedral Church in Nairobi, tell ESTHER AKELLO how they manouvre their relationship while serving the flock to achieve a balanced lifestyle.
Your union is interesting. You say God told you that you were to be each other’s spouses?
Alfred: (Laughing) Yes. We were neighbours in Kabete and as we interacted, I grew fond of her. However, there was someone else in the picture as well and I was struggling with whom to pursue. One day a friend told me that while he was praying, God had told him he would reveal my wife to me by her favourite dress and in her favourite colour – green. Shortly thereafter, I met with Grace and while commenting on how great she looked, she cut in saying she was wearing her favourite colour – green. I’ve never looked back.
Grace: I had just ended a relationship and soon after lost my job. One day a friend who was staying at my house told me, as she was praying, God told her that He would bless me. I was elated thinking I would get a job only for my friend to say God would bless me with a husband. I didn’t have plans of getting married at the time, much less to a pastor, so I dismissed her. A few weeks later when Alfred came to my house, God told me that he was going to be my husband. I fought it for a while but eventually fell in love.
Do you believe that is the only sure way to know that your spouse is the one?
Alfred: No. God is rich in the ways in which he reveals our significant others to us. We do encourage people to ask God for guidance.
Grace: It worked for us because we are both very prayerful and that is how we relate with God. I believe God uses the familiar to speak to all of us.
Despite the confirmation, you took two years to tie the knot. Why?
Alfred: My principle is ‘prove all things’, as the Bible demands. God had spoken to me but I wanted to prove that what he said was true. It was quite a journey by itself.
Alfred: She’s laughing because she knows where this conversation is headed!
Head there please!
Alfred: The two years were for us to learn how to deal with each other. It was tough because I was financially down as I was unemployed. I was doing voluntary ministry, travel and evangelism.
Grace: I also didn’t have a job.
Alfred: When she came into my life, I realised that I needed to push myself. I couldn’t stomach the thought of losing her to another man. If Jacob from the Bible worked for seven years to get his bride, I was willing to put in the time. However, one day while she was visiting, I told her we were through.
Were the prevailing circumstances that bad?
Grace: This was one day to a planned visit to my family. When I told my family that I was marrying a guy from Nyanza, my mother and brothers were up in arms. So when he said we were breaking up, I thought finally, all those things they had warned me about were coming to pass. I was shattered, so I started crying but Alfred was unmoved. So I stood up walked to the washroom, washed my face and put on my make-up. I thought he was broke so I asked him if it was about money.
Alfred: It wasn’t about the money.
What was it about?
Alfred: It was a test. Just as she was about to leave, I started laughing. The idea was to find out how she would react when pushed to the wall.
How did you settle the intermarriage disapproval from Grace’s family?
Grace: One of my aunts had a talk with Alfred. After the conversation, she called my mum and told her Alfred was the best man for me and that my mum should actually be championing our wedding. After that, things just aligned.
Alfred: Grace’s dad was also very supportive from the word go. In moments of conflict, we didn’t cause a scene or fight back. We desired their blessing. While my mother-in-law did come around, her brothers didn’t, at least not as fast. I kept encouraging Grace that come the D-day, I was prepared to go down on record as the Luo man who went to Central Kenya, looking for his bride.
How did you survive yet you had no jobs?
Alfred: I was open with Grace that I was called into ministry and not a white-collar job. We had some very challenging times so much so that one time Grace told me if my God could not feed her family, then I’d better look for a job. One time we were so broke we didn’t even have salt. SALT!
Grace: My mother-in-law told us that when we get kids in the future; they wouldn’t want to hear about faith. They’d just want food on the table. But surprisingly, every time we had a need, God would always provide. People brought us food, clothes and even money, and this without us asking. I also decided not to stress Alfred about money. All I did was pray. Fifteen years on, he works for the Anglican Church, we drive, own plots and do horticultural farming.
Many women feel the pressure to put their dreams aside in support of their husband’s. Is that why you joined the ministry Grace?
Grace: I think God was preparing me to get married to a broke pastor. I lost my job even before I got married and finding one after that was just an uphill task so I concentrated on the mentorship role I was already doing in my church to keep busy. However, make no mistake: I knew how dire our situation was and since he had been called into ministry, I went into job-hunting mode really hard. I even called several of my friends and asked them to fast and pray with me. They all came back and said the same thing: God had already given me a job, which was to pray for my husband. So I resolved to support him and we now work together. I’m not ordained though.
Alfred: Working together has been amazing. I’m the pulpit person and she’s the one-on-one mentor. I’m the air force; she’s the ground force. There are some areas she’s able to penetrate that I can’t. We work as a team and that has made my journey with my family exciting.
How do you balance ministry and your life?
Grace: We are great friends. I’m a stay-at-home mum and although I run several businesses, I plan them around Alfred’s and the kids’ schedules.
Alfred: I work from 8am to 5pm. So I wake up at 3am and pray, go the gym at 5:30, take breakfast at 7am then get to the office where I spend my day. I attend evening classes from 5pm to 8pm and thereafter it’s family time. I purposed to create time for my family so I must get home before the kids get to bed. I also maximise the weekends and we go everywhere together.
What lessons have you learnt from parenting?
Alfred: Children go through various stages: commanding stage (zero to five years), training stage (five to12 years), coaching (13 to19 years) and then mentoring (from 20 years onwards). If you’re not aware of these stages, you may go wrong because each stage has its own challenges. Read a lot. Arm yourself with knowledge. Children can also read your non-verbal cues. Align those with what you teach them as well.
Grace: We named our 12-year-old son Judah as a form of worship and gratitude to God. Our second child, Joy, is eight years. Kids pick up a lot of information from everywhere. However, if you are truly close, they will report to you exactly how that information was relayed to them and by whom, as opposed to asking questions to test if the information is true. Be available for your children, that way, you can control how they digest the information they get.
Aside from your foundation in God, what key things keep you grounded and your relationship thriving?
Alfred: We are in love. Every opportunity I get, I mention and commend her especially in church. There were times we would argue over small things but now we don’t quarrel. We agree to disagree and that’s it.
Grace: We also love swimming and watching movies. Alfred loves games and Manchester United is his favourite football team. We also appreciate each other. Fifteen years down the line, we’ve learnt each other and that has helped our love to blossom.
Alfred: We also understand our responsibilities well. The biblical basis of the responsibilities of a man has been my guideline. From the onset, it was clear that I must provide, protect and have a vision for my family. Someone once broke it down to me this way: Submission means ‘subject to his mission’, if a man doesn’t have a mission, then he doesn’t have someone to be subject to them.
How do you deal with attraction from the opposite sex?
Grace: We’ve established boundaries and we are very open with each other. I usually tell him when I don’t have a good feeling about someone or something.
Alfred: (Laughing) I think men can be rather clueless. Whenever she tells me someone is up to no good, I always feel like ‘but I’m the man of God, I should be able to see this!’ But she has quite the instinct.
How do you navigate bedroom matters?
Alfred: (Laughing) You mean bedmatics? We’re not prudes! We do have the best bedmatics if I do say so myself. It doesn’t give me time to look on the side, honestly.
Grace: We have our love languages, of course. One of us sends a text message and the other picks it from there. Sex doesn’t necessarily begin in bed. We always pray for our sex lives, sometimes even right before we do it.
That’s not something one hears every day.
Alfred: We pray for everything else, why not sex? We shared our story in a group fellowship once and a couple that had been struggling to have their second child took our words to heart. Shortly thereafter, they conceived.
Grace: Sex is worship. There are times when, right after I’ve finished my prayers, Alfred gets so frisky joking that since I’ve come back from prayers, he’d like some of the anointing to rub off on him.
What would you say are the greatest lessons you’ve learnt in marriage?
Grace: It is for the humble. Proud people may not survive because it calls for sacrifice for the one you love. Things change and you have to adjust accordingly.
Alfred: Selflessness, sacrifice and compromise. I’ll sum them up like that. If you want to know if you’re a true Christian, get married.