201401-marriages-photos--Boy from broken home with anger issues meets girl. They fall in love. There is trouble in the short-lived paradise when boy is suddenly violent towards girl. Battered girl keeps hoping the boy will change but the violence persists. Theirs almost sounds like a sorry tale that has been told and retold before, but nonetheless one with an unlikely ending.

Pastor Martin Mwariri, 43, of Banner of the Glorious Church Ministries, and Rahab Mwariri, 34, a businesswoman, have been together for 14 years. They tell their unique story of forgiveness, hope and resilience to EDNA GICOVI.

Growing up, Martin Mwariri’s father continually battered his mother. His parents eventually parted ways and their father remarried.

Plagued by financial troubles, his mother moved with the children to Nairobi’s Mathare North slums at a time when Martin was a troubled young man already experimenting with drugs. The slum was fertile ground for young Martin who got involved with violent gangs and got deeper into drug abuse.

Rahab Mwariri, a sheltered and only-child who grew up in Mombasa, was barely 20 when she met and fell in love with Martin in 1999.

“You know what they say about girls loving bad boys. We used to party together,” she says with a chuckle.

They moved in together and had their first child that same year. Martin was still involved in gangs and drugs at the time and would turn violent towards her at the slightest provocation. “His violence and anger scared me because he would beat me anywhere and any time,” says Rahab.

Rahab’s life changed when she became a Christian after Martin’s mother preached to her. To her delight, Martin followed suit shortly afterwards and eventually quit gangs and drugs.

She was hopeful that their relationship would improve. Her joy was, however, only momentary as she soon realised that his new status as a believer did not keep him from battering her.

“I knew I needed help because every time I got violent I would feel so guilty but I felt like I couldn’t stop myself,” says Martin while glancing at his wife.

He was following in the very footsteps he had despised as a child. Just like his father, he was perpetually violent towards his wife, and they would separate for brief periods of time and get back together, only to separate again after another bout of violence.

This trend continued for about six years, and Rahab’s attempts to salvage their marriage through marital counseling seemed to come to no avail.

A near-death experience…

In early 2006, Martin and Rahab had been separated for several months and were about to throw in the towel on their difficult union. Their then six-year-old daughter was living with Martin’s mother where they both visited to spend time with her.

In his wife’s absence, Martin decided to take some time off work to seek God regarding his life. It was during this time that he witnessed a taxi knock down a cyclist. He rushed to intervene when he saw the taxi driver slap the cyclist. However, when the driver got rude, Martin also reacted by slapping him.

The driver accused him of stealing money from him, so the next day, accompanied by his brother and a friend, Martin went to meet with the owner of the taxi.

 He would later find out that the owner of the taxi was a member of the dreaded Mungiki sect. They were met and surrounded by a gang that attacked Martin with machetes and clubs.

“I think they were trying to decapitate me like they have been known to do. While shielding my neck I lost my hand as they repeatedly slashed it. If I had not lost my hand, I would have lost my head,” he says of the heart-rending experience.

Badly injured and having lost a lot of blood, Martin was in need of urgent medical attention. So severe were his wounds that the doctors weren’t sure he would live. Throughout his stay at the hospital, Rahab visited and prayed for him regularly.

“When I first learned of the attack, I started praying and asking God to give him another chance,” she says.

This nightmare would become Martin’s turning point. “When she came to see me in hospital it was a really big deal for me. During some of the times we were separated, I would get into extramarital affairs, trying to prove to her that I could get someone else even if she left. I did not expect any sympathy from her,” he says.

Rahab’s actions humbled Martin and gave him a new outlook on life. He says that God took him through a process of healing.

“I needed to forgive my attackers and reflect on my future. I eventually forgave them but it took a long time,” he says.

Rahab’s decision to forgive him was also not any easier but she came to a firm decision. “If God had given him another chance, who was I not to?” she says.

A fresh start…

The couple’s journey to reconciliation started at Martin’s hospital bed. As Martin recovered, they started talking about the different courses their lives had taken and later decided to give their marriage another try.

“I used to be terrible to her yet she accepted to come back to me. Anyone else would have left. No one accepted that I could change after six years of battering my wife so we did not have much support. Family and friends discouraged her and told her that I just wanted to use her now that I was weak and didn’t have one hand,” says Martin.

After he was discharged from hospital Martin lived with his sister, as he still needed some medical attention and help getting around, while Rahab stayed with his mother.

“We had already decided to get back together and I knew if I went back home to Mombasa, this would not have been possible. We moved in together as a family in a different house after his recuperation to begin our marriage afresh. I continued to nurse him until he was back on his feet,” she says.

Following his new lease of life, Martin was unwavering in his resolve to change and his new commitment to his marriage and family. He says the healing process was long and difficult and there were moments when he felt like he was going back to his violent ways.

“I had a long history of anger and violence and my change obviously did not happen in a day, but I was very determined,” he says.

Rahab says that when they first got back together, it was a struggle. “I did not trust him and even thought he was faking it because he needed my help, but as time went by and I saw how much he was trying to change and how serious he now took his walk with God, I began trusting him,” says Rahab.

Martin sought God daily through prayer, fasting and studying the Bible.  Over time, he became a different man and the husband Rahab had always desired.

“Even though I had started making deliberate efforts to change, I realised that I could not make any change through my own strength and surrendered my life and marriage to Him,” he says, adding that this was when his marriage started to change positively.

The couple also went for counseling and Martin began to look inwardly rather than blame his problems on his wife’s faults.

“When I shifted the focus from others to myself, I realised I had a lot of anger and was insecure. I had many issues to deal with and started allowing God to work on me and change me. Slowly I started to love my wife more,” he says.

Martin and Rahab have come a long way. “We used to fight about very trivial things previously but now when I’m not ready to talk about something, he won’t push me,” says Rahab, adding that she is aware that she also had a part to play in the turbulence their marriage went through.

“I cannot call myself the innocent party as I would raise my voice, pick fights in public and provoke him. This is one of the things that fuelled our fights but when my husband decided to play his part and make a change, I also had to do the same,” she says.

“Before my turn around, I would even scold my wife in public. Now, if there’s something that I’m not happy with, I will wait until the two of us are alone to talk about it. I also do not need to raise my voice. I am respectful when I address her and also watch my language,” says Martin.

Saying “I do” officially…

“Upon our reconciliation, I started working on changing my life. I really wanted to do something to prove to Rahab that I was in this for the long haul. And so in 2007, we started planning a formal wedding. There were several challenges and we kept postponing it severally before finally tying the knot on January 1, 2011,” says Martin, adding that formalising their union removed a lot of doubts especially from their in-laws.

“With time, my parents saw the change in him and how determined he was and took us seriously. He travelled to Mombasa to ask for their forgiveness,” says Rahab. They had been together 10 years before they formalised their marriage.

“It was always our desire to have a wedding but it wasn’t really a priority before,” Rahab adds.

Martin says that cohabitation is not ideal because it does not give a couple confidence and security in their relationship.

“When I almost died, I realised that I would have left my wife stranded. Maybe people would have come to demand our property and harass her. That’s also another reason why formalising our union was very important after my recovery,” he says.

Rahab conceived soon after the reconciliation in late 2006 but regrettably had a miscarriage. She got pregnant again in 2007, this time having a stillbirth. These were trying times for their fragile union.

“Some of my friends told me that the miscarriage and the stillbirth were signs that Martin and I were not meant to be together,” she says.

The couple was nevertheless overjoyed to welcome baby Emmanuel into the world in 2010. He is now four years old. They also have a one-year old daughter, Gloria, in addition to their first-born Shirley who is now 13.

There are no marriage experts…

“To other people we may seem strange. They may wonder why my wife decided to come back to a man who had been continuously violent towards her. Logic dictates that she should have left me. Our story has at times put us in a tricky situation when people involved in domestic violence ask for our opinion. This was a new journey for both of us and we can only tell people to seek God and apply wisdom,” says Martin.

He believes that every marriage is unique and what has worked for one may not work for another. “I don’t believe there are marriage experts. Even after being in marriage for 50 years, you may still not know all there is to know,” he says. Rahab adds that even after 14 years together, they are still discovering new things about one another.

“Marriage is a good thing and if an individual is struggling with anger or any issues that cause them to be violent, they need to accept that they have a problem and seek help. This goes a long way in solving the problem as domestic violence is wrong and can’t be justified by whatever reason. Many people who are violent deny it, but accepting it helps one to seek psychological help and spiritual guidance from individuals who believe in marriage,” says Martin.

He continues, “Also look inwardly and look for ways to deal with what’s going on inside you. Take one step at a time. I am not there yet, but I have come a long way. My wife sometimes laughs at my reactions to some situations and tells me that I have really changed. I’m not angry anymore.”

He adds that during the transition it’s vital to have support from your spouse. “I usually ask Rahab how I’m doing in a particular area, like expressing anger or communicating, and her feedback helps me know where I’m at,” he says.

Rahab stresses the importance of openness and honesty while supporting one’s spouse as they make the change. “It was difficult supporting him at first, and I tested the waters several times to see whether he was actually serious about changing and I realised he was,” she says with a smile on her face.

Martin today strongly advocates against all forms of domestic violence and urges couples to strive to build one another up. Rahab aptly concludes with a word of encouragement. “All is not lost if you are going through marital problems. Marriages do work. Never lose hope in God and in one another,” she says.

Published in January 2014