Rev. Francis Ndung’u Njoroge, 55, and Dr. Margaret Ngina Ndung’u, also 55, commemorate their 25 years of marriage this month. Francis is a director and trainer at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) Lay Training and Conference Centre in Zambezi Muguga in Kikuyu, while Margaret is a human resource manager at the Presbyterian University of East Africa and also a lecturer in management and administration attached to the university’s school of business. They give EDNA GICOVI a glimpse into their marriage journey.
Margaret was in university in the US when her relationship with Francis started. Letters were exchanged, bonds were formed, and Francis knew he had found the proverbial soul mate. The marriage proposal happened much later when Margaret was back home and working for the Ministry of Planning and National Development. Though travelling to Israel at the time for a course in planning she still agreed to marry Francis.
Francis was about to complete theological school and wondered where he would be posted following his graduation. “Where would you post me if it was up to you?” he posed this question to Margaret in a letter while she was still in Israel. She wrote back saying she would have him work in a remote place like Masaai or Kamba areas where the church was not yet well established. This, of course, was not what Francis wanted to hear. He desired a posting in an established area where systems were already in place. Interestingly, when the time came for appointment, he was posted to a parish in Kajiado (Olosios Parish). Margaret’s accurate prediction had a big impression on him. “I think God spoke to her,” he says, smiling at his wife.
Francis and Margaret are both from Kiambu County. They met when they were serving at their local church. Francis was an evangelist at the time and Margaret had listened to him preach severally. Margaret’s late father, who was a church elder, was in the habit of inviting Francis and his colleagues for lunch at his home after service where Margaret and other women would serve them. A strong friendship developed from these interactions.
Francis had always prayed for a godly wife. “I wanted someone who would support me in my ministry and I found in Margaret qualities I really admired and felt she was someone I could walk with. I had an advantage because I was able to visit her home severally and observe her, even before anything happened between us. She has always been a woman of integrity. There are also qualities that we, men, like to see. The way she carries herself till this day is something I love. This is her natural hair,” says Francis as he touches his wife’s long, curly hair and she smiles at him, looking a little embarrassed.
“I love her smile and the way she handles herself and others. She loves the community and this has been evident, especially when we served at Mathari Parish. We would host many families, sometimes more than 10 couples at a go and she would cater to their needs,” he says with obvious admiration for his wife.
“When he asked for my advice regarding his posting and I gave him an answer that came true, it was very significant for both of us,” says Margaret. Having been brought up by a father who was a church elder, Margaret looked for qualities in a husband she had observed in his father and one of them was the desire to serve the needy in the community. “I prayed for somebody who would not divert me from my faith and who would be committed to serving God,” she says, adding that their differing academic backgrounds were never an issue, though a few friends and relatives had pointed this out.
“Some people wondered why I wanted to marry someone who, to them, was not as well educated as I was. It has never mattered to us. God created us all equal. You should never think of yourself better than others because of what you have achieved,” she says.
“We knew what we wanted and that was all that mattered to us, and we have always complemented one other,” adds Francis. Francis enjoyed his time in Masaailand and worked there until April 1989 when he was transferred to the Mathari Parish in Nairobi. They could have married as early as 1987 but Margaret took a planning course for one year in Israel and they postponed their wedding. “We eventually got married on February 4, 1989 and Margaret was on her way to the US one month later for further studies,” says Francis, and Margaret adds with a cheeky smile, “I was a professional student.”
Respect and communication…
The wedding was a prayer answered for both Francis and Margaret. “Our wedding day was only a celebration of the beginning of our life together and the real life started the day after. We had prepared ourselves well by discussing important issues like children and finances prior to marriage, but, of course, there are always adjustments to make when the journey begins,” says Francis.
Margaret echoes her husband’s sentiments. “We had been living separate lives for 30 years, had different callings, careers and tastes and there were lots of adjustments to make in our lives. We were keen on making this transition smooth for the each other’s sake and for the success of our marriage,” she says.
One of the pillars of a healthy marriage is good communication and the couple deliberately works on it. “Communication brings about understanding, which has given us impetus to go on in our marriage,” says Francis, while Margaret adds that communication goes hand in hand with mutual respect.
The couple upholds respect of one another’s opinion and openness. “We agreed from day one there would be no secrets between us and so we discuss everything while upholding the bible’s old adage, ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger,’ to resolve any conflicts that may arise,” says Francis.
“Every marriage has its own challenges including those of pastors,” the couple says to discard the myth that pastor’s marriages are trouble-free. “We have gone through different life issues including financial difficulties and pressures and expectations from the community,” says Francis, adding that when he goes home, he is not a pastor but a husband to Margaret and father to their children. This awareness has helped him stay on course and live peaceably with his family.
Margaret abides by the same principle. “In the house I am a wife and mother, not a manager. My children should see their mother and wife to their father and not the manager she is at the office. It’s important to separate your professional duties and responsibilities from your family roles,” she says.
She adds that lack of quality time with family is a common challenge for pastors’ families as their work involves many aspects of the communities where they serve. “That feeling that he has no time for me or the children can create a lot of conflict and suspicion in a pastor’s marriage,” she says. She applauds her husband for trying his best to make time for his family in the midst of his busy schedule, even when he was working as the deputy secretary general of the PCEA. Being a pastor’s wife also makes her something of a public figure in her community and this calls for discipline and wisdom in all her relationships and dealings with people. “I choose my friends wisely,” says Margaret.
Parenting has no training…
Francis and Margaret have three children – Ruth Waithera who recently graduated with a degree in communication from Daystar University; Samuel Njoroge, a fourth-year architecture student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT); and Timothy Njau, a first year bachelor of commerce student, also at JKUAT.
“No one is ever really taught how to be a parent. Most of the times we make the mistake of imitating what our parents did and try to bring up our children the way we were brought up, which shouldn’t be the case. Times change and your children are not growing up in the same generation and environment you grew up in. Their children will also grow up in a different generation from the one they are growing up in. As a parent, it is important to know the times and the environment you are raising your children in and also to understand them as individuals,” says Margaret.
She stresses the great importance of dialogue in parenting. “Sometimes I want my children to fit into a certain ideal and fail to understand why they do the things they do. I should not misjudge them or jump to conclusions. I should seek dialogue instead. Without it, you may push your child further and further away. My husband and I handle discipline matters together and the children know this,” she says.
“I tell my children that whereas I am a pastor in church, at home am their father. They know what is expected of them and we all try to play our roles in the best way we can,” says Francis. He adds that it’s important for parents to bring up their children with the knowledge that they are unique individuals with their own likes and dislikes, as much as they would want to see themselves in their children. “The way we behave as a couple also influences our children’s behavior so we are careful to reflect the right values to them,” he says.
With two working parents with busy schedules, quality time has at times been a challenge for the Ndung’u family. “We usually sleep late as we spend quality time together mostly in the evenings when we have meals together and also pray together. We also try to go out on vacation together every year,” says Margaret.
Francis has a master’s in theology, while Margaret has a doctorate in administration, so it’s not hard to see why the couple values education, a trait they seem to have passed on to their children. “My wife and I have set standards for our children in that area. They know that we are committed to providing for their education and they are also passionate about academics. They have chosen their own individual paths without us having to push them,” he says.
Ours, not mine and his…
“We started our marriage with a joint bank account even as we continued to operate our pre-marriage individual accounts, which we made known and accessible to each other. Our money is ours, not mine and his. This is a promise we made to each other before marriage. Mutual understanding is needed when handling finances in marriage as money or lack of it can become a source of conflict,” says Margaret. She does not buy into the idea of women stashing money away in secret accounts, claiming that it is for a rainy day. “If you really are one, there should be no secrets between you. Even your money should be one and when the rainy day comes you should be in it together,” she says.
“My wife was earning more than I was when we got married but this was never an issue. We put all our financial information on the table before we got married. She knew what I was earning and I knew what she was earning,” says Francis, emphasizing that it is vital for a couple to also understand their family needs and how best to meet them.
Margaret says that they both owe it to God to ensure that their marriage stands and that without Him, they cannot do it on their own. “Every couple should know that marriage is a life commitment that stands firmly if built jointly with the help of God,” she advises.
Francis says the rising incidences of separation and divorce in the country are signs that the institution of marriage may be under threat and the pillars and foundations of marriage have been shaken. “Some people think it is not possible for a couple to be happily together for as long as we have, or even much longer, but it is possible. There have been ups and downs in our marriage in the last 25 years of our marriage but we celebrate God’s doing. It is possible to succeed in marriage but the Lord must be a companion. You will not succeed going it alone,” he concludes.
Published in February 2014