New Castle—A pastor knows his congregation loves him when it pays more than $1,500 for his wife.
First Baptist Church of New Castle got involved in an unusual fundraiser just before its pastor, Daniel Lowry, married Kristen Sayres. For the previous two years, Sayres had served as co-director for the Naivasha Children’s Shelter in Naivasha, Kenya, which rehabilitates homeless boys and tries to reintegrate them into their families.
Sayres had spent a total of seven years in Kenya, a country in which grooms normally give large sums of money to their brides’ families before marriage. After he proposed, Lowry discovered Sayres’ friends in Kenya thought he and his church should honor the tradition and donate to the shelter.
“I didn’t know how people (in Kentucky) would react because it’s such a strange thing in American culture,” he says.
Lowry had met his bride through an online dating website two years before. They braved a long-distance relationship, and after a couple trips to Kenya, a furlough in America and lots of online conversation, they decided they were done with cross-hemisphere dating. They were getting married.
And so, the fundraising began.
In August, New Castle’s associate pastor, Chris Mann, received an email from Baptist Global Response Area Director Mark Hatfield. Hatfield cared about both Sayres and the Naivasha Children’s Shelter.
BGR had donated two cows to the home before, and Hatfield and his wife, Susan, had lived close to Sayres in Kenya and had grown fond of her. He considered himself her “African uncle.” As such, he had a duty to perform—negotiating a marriage fee.
“Susan and I have lived in Africa for 28 years now and have become accustomed to a cultural practice known as ‘lobola’ or ‘bride price,'” he wrote. “This is a custom that values the bride to be and the investment that family and friends have made in her life and assures that the groom not only values her in words but (also) by honoring family and friends with physical examples of how he values her.”
Hatfield also explained that Kenyan Christians evaluate brides by their godly characters, education, skills and experience. By these criteria, he wrote, Sayres was worth at least 12 cows. Other close friends of Sayres and self-proclaimed “African uncles” also wrote the church, supporting the bride price idea. They decided two cows—donated to the shelter—would suffice.
“It would not be good for me to have to object during the wedding ceremony when the pastor asks if anyone has objections,” Hatfield jokingly threatened.
Lowry says the email surprised his associate pastor, to say the least. They talked about the bride price idea for a while, wondering how the congregation would react to such a foreign concept. In the end, Mann proposed it to the church.
“Everybody laughed, and they were really gracious,” Lowry says. “They had fun with it.”
“For the next two weeks, everybody was asking me if I was a 12-cow kind of girl,” Sayres adds.
Lowry says his congregation gave freely. Sayres had previously spoken to First Baptist of New Castle about the shelter, telling members about the boys she had helped and had grown to love. They understood the shelter’s needs.
“I think that was part of the reason that people were willing to give—because they were able to hear about these boys and see some of their faces and hear their stories and know that this gift is going specifically to help them,” Lowry says.
The pastor remembered that some of the cattle farmers in the church even asked if they could simply ship a couple of their cows to Kenya. That wasn’t possible, so for about a month, members gave money until they had enough to purchase two cows. Then, they donated it through BGR.
Sayres is grateful to have inspired the effort.
“I thought it was entertaining,” she reflects. “I didn’t know they would actually follow through with it. But, I thought it was pretty exciting. It was a fun way to support the shelter, and I feel like I’m a bit African. I felt honored by the whole process.”
Of course, things have changed since the donation. Naivasha realized it didn’t have the land to support two more cows, so it’s conducting a feasibility study to decide whether or not to purchase goats with the money instead. Still, Sayres says, her bride price will give shelter staff more resources with which to care for the boys.
Lowry and Sayres, who were wed on Oct. 10, will get to see the results of their bride price fundraiser when they visit the shelter in January for a Kenyan wedding reception. There, they will honor more local traditions in celebration of their marriage.
Hopefully, those traditions won’t have anything to do with cows.