African-Theme Weddings with a Heart for Africa
By: Karen Sullen

A connection to distant lands and a kinship to a far-away people can be felt throughout the ceremony. Touches of Kente cloth accent the attire while fragrant candles adorn the church. Everything, including the floral arrangements and wooden elephant favors, is reflective of the African theme, as a celebration of love flows through every detail. Yet some couples allow their love to flow much farther. With a heart of compassion and overflowing generosity for others, many couples are choosing to do more than simply spread the love among family and friends. Instead, they are spreading the love across the shore to allow their new beginning as a couple to give hope to another part of the world.

Why all of this heartfelt generosity? Its genesis can be garnered from a number of areas. We live in a global community that seems to be getting smaller by the day. And the ripple effects of a struggling economy can be felt across the ocean in indescribable proportions. Seeing the starving children, lack of clean water and rampant disease, many cannot help but be challenged to change. It's only human to want to make a difference in some way, and the wedding provides a perfect portal. Some community-conscious couples consider their decision to help others a result of their lifestyle rather than caused by an event. Always turning everyday situations into opportunities to help someone else, these perpetual do-gooders consider their wedding day no different. And there are others seeking an alternative because the need for basic household items no longer exists, as the decision to marry has come late in the lives of couples who already have the traditional wedding gifts, times two. The merging of two-households full of possessions is challenging enough without adding the "well-intended-but-often-duplicated" wedding gift into the mix. For these and a variety of other reasons, the gift registries of toasters, blenders and household accessories have been replaced with a registry of a different kind. Through World Vision, for example, philanthropic couples can select items to be given in their honor from a gift catalog that identifies some of the basic living needs of people in Africa.

Imagine giving a goat as a wedding gift. It may seem strange, but you can! And for a family in Sudan, it is a way out of poverty, as the goat nourishes them with fresh milk, cheese, and yogurt, and can offer much-needed income by providing offspring and extra dairy products for sale. Some might say, "Goats are not my thing," but there is a way to bring significance, no matter what the interest. Teachers can "Buy A Bike" so that educators can reach remote parts of the country. Couples with a heart for children can add "Reunite a Child" to their gift registry, enabling street children of Ghana to be reunited with their families. All gifts in the catalog have been specifically requested by communities with whom World Vision is working long-term. No matter which gift is chosen, the impact is multiplied in the hearts of the bride, groom, gift-giver and grateful recipient.

However, one does not have to always look abroad to find sources of need. Typically, there are plenty of opportunities for outreach and humanitarianism right in the communities in which we live. Donations can be made in honor of the bride and groom to organizations helping families still struggling to rebuild after the devastating storms in Louisiana and surrounding areas. Consider funding educational projects to improve literacy rates among inner-city youth. Or what about the countless homeless shelters for families? Indeed, there is no shortage of sound organizations working to make a difference. There is only a shortage of resources. As you step down the aisle, you can also take a step in the right direction by allowing your wedding day to become a ceremony of consciousness and a celebration of the human spirit, making a huge difference in the lives of others. It all begins with a gift.

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