When a church member at Parklands Baptist Church asked for volunteers to write to their associate pastor who was then in the Unites States of America (USA), Martha, then single, did not anticipate anything would germinate from the innocent little postcard she sent to Ambrose Nyangao. Little did she know that the postcard would spark curiosity with a lasting impact that would see her and the pastor tie the knot years later. They share their story with ESTHER AKELLO.
“Sweetheart, remember the card I sent you while you were in America…” Martha kick starts the interview with fond memories of how it all begun.
I listen to Martha Nyangao, 48, fondly and effortlessly refer to her 56-year-old husband, Ambrose Nyangao, in what would be the choice word of endearment throughout our entire conversation. The two sit across each other, reminiscing on the milestones that have shaped their marriage over the past 20 years, including the controversy that was sparked by Ambrose, an associate pastor at the time, dating a congregant.
“I first met Ambrose in 1985 when I joined Parklands Baptist Church. In accordance with the church’s practice, he came to our home for pastoral visits, eventually baptising me,” recalls Martha.
In 1988, Ambrose, who was at the time in another relationship, left for the US for further studies. This relationship would later crumble after his girlfriend dumped him with little explanation. Despite the new developments in his life, he maintained correspondence with members of his church and during one festive holiday sent back home a Christmas card. In response, a church member called on members to write him back as well. Martha, who was at the time an active member in the church, took up the challenge. She sent the pastor a post card.
“In his absence, a lot of girls in our church were fondly talking about him. I prayed that he would not read anything into my sending him a postcard,” says Martha.
Ambrose returned home in 1991 with a resolve to concentrate on church work now that the woman he loved had dumped him. He didn’t want any involvement with women though there were many pursuing him. But in 1992, he started feeling an urge to settle down. He felt ready for a relationship and trusted God to show him the way, though he had no idea where to start. Then he remembered the postcard.
“I received many letters from lots of girls while I was in the US but the postcard stood out, though I could not put a face to the writer. But now I felt God directing me to find out who Martha was,” explains Ambrose.
“When I found that she was the girl I had baptised earlier, something told me I needed to know her more,” says Ambrose adding that he only asked her out on her birthday at the end of that year. This was the beginning of their dating, which caused a stir among the congregation. To avoid jibes and talk behind their backs that were getting louder, Ambrose introduced Martha publicly as his girlfriend after only three months of seeing each other.
Transition into marriage
Two years later in 1994, Ambrose and Martha got married but the excitement and bliss of marriage was quickly shattered. “I soon discovered that the talkative man who cracked up the entire congregation was very quiet at home. I had to pry words out of him,” says Martha.
Ambrose’ duty as associate pastor further meant late evenings as he was in charge of pastoral visits. The couple never seemed to have private time together and soon the strain in the union started to show.
“We barely had time to catch up with each other socially, spiritually and sometimes even intimately. All I remember thinking was Martha did not understand how important my calling as a man of God was,” quips Ambrose.
As a pastor’s wife, Martha would share her husband and home with the rest of the church and this was especially hard for her. Having been raised singlehandedly by her father, she was not used to seeing so many different people ‘invade’ a home and being hosted.
“I did not have the benefit of a mother to emulate and become a good host. It didn’t come easy or naturally and I had to learn the hard way. I had to learn how to hold conversations with different people and also dress appropriately. I recall a time I wore culottes while hosting a church group in our house and some women in my church reprimanded me saying it was not the right dress for a pastor’s wife,” Martha says.
Then came the babies
Then the babies started coming and Martha felt trapped. “We conceived our first child during our first year of marriage. I didn’t feel my husband was very supportive after the birth of our daughter and I kind of felt tied down at home while my husband’s life continued normally,” recalls Martha.
When Ambrose realised his wife was not happy, he decided to make changes in his life, especially his work life. He changed his work routine, starting early and ensuring he was back home early to spend time with his family. He also made it a point to drop and pick Martha from work every day. These rides provided the couple with time to talk and catch up on various issues before children took over their lives once they got home.
“These early teething problems made us reflect and remind ourselves that we didn’t have children when we made the decision to get married and so our marriage should always come first,” says Ambrose.
Ambrose also resolved to encourage his wife to pursue her career goals as he did not want to see her buckle under the pressures, real or imagined, of being a pastor’s wife. Ambrose made it clear to members of his congregation and church that the ministry was his calling and Martha’s calling was to be his wife and supporter, as he served the church.
Ten years into her career, Martha quit her job as an IT specialist in the finance sector to pursue her life’s passion – cooking. “When I told Ambrose I wanted to quit my job to pursue my passion, he told me to take some time to think about it,” recalls Martha.
After taking time off to think about it, Martha was still convinced quitting formal employment was what she wanted to do and her husband fully supported her. “I wanted my wife to be happy and if it was her wish to quit her job, then it was for me to stand by her. We had to re-organise our finances as my family’s providence was now entirely on me,” says Ambrose.
Martha and Ambrose were blessed with three children – two girls and one boy, but tragedy was to visit them in 1997. “Our three and a half-year-old first born daughter was accidentally given liquid paraffin by the nanny who mistook it for water. She was rushed to hospital but sadly passed on. This was a painful loss for us,” say the couple with Ambrose adding that it took him several years to mourn her.
“Our daughter’s death caught us off guard. We both took it very hard but we managed to get through with support from friends, family and church members,” says Ambrose adding that they accepted the death as an accident and did not hold the nanny to account.
The couple had planned to have three children right from the beginning and God has now blessed them with an adopted daughter, Sifa. Two-year-old Sifa came into their lives after her mother, a relative, went back to school and the couple was called to help take care of the child, which they did not hesitate.
Martha and Ambrose celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in August last year. “Looking back at our years together, I agree with the old adage that first you marry the man you love and later love the man you married. I fondly call my husband sweetheart because he has earned it. He has supported our family and encouraged me to take risks thus bringing out the best in me,” says Martha.
The couple says their marriage has faced several challenges but also agree that like fine wine, it keeps getting better with age. Communication and support for each other, regardless of traditional gender-specific roles, remain the pillars that hold their relationship together.
“Our love for each other continues to grow as we grow older together and we have learned to please and satisfy each other in ways that keep our relationship alive. We consider each other as best friends and not merely as instruments of gratification,” says Martha with Ambrose adding, “The Bible says that my body is her body and vice versa, it’s not just a duty, it’s a fellowship.”
The couple conclude saying with God’s blessings and grace, their best years are still ahead of them.
Published in February 2015