'You should marry when God is drawing you together'

Monday, March 07, 2005

By Linda S. Mah lmah@kalamazoogazette.com 388-8546

Zawdie K. Abiade had plans -- and they didn't include having a white woman by his side.

Abiade was a seminary student who had hopes of becoming a bishop in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, an offshoot of the United Methodist Church that serves largely black communities.

In fact, Zawdie, who is black, was so discouraged by the attitudes of American women who he felt did not give enough respect to their husbands that after seminary he thought he might go to a foreign country to find a wife.

So no one could have been more surprised than he was when he found his soul mate in a white woman who had grown up in a Mennonite community in

Pennsylvania.

Zawdie and Nancy Abiade, who moved to the area three years ago and live in the Mattawan school district, have been married for 20 years and have three daughters and an adopted son. Their life, they say, is a testament to what happens when people allow themselves to follow God's interventions.

Zawdie Abiade had grown up in the William Wall Projects in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and Nancy Abiade grew up in Wayne County, Pa.

They crossed paths in 1983 when she was working as a social worker and he was completing clinical counseling work as a chaplain at the same inner-city hospital in Atlanta.

He came in one morning for his daily chat with the receptionist in the social-work office, while Nancy was talking with a co-worker about African names for children.

He noticed her picture with her long hair on her name tag and the new short haircut she was then sporting. He told her she should grow her hair long again.

"I thought, 'Who is this man?'" Nancy says with a laugh.

The two were soon talking every day.

"We'd talk about anything and everything," he says. "We were very transparent with each other."

But no matter how well they got along as friends, he didn't plan to marry a white woman.

Still, one day he brought up the subject of marriage -- as a purely abstract topic. And when she said she thought a marriage should be "50-50, with the man doing half the work and the woman doing half the work, I went into counselor mode saying, 'Mmmhmm, OK,' very nonjudgmental," Zawdie said. "Then I went back to my office and I punched the wall and stomped the floor and yelled, 'What is she thinking?' That's when I thought, 'El Stupido, you are falling for this woman. That's when I realized I had feelings for her."

He was determined to end the relationship before it got started. He did not stop in to talk to her for three days. Then she sent a note asking him to stop by her office and whether he'd like to come over for dinner.

At dinner, he planned to let her down easy and tell her he was sorry but "there wasn't room in my life for a white woman," he says.

She countered with two points.

"I said I could accept his rejection but only if he would say that he couldn't have a relationship with me because of who I was, not because of my race," Nancy says. "And I asked him to tell me what the difference is between him and a KKK member who says he cannot have a relationship with someone because of their race."

"She had me hooked there," he says.

The couple married in 1984, and they have lived in the Kalamazoo area for almost three years, brought here by his job as district superintendent -- or bishop -- for the United Methodist Church, overseeing 77 ministers.

Nancy Abiade says she can cite only one reason to get married. "I think sometimes, in the past, people would marry interracially to rebel or to make a statement. But I believe with all couples you should marry when God is drawing you together, not for revenge or spite or lust. Indeed, our own marriage has been a witness to many people of many cultures over the years."

Their life together has not been marked by many blatant examples of racism, they say. While his mother was initially opposed to their marriage, that changed with the births of their three daughters: Ayannah, 18, Aysha, 15, and Anika, 12.

"We always got that question, 'What about the children?'" Nancy says. "Some asked out of genuine concern and others were simply masking their racism. The answer I always gave is, they will have two parents who love them dearly, and that's more than a lot of children have."



© 2005 Kalamazoo. Used with permission

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