Why It Paid to Follow an Elder’s Request

Crystal Renée Sanders and Uwemedimo Okon Umoumoh were married July 27 at the Duke University Chapel in Durham, N.C. The Rev. Dr. Sterling E. Freeman, a Baptist minister, performed the ceremony.

The bride, 35, is an associate professor of history and the director of the Africana Research Center at Penn State. She graduated cum laude from Duke and received a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern.

She is a daughter of Velvaline Shepherd Sanders and Nathaniel L. Sanders Jr., of Clayton, N.C. The bride’s father, who worked in Raleigh, N.C., is a retired civil rights compliance specialist for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Her mother is a retired occupational health consultant for GlaxoSmithKline, a pharmaceutical company, in Zebulon, N.C.

The groom, 36, was until April a youth pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Uyo, Nigeria, and a civil servant for the Akwa Ibom State Government, also in Uyo. He graduated from the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria.

He is a son of Ikpa Umoumoh and Uwemedimo Umoumoh of Uyo. The groom’s mother is a retired school administrator with the Akwa Ibom State Government in Nigeria. His father who worked in Eke, Nigeria, is a retired senior coordinator for ExxonMobil.

The couple were made aware of each other in March 2017. An uncle of Mr. Umoumoh, who also happened to be a colleague of Ms. Sanders at Penn State, told her she would be an excellent match for his nephew, who was teaching chemistry and geography at a middle school in Uyo.

“The person he described to me seemed like a really nice guy, but he happened to live on another continent,” Ms. Sanders said. “Besides, I wasn’t interested in getting set up.”

She passed along her email address and had all but forgotten about Mr. Umoumoh until the following month, when she received a message from him.

“One of the first things he tells me is that he has no interest in a relationship, and that he was pretty much calling as a favor to his uncle, because when an elder in Nigeria asks you to do something, you just do it,” Ms. Sanders said.

They proceeded to chat for a while and emailed each other periodically. He eventually asked for her phone number and began texting her, and by early October 2017, they were chatting on the phone.

“It had really turned into a pretty nice friendship,” Mr. Umoumoh said. “We even started giving each other dating advice.”

Ms. Sanders began to see Mr. Umoumoh in a different light “when he began talking about his personal life and the failed relationships he was a part of,” she said. “He was the first guy I ever knew who did not place all of the blame on the women he had broken up with, choosing instead to put a lot of the blame squarely on his shoulders, and I admired the fact that he was honest and mature enough to admit that.”

A world away, Mr. Umoumoh’s admiration and feelings for Ms. Sanders were also blossoming.

“Despite the distance between us, we had so many things in common, especially the fact that we have a very strong Christian faith,” he said. “Every conversation was better than the one before, and the one thing I really enjoyed about talking to her was that she let me be myself.”

Soon they began confessing their feelings, and slowly began considering the possibility of embarking on a long-distance relationship. “By then, we knew so much about each other,” Ms. Sanders said. “It had become obvious that we had feelings for each other, and it felt like the right time to explore those feelings.”

Their exploration officially began at the end of one memorable four-hour conversation, when Mr. Umoumoh said, “I really enjoyed talking to my girl tonight.”

They each hung up the phone, but in a nervous heartbeat, Mr. Umoumoh called her back. “Did I just call you my girl,” he said to her. “I can’t believe it.”

“Well, I guess I am your girl,” she replied, laughing.

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