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Beautifully Arranged: Sol and Liz Ocampo — A Family Steeped in a Love That Began as Strangers in Marriage (Part 1 of 2)

Solomon and Liz Ocampo and their children (Photo courtesy Solomon and Liz Ocampo)
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Christian pastors Solomon (“Sol”) and Liz Ocampo have taken a unique path to love.

They didn’t meet and fall in love and then get married — on the contrary, it was an arranged wedding. Both of their sets of parents were in the ministry, with Sol’s Filipino parents having met Liz’s Kenyan father and Ugandan mother when the former were missionaries in Nairobi.

It was Liz’s mother who instigated the whole process in 2012, although an arranged marriage wasn’t exactly in Liz’s plans.

“For me, it started as a big joke,” Liz says in a joint interview with her husband with Culturs Magazine. “Like, you cannot be serious that you’re choosing my husband. Every time I would see my mom, she was so serious about it, and she wasn’t liking my current boyfriend at the time. She would pray for the breakup of that relationship.”

You cannot be serious that you’re choosing my husband.

Liz Ocampo

Sol, on the other hand, had seen his older siblings marriages arranged by his parents. “But still, it was crazy, it was pretty crazy to a logical human being,” he says, asking himself: Why would your spouse be picked by someone else other than you?  “And then someone that you have no feelings for (a) and (b) someone you do not know, (c) someone who is not from your neighborhood, (d) someone who is not from your country, (e) someone who is not even the same race! It goes against everything you grew up knowing — the concept of who your wife is supposed to be. … What everybody grows up being,” he adds.

“That’s who you see, your father marrying a Filipina, and your uncle — they’re all the same race,” he continues. “Then now you’re jumping out with no really clear explanation why. So it was crazy, even though I was used to it [arranged marriage] with my siblings.”

Sol and Liz in Kenya
Sol and Liz Ocampo (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

Our mothers’ love

What made their parents think an arranged marriage between Sol and Liz could work was that both sets of parents were very close friends, according to Sol.

“They were friends at church, [his parents had] been missionaries over here in Kenya since the late 1980s,” he said. “So they … formed this bond with her parents for two decades-ish, but we didn’t know each other personally as individuals. Our parents were good friends, working together in the ministry. So I guess my mom was seeing her and was saying, ‘Oh these two would make a good couple,’ and she was friends with her mom very tightly so I don’t know what was the reaction with her mom.”

As for Liz, Sol’s mother “only mentioned it when my mother went to the Philippines for his [Sol’s] sister’s arranged marriage and so while after the wedding of his sister, she was like, ‘You know, the next child that needs to get married … I’m considering your daughter’ [as a potential spouse to her son].

“And my mom also laughed, ‘Which daughter?'” Liz continues. “There are three of us. And so [Sol’s mother] said, ‘Your last daughter, Liz.’ And mom laughed even harder because she knows me very well — there’s no way I’m gonna do that, and she said, ‘You know, it’s a very good idea but if Liz agrees, I am for it.'”

Liz’s mother called her immediately. “She’s telling me, she’s laughing, ‘You know the Ocampos? You know who’s next in line?’ Actually I don’t know those guys there’s just too many. And she’s like ‘Anyway, it’s Solomon and they’re considering you to be his bride.'”

Liz was in shock.

“You’re there. Please explain it’s not going to happen,” Liz shares. Her mom replied, “That’s exactly what I told them, but just think about it, consider it.”

Not in the cards

But the bride-to-be had no intention of being told who her future husband would be. But her mother did not give up. Upon returning to Kenya from the Philipines,  Liz’ mother continued her persuit of a potential union between her daughter and Sol.  “You should think about it — he’s so nice,” she coaxed. “When I was there, I really thought this guy could be my son-in-law.’ 

Sol and Liz
Sol and Liz Ocampo (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

Liz’s father was on her side, though.

He said to Liz, “‘No I believe you. You should fall in love with the person you’re going to be married. You need to be attracted to the person.’ And I was very much not attracted to him at the time.”

For the next two years, Liz dated other people. Sol was in Liz’s Facebook timeline, but she blocked him because she could not explain to her then boyfriend who this was in her facebook feed. The likelihood of a wedding seemed to fade as each day passed.

“I feel like I really needed those two years,” Liz mused “Because by the end of those two years I was convinced that he was the one.”

As for Sol, “I’m very much pleased that she took those two years to delay it, fortunately she came back to me and said yes.” In the meantime, however, this enabled Liz to “go to the market and see the selection.” Liz took the time to date in Kenya, in Nairobi, even international, and cross-cultural. “So I guess I’m not the only foreign choice she had,” said Sol. “So at least now she’s settled. I’m happy in that regard.”

Stumbling blocks on both sides

The biggest stumbling block for Sol was that while he “could see with my eyes that she was very beautiful and very pleasant to the eyes, I was still coming from the closed-minded and traditional concept of just being stuck with wanting a Filipina bride. So I was not appreciating that beauty because I was so hung up, so stuck up on the cultural concepts and preference that I was coming from. But now of course I can’t imagine my life without her. I’m so blessed and pleased that I ended up with her and she still chose me. Because I just can’t imagine the beauty and everything, the whole package that comes with marrying a black woman. And you know what they say, “Once you go black…” He said, laughing.

Sol did at one point lose hope.

“I told myself it’s a done deal, she turned her back, because even with my mom, who’s very persuasive, she tried to talk to her for hours and my father, and she was still set on ‘No.’ So I said ‘that’s it, it’s done.”

A light shines through

To Sol’s surprise, she unblocked him from Facebook one day. “I said fine, and with my mom we planned a surprise engagement whirlwind trip.”

Out-of-the-blue the marriage was ON! From the Philippines to Kenya on the weekend to propose — off went Sol. “I was ready for anything, a yes or a no because it had been a no for two years so If she had said no and embarrassed me to my face — which was her plan by the way, I didn’t know that that was her plan to say no — but she was just pressured by the audience of all the family members there, so I’m thankful for them pressuring her.”

I was ready for anything, a yes or a no because it had been a no for two years.

Sol Ocampo

Sol was ready for a no, and when she said yes, he was in disbelief. She said yes. After two years of “no,” it was a “yes.”

Caught off guard

Sol and Liz
Sol and Liz Ocampo (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

During the whirlwind of activity, Liz didn’t know Sol was flying over to Nairobi to propose.

“I unblocked him on a Tuesday. By Friday, he was in my living room to propose,” Liz conveys with hearty laughter. “It happened too fast, it was like, ‘Dude, I just unblocked you. Relax.’

“His sister-in-law who was living in Nairobi at the time, came and said ‘I brought you a cake,’ and she makes fantastic cakes. And so I’m just sitting there going ‘Where’s the cake?’ And she comes back with him. He gets on his knee and says ‘Will you marry me’ …

Liz screamed.

“I said, ‘Wait, how are you here, you’re in Manila!’ And so my whole family heard and they all came to the living room, and now there’s so many people so I didn’t want to embarrass him, and Im like what is going on here?!?”

Sol’s is family was there, Liz’ family was there, all eagerly awaiting an answer for the impending bethrothal.

“It was the longest two minutes of my life because when I asked ‘Will you marry me,’ she didn’t say yes — she said ‘WHAAAT?!?,'” recalls Sol.

Liz was in disbelief. She didn’t know what to say. “I didn’t want to say ‘no’ and embarrass him because there were so many people — so I just said yes,” she recalls. “Then he got so happy, he’s jumping up and down, my family grabbed me quickly and we went to a room and [they] were like ‘Congratulations!'”

Sol and Liz
Sol and Liz Ocampo (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

Liz wanted to nip it in the bud: ” I’m gonna tell him no, I just didn’t want to embarrass him,'” but her big brother set her straight. He held her and said “You can’t do that to a man. You have to say ‘yes,’ you have to mean your ‘yes,'” he insisted. Not wanting to disappoint her brother, Liz thought to herself, “Okay, let it play out.”

And play it did! The news spread quickly through their homelands. “Before I know it his mother has bought me a ticket to the Philippines, and so now this is becoming very hard to say, ‘I was joking, guys,'” she laughs.

Moving quickly

Before she can get her bearings, Liz is in the Philippines shopping for a wedding dress and picking a venue.

“It happened so fast,” she says.

During the engagement period, before Liz even started falling for Sol, she was falling for her future in-laws.

“I was falling for his mother, not him or the idea of the marriage,” she says. “But [with] his mother, I was like, ‘I can live with her as a mother-in-law.’ She was amazing and she would spoil me rotten.”

Sol and Liz
Sol and Liz Ocampo (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

The engagement to the wedding lasted only two and a half months, according to Liz.

During that time, Sol says he “was thrilled and also nervous at the same time, because I’m entering marriage here. It’s for life. This is it, it’s not something you joke around with. I was thrilled and excited and nervous.”

Changing countries, changing life

“During that time because we had agreed that I was going to live in the Philippines, it was just saying goodbye to my country,” Liz says. “During those two months, she had a lot to absorb and quite a bit of adjustment to process. She had just started a career as a radio presenter and her career had  skyrocketed, “I was starting to get my daily show, and here I am giving it all up to go get married to someone I don’t love or like,” she laughs.  “It was just too much to take in. I felt like I was in a daze, it just happened so fast.”

“Shock and awe,” Sol added as they both laughed.

Shock and awe

So the wedding proceeded. Sol’s mother planned a month-long honeymoon for the couple — and both families — to spend in the Philippines.

Sol and Liz
Sol and Liz Ocampo (Photo courtesy the Ocampo family)

The honeymoon was also the new couple’s first chance to actually get to really know one another.

“The Philippines is 7,000 islands so you’re just in awe of everything,” Liz said. “And yes, getting to know him, like, ‘OK, what is your second name?,'” she laughs. “We had so much to talk about because we knew absolutely nothing about each other. And we were both so talkative. We’re both extroverts; I didn’t expect to marry an extrovert, I always thought I’d marry an introvert.”

“Yeah the honeymoon was, it was short, I think we only had two weeks before she fell ill, with the pregnancy, but it was a wonderful,” Sol said.

“The honeymoon became a family vacation,” he added. “There was an instance when the bellboy at the hotel switched keys. They gave our room key to some of our family members and we’re you know, in bed, getting it on, and all of a sudden the door opens! Luckily he didn’t see anything — the door was down the hall, but can you imagine? This is the first time you’re getting to know your spouse carnally, then boom, you could hear your brother and your sister…”

“And that night, our wedding night, we had no peace,” Liz chimed in. “Because a sibling would come in, ‘Oh sorry sorry, we left this in your room. So we were up until 4 a.m. because we had different siblings coming in and out and I’m just sitting there in my wedding dress and I’m like, ‘This is not how I imagined it,'” she laughed.

“It was like torture. We didn’t even undress,” Sol said.

Only two weeks of bliss

Two weeks into the honeymoon, Liz was throwing up. A lot.

She was pregnant.

Check out Part 2 of the Ocampos’ incredible story tomorrow!

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