The year 2020 looked set to be the year of weddings, before an unexpected health crisis hit the world. Various forms of COVID-19 lockdown measures have left many engaged couples wondering if they should postpone or cancel their weddings altogether.
In Malaysia, one couple decided to take a different path down the aisle. Benji and Michelle’s wedding was set for 21st March 2020 – the same week a Movement Control Order (MCO) was announced in the country. People were told to stay home, and all non-essential services had to shut. In the span of five days, the couple had to cancel all planned festivities, vendors… and also inform 800 wedding guests.
Yet they did not throw a fit about their big day being “ruined”. As the MCO measures at that point allowed for Pernikahan (exchange of vows) but not Jamuan (reception), the couple got creative and decided to hold a “virtual wedding” – so all guests could witness their beautiful exchange of vows online instead!
Today marks their two-week wedding anniversary (Happy Anniversary, lovebirds!).
Here’s a Q&A with the newlyweds, which I hope will encourage couples who are waiting and wondering what to do with their weddings.
Q&A with Benji & Michelle
1. The week before any wedding tends to be the most stressful one. What’s more, a week with a global health crisis and sudden MCO in Malaysia! What were some of the toughest decisions or experiences you had that week?
That week, things were changing every day. It began with having to establish safety precautions like providing hand sanitizers and reducing contact... then downsizing to different numbers with each passing day. Having to cut down the number of guests from 800 for the ceremony and 600 for the reception to just 250, and then 50, and finally to the most important people that needed to be there to witness, our parents.
We are both big on community and are actively involved with our church, especially the campus students ministry. We really wanted to get married before God in the midst of family and loved ones. It really hurt when we were first presented with the challenge to bring our guest list down to 250. How does one even do that?! Everyone is important, haha! It was mentally, physically and emotionally demanding.
We had to learn when to use our "head" and when to use our "heart"... learning to be objective so that our feelings and emotions do not dictate. And then, of course... having to break the news to everyone.
Already, we were very busy... and then, we had to find a way to communicate everything to everyone. To top it off, things were changing daily.... so finding the right timing to communicate the right thing to such a large number of people was crucial. We had to use our time very efficiently!
2. In being forced by circumstances to scale down your wedding plans, did it help the both of you to determine what’s really most important? If so, can you share some insights with us.
Many precious married couples with years of experience always reminded us that the wedding is just one day, but marriage is a lifetime. It's good to invest into a beautiful wedding, but our investment into a long-lasting and fulfilling lifelong marriage should far exceed that!
On hindsight, our small and intimate wedding turned out to be perfect. It was an absolutely beautiful experience for us. We always said that we wanted our wedding to be a chilled, fun and stress-free experience for our guests.
Well, some of them watched us in their pyjamas from their bedrooms so you could definitely say that they were pretty chilled!
The Facebook Watch Party was really fun for us and our guests, as we got to interact with them online. We had some guests who initially couldn't join us at the wedding due to different circumstances, but because of this, they got to join us online... so YAY!
3. Why did you still decide to get married and go through the stress of turning it into “a virtual wedding”, instead of just postponing it altogether?
At that time, we were due to go to Japan on 31st March for the purpose of church planting, as well as to pursue a 2-year Japanese language study course. We had worked out the timing of everything accordingly, and worked hard to apply for our student visas (which was also a tedious journey that started as early as October 2019). We did not want to delay things unnecessarily and jeopardise our work and visa.
With the visa, we had to enter Japan within 3 months – otherwise the visa would be forfeited, and it would take another 6 months before we could reapply.
Most importantly, above everything else, we both knew that getting married is essentially about getting married to each other in the presence of God. That's what really matters.
Having a crowd to witness our wedding would be wonderful… but at the end of the day, your marriage is a cord of three – both of you and God. That makes it possible for people to marry even in hard times, or if you are poor, or in war.
We do not necessarily need to put our lives on hold just because we are going through a hard time. We also know that we can still celebrate with people at a later, more suitable time, whether it's in a big group or in many smaller groups. People who really matter would totally understand and be supportive.
4. Benji, during your (virtual) vows, you said that having gone through what the both of you did, it only confirmed that Michelle was the one for you. I quote: “If it was any other girl, she would have run away!” Give us an idea of what Michelle was like in that week.
Well, there were ups and downs but her character really shone through that period. She was not only calm… but remained strong throughout that period and was ready to commit to and weather the storm with me. I, on the other hand… felt that I couldn't give her my best at that moment because I thought it was every girl's dream to be able to walk down the aisle and be under the spotlight on that special day.
Because of Michelle’s strength and the way she dealt with it, that confirmed that she is "the one for me".
5. Michelle, I imagine the brides-to-be out there must be wondering how you didn’t melt down or turn into a bridezilla! So the question is: How exactly did you manage to stay sane?!
Firstly, I never wanted to follow tradition blindly and do what everyone is doing if it doesn't mean something to me. I guess that was a good place to start from.
What’s really important to me and Benji is our faith in God. Everything revolves around that. Our faith teaches us that even in war or famine or persecution... nothing can separate us from God's love. It teaches us that material things don't last, we can't carry that beyond the grave.
Having that perspective really helps us to decide how we live this life on earth. Otherwise, the pressures of this world will drive us crazy. Really... there are things in this world that are far worse than this. Not having the "ideal" wedding is such a petty thing compared to the grand scheme of things.
I'm also very grateful for the very supportive community around us. Our families are thankfully very understanding, and did not pressure us to do anything that we didn't believe in. I am so, so grateful for that. It is important to communicate expectations early on.
Also, our church family is amazing! Our senior pastors walked us through pre-marriage counselling that prepared us well… they gave very wise, godly yet practical counsel. And they loved us not just in words, but also in time and action.
Our wedding was supposed to be fully powered by our friends and campus students from church. When this happened, a lot of plans had to change… but some of them still came around us to document the day, put beautiful flowers together, light up the place etc… and made it a beautiful experience.
(Benji had this to add in response to the question: "Babe, it requires some amount of insanity to stay sane, haha!")
6. Michelle, can you also shed some light on what Benji was like in that week?
He was understandably a little sad, but I soon realised the thing that was really bugging him was that he felt he couldn't give me the "dream wedding" that brides wanted. I was very touched that he was trying so hard to give me the best.
I was so glad to have someone that I could be real with and share honestly what I was feeling without being judged or misunderstood. We were able to speak life, encourage one another and lift each other up... I guess it was no coincidence that we chose the hashtag #YouLiftMiYap for our wedding!
I'm very thankful for someone who shares the same values that I do. That gave me much assurance that I was marrying the right man.
7. Were there any unexpected bright spots amidst those stressful times?
We were able to stay pretty cool throughout... and after a few days, I only started crying when I reflected on the love and sincerity shown by our friends. We are very touched by the way our friends came around us, although many of them couldn't physically attend the wedding in the end. The quality of the kind of people we have in our lives really shone through in this season.
8. A closing word of encouragement to couples who are scheduled to get married soon?
Don't give up. It's not the end. In fact, it's just the beginning of your beautiful marriage to each other.
If you give it a chance, you'll find beauty even in the darkest of times. Keep a resilient spirit. Things may not have turned out as you planned, but they can turn out even better! What a great story you'll have to tell your future generations.
Bonus: Some questions for the couple from a real life bride-to-be…
Q: My wedding is 8 weeks away. I'm now thinking we should have a contingency plan. Based on your experience, what are some things that we should be considering?
If you have the option to postpone and you don't mind doing so, go for it. Be in close communication with your stakeholder and vendors. Because of what's going on, many parties are actually very understanding, and you may be able to work out something with them. Be kind and understanding to them as well – it’s very likely that their industry is hit very hard from this situation too. Stay focused and stay open to changes!
Q: Can you please tell me about the process of dealing with your vendors. What fees are associated with postponing or cancelling our wedding? Are there any deposits that are refundable?
The Chinese restaurant that we were going to have our reception at allowed us to carry our deposit forward and choose another date in the future (which we have yet to confirm, by the way). Before the MCO was confirmed, we were already talking to the restaurant to work out a few possibilities.
Our photographers were unable to document the day for us despite our scaling down (thankfully, our friends who are also wedding photographers kindly stepped in!). But they said that they could extend it until the end of the year, with certain conditions. We are not certain if our future dates will match with theirs, so we may or may not lose our RM3,000 deposit.
Our suit and dress were custom made so that took care of itself.
Q: What and how do we tell our guests?
From the start, we chose to communicate personally with our guests and handled the RSVPs ourselves. So when it came to informing our guests, we did it ourselves too (although our friends did offer to help us) – we preferred the personal touch. When everything happened, we had to contact them twice because things kept changing. We wrote a long message to explain the situation and also share what we were going through and mass sent it out. It was copy and paste lah... no shame in that haha! People are generally very sympathetic and understanding.