While talking with a new friend this past week, he thanked me for spending time with the people. He said that we, our little family, have done well on three fronts; we have come, we take time to talk with people when we greet and we have even reached a couple of funerals. He said the people have really appreciated this.
Funerals, I guess I expected them to be a part of our life here, as any doctor would, but I did not expect them to be such a constant and integral part of the culture here. Life surrounds funerals. At least once a week we will hear wailing and music through the night as family and friends mourn the lost of a loved one and seek to please the ancestors and recently deceased from haunting them or taking someone else. Once or twice a week, we have friends and random people knock on our door asking for a contribution for a family that has lost someone. In a real way, the death becomes a provision of money and a forgiveness of dept for those who remain. It is also a time of bonding and friendship. When someone dies, friends go and “sit” with the family for three to four days to show friendship and support. As Scott Myhre told me, if we want to love the living, we must spend time amongst the dead.
Sadly, we lost two long-time friends to the mission this past month. It is sad when any one dies. It is sad and painful when two responsible, grace-filled hopes of the community are taken away. Frustratingly, both deaths died because of a delay to surgery. The delay was caused by the lack of an x-ray machine, which delayed diagnosis of abdominal perforations, and the lack of hospital staff, which delayed time to the corrective surgery.
The first friend we lost this month was an elder of the church, one of the first friends of the mission and a helper to many. He was well loved and his testimony reached many families here. He often led worship and faithfully sat on the front left of the Church. Many former missionaries emailed us sad letters to be passed to the family.
The other friend was one of the youth, practically a family member of the missionaries. He was 33, had a wife and 2 children. When people spoke of him, they would say, “Oh, he was the responsible one.” He really is a Joseph story. Being sponsored by several of the missionaries to go to school, he studied hard and qualified to go to teaching school. When he got a job teaching, the family became jealous of his income (even though it was minuscule) and denied him his portion of the family land and crops. He faithfully trusted the Lord, saved money (a very counter-cultural practice here), and bought a small plot to farm and provide for his family. The uncles, seeing his resourcefulness and realizing all the other men in the family were addicted to alcohol, came to him, and requested that he come back and manage the family farm as well. He was a leader of the young generation of men here and a great role model for the children he taught at Bundamalinga Primary School.
Per the current missionaries here, the funeral for both of these men were unusually well attended. The time was filled with paradoxical praise for the promise of the gospel and wailing grief for the loss of greatly loved men. As dirt was shoveled on to the grave, the people sang, “Even in the grave, Jesus is the King.” This thought struck me as something I had not thought about. I often think of Him as Lord of the Living, a provider for our needs on earth, a giver of grace and an extender of mercy. I also think of Him as Lord of Heaven, as we live in the life eternal. But the grave- the grave is a necessary evil. It is something as a doctor I try to prevent everyday. But it is not seen this way here. It is a part of life. Even in death, life is provided for here on earth. As the last dirt is pushed into the ground, a tree is planted as a marker of the grave. New life will spring. For the family, this also gives a fresh start. Money is given, land is redistributed, and debts are forgiven.
This is not so unbiblical. Jesus stated that unless a grain falls to the earth and dies, no new life can come. In His death, Christ brought us life and forgiveness. Jesus came to redeem our lives. He has also redeems our death. It does not have to be the end of a meaningless existence or even a forever good-bye. The death itself can bring meaning and life with the hope of another reunion. Jesus blessed those who mourn and promised to comfort us. We can cry now because we will rejoice later. Otherwise, the grief would be too great and death to calloused. Even in the grave, He is the king.