Sometimes missionaries find themselves in surreal positions, thinking to themselves, "I never thought I'd be doing this!"
extreme example of this facet of our job occurred this morning at 6:30
when my close friend in the village (Martha*) knocked on our door. She
was stunned by the "khombo" (danger) that had befallen them in the
night. The 7-month old son of her best friend and relative who lives on
her property passed away in the dark of night.
She had just held
him two hours before and rejoiced that she had finally gotten him to
take a little milk after what seemed like two days of stomach flu. She
had spent what little money she had on a tin of milk powder, hoping to
try something the child would drink. Finally, he took some. He played on
her lap, and Martha and the child's mom were relieved. Two hours later
Martha awoke to try to feed the child again, but "his eyes were open and
would not close." How shockingly sad.
They wanted to bury the child today, she said. Did we have a box they could use? And would Seth (my husband) "do the prayers" for them?
course we would help. We had church at 9:00; but she already knew that,
and we hoped to finish the funeral before church began.
the sitting room, and I heard him begin to break a pallet down in our
garage. I looked back at Martha in time to notice her hand over her eyes
as the tears began to flow. She recounted her shock again--how could
this happen? He was just happy two hours before! My own tears came as I
looked straight ahead at the jars of marbles sitting on our bookshelf,
filled with one marble for each month of our children's lives for 18
years. That mother had only 7 months to spend with her baby.
my children and dressed them for church in record time, tasks my
husband usually helps with. It felt so surreal when he came in to
measure our toddler, trying to guess at the dimensions of the casket he
was building. We shared a shocked glance at the thought of measuring our
own child for a casket. Yet practicality reigned on the surface while
emotions simmered beneath. We discussed how long a 7-month old might be
and raced back to our respective work.
I dressed the children in
their best clothes, thinking this might be the first funeral they would
attend. At first, we hoped Seth could run the funeral and come back to
get us; but as the casket took shape, we both realized we would have to
go all together and straight to church thereafter.
The casket was
beautiful. The wood itself was rough shelving board, but I was surprised
to see a hexagonal shape with a perfectly fitting lid. I had expected a
quickly fashioned rectangle.
While Seth dressed for church, I
grabbed my kitchen shears and ran out into the garden. I snipped Gerber
daisies, hibiscus flowers, hydrangeas, and any other flowers and greens I
found that were blooming and made a quickly thrown-together arrangement
in one of my melamine glasses.
Seth had asked me to scribe a
message on the lid. Surreality washed over me again, as I asked the dead
baby's four relatives (children), who were all standing at the edge of
our garage watching, what his name was and made sure of the spelling.
we arrived at the house, it was Martha, Seth, and I who arranged the
baby in the casket. I have never felt a dead person before. Again, I
wondered to myself at how my left hand could ease the dead child's head
into place as my right hand held my toddler on my hip.
We held a
short service with about 15 people as some men finished digging. My sons
and the other children were out of my sight elsewhere in the yard
during that time. The people wanted to perform some traditions and
invited us to head to church. Seth felt obligated to remind them that we
would have nothing to do with ancestor worship. Then while the ladies
sang, the men worked in turns to shovel the dirt back into the grave.
we left for church, I went into the house with Martha to speak to the
mother for a bit. She cried, and I sympathized. My heart broke a little
Then we took our kids, as well as their other children,
to church. We arrived 15 minutes late and conducted affairs as usual. It
felt...strange--almost like it hadn't happened. But when we got home
and cleaned up the mess left from our hurry, reality began to hit. Seth
had been both carpenter and preacher, all in one morning.
*Names were changed for this story.