We had a member of our church pass away. I always considered her a little old lady. Today when they gave her biography at the graveside, I found out she was 58 years old when she died. I am getting older as I write. Makes you realize how fast it is over. I have never been as close to death as I am here in Zambia. My first Christmas Eve in our new location had us discovering a dead man in our school room as we started our service. I had to convince the police to make the special trip to examine the body before I could take it to the mortuary. I have preached at and attended funerals in the United States but there is a reality factor here in Zambia that I never experienced in the states. Last week our pastor in Magoye had a brother die and he asked for some help. He wanted to transfer the body to Mazabuka since there is a morgue to store the body, while he waited for his mother to make the trip to attend the funeral. I was sitting in his living room with all of the church members and neighbors offering their support. The dead body was laying in front of us wrapped in blankets. The time came, we loaded the body and off we went.
Death is the time of the men to come together and get the job done. As we drove to Mazabuka there was the excitement that men share when a large undertaking must be accomplished no matter what the cost. A police report, pay for plot, begin digging the grave, organize food for the funeral house, contact family, arrange church service and organize transport. A family that cannot afford to send their children to school will somehow find the money to make all the things happen for a funeral. Today’s funeral found me at the gravesite preaching. As a cultural outsider I visit the funeral houses but I don’t stay the night as everyone else does. I normally will preach the funeral service at the church and have one of our disciples preach at the gravesite. Today’s schedule got confused and they asked me to preach at the gravesite, as we didn’t have time for a church service. Once again there is an earthiness to death that I don’t feel in the sanitized western world. The grave markers record the life spans, they are not long. The reality of death is so close and real that the preaching grips me as I speak the words of life after death.
The hole has been dug. The coffin is ready to be placed in the hole. The ladies are all seated in the hot sun with umbrellas. The men are all gathered around the hole as a headman or health officer uses a stick to measure the depth of the hole. Passing inspection the work begins of dropping the casket into the hole and filling in the dirt. The young men all take turns with the shovel. Most Zambian tribes have cousin tribes. For the Tonga it is the Lozi. During the burial of a Lozi the Tonga friends will come and make jokes and try to lighten the atmosphere. When I first saw this I was offended and couldn’t understand why the family didn’t do anything to stop this seeming disrespect. But, I have gotten use to it, although I find it still makes me uncomfortable. I was asked to put a flower on the grave and offer up a final prayer and then I gave a ride to some of my young man and the brother of the deceased and his friend. We were talking about the tribal cousins when I recognized the friend of the brother as the father of a man who has helped me several times here when my transport broke down. He was the ambassador to Russia for Zambia at one time and his son Alpha was educated in Eastern Europe. I mentioned how I have tried to get Alpha to come to church, using his name given to him by his parents as a conversation piece. The father told me that to keep it up that someday God could break through the communist teachings that have shaped Alpha’s life. All is all it was a hot day in the sun. I was thanked profusely for having our young men play music at the funeral house and being part of the funeral.