Saturday, October 27, 2007

Heading to the Burial

I didn't need my alarm to go off to wake me up at 4:40am, as I had slept wrestlessly and was up by 4:30. I quickly dressed and poured some coffee from my flask (where I had put it the night before incase the power was off) to my Starbucks travel mug. Clothes, shoes, bananas, water bottle, camera, pillow, ready to go. I reached the "coasters" at 5 sharp and they were already packed with people. My seat was on the trundle (folding) seat near the front of the bus. The goal was to reach Kampala before 6:30 so as to beat the jam that ALWAYS occurs at Bwaise, just before town. In typical Ugandan fashion, we left a half hour late, drove incredibly SLOW over the bumpy dirt road to Luwero, and then burned 30 minutes in Wobulenzi getting fuel and using the local fascilities. Needless to say, we arrived at Bwaise at 7:30, right in the thick of traffic. I was beginning to get car sick, so my friend Paul (who I was so blessed to sit next to) and I got out and walked ahead to a Shell so I could regain my stomach. After making it through Bwaise and after making a number of funny and unnecessary stops, we were off to Ft. Portal. Paul and I spent the trip "dreaming" about future ministry to pastors and churches in the village (Paul himself has planted a church in a small village called Kiruli). After a quick stop for lunch at the "in your face chicken place" (this is where people come to your car with meat on a stick, waving it at your widow- at times the meat touching the glass!). Paul and I had goat, fried bananas, and chapatis. We made it to Ft. Portal around 1:30, just in time for the viewing.
I have been to a number of burials here in Uganda, but I have never participated in the common practice of entering the house where the body is being kept and looking at the body, but I went in to have one last look at my friend Emma. The room was full of women sitting on the ground. The coffin was long (Emma was around 6'7") and covered. The group of around 60 that I had arrived with stood around just looking at the coffin, until one bold man charged up to the coffin and uncovered the face. Immediately it was like a wave had hit as everyone rushed up to look in. Crying broke out as we looked on the face of our beloved Emma- so loved by so many.
The total attendence was around 200 people, with only around 10 from Ft. Portal itself, quite a testimony to Emma and those who know and love the Ruyondo family. After a few minutes the coffin was brought out into the center of the three canapies outside the house for general viewing.
Then the speeches began. Representatives from family, Emma's schools, work, and New Hope all spoke. The sister of Emma's deceased mother spoke, informing us that their mother had given birth to 14 children, of which only 3 are alive today. Her son, Emma's cousin, spoke with great faith and hope in Jesus. Yet one statement he made stuck with me- "Death is becoming more real to me than life." What a commentary on life here in Uganda. Yet he was quick to speak of the eternal that that death points to and continually draws our thoughts to.
Emma's Dad and my good friend Joseph then gave a speech. He narrated the entire situation of how Emma had died. We were all awaiting the sister, Esther, to arrive as she was having to take government exams for her end of school year. As Joseph ended his speech Esther pulled up. She was able to see her brother one last time. We then headed to the burial sight with much singing along the way.
At the gravesite I stood next to my friend Joseph and put my arm around him. I could hardly look at him throughout the day without crying, feeling the pain (really for the first time) of a father who had lost his son. Flowers were passed out to everyone to throw onto the coffin before covering it. As we sang and looked on, I couldn't help but notice Joseph with his arm around his two sons, Joel and Dan. I know that Joseph wanted to protect them and comfort them, just as he longed to have been able to protect Emma but was unable to. We sang, prayed, and cast our flowers just as the rain came in and forced us all to leave the grave quite suddenly.
We arrived back to an enormous meal of matoke, rice, millet bread, chapati, meat and chicken before heading back here to Kasana.
I recognize that this email is more "newsy" then heart. It's not that heart isn't there, it's just the drain from the emotion packed days that we have all been through. My heart is with Joseph as he leads his family through this journey of grief, one that he knows all too well.
I have been encouraged by the glory given to God and the hope of the Gospel proclaimed throughout all of this. It is tragedy and at death we rail in anger and pain. Yet it is not the end, but is the beginning. Emma is not the focus, it is Jesus, the one who made Emma and made him the young man he was. It is Emma's God that is the focus and to His wisdom we submit. The Gospel enters into the sufferers pain and cries out, "It is that the works of God might be desplayed". Thank you my Jesus for standing as our suffering high priest and for interceeding on behalf of our weaknesses. You are our only hope.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Losing a Son- Death and Grief in Uganda

As I approached my good friend Joseph Ruyondo I could see that something tragic had happened. Jay Dangers (our Director and father) was with Joseph and both had been crying together. Jay looked up at me and said, “Our son Emma has died.” What? Emma? Young, tall, strong, beautiful Emma? Always smiling, Jesus loving Emma? I hugged Joseph as the feeling of shock set in. Jay asked me to walk Joseph to his house and just sit with him. It was the longest walk I’ve ever taken. With my arm around him, Joseph and I began the walk up the dirt road to his house. We were joined by another friend, Rukundo, and together we slowly walked, cried, prayed, and walked some more.
Just as we neared the house I could hear the familiar sound of wailing that accompanies death here. Two women who had been close to the house had already received the news and were lifting up the mourning cry. They joined us as we entered his bedroom and sat down on the bed. As the women began to weep, we all broke out in a sudden onrush of tears and cries. For ten minutes all that could be heard coming from the bedroom was a mix of “Oh Jesus. Oh Yesu.” Intermixed with prayer and crying. Galatians 6:2 and Romans 12:15 flooded into my mind.
As our crying came to a stop I could hear the sound of loud wailing drawing nearer and nearer to the house. The sound grew nearer and then a crowd of women entered the house like a flood, filling every inch of ground in the sitting room (living room). Our own crying renewed, we joined their chorus and lifted our prayers to our brother and high priest, our King Jesus.
Joseph and I sat together and I was able to find out just what had been happening with Emma. He had come back from school over the weekend for some testing at a local hospital, complaining of pain in his leg and shortness of breath when walking uphill. The doctors ran tests but couldn’t find anything. They gave him some medicine (I’m not sure what or for what) and he headed back to school on Sunday. Joseph had heard nothing from him since, so he assumed things were ok. [Emma died on Wednesday from a blood clot that traveled to his lungs (thrombosis). His mother had died from the same condition twelve years before.]
I began to sense the guilt that Joseph was already tormenting himself with. “I should have kept him here and not let him go back to school. I should have called him back sooner for more testing.” By God’s grace I was able to speak into the self-condemnation. We prayed a bit more together before his attention was drawn to all of the practical matters that go into preparing for a burial here. Calling and informing relatives, finding out where the body is and where it’s being taken, figuring out where the burial is taking place and arranging transport to and fro for the family and the community who will accompany to the burial, getting a coffin made, and arranging with people in the home village to prepare for the burial- including digging the grave, getting food and cooks ready for the all night wake that occurs in the house with the body the night before the burial as well as the burial itself the following day.
We stepped outside the house and noticed that the gathering crowd had grown to over 75 people, most just standing around processing. A fresh wail was rising from inside the house. Joseph’s oldest daughter Esther was sobbing over and over again in waves that would continue on for hours as she processed her brother’s death. Benches began to be brought to the house and set up in the yard. Cell phones were going off all over as the network of community were informing as many people as quickly as possible. Villagers began to come from outside of New Hope, most carrying mats and blankets for the long cold night ahead of them. When someone dies here, everyone who knows anyone related to the deceased will come and spend the night with the family. The old women sit in the house on the floor, everyone else sits outside, just to “be” with the family in their grieving.
After a few more minutes fire wood began to be piled into a stack and was lit as the sun began to set. Off to the east a storm was blowing in and the hot day was cooling off in preparation of a cool night of mourning. “Oh Lord, where will these people go if it rains?” After getting our boys in bed, Laura Beth and I joined the crowd around the fire. The night would be passed by singing and sharing stories about Emma’s life. Laura Beth soon felt rain drops on her head and it seemed the storm had made its way to us. Funny, a wind suddenly began to come in from the other direction and throughout the night no rain fell. The Father’s care for us was so sweet as we sat around and sang of His goodness and the beauty of Emma’s life, a beauty that God Himself had formed in him. At one point my own grieving was renewed as we cried out “Blessed be Your Name.”
Sometime after midnight I was able to be with Joseph again. He was still making phone calls and worrying over how things would work out the following day. It was a privilege to walk with him as Uncle Jonnes made him turn off his cell phone, go into his bedroom and at least try to rest in the quiet of the night. We returned home to sleep a bit before Elisha and Noah would wake up with the first light of dawn.
Tomorrow I will be traveling with around 50 other people the long miles to Ft. Portal where the burial will take place. We will return the same day. Most of the Ugandans going will be paying around 20,000 shillings for transport, about 15% of their total month’s salary! I know of no event in this culture that causes everything (EVERYTHING) to stop and shut down like a burial. Shops close, work stops, schools are out, and crowds of people head out to attend the burial. Pray for grace, mercy and comfort for the Ruyondo family and for those who are traveling tomorrow to be with them.
Everyone here will miss Emma. He was a leader, a lover of God, and an example to everyone who knew him. If you could pick one of our “young men” would grow up to impact Uganda, it would be Emma. One thing that impressed me about him (besides the light of his constant smile) was his work ethic. He was willing to work hard to get to University and did not look to “sponsors” as the answer to all of his needs. He was a man of integrity and love. We are excited that Emma is able to see his mother and his Jesus and we look forward to seeing him again when we are with the Savior.
Though I haven’t yet attended the burial, I am already moved anew when I look back on the community response to yesterday. At times being in such a tight knit community can feel oppressive to our Western minds, yet when we are away from it we miss it terribly and realize what a blessing this community truly is. Yesterday demonstrates part of the blessing of living here in Uganda, where community is community and where people put people before everything else.

McFarland Update...

Dear Friends and Family,

Greetings to you from rainy Kasana! It has been some time since we sent out an update, and now there is so much to update you on I almost don't know where to begin. Let me begin with the most recent and tragic event.

Yesterday I was with my good friend Joseph Ruyondo (he's been at New Hope for over 15 years and is the head of the Childcare dept) a few minutes after he found out that his oldest son Emma had died. We think it was from a blood clot (thrombosis), which is the same thing his mother died from 12 years ago. It is a shock to the whole community here as Emma was a "poster child" for what you hope your children will grow up to be- he was an amazing young man and just 20 years old. The whole community joined together last night around the Ruyondo's home and many spent the entire night there. We all sat around a fire late into the night singing and sharing memories of Emma. I've written the whole experience out and attached it for those of you who would like to read more and gain more insight into the culture here. Please pray for the family as they grieve and as they are traveling today- Esther is the next oldest sibling and she is taking it very very hard- she has never quite gotten over the death of her mom and she leaned heavily on her big brother. Please also pray for Joel and Dan, who are both young teens and are also struggling immensily with their brother's death. Please also pray for me and the others from New Hope who will be traveling to Ft. Portal and back tomorrow (around 6 or 7 hours each way) for the burial.

Two Sunday's ago I had the privilege with the other elders from our church (Kasana Community Church) of baptizing 15 of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters at our nearby dam. Some of you may remember this place from a tragic drowning that happened there last year that I was involved in. It was an amazing redemption of that place that has been avoided completely since the drowning, and it gave quite a vivid picture of the spiritual truth of dying with Christ and being raised to newness of life.

Last Sunday we had a "Family Sunday" at church and it was like no other family Sunday I've ever attended. I had the privilege of being the best man in the wedding of my friend Kibeti and his wife Florence. Yes, she was already his wife, as he had "paid" for her three years ago in the village sense of getting a wife, but there is no real committment there and it is culturally the equivelent of getting a "slave". The significance of the event was that they covenanted together before God and the body of witnesses gathered there to love and serve one another for the rest of their lives- and what a glorious time it was of celebrating the beauty of marriage! Immediately after the wedding we celebrated all of the college and vocational graduations, ordained a deacon and had a baby dedication of around 10 babies. Now that's a Family Sunday!

Laura Beth is doing GREAT and is now 22 weeks along. We are having a third BOY, which is so exciting for me as that's one step closer to my soccer team! Laura Beth had to process it a bit : ) , but she's also very excited. The day will come when we'll get our fill of girls, too. We are so thankful for our Father's hand in our lives and for this gift that he is preparing for us to raise up.

The Institute has been finishing up very well- two more weeks of class before graduation on Nov. 13th. Please pray for us as we tie things up and "launch" the students out to their various ministries all over. One couple who is here from the Congo (Pastor Samuel Nkudulu and his wife Esther) is beginning a home for orphans immediately after returning to Congo and could use your support in prayer as they step out in faith to bring God's Fatherhood to the fatherless in Congo.

One PRAISE is concerning my Indian partner and intern Jiten Nayak. He was denied his work visa two weeks ago and asked to return to India within a couple of days. This was crushing news as he and my Ugandan partner George are running the January course while we are away. But our Father moved on our behalf and through a connection to a senior officer in immigration we were able to get the decision changed and Jiten was given a 2 year work permit!

Finally, we will be in the States from November 18th and will be returning to Uganda in May. We are so thankful to be staying in Wycliffe missionary housing in West Chicago throughout our time there. If you'd like us to come and speak at your church or to a small group let us know and we'll plan it! You can reach us initially via e-mail or by calling 630-773-8934.

Thanks so much for loving us and carrying us with you in heart and in prayer!

In Father's Love,

Keith (for Laura Beth, Elisha and Noah)