Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Zambian Funeral

Yesterday we attended the funeral of Elina, a sweet 82 year old lady who gave us the New Day land.

Sidenote: Here is how we got our land. Blu & I took a survey trip to Zambia in March of 2009. We knew we wanted the orphanage to be in Mapanza, so we had to get permission from the chief. The chief then approached his senior headmen to see if any headman would be willing to have the "whites" come and start an orphanage on their land. Our headman agreed, and then approached his people to see if anyone would be willing to donate land. Elina stepped up and gave us 63 acres of land. She had 8 children, but all of them had died except for one daughter, so there was no one left to farm her land, so she willingly gave it to us.

Elina began attending church early on here at New Day, always with a smile and then a rebuke for not bringing her food! New Day built her a new house a few years ago, and we employed her daughter, Shankester (first as the Cooks' maid, and now as the maid for The Ark). Her grandchildren - Carol, Milton, and Crabby have been attending Kids Club and church from the very beginning, and at the funeral we discovered that many more people called her "Grandmother!" In 2013, during a meeting about baptism, Elina gave her life to Christ, and she was baptized soon after. In September of last year, she had a stroke, and she steadily declined since that time. In the past 2 weeks, we have visited numerous times, and taken her to Macha Hospital twice, but it was clear that God was calling her home.

When someone dies in Zambia, drums start beating and people start wailing. The actual "funeral" covers a 2-3 day span where people from all over gather with the family. The "burial" is typically what we in America refer to as the funeral, but here the funeral is more of a social event taking place over a number of days. The family of the deceased is expected to feed all of the mourners; thus, there is often a rebuke at funerals here to "not come just to eat!"

When we heard that Elina died, the family arrived and asked for use of our canter truck to take the body to the mortuary. In rural villages, bodies are not usually embalmed, but they will stay at the mortuary until the family has purchased a coffin and is ready to bury. The coffin is sometimes handmade by the family and other times purchased. We provided the family with money for the coffin and to buy food for the mourners. Mulenga took the body to the mortuary on Thursday afternoon.

Because there weren't any distant family members needing to travel here, burial was arranged quickly for Friday morning. Because Elina attended New Day Church, we were in charge of the service, so Abby planned the order of service. Families usually give a time for burial, but it all depends on when the coffin is purchased, the body is ready, and the grave is dug. On Friday morning at 8:30am, Mulenga left for Macha Hospital to pick up the body while strong grandsons began digging the grave just near her village. Blu went to check progress at 12pm and came back with word to get ready. Wes, Laurie, Blu, myself, Kailyn, Abby, Hildah, Liz, Mirriam, Brian's wife, Loveness, the Tembos, and our middle and older kids all arrived at the funeral at 1pm.

At the funeral, the immediate family (in this case Shankester) sits in a small hut with the coffin. When mourners arrive (who hadn't been there for the past couple of days sleeping outside), they proceed to begin wailing as they enter the small house to greet the family. Then, the men congregate together and the women sit together. Once we arrived and entered the house to greet the family, the coffin was moved outside, and the service began.

The headman (Paul, Eness's brother) led the service, following Abby's order. We began with a prayer, and then Blu gave the "church history" of Elina, which basically described her salvation and baptism. Papa Tembo then preached, and man he brought the fire! It was a great evangelistic message, calling for people to receive Jesus at the end. In the middle of the sermon, a woman arrived wailing and screaming. She carried on, disrupting the sermon, until we finally had to stop. Throughout the whole service, though, she continued wailing and was a huge distraction. Then, a pack of dogs arrived and started fighting near the coffin. Satan sure does love to thwart the sharing of the Gospel!

After the sermon, it was time for the body viewing. We all marched by the coffin to see the body. She was wrapped in towels and all you could see was a tiny portion of her face. Kleenex had been shoved up her nose, and one eye was partially open. I walked by fast!

From there, we all marched to the gravesite, which was just across from the village. The New Day and Mapanza Baptist choir sang as they brought the coffin over. Wes then spoke, sharing the Gospel again, and "committing the body." Two men jumped down into the grave, and they put the coffin down into it (I have seen a coffin dropped before at a funeral!) Then, as the choir continues singing, all of the men take turns shoveling dirt into the grave and covering it. This takes about 15 minutes as everyone stands and watches. Blu took his turn shoveling, and even though it was a funeral, I did notice he looked pretty good with his strong muscles shoveling dirt! ;)

Now, it was time for my favorite part - the laying on of the flowers. Sometimes flowers are made out of toilet paper, but we had real flowers from New Day, and they were beautiful. The headman calls out specific groups to come and put flowers on the grave. He began with "Whoever called her Mother." Shankester placed her flowers. Then "whoever called her Grandmother." "Whoever called her Sister." (This is because, your great aunt in Zambia will be called your grandmother, your cousin will be called your sister, etc.) "Whoever is a relative." "Pastors from the Baptist Church." "Other church representatives." "Baptist Choir." He ended with "Children from New Day Orphanage", and our kids all placed flowers on her grave - so sweet! At this point, I began to think about Precious and think about the absolute heartache her funeral must have been to watch our kids place flowers on her grave. :(

By this time, the sun was beating down on all of us, and it had been about 90 minutes. The family and two headmen spoke, thanking everyone for coming, thanking New Day for all we had done, and reminding everyone how good it was of Elina to give us land. The senior headman then chastised everyone about funeral attendance. He told them that there were a lot of people not there, and when they see their friends, they should ask them why they weren't at the funeral. He reminded everyone that funerals were not just something to come to for food. As I looked around at the faces, I was gripped by the lostness of those around me. The people here live in fear. They fear death, they fear evil spirits, they fear witchcraft. Funerals are a common, every day occurrence to them, similar to a church potluck or get-together. They need Jesus.

So there is a look at a typical Zambian funeral. In Zambia, it doesn't matter if you knew the person at all, if there is a funeral nearby, you are expected to attend. I mentioned to Laurie that now that we have been at New Day for six years, I'm sure we will be attending many more funerals in the future of people we have come to know and love. It makes our job of sharing Jesus even more urgent.

This is Elina on Christmas Day 2014, receiving her Christmas basket from the New Day kids

Blu shares Elina's church history

The coffin being carried to the gravesite

Wes sharing the Gospel

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