I, Jeremy, just finished reading a biography about Brother Andrew. One of the takeaways that impacted me from the book was the power of presence. His willingness to go just be with the Christians suffering under communist rules was so encouraging to them. Little did I know that this past weekend I would have the chance to practice the power of presence.
A few weeks ago, I found out that a father who I play soccer with and his family had unexpectedly lost their 2 year old son. Friday it had been almost two weeks since his passing. The family was ready to bury him and move on.
Funerals in Africa are very different than the United States. Older family members take care of everything. A funeral is a celebration of the life. The family will come together, drink tea, celebrate and fellowship. The immediate family is responsible for every aspect of the funeral from securing a casket, retrieving the body, preparing the body, putting the body in the casket and bringing it back to Tsumkwe, if the person died somewhere else. Since we live out in the bush, grave plots don’t exist. They have burial areas. A few men of the family will go dig a hole the morning of the burial. Then the burial service happens where the entire family attends. After the burial, a meal is served by the family for the entire family who attended. This is a short version of what takes place.
This past Friday, I received news that the family was in a pinch and didn’t have a way to go buy a casket or retrieve the body in the “big city,” a 7 hour round trip away. Zeka, our team leader who was very close to the father, offered to drive his vehicle and help them out. I felt like I needed to go along to help Zeka drive. So early Saturday morning, we took off with both grandfathers and two uncles. They had to locate paperwork for the body to be released from the mortuary and buy a casket. It took several hours to just locate the paperwork with offices being closed on a Saturday. Then the mortuary was closed also. They called around. While waiting, they bought food for the celebration. Finally, a man came to release them the body. The grandfathers and uncles placed the small boy’s body in the casket themselves. We all got back in Zeka’s vehicle and I drove us back to Tsumkwe. We arrived back in Tsumkwe 12 hours later and a little tired.
Sunday morning I awoke to the news that the burial was going to be that afternoon. So after church, I wanted to be there with the father and to show my support to him and the family. I walked over to the family’s house and Zeka joined me there. As we sat and had tea with the family, both Zeka and I were asked to share something at the burial. As time got closer, we actually were being asked to do more than share but officiate the burial with the help of another friend. For me, the power of presence turned into an opportunity to verbally encourage a family who had just lost a child. I was the only white person in attendance and only 1 of 4 to speak at the burial site. What an honor! I found out later that the family requested that we speak because they were so grateful for helping them retrieve the body.
To wrap up this story, let me share what happened after all the words were spoken and sand was shoveled and thorn bushes placed over the site where the child lay. From a distance the grandfather came over to me with his hand extended, he said thank you for being there yesterday when we went to get the body and thank you for being here today to help bury him. This wasn’t just a simple thank you. The way in which he shook my hand, the tone in his voice and how he placed his other hand on his arm was a way of showing honor and respect to me. This is huge for an older person to show a younger man of a different culture such respect. All I could muster in response was simply “your welcome.” That was enough. The power of presence is truly amazing. You see most of Jesus ministry was about the very power of presence and coming alongside people in their everyday life. A key aspect of what being a missionary is just about the being.