Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

A Funeral in Culbulco

Written by E. Everts
Today, in my position as pastor in Cubulco, it was suddenly thrust upon me to perform my first funeral. I have made a few notes to record the particulars of this occasion and to share our experiences with you.
Difficult Childbirth
Yesterday Matias appeared at the door of my office. He told me that the child his wife Susana was expecting had been born, but things did not go well. When the mother gave birth it appeared that the child was not in the right position; the feet and legs came first. The parents had experienced this before, and their first baby had died after it had been born this way. Therefore, they wanted to come to the hospital for the birth. But the extended family had made the decision to ask the midwife, as was the usual custom. This midwife told them that it was not necessary to go to the hospital.

When the baby was about halfway through the birth canal, it could go no further. The midwife did not know what else to do but to send them to the hospital. There the baby, a girl, was born. But it did not breathe. The doctor at the hospital succeeded to get the baby to start breathing, but it was doubtful if it could continue on its own. Therefore, the child had to be taken to the hospital in Salam‡, an hourÕs ride from Cubulco.

The young father had come to our door to ask if we could pick the child up from Salam‡, either dead or alive. A little later it became known that the child had died. Nico went with the father to Salam‡ to pick up the little body of the baby. Rina and I visited mother Susana, who remained in the hospital in Cubulco.

By law, a funeral in Cubulco has to take place the day after the death has occurred. In the evening we asked the family what they were planning to do. The parents of the baby have been members of our church for about a year, but their parents are not members. Father Matias requested to buy candles to burn at the little casket. Such a request made a Òred lightÓ go on in our heads, because of possible superstition. So we talked about that. Nico meditated on John 11, where Jesus is present at the grave of Lazarus. Matias asked us to pray with them, Òso that the little child would safely go to Jesus.Ó We explained that we could and need not do anything more for the child, but that children of believing parents are sanctified in Christ. Those who believe with all their heart in the Lord Jesus do not need to be afraid for the future of their little daughter, even if it died immediately after birth, and has not been baptized. Such a child is with Jesus.

The Funeral
Preceding the funeral, the family asked to have a brief service in their home, consisting of a meditation and prayer. They thought the funeral would probably take place the following morning at seven oÕclock. A brother deacon with experience brought up the fact that arrangements had to be made for a grave at the municipal office and that the grave had to be dug. Before that was all arranged it would be ten or eleven. They told us they would let us know when everything was ready. While we were talking about these details, the electricity suddenly went off so that a few lighted candles became necessary.

The following morning the preparations for the funeral took all my attention. At nine oÕclock I heard that they were not even finished making arrangements for a burial plot and that it would be two or three in the afternoon before the funeral would take place. Nico helped to dig the grave.

At quarter after one the message was brought that everything was ready and that we should come right away. A few anxious moments were spent because Lia and Rina had gone to the market to quickly pick up a few things. But close to two oÕclock we could begin the service. In addition to the close family members, several church members were present in the small, plain and very warm room. I meditated on Psalm 27:13, which speaks of fainting unless the goodness of the LORD is seen in the land of the living. I placed this against the background of the double loss of these young parents. We should try to imagine their grief: they lost their first child when they were not yet Christians. Now, that they had come to faith, the same thing happens. This must be a very heavy trial for them. May their hope be in Christ and may their hope be to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

We asked whether mother Susana is coming along to the burial place. It must be hard for her, so soon after a difficult delivery. She does not want to go. Then her husband wonÕt go either. He appears quite calm but shows that he has a hard time with everything. How difficult it is to fathom what actually moves these people. The gulf of culture and language is felt deeply. But Matias does go, even though he keeps a bit of a distance at the funeral. We meditate on the words of Colossians 3: 1-4, about the life we have with Christ in God, and the future glory that is to be revealed. After prayer, several brothers put the little casket in the grave and cover it with sand. It is the custom not to complete the burial at this time, whether it concerns a grave that is cemented above the ground or a dug grave, as in this case. We are given something to drink and we all go our way.

This funeral is a unique experience. On the one hand there are many things that are strange for us. On the other hand, there are the same questions we all have: the questions of life and death. The bottom line is always the one thing needful: being in Christ. Without Christ there is nothing left. But with Him and through Him there is a glorious future and also comfort for those who are on the way.

Postscript: A Visit to Matias and Susana
First, only Susana was present with her mother and some children. Later, I also saw her father, and Matias returned from the pharmacy. What struck me is how firm their faith is. Susana shows that she has a difficult time, but she also radiates peace. She does not say much. Matias talks more freely and with conviction. He is aware of the danger of the temptation to seek comfort elsewhere because of the disappointments they experienced. But he asks himself, where would we go? There is nowhere to go but to God. It is difficult that the rest of the family (both sets of parents) do not understand, but they want to place their hope only in the Lord. Their expectation is from Him alone.

Matias cannot read. Susana completed only one year of elementary school. Matias tells us that Susana reads to him from her Bible, verse by verse, and she memorizes well. Together they discuss the Word of God. That is how they receive the spiritual food they live by.

I have experienced this witness to be very encouraging, and more clearly, as a miracle of GodÕs faithfulness. Prayer avails much. This incident spurns all of us on to remain faithful in our prayers and in our personal relationship with God.

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