Keith and Lyn Scott are CMSI Mission Partners based at St John's Anglican Seminary in Zambia.
Posted by Keith and Lyn Scott on Thu, 16 Feb 2017 | 2 comments | Bookmark:
There are some stories that are tough to write and tough to read. This is one of them. There is no easy way to tell this one.
The baby born to Marvelous and Mary died. And that’s the hardest thing to happen to any parent. It does not matter when your child dies, it is always traumatic and crushing. You weep, you struggle to come to terms with what has happened, you rage, plunge into deep depression, and it takes at least a year to recover even something of your balance. You will never forget, and although there will be healing, there are those scars which will always be tender, which, when pressed in the wrong place, will always hurt, will always trigger an upwelling of unstoppable tears.
Marvelous called us, and in broken tones told us their bad news. We went to the burial. First we went to the house, where people had gathered. Even here there was singing and, because Marvelous is a Christian and Pentecostalist pastor, prayers. The prayers were led by a woman pastor from Marvelous’ church. People prayed at every stage throughout the whole burial.
Lyn and I went in and a broken hearted Marvelous was sitting with those singing and praying, his head bowed and his usual lively smile gone. We spoke what we hope were consoling words. Mary came in, eyes flowing with tears and Lyn hugged her and sought to speak some consolation to her. I have to say the words for both of us came hard, and we both had to struggle to hold on to our own tears, as old memories came too readily back.
The burial of a newborn in Zambian culture is a deeply unhappy affair and has a whole range of taboos and customs attached to it. Even Mary was not allowed to attend. Marvelous too was not supposed to attend. It is a strictly women only business.
The body, however, had not yet been collected and we went to the morgue, in our vehicle, together with Marvelous and some of the women who were to take part in the burial. Lyn went in with the women to prepare the body. That took real strength and courage. Those old still-hurting scars at work again. The women prayed before they prepared the body. Some time later they came out with a pathetically small coffin.
Somehow Marvelous got his way, somewhere he found whatever it took to overcome the customs which would have prevented him attending his own son’s burial and pleaded or argued his rights to be there. We all went to the graveyard, stopping at the mortuary gate to pick up a grave digger, and his shovel.
Once the grave was deep enough to satisfy the women, all the men, even the grave digger, were chased away to a safe distance. While Lyn, Marvelous, and I stood at a distance, the women surrounded the grave and carried out whatever ceremonies and said whatever words needed to be said. The woman pastor in charge led prayers. Then they filled in the grave. These women are tough and can wield a shovel as vigorously as any man. The job did not take long. “It’s over” called one of them as she banged the shovel on the ground to shake off the sticky, wet, red clay.
African men take one another by the hand without hesitation. To conservative western eyes it looks, well strange, but African men don’t think of it like that. It is a gesture of friendship, a reaching out to draw the other into a relationship of confidence and trust. When my African friends take me by the hand I know they have forgotten the colour of my skin and see me only as another “umuntu”. As the women left the grave side I took Marvelous by the hand and walked with him over to the graveside. We prayed together.
That prayer and the words we spoke before and will speak again are about hope and resurrection. They are about the real person who really died and has really been gathered into the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. Those who have experienced the death of a child have not ‘lost’ a child. Neither Lyn and I nor Marvelous and Mary have ‘lost’ our beloved sons. Nor will there ever be ‘another’ and no matter how young we are (or were), we will never ‘try again’. Although there might be, and in our case are, other children, they never were, and never will be, ‘replacements’. Each life is unique, valuable and unrepeatable; no parent will ever tell you anything different.
We hope you never cry as Marvelous and Mary are crying, for a child that has died. If you do we understand, and if you want to email us please do. We write this in memory of Joshua, son of Mary and Marvelous, Peter Jonathan and the many other unique, wanted and longed for children that entered all too quickly into the courts of heaven, who are there, playing in the eternal sunshine, as children should, not lost, just waiting for us.