Wailing, beards, and lost for words at a funeral

by mendibpng

This post is yet more “confessions of a missionary wife.” It’s going to be difficult to write.

You may have seen the post I wrote about David Emil’s passing here: https://livingletters.wordpress.com/2011/12/26/he-gives-and-takes-away/

When we were in the village we walked to the Emil family’s house to cry and grieve with them. A death in the family means that several cultural things take place: close friends and family come stay to mourn together. It is the responsibility of the grieving family to provide food for anyone who comes to mourn. This can be a financial hardship. The visitors can stay for weeks, even months. The men grow out their beards, a physical example of their grief and pain. When their initial grieving is over, they shave their facial hair.

Ben has the ability to mourn the way a Papua New Guinean does. When we entered the courtyard, he began wailing loudly. I had quietly explained to our children that this was going to happen, so they were not scared. I stayed back and held our two year old twins, and cried softly. As soon as Ben started crying, the mother and grandmother of the boy began wailing as well. The father stood quietly until I gave him a plastic covered picture of his boy. He started crying loudly then too. Ben came over and they held each other for a while.

Even though we’ve been in PNG since 2002, I still feel like a foreigner in situations like these. In my culture grief is a private matter. I am always concerned that I won’t know what to say to someone who has lost a loved one. However, in PNG, crying loudly with the family and being there says that you are walking with them through their pain.

As we walked the 45 minutes home, I felt anguish for Emil’s family and the loss of a beloved son. I told my kids that it was okay to feel sad for our friends because we love them. Ben went later on with the translators for a memorial service where a big feast was held after the grave had been decorated according to their custom.

Today I wrote an e-mail to Emil with these verses:

1Thessalonians 4:13-18

13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.

15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died.16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.

So often I get caught up in the mundane of the here and now and forget that one day the Lord will return! That last verse “encourage each other with these words” made me think how little time I spend encouraging others with the hope of Christ’s return. There will be no more pain, suffering and grief.


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