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Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?

Today I attended a gathering to celebrate the life of a friend who died in a traffic accident. He and his wife adopted 2 children orphaned by the genocide. One of those kids was Josine. Josine and her brother were adopted and given new life by Samuel and his wife. Samuel was 55 years old and was a kind man. We celebrated with his family after a cow was donated to his daughter Josine. Josine became a good friend because she worked for the local Cell level government. She became City of Joy’s biggest cheerleader and partner in ministry over the years. Now Josine is fatherless.

As I pulled off very busy highway and parked down hill I was taken aback by all the people at their house for the “viewing” and to pay their respects to the family. It took over 2.5 hours for the body to arrive but non one seemed to mind. We chatted under the tents set up. Samuel was a taxi driver and his wife a school teacher. They were well known in the community and served in many capacities as volunteers in the local government. As I was introduced to people I felt like I was at a special government function and not a funeral. The former mayor, prominent business people, RPF leaders and other VIP’s were introduced to me. I was the only “white” person of the 300+ people in attendance so as always all eyes were on the umuzungu.

When the body finally arrived I was astonished at how everyone knew what to do. Maybe people had experienced so many funerals that it was familiar. Slowly we all filed through Samuel’s house to pay our last respects. Inside the very modest home their church choir sang a familiar tune “How Great Thou Art” as I looked over and spotted Josine in an adjacent room. Our eyes met and she immediately came toward me and gave me a warm, weeping hug. Josine doesn’t know much English and I know even less Kinyarwanda but in that moment we spoke the same message of God’s comfort. I whispered, “God bless you and comfort you”.

I could imagine that the grief she was experiencing was immense. Not only did she lose her father but this was the second time she lost her father. No one, I thought, should have to experience grief like this. I drew comfort knowing that her faith and faith community were there to comfort her and her family. I began to wonder how they would make it financially now without their father. “God give them the means…”

I really didn’t want to look at Samuel’s body. So as I approached I saw how crammed he was in this little narrow coffin. A little window allowed us to see his face. I didn’t look long. He didn’t look “real” and I didn’t want my memory of him to be of this. As I stepped out the front door (we had entered through the back door), I noticed the crowd had increased. The police were there now to help with the busy traffic on the nearby highway. I saw a few familiar faces as I went back to the tent where I was sitting before. I realized that everyone had changed seats and their was no more space in the shade under the tent. I looked for Emmy, our Project Manager, to see where he was. I found him back by our car.

As Samuel’s body was loaded up into the back of a Land Cruiser (a vehicle like ours) a procession began to the burial site in Nyanza about 10 minutes away. People began to pile into cars, buses, bicycles and into the back of pickups to go to Nyanza.

It was a powerful 4 hours for me. I hadn’t been to anything like this in the 4 years that we have served in Rwanda. I was struck by the powerful presence of a loving community. Josine and her family had lost a father and husband but they were surrounded by love. I thought of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians when he asks “oh, death where is your sting?”. Death is the final enemy we will all face. We all will die some day (unless we are like Elijah and are taken up to heaven in a chariot). Death still prevails although it won’t always as God’s Kingdom continues to break into this world. One day there won’t be death when Jesus comes again.

Death may may now win the battle but it won’t win the war. Death isn’t the final word on our lives if we are followers of Jesus. Jesus defeated death through the resurrection. We can also experience God’s resurrection power so when we die we can also be resurrected. Death’s sting is tempered by what Jesus did on the cross. Samuel is with Jesus today. That is great comfort in a great time of grief.

Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37)>

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