April 16, 2015
The rhythmic throb of drums punctuated the wailing, and a cloud of dust spiraled out the open tomb, up over the crowd into a blazing, cloudless sky as young men shoveled the dry dirt onto the corpse. Chikina, was being laid to rest after succumbing to something – you seldom really know what – though in this case it might have been cancer or maybe tuberculosis if his skeletal state 24 hours earlier was anything to go by.
As it happens, those 24 hours were the most important of his modest life, which was otherwise distinguished by his skill in the fabrication of the five-string harps which are the signature instrument of Kwong music. Except insofar as we were in need of a harp (rarely), he was little more than an acquaintance to us. So it came as a surprise when Kaglo, one of our radio announcers, a dear friend, and a relative of Chikina accosted Mark on the path yesterday and asked him to go see Chikina, perhaps in the vain (though common) belief that there might still be something the white missionary could do to save him. It was a sad sight to behold. One could count every bone of his body under the thin skin stretched over his almost comatose form.
Deathbed conversions have a well-earned reputation of being just a little too convenient, but then again, as someone once said, there is nothing like impending death to focus the mind. Kaglo and Mark judged they had nothing to lose if they spoke – and Chikina had much to lose if they kept silent. They laid out the notions of atonement and reconciliation to God to the apparently uncomprehending form lying before them on a mat under a grass shelter. When they finished, the form spoke – for a very long time in a barely audible, rasping voice. Yes, he was ready. As he lay there, he made his appeal to God in the name of Jesus, again for a very long time, and then Kaglo (who with his typically Kwong bionic hearing actually understood what Chikina had said) responded with his own appropriate prayer. Exactly 24 hours later, the dust billowed from his grave.
But it was not the thought of Chikina’s death which kept us awake at night. As Chikina’s body was failing him, we greatly feared the death of the man who remains arguably our dearest friend and confident in Kwongland, Pastor Moses Wanang, also affectionately known in Mark’s older newsletters as “Old Moses.” In the end, it looks like his tale will have a happier ending (at least from a human standpoint) than that of Chikina, thanks in no small measure to the graciousness of the Adventist pilot who dropped everything to evacuate him, and to the timely treatment and blood transfusions given by the doctors at the Adventist hospital.
Life and death here has none of the sterility, none of professionalism, none of the decorum which blesses it – and perhaps curses it – at home. It is earthy, ubiquitous, and often filled with a pathos which westerners can scarcely comprehend – exemplified in today’s events by Chikina’s son who sat alone, weeping uncontrollably as they buried his father, completely ignored by 300 bystanders whose presence was ostensibly to comfort the bereaved. While we don’t enjoy the tension, the sleepless nights, and the frequent sense of helplessness, we would not, given a choice, trade them for a more domesticated life (though it would be a tempting proposition nevertheless). For by them, the real realities of the universe are constantly thrust before our eyes, and we are, it seems (or at least we hope), much the richer in our souls because of it.
Mark and Diane Vanderkooi
serving with the Evangelical Alliance Mission www.team.org
PO Box 969, Wheaton IL 60187 800-343-3144
Our cell phone in Chad: 235-66-47-92-32