She stumbled through the crowd toward the truck. We hadn’t seen her yet. She was lost in the sea of people.
People were everywhere! Sitting, standing, repeating the same Shwabo chorus. It rippled through the crowd, taking on its own identity. A quiet, heart-moaning song.
We were standing for the service before the sea turned in our direction after the pick-up truck pulled up. We could tell the body was being transported to the truck with the oncoming wailing. Such brokenness. Death has such a sting.
But then I caught a glimpse of her and I instantly had to wipe away tears. She buried her face in her shawl. Our sister… our precious sister… was completely overcome by her grief. Oh how face to face changes the story…
She wasn’t shrieking in the usual Mozambican fashion, but her body trembled and heaved as she was overcome in her goodbye. Such a contrast from Monday when her stone eyes hit the floor as she made the report. Her brother whom she had spent years helping to care for. Her precious brother who took her in when she became a widow at so young. Her precious brother whom her young daughter calls “Papa”. He was so, so sick…
It was a quiet walk to the cemetery behind the truck. The exhaust hot on our ankles. The African sun burning into the backs of our necks. As we approached the cemetery the songs began again. Lead by a church. Eerie words hung in the air speaking of burial being the end result. Hopelessness stained on faces in the crowd. Sung against the background of her sobs. Her family stumbling through tears and gravestones until they reached their beloved’s resting place.
We couldn’t hear all that was said from the man standing in front of the community’s sea as the graveside service commenced. Swarms from everywhere. This brother’s legacy was far-reaching. The community was embracing this family in their time of need. Face to face changes the story.
I couldn’t find her in the crowd. I wished I could have done more. Could have said more. But then what could I say? What should you say? What really can I say in Portuguese beyond what I have already said? The language wall stings even more in times of grief. In times of heartbreak for such a precious friend.
I remembered the hug we shared the day before. Her clinging to me and sobbing on my shoulder. All I could do was repeat her name tenderly and hug right back. Language is so important but right then I couldn’t find any extra words. Just her name. Oh just her precious name… And yet face to face changes the story and changes me.
So much is still so foreign. But I knew one thing for sure on that day in the cemetery. So I just stood there in Matt’s shadow and prayed for our dear sister. Prayed over her.
…Precious Jesus, comfort like only You can…
And then the crowd began to slowly swell back toward the road.
She led the line out. The sea parting for her and her family. She was now completely silent. Now carrying the burden privately. As culture dictates.
Another’s words burned into my mind as I watched her walking: “So many missionary wives and Americans have said that they think African women are so strong,” A friend spoke from years of language classes with Westerners. “But we’re not strong, we’re just stuck in great suffering. It is just as devastating as it is to Americans. We just live with it more.”
These words repeated over and over as she took each step. She stared straight ahead. No one spoke to her as she returned to the house. No one reached out their hand to her. They just moved aside so she could go. Returning to the house. Because… what else do you do?
The time of public pain was now complete.
His body was in the ground.
I found her back at the house and waited my turn to hug her.
Our precious sister. She was so stiff and slow. So calculated, but sincere.
I gave her the pictures and cards the girls made her. They wanted to show their love for her even though they couldn’t be there. She smiled that familiar smile, and a little light of the tension released from her body as she asked about “our Eden” who only wanted her on that Monday. Eden had woken up with a slight teething fever and found her place comfortably on our sister’s back. Eden lay her head on our sister’s shoulder blades and they both just smiled. Such comfort for them both amidst a challenging day. We all didn’t know it would be his last day here. We didn’t know he would take his last breath late that night. And then when I went to take Eden so our sister could finish her work, Eden just cried and cried to be back on her dear friend’s back. “I can’t let the baby cry,” she swaddled Eden back in place and Eden was instantly happy again. Such a smile that came from our sister as she brought such peace to Eden. That same smile on her face as I stood there with our sister outside of her brother’s house. Our sister graciously received the girls’ paper love with genuine gratitude. Face to face changes the story.
And then our dear sister returned to the house, washed up and put on new clothes. The eminent pain now over. Hope still found in a new start.
Hope amongst the sorrow.
Praise the Lord that her brother in no longer in pain.
But more importantly, praise the Lord that she will see her brother again when she sees her Jesus face to face.
Because face to face really does change everything about this story.
It was a long few days of waiting. The timing wasn’t right to go. Though our hearts longed to see her again, we waited for the right time. Prayers were constantly lifted up. And we missed her so. She’s just our normal, friends and family. It has nothing to do with her carrying the workload for us, we gladly shouldered the load without her. But it has everything to do with just her personality. She is always missed when she’s absent.
The rain hit as soon as our feet hit the soil outside of the car. We all broke out in laughter with the neighbors, graciously sharing their closet-sized road-side shack as the rains down-poured. We laughed and greeted everyone as they offered us chairs because Africans know how to do hospitality like no one else I have seen.
And she came running through the down-pour, all smiles and hugs for the girls. We all laughed about the rain and then made a dash for her house between shower waves. The whole family came to life during our visit. There were so many smiles as the girls snuggled our sister, Rachael shared stories in Portuguese and we laughed about getting soaked to the bone the other day when the big rains hit in a crazy storm. Oh how the people here celebrate the rain. Rain brings forth crops and is much to be thankful for.
It was SUCH a blessing to see our sister laugh and Eden absolutely sank into her, putting her arms around her precious friend and holding her tight. Eden sat there completely still for 10 minutes, just holding onto her precious normal. Our sister’s relatives were all smiles at Eden’s affections. Even the spouse of the deceased was all smiles as she shared in the visit. Praise the Lord for children. They are for sure a helper in hard times.
After a week of missing our sister and walking this hard road with her, it warmed all of our hearts to see so many prayers at work in her life. She absolutely glowed in the middle of the harsher realities of this world.
Jesus is healing her and her family one day at a time.
Oh how face to face has continually changed this story.
Thanks be to God, for the face to face.
I am forever thankful and forever changed by the face to face.