Dear Family and Friends:
It is still the custom in many cities in the States, for the cars to stop when a funeral procession and the hearse (carrying the well concealed body in a casket), goes by. We do still retain some of our historical traditions of respect for those who have died.
But how would people on the main street of your city react to four people carrying a dead body through town on a stretcher? Not just covered on a gurney between the building entrance and a waiting ambulance, but "in full view"? I dare say that if they continued, they would not get many blocks before they would be "blocked" by an entourage of police and fire vehicles and personnel. And while their activity might not technically be "illegal", they would be strongly dissuaded from continuing.
Having a dead body "go by" would be just as shocking as having someone in a hooded mask walk by with a loaded AK-47 assault rifle.
In the West we have tried to block the reality and the sting of death from our consciousness. We have created elaborate mechanism to keep the "sight" of dead persons from our eyes. If one dies in the hospital, the body may be removed to the morgue even before the members of the family can gather. If one dies of natural causes in the home, the police/coroners office moves quickly to remove the "reality" from before our eyes.
Today, as I was returning home from teaching at the Pastoral School, four young men were carrying a forest-cut stretcher made of two large branches, and several mix-matched pieces of cloth, which joined them to support the patient. As they left the hospital, passing through the main part of the village, they were followed by a young woman carrying a large sack on her head.
My first thought was that of thanksgiving: someone was "going home" to their village from the hospital. And what helpful servants to come all this way to take them home!
The young men saw me as our two paths approached an intersection, and they stopped. I motioned for them to proceed. As they passed within arms distance, I looked again, and saw that the person on the stretcher was totally covered including the face! It was then that the "truth of the trip home" and the loving service of these four young men and the young woman really hit me!
Here in the DR Congo, the reality of death is not sanitized. One fact is that people with serious illnesses are often brought to the hospital only as a last resort. They may lack the money to come, or they will have tried all available "local remedies" before finally seeking the help of "western medicine" at the hospital. One consequence is that many are so far advanced in the disease/crisis, that they cannot be saved. This is a constant frustration to the doctors: "If only they had come yesterday, or a few hours earlier, we might have had a chance."
This term I have been asked to serve as a member of the "Gestion Committes" (read "Management and Finance Committee"), for both the Hospital, and the Health Zone. It is a constant challenge to try to balance the limited resources of personnel/medicines against the overwhelming ongoing health needs. How many hospitals in the States could survive strictly on patient generated revenues? Currently only 3% of our hospital's revenue comes from "outside" the local community!
At the same time we are encouraging the committee to search for "other sources" of revenue (besides IM and church sources), we are trying to decrease the old "dependence mentality" in which local leaders assume that either the missionaries or "someone out there" will magically solve all their/our problems and they won't have to accept responsibility. It feels like progress is being made slowly in this regard.
DEATH IS NOT THE ONLY REALITY IN KIKONGO! Yesterday, the community "danced" a NEW mother and her baby home from the hospital. The procession of nearly 50 women a few men and innumerable children, snaked over 1/2 mile through the village, and deposited the women into the arms of her husband. Standing in front of their home surrounded by the husbands of the women dancers/singers. The new infant and its parents were showered in prayer, and ushered back into their home, after which everyone joyously drank "coffee flavored sugar water" and munched on peanuts.
The Good News is that we are not alone. We are children of the God who created both life and death, and has promised to be present with us in whatever happens during our sojourn on this terrain. The God who allowed his own Son to be killed to demonstrate the depths of His love for humankind and all creation. It is He who promises that our new life in Him will be eternal and will be without fear: fear of the exigencies of life or death.
What joyful freedom! We so much appreciate your thoughts and prayers.
Virgil and Lynn Nelson