Relationships & Reality
A week has passed since the funeral of Mama Gnesa. If she lived in North America she would still be alive, but death is what happens to many of those who become sick in small villages tucked away in corners of corrupt and impoverished countries. We participated in the funeral, a 2-day event that had moments of familiarity and total confusion when related to our Western culture. But I don’t want to write about the funeral. I want to write about the mama who loved on and cared for Mama Gnesa the last weeks of her life, sharing the love of Christ with her in words and actions.
God led Rebe to Mama Gnesa and her family. She lived just down the hill (a 3 minute walk) from our home. She was blind for the last 6 years, no longer able to walk, and progressively becoming paralyzed. In the Sakalava culture, this was shameful and caused her to remain in her tiny, crooked, dark, leaking hut for the last years of her life. Neighbors stopped visiting in a culture where visiting is everything. They were afraid that if they visited now, she would die when they left and then they would be responsible. But on New Year’s Day Rebe met Mama Gnesa with a few gifts to offer. Mama Gnesa already knew Rebe because she knew Camden (everyone knows Camden, and therefore they know his mother).
A few days later we saw her husband on the road. He too was sick and heavily burdened with anxiety for the state of his wife and family. “Madame, can you come and visit us. We need help. Do you have medicine?” he asked Rebe. She went home, grabbed her guitar (which she has learned to play while in Madagascar), and headed into the unknown. One visit turned into daily visits with Mama Gnesa. Days were spent offering pain relievers, conversation, songs, prayers and fanning down her body in the tumultuous heat.
Another day, Mama Gnesa’s husband had returned from a long walk looking for a wooden stick with strong powers that is buried somewhere near the airport. He was looking for it hoping it would heal his wife. He had already sold his canoe, some land, and anything else of value to buy medicines and see witch doctors. Nothing had worked.
For 6 weeks Rebe visited Mama Gnesa almost everyday. Quite often her mentally challenged daughter, Vavy, would be there, and Rebe would play little games with her. Through this time all of our children have been sick. The hard rains came everyday. Still, Rebe would go. In a short time she became part of the family. They included her in many of the funeral rituals (which she will tell you about later). People in the village watched her; observed her; wondered to themselves why she was going there everyday to pray and sing. Rebe’s heart aches because she wanted Mama Gnesa to know Jesus, and she wants the rest of the family to know Him too. I love my wife, I admire her, and I can see Christ in her.
As I am writing this I can hear a group of people playing drums and chanting. It has been a week since the funeral, and now it is time to perform “mijuru,” the ritual of telling Mama Gnesa’s spirit to stay in the ground and not come back to take any of the remaining family members. Friends, Christ is here… Assemble yourselves and come! (Isaiah 45:20-25)