Last Friday, March 30th, was the 1 year anniversary of my friend, Liz’s death. I couldn’t mention it or write about it, because in some way it seemed speaking out about it made it less meaningful somehow. I guess grief is funny that way. It convinces us to do things that might not make much rational sense, but nonetheless we are compelled to do so. I guess I felt as though mentioning her would be asking for people’s compassion for me…when she was the one to suffer and should be the one to receive those attentions. But she’s gone.
That day, I spent most of the day sick in bed with the beginnings of what would be a nasty head cold. That only compounded my sadness. But honestly, I told myself I didn’t have much right to be sad…after all, it was a whirlwind friendship. I loved her yes, but I didn’t really know her. Not as the real Liz. Just as the burned Liz. And while I’m so grateful for the chance I had to show her a little bit of love and grace, I know I didn’t do all I could have. I didn’t feel like I had the right to grieve. Her brother, her father, her aunts, cousins, and friends, yes. But not me. So dozens of times throughout the day I shoved down memories, stuffing them back into the recesses of my mind.
It wasn’t until the following day on the phone with my friend Natalie that the dam burst. She kindly listened while I gasped out some sobs and tried to put words to what possible reason I could be so upset. And in her gentle, discerning way, she told me exactly what I needed to hear. That I was grieving…and that was good thing. That grieving is a sign of how much we cared for someone, and of course this anniversary would be hard. Because at least for those short weeks, I had loved her.
I know part of my sorrow comes from not being 100% sure that Liz had repented and trusted in Jesus before she died. Yes, we had quite a few good conversations, and she knew many of the right things to say and answers to give, but I just wasn’t sure. I probably will never be sure until I get to heaven, but I do pray. I do have hope that at least she knew the truth, and had the opportunity to embrace it for herself.
That same Friday, the 30th, someone else died. He was the father of one of our nursery [kindergarten] students, Salim. He was a Muslim man named Ikoba, and that week he had an argument with his father that had brought shame on him at his workplace. In complete humiliation and despair, he came home and during the night poisoned himself, and was found dead by his wife in the morning. His wife, Logose, is left with his 10 living children and another to be born in a few short months.
Our school administrator, Bosco; our field officer, Bumba; and I went to the home a week later to sit with the family and bring condolence (a monetary gift after someone has died) from the school.
Words simply can’t express the sadness, grief, and despair in Logose’s eyes. We sat in plastic chairs in the half built structure Ikoba had taken out loans to build. The loans remain unpaid. What should have been a building of hope, has become a burden of grief.
Ikoba had promised all of the schools his children are attending that he would pay their school fees soon, but his death leaves them unpaid. That means unless someone else pays the debt, most of the children will expelled from their schools.
I was so angry. How could he do this to those children? To his very offspring, how could he sentence them to such a life? He could not have been ignorant of the outcome, of the affect on his wife and kids. How could he look at them and choose his own relief over their lifelong suffering?
And to know that he thought he was ending his suffering, only to find himself sentenced to eternal torment. My heart breaks for him too. How he must be grieving himself over his choices.
The weight of the despair in that place was overwhelming. And what comfort can you offer? That Ikoba is in a better place? No. That their Heavenly Father will comfort and provide for them? Not at least until they have embrace Him as their Father. So what hope is there? I have seen at least a little bit more now the hopelessness of those without Jesus. Not just in eternity, but also here and now.
I asked if I could pray over Logose before we left. And although her husband was a Muslim, and she claimed to be as well, she welcomed us. I prayed for the peace of Jesus. For the hope of Jesus. For the presence and power of Jesus. That He would draw this family to Himself, so that they might experience the life that their father never can.
So while my heart is heavy tonight, I have hope that cannot be shaken. I have hope that Jesus has a plan for Salim, and that’s why he’s at our school. I have a hope for that family because God brought me to their house to pray hope over them. I have hope for Liz, because she at least knew the truth. I have the hope that only Jesus can give. And I have the peace that only Jesus can offer. The peace not like the world offers, that blows away at the first storm of suffering, but a peace that weathers every difficulty.