Joy in the midst of grief

By Jean McAllister

Alexis Ruhumuriza, the dynamic young pastor of Belpres’  “new worshiping community” called New Hope Revival Church, lost his mother last week. After suffering a stroke, she was being transported in a litter carried on the shoulders of four men for an anticipated two-day journey to an airplane. She was to be flown out of the Congo to Rwanda for medical help. But she never reached the plane; her suffering was mercifully brief.

It is the cultural norm in Africa that when a death occurs, all family members, friends, and the entire community, come to the home of the bereaved person to bring comfort and practical help. When I arrived at Alexis’ home, several people were there, and many more came during my brief stay. Alexis himself greeted me with his customary cheerfulness, though a bit quieter than usual. But it was evident he was not overwhelmed by his grief. I asked him to help me understand how the culture of visiting contributed to his wellbeing and peace.

Alexis told me that from the moment his mom (called Sifa) died, the steady flow of visitors had not ceased, day and night. People came that first night simply to be by his side in vigil, to pray and be present with him. Visitors came with food and drink, as well as with the practical help of childcare and household chores, such as cooking meals for the family.  As the constant stream of friends continues, Alexis is helped by being able to share details about his mom—how she died, what he most remembered and loved about her—and in turn, they share their own stories of loss and grief. In doing so, they find their own pain easing. Sharing in this way is a mutual comfort, which builds up the community in faith and hope.

Following his mom’s passing, Alexis did not plan to preach on this Sunday—I was scheduled to do that—but he decided the Holy Spirit was telling him he had a powerful message to bring, springing from this true and joyful awareness of God’s presence and power in the midst of his grief. He told me he must be a role model for the congregation. They know him and what he is suffering, so they can be helped substantially in their own ongoing pain and grief still unresolved from their losses during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda as they witness this servant of God proclaiming the power of faith in every trial.

I hope we can all be encouraged by this testimony of faith and hope from our new Belpres member.

If you would like to hear Alexis preach, you are welcome to worship with the New Hope Revival Church during their Sunday Service at 11am, UC-106.

More Than Sad

by Rich Leatherberry, Mission Pastor

Yesterday, I was at a funeral to support a friend of mine. He called me last week with the horrible news that his nephew had been killed in a drive-by shooting. The young man was walking on a sidewalk in Dallas when suddenly someone pulled up alongside him, pointed a gun at him and pulled the trigger. He was 26 years young. The father of two and no one can figure out why this happened or who would do this to him. His family and friends here in Seattle are shocked, heartsick and grieving that yet another senseless killing has stolen one more human life. He had a name and a history. He was:

a friend
a nephew
a brother
a father
a son.

And now he is gone. The funeral concluded with everyone passing by his open casket to say goodbye. Then his sobbing father, who is younger than me, slowly lowered the varnished wooden lid down over his son and they carried him away.

In my Presbyterian tradition we call a service like this “A Celebration of Life and the Hope of the Resurrection.” But in my friend’s Christian tradition; they grieve. They cry and they wail and they let it all out. I grieved too. I grieved for a young man I didn’t know and for his kids who will grow up without him. I grieved for my friend and his family and I grieved because they were grieving. I grieved because stuff like this goes on and on and on and I’m tired of it. I grieved because we live in a fallen, broken, messed up world where people can steal lives and apparently get away with it. The murderer has still not been found out. And in the midst of all the crying and sobbing, I suddenly realize I’m more than sad. I’m mad.

I’m mad because life can be so unfair, fragile and unjust. I’m mad because there is very little we can do to protect ourselves from things like tragedy and death. I’m mad because life has become so cheap. That which God made in His own image became so cut-rate and despicable that it could be ended without a second thought.

So someone pulled the trigger… Which is a thought that, as it so forcefully races across the surface of my brain, causes me to realize what I’m really mad about: I am mad about sin and darkness and depravity and everything else that distorts the value of human beings and treats them like the dirt we sweep up off the floor. But I am not helpless. Because Jesus didn’t just come to die on a cross so we could all leap into heaven some day and be finally rid of this awful mess. Jesus came to rescue everyone, everywhere… on earth. And then, just before he ascended into Heaven, Jesus said; “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Mtt 28:19-20.

Jesus and His way are the only hope for this crazy, sin-sick world. As followers of Jesus, going and teaching and baptizing are our job. The rescue of this world depends on our obedience. As much as we might wish otherwise, God could do it all by Himself but He chooses to do it with us. And if we disobey, God will wait for another faithful generation to step forward. I hate the sin that steals life and makes me so mad. But the solution to it all has been placed in our hands and in our hearts.

What makes you sad and mad about the world? What is God asking from you?