Snatching Them From the Fire

Tuesday March 5, 2019

We heard yesterday morning that our neighbor, Andrew’s, adult daughter, Janet, had died during the night. She had been suffering from, but not incapacitated by, chronic back pain for about 4 years. Like the woman with the issue of blood, she had gone to many different practitioners, but found no relief.

Her death was quite a shock to us, as well as to the wider Bu’u community. Andrew and his wife came over to see us the day after we arrived last week, and brought Janet to ask for help in getting treatment for her. Janet came with them, carrying her 2-year-old child, reported that she was eating well, and except for the chronic pain in her upper back, was feeling well; there were no physical indications that her life was about to end.

Monday morning we left the house as usual around 6:15am for our daily jog around the airstrip with the dogs. I noted the sound of a woman quietly weeping coming from Andrew’s hamlet, and actually wondered if their baby had died…

At 9:00am we heard that it was actually Janet who had died, so a little while later we walked up to Andrew’s house, joining many community members who were heading there as well. His ‘yard’ is directly adjacent to one of the main footpaths leading out of Bu’u, and we could hear people mourning loudly as we approached. A handful of people, mostly kids, were sitting and standing around the 2 houses in his yard area; it was obvious which one the body was in as the sound of people crying came clearly through the woven bamboo walls. We ascended 2 thin wooden hand-cut steps to a tiny 2’ x 2’ landing directly in front of the equally tiny 2’ x 4’ doorway, ducking our heads to enter the dark, windowless house. Knowing we couldn’t see anything yet, someone’s voice directed us to move to the left. After our eyes adjusted to the gloom we were able to make out some faces. A number of people had smeared light grey mud on their faces (a sign of mourning—think of a white clown’s face), which made it difficult to recognize them. The body was lying on the woven bamboo floor directly across the cold firepit from where we were sitting, surrounded by people 2 and 3 deep, all of them uttering some kind of mourning cry. In fact, everyone in the house was either crying loudly or crying out mourning chants like, “Oh my sister, you will never grow to become an old woman,” and “Oh my child, now who will give me food when I’m old?” Directly to our left was a 3-person male chorus who kept things going by humming loudly whenever the hubbub waned.

The mother was lying on the floor next to the body and those clustered around the body were cradling the head and rubbing the legs and arms as they wailed loudly, seeming as if each was vying to out-volume the one next to them. The muttering, screaming, and loud outcries are for fear of death in general, and more particularly fear of what evil the dead person’s spirit (ghost) might do to them.

In the gloom, with all the commotion of voices chanting and wailing, for a few minutes it was quite disconcerting (don’t forget we were fresh back from furlough), and I felt the spiritual darkness press in upon me. It was palpable, evil was present and active as these poor, ignorant people paid a strange kind of homage to Death, mindlessly performing rites the devil taught to their ancestors. The cacophony of terrorized shrieking made them sound like evil spirits themselves. Truly they are ‘darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them’

In the semi-darkness I finally realized that I was facing Andrew, Janet’s father, squeezed over against the wall on the far side of the body. He looked stricken, and my heart broke for him. I bowed my head and began to pray that salvation would come to this house, that Andrew too would be found to be a son of Abraham. My heart was drawn out for these people, who now in the terror of death were wildly chanting their mourning songs. The powers of darkness were present: ‘Pray against them,’ was instantly in my mind. “Pour out your salvation upon them,” I prayed. “The devil has won another soul, don’t let his kingdom increase, instead let your kingdom come in great power to the Angave.”

We stayed until 11:00am before leaving, but the wailing and chanting continued most of the day and all through the night. After a few hours break at dawn, it went on, and now at 8:00pm I can still hear it clearly, led by one of the professional mourning-song leaders, with the mourners following each line he chants sing-song.

Some male relatives came over today to ask Ray for plywood and nails. For the first time ever they will be using a coffin rather than the traditional burial inside a small cavern excavated into the side of a hill and lined with ferns and leaves.

Another soul lost for eternity. Janet’s fate is forever sealed, no chance to ever escape the terrors humans will face apart from God. This is why we are here—by the power of the Gospel to break through this darkness, this bondage to death that holds them. May the true Light rise upon them, may we see the power of God unto salvation mightily at work in the Angave, breaking down the very gates of Hell and saving these people from out of the darkness , fear, and utter hopelessness in which they exist. “And on some have compassion, making a difference; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” Jude 22,23