Sunday morning we got word that Lilas’s mother, Sophie, had died the night before, there would be people to help direct us to the funeral arriving in just 2 hours, and so we got ready. I had been sick so, knowing that these things often are only really getting started 3 hours after the announced time, I wanted to go but wasn’t sure I had enough energy for the event. But it was our co-worker, Lilas, and his mother was a special lady.
She was a nurse at the CME clinic in Bunia and had actually helped Cher once when she was there. We followed another car full of MAF people and arrived at her home area with things already under way. Right in the middle of the path/road in front of her house tarps had been strung up with a hundred chairs and benches underneath. On each side of that area there were houses and people stood among them and in large numbers far beyond each end of the shaded area. Though it is hard to estimate numbers when the whole view is blocked, I know there were easily over 300 people gathered there. We could see that this woman was very loved in the community.
We could see that this woman was very loved in the community. Much singing and praying and preaching followed, but all in what seemed a more natural, easy manner than the average mzungu funeral. The casket was open but covered with a cloth, revealing only Sophie’s face. Her women friends and family were gathered on benches all around her the whole time and shooed flies or leaned on the coffin and continued to care for her to the last. A steady stream of people passed by throughout the time we were there and stood looking in at her one last time. One lady stayed for a long time weeping and touching her while other ladies tried to console her, patting her arm and back. She finally sat down in the dirt with her feet under the table the casket lay on and joined the other women friends in their vigil. A breeze cooled us as the preacher spoke and the tarps overhead seemed to breathe like lungs, rising as if taking in air and then lowering gently as if breathing out slowly, giving a sense of life, rather than death, to the scene. The colourful Congolese dress of the people brought further life to what could have been a much sadder event. We enjoyed being there. People laughed more than cried. Yes, a friend had been lost but it was truly a celebration of the life of a fine woman and I was filled with hope. That is all a part of the good news we have in Christ.