"I feel such peace!" That was what I said to my Tia, Eliza Julieta, as we left the family home after Naftal's funeral. But I'm ahead of myself.
Thursday. March 25th. 2:00pm. The day that we buried Naftal.
In the morning at one point, I went into his room, Room 1,and something on the wall caught my eye. It was a piece of construction paper, beginning to curl at the edges. It was his name - NAFTAL - written out in fun block letters by Rebecca who works with me in my dorm. She had written out the boys names for the Afternoon Program and the boys had colored them in. The sight of Naftal's name that he had colored in . . . well, it near about broke my heart one more time as memories of him in our home came flooding back, replacing the more recent awful memories of him at the hospital. Memories of him playing and laughing and being in the Afternoon Program - normal little boy memories, not sickbed images.
Naftal's family lives not very far from our center really. So a room full of my boys, several friends of his brother Samito, many of our staff and missionaries all headed over to the cemetery. The good news is that I believe the presence of the Lord went with us as well because this was certainly the most peaceful funeral I have been to here in Mozambique.
Naftal's father (that's him sitting down and yes, he's an albino) is a strong Christian, part of a local church and many of the believers were there celebrating Naftal's life. There was no mixture of traditional beliefs with Christian beliefs. There was certainly grief and tears and pain. There was definitely sorrow and sobbing. But amazingly, there was peace as well. There was - how do I explain it? - an absence of heaviness that would normally accompany the funeral of a child who has suffered. There was an absence of the darkness that I have felt at so many other funerals here in Mozambique. There was the peace that passes all understanding!
During the initial part of the ceremony, there is a time where they remove the top portion of the casket and it is traditional for all family members and then whoever wants to to walk past. There is talcum powder and perfume as well that people can spritz into the casket (a tradition which stems from the Biblical story of Mary attending to Jesus' body). While I was approaching the casket, a woman put a young girl of about five into my arms and directed me to show her Naftal's body. This little five year old was hysterical! And I had never seen her before nor had she seen me. My first thought was "I'd like to tend to my own grieving, thank you very much" but I would not refuse in that setting so I began to comfort her and she calmed down, amazingly. As soon as we had passed by Naftal's body, the woman came and took her back again. I later discovered it was Naftal's sister, Madalena! That was a rather strange thing to happen but it's not altogether surprising, things like that happen here. (The photo is the little girl and Naftal's brother, Samito, being comforted by their uncle.)
The funeral party then follows the casket over to the actual grave and the burial is part of the service. It's an aspect of the funeral that I really like here. The family and then anyone who wants to can throw some soil onto the casket in the grave and then men take turns actually filling it. A lovely older woman tended to the dirt during that time, pulling out sticks and roots and leaves. When the dirt is complete and arranged nicely, the family, and whomever wants to, puts flowers (this was a small cemetery so there were no flowers available, only some little bits of foliage) into the dirt and then they water it. It looks like a little garden and it is lovely in a sad way.
Afterward, everyone heads back to the family's house for more speaking by the pastor and then a time of sharing by anyone who would like to.
Naftal's father, Lucas, his "madrina" was there (the closest thing we have is a godmother but the madrina or padrino or way more involved than most godparents) and she shared a wonderful story about the father. He was a twin and his brother died. Traditional beliefs here state that a twin can't go to their twin's funeral or they too will die or some evil will befall them. Lucas responded, "show me where it says that in the Bible and I will stay home!" Because they couldn't, he went to the funeral and preached at it as well! I love the story of him having the strength to respectfully break from traditional beliefs when they conflicted with his own beliefs.
One of the pastors at our center was helping with the funeral and he came and asked me if I'd like to speak on behalf of Iris Ministries. Well, I know God was with me as He helped me share without hesitation, in Portuguese, without crying - I was amazed. I shared about how when Naftal first arrived he felt most comfortable in church. And that once I met his father and family and the pastors from his church who visited at the hospital, that I was not surprised and could clearly see why. I shared about the faithfulness of Naftal's father during his time in the hospital, the examples of his loving care, as well as other family members. And that although we don't need to hide our tears and our sorrow that we can be encouraged that we will see Naftal again in heaven, where he is now rejoicing with Jesus in his completely healed body!
That is the comfort we have, that this world is not our final home and Naftal has already reached what is our goal!
There is a finality that accompanies funerals and yet it does not close the chapter on grieving and processing and dealing with the loss of a precious little boy in our lives. That will take some time and patience and the grace of the Lord.
Yet as we were driving away, I turned to my Tia, Eliza Julieta, and said "I feel such peace!" She said she did too. Thank you Lord for the gift of your peace that passes all understanding!
And thank you Lord for the gift of Naftal that you blessed us with.