After we worshiped together at Black Sand Nazarene Church last Sunday, five of us drove to the hospital to pray with a member of the Ohlen Nazarene Church. Chief Thomas had sores on his left foot due to poor circulation. A week before, the doctors had amputated his leg because his foot had become necrotic. The infection was systemic now. Chief Thomas, who had become a dear friend over the years, was in a coma and breathing hard even with oxygen. I (David) know that sometimes people can hear, even while in a coma, so I held his hand and shared John 14 with him. Many of his extended family who surrounded the bed listened intently also. I talked about how Jesus is preparing a place for us. Jesus wants to be with us and share his life with us. He wants us to share our concerns and cares with him whether we are in this world or the next. Just two hours later, we got a call that Chief Thomas had gone to be with the Lord. I couldn't help wondering if what I had shared allowed him to release his hold on this life and cling to Jesus' hand as he walked Chief Thomas into his eternal future.
Yesterday, David and I (Sylvia) joined several other Christians from the Malapoa, Black Sand and Erakor Nazarene Churches to go and grieve with Chief Thomas' family outside of town at a village called Eratap. David and I both felt an unusual peace and calm as we headed to this place that we'd never been to before - peace that we would find the place and peace that God would guide us in our ministry.
We arrived and were directed to a house. Everyone filed in and found a place to sit on the mats. The wailing began. As I thought of Chief Thomas' wife, Lily, it was not hard to cry with the rest of the ones gathered in the room. I imagined myself carrying in my own body her burden of sorrow, then I pictured each of us bearing her grief.
After awhile the crying stopped and people began to shake hands with each other and talk softly to one another. I took this opportunity to move closer to Lily. As I held her in my arms, my heart ached and we cried again.
Later after others had gone outside, I sat down next to her and shared about the comfort that we have in knowing Christ and his promise to take us to the Father. I thought about the psalmist who assured us that precious in God's eyes is the death of his godly ones (Psalm 116:15). How thankful we are that Thomas had given his heart to Jesus a few years ago. God had given him the opportunity just last January to return to his home on Aniwa to help establish the Nazarene Church. I remember his testimonies of how God used him to pray for the sick while he was there and how he encouraged young Pastor Keithly.
We stayed with the family for several hours as they prepared food for us to eat together. As we waited we watched one man throw a hunk of cow meat onto a makeshift wooden table, hack it into pieces with his not-so-clean looking axe, and then take it to the cooks. Mmmm…!?
As we left to return to Port Vila, the ladies gathered some branches from colorful plants growing in the yard. These would be planted at our homes as a remembrance of our friend. What a beautiful custom! Sharing grief and sharing beauty…life out of death.