From a worker in East Asia
Many mornings my wife and I awaken to the doleful droning of the suona, an incredibly loud horn used at funerals. Our fifth-floor apartment is next to the hospital, and we can see the morgue behind the hospital from our bedroom window. The suona players come to accompany the body as it is carried from the morgue back to the village for funeral and burial. Back in the village mourners wrap their heads in strips of white cloth and don ragged white clothing—white is the color of sorrow. Some wail and faint, having to be carried, as they walk along with the bier. It’s quite a vivid visual and auditory picture of loss and hopelessness.
Last month our family attended a quite different funeral. Mrs. Z, our kids’ language teacher for nearly ten years, died from metastatic breast cancer. She and her husband had both been gifted and committed teachers. Early in their careers they were honored with membership in the Communist Party, an exclusive privilege enjoyed by less than a tenth of fellow citizens. In middle age, however, they both came to know the Lord Jesus. Ashamed for how much of their lives they wasted on themselves they committed to giving the whole of their remaining years to the One who had died for them. Before long their open commitment to Christ led them to give up their memberships in the Communist Party, which requires all members to be avowedly atheist. This also meant giving up much of their retirement savings, medical insurance and many other benefits given to Party members. They became more and more active in the church. Mr. Z became one of a handful of elders for a church of several thousand and also taught in several house churches each week. Once, already in his mid-60s, he biked miles with me into the countryside to share Christ with one of my patients who was dying. Mrs. Z used her teaching skills and love for children to tirelessly lead a newly-formed Sunday school class and help train other teachers. She also gave of her time to teach our kids language and disciple them along the way. In the months before her death her body slowly wasted away. She became too weak to get out of bed and was in frequent pain from bony metastases. But her spirit and smile were unchanged. Speaking in a whisper she always had an encouraging word and a smile for everyone who came to see her.
Because she lived in the city, law mandated that her body be cremated. At the crematorium a crowd of several hundred, including several church choirs and the church band, stood shoulder to shoulder packed inside the 30×50-foot room where her body lay before cremation. One of the pastors gave a powerful message focusing on who Christ is, how He is the only way of salvation for each of us and the great hope we have in Him, even in the face of death. There were tears and joy and hope. We each spoke to her family and filed out into the sunshine where the church band played hymns of triumph. Filing out of the crematorium at nearly the same time were those from other families, dressed in white mourning garb, wailing and collapsing on the road, lost in hopelessness. The contrast was stunning.