Not long ago, we received the very sad news that a young woman, a niece of one of our church members, had died suddenly. Until very recently, she had been a healthy young mother of three young children all under the age of eight.
Two days later, together with other church members, we went to the “kilio” (wake) where friends and family had gathered. According to custom, men sat outside in chairs that had been quickly set up under a makeshift tent. Women and children filed into a small front room from which all furniture had been removed. There were woven bamboo mats lining the floor where everyone sat. Most of the senior ladies sat closer to the bereaved, while those who weren’t so close, as well as children, sat along a wall on the opposite side of the room.
Leave Your Shoes At The Door
I followed the line of ladies into the house and brought my then 10-year-old daughter with me. We all left our shoes at the front door, as it is customary to remove shoes when attending a wake. It may sound strange that my daughter accompanied me, however, the church member who we were visiting whose niece had died, is our children’s church director. It was only natural for children from church to come and show their love and support for their leader.
This wake was the first time my little girl had experienced anything of this kind. I wondered how she would feel walking through a new cultural experience. I told her it would be alright if she wanted to sit with me but she declined, she wanted to sit with the other children. Her bare feet mingled with those of her friends and her eyes took in the setting. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is found in the purity of little children. I saw the Kingdom that day when, in the rawest of settings, my little girl sit with her friends. In them the love of the Kingdom was on full display as they sat together to comfort those who mourned.
Let The Little Children Come
We all took turns comforting the family. The inevitable flow of tears and sobs ebbed and flowed throughout our visit. The children took their turn to give their condolences. Theirs were perhaps the most appreciated by their teacher as she talked with each one and took in their hugs and love. I understood even more on that day the priority that children take in the Kingdom of God.
Luke 18:16 NKJ “But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; forof such is the kingdom of God.'”
Not many days after our visit, we drove to the graveyard and laid this young mother’s remains to rest. Present were her children, husband, and hundreds of friends and family. The weeping gravesites is one sound I’ll never get used to and neither should I. The pain felt in those left behind is very real. If we ever become callous to the sound of death and the pain felt by those losing loved ones, how can we ever hope to comfort them?
Weep With Those Who Weep
We do know that life apart from the body is lived in God’s presence (2 Cor. 5:8), but there remains a real loss for those left behind. This is why we are told to “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). This “ministry of presence” brings strength to those whose strength is depleted when death comes knocking. Death will touch all of us. None of us are exempt from feeling the pain when loved ones answer the call to enter into eternity.
Still, it remains in my mind some time later, the picture of the children’s shoes left by the front door of the house on a warm afternoon. I can still feel the warm breeze blowing through the front door, hear the weeping of children, and feel the sting of death. Together with them was my little girl in the middle taking part in the “ministry of presence.”