Last week, a fellow missionary pulled up to our driveway and told us that another missionary named Ann had just died leaving behind her husband Peter. It took me by surprise. I knew she had been ill, but I don’t think anyone expected her to die anytime soon. Even with her recent illnesses, Anne was a vibrant person, always full of life. She was only 59.
I stood there in shock wondering what in the world to do. There are no florists to call to order flowers to be delivered to the funeral home. There aren’t even funeral homes here. I realized I had no idea what happens when one dies in a foreign country. I started wondering what I would do if I lost John or if he lost me. What if we lost one of the kids. What would we do without our family around. All of sudden I was full of fear.
Within minutes, I saw the mission community start pulling together. A list was already being made of who would make meals for Peter and who would sit with him so that he would not have to deal with anything by himself.
The next day I took my meal over and found that someone had set up greeting area so that when anyone stopped by they were able to write down memories of Anne for her family back home who could not make it to Nigeria for her funeral. I saw missionaries going out of their way to make sure that Peter’s niece did make it in from England. Peter was able to share with us what an encouragement all the nigerian visitors had been to him.
The funeral was held on Saturday. Kirk Chapel is a historic chapel built by missionaries more than 50 years ago. It was a packed house full of missionaries from every mission organization present in Jos, Nigerians, Church leaders, and government officials. Everyone wanted to pay their respect to a fallen missionary.
The service was long, but not a second of it was boring. The testimonies and stories of Anne’s life were God-honoring and joyful. There was a lot of crying and laughing. The sermon reminded us that Ann is still Anne. She is more alive today with Christ than she ever was on earth. Her funeral was honestly one of the most beautiful funerals I have ever attended I sat there and felt honored to be present at such a God honoring event.
Amazingly, Peter was able to get up and share about Anne and about all that everyone has done for him during the past few days. He praised the SIM doctors who worked to save her and reminded us all how hard it is for them to work on their friends. He told how much it meant for them to cry with him when she died. He told about all the missionaries who arranged meals, sat with him, encouraged him and even showed up to cut his hair so he would look nice for the funeral. Every detail was taken care of for him concerning the body, the funeral, communicating to family and friends back home.
Next we followed the simple wooden casket that held Ann’s body out to the historic graveyard at Miango outside Kirk Chapel. This graveyard has always been a special place to me because I have been in such awe of the sacrifice that is recorded there in the tombstones. It was at this graveyard that God first called me to come to Nigeria.
As I watched Anne go into the ground I realized that she was being buried in a grave dug by her friends. No hired help or machines dug it, but instead the sweat of her own friends was mixed with the dirt of her grave. No machine lowered her body into that ground; her friends lowered her into that ground with simple ropes. Those friends practiced so that everything would look nice for Peter. Then her friends dropped her favorite flowers into the grave before her friends filled the grave with the dirt.
I walked away that day realizing what an honor it is to die on the mission field. I have no desire to die soon, but when I do die, I hope it is on the mission field. I would consider it nothing less than an honor to die where I was called by God to serve Him.
I now hold an even greater love for the graveyard in Miango because not only do I now know someone who has a tombstone there, but I have seen that there is more sacrifice there than what is recorded on the gravestones. I have seen the tears and the sweat by the whole mission community and Nigerian people who love deeply. I have seen that we are a family on the mission field and I know that I was silly to fear. When I need them, I know my mission family will be there.