The wailing coming from the village was very loud and unbearable to my young ears. I really didn't understand everything about death, nonetheless, African death wail. I could hear their bare feet pounding down on the red dirt road. Running to the death house to give their condolences. Loud wails, gut wrenching wails. I didn't want to go there but I knew I had to. Sarah was my friend, and she had died in childbirth. The family was fighting over where to bury her and the baby. I couldn't stand the yelling, the ugly death smell, and the chaos. Why? Why must they fight? I didn't understand.
It was hot and humid. Our thermometer read 105F in the shade. Surely the heat would make them stop arguing. Maybe it would be so hot that they would just quit this wailing and commence the burial for our dear Sarah. We just had her at our house. She did our laundry three times a week. She loved clean clothes. She'd pound and scrub those clothes on the wash board. I don't know how she did it. But those clothes ran clear of the red Liberian dirt. Every single time. Sarah had an amazing smile. Her eyes were so kind and she could really laugh loud. She loved her job and her life and her family. Now she was gone.
I cried. I had never experienced death before. Death in West Africa. Death without Christ. A Christ-less eternity. Sarah had heard the good news of Jesus Christ. But to my knowledge she never accepted the free gift of salvation. Oh how I wish she would've listened and accepted.
That's the ugly truth about Death. It's so final. It comes so suddenly. And it is inevitable. But it doesn't have to be the end. I wanted to talk to her again. To let her know that her life mattered and that God was the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE!
I made my way over to the death hut. I was greeted by Sarah's relatives. They clung to me wailing and crying long hard sobs. Holding my hand they lead me into the dark, little room where they had carefully laid Sarah. My eyes adjusted to being inside and I looked down to see Sarah in the makeshift coffin. Her body was decomposing in the heat. She had been laying there in that room in that box for 2 days while her family fought over the location of burial. Her skin was splitting in the heat, her beautiful skin no longer shiny and clear. Her hands were folded on her colorful wrap skirt. Her legs were spread open leaving room for her beautiful newborn baby lying still and lifeless. My eyes filled up with tears and I could feel a huge sob in my throat. I had to be brave for the family but I couldn't. As the tears rolled down my cheeks and my hands trembled with the awful truth of death, her sister hugged me and said, "I'm sorry, Sarah loved you." I loved her too I said. I felt like that's all I could say at the moment.
I stepped outside to catch my breath. "God, this hurts so much" I prayed for strength. The African sun was beginning to go down. I must've waited to long to bring my condolences we were losing daylight. I wondered what was going to happen. Would they bury Sarah or would they continue to fight? I couldn't bear the thought of prolonged wailing.
Suddenly, the ladies came to me and with hushed tones told me that they had decided to bury Sarah quickly before the sun set. I looked over to the fields to see men digging the grave. I watched the red dirt pile up on the sides of the hole. I think I must've been in a daze because all of a sudden we were walking down to the grave site and I was being pushed along the jungle path.
I heard singing. Is that us? Are we singing now? Why? I wasn't sure what was happening but the words to "When we all get to Heaven" was in the air. I remember thinking, "Why are we singing this song?" It's beautiful but it doesn't fit. Sarah isn't in Heaven. Their voices rose strong and clear.
Sing the wondrous love of Jesus
Sing his mercy and his grace
In the mansions bright and blessed
He'll prepare for us a place
When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We'll sing and shout the victory
My tears fell quickly down my face as the brutal honest truth hit my heart. Unless someone comes here to tell these people about the Good news they will continue to sing these hymns without hope. Somebody has to tell them! And I believe it was at that moment that God used the death of my friend Sarah to reveal to my young heart that people need the truth of the gospel. And would I be willing to be HIS ambassador?
As the sun was setting and the hymn was being sung, Sarah's coffin was lowered into the ground. The dirt was thrown quickly over the coffin. Family gathered and said their last words to her and each other.
And just like that, it was all over. The darkness crept in and the words of the hymn hung in the air.
Onward to the prize before us
Soon his beauty we'll behold
Soon the pearly gates will open
We shall tread the streets of gold
I knew that I had that promise. That hope in Christ alone. I really wanted to let others know too. You see, death is ugly. But in Christ we can know that there's more to death, there's life in Christ. Eternal life.
Note to readers: This is a true story that took place in Liberia in 1986. I was 16 years old. I was impacted by the death of my African friend, Sarah. And I never go a day without thinking of the many others who have yet to hear of the wonderful news of Jesus Christ. When we all get to Heaven...Let's continue to tell others of this powerful news... that changes the ugly truth about death!