Since 2015, Samantha Johnson has been part of a team with Africa Inland Mission among the Digo people of coastal Kenya, which are about 0.1% Christian. Since arriving, she and the team have been studying language and culture, as well as establishing relationships within the community in hopes of being able to speak Jesus’ Good News to the soul-needs of the Digo. For Samantha, this often looks like house visits, spending time with mamas, drinking chai with the locals, holding their babies, and taking part in village life.
As a kid, I remember begging my mom not to make me go to funerals—even of great aunts and family friends. Death and dead bodies?
I was a sophomore in university before I decided I could brave a visitation. You know, when everyone gets all close and views the body. It was my grandma’s. By then I possessed a better understanding of life after death.
Even still, I can count on one hand the number of proper American funerals I’ve been to. Maybe I’ve been sheltered from death there. Or maybe I’ve found better distractions. I’m not sure.
But now I live in the reality of malaria, dirty water, unjust cultural norms, and crummy hospitals. I’ve been exposed to death more in these three years in Kenya than I had been my previous 23 years of life in America.
The Long Road
I’ve walked with village friends as they’ve experienced the losses of stillborn babies and wept with them over the passing of ripe old men. I saw a father solemnly bury his newborn baby girl, and have sat with multiple widows, my hand holding fast to theirs, after the loss of their husbands. I made scrambled eggs for a 4-year-old the morning after his father died. I saw his brother try desperately to hold in tears, only to completely lose all emotional control behind a tree.
We’ve made hospital runs to pick up the deceased at night; Muslims have to be buried within 24 hours of death. I’ve greeted a man in the morning, only to hear he was shot on his motorcycle two hours later. I’ve raged at God and culture after a Christian woman died from injuries sustained after her husband beat her in a jealous rage.
I’ve sat next to the ladies at those burials, holding them, keeping them from falling over as they wail and mourn the loss—the permanent loss—of a son, a brother, a sister, a grandpa, a mama, a friend.
Jesus, I feel so ill equipped for this.
He Who Walks With
Last week, I sat beside our neighbor R’s bedside as she was shivering, moaning, and vomiting.
“I might not be here on earth for much longer,” she said. “You and Ellie won’t have me around soon.”
Oh, Jesus, I’ve shared your stories with her countless times these past three years. Whatever happens to her physical body, please heal her soul.
A 4:30 AM trip to the hospital and loads of medicine later, she was lucid and in much better spirits. No death talk or wailing trailed behind us as there had been on the morning she had vomited blood.
Recovery is not always the case. In fact, I’ve been in numerous situations in which it goes the other way. I wanted to be there for my Digo family, whatever the outcome.
More than that, I wanted them to know Jesus walked with them.
“Jesus healed you,” I innocently (/sassily) told her after she had started to feel better.
What They Can’t Live Without
I know we’ve all heard hundreds of sermons on the urgency of the Gospel. This isn’t a new song. Mine are just a few more to add to that list.
There are honestly a couple old ladies in our compound who I don’t expect to live much longer. And then there are always those whose deaths we can never foretell.
What if I slipped in the name of Jesus to all my conversations with people? What if I reached out to hand them that lifeline? What if we could have more Digo burials where we are standing around the faithful saint in her burial plot, clapping and singing happy Jesus songs because she was Home?
As you and I labor in prayer and intentional Gospel conversations with people, I am writing to you just another message imploring you to speak Jesus in to the lives of your people, and now.
The message of life in Jesus is urgent.