Today Mark and I went to a funeral for a friend. Awana was 90 years old, and he lived in the village of N’Djei. We came to know Awana when our team began evangelism in his village, and got to know him even better as his oldest son, Jerome, became one of our dearest friends here. Awana was baptized about a year ago, but we have been going to visit him for many years. Whenever I would go to his village I would often make sure I walked down the road to his house to greet him because he had problems with his legs and could not get around very easily. I loved visiting his home to greet him and Jerome’s grandmother. There is something about elderly people in the village that has a great attraction for me.
So this morning we headed out to the village to honor the memory of this simple man, but little did I know that we were also going to witness the collision of two worlds. We picked up our friend Essowe, and as we got nearer to the village we saw more and more people going the same direction. This is not very common for this remote place. Upon arriving we parked our truck where all the other vehicles were parked, including a Hummer! We walked along the road through the crowd of approximately 400 to the tent set up in front of Awana’s house, complete with music blaring from loudspeakers in this village with no electricity. We were greeted by our dear friends, went to view the body, and then shown to our seats which were front and center.
As I was sitting I wondered how many of these people were there because they knew Awana or his family. How many people had come to honor this man who had farmed his fields, led in his community, provided well for all 19 of his children for 90 years? How many were there to comfort and console those who will be waking up to live each day without the one they love? I kept looking over at Jerome and feeling so sad for him.
Jerome is a simple man who desires a simple life. I remember that when we were planning a day of AIDS testing in his village the leaders from the clinic wanted to have a big banner made and bring in a large stereo system to draw people in. Thankfully Jerome’s wisdom prevailed. He said that bringing in all of those things creates a circus atmosphere and people come to party instead of taking things seriously. AIDS is a serious matter and we ought to present it as such. I was so impressed by that. Jerome could have built up his reputation by bringing that kind of “glamour” to his village, but he doesn’t want glamour, he just wants to do what he can to bring blessing to his village. So in the midst of all the mayhem and noise, I wondered how Jerome felt.
After the funeral service we were asked to come to the graveside were we eventually had to leave because of all of the pushing and jostling of people who wanted to get up front to see. Then we were invited by Jerome’s brother, Jacque, to the roof of his house to eat where it was more calm and peaceful.
I like Jacque. He is personable, kind, generous, and has taken care of his family. He is very wealthy having made his fortune in selling tin for roofs, and is very well connected (hence the attendees driving Landcruisers and the Hummer!) It was on the roof of a three story house with solar electricity (the only one in the village of mostly mud huts) that we were invited to eat, and we went thinking that Jerome would be along in a bit.
When we got there we sat down to a delicious feast with abundant food and drink. We enjoyed visiting with Jacque’s friends and coworkers, and enjoyed the cool breeze and lovely view. However, Jerome never came.
When the meal was over we thanked Jacques and went to find Jerome. We found him at his humble home, which is very nice by village standards, but made simply with mud and cement, and of course without electricity or any other amenity. He was sitting, eating, and talking with his church family. We explained the confusion of why we hadn’t come to his house, and he he was very gracious as he always is.
The contrast of Jerome and Jacque made quite an impression on me today. As I said, I like Jacque very well, and I really enjoyed visiting with the other “important visitors” as we ate. However, looking at the hundreds of people who came today to be a part of the “big man’s” funeral, I feel like most of them really missed the point. I’m glad that Jerome has his church family to surround him and step away from the chaos and showmanship. I admire his simplicity, and I think that he really honored both his heavenly father and his earthly one today. He is a great example to me, to not be seduced by wealth, luxury, or glamour. His choices in life point to the things that are truly important, and he doesn't get sidetracked or distracted from them. I thank God for giving me such a friend and brother!