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“I’m Leaving Now”

“I’m leaving now.”  These are the words of a faithful Togolese sister who is now at rest.  Her words stand in contrast to what might have been had the Gospel not been brought to her family and tribe – a contrast of Voodoo animism vs. rest in Jesus Christ.  This is update # 19 from ABWE Missionaries in Mango, Togo – Northern Hospital Outreach.

April 7, 2009
This is two days late, but we traveled to Kara and were only able to get back to Mango this afternoon.  We had a good rain last Wednesday, and saw lightning off to the southeast this evening.  The worst of the heat seems to be past, and while it is still hot, we can tell the weather is changing.  Areas to our south are beginning to turn green as well, and that is a welcome change from the brown landscape (black where fields were burned).

We originally planned to make the trip to Kara for a wedding (see pictures at website), but on Friday morning, Mme Lomdoh called to tell us that Sister Kiméwalu had passed away at the hospital in Kara.  We knew she was failing, but just five minutes prior to the call informing us of her death, Esther called Mme Lomdoh, who asked if she would like to speak with Kiméwalu.  Of course Esther said yes, but after a moment of silence, Mme Lomdoh took the phone to explain that she was not able to speak.  Esther asked her to tell Kiméwalu that we were praying for her, and that we hoped to see her on Saturday.  So the call shortly after she hung up took us by surprise.

Family members wanted to bury her on Saturday morning, (“Like a dog,” said an angry Mme Lomdoh), but several of our pastors spoke with them and persuaded them to wait until Monday morning.  So on Sunday evening we held a memorial service at the Dongoyo church, with at least 300 people in attendance.  I was so very encouraged to see the compassion and faith of our Togolese believers, and couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that 200 years ago, this same tribe was a terror to surrounding tribes, and very much a part of the slave trade.  God transforms His children, and it shows on their faces, which lose the hard, angry look of violent people, and become gentle and caring.

We got to bed near midnight, and on Monday morning were up at 4:00 and to the morgue at 5:00 to pick up our sister’s earthly remains. We took her body to her house (tradition here) so that neighbors and friends could see her one last time.  I found myself wishing I could take a picture. Mme Lomdoh and Mme Martouka (two of our pastors’ wives) had made a white dress for her, and she looked very peaceful, and at rest.  We know from Mme Lomdoh that she suffered a great deal in the days prior to her death, and were thankful that all traces of that suffering had disappeared.  She could have been asleep from her appearance.  We know she is with the Lord whom she loved and served, but we miss her very much.

Since the family had decided to bury her in the traditional Kabye tomb, which is like a root cellar in a field, they rented a casket from a church in the village of Tcharé, on the mountain above the town of Pya.  It is a beautiful place to be buried, and I thought the casket rental, which allowed us to transport the body somewhat privately was a good idea for people who are very poor.  At the family home, we encountered the grief displayed by those who have no hope of the resurrection, but it was another good opportunity to speak of our Savior and His great salvation.  Then we moved up the hillside to the tomb, spoke briefly of the resurrection, and then stepped back to allow the men who were to take the body down into the tomb to do their work.

The burial process itself is interesting.  It surely must be unpleasant, and possibly dangerous.  A man goes down into the tomb to make room for the body.  To do this he has to arrange the bones of other people who have been buried in the tomb.  Because of gasses from decaying bodies, he does this while holding his breath.  A second man enters the tomb to receive the new body, and then comes back up. Another man replaces him, removes the cloth in which the person has been buried, and arranges the body on the earth bench alongside the bones of the other occupants.  I’m not certain why no clothing is left on the person.  Perhaps it is because of the poverty with which people here live.  It would be considered wasteful to leave good clothing, or even a cloth, in a tomb.  But I couldn’t help but think of Job’s words in Job 1:21, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

We learned later that the father of Kiméwalu’s daughter was at the Sunday evening service, and at the burial on Monday morning.  He has asked that Essonana come to live with him, and Mme Lomdoh was positively livid when she learned about that.  The man evidently tried to convince Kiméwalu to have an abortion 21 years ago, and it is rumored that he later tried to poison the child.  He has done almost nothing by way of support for her to this point in her life, and now he wants her?  We hope to keep her in school (university fees come to only $80 to $100 a year), and in church where she will be with friends.  The Lomdoh family has been providing a room for her, and will now plan to include meals as well.  Mme Lomdoh called it a social adoption, which means that they plan to see that she is cared for during this stage of life.

We were somewhat bemused this morning when Mme Lomdoh asked us if we knew any Losso women (another northern tribe) who wanted to work for us.  Kiméwalu’s animistic relatives believe that an enemy killed her by using black magic.  Among the Kabye, this is almost a universal belief when someone dies prior to old age.  Word was out that a Losso woman was jealous that Kiméwalu was working for us, or wanted to get rid of her so that she could work for us.  We told her that we don’t know any Losso women, and never heard of one who wanted to work for us!  There are times when I’m just left shaking my head.  And there are Western people who think that Voodoo is a wonderful, back to Mother Nature religion!

We praise God for Kiméwalu’s powerful testimony to her faith in Jesus Christ, and we thank Him that we had the privilege to know her and enjoy her friendship for a period of years.  We do not pretend to understand His ways, but trust Him to always do what is right and good for His children.  We sorrow, but not as those who have no hope.  And we have a full assurance that we will see her again, at the resurrection of the righteous dead, or sooner, should the Lord take us prior to that blessed day. Thanks to all who prayed for her as she waited for the call to come home.  Madame Lomdoh said that her final words were, “I’m leaving now.” And then she fell asleep.

Yours in His service,

Tim & Esther Neufeld

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