By Mark

 

My heart sunk as I read the text on my phone, “Bodio’s baby just died.”  Sukhee and Bodio are a young couple married a year ago.  They represent the future of leadership in the church.  Their baby Itgell was about three months old.  Bodio worked at CLTC (Church Leadership Training Center- the new name for ABTC).  Itgell was by her side as she worked. 

The child’s temperature was running a high temperature.  The took their baby to the hospital but it was too late, she died a short time after their arrival.  Meningitis is the suspected cause of death.  I went with several that Friday evening to visit them in Tusgon- a ger community of Darhan.  As we prayed with them I was reminded that hope in Christ is not just a future thing but a reality and truth that impacts how we live now. 

 Although the church was established over a decade ago there is still a struggle in understanding of what Christian funeral looks like in a Mongolian context.  There is work being done and there is more needed- please pray for wisdom and discernment in this important testimony of hope in a period of grief. 

Funerals are held on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays usually early in the morning.  We left the apartments at 5:10 AM to go to Bodio’s parents house.  We would then travel to the morgue for the body to be prepared for burial and a short service.  When we arrived at the home food was being prepared and allot of it.  Traditionally many people gather at the home to eat after the funeral, however this time people would be gathering at CAMA services. 

The morning seemed to grow colder as dawn approached.  As we arrived at the morgue around 6:30, two other funerals had already been held ahead of us.  We waited outside as the grandparents went inside to prepare the baby for burial.  The doors opened and we stepped inside.  The air was thick with incense, the smell of balsam.  The child was in a velvet coffin draped in a blue prayer flag.  Someone held a picture of the child.   

Itgell is a special name, it means “Believer.” Brent Liberda was asked to share the message and did an excellent job bringing home the truth of what belief means.  He shared Acts 4:12 “Neither is there salvation in any other for there is no other name under heaven given among men where by we must be saved.” We sang Amazing Grace together and than walked around the casket three times, clockwise to say farewell.  It was hard.  In the west we are very insulated from death – here there is no padding, it is raw and in your face. 

The parents were not to go to the grave site, in fact very few did.  There were many things that I do not know the significance of in the funeral.  I traveled with the Phams to the grave yard.  The grandfather tossed our rice and milk as we slowly made our way.  Five men rode in back of the truck with the casket, I can only imagine how cold they must have been.  It was probably around 15 F. The cemetery is far outside of town.  The right side of the hill is a favored spot which is where the grave was dug.  The truck carried the headstone.  Sand, gravel cement and stones were already at the grave side.  Sand was put down, dirt and cement- we each placed handfuls of soil into the grave.  A candle was lit and placed inside a small metal ger.  White stones were placed on top of the grave.  The stones marked out grave sites from one side of the valley to the other.  More rice and milk was offered. 

We drove away from the graveyard by another road, careful not to cross over the previous route.  Two fires were lit and the vehicles drove in between them and stopped.  Everyone got out and washed our hands in milk water, was given sugar that we dipped into a bowl of milk.  The vehicles then made their way back to CAMA.

That night on television I watched choral recital from the Netherlands.  I listened to a beautiful choir sing This is My Story, This is My Song in an ornate church with gold all all around.  It was beautiful but I wondered if they believed a word of it.  I thought back to that morning the melody of Amazing Grace echoing in my head in the room of the morgue.  They knew more than the words. 

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