When Community Meets Culture

Wanita asked me "Akan kalian pergi ke kremasi upacara besok?" Taking a moment to mentally translate what my neighbor had just asked me, I realized she just said: "Are you going to the funeral celebration tomorrow?" We had observed the devotion and dedication of Wanita's family; making daily offerings to the various idols and spiritual shrines on their property typical of the island. But today she was inviting us to join with the village as they observe the passing of a community elder from this world to the next. We quickly realized this would be an amazing opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of how the inhabitants of our new home island viewed the afterlife.    

 We are still getting used to wearing traditional clothing like a "sarong" (the wrapped fabric worn like a skirt by men and women for traditional events.) But Wanita was obviously overjoyed to show off her new foreign neighbors who had taken the time and effort to dress appropriately for such an important gathering.  Before we rounded the corner at the end of our alley I could hear the drums, cymbals and gamelan band. A flood of humanity flowed before adding to their numbers as they greeted the residents of each new street. Our host family drew us into the crowd by introducing us to their friend with smiles and laughter. This was far from any mournful funeral march I had ever seen. At the center of this "parade" was a "float". On this large platform, supported by many strong men, was elaborate decorations of gold and jewel colors, the spiritual guru and the body of the decided. At every main intersection the band would play faster and louder while the platform was rotated in great circles.

Finally we arrived at an open field filled with the now hundreds of community members who had joined the celebration. Only then did we realize that this cremation was going to be for three bodies. One by one the corpse wrapped in white cloth was carried from the platform to an pile of rough cut wood. Obviously this is where a fire was about to be set and the bodies reduced to ashes. The families and closest friends of the dead gathered to say their final words but we were shocked to recognize some familiar faces. 

Near one of the bodies was a circle of locals mixed with foreigners from the opposite side of the globe. We found out later that this was a circle of prayer in the name of Jesus. Volunteers, like us from the organization we are with, had been invited by one family in their time of grief to worship and pray to the Jesus they had heard so much about. These volunteers had moved to this island, learned the language, developed a way to bless the community and developed deep relationships for just such an opportunity. After years of praying they were now invited into the community as family and share the Hope that inspires their life. 

This is the the reason that we have moved so far from home. To meet people who are desperate for the Eternal Good News while surrounded by a world of depression. To be invited into a community so we may cry, laugh, mourn and rejoice with them in their own language and culture. 

It is through this lifestyle approach that we hope to see generations reject the  injustices of this world like human trafficking and child exploitation by adopting an eternal perspective that brings hope beyond death and cremation.