Friday, January 27, 2012

The Most Beautiful Singing

 Joel came to us a few months ago because he was malnourished and his mother was not capable of caring for him. She comes from a very poor village and her mental state is not reliable. Our nurse knew of him from an extended family member and suggested he be brought to Cradle of Love to receive proper care and nourishment. He was a small boy for being almost two years old and he was very behind in development. He couldn’t talk or walk, but he was learning to babble and he had the sweetest smile between two chubby cheeks.

On Sabbath morning, January 14, something happened that I was not prepared for. At 5:55am, baby Joel died at the hospital. He had a high fever, possible malaria, and dehydration. Losing Joel was unexpected to us all. We had many babies sick at the same time and didn’t think his case was very serious compared to the others. I guess his little body was not prepared to handle all the battles with in, though, and he lost the fight. When our nurse brought him back, he was wrapped in many blankets with only his beautiful face revealed. He looked like he was sleeping soundly…just like every night when he was tucked in bed. It was hard to believe that this morning, his eyes weren’t going to pop open at any moment and look up at you with excitement about getting up and greeting the day. His arms weren’t going to reach up to me to be picked up and cuddled. These were the saddest thoughts for me to deal with as I looked at his little body sleeping peacefully.  We had a special prayer with the nannies and cried together as we shared our last moments with him. His body was taken to a mortuary where it would be kept until the mother and extended family could prepare for a burial.

On Monday morning, we left to pick up his body once again and take it to his village to be buried. He was simply taken out of a big fridge with a pile of other bodies waiting to be buried. It was sickening, really.  He was icy cold and heavy. It gave me a sickening feeling that started in my tummy and rose up as a lump in my throat. We drove about a half hour to pick up his uncle, then his uncle lead us off the main road to his extended family who had made a coffin and cross. From there, we drove and drove and drove for at least an hour, through desert, Maasai villages, and dried river beds in the middle of nowhere. We were all beginning to wonder if there was a church or a village even in existence out this far. We finally came upon a two mud huts. That was it. Set up by the mud huts was a church, made of sticks and tarp. When we climbed out of the car, we heard wailing. Wailing like I’ve never heard before. The wailing came from his mother and grandmother. Though his mother’s mental state wasn’t perfect, Joeli had brought her joy and it was clear that she loved him. The wailers and some other women were huddled in one of the mud huts for about an hour while village members started appearing out of nowhere until there were almost 70 people. The men on one side and the women on the other, sitting on the dust and dirt or small wooden benches. The heat was almost unbearable and you could see it rise off the desert in the surrounding landscape making the air look fuzzy and squiggly. When the service began, the preacher prayed, spoke, and began to sing. That is when I heard the most beautiful singing ever. Tears come back as I write about it. The song started with the preacher’s strong voice and then, one by one, every voice in the village joined in with beautiful harmonies singing a special hymn. Their eyes were closed, some hands were lifted to heaven, and they simply sang this prayer to God with all their hearts. It was a service I will remember always. All the men took turns digging the hole and then refilling it after his coffin was laid down. The singing continued throughout it all. The men collected rocks from all around to distinguish his grave and make it look nice. The women then brought pink flowers to drape over it. The support from the villagers touched me. The music made me feel as if the angels were there singing for the burial service.

 He will gather the gems for His kingdom,
All the pure ones, all the bright ones, His loved and His own.
Like the stars of the morning, His bright crown adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty, Bright gems for His crown.
Little children who love their Redeemer are the jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own.

Little coffin. Little cross. Little hole in the ground.
It seems so wrong to bury a toddler barely two years old. Death isn’t a part of God’s good and perfect plan. When I carried little Joeli’s cold and lifeless body, homesickness for heaven overwhelmed me more strongly than ever before.
I can’t wait to see Joeli’s vibrant face full of life again when Jesus opens up his grave at the second coming. I am so eager to live in a world without sin. Jesus is coming soon! When He does, He will collect all His precious jewels, His little children whom He loves so very much.
sleeping peacefully until Jesus comes


  1. Bethany,
    This post tears to my eyes. What a beautiful little boy, a gem. I am praying for you, the other staff, and the family of Joeli. God be with you in Africa, Beth.

  2. Hi Bethany,
    Sometimes the joy is hard to find. God bless you as you continue to seek for it - and God grant you peace as you recognize his comfort in the praises others raise to Him.
    You are well named Bethany Joy!
    Auntie Cherri

  3. Beth,
    I'm so sorry. What a precious, yet painful, burden to bear. I'm glad that you got to experience such a beautiful service, but wish that you had never had the need to do so.
    Love you!

  4. Oh tears are falling all over the have shared such a tender, solemn, beautiful picture of love, of family, of comfort and of hope. You have shared so gently, the story of Joeli. He looks beautiful even as he rests. Thank you for sharing this with us...though it makes us is another reality of this world, which makes us long even more for Heaven. Wow. That was powerful. xo

  5. The death of a child is one of the saddest things on this earth. I feel for you and the other volunteers at Cradle every time you experience it. Thank you, though, for sharing a little of Joel's life and describing his funeral. I can just imagine the beautiful singing... Heaven will be a wonderful place! I look forward to meeting baby Joel there!

  6. This was beautifully put to words. My heart and soul cry out to God for relief from this world. Come Lord Jesus come.

  7. I'm sorry, Beth. Death is not easy to see--especially the death of an innocent child. Somewhere deep inside we know that it is just so wrong, and our hearts cry out against it. But "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain..." Thank God that He will make everything right again!!!