“The fact that we have eternal life is not something we take lightly here in South Africa. It isn’t something we can just blow by quickly…but something that we can celebrate each day”.
As I sat in Dean Mkaya’s (my host pastor here) pick-up truck, he told me about the importance of funerals here. It was late one Saturday afternoon and we were driving back to Pietermaritzburg after being out in the more rural area for almost seven hours! It was a day spent at a funeral, followed by a burial, unveiling of a tombstone, and then a feast of delicious traditional Zulu food. Though the day had been exhausting, I didn’t mind the time it took to travel home, because the scenery of the hills and fields still amazes me each time I travel anywhere here. Dean Myaka graciously invited me to come along to this funeral to experience an important part of the culture here. The funeral was all spoken in the native language here, isiZulu, so I did not understand anything they were saying. Luckily, the Dean preached at this particular funeral, so the majority of our drive home was him explaining to me what his sermon was about, in English! He described why the funeral service was almost five hours long, his cultural and religious views on death, and the impact it has on communities here. It all goes back to the quote I shared previously at the beginning of this paragraph… We discussed how it is healthy to grieve, but it is also healthy to celebrate the life a person has lived on earth, and to look forward to the eternal life we are promised through Christ Jesus. Here in South Africa, funerals are seen as a celebration; a time to celebrate life and the hope we can live in each day. Talking with the Dean took me back to several conversations I have had with my mother about funerals. She has always told me how she wants her funeral to be a party, a celebration, a time where people can acknowledge that though her life on earth is done, her life has really just begun! During the funeral service, the lady I sat next to graciously shared her isiZulu worship hymnal with me so I could sing along to the songs. I was surrounded by tears of joy, beautiful voices, laughter, and random shouts of praise and felt quite silly actually, as I tried to sing along to tunes I had never heard and words I had never said. I’m sure my voice was adding some interesting harmonies just by trying to sing and I knew that my Minnesotan accent stood out more than usual at this point… but what a neat feeling it was to sing with others in another language, especially in worship setting. So though I was confused for the majority of the time, this idea became insignificant. More importantly than me trying to sing the right words and emphasize the correct syllables, was the fact that no matter what we sounded like, all of our voices were uniting together to worship our Lord, and that was a beautiful sound.