The Day I Built a Small Casket

2009 July 12

(The following story is a sad story in my experience here. I have abbreviated it for the newsletter. If you would like to read the full version instead, please visit my website: Kaleb)

The last month has been one full of challenges, but as always, God has been faithful to give enough strength to match the trial. As I begin writing this newsletter, I find it hard to believe that it has already been a whole month since Kaleb died. Probably most of you have heard the news, but I'll give a brief summary here for those who have not. On the morning of June 10, Gary and Wendy found Kaleb, their four-year-old son, lying unconscious in his bed. He had finished Quinine treatment for his malaria and was showing signs of improvement over the previous couple of days. But this was a definite turn for the worse. They rushed him to the hospital a few kilometers north of here, but all efforts to save his life were futile. Devastated, his parents brought him home for the last time.

Within hours, Jeremy and I began building a small casket out of a rough-cut piece of wood, something I have never had to do before. Having to build any casket would be difficult, but building one so small - four feet long and one foot wide - was just awful. As work progressed on the casket, dozens of villagers began to gather to watch the process of cutting, planing, drilling, and nailing. Once it was finished, a couple of guys carried the empty casket to the house. There, after the last embraces were given, we nailed the coffin shut. I will always remember the harsh sound of that hammer.

The funeral procession began. Local young people in Pathfinders uniform carried the casket, followed by family, friends, and a multitude of villagers. As the casket bearers marched along, they sang a song about following Jesus no matter what the cost. Passing the airplane, the procession made its way across the runway to a site between two large trees where the grave diggers had just finished their work. The service was solemn, but full of hope. A hymn broke out, Kaleb's favorite. He frequently picked this hymn for morning or evening worship and sang along: "When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more, and the morning breaks eternal bright and fair; when the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore, when the roll is called up yonder I'll be there."

How I long for that day even more! Each day as I work at the worksite, I can look over and see the neat little mound of dirt and I think of that day that is coming so soon, the day that will end all sin and suffering forever. "For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 Kaleb is "sleeping" in his grave. The next thing he will know about is his grave bursting open, his ears ringing with the loud trumpet call, and his eyes squinting at the glory of Jesus' return. When asked "What will Jesus say when He comes back?" Kaleb's two-year-old sister replies urgently, "Kaleb, wake up!"

That day was the first day of drizzle and rain we have had since I arrived, and it certainly matched the mood of that long day. The next morning, I awoke to thoughts from Satan, tempting me to be discouraged. Choosing to refocus my thoughts on God's past leading in my life and how His providence has guided me here, I realized that I cannot doubt God's guidance. He knew this event would happen and so already has a plan in place to bring about good greater than the evil. As I opened the door of my hut that morning and walked out into a beautiful morning with blue sky and golden sunshine, I was reassured by God's promises as another hymn came to mind: "The golden morning is fast approaching, Jesus soon will come..." Jesus is coming soon, and we are all a part of a team to help finish the work. My job is to obey His calling and faithfully perform the work He has for me to do. Are you ready for His soon return, and are you helping others to be ready?

Please remember to keep Gary and Wendy and the family in your prayers. Those who would like to help with the cost of their travel can mark their donation as for the Kaleb fund. After the tickets are covered, excess will be put toward our nutrition center in memory of Kaleb. For my full version of this story, please visit: Kaleb

Part 2 of this newsletter should follow immediately with more news and stories.