Juan Carlos is dead. It’s a sad day here, because a precious life has been taken. Some of you may remember working alongside Juan Carlos on mission projects in Juan Pablo. He was a tall, ruggedly handsome guy, with several tattoos. He was a hard worker, and always seemed to be smiling. He was well-liked and will be dearly missed by the families of Juan Pablo.
It was about dinner time last night when the phone rang. I answered and immediately recognized the voice on the other end. It was Cynthia, but her voice sounded shaken and weak. It was easy to tell she was struggling to speak though the tears.
She explained that there had been a death in Juan Pablo, and they needed my help. They didn't have the money for a funeral service, a casket, or a tomb. She went on to explain that Juan Carlos had been arrested again and rather than returning to prison, he chose to take his own life. His life of crime had resulted in previous stints in prison, and he had vowed never to return.
Arriving in Juan Pablo, I found what seemed to be the entire neighborhood in mourning. Many houses had people gathering to mourn the loss together. It’s difficult times like these that I'm at a loss for words, a language barrier of a different kind. As a result, I gave long, deep, hugs, quietly praying for each person embraced.
After a while we left Juan Pablo to go make all the necessary preparations for the funeral in the morning. In Costa Rica, the embalming process is different, so it’s vitally important to act fast. My understanding is that most funerals are conducted within thirty-six hours of the time of death. For this reason most of the morgues and funeral homes are open twenty-four hours.
The funeral was early this morning. The casket was set-up for viewing in the community center. Friends and family gathered to remember Juan Carlos, and comfort each other. It was during the viewing that I was asked to be an honorary pallbearer. Hesitantly accepting, I soon learned it’s a much larger responsibility here in Costa Rica. In Costa Rica they have funeral processionals, and you walk, and carry the body to the cemetery.
So, we all started walking. The most direct route was impassable because all the rain we have had lately has completely washed out the road, so we had to go around the long way. It was a long but beautiful walk. We walked in honor and memory of the dead. We walked contemplating our own mortality, knowing that there would be a similar end for each of us. The processional moved slowly and reverently through the winding streets of Alajuelita. There were small children and elderly adults, mothers carrying babies, and six men carrying a box containing the empty shell of a man.
When we arrived at the cemetery Pastor Miguel delivered a short eulogy. Then we carried the casket and placed it in the tomb. Everyone stayed and watched as they sealed the tomb with bricks and mortar. It seemed to bring an indescribable finality as the last brick was laid in place.
It’s a tragedy because Juan Carlos is dead, and this time there is no victory. I suspect that all there is left for him is an eternity of pain and suffering. While walking and struggling under the weight of death; I thought about how his death was the direct result of a fallen and broken world. I'll never forget my walk from Juan Pablo to the cemetery. Carrying his body on my shoulder, I thought about how horrible it must be for Juan Carlos, how he is no longer wearing that beautiful smile.
My raced to memories of my broken conversations with Juan Carlos. I tried to tell him about Christ, but he would not listen, he wasn't interested. His death somehow feels like a defeat, but I'm reminded that I can't make people listen. Only the Holy Spirit can soften hearts. However, this experience has motivated me all the more to tell others about this precious gift of life.
The walk also reminded me of my own victory over sin and death. My Savior, Jesus Christ, has paid the ultimate price, so that I can look at the grave with confidence. I can smile at death knowing that I'll spend all eternity in an endless love affair with God, my Father.
In closing I ask that you would pray for us ministering here in Costa Rica. Pray for God to soften hearts, and lives will be changed in this life and the next. I'm sure that I'll have the opportunity to walk in more funeral processionals here in Costa Rica, but next time I hope it’s more of a victory march.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?"
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
1 Corinthians 15:54-56 NIV