Last week saw the death of another family member for our neighbours, the fourth death in a period of about six or seven weeks. I have no concept of what it means personally to experience loss on this scale and with this regularity. I admire the resilience of my neighbours and recognise that I can learn from them in this. Life here is far more tenuous than most of us experience. We prayed a few nights ago with a man believed to be dying, thankfully he is still with us, but it was another reminder that we do not know the number of our days.
Our neighbour has had the extended family living on his property for the last six weeks. With the latest death in the family an autopsy is required to confirm the cause of death, which delays the release of the body and also the funeral arrangements that need to be made. As the family member was a member of the local conservancy the family receive a one off payment to help with the funeral costs. The family members went and collected the payment from the conservancy office and despite the suggestion from our neighbour that they find out the costs involved for the funeral and hold some money for that, they spent the entire sum on food. After purchasing the food, they returned to the village telling our neighbour that he needed to phone them daily to let them know what was happening. They have phones but did not buy any credit to enable them to make contact with our neighbour or to arrange the funeral. Our neighbour was understandably disappointed.
The cycle of feast and famine has ruled the lives of many people across much of Africa for a very long time. It is a rhythm of life that they expect and believe is the norm. It is so strong that it affects what they do and how they expect others to behave. We see this phenomenon in leadership which is illustrated by the idea expressed in the saying “Now is our turn to eat.” What does this mean? When you have access to finance, food or power it means you use it to maximise the benefit for yourself and your family. We see this at play in the excesses of many leaders from all walks of life from politics to the church.
My neighbour’s dilemma causes me to think. Why is it that he is able to look at life differently? Is it that he has a job and regular income and experience has taught him that he needs to handle his monthly salary well or face the consequences. Has having a regular income helped him to begin to dream and then to act on some of those dreams. Is it that, as he has regular income and is basically the only one in the extended family with a regular income, that he gets called on to help out in all situations.
At this stage I have no answers but I do have plenty more questions. Do we have a part to play in this? If so, what is that part, and how do we live it out on a daily basis? Thinking that for now our place is to seek God’s leading in each situation and circumstance as it arises and do what he puts before us at that time and leave the bigger picture in His hands, while making it part of our prayers.