Bula from Fiji. I know it has been a while since I have posted to the blog, but we were busy walking, bussing, or taxiing to get around the area. When we lost the truck after hitting a horse so we were very limited in getting to less active members homes, etc. But we now have the truck back and are getting back in the swing of things of visiting members, etc.
We had the opportunity of attending a Fijian funeral at week ago. The group leader of one of the small congregations (Group), died from his asthma. He was 52. He was the only active member of his family. So, the funeral was under the direction of the minister, I think he was Methodist.
We stopped to get directions from the Elders as to where the funeral was taking place. Two members accompanied us, one was the counselor in the branch, and a sister. Jackie was very grateful that she was there to help her through the different rituals that we were expected to participate in.
We were told that we needed to pay our respects to the family. The coffin was in the home and they were sitting around as different visitors came to pay respects. We were told that we should remove our shoes, kneel on the mat where the coffin was laid and “crawl” to the coffin and bend down and kiss the deceased. As you might guess, we asked for an explanation. Jackie was not going to kiss a dead man she had only met once. We were then told that it was to kiss the coffin. That still was more than we expected, but we learned that the coffin was closed but had a small window so we could see his face. Jackie still closed her eyes and bent down and got close, but did not kiss the coffin. I felt that same way but did kiss the coffin. We kept our heads lowered and “crawled” back off the mat and out of the house.
We sat on the porch of his brother’s house and talked with the elders that were with us and others. Jackie, in her loving way started a movie on her iPad, for a little 2-year-old girl to help pass the time. After about 20 minutes, the family carried the coffin to the church for the services. Songs were sung, speeches given; one was by the counselor in the branch. The songs were by an a ‘Capella choir and it was beautiful. All of them were in Fijian so we didn’t understand what was said, but it lasted about 45 minutes to an hour.
When it was time for the procession to the grave site, I was invited to walk with the minister and the counselor in front of the coffin. I was going to dedicate the grave. We walked to the grave site where many men and others were waiting.
They had dug the hole and placed some bamboo poles across the top and covered the poles with a grass mat. The coffin was placed on the mat and poles, then they took the poles away and lowered the coffin, using the mat, into the grave. One man jumped into the hole to fold the mat around the coffin. He had to pound some of the corners of the mat to get them to lay flat. Then the men started shoveling the sand back into the hole. The man in the hole started stomping on the sand to pack it down. After about 15 minutes they placed large stones around the grave site and put more sand to build it up and then the women came and placed a mat over the sand, on which flowers were placed. A make-shift canopy was constructed and decorated. When all of that was complete, the minister gave his final remarks and turned to me so I could dedicate the grave. Afterwards, we walked back to the village, about 150 yards and spent some more time with the brother of the deceased.
As is the custom, we brought food to give to the family for the feast after the funeral. Jackie had a meeting with a head teacher so we didn’t stay. It was quite an experience.
The longer we are here, the more we find that these saints are much like the early saints must have been. Testimonies are weak and fragile, but sincere. Culture and traditions still have a big influence in their lives. They have not yet been able to understand the organization and workings of the church. They think that the church should take care of them, build them homes, provide clean water, food and even get them to church at the churches expense. They are very easily offended when they think someone got something from the church and they did not. They have difficulty understanding why the LDS Charities gives so much to the villages but not to the church members. Explaining that the humanitarian services of the church are not funded by tithing or fast offerings doesn’t seem to register with them. They do not see how helping an entire village get water, food, or repairs on the school house, etc. helps them. Feelings are hurt, testimonies are shaken and tested and longtime friendships are strained.
With all of this going on, we still know that the work we are doing is appreciated by those that accept it. The gospel is true and Christ lived and died for each one of us. His love is all accepting, all encompassing, all eternal and He is at the head of this work in these islands as He is in the rest of the world. May God bless the people of Fiji that they will come closer to Him and that they will see the need for them to love everyone and try to do Christ-like serve to their neighbors.