While I was away in America a Canon (a Rev who is recognized by the Diocese for long-time exemplary service) of ECS – Rejaf passed. I missed his burial, which happened the day after his death. Mama Rose also missed his burial because he she was attending a week long workshop.
My second Sunday back in Juba, Mama Rose asked me to go with her to pay respects to the widow. I agreed thinking we would just go there, spend time with the family and then leave. To my surprise, when we arrived I learned that we were going to have a worship service. After they rearranged the seats in a particular order, I sat down beside Mama Rose. A few minutes before the program started, Mama Rose whispered to me, “Darriel, can you share with us from the Bible?” I replied, somewhat surprised, “You want me to give a sermon?” She said, “Yes”. Mama Rose said it so matter-of-fact that I began thinking that I was silly for doubting. On one hand I was shocked because I wasn’t even expecting a service, to give a eulogy was out of my imagination. On the other hand, I was honored that Mama Rose trusted me enough to ask me to speak at such a critical moment.
Unlike my experience in Kenya and Uganda, people in South Sudan haven’t asked me to preach as soon as they’ve learned that I was a minister. I spent over 4 months in South Sudan and I am yet to preach a sermon from a pulpit. I do give mini-sermons whenever I go to the field for my program, but those are informal and unrequested.
So that Sunday, when I realized I would be giving not only my first semi-formal sermon in South Sudan but the first eulogy of my life, I felt a little unprepared. I remembered some of what I learned in seminary as well as tidbits from my Field Ed, but nothing concrete. I remembered my friend Edmund recently saying that his pastor told him preachers should only give a Eulogy from an outline after years of experience (beginners should always have a full manuscript). At the time it sounded like good advice, but I knew I was about to violate that rule of thumb.
I just said a prayer and tried to think of a scripture that would encourage the life of the living and provide peace about the soul of the deceased. That week I wrote a paper on reconciliation where I talked a lot about John 3:16, so that scripture was fresh on my mind.
Some 15 minutes after I was asked to speak, I stood up to read John 3:16 and begin the eulogy. I talked about the how God did something years ago to prepare us for the present moment. God made it so those that die in Christ can live with Christ in Christ’s wonderful abode. Then I talked about how God has also suffered great loss, and that we who live can find comfort from God who voluntarily allowed death to visit his Beloved. I spoke for about 12 minutes with Mama Rose translating after every phrase.
The sermon was truly a “faith” moment for me because everything I said is what I believe and not what I’ve experienced. Thankfully, I’ve never had to suffer the loss of someone extremely close to me, so I can’t speak from first hand experience. Afterwards, the family thanked me for the sermon, which I pray comforted them.
Once we left, Mama Rose and I went to dinner where I told her that I had never preached a eulogy before. Her eyes got big, she laughed and said, “Well you did a good job”. I thanked her and we talked about life as a pastor. It’s amazing how God can have us doing things in life that we don’t feel qualified or prepared to do, and send us on journeys we don’t feel prepared to walk. But I guess that’s what makes it God’s work and not our own.