Our Bodies Are Not Meant for Tombs or Duffel Bags (Nov-Dec 1999)

By Matt Dabbs

Greg Taylor
November – December, 1999

“Hello. This is Wako. I called to – hello?” The voice came over the phone.

“Yes, I’m still listening,” I said, rolling my eyes at the tendency for Ugandans to stop and say hello between sentences if they are not getting verbal feedback over the line. My friend, Wako, had called me to say his seven-month-old daughter, Louisa, was very sick. Our friend, Dr. Clifton Ganus, Jr., who visited Wako’s village, Nabikooli, a few months before, had named Wako’s little baby after his own granddaughter.

“I’ll meet you tomorrow at the hospital to see if I can help with advice or give you some money for medicine,” I told Wako on the phone.

“Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow. We are at the Kamuli Mission Hospital,” Wako said, identifying the hospital that is an hour’s drive from Jinja, Uganda, my hometown.

I drove with two visitors, Don and Mary Riley, from the U.S. to check on Wako, his wife Cathy, and their sick daughter, Louisa.

Cathy, her eyes swollen from weeping, greeted me through quiet sobs.

To our surprise, Wako and Cathy met us at the entrance to the hospital. I wondered if the baby had gotten better. I had come to the hospital to visit Cathy, her husband, Wilson, and their sick baby, Louisa.

“Hello Wako, Cathy. How are you?” I asked them.

“We’re not well,” Wilson said. “Louisa died early this morning.”

“That’s terrible. I’m sorry,” I said. “Where is the baby’s body now? The baby?” I asked.

“In here,” Wako Wilson said. I looked down at what Wako was pointing to: their duffel bag. But the bag was closed. Not in there! I thought. It’s closed, the bag is zipped up. Not in there! My heart sank.

“She died early this morning,” Wako said. Cathy was silent, her eyes swollen from weeping.

“I’m sorry,” I said. Shocked … dumbstruck, I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Mary and Donnie were dumbstruck. We all were. The thought of the baby in that green duffel bag sickened us and made tears leap from my eyes. But there was no other way for their family to carry the tiny body. They would have to pay extra money to put the body in the dark, hot morgue of the run-down hospital. This poor, subsistence-farming family had no more money. The only thing they could do was to put the baby in their bag and carry her home. Home.

And since they had to take the baby to their village in some way, Wilson and Cathy carried their baby’s body home, where neighbors would help them build a small wooden box to put Louisa in.

But wait! Babies aren’t meant to be put zipped up in duffel bags! But then, neither are bodies really meant for coffins and graves. God made man from dust, not for dust. In dust was life, not death. It was only the curse which would bring death and dust together for the first time.

“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.

“It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken;

“For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19).

How did God feel about Jesus’ tomb? I wondered. Did God shudder when he spoke into existence the stony cave that would encapsulate Jesus’ tortured body? Did they both see the tomb and think, Not in there!

Did God and Jesus exchange a knowing glance when they cursed the ground, knowing the curse would someday be lifted by Jesus spending three days in that cursed ground?

The curse of sin was finished at the cross. But Jesus still had three days in cursed ground. And when Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus corpse in his own tomb, did God want to shout, “NO! Not in there. My son is not meant for the tomb!”

I wonder if three days were only to show the world that Jesus was really dead and beginning to decay. Did God anguish those three days? He felt profound pain even beyond what Wako and Cathy felt when they put their baby in a suitcase.

How God wanted his son out of those mummy wrappings! How Wilson and Cathy never wanted to wrap their daughter up in cloth and carry her like so much luggage.

“I’ll help you with money to go home,” I told Wako, and I gave him the equivalent of ten dollars. I watched them board a bus and ask us not to bring extra attention to the duffel, because the driver would charge them double for transporting a dead body. They would make the one-hour bus trip in silence, holding back the tears, pretending, clutching the duffel as if the bag contained mere belongings.

The bag did contain what belonged to them. But now she belonged in God’s care. Before Wilson was converted to Christ, he would have simply considered a baby, dead or alive, just another inconvenient parcel to carry. But now he belonged to Christ and his children were not mere objects that belonged to him. “Before becoming a Christian, I didn’t care about God or anyone around me,” Wilson said.

I thought back to the first time I met Wako Wilson. I dropped a few tracts from my pickup as I drove through a town called Kaliro in the spring of 1996. Wako Wilson was one of the handful of people along the road who scrambled to pick up and read what I had dropped. Getting my address from the tract, Wilson later wrote me a letter, asking me to come and teach him and his ten other friends who, in his words, “want to study the Bible but lack guidelines and your teaching.” I wrote back and asked him to meet me at the post office. My father-in-law, Ray Smiley, and I visited Wako’s family and village and set up a time to return and preach the gospel.

I preached in Wako’s village once a week for about one year. Then Wako Wilson and four others were buried with Christ in a rice paddy, and a new community of faith sprouted as if out of that fertile swamp. Most Americans, at the prospect of being baptized in a rice paddy would say, “Not in there!”

I recently asked Wako Wilson what difference Christ has made in his life. “Before becoming a Christian, I didn’t care about God or anyone around me. Recently I helped a man who was traveling somewhere on his bike. He became sick and stopped near my house. I helped him to rest at my house, went to get him some medicine, and fed him. I wouldn’t have done that before I became a Christian,” Wako said.

“I was like a dead person,” Wilson said. “I had no life in me, no concern for others or for God. I never helped my wife with anything before I became a Christian. I never once bathed our children or took care of them. I thought all the work of the home was my wife’s job, while I hung out with my friends. My wife and I fought constantly and were about to divorce. My wife would go with other women to the witch doctors for medicine before she became a Christian.”

Then Christ changed Wilson’s life. Slowly Wilson’s life began to look different to his family, his neighbors. His mission became to strengthen his family and village church.

“Jesus gave me new life. Now I bathe the children, help with dishes and cooking,” Wilson said. “My wife and I are more balanced now, and we serve one another. My wife had to go work in another village, but I’m staying here to help the church remain strong, and that’s what we both want. But now she only depends on God for healing.”

Christ has also made a difference in Cathy’s life. “When Louisa died Cathy begged God not to take a second child, but she wasn’t tempted to use traditional medicine or charms as she might have before she became a Christian. Now she only depends on God for healing. Louisa was our second child to die.”

Cathy and Wilson have two children now, a boy who is eight and a girl who is six, two others have died, and they are praying for God to give them two more. “We’re praying God will give us two more children,” Wako Wilson said.

“My neighbors wondered at how I helped that man on the road. They know that I am now very different than I used to be,” Wako Wilson said.

At a church service in which I asked God’s blessing on the church Wako is a part of, I read Hebrews 12. Wako mentioned that reading and said, as is typical in Wilson’s Kisoga culture, “Leave things of death at the funeral.” Superstitious, many Kisoga people fear spirits of the dead will go home with them and bring death to their own families.

Adapting this saying to baptism into Christ here in Uganda, we say, “Leave your sin in the lake!” But you come out and live a new life!

Wilson did leave his life of sin in the lake at his baptism. His life and ours were never meant for that tomb of sin and death.

“God has changed me slowly, disciplined me, and I am still learning,” Wilson says with anticipation in his voice. “No good thing comes without hardship first. Like Jesus dying suffering on the cross. He suffered to give us life.”

Wako understands that suffering because he’s experienced firsthand what it’s like to carry his dead child. But he knows someday he will see little Louisa again. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the suffering servant, Wilson discovered life. And while he is himself a servant, Wilson has learned to share that life with others.

Thanks be to God who dramatically re-animated the flesh and bones of Jesus. My son will not stay in that tomb. Not in there!Wineskins Magazine

Greg Taylor

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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