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Why We’re Paying for a Buddhist Funeral

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

Today was both heart wrenching and eye opening for me.

This morning as I sat in church my phone began to ring.  I didn’t recognize the number and so I pushed the button to dismiss it.  It rang again and I repeated.  Again and again this happened.  Finally after the 8th time I stepped outside to answer it.

I frequently get calls from street families.  Usually its not super important.  Such and such child has a fever and needs paracetamol, or little Bob needs to be excused from school tomorrow.  I was a little irritated and was prepared for another unimportant call.

The call went as follows…

Me: Hello?

Person 1: Greg?

Me: Yes?

P1: Greg, C’s mother is broken

Me: Excuse me?

P1: C’s mother died

At this point I was speechless and unsure of how to react or what to say.  And just then the phone changed hands.  A small, soft, tearful voice came through the phone.

C: Greg, please help my mom.

Me: Ok, I’ll be there in a few minutes.

Call ends.

C (I can’t share her actual name with you) is one of my students.  One who I’ve not known long, but her parents have shown more gratitude than anyone else for putting their children in school.  Because they are so grateful and always want to talk to me and say thank you I’ve quickly grown to love their family.  C’s mother died on Sunday morning, around 4 am.  The families just said she died of “lur chium” which just means high blood pressure, so we probably will never know exactly what the cause was.  Whatever it was, C needed me and she needed her teachers right there and then.

I left church in the middle of the lesson and drove to the railroad station where I found the families gathered around the table where little C’s family lives.  On the table, covered in a white sheet was C’s mother.  The father was sitting quietly by his wife, not speaking, but just crying.  The smallest child was nearby playing with other kids, perhaps not yet fully aware of what is happening.  And C was sitting quietly nearby, she had stopped crying and was drifting in and out of sleep.

Shortly after I arrived another truck pulled up with another missionary in it.  They gave the family a 50 kilogram sack of rice, then they made a little speech about needing to accept Jesus into your heart so that you can be certain of salvation after death, and then they left.  To be honest, it made me mad.  The families didn’t care for what was said.  They immediately turned to me and said, “Its good that the family has a sack of rice, but they still can’t afford the funeral or cremation.  Will you help?”

As Christians we are challenged by what we should do and how we should act when we are confronted with tragedy.  It is especially hard when that tragedy affects someone we care about.  Today I was challenged to think about what the correct response should be if I am to care for this family and be a Christian witness.  In everything I do I hope that there will be opportunity to share my faith and the hope and peace that are in it. Today I was moved to help a family I love and as a Christian and as the leader of a Christian organization I decided we would pay for a Buddhist funeral ceremony.

Perhaps that sounds like the wrong thing to do, but I watched the other missionary just make some declarations about accepting Jesus and leave and I wondered, “Where is the love in that message?”  The words were correct, but how was that sharing love to the family?  How is a sack of uncooked rice supposed to bring comfort?

Street families are so often ignored and disregarded.  Treated as garbage.  I find that even though I don’t always give them money or exactly what they want, they trust me and respect me, because I acknowledge them as human beings.  They love Crossing Cambodia not because we give the kids free schooling and meals, but because we never treat them as less than ourselves.

When a loved one dies and they go to the pagoda to ask to cremate a family member and they are told it won’t be done unless they pay more money than they have it can be devastating.  In agreeing to pay for a Buddhist ceremony I am not saying that we agree with Buddhism or that I feel that all religions are equal, I hopefully am letting the family know that to me and to Crossing Cambodia, they have value.  We are trying to give them dignity which is so often denied to them and enable them to find some measure of peace in a time of struggle.

In March my mother-in-law passed away and many people helped Sinuon and I to handle the funeral, even financially.  We were so grateful to all the people who came to us in our time of need and asked what we actually needed.  But there were also others, who came and seemingly made a show of giving us some money and tried to tell us what we should be feeling.  That wasn’t what we needed and honestly it just upset us more.  Today I think I understand what God was teaching me at that time.

James 2:16 says, If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

As Christians our first mission is to care for others and put faith into action.  We are to share God’s love so that through that love we can make His name known.  Christ fed the hungry, healed the sick, and ate with sinners, then he taught.  He came as a servant first.  Our challenge is to stop and ask what it is that people need and seek out a way to fulfil that need.  It may not always be exactly what the other person wants, but it means we should take time to sit with others and acknowledge them and their pain, even when it may be inconvenient to us.  We need to be in fellowship with one another so that we can comfort and uplift one another, and through that others will see God’s love in action.  We should not just say we’re sorry and that we’ll pray for people, we need to act and seek to comfort others in times of grief.  Through that comfort and love we will have our chance to share who Christ is.

Please continue to pray for us in Crossing Cambodia as now we must mourn with C and her family.  Ask that God will enable us to comfort this family and that through all our actions and decisions that God’s love will be seen.  We ask that you would also prayerfully help us as well.  A few dollars will certainly help us in covering the costs of the funeral, and will help to comfort the family by letting them know that there are many people around the world who mourn with them and love them.

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