The tiny corpse was clumsily wrapped in the black body bag. Made for a full size man, the nylon bag was folded in half, vainly trying to hold the corpse with dignity, but its awkward appearance spoke loudly. Body bags are meant for adults, not children. You can’t make them look any better. I read the death certificate, quickly trying to ascertain that all was in order for transporting this body across an international border. The death certificate listed the various diseases that brought death to this little one, but the real cause was malnutrition. Malnutrition leads to dysfunction of the organs, which develops disease, leading to death. I read her name and then my eyes fixed on “2 ½”. She was just 2 ½ years old.
We loaded her body aboard the plane and began our journey to South Sudan. She was going home, but not the way her parents, siblings and friends had hoped. She had been brought down to Kenya for treatment, but her depleted body could not recover and thus, her return trip would not be sitting in the passenger seat wide eyed with excitement for an airplane ride, but instead, wrapped in a black bag.
I thought about my daughters and how when they were 2 ½ we would take naps together on Sunday afternoons. Lying on their pink and purple flowered bedspread, I would sing a little lullaby and put them to sleep, as their doll house waited patiently in the corner for them to awake. As the months and years passed, I would sing that same lullaby, but as the seasons changed I began singing only myself to sleep, as they lay there next to me with eyes open, outgrowing their naps. Had this little girl’s father sung to her? Did he hope to sing to her again? Did a little doll wait patiently for her return? Death is hard for the living.
After a fuel stop, we crossed the border into South Sudan and within another hour of flying through the hazy sky, we arrived to the village. The sound of the village drums met our ears as the engine came to a commanded stop alongside the runway. They were welcoming back their dead with the rhythmic, deep rumble of their drums. Oh, that they could have been beats of rejoicing instead of laments of sorrow.
Since then, I am often reminded of this flight. I don’t remember the little girl’s name, but I vowed not to forget her. Her life was so very short. How many words had she even learned to speak at just 2 ½? She is just another victim of the senseless warring that cycles on and on in South Sudan. She was not a direct casualty of violence, but a slow dying victim of collateral damage. Without security in the land, there are great shortages of the basic essentials. The UN pours in billions of dollars in resources trying to feed and supply the harassed, but what is truly needed is peace. Temporal peace to plant crops and temporal peace to reap the harvest. But most importantly, eternal peace that will truly heal the land. Peace that only comes from a transformed life through Christ.
Sometimes, when I think of her black body bag and the hopes and dreams that were zipped inside, I feel tears deep within my soul. Tears of sorrow and tears of pain. They are there, deep within, yet strangely, they do not come to the surface. They wait there in suspense for reasons I do not know. They wait in quietness and solitude for an unknown hour. Perhaps they will come pouring forth on an unexpected day, like a flash flood, a roaring muddied river that cannot be contained by its banks. But for now, those buckets of tears remain hidden, waiting for when they can be contained no more.