This WAS a kitchen.
Those words sung by Lou Christy in the 60’s rang out in a powerful way this past week in a small village named Cerro Pierda (Rock hill), here in the Chiriqui Province of Panama. While watching a thunderstorm lighting up the sky on the distant mountains, we are in awe of its power. We count the seconds from the flash to the thunder boom to guess how far away the bolt hit. As the time gets shorter, and the flashes are near, we tend to get a bit more concerned. “Time to head inside!” Well, inside here in the rainforest of Panama, means to get yourself under the cover of a corregated metal roof.
That brings me to this particular story. The storm was drawing nearer as this mother, daughter, and granddaughter were in the metal-roofed kitchen hut, cooking, when tragedy struck in the form of a lightning bolt. The powerful lightning bolt hit a tree about 20 feet away. The bolt ripped the bark off the side of the tree, also leaving the tree split open( see pics). Then it traveled the 20 feet to the posts that were holding up the metal roof, and continued up the posts and just demolished the kitchen……and killed the mother of 4, and her daughter. The granddaughter was burned very badly but survived the lightning, only to die the next day, probably from the burns. The rest of the family were in the house, 15 feet away or so. Thankfully they were unhurt. What a horribly painful sight it must have been to come out their door only to find 3 family members struck by the lightning! I can’t even imagine how I’ld respond. If fact, I can’t even begin to think about the scenario, it would tear me up.
It was on the national news two times this week. Once when the initial incident occurred, then again the next day when the 8 year old granddaughter died. I just happened to be in from of the TV when it came on. I also recieved a note from a Ngabe friend that he had an urgent issue to talk to me about. He had known this family and worked with them when he was growing up, and wanted to ask me to visit them and take some food for them. There was NO question in my mind, I NEEDED to go to comfort them, to give them some food, and pray for them. We went the next morning.
After a 20 minute bus ride, a one hour ride in a four wheel drive truck, and an hour walk in the woods, we arrived at the scene of the tragedy. There was quiet. There was a sense of loss in the air. There was the sight of the demolished kitchen hut. And there was an uncle standing nearby to greet us. His face seemed to show the pain he had in his heart. He was nice enough to show us around. He led us to the open-air ‘church’ where the funeral service for the 8 yr. old was going to take place. Almost immediately, the father, Gregorio, slowly came up to us to greet us. You could hear in his breathing that he was probably asthmatic, too. He was worn down from all the loss in his family. We talked a bit, then one of his surviving daughters (mother of the girl to be buried that day), came to us weeping. She was carrying her remaining daughter (who was much too heavy for her to be carrying). Mom’s can be super women at times.
We gathered together and I prayed for the survivors of the family. Dad and daughter wept. I had a leak or two myself. It was a very moving moment for me, and them. I explained how I had heard of the accident and that our mutual friend was our guide to find their home. I guess I need to explain who ‘we’ were. I was with my dear friends Carlos( engineer-to-be), his brother Gabriel, and Egber, the friend of the family and former English student of mine. He is now teaching English to 1st and 2nd graders in the Comarca.
As we waited for the funeral service to begin, we were introduced to a few pastors, brothers and various family members. Again, in the crowd, there were many with eyesight problems. I got the chance to hold a one month old baby for about an hour. She slept the whole time. While holding the baby a man that seemed to be in his 50’s was sitting on a bench across from us crying almost out of control. He was staring at the coffin and weeping. This went on for a long while and none of his family or the pastors went to console him. “What’s up with that” I thought. I was still enjoying the caring of the baby. I figured I can get this man some help. A pastor was standing near me and I said to him “You are a pastor, aren’t you?’. He nodded yes. The I tried to nudge him by saying ” That man needs you right now”. He nodded in agreement, BUT he didn’t respond! Enter a God moment. In my feeble mind, for a nano second, I was thinking “I’m busy holding this baby, someone needs to help that poor man”. That’s when I heard God speak ‘ Bob, don’t use the baby as an excuse, go to the man yourself!’ So I slowly obeyed, handing the baby back to its mother and sitting down next to the grieving man. I talked to him, prayed to him, rubbed his shoulders, and kept encouraging him till he calmed down about 15 minutes later. He never looked up to see who was consoling him, but that isn’t important. God wanted ME to handle this, not the others….I think.
The surviving father then asked me to pray with and for another man who has had headaches. So I put my hand on his shoulder, prayed, and also gave him some Tylenol.
There was singing, clapping of hands, three different pastors spoke, then we had a processional to the grave site 10 minutes away. More bible verses by 2 different pastors, then the most powerful words of all came from the mother of the 8 yr. old that was about to be placed in the ground. As she began to talk, she had people 360 degrees around her, her face began to almost glow in the bright sunshine. This lady was a model of faith. She lives ‘God first’. As she talked, it looked like she was talking to me when she said to all, “Please don’t cry for me, I know the body is going into the ground but her soul is going to be with Jesus”. And she said it with such joy in her voice! How Powerful! How can I put into words the way I felt at that moment? Her face absolutely glowed as she smiled. How can she do that? Because she LIVES her faith, and her hope is in Jesus. What a role model she was, and is. I actually went up to her when leaving and said to her, “I don’t know you very well, but I am proud of you. You are a bright light shining in the darkness.”. She thanked me and gave me a hug.
As we walked away that Saturday, I couldn’t help but feel blessed to have the opportunity to meet and help these fine people. In all that sadness was a great feeling of hope. A feeling that life will go on, though a bit different.
And the man that was weeping almost uncontrollably? Well, I heard later he was the father of the 8 yr. old that was killed. Why didn’t anyone help him? He was separated from his wife( the woman full of faith), and possibly there was animosity among the family members because he wanted custody of the little girl. Now neither would have that chance. I’ll stop with that, because I don’t want to be judging people.
One custom of the Ngabe Indians is, when a tragedy like this occurs, they move to another house for 3 years till the memories are easier to handle. Gregorio has about 1/3 of the materials to build another house 5 minutes away from his current house. He asked me if I could help him buy the remaining 2/3 of the materials. Many times I need to take time to think and pray about it. This time it was a no-brainer. One way or another I wanted to help this grieving family. I said yes and that I would return in a week to work out a plan to get the corregated sheet metal and nails there. When I got home I sent out an email to a few people, and now it is in God’s hands to provide people the opportunity to put their faith in action and respond. I have NO doubts on this issue. After telling the local hardware store owner the story, he agreed to discount the materials to $360.00, plus I need to pay for delivery to a place near the build site. Phillipians 4:13 says ” I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me”. I teach this in the San Felix school and I believe it.
Looking back, I learned more things about the Ngabe-Bugle people and their culture. I was reminded that God is everywhere, even here deep in the woods. I learned something about myself..I need to be prepared for ANYTHING, ALL THE TIME! I am pretty much there, God just showed me a few weaknesses the I will address.
I can’t really say I am sorry this blog is a little long, it is also a lot real.There isn’t too much I can leave out and still give you a good picture of my experience. Thanks be to our Glorious God! Amen.
Come and See,