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When life and death feel so much closer

May 4, 2017

This year our church's baptismal service was a week after Easter and was at a local beach. Most of it was much like most experiences with our friends her: such a wonderful cultural adventure that is really great and also totally unpredictable and very hot. For instance, we were supposed to meet at 8 am. With nearly two years here under our belt, we arrived 45 minutes late and were still about 45 minutes early, apparently. Most of the church loaded up in two trucks and we headed across town to the beach. 

 

 

It was beautiful. And hot. And always a gift to be with our community. When they were ready for the baptisms, everyone moved to the water and the kids started to play. When finished everyone moved back under the tarps with a few adults scattered back on the beach and most of the kids playing in the shallows. 

 

I was watching from the side, walking a fussy Hope. Isaac and I heard a yell and turned to see our assistant pastor yelling and running from the service towards the water. Isaac turned and saw what he'd seen, and also started running and yelling. I turned in time to see a limp body of a young boy being carried out of the water by one of the middle school kids. Immediately people swarmed around the body and I could see Isaac was in the middle of it. I ran and gathered Elly to where Judah was already in tears in the sand in a time out. I told them one of the kids was hurt and Daddy and the other people were helping him, and we had to pray. So I prayed, first for the ears of kids and then in tears just begging God for that kid's life. I was wondering if the baptismal service would turn into a funeral. 

 

It was mass chaos around the boy. Everyone swarmed, they turned him upside down and shook him, various people were trying to strip clothes off and splash water on him. Isaac, seeing that no one knew what to do, grabbed the boy and laid him on the sand and ordered everyone to move back, and gave him CPR. Isaac worked with various tutoring programs in Chicago and Dallas and was certified in CPR, but this was his first time actually giving CPR. Over the weeks since he has had regular flashbacks to those moments, breathing into a limp body, really thinking that he was giving CPR to a dead child. 

 

To make a long story short, with CPR the boy expelled massive amounts of water and then started breathing. Once Isaac had determined that he was continuing to breathe on his own, Isaac gave him back to the crowd. It wasn't until then that we realized this was the pastor's son. He's only two years old and the family has already lost two children. The pastor and his wife rushed him to the closest hospital. We received word back that he was still breathing and alive. 

 

Because this is a communal culture, an hour later we all packed up and the entire congregation went to the hospital to be with them. There people starting asking Isaac what he had done to the boy. "Were you blowing into his nose or sucking out?" We realized that no one knew CPR, and our community started to realize that what Isaac had been doing was not random but an actual system that he had been taught to do.

 

Praise the Lord, that afternoon the little boy regained consciousness. He was sent home that night and seems to bear no ill-effects. Our friends at church quietly say it's a miracle and that they should learn CPR. We have spent quite a bit of time talking about it together. For us, it was quite a traumatic experience. It seems as though we process it differently than the rest of our community, really revealing a big cultural difference. 

 

Life and death is so present here. The generations live together and the health system is terrible, and as a communal culture everyone participates together in sickness and mourning. Just the week after this near drowning incident, one of our fellow professors here lost his 13 year old daughter and the entire campus shut down so that everyone could attend the funeral. So different than the USA, where in my entire 20's in the USA I attended only one funeral. 

 

So, both because of the commonality of death and also because of this culture's more passive acceptance of nature, people here are present and extremely loving in the midst of suffering and death, but also much less surprised and shaken than we are. For us, death is rare, and sickness and the negative parts of nature are things we fight and work to change. The Western world views itself as in control of things, and finding out we are not is either avoided or encountered with a sense of surprise and anger. For us, it feels pretty isolating to realize that despite feeling increasingly like equals in our church community, tiny things like knowing CPR set us apart. We feel a heavy sense of responsibility. 

 

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