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A man with a machete on his belt walked slowly in front of us a peculiar processionon the winding road behind 50 or so women, singing and carrying flowers and 3-foot tall candles. One lady ceremonially bore a traditional clay urn filled with burning copal (pre-Hispanic incense also used in the Mexican Catholic Church.) When the ladies weren't singing a mariachi band played. For about an hour and a half this peculiar procession, of which we were a part, wound it's way from the Ocaņa family's "ranch" to a small pueblo, "La Labor." Leading the way were two pick-up trucks, one bearing the casket of our dear friend, Mr. Ocaņa.

The Ocana Family before the tragedy (Mr. Ocana at right)When Mr. Ocaņa died, we were the first people his daughter called. We had visited him regularly in the hospital for weeks. At the end when he was in a coma we were there for his family. And we were at his funeral yesterday.

It was the first funeral of my entire life. Can you believe it? Me, a minister's son, 34 years old, and just now going to my first funeral! And it was a doozy.

We missed the all night vigil: with men outside tending a fire and drinking coffee with alcohol, while inside the women talked, sang and cried over the body (in a casket.) The women said rosaries all night to procure a better place for him in purgatory.

Saints and Angels
The next day we arrived after the noon mass just in time to see a pick-up truck carry the casket back to their ranch (little adobe house with exposed wooden beams and tile roof.) About 50 of us sat on the front "porch" while the ladies prepared a light meal without meat (it's lent) for all the mourners. More and more people kept appearing from the surrounding fields and orchards. The mariachi band arrived around 2 P.M. (looking tired and disheveled, as if they'd just come from an all night gig.)They entered the room where the body was and began to play. The brother of Mrs. Ocaņa went around politely explaining that the deceased had asked for the funeral to not be sad, but happy... thus the mariachi band (which I guess is not normal).

After everyone finished eating, we all headed out to the cemetery, lead by the pick-up with Mrs. Ocaņa and her 90-year-old mother sitting in the front and the casket in the back. There were 120 people walking and another 30 in cars (the folks driving were mostly city folks.) As we walked up, down and around hills, I wondered how the mariachis played while huffing up those hills.

One humorous thing: the Ocaņa's asked their neighbor, a Protestant minister and friend of ours to carry the jug of holy water - which was in an old soft drink container with a carnation stuck in it. He really had a problem with much of what was going on at the funeral, because of it's pre-Hispanic pagan roots, and tried to pass the jug off to others, but to no avail.

About 150 yards from the cemetery the pick-up stopped and the casket was placed on top of 4 men's shoulders. Every 20 yards or so the 4 men switched with another 4 men. We got to the gravesite, and the casket was lowered to the ground and everyone crowded around as the little hidden "window" on top of the casket was opened to expose the face of the deceased. Children literally ran to peek in while the family cried over the casket. They poured the "holy water" over the carnation and then sprinkled it on the casket as 6 to 8 men with ropes lowered it into a 14-foot cement hole in the ground.

The holy water was then sprinkled on shovelfulls of dirt scooped up by friends and family and sprinkled onto the casket down in the tomb. They asked me to do it to. Even though I didn't know what it meant and was therefore a bit worried about what I was participating in, I went ahead and did it, remembering what Paul says about eating meat sacrificed to other idols and all. Everybody seemed to say something while they sprinkled the dirt, so I did too - praying that God's would help the family.

woman tending a gravesiteThen an old woman said that they'd left the Cristo (a crucifix) on top of the casket and that it was definitely bad to bury "Him" (Christ). A brief discussion followed: "Really, I didn't know that"... "Oh, yes, you can't bury the Christ".... "So what do you do with Him?"... "Well, on the Day of the Cross you take Him [the crucifix] up to the town cross and put Him there" ... "oh, ok... take the Christ off the casket and bring Him up." Not once did anyone ask "WHY?"... only "what does tradition mandate?"

Traditionally everyone has to wait until the hole is completely filled in, which can take hours, but we wanted to drive back home through the mountains before it got too dark. So when a few people began to leave we also excused ourselves.

clockwise from the top: Moises, Mrs. Ocaña, Patricia, Lilia and meMr. Ocaņa's greatest and last wish was that his son, Moises, would finish high school. This was so very important for him since he himself hadn't enough money to even go to elementary school.
Unfortunately, the sole means of support for the five family members who survived him is a miniscule pension and the adult daughter's small salary (together less than $150 per month). We've committed to assuring that they have enough so that Moises can finish high school.

Although sad, the funeral was a fascinating part of the Mexican which we'd never experienced.

Besides Mr. Ocaņa's death, we've also have at least two close friends who out of the blue are struggling with significant emotional and mental illness... and we don't have many friends down here :-) So as you might imagine, we are feeling quite a bit of stress and emotional strain. The weird thing is, at the same time, God really seems to be opening doors ministry-wise. We have been invited to present our conferences all over the place. All this to say that if you think of us, please pray that God would take care of the Ocaņa family, our two other friends and Annette & me.


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