man with a machete on his belt walked slowly in front of us on
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.
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
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
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
sad, the funeral was a fascinating part of the Mexican which we'd never
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.