Monday, 25 June 2012

Basic needs

when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home…” There he stands, trembling with fury. Beyond comprehension at his father’s folly. The shamelessness of it. Whores, one after the other, have devoured half of the family fortune. And no, the old man not even in his grave yet, here is the younger son back with his hand outstretched for more. Who wouldn´t agree with the elder son's harsh judgment? I always did, to be honest. Until I realized, one day, that I had read too much into the younger brother’s return, just as the firstborn had. Where does the mention of prostitutes come from? There’s no way anyone could know that, even if it were true. And the story doesn’t say it. He squandered his wealth on wild living, the NIV translates. But even that is actually a bit more than the text says. Yes, the young man was improvident. No, his part of the family fortune was not invested wisely. And in the end there wasn’t even enough left for basic needs. Saying more than that is too hasty a conclusion, without having examined the facts. Who knows, the young man may have married. Fathered a child. Been away one business trip too long. Returned to a wife dead of a fever and a three-month-old child too far gone for saving. And desperately experiencing a father’s grief first-hand, lost his way completely.
There is a limit to our right and our ability to judge. And still we do. Still I do. Last weekend being a case in point. What is there to see in the picture? A coffin, and a young woman feeding her infant son. Basic needs are simple, at that age. The young woman is the sixth of the man’s wives. The infant is the youngest of his thirty or more. What was he thinking, marrying yet again, in spite of every civil and church prohibition? At his age, when simple statistics alone suggested he would be leaving mother and child, along with many others, bereft long before their time? Who would see to their needs now he was no longer there? I judged, and I was angry.
But there was more that angered me. The whole funeral. It was enormous. It had been two weeks in preparation and was three days in execution. Arriving at the wake, the previous evening, I had found at the centre of the compound a garish glass aquarium-like structure, a display refrigerator four times the size of the largest to be found at Costco’s. Through the steamed up windows (moisture outside, of course) there was the coffin open and propped up for display. Under – there must have been a quarter of an acre of it – tarp and steel tube constructions called baches, hundreds of chairs for the guests milling around and waiting for the proceedings to begin. Outside the compound, other baches had also been erected with tables where these and many other guests would be fed and given to drink. There were a brass band, amplifier installations, loudspeakers fit for a music festival. Whole families arrived dressed in matching outfits clearly tailored for the occasion. I shuddered to think of the expense.  I judged, and I was angry.
Because, for example, one of the family’s children, a little girl of 6 or so, is blind. And for the past year has been at the institute for the visually impaired at Djanglamey. Her only opportunity to receive suitable education, so that her life and future may be more than just darkness. Only, not at the expense of her parents. Much as it was sincerely desired, there was no way the family could find the money for a year’s tuition: the equivalent of €150.00. No, definitely impossible. Without the financial aid of Christian brothers and sisters overseas, no provision for her… Knowing this, I watched, and fumed. Basic needs for the living not met. And here, for the dead, such blatant squandering. I thought to myself: almost better if the family property had been squandered with prostitutes… Then they at least would have been enabled to provide for the needs of their families.
Disquieted, I spoke to the congregation's elder. He listened well. He had no answer that could satisfy me. But his reaction made clear: even basic needs are relative. I judged, within my frame of reference. He did too, within his. And while he did not try justify how the family fortune had been allocated, from his perspective a funeral like this one was a basic need…
Sometimes the elder son may have all the reason in the world to be angry. But even then it is not his to judge. He doesn’t have, will never have access to all the facts. And he will never be the Father to this child.


  1. Beautifully written papa! And a very interesting content of course, what a different world to us!!

  2. Even when we think we know the whole story, there is always so much we don't know. So good that God is in control, not us. And so glad he is guiding us and all his children!
    Love you!