After taking some vacation after Resurrection Sunday we returned back home on Friday in order to officiate at Shandu’s funeral. The funeral was held in Venda and it was attended by aproximately 500 people. It was a humbling experience for me and my other three friends who traveled from Johannesburg. We were an immense minority yet we were welcomed in an amazing way. I also learned a lot from our Venda friends.
In Venda the neighborhood is divided into subdivisions consisting of four streets. These geographic areas are called societies. When someone in the division passes away the people in the society comes together in an amazing way to support the people left behind.
The funeral actually started on Monday and it lasted till Saturday evening. When we arrived at David’s house we found that the street he lives on were closed and two tents were erected filled with hundreds of chairs and a sound system. We got there at seven pm and entered as one of David’s pastor friends gave an extremely energetic sermon – it was loud, funny, passionate and very,very entertaining. Every evening someone preached a sermon and the services also had a masters of ceremony. On Friday evening the MC told the congregation that the funeral would start at six o’clock, on Saturday morning! He then said that it would start on Japanese time and not African time – everyone just laughed.
After the service people who traveled far were served with cookies and tea.
Lolie, Stanis, Suzette and I stayed at Charlotte’s house and we were treated with a great dinner and all of us retired to bed. When I woke at 4am it was raining outside, a steady downpour drenching everything thoroughly. As we approached six o’clock I thought out loud that there would be no way that we would start the funeral on time – most people would walk and the rain would deter them. When we arrived at the tents it was packed and about fifty people were standing outside in the rain! I was amazed.
I preached with Charles, an interpreter translating everything into Venda.
I always find it difficult to preach in Venda. My style is so different from that of the local preachers who by the way are heavily influences by teachers like TD Jakes and the other pentecostal’s from the United States. Nevertheless God used me in spite of myself and I enjoyed the opportunity to console my friends.
I posted the sermon here if you would like to hear how preaching goes in Venda (I even asked the people to say Amen in order to blend in with their style).
After the funeral all the people were invited to lunch for a meal. Imagine 500 people standing in different queues in order to get a meal consisting of meat, several starches, vegetables, salad and drinks. All of this food is provided by the family of the deceased and the cutlery is provided by the women of the society who also cooked the meal and clears after the fact.
The eating is followed by amazing fellowship and community. As I sat there I realized how different my culture is from what we just experienced. These people are really coming together as a community and navigating the journey together. David was with his people for the whole week. People were eating, crying, singing and fellowshiping their way through the darkness of Shandu’s death. Boy these people can sing!!! It was an amazing way to honor Shandu’s life and God received the glory.
I also realized how we Westerners insulate ourselves against death while our brothers and sisters in Venda embraces the cycles of life and death on a regular basis. Another thing that struck me was how the church and the community came together in this situation. The people in the society are by no means all followers of Christ and thus a funeral is a wonderful way for people of different persuasions to come together. It was an immense privilege for me and Lollie to be part of this weekend and it has made a big impression on us.