Friday, October 21, 2011
Posted by Kriss Gates
We have a darling lady that is one of the Branch President's wives. Sister Deckous. She has been the primary president for many years, and was finally released last month when the branches split. She was at every activity and a real fireball. She was one of the great female leaders in the church in Africa. She and her husband are one of only five couples who have been to the temple, and very dedicated.
When Amy came with her girls, Sister Deckous insisted that she make new dresses for all 3 of them. She didn't realize they were here for such a short time, so she told them she would make them and send them home with us.
On Saturday, October 8, she had her husband tell us it was very, very important to go visit her that night. We went to her home and found her very ill and laying on the sofa, unable to lift up her head. She had her husband give us a package with 3 African dresses in it, which she had made for Amy, Darcy & Dixie. It was her last act of love. She died a few days later. Noone knew for sure what she died of, but they said it was something to do with her liver. Perhaps Cancer, perhaps AIDS from a dirty needle, perhaps Cholera or malaria, or any other of these awful diseases that take so many people needlessly.
We have had a special week with being involved in the funeral of this great woman. She is truly a pioneer of the church in the Congo.
The day she died, we went over to see President Deckous. The “awning” company was already putting up 2 big shade awnings for visitors to sit under during the week of mourning. We visited several times during the week. One day I cooked President Deckous American style chicken, at his request. The tradition is that people just come and go all day and sit. At night many women, her closest friends and family, sleep on mats in the living room. In counting the mats, it looked like about 15 women, each night slept there. They moved the sofas outside on the front deck. President Deckous was required to sit and sleep on one of the sofas all week. Traditions are that he would normally sit & sleep on the floor for the week. However, he is progressive enough that he said he was using the sofa.
Sister Deckous’s family are not members. They, along with much of Africa, have accused our church as being a church of sorcery. ( They say that because of the miracles and blessings that do occur in our lives.) They also see that President Deckous is a “rich” man and they realize this may be the last time to get money from him. They made ugly accusations, about her death, trying to get him to buy them off. Traditionally, her family had the right to make most of the funeral decisions. President Deckous wanted the service at the chapel. They denied that and had it at the Deckous home. He chose a cute smiling photo of her, and we had it blown up into a 12X16 to have out all week and at the funeral. They insisted on using a very dramatic serious photo instead. They wanted a traditional African week of mourning, ending with an African funeral.
One of the biggest disagreements was what she was going to be dressed in, for the burial. They wanted a bright party dress. However, when she realized she was dying, she told the president to make sure she was buried in her temple clothes. These members didn’t really know what that entailed. Sister Deckous died on Thursday, and on Friday we tried to find out if she had her own temple clothes. Three different people in authority assured us she did have them. Saturday we found out that, as we suspected, that no one has their own temple clothes in the entire area. We coordinated, with the Hatch’s from the mission office in Kinshasa, to get temple clothing flown to us in time for the funeral. They sent a beautiful dress, robes, veil, etc. I was supposed to go to the morgue to help dress her. However, Wednesday night we decided with the President that a White Missionary was probably not the best way to try to get this family to cooperate and let her be buried in her robes. In the church handbook, it says that if for any reason an endowed member couldn’t be buried in their temple clothes, the clothes could be folded next to them in the casket and be buried with them. We kept praying that at least this would be allowed.
Early on Thursday, two of her closest member friends, who had been endowed in the temple, went to the morgue. As they waited outside, the family said they wouldn’t let them in. We were told it was a “battle”. President Deckous (who had to stay sitting on his sofa) had sent his 1st counselor to the morgue. He reminded the family that these 2 women were her closest friends and should be allowed in. He gave the family some money to go buy some juice. We understand they left mad. While they were gone, the church members went in with one of the family members. When they got inside, the relative said she understood and would help them dress her in her temple clothes, which they did. We feel that this was a beautiful miracle and a very, very important step in setting precedence here in the Congo for the members.
We were involved for 8 hours. We spent hours sitting under the awnings grieving.
The ice cream man and the peanut salesman kept selling their products to the weary people at the funeral.
It was a beautiful and very special day. Her family got their way on almost everything. However, President was able to arrange for the members to have a service of our own, in the room around the casket. It was to be between the African chanting and dancing (shuffling around the casket for hours)… and before they took her to the cemetery.
We saw many tribal customs, and we saw the contrast as hundreds of good saints made the adjustment for a very reverent, special half hour service. Our hearts were bursting as we saw the church move forward because of these brave good saints. As we gathered as many people as possible in this room that was about 16’ square, the spirit glowed. There was an opening hymn, a prayer, and a special talk by the President’s first counselor. He gave both her history and a spiritual talk on Eternal Families and the Plan of Salvation. Remember, this was the first temple endowed member to pass away in this area.
Then we sang all the verses to about eight hymns. They started with some regular funeral songs like “Nearer my God to Thee” and then the songs built into stronger feelings of encouragement with “How Firm a Foundation.” They sang with conviction and a strong, comforting spirit of the Holy Ghost permeated the room.. Words can’t describe, how we felt, as all those good humble members stood around the casket and sang “Count Your Blessings” followed by the closing “God Be With You Till we meet Again.” As I stood by Ed at the head of the casket, as Ed was the representative of the mission president, and the church leader in the area, we held hands and wept. These sweet humble people have little in the way of worldly goods, yet they sang the words with fervor, thanking the Lord for all that they have been blessed with spiritually and in their daily lives. Ed and I realized that one of our greatest blessings has been the opportunity to serve here. Our hearts were bursting with love for these members!
After the closing prayer, the Relief Society presented a big wreath of plastic flowers, and then the African came out in many of these sisters. These sweet gentle women, who had grown in the gospel with Sister Deckous fervently cried, hugged the photo and the casket, and grieved over losing this great woman.
Many went to the cemetery in the 15 buses (vans), that had been reserved.
She was buried in the pretty area of the cemetery for "rich" people.
President Deckous had to stay home on the sofa. The dedication of the grave would happen after the crowd left, and when President was allowed to go back to see the grave.
As we left the cemetery that day, with the back of our pickup filled with our great 8 Elders, we knew we had just witnessed a special chapter in the history of the church in the Congo.