Wednesday, March 16, 2016


Thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak at this year’s Uganda Memorial in Chicago.    I remember the first time in 2013 I came to our community’s memorial in 2013.    I drove to a Catholic Church on Chicago’s south side.   A group of us gathered.    We went around the room mentioning those we had lost.    It was astounding how much loss we corporately experienced.    Also, it was astounding to realize as we mentioned names how many times our lives had intersected and we did not realize it.

This year I twice remember burials in the Uganda community in Chicago.    I apologize if there are more than I remember or more that I didn’t attend.    I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen a text / sms or email about one in our community losing someone this year.   We stopped and quickly sent an encouraging note – a text, email, or facebook message.    We called on the phone.    We stopped by someone’s home.    We sent a card.    We brought a little food or drink.    We put a little money in an envelope.    We continued to be human.    We grieve together in Diaspora.  

The word of God in James 4:14 proclaims,“What is your life? You are a mist that appears a little
while and then vanishes.”       
Today we in the Ugandan Community in Greater Chicago pause.    The ultimate reality of this life hits us.    Death is ever eminent. 
To grieve while in Diaspora is especially difficult.   The Jews carried into Exile in Babylon cried,
“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
 There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
    my highest joy.
(Psalm 137:1-6.)”

As death is part of life so we grieve in life.     During grief we return to the profoundly familiar.   


We find a stream that feels like one in our home village.    We stop and stare at Lake Michigan remembering Lake Victoria.    We walk through a park and remember a stroll in the bush.   When we are quiet and as we close our eyes we hear African drums.     Sometimes we hear the intricate traditional music of Ugandan royalty.    We try to sing the songs of Uganda, but it is never quite as good as our memory.   Can we forget?


And who is with us?   True, our Ugandan community may quickly gather in our home.   We notice our neighbors from our other cultures are usually lonelier in grief than we.    Yet, our irregular work and bills mean few stay with us for weeks.   Grief in America must keep American time.

Yet, how do we keep human time in grief?


Back home we would stop for days to grieve.    After we finally dispersed we’d gather a year later to again process our loss.


American time keeping doesn’t allow for us to grieve on human time.


My words are just the attempts of man to wrestle with the profound.     My apologies for their feeble attempt.


Grief in diaspora calls us to cry to God, “Why?  Why this tragic and sudden loss?  Why must death come when I am away from home?”

Death is not God’s intention. His intent is to bring us full and abundant life (John 1:4; 3:15-17;
6:40; 10:10). In the beginning as God created the earth everything He created was good (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Sickness, death, and suffering were not God’s intent. Death entered into the world as a consequence of sin (Romans 5:12-20). With the entrance of sin into our world everything changed. Yet, God knew this would be the story. He knew that the world and people He created would betray Him. The only way to restore creation to God’s intent was for Him to offer His son to die in our place.  If I were on a building project and realized that the building project would kill my son I would stop the project.  In fact, I’d immediately tear the project down.   

Yes, God made this choice before the beginning of time. He was a Redeemer before He was a Creator (Ephesians 1:4, 5).  He chose to create this world know the cost of His son.   The illustration of God’s love is one of an Adoptive Father rescuing an abandoned child (Ezekiel 16:4-6). This is what God has done for all of us.
Because of God’s love we can hope.  Another day is coming.  A day shall come when we shall proclaim “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”  (1 Corinthians 15:55.)
Some will ask, “How can this be?   Where is this going?
We will go to our departed (2 Samuel 12:23). They will not return to us. King David as he grieved for his sick son stopped his grief when the son died. He recognized in the passing of life that now the season had come in which he would go to his passed son. We are now in that season. We will go to them.
Some may ask, “Where is God when we suffer? He is not distant. He sees our grief and is filled with compassion (John 11:33-35).   In fact, the first verse many of us memorized was this one in John 11, “Jesus wept.”     With the full authority of the Son of God, Jesus still embraced our humanity and cried at the loss of His friend Lazarus. 

The stories of Jesus in the New Testament use an English word that is translated compassion. Those of us that speak several languages know that sometimes there is a word in one language that cannot be adequately translated to another. Splaxna is the Greek word usually translated “compassion” in English bibles. It literally means that when Jesus sees another suffering it made him hurt inside. Jesus literally felt “shaky guts.” This is part of being human created in the image of God. We feel one another’s pain. Then as we go to them and physically touch them we are physically healed.

We experienced that the last year as we grieved.   The news of death was shocking. It left us confused and disorientated. It made us physically in pain. Then as we met and embraced we were comforted and healed.

Ultimately, Jesus answers the question of where is God when we suffer by his death upon the cross. Our sin has caused great suffering. On the cross the consequences of sin are taken away (Hebrews 2:17-18).   God is with us in our suffering.

What can we expect? The Resurrection is coming. Jesus filled with compassion raised Lazarus from the dead.    Then a week later He rose from the dead Himself.   In a few weeks we’ll celebrate this reality with the Easter Sunday.

Please hear the Words of the Lord:

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die (John 11:25).”

“For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him (1 Thessalonians 4:14).”

“And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever (
John 14:16).”

Let us close by standing and saying the 23rd Psalm (King James Version):

 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.