My friend was diagnosed with cancer. The last months of his life passed quickly, well-blessed with trips with his family, visits with friends, and a giant circle of love and prayer support. Today, his life will be celebrated in his church, where he served as a tireless and generous worker.
I was in El Salvador when the decision to discontinue treatment was made. From the beginning, the pastor, church leaders and families of our sister church in El Salvador reached out to accompany my friend and his family in prayer. They wrote messages and prayers on the Facebook page created by the family. The hope for healing was incredibly strong, and the news that there would not be healing in this life was hard for everyone to accept.
My friend visited El Salvador one time. In that one visit, his easy manner, his comfort in communicating with actions because he spoke no Spanish, and his gift in being with children with special needs touched the families in the community. His teen daughter shares her dad's style, and she cooked up plans with a few Salvadoran girls for future visits. She and her mom have visited twice since that first trip, leading the way in celebrating our big sister church quinceañera (15th anniversary) and more recently, helping to run a community Vacation Bible School.
As my friend neared the end of his earthly life, he shared with his US pastor that he would like his Salvadoran sister church to "be present" at his funeral. We sent a message to the Salvadoran sister church community, and they made a video right away. A young person from the community stayed up for two consecutive nights (after going to classes during the day) to put together a beautiful tribute. She posted it on YouTube and sent the link. My friend and his family were able to watch the video together, and later today, the video will represent the presence of the sister church at my friend's life celebration.
On the day that our friend died, I was with our sister pastor in El Salvador. The pastor said, "I am thinking about something that happened. The last time I was visiting in his home, our friend hugged me and said very quietly to me, 'I love you.' We felt something together, a deep friendship. This is not common among men. This is the love of God, of the Spirit."
Yesterday I sat at my friend's kitchen table, to spend time with his family and to make a delivery. Out of love, unsolicited by anyone, community members had asked the evangelist at the church for paper and envelopes, and they wrote letters of support to this dear family. The letters were all addressed with the name of the daughter. I pulled the stack of letters out of my bag and put them on the kitchen table. I described how the evangelist and her two little girls had traveled 2 hours by bus to find me before I left El Salvador. I had been surprised when they handed me the stack of letters.
We talked for a long while at the kitchen table. At one point, some relatives asked, "What do you do in El Salvador - as a church, what do you do? Do you build things?"
My friend's wife looked at her daughter, then at me, then at the relatives and said, "We go to be with the community."
Sometimes we do build things. Mostly, we build relationships. Mostly, we are family. Today, we are crying together and celebrating the life of our dear friend.