Thursday, July 9, 2009


Monday evening, I was given the sacred honor of walking a friend from this life to another. One of our SSM students, Gilbert, was admitted to the hospital that morning. He had not been feeling well for a few days. After lunch, I went up to visit him. He was having difficulty breathing so mostly, we sat together. But when he was able, he shared with me that he had been having dreams where someone would come to him and tell him to prepare for his death. I told him that none of us know when our time will come, so we should all be ready at all times. When I asked him if he was ready, he was struggling to breathe. Although he could not talk at the moment he answered positively, without words.

After that time, we did not have the opportunity for conversation beyond his medical care. As the afternoon passed, Gilbert's condition worsened. Later he had to be intubated and manually ventilated since the hospital does not have an automated ventilator. Another YWAM staff member, Noel, and I helped with his ventilations and were with him at his last moment. I honestly did not expect it to end the way it did - even up to the last minute. But suddenly, he was gone.

Noel and I both took great comfort in the positive assurance we had that Gilbert was now dancing on streets of gold. Gilbert was a talented musician and worship leader. Before, he worshiped God, whom he had not seen. Then he saw the One on who he believed and was able to sing the praises of the One he could see face to face.

Soon after Gilbert died, friends and family began to gather at the hospital. His body was moved to a room adjacent to the hospital courtyard. Because cell phone signal is unreliable in the village of his parents. (Cell phones are common and land lines are almost nonexistent in the mountains here.) Late in the evening, a message was passed by having the provincial police send a radio message to the police station in the village.

The family was able to make arrangements with a jeepney driver to bring them to Bontoc to so they could bring his body back to Sadanga, their home village. At 4:30 am we traveled to the village. There people began to gather at the family's home. Some of the men began to build a casket.

While all this was going on, there was a conversation about how Gilbert's passing would be observed in the village. Many there wanted to hold to the animistic traditions of the past. But Gilbert's family is Christian. In fact, his father is the pastor of the church in the village. The two pastors who were with me and Gilbert's father talked with the elders about many of the practices surrounding death. I was proud of the family for the stand they made. They had a lot of pressure to compromise their understanding of how to live out their faith. But they never wavered on practices with spiritual significance. For instance, they refused to sacrifice a pig or supply a chicken for sacrifice and the divination of its gall bladder. They also held meals at the family home. This was an issue of great fear to many of the community because it was feared that the spirits would cause bad things to happen. Some would not come to the house because of this.

Yet they held to some cultural practices. From the time of Gilbert's death Monday evening until his burial on Wednesday morning, vigil was kept by friends and family at his side. All day and throughout both nights, people sat with the family. (More on that later.) The visible combination of traditional practices and what the family felt was an important break from tradition was the use of a casket. The local culture dictates that people cannot visit the home until the body is tied, sitting upright in a frame. In order to accommodate both traditions, a frame was built in the sala (family room) and Gilbert lay in the casket in front of it.

Although the process was exhausting, I really appreciate how the time spent together between the death and the burial promotes a sense of community. Throughout the time, the people in the sala changed as new visitors arrived and those who had been there slipped off to find a place to rest before returning. As we sat in vigil, people talked. In the sala itself, there was always something happening. People shared thoughts and remembrances of Gilbert. Hymns and choruses were sung. Stories were told. Wisdom was shared.

During this time, I was impressed with the image of birth as an explanation of life for the believer. While a baby is in the womb, it has no idea of the life it was meant for. But our physical body was not meant to live in the womb. It is not until it goes through the process of birth that the baby can begin to understand the meaning of love that it will come to understand in its mother's arms. In the same way, we don't know what to expect when this life ends and we are born into the next. But our spirits are not meant to live in this temporal life. We are meant for the eternal. And it is only when we pass through death that we can begin to truly understand what God has in store for us - that of which we have only a glimpse now.

I appreciate the prayers of so many of you. It was a difficult, yet amazing time. In the US, we are often separated from death. When a loved one dies we have viewing times and a funeral where friends and family drop in for a while. My experience these past days was much more of an embrace of this part of life. It will take me a while to truly process it. Yet even now, by God's grace, I learned much about the people here and about life, itself.



  1. Tom:

    Thanks for sharing insight into the last moments of our dear brother. Gilbert was an incredible worship leader who touched many lives. I will never forget our fellowship and friendship. Having worship in his father's church and ate at the kitchen table(he introduce me to rice wine), I can not think of the Philippines without reflecting on his precious life.

    Needless to say he will be missed tremendously. Yet I am excited about his Homecoming because I know that brother knew and love the LORD dearly. He leaves us with great memories and a challenge to continue to seek those things above. Only what we do for Christ will last. Gilbert told me once from one of our favorite songs "...Our God is mighty to save..." From ZEPHANIAH 3:17 THE LORD YOUR GOD IS WITH YOU, HE IS MIGHTY TO SAVE. HE WILL TAKE GREAT DELIGHT IN YOU, HE WILL QUIET YOU WITH HIS LOVE, HE WILL REJOICE OVER YOU WITH SINGING.

    Rest in Jesus dear Brother.

  2. Keeping you in prayers. May the Lord comfort you and Gilbert's family in this time of sorrow. But we also rejoice that he is now with our Lord.