There is just no way to be prepared for the things you may have to do in this life, especially if you’ve been living for the last twelve years as an expat in a developing country in Africa. There is just no way to know how to get ready to have the woman who has been more than half of you for over a half a century die in your arms. No way to prepare to deal with the U.S. Embassy in Dar Es Salaam in the middle of the night to get the documents and direction you need immediately. I’ve got to say the embassy was so wonderful, polite, and caring—even the man who answered the phone that night. At first, we thought his name was Justin Maneen, but then figured out he was saying he was “just a marine” and not an official. But the official he woke up was very nice, and we were able to get everything delivered to us electronically by 9:30 the next morning. Dr. Chris and Shaban were also unbelievable as none of us slept, and they worked with the hospital here as the only morgue in the area was full but they managed to get a private room until the next morning when Dr. Chris arranged an ambulance to take her body to Mwanza for the cremation (Karen’s request) with he and Shaban going along. John and I couldn’t go (physically, emotionally, medically, and logistically), but we had missionary friends there, Dave and Becky Helsby who attended the cremation and did a Christian service with prayers for her. We’ve known them for the twelve years we’ve been here and more than once they have come through for us. I’m sure there is paperwork no matter where death happens, but in a foreign country—you just double or triple it. Still, God’s guiding Hand was everywhere, and everything went smoothly. In a week or two, we will scatter her ashes in Lake Victoria as she requested. She wanted her final resting place to not only be in Africa but in a place that could be seen from space. As always, Mama Africa tends to get what Mama Africa wants. Shaban has already started on organizing the preschool financial papers and has promised that he will do whatever we need to keep St. Caryn’s Academy going at this same level for at least another ten years.
I was freaking out more than a little as I couldn’t find her life insurance policy (she did all the organization and filing) but yesterday, the woman who works with John on solar projects rode the bus up from Mwanza, rolled up her sleeves and for several hours cleaned my office and went through the filing cabinets and came up with the policy—in a folder marked by my wife as “Life Insurance Policies” of course. This lady was so very helpful and nice and even brought cookies and banana bread. On top of all the wonderful and heartfelt comments on Facebook, some friends have been chatting with me through “Messenger” and helping me keep my head above water. One man in Nairobi and one man in Los Angeles. Thank God for the wonderful friends who have been and are supporting John and me.
At first, I didn’t want to have a memorial service here because I didn’t think I could handle it. Medical issues will keep me from physically attending, so I wasn’t sure I wanted one. Took me a while to realize it wasn’t for me. John’s going to have me attend electronically, so I’ll be there. There are many, many people here who loved Mama Africa and need the closure as much as any. We will be having her memorial service on Sunday, November 12th, at 2:00 P.M. at the Bunda Methodist Church which is next door to us. The time will be about five in the morning in Arkansas and Texas if anyone wants to be aware and pray along. I had some idea of the impact she had had on the lives of others but have been just blown away by the response to her death. She touched countless other teachers, students, parents of students, friends, church members, family members, and total strangers. Several of our missionary friends will be at the service singing Karen’s favorite hymn, “Here I am, Lord” in English and Swahili. Other friends helped by loaning us money to cover costs before we could get the money transferred here from the U.S. Again, and again, we have been overwhelmed by the response and outpouring of love being shown to her and to us. God is providing me with comfort, strength, and resilience to get me through and beyond this so that His work here will continue. John and I are committed to keeping the schools and as many other projects as we can maintain going strong for as long as we can. We can do no other. When a three-year-old orphan needs something to eat, a place to learn, and a place to experience love and hope, we will show that child the love “Mama Africa” would have shown her. It’s what we do.