Easter is about guessing where Jesus is.
Rin Rong could have been one of the most beautiful villages in the northernmost region of Thailand, but it was in most ways desolate. The lanes were rutted after a season of rains. A funeral wagon pulled by nearly every able-bodied person in the village lumbered through Rin Rong. Death is no respecter of convenience.
Young Chang stood on the wagon to steady the casket. He stood straight and tall, sweating in the blazing sun as it passed his house make of sheets of beaten bamboo laced with wire. Two little children crawled to the door at the sound of the procession, and seeing their older brother on the funeral wagon, leapt to the ground and sped off to join the parade.
The only other man not pulling on the wagon was the opposite of Chang, whose interest in Jesus was marginal. Elder Ensin loved the Lord Jesus with a fierce and urgent devotion. He was an upright man who memorized scripture to lighten his way as readily as he tried to enlighten the way for others. It was Elder Ensin who had sold half a sack of rice to pay for the coffin they were soon to inter in the ground. If ever any man was selfless and God-fearing and deserved to be called upright it was Elder Ensin. But it was a wild irony, for he was so terribly afflicted with curvature of the spine that when he sat on the floor with his legs folded, his chin hovered only a foot above his ankles, and when he rode his bicycle, since he could not walk any distance, he had to steer by peering under the handle bars.
Elder Ensin loved and was loved by the Christians of Rin Rong. When his house had burned they contributed the poles to build a new one and donated sacks to glue to sticks for walls. When his spine collapsed they carried him to a bus stop and brought him to a hospital to save his life. Elder Ensin had been taught by an itinerant preacher how to peel thin strips of bamboo and to dye them into brilliant colors to weave into elaborate hair pins. Elder Ensin was forever grateful for whatever the church bestowed upon him. Even when the fad passed for this one thing he could produce he remained iridescent with love of Jesus and gratitude to the Church.
The funeral procession turned off the main path and began to ascend into a jungle patch of wild thorns and bamboo thicket. Elder Ensin struggled to keep his bicycle upright in the rutted path. Chang struggled to keep the casket upright as the wagon lurched from side to side.
Chang had relinquished a day of labor to help with this funeral. His sacrifice meant that no one at home would eat that night, a not infrequent occurrence. Chang and his family would have perished if his were the only source of funds for his sickly mother and her 5 children still at home. But there was another source.
As Chang climbed down from the wagon at the edge of the clearing that served as the jungle cemetery, a diminutive young woman with long hair stepped out of the shadows and pressed a roll of small brown bank notes into his hand and shrank back again. Chang pretended not to notice that he has just received $3 or $4. He casually deposited the cash in his pocket. Privately, however, Chang was not so casual. He ached to run after her, he longed to speak to her and tell her about the troubles at home. He wanted to tell her he loved her and respected her because she was his older sister. He wanted to say how much it mattered she was doing all she could to help her desperate family survive and that it didn’t matter that she had become a prostitute to do it. But she was gone.
No one had seen her but Elder Ensin. No one except him had seen her act of brave compassion for her family. And no one else could have understood if they had seen it. Elder Ensin viewed things, even peering under the handle bars as he had to view them, from the perspective of Jesus.
This reminiscence from 1982 is from my collection, EMERALD VALLEY CHRONICLES: Stories of a team of Christian seminary students at work in village churches in Thailand. Names have been changed. The picture above is the last and perhaps the only one ever taken of “Elder Ensin” a few weeks before he died, with Samarn Chaisathan, leader of our seminary team.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.