Saturday, July 09, 2011
Our community had a terrible tragedy this 4th of July. An 11 year old boy drowned in the Mississippi River. Drownings happen from time to time in this community that is joined by two main rivers and several tributaries. A drowning is always a tragedy and there is no other way to look at it. (http://qconline.com/archives/
This story had several unique elements to it and it was a personal story in a few ways. Our local area is a major area for refugee resettlement. The boy who drowned was a refugee from Burundi whose family came to our area a couple of years ago. There is a housing project in Rock Island that is now serving quite a few of these refugees. At one point, a group of African refugees approached my pastor and our church council about using our church for worship. They wanted to worship Christ in their home languages--and even though there are at least a half dozen different languages between them, we offered them our church to worship in. Since then, they attend one or two of our services monthly and their choir performs an African hymn or two on one Sunday a month.
I think it has been a mutually beneficial arrangement, because it has given us a chance to meet these wonderful people and learn about their culture. They have a nice place to worship and are included in our prayers and outreach programs. There aren't any "losers" in this relationship.
A few months ago, their group sort of divided and restructured itself. I was saddened to see that because I was just getting comfortable with the people who had been worshipping with us. However, they were hoping to become part of a new denomination--and they called themselves the "African Light Pentecostal Church." The boy who drowned was the 11 year old son of the new pastor of their group. He had often sat next to our family or close to us with his four sisters and parents.
Their community was celebrating the 4th of July at a local park where the Mississippi backwaters are a source of entertainment to all, providing boat slips and fishing. I learned that in Africa, it is common for people to jump into rivers and swim--and that is what this boy and several of his same aged peers did. This is not what can be done in the Mississippi with her strong currents. The park is clearly marked "No Swimming," but I think it is safe to say that 11 year old boys from any culture group probably don't pay much attention to signs by adults, for adults.
This was truly an accident--a tragedy--and it is so sad. The church was filled with people and every bit of space was full. there was a long, long line of people waiting to get in to view the body and it made things all get started late. This family had attended two schools in my district and there were many other educators there to offer their condolences. This also comes two years after a younger child, a kindergarten aged refugee drowned on a school field trip to our local water park. She was from the same school that this boy was from. I am pretty close to that story as well, because it happened the first day my oldest daughter worked at that water park. Now, all that are left are memories of that child and lawsuits against the city, the park board, the school district, etc... On top of the sadness, there are some ill feelings here and there. It was a horrible, horrible accident and nobody anywhere wanted to see this little girl hurt, let along dead.
Right now, it seems as if the community is managing this tragedy as well as it can. However, when I looked up the link to the newspaper article for this blog--I read some other blogs and comments that indicate that it may not stay so peaceful. I am sad and hope that my Lord will help people work through their loss and grieve together.
God bless Michel Niyubahwe's family and loved ones as they deal with this awful, awful situation. I pray that He look down on our community and help people to be loving and kind, showing respect for each other and their needs. This young man came from a Christian family who is making a better life for themselves. As we all heal from this, may our lives be enriched by each other and may we all learn to care about each other no matter where we are from and what our backgrounds are.
Life is fragile. We must treasure every moment that we have. We must love others and we must never, ever judge. That isn't our job.