In June 2010, the month before our family began our missionary service, we enjoyed a week of vacation at a cabin on Hunting Island, South Carolina. One evening there, we got news that a 9-year-old boy had been pulled under the waves after falling from some rocks near the lighthouse. This happened at a place where we’d gone swimming earlier that morning. Through the night, boats and helicopters scanned the waters looking for the boy, while patrols on four-wheelers searched the seashore. By the next day, the boy was presumed to have drowned, and the search continued to recover his body.
Matthew, Manny, and Stefi (8, 5, and 3 years old at the time) were stunned by this tragedy. Although their day included fishing, hiking and other activities, they seemed mostly interested in knowing more details about the drowning and the boy’s family. Beneath their curiosity, I could sense fear at the recognition of their own vulnerability.
That night at the cabin, as they settled into their beds, questions started to flow. Manny inquired somberly, “Papa, how come they keep looking for the boy’s body when he’s up in heaven?”
After taking a moment to think, I answered, “It’s because his family wants to have his body back, even though his life isn’t in it anymore. The boy’s spirit is what’s in heaven. That’s the part that’s still alive.”
Struggling about what to make of it all, Manny wanted to know, “When they find him, will it just be his skin? Will they find his eyes? Will they put him back together like a puzzle?”
I answered, “I think everybody hopes his body will be in one piece.”
Then Manny asked, “Why don’t crabs go to heaven when they die, like we do?”
My reply was, “I’m not real sure why, but it seems God didn’t make crabs to go to heaven the same way that he made us.”
They lay quiet in their beds for a while, but I could tell their minds were still very busy. Suddenly Manny, his voice crackling with emotion, announced, “Matthew, if I die I want you to have all of my toys.” This was a magnanimous gesture, since the three of them, like typical siblings, spend lots of their time arguing about taking turns and sharing.
Matthew, wanting to give his little brother peace of mind, said, “But Manny, you won’t die before me because I’m older than you. I’m going to die first.”
Manny asked me if that was true. I explained that there really wasn’t any way to know when any of us are going to die, but that I
expected all three of them to live for a real long time.
Then they talked about older people that had died, like their grandmother and grandfather in Honduras who had passed away during the past year. Matthew asked me, “Papa, are you going to die soon?”
“I hope not, because I want to stay here with you. But like everybody else, I’ll die someday. It’s not something that I worry about and I hope you won’t worry about it either. The good thing to remember is that God doesn’t die, God never leaves us, and no matter what we’ll always be together with him.” With that, they drifted off to sleep, and I decided to write down what was said.
The next morning a ranger found the body near a creek, half a mile from where the accident occurred. We prayed about the boy’s death and for his grief-stricken family. Later, I thanked God for my children, praying for their safety and their awareness of God’s constant love that casts out all fears.