Yesterday morning we heard the news that Bilempo Yonli passed away during the night. Bilempo was a very pillar of the church in Mahadaga.
In the afternoon I went to the burial service, noticing that there was no sound of beating drums to mark the man’s passing. The family would not want to confuse their neighbors – this family is Christian, and the traditional animist rituals have no part here.
I stood in a tightly-packed crowd of over 300 people surrounding the freshly dug grave next to the family’s compound. People had come from hundreds of miles away to attend on a moment’s notice. We all stood beneath several mango trees and watched as thunderheads passed overhead…passing by without soaking the crowd. There were two veritable parking lots of bikes and mopeds, and people had brought several dozen benches from the church for people to sit after the service.
We sang a few hymns in Gourma, and then no fewer than 4 pastors gave eulogies. Fortunately, my friend Ounteni translated some of the messages for me. What I learned was amazing. Bilempo (88 years old this year) was the first Christian convert in this entire region. He was instrumental in leading many of the first believers in this area to Christ. Bilempo was among the first few men from this area to go to SIM’s Bible school, about 200 miles away. He came back to Mahadaga and served as a pastor for several decades.
[caption id="attachment_665" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The Yonli housefold - the funeral was held off to the right of this picture"][/caption]
Bilempo not only preached God’s Word…he lived it. For example, he adopted a young orphan girl named Anna and raised her as one of his own. Anna is now the Walsh family’s beloved house-helper.
His youngest son, Tajua, is a teacher at our school at the CAH. Tajua is respected by his peers for his strong faith and his maturity. Another result of his father’s example?
Bilempo is survived by an incredibly large family that is very active in the church. He had 9 children, 59 grandchildren and another 9 great-grandchildren. I think that most of his family will see him again in heaven. That will be some family reunion!
"For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God." (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)