The gate made a loud squeaking noise as we opened it and made our way down the dirt path. A few steps took us quickly to a secluded rectangular plot of land. A large stone wall blocked off the plot, save for where the gate was located to allow entry. Foliage covered most of the area. It was clear the place had few caretakers and fewer visitors.
It would have looked like an empty plot of walled-off land were it not for the eight or nine headstones scattered across the back of the lot. Some were upright; others lay flat. We were told that several bodies were buried here over the span of about 100 years. In fact, no more could be laid to rest there, as the plot was full. Most of the graves were unmarked.
We made our way through the foliage to the back of the secluded cemetery. Watch your step, said our guide. As we arrived at the first headstone, we paused to read the inscription. A name, Achutha Damodara Shenoy, 1934-2004. There were important dates and accomplishments, and then a verse: “And those who turn many to righteousness shall shine like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
As we made our way to another headstone, we had to clear some of the foliage away in order to read the inscription. It was an infant, just several months old. Why would his parents bring him here to a remote land with no access to proper healthcare? What caused them to stay even after his demise?
As we made our way to another headstone, we had to clear some of the foliage away in order to read the inscription
We made our way to the next headstone. There it read: “Ellen, the darling wife of Edward Cornelius, after sitting down in her chair, closed her eyes, and in a moment was not, for God took her.” What a peculiar way to describe a person’s passing…
We moved to the next headstone to read of an “E Cornelius who served the Lord half a century in Jamtara”. The inscription concluded with the words: “These all died in faith… and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”
I have to say, it was hard to leave the secluded cemetery. I felt a beckoning to stay… as if those laying in the graves were speaking. Most of those buried there had left their native lands, peoples and kindred to travel to a distant land for the Beloved they vowed to serve. They refused comfort, access to good healthcare and security, choosing discomfort, disease and danger.
Most of the graves that were marked indicated their occupants had died in the early 1900s but, over 100 years later, there could be no doubt about it: they are still speaking. These, being long dead, still speak to us by their example of faith like Abel (Hebrews 11:4). I never thought that verse would have any meaning to me, but standing in this secluded graveyard, I heard them speaking, maybe even cheering me on. Their message: it is worth it all to follow Jesus! Invest in souls that have eternal value. These trials and sufferings are only momentary. Keep running and fixing your eyes on Jesus, the reward.
I am very far away from that secluded graveyard in Jamtara, India, today — but I often find myself going there in spirit. Not to hear the squeaking gate or see the foliage slowly claiming the plot of land. I go there to hear them speak to me. To remind me to fight well, finish the race and keep the faith. This cloud of witnesses cheers me on to finish the race and receive the heavenly prize. Do you hear their voices?
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