Fr. Jacob Modisenyane Rest in Peace

Fr. Jacob Modisenyane is ‘late.’

Six weeks ago he is ordained to the priesthood.

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Last week he dies. He collapses and is taken to the hospital in Francistown. Fr. Samuel Moraloki is with him. Jacob squeezes his hand. And Jacob dies.

Fr. Jacob is among our first group of ordinands at the St. Augustine Theological School. He travels down to Gaborone for intensive weeks of study, and sometimes we travel to Francistown for a few days of the same. He is a large man, and he suffers from diabetes. He is also an energetic man, deeply committed to the call to which he has responded. I picture him even now, at his chosen seat at the far end of our ‘seminar’ table, engaging in discussion, translating what is going on for a student who needs it, and yes, sometimes tiring and dozing off.

He is a delight to be with. As I say in my remarks at his funeral, he has a way of making me feel he is very happy that we are together. He has an engaging smile, and a wonderful laugh.

He invites me to preach and celebrate at Matsiloje, his home village east of Francistown, snug against the border with Zimbabwe, in 2014, and I do so. It is, again, a joy to be with him.

I travel with Susan Mogwera, Florence Bogopa, and others to his funeral last Friday. We pick up a wreath we have ordered at a florist in Francistown, change a flat tire to our spare, and drive eastward to Matsiloje for the Requiem Mass.

It is underway as we arrive, but we are ushered forward into the packed nave, and I am seated among fellow clergy inside the altar rail. Many of Jacob’s fellow ordinands are there, my dear students from years past. At the Peace it is clear Samuel is overwhelmed in grief. He and Jacob come from the same place - here – and serve together. Samuel is younger, and the loss of his elder ‘brother’ has touched him deeply. He clings to me during the Peace, and then sits down with his head in his hands. I go over and sit next to him and take his hand. The ministry of presence is all that I can offer.

Some of us spend the night at a home offered us back in Francistown. It is a comfortable dwelling, but it is hot and the bedroom is stuffy, and I struggle to sleep. I get up during the night and take two cold showers, and I suppose sleep eventually comes, but I am not so sure.

Funerals in Botswana are early morning events, and we are off, back to Matsiloje, shortly after 5:00 a.m. The viewing is to be between 5:00 and 6:00, at which point the program begins at the Modisenyane home, where large tents have been erected and many chairs placed. I am the tenth on the list of speakers, testimonials, speaking on behalf of the St. Augustine Theological School.

My remarks are brief, at least I think so. I speak of our journey with him at St. Augustine, and I bring to mind his ordination, this past December, at which time he is presented with a Bible. The Bible is a gift from the historic African American parishes in the Diocese of North Carolina, and I take the Bible he has been given. I say that now he will not be using it in his ministry here in Matsiloje and the northern archdeaconry, but I attach a book plate, declaring this gift, into his Bible – Samuel holds it for me – and then hand it to his widow, as a memorial to him and that special December moment in his life.

We follow vague paths from Jacob’s home to the cemetery. Those of us on foot await the arrival of the hearse – a vehicle with a small trailer – and then all enter into the cemetery. I – along with many others with the same goal – find a spot in the shade.

Amid many choruses, words are spoken, dirt is tossed upon the coffin by many clergy, and the coffin is lowered into the grave. There is a huge amount of dirt, from the digging of the pit, nearby, and two queues form. There are two shovels laid against the dirt, and one by one, men take the shovels and begin to fill the grave. I ask Fr. Bonny Bashe, standing nearby, if it is all right for me to do so as well, and he says yes, and I want to. There is something deeply spiritual about the act, and I shovel eight or ten times – the sun is oppressive, and I see no need to add to the dead – and relinquish my shovel to another. It is a touching moment for me.

There are more prayers and choruses, and wreaths are placed on top of the mound of dirt, and as is common here in Botswana, a canopy is placed above the grave. A snake appears among some Mothers Union women who have found a shaded spot on the ground, and they scatter, but we are ready to draw the burial to a close anyway. We await the departure of the family, and we walk back to their home. Family serves the crowd lunch – seswaa, my favorite local dish – and we head to Francistown to solve our tire problem, and drive on to Gaborone. My mind stays on Jacob. Such a loss. May his soul rest in eternal peace.