La Carpio Funeral

By my reckoning, La Carpio isn't an overly dangerous place (I promise it's not, Mom). Like a lot of places in the world, there is potential danger at specific locations (East St. Louis) or if you're doing certain things (trying to steal stuff). But since I've been here I haven't really worried about personal bodily harm. I cruise our several-block area with relative confidence and peace of mind. No prob.

But, that's when it's bright. By night La Carpio wears a cloak of unpredictability. The shadows turn to pitch and the blissful ease sleeps with the sun. And this foreboding is mostly attributed to the gangs who operate during the "hours of bad decisions" as Steve says.

Sometimes people get hurt here. Beatings. Stabbings. Shootings. These things happen. It's in the news. But La Carpio's nightlife has been a shade more lethal this past week. Two people, sadly, have been killed.

And for us gringos, one of these deaths hit closer to home. Cesar, a chico on one of our soccer teams, lost his 28-year-old cousin on Thursday night. His name was Jose Sandoval. He was married with three children. It was in all the local papers. They said the murder happened in the wake of an argument at a local bar. There were multiple shots fired and a life lost. The perpetrator is a known gang member. The victim was not.

See the article here in its original context (graphic footage warning).

But, the family of Cesar came to Steve after the death and asked for transportation to the cemetery. We have a carry-all vehicle, so we openly accepted. And so, with fewer than two weeks in the country, I got my first look at a La Carpio funeral. Below are some photos of the sorrowful event.

Transporting the family. Latinos can be reserved in potentially turbulent emotional situations. I couldn't sense the degree of our vanload's sadness.

The immediate family held a viewing of the body in a La Carpio home. Like funerals I've been to, adults talked quietly in small groups while kids played reservedly.

The casket processional moved down the corridor toward the final resting place. The sobs of the victim's mother carried for hundreds of feet. She clutched the casket and collapsed to the ground in anguish. No pictures are necessary to recollect the harrowing scene. My brows raised and my spine chilled. The audible tears of a mother grieving her lost son are not quickly forgotten.

Cesar and his baby brother a few days before the murder.

Two of our amigos reading about the recent deaths.


In some ways, the people of La Carpio have a better life perspective than most of us. They see all of life through a local lens, a lens that focuses on celebrations of birth alongside tragic last breaths. Cradle to grave. Their spectrum is vivid. And I wonder how I would think about the world differently if I called La Carpio home.

But these events also give way to opportunity. Death has a way of shifting priorities. Of raising life questions. Opening the vaults of our dark hearts and forcing previously-suppressed issues to the forefront. My prayer is that some of La Carpio's patrons would seek truth and security in Christ in these times of uncertainty.

And this uncertainty permeates their lives. Wondering about money, about subsistence, about safety. About a national identity amidst a foreign land. I pray they would rest and identify with Christ, knowing that the work has been done for them. And knowing that in the fierce physical difficulties, there is true spiritual hope.

As humans, we look for ways to validate our existence. We seek avenues to give us status: Grades. Careers. Sex. Marriage. Children. Awards. Intellect. Possessions. Friends. Appearance. Power. Influence. Success. Many others too. And these can be good...and bad, if improperly used.

Sadly, in La Carpio, status and gang membership are fast friends. To an outsider a willful inclusion among their ranks seems foolish. Short-sighted. Not worth it. I've thought this. But La Carpio is their life. Their home. Their fish bowl. We have business casual Friday. They look for things to steal to pay for their next high.

And so my specific prayer is that the youth would not desire the backslapping approval of the gang life and the social weight it caries.

Most people came to La Carpio looking for a better life. One of increased opportunity and promise. A lot of them came from Nicaragua in the 80s during intense political turmoil that saw an 80 percent drop in per capita earnings for the Nicaraguan populace.

But it's hard to imagine the feelings of parents who in coming to La Carpio envisioned fatter times for their families. And then as they watch their kids fall into drugs and theft and violence. I would guess that this is not what the parents envisioned. And I think about the future of this place — the adults, the gangsters. The kids.

There is much to pray about. And much to be sad about. But God has a plan here. He's sovereign. People are broken and hurting and need grace. And they long for hope. And what a permanent hope there is! I pray that even a few could have it here.

0 Responses to 'La Carpio Funeral'