Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tribute to Yuli

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the death of my young friend, Yuli. She was killed in a motorcycle wreck (most Indonesians drive motorcycles, not cars). She was riding with her boyfriend, Eko, at the time of the accident. Yuli fell off the bike and then was run over by a car. Eko wasn’t hurt. But he was put in jail because he was driving the motorcycle at the time (although it doesn’t sound like it was his fault).

We visited Eko yesterday in jail. Please pray for his release soon, so that he can return to his family. He is spending his time in jail teaching illiterate prisoners to read.

On Friday, I visited Yuli’s parents and siblings. I’m always a bit shocked when I see one particular brother. He has Yuli’s face.

I brought Evan, almost a year old now (born three weeks after Yuli’s death). Evan loved the attention and showed him his best tricks (blowing kisses, clapping). They seemed charmed by him.

Next time I visit them, I plan to ask if Yuli’s only sister, Erni, age 12, can go with me to get some ice cream. I’ve done that many times with Yuli. And I feel so sad that Erni lost her only sister.

I am including below an entry from our Web site (www.hopkinsmaf.org) that I wrote last year after my friend died.

Last weekend (a year ago) my friend, Yuli, died. One minute, she was 21, riding with her boyfriend on his motorcycle through the streets of Tarakan on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The next minute, Yuli, was dead after being hit by a car.

I (Rebecca) can’t even remember the thoughts that consumed my mind the moment before thoughts of my friend’s death overtook them. Maybe I was thinking about our preparation to go to Singapore to give birth to our baby (we leave in less than two weeks). Or I might have been thinking about the MAF conference from which we had just returned. Whatever it was, they were gone the minute I heard about my young, sweet friend’s tragedy.

Yuli is an Indonesian Muslim who I met almost two years ago. She and I have spent a lot of time together—usually doing meaningless things while sometimes talking about things that matter. I remember a conversation we had a couple months ago, while walking through a local park. We talked about black magic, religion and Jesus. I remember kinda fumbling over words as I tried to explain, briefly, who Jesus is to me. I wish now that I’d been more clear, taken more time to explain, been more brave.

About six months ago, Yuli’s 30-some-year-old brother died of stomach cancer. I drove her to the hospital several times over the last couple of weeks of his life. We cried together in the hospital room that smelled of sickness, while her brother lay in pain on the blood-stained sheets in the hot, third-class room. I prayed that he wouldn’t die. The answer that time, was no.

After his death, I went to her house to pay my condolences. His body was laid out on the floor of her home, covered with batik material, incense burning near his head. Yuli wept. So did I.

The scene was nearly identical last weekend when I went to Yuli’s house within an hour of hearing the news. I hoped it wasn’t true. Maybe I’d misunderstood when another Indonesian friend called to tell me the news. I had just seen Yuli. She was fine. And alive.

Her house—shared by many of her nine siblings and their families is difficult to find—down narrow alleyways, up some steps, over a two-foot wide bridge that covers a stream of trash. I asked a neighbor if I was going the right way, telling him that I was looking for Yuli. He asked if I meant the Yuli who had just died. My heart sank and I could barely get the word out, “Ya.” Yes, that’s the one. So, it was true.

I was glad Brad had come with me to her house. We sat on the floor within two feet of the body of my friend, covered in batik material, incense burning near her head. An elderly relative told us the whole story. A car hit the motorcycle, throwing Yuli off the back. Before she could get up, another car ran over her. The helmet she wore shattered. She died instantly.

Her irate, but not seriously injured boyfriend, began punching the owner of the car which killed his girlfriend. Police arrived and carried him off to the police station for a couple of hours to cool off. I can’t imagine what he must be going through right now.

A few moments after Brad and I arrived at Yuli’s house, her older brother, who just arrived from another town, ran into the room, yanked back the covering off his sister’s face, threw himself on her body and wept. Muslims here believe that a person’s soul hasn’t left the room until the body is buried. So, usually, they try to refrain from loud sobbing or outbursts so that the deceased doesn’t have to listen to the family member’s mourning. So, soon, family members gathered around, comforting Yuli’s brother, with reminders to remain calm, while they struggled with their own tears. I couldn’t help weeping, too, as I looked at my friend’s lifeless face.

The next day, I attended the funeral, which has to take place within 24 hours of the death, according to Muslim tradition. As the family members themselves sew the grave clothes by hand, and bathed my friend’s lifeless body in their living room, I realized how this culture comes so close to death. As I watched each ritual, sitting just a foot from Yuli’s body, I couldn’t help but think that death won.

I cling to the hope that life has the ultimate victory.


  1. Rebecca - Though your friendship with Yuli was brief only eternity will tell how your friendship made a difference in her life. It is wonderful you continue to befriend her family and Eko. We will continue to pray for God to work in their lives through you and Brad.
    Praying always - Lew

  2. Happy Mother's day, we wish you the best of all blessings and we have made a little something for you:


    How are you doing?... cannot wait to hear from you again!

    God bless you,


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