The Death of a Son!

 The Death and Burial of John-Paul Evans

The date was 20 August 1974 and I was about to face the most traumatic event and deepest sorrow of my life.

The death of our infant son, John-Paul Evans. He lived in this world for only a brief seven days. 

John-Paul’s death was due to respiratory distress & premature lung syndrome. 

After giving birth on the 14 August to our fifth child, my wife Betty became gravely ill with Malaria as a result of a blood transfusion, which she received after John-Paul’s birth.

The transfusion of New Guinea blood was laced with Malaria parasites, which immediately negatively & dramatically affected Betty’s health. 

At one stage I not only struggled in faith for the life of John-Paul but now I was gripped with fear that I would loose the life of my dear wife, as she battled the raging fever of Malaria that racked her body.  

Upon receiving the certification of John-Paul’s death the Charge Sister wrapped his tiny body in a hospital issue towel and handed him to me for burial.

Not knowing what to expect, I was deeply traumatised and greatly distressed by the raw and explicit way his death was handled by the Wewak Hospital authorities.

As I walked out of the nursery toward the front veranda of the hospital I was engulfed in grief.

I remember holding his tiny body in my hands too shocked to say anything. It was surreal!

I then made my way out of the stark hospital corridors &  took my precious bundle of flesh & blood to my Jeep.

I nursed his tiny body on my lap as I was driven back to the Wewak Mission Station on the bumpy roads.

I cried silently as I questioned my faith, blaming myself and wondered why.

Much prayer was offered up for his young life and now he was taken from me. If only, If only? Why God, Why?

Later I learned to leave my questions with God as He assured me in the quietness of my soul, He knew what was best for John-Paul!

Upon arriving at the Wewak Mission Station I was met by my missionary colleague Ps John Irvine who put his hand on my shoulder and offered a kindly word of love & support.

Words are poignant in such moments and John with a pastor’s heart and gentle spoken manner, knew how to comfort me. He quickly offered practical support.

In my grief I couldn’t think clearly! We chatted briefly weighing up the practicalities of what to do.

I felt bereft not knowing what to do while at the same time fearful of what was happening to Betty who was struggling for life.

Time was of essence as there was no respite from the tropical heat.

I took John-Paul’s tiny body into the mission house and laid him on my bed.

There were no facilities to embalm his tiny body in Wewak or suitable morgue for that matter in those days.

He had to be buried as soon as possible and so John Irvine went to work on the Mission’s garage floor and worked for long hours to created a tiny Coffin from timber he found lying around the mission station for John-Paul.

John Irvine, a tall, softly spoken, gentle man and servant in arms, left a lasting impression upon me that day as he worked in the tropical heat to serve me.

He may not have been a dynamic preacher, leader or personality but he was a true Servant of God!

There were no Funeral Service providers in Wewak that I could call upon for help and so John Irvine’s help was deeply appreciated.

After a sleepless night, the next day the 20 August 1974, I buried our little man J-P under a rain tree in an unmarked grave.

I regret not marking the spot with a grave stone to this day. Somewhere in the cemetery of the local Kreer people, are the last remains of John-Paul Evans.

Missionary Ossie Molyneux & Ps.Steven Minua were in attendance and assisted me in the burial service.

Betty was too ill to attend the burial and lay in bed recovering from what was a near fatal experience for her.

It took me some years to come to terms with the grief of this event in my life.

I don’t think you ever get over it!

Even to the point of breaking down every time I had to Dedicate or Bury someone else’s child.

Ultimately it was the words of scripture that brought me peace.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Romans 8:28 (NIV)


Post Script:

Interestingly and in a strange yet soveriegn way, the death and burial of John Paul brought comfort and healing to a distraught Papua New Guinea mother who’s own child was taken from her tragically as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDs.

A couple of months after John-Paul’s death I had to conduct the burial service of her child who was buried next to the grave of John-Paul. Compassionately I spoke of my empathy for her as I told her of my experience of loosing a child. 

She looked at me in profound amazement as if to say “if God took your child, (you a missionary and servant of God) then there must be a purpose for it all.” Somehow she received great comfort in the death of John-Paul and went on to commit her life to Christ and was converted.

Indeed God’s ways are past finding out! In His time He makes all things beautiful!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” 

Isaiah 55:8-9 

“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” 

Romans 11:33 


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