Sorrow at the King’s Grave

 King Tambura Grave

King Tambura’s Grave


A palm limb slapped me as we trekked through the overgrown underbrush to the king’s grave. The trail was narrow and evidently unused. It seemed nearly an insult to a great king.


King Tambura was the greatest king of the Zande people, a tribe that lives in the tri-corner where the countries of South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Democratic Republic of Congo meet. The nearby city of Tambura bears his name.


The King died in 1914. His great grandson is now the Paramount Chief, but our guides respectfully called him, “King.”


 Tambura’s resting place was no more impressive than the path to it. The weed-covered brick pyramid stood about eight foot high. Its base had been unleveled by a massive colony of ants.


Our guide told about the fame of this leader who held off the British and led his people in their greatest years. Finishing, he lowered his voice. “Legend is that he was buried with six young girls holding his body.”


He had my attention. “Tell me more.”


“The story is that the Zande refused to let his body touch the ground in burial, so six young virgins were chosen. They crawled into the open grave, sat down and waited for the king’s body to be lowered into their waiting arms. Then they covered the grave.”


I stared at the crumbling bricks, knowing I would never get this story or place out of my mind.


The guide, sensing our silence, added, “Oh, the girls were honored to be chosen. They came from the very best families who received great honor and respect from their daughters being chosen.”


I wondered what the girls thought.

Did they sleep the night before they were buried alive?

What causes a young person, full of life, to willingly step into a grave knowing they will be buried alive?

Most disturbingly, what was it like there in the dark?

Six of them. What did they talk about? Who died first? Who died last?


I’ll forget many things I saw and experienced in Africa, but my short visit to King Tambura’s grave won’t be one of them.


This Zande legend may or may not be true. Regardless, there are at least two lessons:



  1. I stand at another grave. The empty tomb of Jesus. He had followers who would’ve gladly held his body in the grave. His mother Mary and the other brave women who stood faithfully at the foot of the cross. Jesus’ best friend, John. He was right there when Jesus nodded at Mary, “Mother, this is your son. Son, this is your mother.”

Even the disciples who ran and hid—Exhibit A being Simon Peter—later showed their willingness to die for their King. One by one they were killed for their faithfulness. Obediently and without complaint.


  1. I believe those six virgins died because of love for their king, however misguided we may view it. It’s a reminder that my King said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, his must die to self daily, pick up his cross, and follow me. Jesus expects this commitment from each of us.


Not to crawl in a grave and be buried alive but the equally daunting task to die daily to self.

May we be found faithful.


Here’s how you can pray for us in the coming weeks:

  • Our regional Chadan team will meet next week in northern Kenya. Nov. 30-Dec. 5
  • After our meeting ends, DeDe and I will spend several days in a nearby refugee camp. We’re looking for members of our key Unreached People Groups.  Dec. 5-8
  • During the week before Christmas, we’ll spend time with a group of K-People pastors and leaders in Northern Uganda. Our son Terry (and his wife Sara and daughter Emma) will be teaching II Timothy to the leaders. Please jot these dates down as a prayer reminder: December 21-23.


Zande Tambura Leaders tree 

Three Zande church leaders stand under a tree where they plan to plant a church. Tambura Baptist Church will share the Word of God among one of our South Sudan priority people groups.


Several churches are already praying for them. Would you be willing to join in seeing the Zande come to worship the King of Kings?




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