On 4 June 2012, 13 year old Jasmine Lowe was reported missing by her father. She left her house to go to her mother’s salon in San Ignacio but never arrived. At about 2:00 pm on 6 June her body was discovered in a field. Due to the rapid rate at which her body was decomposing her father was told by the authorities she should be buried immediately. He received permission to bury her on his land a few hundred yards downstream from us on Barton Creek. At 6:00 pm we received a message that people were on the way. We did what we could to prepare to assist.
Jasmine and her father, Chris, were some of the first people we met in Belize, our children were about the same age and we all became friends. They were regular visitors to Barton Creek Outpost and were involved in most of our kids’ birthday parties and other events through the years. We often called young Jasmine, “J-Lowe” to distinguish her from the other Jasmine in their circle of friends, “J-Fo”. We called the group of girls “The Jungle Pixies” and, when they were younger, they dreamed of forming a band of the same name. Chris is a chatty guy with hundreds of stories. He will sometimes sit with our guests and regale them with tales of old Belize where no roads were paved and they road in old British military flatbed trucks instead of busses. The guests love it. Chris also makes and distributes amazing granola, granola bars and is the only producer of peanut butter in Belize.
The news of Jasmine’s disappearance was hard on all of us but we held out hope that somehow she would come home safely. I was cutting the grass when my wife came down with bad news, Jasmine’s body was found. We quickly called the kids together to tell them but as we were trying to get our 13 year old daughter to join us we heard a terrible cry. A close friend of hers, temporarily schooling in Germany, had informed Kaitlyn (through Facebook) of the news. Jacquelyn and I gathered our children together to cry and pray. We were all distraught but Kaitlyn was inconsolable, our daughter had lost a close friend by horrible means. Our sweet Kaitlyn has not experienced a lot of pain in her life and something of this magnitude was like a ton of bricks. I wept for her loss of a close friend as well as the punch in the gut she received as the cruelness of this world was exposed to her. I am sorry honey, now you know.
When we received word that people were on the way out here to bury Jasmine we got changed and considered making refreshments, we figured we would see a few people over here at some point. I put on work clothes, loaded some shovels and a pick into the truck and we decided Jacquelyn would stay at the Outpost with our two youngest children. As I was gathering flashlights and changing batteries questions about this whole scenario were running through my head and I found myself suddenly motivated, rushing around, doing this and that. I stopped and wondered what I was doing, “Are you excited to dig Jasmine’s grave?” I pondered that question for a few moments and determined I was relieved to be actually doing something. Since the first news of her disappearance I have felt useless. Everyone has been asking, “What can we do?” and feeling helpless. At least now I thought I could contribute to the situation in some way. Kaitlyn, our 11 year old son, Logan, and I loaded in the truck to go meet the incoming people.
The gate to Chris’ property is only a few hundred yards from our place and shortly after arriving there a couple vehicles showed up. Chris has been a licensed tour guide here for many years and has a lot of friends who are tour guides. About 6 of them showed up and they also had tools to dig a grave. As we were breaking out tools and formulating a plan we began to see headlights coming down the dirt road and lighting up the misty night. I had envisioned a few guys digging a grave and our Pastor (Chris and Jasmine attend the same church that we do) would say a few words as we covered her resting place. No so. Trucks and SUV’s began to arrive in groups of two and three with most carrying a load of mourners. If you are not familiar with the use of a pickup truck as a mass transport vehicle in a third world country, well, I assure you it is something that would give a Tennessee State Trooper a heart attack. We sometimes pack them full, making use of every inch of available space. Several vehicles arrived full of Jasmine’s Scout Troop with one pickup packed with at least 25 people. I quickly broke away to retrieve my wife & two little ones and when I returned I continued directing parking efforts into a large, dark, slightly muddy field. From the black interior of many vehicles I heard, “Hey Jim”, greetings from people whose faces I could not see. Chris had shown up, Jasmine’s mother & her church, more tour guides, a school bus, vans, cars, trucks and our entire Wednesday night church service showed up driven by our Pastor and his wife. The group would not hear of being left behind despite the fact they were told they would have to wade through a creek, in the jungle, at night to get to the site. Jasmine’s body was delivered as well.
As it turned out, a few tour guides manned some canoes and ferried people across the creek while others hiked through the dark bush and over a high, sketchy, swing bridge to make the crossing. There never seemed to be enough flashlights but everyone was helpful and I suspect about 150 people made that crossing. It could easily have been more.
When it seemed that the flow of vehicles had stopped I crossed the bridge and headed towards the site. As I made my way to what the children called, “The Beautiful Spot” I recognized the intoxicating scent of Night Blooming Jasmine, the significance of it brought more tears. Chris and Jasmine lived here when they were not in San Ignacio and they planted a wide variety of fruit trees and tropical flowers. It is a hidden paradise with a fresh spring running through the plot and it was their favorite place to be.
The scene at the site was surreal. In the clearing, people were milling about holding candles that cast moving shadows over their faces and the surrounding jungle. A small generator hummed somewhere, whispered conversations, crying, the occasional laugh and people hugging everywhere. I found Jasmine’s small, white casket covered with flowers and a picture of a “Missing Child” poster of which she was the subject. Her casket was supported by 4 buckets as if they were the legs of a table. I prayed there and I hugged her sister, Suleny, expressing words she had probably heard too many times already. Suleny stayed there for some time as if to be close to her sister one last time. I hugged my wife, loved on my children and felt like an extra in a bizarre movie.
As I was aimlessly wandering about I ran into several friends including my Pastor, Mike Leonard, of Shining Light Baptist Church. I am not sure I’m much of a Baptist but I like Mike. Mike is a good ole boy, spent 7 years in Army Infantry and is flat out committed to his mission. Those are three of the reasons I like him. Pastor Mike and I walked around a bit, spoke with people and watched men younger than us dig a deep grave in the jungle. A police officer supervised the work and was the one to make the call when it was six feet deep. I think it took over three hours.
I happened to be standing right there when the officer deemed we were ready to proceed and we found there was really no plan on how to transport the casket to the grave. I told Chris I would be honored if I could help carry Jasmine’s body and he consented. Six of us, including two Mennonites, carried her through the spring and over to the site, Chris alternately helped and took pictures. As we were carring the casket our church congregation sang Jasmine’s favorite hymn, “I’ll Fly Away”. Ropes were not immediately at hand so we waited while some tour guides retrieved some so the casket could be rigged to lower. A world of emotions swept over me as I lowered Jasmine Lowe’s body into that hole. As I consider it now I think, “Dear God, please don’t have me do this for my child”, was the foremost.
When the time came Pastor Mike stood upon the large pile of rich earth and gathered the crowd. With bare light bulbs strung over the grave and the generator in the background, he spoke about life and death. Our Pastor told the crowd that Jasmine was a special young lady, active in the scouts and a faithful member of our church. She had heard the call and trusted Christ as her savior a year before. With Kenroy, his right hand man, holding a flashlight Pastor Mike read from the Bible and assured us that Jasmine was in a better place and it was we who had lost here, not her. Along with others, I wept for our loss. I wept for Chris, a single father raising a young daughter who was now gone. I wept for a world in which monsters live and prey on children. I wept as my kids threw dirt into their friend’s grave.
When that was over I picked up a shovel and helped fill the hole. At some point my emotions subsided and it simply became hard work. I looked over to see Pastor Mike with a shovel in his hand, working and sweating and I wanted to stop what I was doing and tell everyone, “If you need a Pastor, that is your man!” Today I regret not doing so. There seemed to be something significant in the fact that people who knew Jasmine were digging her grave and covering her body. Truthfully, when I first arrived on the site I was relieved to see others digging the grave but when I got involved in my part I was glad to do it. I found that I don’t want some backhoe digging my grave, I hope my friends will sweat and cry in the dirt as we did that night.
Chris said that Jasmine’s funeral was an adventure, just like Jasmine. As a matter of fact the two of them had recently climbed Victoria Peak together, father and daughter. I think I know Jasmine better today than I did a month ago but she is gone and I won’t get to appreciate that insight and watch her grow. I know Chris better today than I did before this and I will never forget the strength he has shown during a time of unimaginable tragedy. Several of my friends and I, all fathers, have recently uttered the question, “Can you imagine?” No, we cannot. I can only have faith that God’s promise to Paul is true for us as well. Paul asked God, multiple times, to remove an affliction, God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient.” I cannot imagine how that can be, but I pray for God’s grace on Chris Lowe.