The Makonde people of Tanzania in Africa are known for intricate wood carvings. One style of carving is called the Ujamaa, which means community and family. Also known as “Tree of Life” carvings, they are fashioned from a single piece of African Blackwood (mpingo), and can be as high as six feet tall. They depict past and present generations of a family, supporting each other around a central family ancestor. The sculpture poignantly illustrates that each person’s life is built upon the lives of those who have gone before them.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
The image of the Ujamaa is helpful in thinking about the souls of the faithfully departed that have gone before us. Our Christian faith has been built on generations of faithful disciples who have kept the flames of the faith burning for more than two millennia. We are truly “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets… [with] Christ himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20). Our ancestors are part of this foundation along with countless saints and unrecognized champions of the faith. This “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) is praying for us, urging us to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14).