Sharing Hope with Dad
My husband, Phil, and I serve as missionaries with ABWE in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Our original plans were to return to the U.S. this November for furlough, but due to possible unrest in the country we had moved up our departure date to September. Another major factor in our decision was the well-being of my father, Gerald. His health had been declining for some time, and over the past year and a half he had been struggling with a great deal of pain followed by weight loss. Although we had called home many times asking my parents, “Should we come home now?”, they had always answered, “No, not yet.”
One Sunday, five weeks before we were to leave PNG, I was worshipping at our church, Praise Baptist, and clearly sensed the Holy Spirit urging us to go home even sooner than we had planned. I vividly remember wrestling during the entire service with what it would mean to leave those we loved there so deeply versus the pressing need to return home. The struggle was so intense I had to stop thinking about it, knowing the tears about to flow would be impossible to stop. Often as missionaries, we are torn between loving and caring for those God has called us to serve in a foreign land and our family and friends back home. So, of course, we prayed about the decision and this time when I called my parents to ask if they felt we should return now they responded, “Yes!” We decided to stay one more Sunday in PNG to properly say goodbye to our church family and others, and experienced great peace as we changed all our airline tickets.
Family had always been important to my parents. Though our son, Andrew, and his wife, Heather, lived close enough to visit, not only were we half-way around the world, but our daughter, Lauren along with her husband, Aaron, and 18-month-old son, Justice, were far away in Alaska. My parents had never met their great-grandson, and dad had confided that he didn’t think he would see any of us before he passed away. God wonderfully orchestrated that they could come visit when we arrived in the U.S. mid-August, allowing my parents to meet their great-grandson.
Upon our return it was extremely difficult to see how much Dad had deteriorated, but I was so grateful to be there. Before moving into a nursing home, my dad had lived on a farm my parents loved. Dad was known as an exceptionally honest member of the community, a man of outstanding moral character. He had been a member of his church for over 50 years, serving on committees and always enjoying the choir’s singing. Our concern was that, though he said he had prayed years before with his pastor to accept Christ, whenever we would try to talk about his relationship with Christ, he would steer the conversation away from spiritual matters. We longed to hear him say that he truly believed in God, was repentant for his sins, and was confident he would spend eternity in heaven. My mom would cry recounting to me her desire to be confident of his salvation, but the most we ever got out of him was to say, “How can we really know?” The truth was we had never seen any real spiritual fruit in his life. Phil and I had witnessed to and prayed for him many times over the years. We were resolved to continue to do so.
I made it my routine each morning to go over to the nursing home during breakfast time and sit with my dad and his roommate as they ate in the dining room. One morning, Phil was with me and asked Dad, “If you were to die today and stand at the gates of Heaven and Jesus were to ask you, `Why should I let you into my Heaven? ` what would you answer?”
Dad responded, “I’ve been a good person; I’ve never robbed a bank or killed anyone.” That’s when I knew Dad didn’t really understand the gospel message. The next day I asked Dad if we could do a Bible study together, and was thrilled that this time he said, “Yes”!
In 2013, Phil and I completed the Good Soil Evangelism & Discipleship workshop at ABWE. In Papua New Guinea we have used The Story of Hope each week share the gospel and have seen many understand and embrace it in their lives. Now, I was going to use The Story of Hope with my own dad. Each day for four and a half weeks we studied God’s Word, seeing the story of God’s plan for redemption unfold: from God’s eternal existence to creation and the Garden of Eden, man’s fall into sin leading to physical, spiritual, and eternal death, then how Christ came to die for the sins of mankind on the cross, and whoever believes will have eternal life with him forever. One morning I shared with Dad Revelation 3:20 – “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Dad surprised me by asking, “How do I open that door?” After sharing Romans 3:23 and 6:23 with him, he said, “I want God in my life.” With tears streaming down my face, Dad made a true faith response to Christ on September 13, 2018.
We continued our Bible Study each day, and though Dad became weaker, I saw that God had truly changed him. The truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17 was coming alive before my eyes even as Dad was physically fading away. One morning he asked me to share more Bible stories with him, so our study time went extra long that day. Another day when he was feeling especially weak, while Phil and my mom were in the room, I cried when he asked me to read a fitting Bible verse to him. With great rejoicing, I started sharing Philippians 3:14 with him each day – “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” On yet another occasion he introduced me to one of his nurses as “his missionary,” which just brought a huge smile to my face. I always prayed together with him before I left, and one evening as I left I told him I would be praying for him and he replied that he would be praying for me too.
On September 21, 2018, eight days after he accepted Christ, Dad took his last breath on this earth and his first breath in heaven. I stand amazed at what God did in his life. He was a genuinely changed man. Dad led a good life and loved his family very much, but most importantly, even though failing physically at the end, he finally understood and welcomed God into his life. I give all the glory to my Heavenly Father.