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It never occurred to me that the Lord would allow my "unsaved" father to die while I was out serving Him on the mission field. I was in India on a 17 day ministry trip to a rural and hard-to-reach town called Razole in the state of Andre Perdesh.
We had just completed a series of very successful meetings where the gospel was presented, people believed in Christ and turned from their idols, and many physical healings occurred. Our last meeting was Thursday afternoon.
At 5:00 AM on Friday morning, a call was relayed from the states to us. My "unsaved" father had passed away. At it turns out, he died while I was beginning a teaching on "hearing God's voice" at the final meeting of our crusade.
My first response was shock and disbelief. There must be some mistake. Before I had left for India, the Lord had given me Psalm 21:2, where He told me He'd heard my prayers and given me the desires of my heart. That included household salvation (especially my parents and my husband), the ability to discern His voice from not His voice with 100% accuracy and an increased level of intimacy with Him. When I last saw my Father, three days before I left for India, he was still unsaved. If God promised to grant my heart's desire, how could He possibly let my Father die before he accepted Christ?
I started crying softly. Kim, Scott and Sherath had come into my room to give me the news. They sort of enfolded me into a group hug and held me for a few minutes.
I found myself silently praying, "Lord, I am and remain Your servant. I don't understand why you allowed this to happen, but I renew my dedication to serve You, no matter what you require of me."
Then I felt the Lord's pleasure on me in response to my prayer. I was surprised and pleased by my reaction -- maybe I'm not quite as spiritually immature as I see myself. It occurred to me that many people would ask God how He could do this to them while they were out serving Him on the mission field. Or they might ask Him why He allowed this to happen. But my initial response had been neither of these. I was actually surprised that I had responded to Him as well as I did. I guess the Holy Spirit must have been helping me.
The Lord's presense seemed to settle over me and comfort me. I was so aware of Him that I was barely aware of Scott or Kim or Sherath. The Holy Spirit whispered to me, "Teresa, I am going to guard your heart through this."
Odd how one can both grieve and experience God's presence/comfort at the same instant. That must be what the verse means that says, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Yes, it hurt, but God was with me in the pain.
The Lord reminded me of a conversation I had with Him on Monday of the same week. Out of the blue, He had spoken to me and said, "Teresa, I am going to spend you a bit on India."
"Huh?" I did not understand what He meant. "Does that mean I will die on this trip?"
"No, you will not die."
"Does this mean I will catch some awful disease here and become terribly sick?"
"No, you will not get sick. But I am going to spend you on this trip."
At the time, I had no idea what He was talking about. The Lord recalled this conversation to my mind. Then He said,
"See, Teresa. I told you before it happened so you would know it was My hand in this. I told you I was going to spend you on this trip. Now you understand what I meant."
Somehow, it was incredibly comforting that He had taken the care to tell me in advance that something was going to happen. I began to see how He had lovingly been preparing me for this for a few weeks before it happened and how His care and His provision was in even this situation.
A few hours later, He led me to read John 14. The first few verses talk about Heaven. Somehow that was comforting, even though I did not think it applied to my "unsaved" father. Then I got to verses 12-14. Verse 12 talked about doing the same things Jesus had done -- which seemed like a fair description of what had occurred in our meetings. Then verses 13 and 14 promise God will answer our prayers -- whatever we ask -- if we pray in Jesus' name. The Holy Spirit asked me what I'd been praying just before I left for India.
"That You would not allow my mother or my father or my husband to die before they accepted Jesus." I replied.
"Teresa," the Lord asked, "can you trust Me that I have answered this prayer, just as I promise in My word that I will?"
Hope began to dawn in my heart. Perhaps my father had turned to the Lord in the two weeks between when I last saw him and when he died. All the same, I missed him terribly, and it hurt. I began to think of our last Thanksgiving together, just three days before I left for India. It had been a wonderful time together. When he left that evening, I never dreamed it would be the last time I'd ever see him. I began to cry again.
The Lord embrased me so real that His touch was almost tangible. "Teresa," He said, "I have always been your Father. But now I am going to be more of a Father to you than you have ever experienced before."
"I began to wonder if it was ok to cry, when He was making this type of promise. Yet, I could not seem to hold back the tears. I was in a rural part of India, and it was quite difficult (plus very expensive) to make phone calls to the states. I began to wonder if I'd be able to contact my mother. I begain to wonder if I'd be able to make it home in time for the funeral. I realized that being out on the missions field might require that I miss my own father's funeral. My mind began to race with all of these questions.
"It is fitting and proper for you to grieve," the Lord said. I was so startled that I actually looked around the room to see who had said that. No one but me was in the room. Had it been an audible voice? No, but it was so clear and so distinct that it cut through my confusion and racing thoughts. "I will walk you through the grieving," the Lord said, "and I will guard your heart in the process. Do not be afraid to grieve. It is right for you to do so, but you must do so under My Spirit."
A little later, I went outside to sit on the patio. One neat thing was that there were three Indian pastors staying in the same house I was staying at. One of them came out and sat next to me.
"I am sorry about your father," he began.
"I was praying for you, and I believe the Lord has given me a verse for you." He began to share the familiar story of Paul and the Phillipian jailer. Then he shared Acts 16:31, which says, "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your household." He said that verse was explicitely for me, that because I believed the Lord would bring my father to salvation before he died.
I cannot tell you how much excellent pastoral care I received, staying at a house with three pastors. At one point, Sharath's mother came out to greet me. She did not speak any English, but words were not necessary. She gathered me into an embrace and then began crying with me. I felt so loved and so cared for. I felt so moved that this woman, who hardly knew me, would shed genuine tears for my pain and loss. It was so healing to me.
The Lord began to bring two scriptures to my mind, over and over again.
"He who loves father or mother or sister or brother more than Me is not worthy of Me"
"Let the dead bury the dead."
After a while, I began to perceive that He was telling me not to go home early for the funeral. It meant that I should not leave 2 days earlier than the team's scheduled departure. And those two days could make the difference between whether or not I got home in time for my father's funeral. That was a very hard thing He was saying to me, so I asked the Lord for confirmation. He did not give me explicit confirmation, but those verses kept running through my mind over and over again.
Later that morning, Scott, Sharath and myself took a 20 minute drive and a 10 minute boat ride to Naraspur, so we could locate a pay phone that would allow us to call the states. First, Scott called the airlines and found out that there was a light at 7:30 the next morning, that would get me home 2 days earlier than our original itenery. We were a 12 hour train ride from Madras airport. The next train would leave too late to get me to the airport in time. But if I left immediately by taxi, I should make it to the airport on time. That would cost over $100.00.
But those two verses kept running through my mind. So I stepped out on faith and elected NOT to go ahead of the team. A few hours later we learned that there was a bad monsoon between Narsapur and Madras, and the roads had all been washed out. If I had tried to go on ahead, I would have been stranded half way in route and missed the flight. In fact, I would have probably been stranded so bad that I would have missed the original Tuesday morning flight as well. I guess I heard right after all.
It took several attempts, but I was finally able to reach my mother. She was not doing very well. We spent most of our 5 minute conversation just crying into our respective telephone receivers.
When I got off the phone, I cried in Sharath's arms for another 10 minutes or so. As I said earlier, the pastoral care I got in India was excellent -- probably even better than I would have received at home. After all, I had unlimited access to three pastors. Also, Janet (one of the women on our team) sort of took me under her wing and mothered me.
We continued with our scheduled day's activities, including a visit to the home of a very high cast man. We were able to share the gospel with him and he appeared to believe in Jesus, though he was not ready to make a public profession of his faith -- which would have cost him everything he had. There seemed to be a grace on me, where I could function without visibly grieving. And the Lord continued comforting me all day and wrapping His arms of love around me.
That night, the team had a private worship service -- just the 5 American team members and the three India pastors. Scott played the guitar and we sang a bunch of vineyard worship songs. The presense of the Lord filled the room in response to our worship.
As I felt the Lord's presense increase in the room, tears began to well up within me. "This is a safe place to mourn," the Lord seemed to say. Soon I was sobbing in Janet's arms while everyone else continued to worship. The worship and the Lord's presence seemed so healing. It was almost as though the Lord was holding me in His arms. He poured comfort into my soul. Then the team members gathered around me and were praying for me. Soon I was overcome with the Lord's presense and was hardly able to stand. They helped me to lay down on the floor and the Lord's goodness seemed to settle on me. He began to speak many things to me -- things too private to share in this writeup. Later that evening, Scott came and prayed for me. He ended up praying many of the same exact things that God had been speaking to me. By the end of the evening, I felt saturated by His peace and love.
Saturday morning was an historic event -- a Christian inter-cast wedding. (This is simply not done in India -- in fact there is some danger that the bride and groom may be murdered because of this. But the Lord desires to break down dividing walls, such as the cast system, and make us one in Him. This wedding is a significant step in that direction.) The entire team, myself included, was scheduled to partisipate in the wedding ceremony.
I woke up Saturday morning, just 24 hours after I learned of my father's death. The Lord spoke to me, "Teresa, today is a day of celebration. There will be no spirit of mourning on you today, but a spirit of peace. I will even allow you to share in the joy of this occasion. But I will give you a time to mourn later on."
True to His word, there was no spirit of sadness or heaviness on me that day. I was able to partisipate in and enjoy the wedding. God's grace and favor rested on me all day.
The trip home took 90 hours and was very hard for me -- especially the not knowing if Mom was able to postpone the funeral until after I got home. I alternated between crying and being saturated in His peace. God has been with me every step of the way. He is making me walk through a hard place, but He is walking with me. He will never leave me or forsake me -- though He does call on me to count the cost and follow Him.
During the layover at JFK, I was finally able to call my mother and find out that she'd made arrangements to have the funeral after I got home. The mortuary had agreed to keep the body for an extra week so I could attend my father's funeral. (In the States, funerals are usually done 3 or 4 days after the death. My dad's funeral was 9 days afterwards.)
God continued to pour His grace and glory into the situation. Even though I knew my father had died, it did not seem quite real until I saw his body in the casket. The Lord brought me through a period of grieving and crying. I got an opportunity to say goodbye to my father. At one point, I was allowed to be alone in the mortuary with him for about 1/2 hour. During that time I said my goodbyes. I cried and the Lord seemed to be there with me, comforting me. Afterwards, I was still alone in the room and the Lord's presense increased around me. The Lord gave me an assurance that my father had infact accepted Christ before he died and was in Heaven with Him. I asked Him how this could be, since I had been told my father died instantly. The Lord said that was not correct. He said my father knew he was going to die a week before it happened and during that time he came to accept Jesus as his Savior and Lord. God enfolded me in His peace so strongly that it was not possible to disbelieve Him.
This conversation with the Lord led me to ask some questions about my father's death. It turned out he had a doctor appointment 8 days before he died where he was told he needed another open heart surgery or he would die. My father had refused that open heart surgery, even though he knew he would die without it. So, it turns out that I'd heard correct, and he did have some time where he was able to consider God and make his peace with God. The Lord has been assuring me that my Father is in heaven with Him, and that I will see him again on "that day". I would have liked it better if the Lord gave me an opportunity to interact with Dad before he died and to hear from Dad's own lips that he'd accepted Jesus. But God is telling me that He wants me to accept this on faith, to trust Him to have answered my prayers for household salvation.
As an aside, my uncle came up for the funeral. Previously he was not the nicest of people and was decidedly unsaved. But it turns out he became saved 3 years ago (shortly after the Lord promised me household salvation). He is a different person and the fruits of the spirit are evident in his life now. That was a termendous encouragement and faith-booster for me.
I am convinced that is was not an accident that the Lord allowed my father to die when I was on the mission field, half way around the world from my family. I have seen many evidences of the Lord's grace and mercy in this. I look forward to see how God will continue to pour out His grace and glory into this situation. I have counted the cost, and I am still determined to follow Him where ever He leads me.
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