“Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”- Ephesians 6:2-3
One of the toughest things about being in foreign missions is leaving behind loved ones. It did not take long for me to realize that life goes on for my friends and families even when I am not there. Life waits for no one and it keeps moving on until death comes along. Death has a way of making us come to a standstill and ponder life.
Last Sunday evening, my week looked like any ordinary week. We had our ministerial work planned out for the week. I had some plans to complete reading some books so that I could start on a new one. I already had ideas about my blog postings. Then Monday morning the call came. My sister called to say that my father had suffered a heart attack and was on the way to the hospital. While she was going into the details, she received another phone call. My father had passed away there and then. He was 86 years old. There was silence between us and a sense of emptiness.
My father was living in Singapore and I have been away from Singapore for twenty years. All these years, I have never lived in the same continent as my father. Yet it was comforting to know that he was in Singapore. He was part of my spiritual foundation. Now he is gone.
My father was a hardworking man, but not more so than the average person. He was a product of his time and culture. Outwardly, there was nothing spectacular about him that would set him apart from the others. Every night before he went to bed when he thought that all the children were asleep, my father would pray by himself quietly. I was born a night owl and I would stay awake and spy on my father praying. I observed how he prayed quietly and it sounded like he was mumbling some secret words. I waited for him to go to bed and I would mimic his actions. I would make soft mumbling sounds which I thought was the magic of prayer. Thankfully, I matured in my prayer life and learned how to pray, but my father was my first teacher. It was my father’s quiet spirituality that thought me to be aware of God’s presence. My father never intentionally taught us about prayer. He never tried to encourage us to pray. He did it through his actions. He just lived his life and his spirituality was the foundation of all his actions.
As a committed Catholic, he went to church every Sunday even though he was not a big fan of the Roman Catholic Church. However, he always joked about leaving the Roman Church to join the Anglican Church which horrified my mother. In his humorous way, he added fuel to the fire by threatening to take me along to the Anglican tradition. I was only seven years old then. Eventually I did join the Anglican Church and it was my father who was horrified. Then I made things worse when I told him that I wanted to be an Anglican priest ( I was 20 then). He was not happy about it but he knew that it was beyond his control. Then my mother passed away from cancer. It was during this time that my father had a change of heart. He saw my vocational calling in a different light. I discerned that my priestly vocation was leading me to the mission fields in South America and my father accepted my decision without any resistance. The day I left for missions, he asked if he could go to the airport to say goodbye. My father is not one to do things like this. However, he wanted to be there so that I would know that I am going to missions with his blessing. I left Singapore in 1993 for missionary work and I knew that I wouldn’t return to live in Singapore anymore. I knew that it would be the last time I would live on the same continent as my father. My father knew this as well, even though we never spoke about it.
The things that I remember most of my father now are those things that reflect his quiet spirituality. He was compassionate person. He had a strong sense of justice and he did not hold a grudge against anyone. He lived during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. He was traumatized by the cruelty that he had witnessed. Yet, he was not bitter against anyone. I attributed all this to the quiet time he spent in prayer. He did not ask God to change his situation or circumstances. My father prayed to be aware of God’s presence in his life. This is the legacy I received from my father. I pray everyday to be aware of God’s presence where I serve.
Francis Dass September 1,1927-February 10, 2014