It can be tough trying to tell your parents about a faith they didn’t raise you in! This is a true story of a 99 year old grandfather who came to faith weeks before he died, thanks to the prayers and sensitive approaches of his son and daughter-in-law.
David had been raised in a close-knit family with an upper middle class lifestyle and value system. His father was a successful businessman with an international reputation, and his mother a professor of Middle European culture and languages. When he became a Christian at university his parents thought it was a passing phase that would eventually wear out, but instead David married Marianne, a fellow Christian, and they went on to have four children, all of whom became believers before their teens.
When David first tried to share his faith with his parents, they made it clear that they were not at all interested, even when he and Marianne took on leading roles with an international evangelical ministry. They became fond grandparents who visited regularly, so there were natural opportunities for the couple to talk about their work. They became even closer to his father after David’s mother died unexpectedly, but, although they prayed regularly, there seemed to be no change in his attitude – not a glimmer of interest. Except, one day, when he said that the best evidence for their faith was the way their children had turned out and, on another occasion, mentioned to a family friend that this Jesus seemed to have come at an odd time in history.
David’s father lived for 25 years after his wife’s death and attended two of his granddaughter’s weddings. They too, shared their faith with him. He was a gentle man and always listened courteously, but there seemed to be no way of moving him out of his own worldview.
As he grew frailer, it looked that he would die without knowing Jesus. In his late nineties, he broke a hip and went into hospital. He made an unexpectedly good recovery but then caught an infection, and the family were warned that he would probably die. David and Marianne remember sitting in their car outside the hospital crying and praying. Amazingly, he didn’t die, but lived his last year in an excellent nursing home. He loved having his grandchildren and children visit, and although he would listen when they talked about Jesus to him, the Gospel was still a closed book. Still, they prayed, and specifically asked the Holy Spirit to convict him (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Then, during a visit, Marianne sensed that the Holy Spirit was present, creating an opportunity. She asked her father-in-law, “Can I talk to you about Jesus? Would that be OK?” He nodded and said that it was. She was able to talk freely about Jesus’ death on the Cross to take away our sin, and how because He rose again, through Jesus we have eternal life. She asked him if he would like to ask Jesus to be his Saviour, and he said clearly, that he would. They prayed together, and she and David drove home with peace in their hearts. His father died a few weeks later.
The journey to faith with a parent is not always a long one like this, but in David’s story there are some factors that are essential to witnessing to a parent, that apply to all children and their parents (whether elderly or not!):
- David and Marianne always honoured his father (Exodus 20:12): They would wait for the Holy Spirit to make an opportunity to talk to him. They never argued their case, preventing him from building resistance and hardening his heart. They showed respect.
- What they said matched what they did: Older people’s beliefs are more ‘evidence based’ than the younger generation. David’s father was influenced by the outcome of David’s faith – his children’s lives.
- They witnessed within a sound relationship: David and Marianne and their children had a good relationship with his father. Effective evangelism comes through sound relationships with older people. If a relationship is fraught the parent is less likely to listen.
- They prayed continuously, even when nothing seemed to be happening: David and Marianne, and later their children, never gave up – they prayed continuously for him.
- They loved him: Although it was a long journey, their story is an example of how love never fails (1 Corinthians 13: 8-11).