Dad suffered a stroke in February 2016, which he somehow recovered well from. After 5 days of hospitalisation, he walked out of the hospital ward without aid and with just a slight impairment to his speech. I had expected him to make a full recovery in time to come but it was not to be. Between 2016 and 2018, he went through many medical procedures, the most severe being a heart by-pass in 2017, that caused him to be hospitalised for more than 2 months. With each procedure, he grew physically and cognitively weaker. It wrenched my heart to witness the degeneration on a daily basis. I cried almost every night not just because I felt the helplessness that he felt in being conscious of his degrading physical and mental faculties, but also because I lamented the pointlessness of life in the face of hardship, and questioned the love of God. Why would a God who loves allow human suffering?
In 2018, dad’s vascular dementia as a result of his stroke in 2016 had caused him to be hospitalised. Again. By then, despite the family’s best efforts, he was refusing food and drink to the point that his weight was a miserly 49kg. He was drastically underweight. At the hospital, the doctor advised that it was best that he be committed to a nursing home for round-the-clock professional management of his dementia. Reluctantly and with a huge burden of guilt, I placed him in a nursing home in Tampines. It was around that period that I realised that the runway for me to share the Gospel with my dad had been significantly shortened. The thought that he was not going to be sound-minded enough to understand the Gospel or be coherent enough to profess with his own tongue his acceptance of Christ as his personal Saviour, gave me many sleepless nights and grieving tears. My prayers were long and conversations with God involved many difficult questions. I could not understand how salvation could be granted to the penitent criminal or the terminally ill, but not to my dad. It did not seem fair that dad was given over to eternal condemnation because he suffered from dementia and was unable to coherently and knowingly repent and accept Christ as his personal Saviour.
It was a year of struggling at the edge of the cliff and clinging on to the cleft in the Rock with the tips of my fingers. I nearly fell. Eventually, there was a breakthrough, although at that time I did not realise it to be so. I drew strength from John 11 and constantly prayed that just as Jesus had called Lazarus out of his death, He would call dad out of his dementia. If God had power over death, then He had power over a dysfunctional brain. I also boldly asked that God would grant the ability for my dad to declare his acceptance of Christ in a clear and absolute manner, so that no one could doubt his decision. Everyone had to be sure so that his relatives would not eventually insist on a Taoist funeral or a hybrid form that involved mixed rituals.
A week before the Christmas Hokkien Gospel service in 2018, I asked dad if he would like to attend the service at CMC with me. To my surprise, he said ‘Okay, ask your mother to attend too, lah!” And so on 22 December 2018, I booked a private ambulance to take dad to CMC. Both my parents stepped into a church compound with me for the very first time. During that service, Rev Oh Beng Kee asked the audience if they knew where their end-of-life destination was. My dad’s dementia was held at bay as the message was delivered. He gave full attention to the speaker. On 26 Jan 2019, my parents made a second visit to CMC. It was the day before my dad’s 80th birthday. My Care Group celebrated his birthday with him at the fellowship deck before we attended the Hokkien Service. At the end of the service, I pushed my dad in his wheelchair to Rev Oh, told him that it was my dad’s birthday the next day, and requested for a prayer of blessing. Rev Oh prayed for him, and then asked dad about his message and whether he would like to believe in Christ. Unexpectedly, dad exclaimed loudly and spontaneously in one joyful burst “I believe 100%!” Immediately my mum, whose salvation I had also been praying for, came forward and also accepted Christ as her Saviour. What a beautiful birthday present from God our Father!
Just like that, the dark cloud lifted and divine light pierced through. Dad’s reply to the Reverend was a direct answer to my prayer for undoubtable salvation. On their third visit to the Hokkien service on 2 February 2019, three days before the Chinese New Year, both my parents were baptised by Rev Vincent Goh. It was the happiest day of my life! I literally heard beautiful music playing in my ears for one whole month after that baptism service.
So the 3-year period of suffering and pain leading to my parents’ salvation had not been in vain. I now better understand what the saints in the Book of Acts meant in Acts 14:22, that “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” I also came to observe that many people carry the burden of praying for their parents’ salvation and would like to share the following personal learning points with you:
1. Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit and not our flesh
I learnt this the hard way. As my dad steadily lost his mental faculties at the hospital, he began to converse in his mother tongue, Hainanese. It was a language that I did not speak, yet for every question that I asked, he replied in the dialect. In desperation, I looked around for a Hainanese pastor and found one who spoke with my dad at the ward without much progress, simply because dad’s heart was not ready for the message. When dad finally accepted Christ, it was not because the truth had been spoken to him in his mother tongue but because the Holy Spirit had spoken directly to his heart and spirit. Because of the way it happened, no family member could lay claim that dad came to Christ by our fleshly efforts. As Jesus says in John 6:44 - “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
2. Interceding for our parents’ salvation involves spiritual warfare
On one occasion, I was at work. The Hainanese pastor called me at 12 noon to inform me that he was visiting my dad at the nursing home at 4pm and so I determined to be there too. Fifteen minutes later, I received a call from the nursing home to inform me that dad had to be conveyed to a hospital. He had a small wound on his finger that had developed into a big abscess that needed surgery. The meeting with the pastor was cancelled and I ended up taking urgent leave from work to be at the A & E with dad. That evening as I headed home from the hospital, still thinking about how to arrange another visit by the same pastor, my car was hit in the rear, while it was stationary on a slip road, waiting for on-coming traffic to clear before entering the main road. I ended up at the car workshop the next morning. By the end of the two days, I was physically and emotionally so drained of energy that I could not do any arrangements. Had I been more spiritually alert and aware at that time, I would have recognised all the signs of an enemy attack. In busily reacting to the flurry of physical misadventures and fallouts that came my way, I did not take heed of Ephesians 6:12 and stop to pray. I fought on the wrong front.
3. Standing in the gap for our parents involves personal costs
At that time, my desire for my parents’ salvation was so strong that my constant plea with God was that if He would grant salvation to them, I was willing to bear their suffering in hell. The thought of them not understanding why they were in eternal fire was so anguishing that I wished to take their places. I could stand it better. Or so I thought. God took my word for it and tested me deeply in many unusual and unexpected ways. I suffered much physical, emotional and spiritual distress and injury throughout that year in wrestling with faith. When God graciously granted salvation to my parents, I realised that their journey to redemption had been long for my sake as much as for theirs, and so that God’s glory was magnified in a greater manner. A few years later I learnt that Moses and the apostle Paul had prayed the same prayer in Exodus 32:32 and Romans 9:3 respectively. For the sake of their people’s salvation, they were willing to give up their own. I am sure God loves us too much to demand our eternal life in Him as ransom for our parents, but the question remains - what price are we willing to pay for the salvation of those whom we love?
4. Praying on our knees for our parents means total surrender to God’s sovereignty
One night in the midst of a teary prayer, I had to answer this question from God – “If I do not grant salvation to your parents, will you still love Me? Or do you love your parents more than you love Me?” It shook me to be reminded that God was absolutely sovereign and He had the right to grant or not grant what we humanly thought was a good thing. It was also humbling that God pointed straight into my heart to ask if I loved Him only because I could use Him to satisfy a personal desire of the moment. By His grace, I was eventually able to say “God, they are yours. I’m sorry to think that they are mine. May your Name be glorified and your Will be done in all that happens to them and me.”
Today, my dad still resides in the nursing home. He nearly died on 23 Apr 2020 when he was admitted to the hospital during the Circuit Breaker, but was miraculously healed. It is another heart-thumping testimony to share on another occasion. If you were to converse with him now, you will not think that he suffers from dementia. God has renewed both his spirit and body. He speaks with clear reason and profiles his fellow residents and ward nurses as “Christian” with great interest. Once he contacted me over the phone from the nursing home. During the conversation, he said “You talk to my friend here! He wants to know how to become a Christian!” Another time he insisted that the nursing home played “good Christian music” over the air. As for my mum, on the morning after her baptism, she went round her neighbourhood wet-market declaring her new status in Christ and that no one should implore her to buy lottery on their behalf ever again! She now tells troubled friends to pray with a pastor. Their faith in God is that of a child’s - simple and true. Indeed, as is said in 2 Cor 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” All praise and thanks be to our Lord God forever!
An abridged version of this testimony was published in Salt & Light, in July 2021.
A brief version in Chinese was published in Christian Daily (Taiwan) in Aug 2021.