How you can minister to an unbelieving parent.
Don sat, closed his eyes, and breathed the fresh air. Although the worn out bench was hard and uncomfortable, it was his soul that felt splintered and tattered. He had spent the morning in a Bulgarian orphanage, laughing, playing and singing with dozens of children. They called him “dyado,” translated, “grandfather.”
He was 90-years old, successful, wealthy, and a leader in a “socially conscious” congregation. Just a few days earlier, his daughter Peggy had stopped by his home to visit. She came to say goodbye before leaving on a short-term mission team to Eastern Europe.
“I wish I could go to Bulgaria,” he told her as she started to leave.His words must have sounded ridiculous, but he persisted. “I’ve been around the world, but never to Bulgaria. I really would like to go to Bulgaria with you.”
The request was unimaginable, yet inescapable. Peggy hesitated, wondering how she could possibly consider taking her non-believing, elderly, father on a Baptist mission trip. God intervened. Less than 72-hours later he was on a plane crossing the sea.
His life would never be the same.
An older woman joined him on the bench. Also a member of the team, she chatted about her experience in the orphanage. Sensing his openness, she began to talk about Jesus. The mention of Jesus’ name was like a salve on rough, broken skin. Dow thirsted for more.
Peggy watched from a distance as her father’s salvation story began to unfold. While tempted to join the conversation to assure everything said was doctrinally sound and correct, her place now was off stage. It was sacred ground. Since meeting Jesus as a teenager, she yearned for her dad’s salvation. Their long, challenging and honest discussions about faith, reason, science, and social justice hung as a backdrop to this quiet conversation between two old people sitting on a Bulgarian bench.
God answered Peggy’s prayers. Don followed Christ late in life.
This story is a beautiful account of one daughter’s concern for her aging father and God’s answer to her prayers. Many Boomers share similar uneasiness regarding their parents’ salvation. Not all stories will have such redemptive endings as Peggy’s, but there are things we can do as we “watch and wait.”
Bathe your parents in prayer, believing God will intervene in their lives in His time. Adult children should not push their way into their parents’ lives and faith decisions, instead, they should step back, give space, and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.
Show love and compassion.
Bill tells of his 92-year old dad—a strict,retired Navy Captain. As his father’s health declined, Bill became increasingly concerned about his salvation. Every night Bill rubbed his father’s cracked and hardened feet with oils. Eventually, not only his feet softened, so did his heart. While in hospice and nearing death, Bill’s dad placed his faith in Jesus.
Nurture your relationship.
Listening to and sharing life stories can lead to conversation about faith. Pastor Dave Passey suggests, “If your parent was sure to get you to church or Sunday School, thank them. Ask why it was important. Inquire about their church experiences. Prompt stories about their faith journey.”
Be sensitive in vulnerable moments.
Times of fear, loss, pain, illness, and death of family members or friends are often opportunities to engage parents in conversations about spiritual matters. Recently widowed and in a strange, new environment, Peggy’s dad was deeply moved by all he had experienced. He was open to hearing the gospel.
Invite others to step in.
God used a peer to introduce Peggy’s dad to Jesus. Bill’s father accepted the Lord when a pastor visited him in a hospice center. God may send a chaplain, ministry leader, relative or friend to share the good news. Be open to allowing others into the lives of parents. In fact, invite them!
Six years after the Bulgarian bench encounter, Peggy’s dad died. She misses hearing his stories, discussing confounding questions, and praying for him. Recently, she talked to the woman who initiated the life-changing bench conversation. “When you get to heaven,” she told her, “my dad will be there!”
Be encouraged that your prayer for your parent’s salvation “pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3-4 HCSB)
written by Leona Bergstrom, Director, Re-Ignite
Copyright 2016 Re-Ignite
Photo courtesy of CanStock © Bialasiewicz