Two weeks ago, I received a phone call while sitting in an airport waiting for a flight. I recognized his voice immediately; it was my friend Carl.
“Hello there Peter, it’s Carl.”
“Hi there Carl, it’s good to hear from you”
“I have you on my list of many people to call. There’s something I need to tell you and the news isn’t all that good. I have only a short time to live.”
The news came like a bombshell. “Carl,” I replied gently, “what happened?”
Carl unravelled the whole story. Some melanoma growths appeared on his body a few years ago which were removed. He went in for check-ups regularly after that, but unbeknownst to everyone, the melanoma was spreading. They found it in his lymph nodes in his neck. Carl was then operated on and a large number of those nodes were taken out. That was eight weeks ago.
They sent Carl home to recuperate. But Carl didn’t recuperate. In fact, he got worse.
His wife Rina saw that something wasn’t right. But when she tried telling the medical personal about this all she got was, “It’s just post-op depression. He’ll come right.” His condition deteriorated even more. Finally, with some advice from some friends, she got their attention. Carl was brought back in and a full scan was done. A very aggressive form of cancer was growing in his liver and spleen. It was terminal.
Life expectancy: approximately 3 weeks.
Carl had been a hard worker all his life. He ate well and lived a healthy lifestyle. He was looking forward to a new season in his life of slowing down and spending more time with his family. One of his dreams was taking a river cruise with his wife in Europe. They had even booked the trip. Carl had also just received his gold card. The first time he got to use it wasn’t for travel, but his operation.
But it gets even more difficult. At the time of this news, his two sons were overseas along with their wives and young children – one working and living in Holland and the other on holiday in Canada. They both had to be notified: “You need to get home.”
While Carl was telling me all this, my mind was reeling. I knew this family well. They were very close and all loved Jesus. Still, this would rock them. More importantly, how was Carl himself holding up? Would his faith in God and hope in the gospel be strong enough to endure this? Carl answered that in the next part of the conversation:
“Peter, I absolutely for sure, for sure know where I am going. I am going to be with the Lord. I am going home. That’s not a concern. My concern is for those I know who aren’t. So while I still have a clear head and I can think straight, I’m calling them all one by one.”
Carl had phoned his mother and brother and sister in Holland. For many years he had tried to tell them about Jesus and why he came, but they didn’t want to listen. Now, things were different. Carl was dying. They were ready to listen.
Then Rina got on the phone. She told me about all the visits they were having. Carl is an engineer in a large company, so he has many co-workers who know him. They have all made a special trip to come and see him. As they come in, one by one, he has them sit down and then for 30-40 minutes, he shares with them how they can get to heaven. No one argues. No one gets up and walks out. They all stay and listen. “Peter,” she said, “I’ve never seen Carl like this. He has always struggled with witnessing and finding the right words to talk about God. But you should see him now! I’m absolutely amazed.”
Something very special was happening here. This wasn’t a tragic tale about a friend who was dying. God was at work. Carl’s prayers were being answered. He wanted to be a better witness for Jesus. Now at last, he was – and in a more powerful way than he could ever have imagined. Carl was using his cancer for the glory of God. Through his slow and painful suffering, others were hearing the message of life.
When the phone call ended, I sat there for a few moments in the airport staring through the windows outside. This is what life is really about, I thought. It’s about people. It’s about relationships. It’s about knowing for absolute sure whether or not we are going to heaven and helping others find their way there also. Carl has a few weeks; others may have a few years. Sooner or later, everyone’s time will be up. Like someone said to me once: “We’re all sitting in the departure lounge. It’s just a matter of what flight you’re on” (which was somewhat ironic considering where I was sitting at that time). How is it that we all get so busy, we don’t have time to think about what matters most?
I was still in deep thought when an announcement came through the speakers. “Last call for flight 8239 to Wellington. Passengers must board immediately.” I grabbed my bag and water bottle. I didn’t want to miss my flight.
When I arrived home, I booked a flight for the next week to Auckland so I could go and see Carl. It seemed the fitting thing to do. It was possible he wouldn’t make it until then, or his condition would deteriorate to the point I wouldn’t be able to talk with him. Too bad, I thought. I’m going to trust God and take the chance.
I’m so glad I did. He was alert and very pleased to see me. We had a beautiful time together, talking about many things – his family, his work colleagues, and the many conversation he’s been able to have with people. Rina was there alongside of me, constantly adjusting his bed and pillows so he could be comfortable. The pain levels were increasing, and so was the medication in order to cope with it. We read some scripture together and prayed and then let him rest. I stayed a while to talk with Rina and the other members of the family. Many tears had been shed and many more would in the next few days.
Regardless of the strength of your faith, death is still death. It’s distressing. It’s painful. The greater the love, the deeper the sense of loss. But Jesus provides a comfort deep enough to match it. He understands death. He knows. He was there.
After dinner, Carl asked if we could sing. We stood around his bed and sung together – “I Know Whom I Have Believed.” Here are some of the words:
I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
But “I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.
While we sung, Carl closed his eyes and listened. He knew whom He believed. He is the same One who imparted saving faith and brought peace to his heart. He is the One who redeemed Carl for his own. He was the One walking with Carl right then and there, through the vale of the shadow of death.
It suddenly dawned on me – in a very real sense Carl wasn’t going to Jesus. Jesus was there with him (and with us all), in that very room. Carl would soon see him. His faith would become sight. And then he will finally be, home.