Time was running out … Would her dad say yes to Christ before dementia claimed his mind?
Luisa Teng // July 27, 2021, 10:16 am
The thought of her father not being sound-minded enough to understand the Gospel or coherent enough to profess his acceptance of Christ gave the author many sleepless nights and tears of grief. Then God opened the way. Guiding her parents in prayer at their baptism – on their third visit to the Hokkien service at Christ Methodist Church – were Rev Oh Beng Kee (left) and Ps Alvin Tay. All photos courtesy of Luisa Teng.
Dad suffered a stroke in February 2016. After five days in hospital, he walked out of the 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 between 2016 and 2018, he went through many medical procedures. The most severe was a heart bypass in 2017 that saw him hospitalised for more than two months.
I boldly asked God to grant my dad the ability to declare his acceptance of Christ in a clear manner.
With each procedure, he grew physically and cognitively weaker. It wrenched my heart to witness the degeneration day after day.
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 was hospitalised. Again. This time because of vascular dementia – a result of his stroke in 2016.
Despite the family’s best efforts, he was refusing food and drink to the point that he weighed just 49kg.
The doctor advised that it was best to commit him to a nursing home for round-the-clock professional care.
Reluctantly and with a huge burden of guilt, I placed him in a nursing home in Tampines.
Clinging to the Rock with my fingertips
It hit me that the runway 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 coherent enough to profess with his own tongue his acceptance of Christ as his personal Saviour, gave me many sleepless nights and tears of grief.
If God had power over death, then He had power over a dysfunctional brain.
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 perhaps not to my dad.
It did not seem fair that Dad would be given over to eternal condemnation because he was unable to coherently and knowingly repent.
I went through a year of struggling at the edge of the cliff and clinging to the cleft in the Rock with the tips of my fingers.
I drew strength from John 11 and constantly prayed that just as Jesus had called Lazarus out of his death, He would call my dad out of his dementia.
If God had power over death, then He had power over a dysfunctional brain. I also boldly asked God to grant my dad the ability to declare his acceptance of Christ in a clear and absolute manner.
“I believe 100%!”
Then an opportunity came for me to invite Dad to my church – Christ Methodist Church (CMC). I asked if he would like to attend the Christmas Hokkien service with me.
To my surprise, he said: “Okay, ask your mother to attend too, lah!”
And so in December 2018, both my parents stepped into a church compound for the very first time.
During that service, Rev Oh Beng Kee asked those gathered if they knew where they would go when their earthly lives were over.
My dad’s dementia was held at bay as the message was delivered. He gave his full attention to the speaker.
Their faith in God is that of a child’s – simple and true.
About a month later on January 26, 2019 – the day before Dad’s 80th birthday – my parents made a second visit to CMC. My care group celebrated his birthday with him before we attended the Hokkien service.
At the end of the service, I pushed my dad, in his wheelchair, to Rev Oh. I requested a prayer of blessing and told him that it was Dad’s birthday the next day.
After praying for him, Rev Oh asked Dad if he would like to believe in Christ.
Unexpectedly, Dad exclaimed loudly and spontaneously in one joyful burst: “I believe 100%!”
On hearing that, Mum, whose salvation I had also been praying for, immediately came forward and 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.
On their third visit to the Hokkien service – three days before Chinese New Year – my parents were baptised by Rev Vincent Goh. It was the happiest day of my life.
A childlike faith
Mum, on the morning after her baptism, went round her neighbourhood wet-market declaring her new status in Christ. She also said that no one should implore her to buy lottery tickets on their behalf ever again. She now advises troubled friends to pray with a pastor.
Today, Dad still resides in the nursing home.
If you were to chat with him, you would not think that he suffers from dementia.
God has renewed his spirit and body. He speaks with clear reason and points out fellow residents and ward nurses who are “Christian” with great interest.
Once he phoned me from the nursing home and said: “You talk to my friend here! He wants to know how to become a Christian!”
My parents’ faith in God is like that of a child’s – simple and true.
Indeed, as is said in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.
If you are praying for your parents' salvation
Lessons I learnt from my journey:
1. Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit
I learnt this the hard way. As my dad steadily lost his mental faculties, he began to speak in his mother tongue, Hainanese, which I do not speak. For every question that I asked, he would reply in the dialect.
In desperation, I looked around for a Hainanese-speaking pastor and found one. He visited my dad in hospital and spoke with him. They did not make much progress, simply because Dad’s heart was not ready for the message.
While the truth had been spoken to him in his mother tongue, the real key was the Holy Spirit speaking directly to his heart and spirit when Dad finally accepted Christ. 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. Fight on the right front
On one occasion, I was at work when the Hainanese pastor called me at noon. He wanted to inform me that he would be visiting my dad at the nursing home at 4pm. I was 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 hospital. A small wound on his finger 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 A&E with Dad.
That evening as I was driving home from the hospital, thinking about how to arrange for the same pastor to visit, my car was hit from the rear – while stationary on a slip road, waiting to enter the main road. I ended up at the car workshop the next morning.
By the end of the two days, I was so drained physically and emotionally that I could not make any arrangements for the pastor to visit.
Had I been more spiritually alert and aware, I would have recognised the signs of the enemy’s attack.
In 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. Total surrender to God’s sovereignty
One night in the midst of a teary prayer, I had to answer this question from God: “Whatever happens to your parents, will you still love Me? Or do you love your parents more than you love Me?”
It shook me as I was reminded that God was absolutely sovereign. 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.”
If you would like a free copy of Life of an Intercessor (written by Ester Tanumihardjo, edited by Luisa Teng), send your mailing address to [email protected]. Postage will be included for Singapore addresses. One copy per address; limited copies available.