“Jonathan, I’m so sorry about your grandfather.” Beth and I had traveled with some Brazilians to a wedding three days before, and those were the first words I saw when I turned on my phone to check my e-mail. Those words left me stunned and confused because the last I heard, my grandfather had been doing well in his recovery from heart surgery.
A few weeks before we left to visit Brazil in 2014, my grandfather, Pa, had undergone open-heart surgery. The surgery was considered high risk, but the surgeon had said he was a good candidate for it. His recovery had been quite slow, but the last update I’d seen the night before we left for the wedding in Divinopolis was positive. They were expecting him to be moved to a rehab unit within a few days. The internet at the church-run farm and retreat center went down during that night – meaning I had missed the flurry of iMessages, e-mails, and Facebook messages from my family first saying Pa was not doing well. These were followed by ones saying that he had passed. We didn’t learn of his passing until three and a half days later.
I’ve been blessed to know quite a few missionaries, and many of them shared stories with me about missing family events while on the field. I’d known that Beth, Miriam, and I would miss out on major family events, but there is difference between knowing it and actually experiencing it. To learn of his death was hard. To come to the realization that I would not be able to get back for the funeral was even harder. Pa was one of the most influential men in my life and it was hard not being able to be with family and say goodbye together.
Just this past week, my dad and I were talking about the cost of ministry. The verse we were discussing was Luke 14:26.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
We were discussing that Jesus isn’t literally saying that you must hate your family members, but that devotion to your family should not be put above the call to discipleship. There is a cost to being a follower of Christ, and it’s something we ought not to discount. But there is no greater joy than following the call of God.
Leading up to Pa’s funeral, I got quite a few messages from friends not only expressing their condolences but also encouraging me to get back to the U.S. so I could attend the funeral. They couldn’t understand why I would choose not to go. The best reason I can give is simply that I knew in my heart leaving Brazil at the first difficulty would only make it harder to stay the next time we would need to miss a family event. We also chose to stay because I had long talks with my family and they reminded me how proud Pa was of us following God’s call on our life. He had been excited for us to visit Brazil, and I don’t think he would have wanted us to leave early.
Just a few hours after receiving the news about Pa and making the decision to stay, Tom McCracken—a long time missionary in Brazil—pulled me aside, gave me a big hug and encouraged me that I had made the right decision. He told me it wouldn’t seem like it at the time, but that I would begin to understand as time went on.
Following God’s call is not an easy decision, and it is not one to be taken lightly. Becoming a disciple of Christ means that we commit ourselves to following the path that God lays before us. There is such great joy in living in God’s will. May we all long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”