When I became a believer in Jesus in 1973, I immediately wanted to go visit my parents to share my newfound faith with them. I had a tremendous desire and concern for my family to know Jesus. However, they told me I was not welcome to visit them and that they hoped my faith was simply a fad, like a new piece of clothing or a new hairstyle—something that I would tire of eventually.
Four years later, my wife Jan and I called my parents while we were in their hometown of Richland, Washington. They invited us to visit them but while it was cold outside, it seemed even colder inside their home that afternoon. It was the only time I can ever remember that my mother didn’t offer us anything thing to eat. My father announced, You broke with Jewish tradition by believing in Jesus. It’s obvious that this is not a passing fad, since you have dedicated your life to telling others what you believe. Therefore, we do not want to have anything further to do with you. Do not write, do not call, and do not visit us ever again! If you write, we will throw away your letters. If you call, we will hang up. And if you come to visit, we will close the door on you.”
Over the next decade my wife Jan and I had three children, and I wished my parents could see them, but our occasional attempts to break the wall of silence always met swift rejection.
Then, in 1990, my brother Dennis told me that my father had cancer and that he had no plans to seek medical treatment. When the pain became unbearable, Dad intended to end his life.
I’ll never forget May 22, 1990. I’d just finished speaking at a conference near Boston. The moment I closed with prayer someone handed me an urgent message from Dennis. He had tracked me down to tell me that our father had swallowed a bottle of pills in an attempt to take his life that morning. He was still alive, but time was running out. I drove straight to the Boston airport.
Ten hours later Dennis met me at the airport in Washington with a message from my parents, telling me to get on the next plane to Boston because I was not welcome. They just wanted me to leave them alone.
Dennis and I went to a motel. The following day, I knew I had to try to see my father again. So at 4:00 P.M. on May 23, 1990, I did something I hadn’t done in fourteen years: I rang my parents’ doorbell. The lights were out, the front gate was padlocked and there were no vehicles in the driveway. Still, I rang the bell, knowing I had to try. No response. I stood there, waiting. A couple of minutes passed, and the garage door swung open. Out walked my brother, looking utterly mystified. “I don’t understand it, with all that has happened in the past, they have decided to see you now!”
I entered the living room, and my father struggled out of his chair. I remembered Dad with jet-black hair and eyes that danced with merriment. Now he was aged beyond his years and wracked with pain. No words were spoken as I crossed the room. With tears in our eyes, we hugged for the longest time. I had prayed for reconciliation, and God had answered. We were a family again!
I told my parents of the many cities in which we’d lived, and of course I showed pictures of our (now) five beautiful children. My mother was astonished. Her comment was, “You know what, Steven? It seems like your faith in Jesus has made you even more Jewish!” By the end of our visit, Mom and Dad said I was welcome to telephone them and welcome to come back, but they did not want me to bring up the issue of Jesus in their presence.
It was clear that Dad was doing better, so I returned to Boston and kept praying for another person to witness to him. Jan and I were preparing to move to Ft. Lauderdale right after Thanksgiving, 1990, and around that time Dad finally decided to go into a hospital. I flew out to see him one last time.
I spent four days with my father. He was on a morphine drip to control the pain, but other than this there was little that could be done. I helped him shave, shared meals with him and we spoke of what life would be like for the family after he died. Still, he would not hear from me about the life-giving message of Jesus.
I returned home, and soon after, on Thanksgiving morning at 1:30 a.m., Jan and I were jarred awake by the telephone. It was my cousin, Susan.
Susan had come to faith in Jesus in the late 1980s. She and my dad were close, so I occasionally asked her to speak to him about Jesus. Susan was somewhat apprehensive; she didn’t know what to say or how to go about it.
Yet in those early hours on Thanksgiving Day, Susan called to tell me that she had done it—she told the gospel to my father. “Uncle Bobbie,” she had said, “God loves you very much. He sent Jesus, our Messiah, to die for you so that you could have eternal life. Wouldn’t you want to receive God’s free gift of eternal life?”
Her voice dropped down to a whisper, “And do you know what, Steven? He said, ‘Yes.’ I prayed with him right there in the hospital room to receive God’s gift of salvation!” “Praise the Lord,” was all I could say, and I was so overwhelmed that it’s a wonder I could even say that much!
The next morning I had my last conversation with Dad. I called him to rejoice in his coming to faith and to let him know how much I loved him and how glad I was to know that I would see him in heaven. At the end of our call, Dad assured me that though he had only a few days left on earth, he knew he would spend eternity with the Lord. I was so very thankful on that Thanksgiving Day!
During the three-day journey from Boston to Ft. Lauderdale, we were out of touch with the world. When we arrived in Florida, I called my mother. Her first words were, “Have you spoken with your brother yet?” I hadn’t. She hesitated, then said, “I had hoped he would be the one to let you know that your father died on Monday.”
It was then that I told Mother about Dad’s commitment to Yeshua. Her response was, “If that helped him in his last days, then so be it.” Later on, an attending nurse who was at my father’s bedside when he died told me, “Minutes before your father died, he sat straight up in bed with a glorious smile on his face and said, ‘I’m starting my journey home to God now.’ Then he lay down in peace and entered into the presence of the Lord.”
—Steve Cohen is the founder of The Apple of His Eye, based in St Louis.