“Who is this crazy man?” asked my astonished seventeen-year-old son as we watched my father attempt to climb a coconut tree. I simply shook my head and raised my shoulders, too clueless to answer. Only moments before, while taking in the beauty of the coconut-laden trees of the foreign countryside, our local guide explained the amount of agility and training required to become a professional harvester. Before we knew it, dad approached a tree, and decided to prove our guide wrong. As the young climbers laughed, the others unsuccessfully tried to coax dad away from the tree. My son’s eyebrows arched, his mouth dropped open, and his arms flew into the air before uttering his disbelief. This side of the man he called Pop-pop was a stranger.
We never lived close to my parents. Visits required a two-day drive each way, so time with them was limited. One summer, we spent six weeks with them, the longest time we all have ever had together.
Before visiting, we always knew dad’s schedule. His store operated Monday through Saturday under his watchful eye. He returned exhausted and hungry, would kiss mom hello, and expect dinner to be waiting. Though dinner discussions were always lively, the topics rarely interested the children. After dinner, dad watched Wheel of Fortune from his recliner. Not one for confusion or noise, he especially wanted quiet during his favorite show. However, he rarely was awake when the show ended.
Mom would play cards with the children at the kitchen table, repeatedly asking them to lower their voices so Pop-pop could rest. We never doubted how much he loved all of us; we just understood his business was demanding and his health poor. On Sundays, he spent time with the family, in-between church, yard-work, and house repairs. He had a reputation as a hard worker with little time for anything else.
Yet in my son’s senior year of high school, dad left everything to return to the land of his first missions’ trip, twenty years earlier. My husband, children, and I accompanied him. The coconut tree-climbing stunt proved to be the first of many new challenges our patriarch would chose to embrace during that trip. He even tried crossing a stream by walking on a log, but fell in. With each passing day, he became more spontaneous and unpredictable. He laughed until his sides ached, cried because his heart ached. My son wasn’t the only one asking, “Who is this crazy man?” He astonished us with his new persona.
The man that demanded cleanliness graciously sat on the ground to eat with locals. Usually particular about food quality, he drank coffee with ants floating in his cup. For someone who generally was not affectionate, except with mom, he hugged a leper girl and her untouchable mother. The person that hated confusion and noise, walked among huge crowds of natives boldly praising God to music blaring over a primitive sound system. A man who insisted on being early, repeatedly caused us to be late as he stopped to give money to beggars along the way. The hot, humid climate, lack of private comfortable accommodations, and poor diet, only seemed to energize him. His health was never better, nor his countenance more radiant.
My children heard my father preach for the first time. They watched, as a stone plaque engraved with his name became part of an orphanage wall. On his 60th birthday, they witnessed a parade of orphans march past him, saluting the man that helped to build the only home they had ever known. They listened as his voice cracked, trying to thank the children and leaders for honoring him. He was embarrassed, feeling he didn’t deserve recognition. My children realized it was a privilege to be his blood grandchildren as they heard orphan children lovingly call him grandpa.
Before returning home, we all knew the answer to the question, “Who is this crazy man?” He was a hard worker with a soft heart. He silently and selflessly supported many orphans. He wasn’t crazy after all, but faithfully serving God.
When my father died, friends, customers, church members, and family gathered. People came thinking they knew dad* until the missionary shared slides and stories of him. Everyone sat amazed by his private other side.
Watching my son, a minister, and pallbearer at the funeral, I was proud he had experienced the influence of his Pop-pop’s other side, the man who loved God and was known by Him.
*“The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know. 3) But the man who loves God is known by God.” Corinthians 8:2-3 (NIV)
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