Sometimes, a single phone call can change your whole life . . . and change it forever. In June of 1995, we all knew “the call” was coming, and prepared ourselves as best we could. In many ways we had had a lifetime to prepare for it as we observed Mum and Dad walk with God in light of eternity, but this felt different, for now Dad was preparing to take the final step. He had been sick off and on for some time, and this time we knew that he would not be getting better.
Still, as ready as we were, and as ready as Dad was, the phone calls still seemed to stop the rotation of earth, dislodging everything that seemed immovable. Steve remembers it this way:
I was living in Clermont, a small country town in North Queensland, approximately 12 hours’ drive from Mum and Dad in Brisbane. The call came in the early hours of the morning. It was my brother Rob. He said it was time to come home; Dad might not have long to live. Things that seemed so important and urgent only a few hours before were dropped and forgotten. We quickly threw some essentials in the car and began a desperate dash across the Australian plains and down the coast. Odd, but even after a lifetime together, there was so much I wanted to say . . . so many things to tell him “thank you” for. As the road and the hours slipped away, I hoped (for my sake) that he would stay a little longer. I wanted to see him one last time before his “promotion to glory”; but more importantly, I wanted to hug my dad goodbye.
As we sped through the day, I thought of my father’s attributes and his ways. There was much to contemplate, but two things kept coming back to mind: his commitment to God’s Word, and his challenge to me to be a man of that Word. A few weeks earlier he and Mum had visited us in Clermont and presented me with a copy of Willmington’s Guide to the Bible. Inscribed in the front cover was the last piece of writing I would ever receive from my father:
To Stephen and Trish, with love from Mum and Dad.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
We arrived in Brisbane in record-breaking time. Dad had stabilized somewhat, and it would turn out that I would have one whole week with my father. Together with my other brothers and sisters, we laughed and cried and prayed; talking about so many blessings, remembering so many things from the years past. During this blessed week I was able to hear my father telling me of his confidence in the eternal glory, and his pleasure in the Lord in his life on earth. The days drifted by as we all waited for the time that the Lord would lovingly take my father into the gates of heaven. There was, however, a notable absence. Kenny was not with us, and because of the bond that our family has together in the Lord Jesus, we all desperately felt this absence.
In the few hours before that appointed moment, I had the opportunity to talk to Dad just one more time. In the waiting room, with the rest of the family taking turns with him, I awaited with uncertainty to have my last conversation with Dad. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what I wanted to say to him—because I knew that exactly—more concerning to me was whether I would be able to get the words out beyond the massive lump that had suddenly formed in my throat.
My turn came, and I looked at my brothers and sisters with a feeling of despair, and went into Dad’s room. Mum was at his side weeping and kissing his hand. I looked in his eyes, choked back the tears and said “Dad, I want to promise you that I will try my best to be a godly leader in my family and bring up my children for the Lord the same way you did for us.” With his oxygen mask on he had no way to give me a clear verbal response, but the joy on his face will be burned into my memory for the rest of my days—and every time I remember it, I will remember my promise not only to him, but to God. I gave him that hug, kissed him on his forehead, and left the room, returning to the loving embrace and tears of my brothers and sisters in the waiting room.
A short time later, Dad entered eternity and embraced the One whom he had believed, loved, and served by faith.
As Steve and my siblings in Australia escorted Dad to the threshold of eternal life, I was sitting in a hotel room in Indianapolis, Indiana. The call came on the 9th of June. It was my brother Robert. The news grabbed my heart and I sank onto the bed, doing my best just to breathe. So many things were flashing through my mind, but it was like being in a daze. Nothing connected. In my room and outside my window, everything appeared to be the same, but with that one brief phone call, everything was different.
The phone rang once more—it was the local Christian radio station calling for an interview to promote the seminar I was speaking at. I answered the questions and tried to act as my normal self, but nothing felt normal. As if on autopilot, I picked up my briefcase and walked across the road and parking lot to the Indianapolis Convention Center. It seemed like such a long walk, almost as if time had stopped completely. I took a deep breath, entered the auditorium, took my place at the podium in front of hundreds of people, and somehow began my lecture. . . .
Dad and I had talked many times over the years as to what I should do if he were to die while I was conducting a seminar. Knowing my father was seriously ill, I could have cancelled the seminar and traveled home (36 hours usually, including around 20 hours of flying). Dad had told me on more than one occasion that he had trained us to love God’s Word and there was nothing more important than to tell people about Christ. He said, “Kenneth, if I die there’s really no point in coming back, because I won’t be here. It will be more important to preach God’s Word so others can join me in heaven.”
So I had decided to stay and speak at the seminar—this is what my father would want and I wanted to honor his request. By the grace of God, I was able to complete my messages that day and over the next several days.
Meanwhile, a burial service for family and close friends was conducted at the cemetery a few miles from our family home. A close friend videotaped the service so I could view it later. When the seminars were complete, Mally and I boarded a plane with our children and flew to Australia for a special memorial service for Dad on the 25th of June. It was an emotional homecoming, as I embraced Mum and faced my father’s physical absence for the first time. I had come home to give honor to my dad, but it turned out that he had one last earthly gift for me.
In the months before Dad died, he had constructed a model of Noah’s Ark. True to the dimensions in Scripture, he had built the small craft to scale and weighted it properly so that it could withstand waves without turning over. My father wasn’t a carpenter, but he put his heart and soul into making this model something special. When I arrived home, it was there, floating in the pool, flying miniature flags from both Australia and the United States.
The ark my father built for me rests with pride on the bookshelf in my office at Answers in Genesis. Each time I look at it I am reminded of the inheritance my parents gave me—an inheritance that is far more valuable than silver or gold. They left an everlasting spiritual inheritance: a love for the Creator and Savior and His infallible Word.
At the memorial service, my five brothers and sisters and I shared our testimonies concerning Dad. We all used different terminology and phraseology—but our words conveyed the same basic theme:
Dad never knowingly wanted to compromise the Word of God.
Dad always stood up for what he believed.
Dad taught his children to love the Word of God.
Dad always wanted God’s Word to be in authority over the fallible words of man.
Dad hated compromise and would actively contend for the Christian faith.
Dad understood the foundational importance of the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God.
This was what we shared about our Dad. At the end of the service, a dear friend of the family came up to me and said, “After a service like that, I’m challenged to go home and ask my children what they’re going to say about me when I’m dead!” His question sparked Steve’s and my vision for this book, knowing that the question is one that all who desire to raise godly children in this ungodly world should ask. What will your children say about you when you die?
During the service, Steve shared a poem that sums up our family’s feelings, encapsulating the thoughts of all of us six kids:
A Jesus Focused Life
The immense and wondrous glory of our mighty sovereign God,
Is much too great for us to understand.
He is perfect in His power, He’s present everywhere,
He knows the number of each grain of sand.
And yet sometimes we act as if our Lord does not exist,
We live as if we’re living all alone.
So let me tell you of a man who lived to glorify his Maker,
And took the gospel truth to be his own.
Dad searched for opportunities to talk about his Savior,
His focus was on Jesus to the end.
He strove to glorify his God in every aspect of his life,
As husband, father, teacher, Bible student, friend.
As a husband he would always give encouragement to Mom,
And lead her by the hand most every way.
Their marriage was so solid and let me tell you why,
They’d seek the Lord together every day.
As a father he would discipline whenever we did wrong,
And give us praise whenever we deserved it.
He taught us from God’s Word and led us by example,
’Cause he lived his life for God and we observed it.
As a teacher he has left his mark right through the State of Queensland,
He tried his best to better education.
He influenced as headmaster, a colleague, and a Christian,
And earned the staff and students’ admiration.
As a student of the Bible the truth was all he needed,
His passion for God’s Word was no illusion.
He believed it as he read it, and he read it as it’s written,
So he’d never leave a gap for evolution.
As a friend he was a person you could go to for advice,
Or sit around the table for a chat.
He’d love to take you camping or fishing in his boat,
Now who could want a better mate than that?
So it’s with some joy we say goodbye for we know that he is home,
He’s with the One that he so much adored.
Yes, he’s moved on to a better place and sure we’ve said goodnight,
But he has said good morning to the Lord.
Thank you, Lord, for Dad.
When Steve recited this poem for Dad’s memorial service, he also had printed copies to hand to family and friends. I didn’t realize however, that one of the verses recited was actually missing in print. The second to the last verse (and I wish to close on this verse) communicates how God’s grace affected each of us through my father’s life:
So that’s our Dad, but more than that, our mentor and our friend
And we regret the times we ever gave him strife
But through it all he lost no love but gained some extra zeal
To show us how to live a godly life.
From the beginning of his legacy on Thursday Island in 1928 to the revelation of his legacy at this memorial service in 1995, God used this simple and devoted man to reach a family . . . and then reach the world for the truth and for the Creator. May any and all glory and honor go to the Lord my father served. May any and all thanks go not to my father, but to his Father . . . for that is the way that both of them would want it.
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens. . . .
Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him all stars of light. . . .
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For He commanded and they were created. . . .
Beasts and all cattle;
Creeping things and winged fowl:
Kings of the earth and all peoples;
Princes and all judges of the earth;
Both young men and virgins;
Old men and children.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For His name alone is exalted;
His glory is above the earth and heaven.