Thick-Skinned and Relentless for the Gospel
How do we share the gospel when time is short and there is a pressing sense of urgency? Cecilia Kang pens an honest and heartfelt account of a too-short friendship – and her struggle to present God’s truth in a compelling way before it is too late.
I thought there was a right way to do it. In my mind, I imagined there was a standard protocol to follow and specific terminology to use. But one night I grew desperate and anxious to share it in any way possible because time was running out. That was when I realised that sharing it in any way at all is more important than how it is shared.
Sharing the gospel is what I mean. That night I drew up a card, thought hard, and tortured my husband to brainstorm with me on the right phrases to use. We scoured the Bible for apt verses. Not to comfort – by then the goal was crystal clear – we needed one verse that would sum up the gospel in such a way that someone who was deeply sick could hear it or read it, and grasp it. We ended up with Romans 10:9: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
The goal was not always so clear. In the two years I had with my friend and neighbour Dipti, sharing the gospel was always at the back of my mind. But a lot of things prevented me, especially fear of rejection and insecurity about being unable to defend the gospel should a debate follow (she was an academic and so was her husband). Foolishly, I also thought that there was still time. So I danced around the peripherals, talking now and then about my CG, how prayers helped my life and spiritual growth, outlooks on life and death, etc, but not about the gospel. We did a lot of things together in the two years – play-dates, coffee, birthday parties, star gazing, mala hotpot, painting, and sharing written short stories were some of them. She tried to get me to join a cooking competition for the cancer society. I tried to get her to go swimming even though she didn’t like it. She considered adopting a child as a companion to her three-year-old son: she wanted a little girl. In between, she was undergoing chemotherapy, going vegan and in breast cancer remission.
She lost a friend to cancer a year ago; it shook her to see her friend’s last day. Her friend was in her thirties and left behind her husband and two young toddlers. Dipti was my age: thirty-six. She wanted to think positive; we had all our kids make a ruckus all day to chase away the sombreness. In response to her friend's death, she developed a fighter attitude, made bold statements that she was going to recover fully and lived as normally as she could. The time came for a scheduled trip back to India and she confided that she was deeply afraid and had a bad feeling because she had first been diagnosed on a trip to India. But by then her hair had grown back, she had put on weight, and was lively and beautiful. I told her not to be crazy and to enjoy the trip.
Headaches came. Persistent headaches plagued her while in India. Checks suggested vertigo. Then further checks revealed multiple lesions at the back of her head. The cancer had spread to her brain undetected. Dipti underwent chemotherapy immediately in India and did not return home for several months.
So I was wrong; I had mistaken the facade of activities, festivities and lively chatter for ample time. Over Skype, Dipti said she wanted to return home and to have the kids run around between our apartments: she wanted to come back to her busy life. The plans for adoption had to be scrapped. She did return to Singapore and underwent chemotherapy, as well as making visits to KL for alternative treatments. But she grew more and more silent and I could sense she was starting to despair. She expressed a fear of not knowing where she would go after death and of going alone. Yet she still hung on to the hope that she would survive. One day, I asked her if she had heard the gospel before. She said no, so I blurted out a very awkward delivery of the gospel: God created man. Man had a full relationship with God. Then man sinned, and man was separated from God. Sin’s wages was death. And God sent his son Jesus to live and die on our behalf. This was the price for our sins. Hence, if you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you will be saved and be with God forever.
She kept totally silent after that. No question, no response. And I said nothing more as well.
Over the next few months, I saw Dipti less and less. She was always in bed, and the rare moments I saw her at the doorway she was tired and frail. Her husband must have heard about my attempt to share the gospel, and he responded via sms that they did not believe in organised religion, so I left it at that. More months passed. Her death became imminent. By then, Dipti was no longer the friend I remembered. She was very thin and when I spoke to her her eyes did not seem to register anything – she just stared blankly at me. I am ashamed to say that I too, grew afraid. Seeing her like that scared me. I had no words left to say and the only thing screaming in my head was, “You have to believe, you have to be saved!” But the agonising thing was, how much could she understand or even hear of what was said to her now? Should I not have taken the chance to be thick-skinned and relentless during the time I had with her while she was lucid?
1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
I did not have that defence prepared. I wish I had and I should have, but I did not. A card written in panic one night as a last-ditch attempt might or might not have been read – who knows?
Dipti passed one day before National Day. My husband and I had planned to visit her on National Day so we never made it. When I saw her lying on her bed on National Day, I was shaken because here she was, her body, but she was no longer there. And I can’t stop wondering where she is now. It disturbs me deeply.
Our faith is one where we continually harp on the brevity of life, the certainty of death and the sureness of trials, tribulations and hardship. I did not realise before but it really prepares us well and gives us peace of mind and readiness for death. Dipti was a biochemistry PHD scholar with NUS – she shrugged nonchalantly once and said, “Come on, the work I do is never going to change the world.” The world celebrates victory, winning, life, beauty, comfort and survival. It is wholly silent on loss, failure, sadness, death and illness. At the very end of everyone’s life, the greatest gift to have is the peace and assurance of what is coming. On the cusp of death, one is truly alone. No one can share the experience of your death with you. Hence the fear and panic for many non-believers. How valuable it is that we have the church, a fellowship of people with whom we can share suffering and trials. How very precious that we have a place to go to support each other through the deaths of family members and loved ones. How priceless it is that we have our God and Saviour with us in life, in death and after death.
I was not able to help Dipti overcome the fear of death, but by God’s grace I have had the joy of witnessing this transformation in my mother. If you have an unbelieving parent you will know how incredibly taboo it is for them to talk about death. They find absolutely no point in talking about the ending of life and you could be chastised for being morbid in bringing it up. When my mother accepted Christ a few years ago, it was life changing for me and for her. Of course it didn’t happen in an instant. My CG prayed with me for almost a decade. When it happened, I was astounded. Amazed. Over the course of these past few years I have seen a shift in her. She has peace and she is a happier person. Sometimes when she poses questions about something the pastor said and we both discuss it, I am secretly thrilled and give thanks in my heart. It is truly surreal to be talking about Corinthians or Psalms with my mother – something utterly unimaginable to me years ago. When we stand together in worship, hands raised, singing the doxology, she is beaming and wishing she had known Christ earlier. I’m telling you I could almost cry with gratitude knowing that I can be with her for eternity. It is honestly not all peaches; sometimes she doesn’t feel like going, the Bible verses are too hard for her to understand, the prospect of CG drives her away. But, growth is a process and our salvation is fixed – nothing can separate us from the love of God.
Let us seize every opportunity we have to share Christ with those around us while we have the chance. None of us knows how much time we have left with those we love, and salvation is too important to procrastinate over. I have learnt this lesson the painful way: I hope and pray that by sharing this I may spare some of you the same pain I have gone through, and that more of our loved ones may receive salvation through our faithful sharing.