Rev. Francis C. Choi: To My Father who Just Arrived in Heaven

Jun 20, 2020 11:38 PM EDT

Mr. Choi Hung, father of Rev. Francis Choi, was born in 1928 in Guangzhou, China. He was married to Ms. Chan Wah Yuk in 1953. This marriage was blessed with four children, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. In 1978, he professed his faith in Jesus Christ. In 1980, he was baptized. In 1995, he moved to Toronto with his wife and enjoyed his retirement years surrounded by his children and grandchildren, serving actively in his church. His faithfulness, passion, and dedication to God was manifested in his tender love for his own family and for his church. At the age of 91, he passed away on April 23, 2020. Rev. Francis Choi would like to express his love and reverence for his father through the following letter to him who just arrived in heaven.

Family reunion, 2016 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)
Family reunion, 2016 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)

Dear Dad,

Looking back at the time when you left us, it was when the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the world. In Canada, the hardest hit long-term care homes have been banning visitors since March 14.

The Day You Left Us

Three days before you departed, the long-term care home tested you for COVID-19 because of your fever and difficulty in breathing and the result came back negative. During the last three years you had been hospitalized a few times due to breathing difficulties and pneumonia as your health deteriorated. Three days ago, you started to develop a fever and had breathing difficulties, which did not improve after taking antibiotics. Your aggregating breathing difficulties and swallowing problems prompted the care home to allow one of us to come to your bedside. When my sister rushed to the care home, you had already departed.

We were not able to stay by your side at your last moments. To many people in a similar situation, they may feel defeated or regretful. To us, who were praying in concert in different corners of the world at your last moments, it was just like we were praying by your bedside, bidding fond farewells to you with our prayers. Instead of regrets, we have the peace of mind in knowing that you are in the strong hands of our heavenly Father.

At your last moments, Mom was in a different room of the care home. She was disappointed at first for not being able to accompany you at that critical time, but as she walked to your bedside, accompanied by a nurse, she was greatly comforted to see how peaceful you were lying in God’s embrace, finishing your journey in the world.

Where did we get this peace of mind and comfort, being able to accept losing our beloved father during the coronavirus pandemic with strength and courage? It is none other than Jesus Christ, the source of our faith, who gave us the hope for the heaven, and our God who bestows all kinds of peace upon us.

The Harmonica Music that Pleases God and Men

On the night you left us, the four of us, me and my siblings, started to notify our relatives, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ, of your departure. In my notifications, I attached 2 videos of you playing the harmonica, which I recorded when I visited you and Mom in Toronto. The two recordings I chose were the hymns, “Our Heavenly Home Afar” and “For God so Loved the World”. (Click here to watch Mr. Choi's harmonica and violin performances:

After watching the videos of your harmonica performances that accompanied the news of your departure, a world-renowned conductor expressed her appreciation of your performance from the heart. A sister in Christ, who often serves as a worship leader, also said, “Your dad must have joined the choir in heaven.” Her comment inspired me to imagine the scene of your arrival in heaven.

Many angels welcomed my father with cheers and music when my father arrived in heaven. He discovered right away a registration booth for the choir in heaven and lined up eagerly. The head angel asked him, “What do you know?" Father replied that he knew how to play harmonica and violin, but he had never had any music theory and singing training other than the two piano lessons given to him by his daughter-in-law. The angel said, “Good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s happiness!” The angel also said, “When you praise the Lord by singing or playing instruments, be it harmonica or violin, all God looks at is your heart. As long as you praise God sincerely from the bottom of your heart, all music will be appreciated.” The overjoyed father, wiping away the anxious sweat from the worries of not qualifying for the choir, joined the singing choir with the harmonica in his left hand and the violin in his right hand.

The Funeral Service with More than Ten Attendants

You departed during of the COVID-19 pandemic when the Canadian government restricted the number of people who could attend a funeral service to 10. All family members living outside of Toronto were not able to fly to Toronto to attend your funeral physically. We could only participate in your broadcasted funeral service virtually in real time. Being a reverend and your child, I spent 7 minutes sharing about the first verse of Psalm 23, acknowledging your relationship with Jesus Christ and bringing comfort to your loved ones. After the Eulogy was recited, the family members, one by one, paid our last tribute to you.

“You are our respected father and grandfather. You lived a simple life with extraordinary achievements. You built a loving family, cultivating it with abundant love so that we learned to love each other. You made countless sacrifices to provide for us, affording us with good education and guidance… One of your achievements was earning the respect and gratitude from your family.”

“My favourite thing to do in my childhood was to go to your house, where you prepared toys for me to play with and things for me to learn. I was proud to have a grandpa who was always eager to learn new things, whatever his age… You loved Jesus Christ with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength, setting up a great example for us to follow.”

“Your love for Grandma and Jesus Christ was the foundation of the Choi family. Your and Grandma’s love perfectly exemplified unconditional love… I know that you always saw us out through the building’s CCTV after our visits, and I believe, in the same way, you are watching over us in heaven right now.”

“When you were staying in Vancouver with us, you lovingly took care of our two children when we often came home late from the church. You said you got off work late as well… You earned the love and respect from many.”

The Legacy You Left Us

(Left) Lunar New Year, 1960; (Right) Crater Lake, 2000 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)
(Left) Lunar New Year, 1960; (Right) Crater Lake, 2000 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)

Many people leave their children a legacy of either money, property, stocks, business, jewelry, valuable artwork, or antiques when they leave the world. What did you leave us? What is your legacy? Maybe a golden oldie, “Seven Daffodils”, can describe your legacy to some degree.

I do not have a fortune to buy you pretty things
But I can weave you moonbeams for necklaces and rings
And I can show you morning on a thousand hills
And kiss you and give you seven daffodils

You left us something that money cannot buy. You had no property, no stocks, no business. Besides the printed calendars that were replaced annually, there was no famous painting in our household, let alone antiques that were passed down generation to generation. However, we can proudly tell people we have had the most precious thing in the world – a great father. Through you, we possess warmth, happiness, contentment, perseverance, and success.

The most valuable possession in our household was an ancient Agfa camera. It captured the precious memories we had when we hiked up Victoria Peak, swam in Shek O, had dim sum in the Hong Kong City Hall, visited the Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo, explored the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens, and watched the shows at the Kai Tak Amusement Park.

Even though you grew up during the Second World War, you managed to acquire exemplary calligraphy that exhibited strength and freedom in its strokes. Under your guidance and training, we learned to write beautiful Chinese characters too. You even gave my son a calligraphy lesson when we visited you in Toronto a few years ago!

I was always inspired by the intricate origami you made, not only because of your perseverance in learning the art, but also of the creativity in your creations. The positive energy exuded from these origami artworks was more prized than gold and silver.

When I was 6 or 7 years old, you took me and my older brother fishing at the pier everyday. The patience and fishing skills we acquired, and the little fish we got ourselves, were more valuable than the big fish that could be bought from supermarkets. Not only were we nourished physically by the fish you caught, we learned a skill that could be used throughout our lives.

Thirty-one years ago, I took you and your six-year-old granddaughter, Tiffany, to visit the Holy Land. From then on, you made each tour member a dedication card that was carefully cut, embroidered, and adorned with stickers. Many of them took out those handmade cards in memory of you after learning of the news of your departure.

Your thoughtful care and unconditional love for Mom was the foundation you left for our family. You always helped Mom to get out of the car and supported her by her right hand when she walked. You even said jokingly, “Other people think this is an expression of romantic love, I am just afraid that she will fall.” Throughout your marriage of 66 years, no matter through actions or words, you set the best example of a dedicated and affectionate marriage. When asked about why you wanted a daughter after having 3 boys, you explained, “Your mother will be happy because a daughter is usually more caring and considerate to her mother, and willing to spend more time with her.” Your love for Mom is evident in this comment.

Dear Dad, you could sew, embroider, plant a garden, keep an aquarium, paint houses and furniture, do woodwork, carve seals, cook, and repair clocks, fans and blow dryers. You learned Chinese typing at old age so that you could type the lyrics of various hymns and bind them for your fellowship to sing.

Dear Dad, your rich legacy to us includes precious memories, a warm family, a lifelong quest for knowledge, a spirit of perseverance, unbending faith, faithfulness in your work, contentment, generosity, genuine friendships, dedicated ministries, and commitment to being good role models. You influenced not only us, but our next generations, and the people who knew you.

The Faith Journey of Our Family

Family photo after baptism, 1980 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)
Family photo after baptism, 1980 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)

Before I was born, you, Mom, and my two elder brothers were living beside the Ten Thousand Buddhas Temple in Shatin, being surrounded by the Buddhist chants coming from the temple. You then moved to the low-cost housing on Fat Kwong Street in Hung Hom, which is again close to a Guanyin temple, and was where I was born. Whenever we passed by the shrine, I always requested to get off your back and bowed together with you and Mom.

My two brothers and I studied in a Christian elementary school. A caring Christian teacher there led us to Christ. Our sister believed in Jesus soon after, having followed us to the church. We invited you to attend multiple evangelistic meetings, but you were afraid that once you believed In Jesus, you would have to give up your hobbies of smoking and gambling.

I devoted myself to full time ministry in a summer camp. When I was preparing for the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examination, I knelt to pray for you and mom to accept Jesus before my study on the balcony every night. I prayed to Jesus, “May you help my father to accept you and be saved by you before I enter the seminary.” Shortly after that, Mom accepted Christ through prayers after I shared the Gospel with her.

One time I suggested that we could hold a family prayer meeting to pray for my eldest brother who was studying in Canada. You agreed right away because of your love and care for him. However, you had stated beforehand that your presence in the weekly family prayer meeting on Sunday night didn't mean you would pray aloud because you were not a Christian. Time flew. I was accepted by the seminary. The night before my first day of school, we had our last family prayer meeting.

Just as we were about to pray, you suddenly said, “Today I am going to pray aloud with you guys, because I can see that Jesus Christ really listens to all your prayers to Him. I have been praying silently myself, and my prayers were really answered. I want to believe in Jesus tonight.”

That night you asked me to take out my brother’s plaque with the inscription “Jesus is the Head of Our Family”. Thinking that you were the head of our family, you hid the plaque under your bed. That night, you took the plaque out and prayed with us, “Lord Jesus, tonight I returned the sovereignty to you. You are the head of our family.”

Didn’t I pray that you would accept Christ before I entered the seminary? Didn’t Jesus say He would decide the timing of when to answer this prayer? In the end, you did accept Christ the night before I started studying in the seminary. God granted my prayer at the time I asked! How wonderful! Your story of coming to Christ was a powerful testimony to your non-Christian friends, letting them to see the true living God! It also encouraged many Christians to keep praying for their family who hadn’t accepted Jesus.

My Love Language to You

65th Wedding Anniversary, 2018 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)
65th Wedding Anniversary, 2018 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)

When we were living separately in Toronto and Vancouver, I would call you every day or every other day if I was in town. We both treasured the conversations, even if they were short. My sister told me if I did not call you for several days, you and mother would start feeling unsettled. Sometimes you were worried about the cost of long-distance phone calls. I told you that the chance to talk to you was way more valuable.

I liked to say words of affirmation to you, acknowledging your importance to me and the role you played in my life; of gratitude, thanking you for the acceptance, care, and encouragement you had shown me; and of praises, applauding you for the incredible things you had done. Even though I was not able to see you on the day you died, despite the sadness of losing you, I had no regrets. I had told you everything I wanted to tell you when you were alive.

I believe you still remember these things I have told you:

“I’m so proud to have you as my father. I want to tell you: I love you!”

“Grandma wasn’t exaggerating when she told me that you were capable of everything. You know so many things that none of us can compare to you!”

“If you want to learn to drive, you can come to Vancouver. You can learn with my car and I am confident you can learn to drive!”

“Wow! You speak English so well!”

“You’ve led so many headstrong seniors to Christ with the Gospel you shared. I am proud to have you as my father who loves to evangelize.”

“I really thank you for the heart-shaped dedication cards you diligently made for me. They were all pieces of art.”

“Last time I was in Toronto, I was so moved to see you learn Chinese typing so that you could type a hymn book for the fellowship. The fonts of the existing hymn books in your church were too small for the seniors. You were so considerate!”

“You never stop learning, no matter at what age. You are such a good role model for us and your grandchildren!”

“Every time I ask you how to write a Chinese word over the phone, you are able to answer me right away. You are just like a walking dictionary.”

Dad, even my courage to express my feelings and gratitude came from you. Thank you!

The First Father’s Day without My Father

Mom spent a peaceful Mother’s Day in the long-term care home. They prepared a special lunch for the seniors, including Bird’s Nest Soup with Crab Meat. Every mom received flowers. Don’t worry, she also received Mother’s Day cards we sent her. It was our first Mother’s Day without your presence.

We always take you and Mom out for dinner on Mother’s and Father’s Day every year. The restaurants are usually packed on Mother’s Day, but not as crowded on Father’s Day. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people value Mother’s Day more than Father’s Day. It is just different ways of expression. To us, we value our father and mother equally, and we try to express our love accordingly.

I dedicated the first volume of my book, “Apostle Survey”, which I wrote three years ago, to my parents and the second volume to my children. In the first volume are the words, “Without you, there is no us.” The words of dedication on the second volume are, “Without you, there is no future.” The book is a collection of my experiences and studies over the years. Without the education you provided us, we would never have the accomplishments today. The book was my Father’s and Mother’s Day gift to both of you that year.

Certain years ago, I went to our hometown with you and Mom. I paid for two identical suits, one for you and one for me, as my Father’s Day present to you. Happiness filled our hearts when we saw our reflections in the mirror, wearing the matching outfits. Whenever I put on that suit, I will recall that scene. Our days together were filled with sweet memories. Even in your funeral, you were wearing that suit. Although I could only participate in your broadcasted funeral service virtually, I was also wearing the same suit to honor you.

I was so busy notifying relatives and friends of the news of your departure, organizing your photos and belongings, and thanking those who sent their condolences, that the first two days after you left I didn’t even have a chance to mourn. When I tried to explain to my children how you were doing in heaven, I looked at the sky and let out a loud cry, “Dad, I love you and miss you so much!” After shouting that 3 times, the sadness bottled inside from losing you was finally released.

The Father’s Day on June 21 this year will be our first “Father’s Day without Our Father”. We will not be able to have dinner with you, but I will sing you the song, “The Bridge of Love – Our Parents”, of which the translation of the lyrics is as the following:

Egypt, 1999 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)
Egypt, 1999 (Photo: Rev. Francis C. Choi)

My parents nurtured me lovingly like I was a small sprig,
They held my hands, cared for me and protected me;
My parents willingly offered themselves as a bridge for our Heavenly Father, extending His love to me, so that I could face all the challenges and dangers of my lives ahead.

Our parents’ love is like the boundless sea. May we honour our parents and wish them peace and health.
My parents willingly offered themselves as a bridge for our Heavenly Father, extending His love to me, so that I could face all the challenges and dangers of my lives ahead.

My aging parents offered their lives as a bridge for us to walk across, sheltering us from rain or shine!

May I wish my father, who just arrived in heaven, and our Heavenly Father, a happy Father’s Day!

Missing you,
Your Son, Francis