My Father B. E. Fernando

22nd July 2003

 

SOME LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY FATHER’S LIFE AND DEATH

 

My dear friends,

 

Thank you very much for your kind expressions of love over my father’s death. My brother Priyan was alerted that he was going down a day before he died, and he was able to come to Sri Lanka from USA within 36 hours of his death.

 

We had the funeral service on Monday 22nd July afternoon at the Kollupitiya Methodist Church—the sphere of a lot of his service. It was a glorious service. The 800 or so seats were all taken, and there were over 100 people outside the church. Children from the Sunday school of which he was superintendent for many years sang a special song. Though my father could not sing in tune he loved the hymns of the church. I do not remember such lusty hymn-singing since my days at Asbury Seminary. He would have been gladdened by this. The Methodist hymn book was a great treasure in our home.

 

A wonderful tribute was given by Lakshman Perera to whom my father had been a mentor at World Vision. A beloved former Pastor Asiri Perera preached the sermon which was also like a tribute. Both highlighted his willingness to pay the price of integrity, especially as Sri Lanka’s Commissioner of Inland Revenue. The family knows that he refused the unethical requests of his Minister of Finance and of the Head of State, and that therefore he had to retire prematurely. But that opened the door for what was the crowning experience of his career—twelve years with World Vision directing the work in Bangladesh and founding and directing the work in Sri Lanka.

 

Also mentioned were his propensity for hard work, his analytical mind, his fearless commitment to what he thought was right, his commitment to the church and his role in the starting of several Christian ventures in Sri Lanka. Both talked of his commitment to a simple lifestyle. The family is grateful that by personally living very simply and also by selling portions of properties he had inherited, he saved enough money to build a house for each of his five children before they married—a great asset in a country where young people have a tough time getting started off as families.

 

In World Vision he hated all extravagant expenditure for plush offices, equipment and hotels.  He felt these would make the social service organisation distant from the poor and divert–for expenditure–funds that should go to the poor. I fear that today a certain understanding of efficiency and quality has caused many groups to violate these principles. Efficiency can sometimes become a great enemy of penetrative personal impacting of people, which requires the very cumbersome step of incarnation. The question to ask is whether the so-called service agencies are immune to the call to incarnational ministry.

 

we thank God for the timing of his death. My sister moves with her children to England on August 12th. I returned from USA on July 6th and leave for Japan on August 8th. We couldn’t have asked for a better time for his death. I am not ashamed to talk about my father’s death like this because for us, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Death is the supreme festival on the road to freedom.”

 

The days before he died my mother knew that he was sinking, and she wanted one of the children to be there when he died. My minister brother Duleep stayed there on Thursday night, I stayed on Friday night and on Saturday till 2.00 p.m. preparing my charge to the graduates of Colombo Theological Seminary that evening. He died at 4.45 p.m., and I was told of it around 6.00 p.m. just after I finished my charge. But my sister Anusha was there to pray with him right to the end. She, like her mother and grandmother, is the prayer warrior in the family, and I think it was most appropriate that he heard her prayers whispered in his ear just before he died.

 

But there was a more important aspect of timing, and that was “putting his house in order” BEFORE DYING: something that the Bible often urges us to do (Isa. 38:1 etc.). We family members were concerned that, even though he was so active in the work of God, he may not have continued in that childlike faith he first experienced as a university student through the ministry of E. Stanley Jones. Six weeks before he died we were all summoned because he was very serious. But, remarkably, he came through. That evening we decided that we must talk to him about his relationship with the Lord and his family. It was a precious time, with several other such times in the days that followed, where he affirmed that he depended on Christ alone for his salvation.

 

My father had been an independent man, and he generally never needed anybody’s help. My doctor brother Kumar, who lovingly cared for him through his sickness, decided that he should go home for his last days rather than stay in the hospital which he hated. So for seven weeks before he died he had to depend much on my mother. In fact he always wanted her to hold his hand. I believe this was a healing experience for my mother.

 

For us his family this is a time of deep thanksgiving to God. Our father provided for us by his disciplined and simple living. By his example he taught so many things: to live orderly lives, to think and write analytically, to work very hard making use of every minute in the work of God, never to give up when the going gets tough, to love books, to live simple lives, and to treat the poor with respect.

 

How wonderful it is to have a faith that sustains us through the experience of death.

 

With love,

 

Ajith