Have you ever wondered, if babies are sick and die, do they go to heaven? I’m a newborn baby specialist, so I have to think about such things!
Every so often in my life, I make roughly 10-year plans, to provide me clearer focus. Essentially, “focus driven decades,” reviewed and renewed periodically. For example, at around age 54, I took my “first early retirement” to start a medical mission in China. About 10 years later, at around age 64, I took my second retirement to be full-time missions and youth ministry elder, at the church we helped co-found many decades ago.
12 years later, at age 76, I began my third retirement as a writer, which I am doing now. Roughly 11 years into my final (?) retirement, I will be 87, which is the average life expectancy for Asian Americans, so I think targeting that as my special date is pretty reasonable! The Great Teacher taught that that you never know when is your last night, and we should always get ready, so all of this is tentative! Some people might think this is a rather morbid topic, but not me, I have always thought it an interesting topic. I am even fascinated by cemeteries, ever since I was a teenager, see Reggietales.org, “I love cemeteries,” which might give you further insight into my state of mind!
As a child, my family never tried to shield me from death and funerals. Maybe it was partly because dad was a surgeon, so life and death were common issues for him, and he “knew” I was also going into medicine, from at least age 7. As they say, “human beings have a hundred percent mortality rate,” and death can come upon young and old. This was obvious to me, since I grew up from childhood in a good-sized church of people of all ages, and often attended the inevitable funerals, even singing as a child in the choir, as part of the services.
As a church Elder, I have also officiated, or given the eulogy, at many funerals, some of which were surprisingly quite joyful, when the deceased had lived a meaningful life, and was clearly going to a better place. I could then readily give a celebratory message, recounting often significant joyful events in the life of the deceased.
At the recent funeral of beloved Elder Shipei Chu, who co-founded our Cincinnati home church with us, I recounted his special “style,” to the many who attended. Shipei was a faithful servant of his Lord, and a unique feature of his ministry was often his intense and “tough” preaching, like some ancient prophet, often severely scolding the congregation when he thought it necessary. When he stepped off the podium, he could still look like a giant polar bear, especially to children, and be initially quite scary. But, suddenly, without warning, he would burst into a big grin before the children, and pinch their cheeks or something “affectionate” like that. Think more like Kung Fu Panda. Life can be full of great memories, and funerals allow us to bring them back. With joy and gratitude.
Other funerals I attended might not be as joyful, and my funeral message would be much more somber, especially if the lives of the deceased had not been in the “straight and narrow way,” and there was even uncertainty of where they were going next.
In the Catholic tradition, priests perform “last rites” to those who are dying, listen to their confessions, and anoint them with “holy” water, to prepare them for the next life. Cincinnati is quite a Catholic city, so, in the newborn intensive care units that I directed, nurses often did the priest’s role, baptizing babies with water, particularly sick or premature infants who seemed not likely to survive. I was often quite touched by this, but I think there is something even more profound in this ritual.
In a great book “Heaven Wins,” by Don Richardson, a renowned writer and personal friend, he discusses very thoughtfully, from theology to practical understanding, how babies who die should go directly to heaven. He argues persuasively that there’s no need to be concerned about where they end up. As it turns out, I have always been an instinctive believer in this “baby to heaven” pathway, and I snapped up his book. My instincts have been particularly based on the declaration by the Great Teacher who said, “To enter the kingdom of heaven, you have to be as little children.”
在一本好书“天堂赢了”里，唐 里查克森 (Don Richardson)，一个非常有名的作者和朋友，他非常有考量地探讨了，从神学到实际的理解，死去的婴儿怎么应该直升天堂。他有力地辩证没有必要担心他们会去哪里。原来我一直都是直觉相信“婴儿直升天堂”, 所以我就一把拿起他的书来读。我的直觉特别来自伟大的老师所说，“想要进入天国，你必须变成小孩子的样式。”
I have taken this to mean the “reference standard” for heaven is, interestingly enough, the child! I mentioned this to Don when he visited, and he concurred. Which makes my professional job pretty much a winning job: save the child, and we have helped to give him or her a head start on life, but if sadly for the family, we cannot, he or she goes directly to the Father’s embrace, a good comfort in my otherwise quite intense clinical profession.
At my paternal grandfather’s funeral in our ancestral village, I heard that literally hundreds of people trekked over hills and valleys to attend, because of his kindness and reputation as a Christian doctor in the region. It must have been quite an event, a passing of a revered patriarch, and, an era. Funerals like that deeply reflect culture, faith and community, but unfortunately, I personally missed the momentous event.
At my Sunday school teacher Charles Hau’s funeral in San Francisco, it was a smaller gathering, but the atmosphere was also definitely highly reverential, with many testimonials about what a wonderful, kind and gentle teacher he was, all through his life. I deliberately flew thousands of miles from Cincinnati to personally pay my last respects. I recalled vividly his personally coaching me on how to tell a dramatic bible story, such as David’s heroic act, staring intently at the giant Goliath’s forehead, while swinging the stone in his sling, boldly and steadily around and around, before letting it fly into the targeted giant’s head. That lesson helped me later when I taught vacation bible school missionary stories in dramatic fashion, and even lives in me today. Charles’ life, lived with a laser focus on heaven, was a recipe for a full meaningful life, and thus made his funeral a wonderfully touching celebration.
The funeral of the great, great, grandson of Hudson Taylor (founder of the legendary China Inland Mission), James Hudson Taylor, was held in Hong Kong. I had co-worked with Dr James Taylor, in founding the medical mission MSI in China, and had the privilege of being one of the pallbearers, at the gathering of thousands of people from all over the world. He was a legendary figure himself for much of Asia. In particular, his 6-generation family legacy of service for China was just awe-inspiring, and the funeral became a touching testament to that joy in serving, and its world-wide impact.
One of the most meaningful comments I heard about funerals was by a great friend and teacher Reverend Lam of Macau, who had started working in China from the very beginning of the re-opening up of China to the outside world, in the 1980s. He loved to remind his numerous villager friends that funerals can be a thought provoking testimony to the community of what kind of life the deceased had led.
He encouraged villagers to invite many to come and celebrate the significant life of a person going to meet his Maker, and to make sure they heard a message of peace and hope. This would be in strong contrast to the cries and wailing of hopelessness in traditional funerals, because there was no assurance about where the deceased was actually going. The Christian funeral, undoubtedly being a message of hope, could help give profound meaning to this life, and powerful implication for the next.
It might sound morbid to think about my own funeral, but hey, I’m a writer, so I can write freely! Let me at least say upfront, it will not be necessary to mourn my passing, dear friends, since we all have to go sometime. Some people leave without saying goodbye; not me: I just said it! And, I have lived a full life, with so many blessings that I can barely count them, so there is no reason at all for sadness, or anything like “regrets.” From my hundreds of stories, you might also sense the tremendous variety of experiences I have been privileged to have, to serve God and others, especially foreigners or minorities, in Asia and America. Someday, in the meantime, come join me, to have coffee with me, in Seattle, or even Cincinnati if we visit. Or heaven, a place I shall likely beat you to it! Jesus had mansions prepared for his listeners, I only have coffee waiting for you, no need for decaf.