My spiritual father’s departure from this life came last night. He is now with Christ and no longer suffering. I’ll never forget the first time I met him in the Fall of 1973. I had gone with friends to disrupt a floor meeting in my freshman dormitory advertised as a presentation of the claims and credentials of Christ. After we disrupted the meeting, suddenly, a dark bearded Middle Eastern man stood up and walked toward us, carrying a Bible and smiling broadly.
With disarming gentleness, wisdom, and a boldness I’d never seen, he answered all our questions. My friends grew tired of it, but this articulate and intelligent man fascinated me. I argued with him until late in the night. That night marked the beginning of my spiritual pilgrimage with Behzad Pakizegi, a converted Jew from Tehran, Iran who was working toward his Ph.D. and had studied with Christian apologist Dr. Francis Schaeffer.
Behzad gave me my first bible and challenged me to begin reading it and meeting with him. A few weeks later he led me to Christ in his dorm room. Thus began a discipling and mentoring relationship that radically altered the trajectory of the rest of my life. For the next three years he invested himself in me, teaching me not just by his words, but mostly by his life, what it means to be a follower of Christ.
With remarkable tenacity, love, and patience, Behzad did not give up on me, especially during the next few years. I would have probably given up on someone like me. But his commitment to me was God-given.
We were friends for almost five decades. He was in my wedding in 1980. In recent years we met in Orlando when he was there for business. And just as Paul told Timothy, “I remember you constantly in my prayers,” Behzad frequently told me of his faithful prayers for me and for my family. He faithfully prayed for each of my grandchildren whom he knew by name.
So when he told me recently that he had terminal cancer, it hit me very hard. And when he said he wanted to see me one more time while he was still alert, I was honored. I remembered Paul’s similar request to Timothy to “come before winter.”
My recent trip to San Diego to be with him was priceless. He was very alert. We spent days together talking, praying, laughing and remembering. When he looked back on our first meeting, he told me with a smile that he couldn’t let this “rabble-rouser” (me) get away with disrupting that meeting.
When he said he wanted to see me one more time while he was still alert, I was honored. I remembered Paul’s similar request to Timothy to “come before winter.”
We talked about what it’s like for him to be this close to being in the very presence of the ascended Christ. At the end I told him I was having a very strange feeling as he talked. I told him there is a very real sense in which I am deeply jealous of the glorious freedom he’s about to experience on the other side from all forms of brokenness, corruption, and pain.
We hugged a lot every day I was there. But as we shared what we both knew was our last hug on this side of the veil, my last words to him were, “I love you and I look forward to seeing you soon.” I didn’t cry until I got on the plane the next morning and read his brief text he sent from his bed while I was on my way to the airport early Friday morning:
“Dearest Steve, Thank you for paying me a visit before my departure to be In His presence. It was a great blessing to have you shower my family and me with such undeserved love. Please send my love to your wife and daughters. Look forward to seeing you. Love. Behzad”
Since I returned home, Behzad and I continued to stay in touch, mostly via texting because he found it difficult to talk. After learning of his death last night, I reviewed our texts over the last several days. Most of them were bible verses he loved (Is 41:10, Is 43:1-2, Psalm 46, 1 Cor 15, Rev 21:1-5) and poems from William Cowper. The last stanza of the last poem I sent him was a request from me:
Such Jesus is, and such his grace,
Oh may he shine on you!
And tell him, when you see his face,
I long to see him too.
By God’s grace and through the prayers of many friends and family, I was given the privilege of “coming before winter” to be with him one last time before his death. What a remarkable gift for which I will always be grateful to God.
Through this, I’m reminded that there are some things we’ll never do unless they are done “before winter.” Before winter or never!
Through this, I’m reminded that there are some things we’ll never do unless they are done “before winter.” So, let’s all hear God’s voice through Paul’s final request: “Come before winter!” knowing “Before winter or never!”
“Before winter or never! There are some things which will never be done unless they are done “before winter.” The winter will come and the winter will pass, and the flowers of the springtime will deck the breast of the earth, and the graves of some of our opportunities, perhaps the grave of our dearest friend. There are golden gates wide open on this autumn day, but next October they will be forever shut. There are tides of opportunity running now at the flood. Next October they will be at the ebb. There are voices speaking today which a year from today will be silent. Before winter or never!” – Clarence Macartney
PS: Little did any of us know that Behzad would keep my daughter’s 2014 letter to him and draw great comfort from reading it again prior to his death last week. Behzad wanted me to share her letter with his family and friends again. So, here it is: Dear Behzad: A Letter From My Daughter to My Spiritual Father Before His Death