Well here I am – giving my father’s eulogy. Last night I was talking to my brother, and in the midst of our reminiscing, I did relate that somehow, I always had a very vivid image of Papa’s funeral. And always in this dream, I was about to give the eulogy, but every single time I was too overcome with emotions to actually even say anything. Picturing this scene would often leave a morbid after-taste in the palate of my mind, and even after the vision cleared the shock and despair lingered. Somehow I never had images of my Mum’s passing; only my Dad. My brother also revealed that he too some how shared a similar mental panorama about our father’s passing. It seems that this little prophetic forethought was a preparations of sorts for this day. And now here I am. Can’t say I imagined this day would come so soon, but it has.
I can’t remember the last time my Dad and I were in this sanctuary together – I can only recall faintly a couple of years back that all 3 of us: my mum, my dad and myself were serving together in the same service. My Dad was preaching, my Mum was scripture reading and I was worship leading (I am sure my dad was preaching, but the roles my Mum and I are sketchy). But today, here we both are; and for once, I am on the pulpit and he is not.
Things have happened so fast; over the last few days I have seen my own father sky-rocketed from mild mannered ex-teacher turned pastor, to a towering hero of sorts, with great feats, rescues and crusades all thrown in and recounted by the throngs of people who have lovingly come to see him off, my family and I often tussle to maintain more private and personal memories of him – fond memories and experiences that we his family are privy to. I mean, the surreality of the sudden passing of my father coupled with the busy funeral preparations got me really thinking and trying to put all these accounts and experiences with my father into perspective – into a packaged message he might want to pass on to others through his son.
I ask myself, “What makes a man great?” What makes Tan Har Yong great? A common quip that many respect payers would make is that they loved his sermons, and the Bible classes he ran. And whilst he was all these things and more, to me his best achievement was as a father to me, and a husband to my mum. As church members, ex students and peers alike came and talked about him, I happened down once again the road less traveled as it were, back into the recesses of memories stored of father-son interactions that were now becoming more and more cherished.
Growing up I found it very convenient to have my hero, mentor and father all rolled into one convenient entity. And even when he was young he was a leader; not by force, nor by appointment, so much as it was by his character. He once told me to know if a person is a leader, check and see where he goes, and see who is following behind him. If he goes somewhere and no one is following, he is not leading, he is taking a walk.
I always respected him, and wanted to please him by being like him. I always thought to myself, that he would be most proud of me if I was a man of science like he was, or if I could one day preach and teach like he could, then I would be considered more than a son: I might be able to rise to the rank of trusted friend and even co-worker! But let me get something straight – my dad was never one to coerce his children into fulfilling dreams he panned out for us. Yet somehow, possibly because of his integrity and the excellence which he exudes in all tasks he carries out, all the ministries he gave himself to seemed inviting.
Earlier this year, I though I had arrived and was able to live up to that supposed pinnacle I saw in him. He must have thought I was ready, and slotted me in to speak at Kulim and Butterworth Wesley. So I prepared with schoolboy excitement for the moment I would actually be able to ‘be like him’. And yet after I was done, though I was proud, I was not really there yet. And at this funeral, it all seemed to come together.
What makes Tan Har Yong great? I see now that more than his great sermons, the Hokkien ministry and the Foundation editions, what made my father a great man was the small decisions he made. I see that now. Everyday, since he was young, he made decisions that exemplified dying to self, and obedience to the God he loves. When he was young, he decided to study the Bible – which made him the scriptural giant he is today. When he got married, he decided everyday to make breakfast for my mum. When he had us he decided everytime he was upset at us to not lash out, but correct firmly but lovingly. For more than 20 years, when he was upset with LCEC meetings, he decided to surrender things to the Lord and just stay the course. When a troubled troublemaker needed more than just a wanton dismissal, he decided that the child was worth closer attention and a listening ear, and showed him the right way to live. When his eldest son was in a situation where his wits and skills were insufficient, he decided that the best thing he could give at that point was not another sermon, but the closeness of his own precious heartbeat, to remind his son how much he loved him.
Standing here today, I realize that the last thing my father would want after he was gone was to be placed on a pedestal so high that everyone else would be left gawking upwards, with nothing more than detached admiration and a good word. What he would want was for all of us to follow him as he followed Christ, and to die daily to ourselves. He would want for the church to also make decisions daily that honored God and served a purpose greater than ourselves as individuals.
Brothers and sisters, my father was a great man a greater father and an even greater husband. But what he would want for all of us to know here today, that it is character more than charisma, and small steps of obedience that shape our lives and the live of others. In fact, it is those little obediences everyday that prepare us for that one single gigantic leap of faith as it were. He never knew he was going to be a pastor – but the way he prepared himself and allowed God to mould him and shape him, I think few are surprised he ended up as one. When the hokkien ministry in our church flourished, people saw the hand of God, working mightily through one of his most trusted servant and friend.
Now his work is done, and hopefully those of us who knew him well will know that he lived his life for 3 things: God, His word, and people. In the end, these three things are all that matters – for only these three things are eternal. I’m very proud of my father because he chose wisely in life. I am sure his wish for all of us here today is that we too would choose the same.
Well Pa, I’m done. I count myself blessed because I had you close by for more than 24 years. And thats more time with you than most people in this sanctuary have had. You gave your best to God and to your family, and I know one day when you see me again you will be plesantly surprised.I love you and will always be thinking about you.