MINISTRY THROUGH A SMILE: REMEMBERING UNCLE JOHNNY
I will probably never be able to forget the strong sense of joy I would feel whenever I was in the presence of Uncle Richun – of whom I have been greatly blessed to have had the chance to know more intimately over the past year.
This of course, was largely due to the film that I was working on for the most part of 2019. This film was a personal project of mine to tell the story of Hakka Methodist Church and its history through the lives of longtime members and leaders of the church. This documentary, if I may be allowed to call it that, would also be a way to commemorate the church’s 70th Anniversary.
But I must admit that though I have claimed this work to be a personal project of mine, the idea that led to the decision to do this film should in no way be credited to me alone, or at all for that matter. I believe however, that it is in every way only by the Holy Spirit’s prompting that the idea even came to be in the first place.
And when the decision was made in my heart and in prayer to commit myself to this project, Uncle Richun, with what most of us have come to understand to be his trademark willingness and enthusiasm, was the first person to volunteer to help me out.
Now in hindsight, though every bit of the success of this documentary is owed to our almighty God, I would also not hesitate to say that I owe a lot to Uncle Richun for the completion of this work.
His willingness without hesitation and the excitement he had about what I was doing encouraged and strengthened me to begin the work. His story also gave me a hope and an assurance that this work that I was doing could mean something – a hope and an assurance that I very much needed in that time of much insecurity and doubt.
And I would be thoroughly surprised if some of you who are reading this now would not be smiling and nodding your heads from being able to relate to this very brief and simple description of how he has blessed me. Of course, this is because I am sure that he has blessed a great many others in and out of the church in the same way.
One afternoon back in March of last year, while I was putting together the video clips I had filmed of Uncle Richun on my computer for the documentary, someone dear to me who was nearby looked over at my screen and asked me who this – or at least as she described in that moment – cheerful and adorable elderly man was.
At that time I must have used a multitude of words in my struggle to describe all the positive and adorable things about him. But now after much reflection over the past two days I believe that perhaps there is no better way to describe Uncle Richun than to say that he had been in many ways, the smile of the Church.
And that is why it grieved me very much to learn of his sudden passing two nights ago on the 18th of January.
And though I am confident without a shadow of a doubt in the great work of Salvation that had been done for him through Christ – the same Christ who Uncle Richun and many of us have been drawn by God to put our faith in – it grieved me because I knew I would most likely not be seeing that very welcoming smile for a while.
It grieved me because just mere seconds after learning of his sudden passing and even now as I am writing this, I am already missing that smile very much. And I believe that many of us in church who knew or have noticed him before would feel the same way as well.
In this grief an immediate sense of regret crept into me in the form of a thought: I had spent so much time taking videos and photos of this incredibly lovable uncle from the church over the course of so many months but yet I had somehow forgotten to take a photo with him.
But in that moment of regret I came to the Lord in prayer and images of Uncle Richun’s smile was all I could see whenever I closed my eyes. So I decided to go deeper into thinking and appreciating his gleeful energy and if possible, also try to make sense of how God fits into this all.
I wondered very much about how on earth Uncle Richun was able to bring his joy and liveliness so quickly into the lives of those around him just by being, well… him!
And as I wondered, I also recalled how during our many conversations together during the course of the filming for the documentary, Uncle Richun would never fail to mention God’s goodness; whether he was talking about how he came to Christ, the beginnings of the church, the good times, or the bad ones – he would always end his recounting of those stories claiming the goodness of God in his life, in the lives of others and in the birth and sustaining of the church.
Perhaps then, it was in recognising the perfect goodness of God for him that caused him to smile so often and so effortlessly. And not just that, perhaps he did not only recognize God’s goodness in his own life but also came to fully trust and believe in God’s goodness for everyone else in a manner that would allow him to want to share his joy of knowing this, with anyone he came into contact with in church.
That, I thought to myself, would perhaps be the best way to remember Uncle Richun. Not to remember just his smile alone but the fuel and motivation behind that smile. For if we spent more time understanding what had brought him such joy in life, we would ultimately come to realise that the reason was Christ.
And when we come to remember Christ and all the infinite goodness of God in our own individual lives, perhaps we too can smile a little more often, and with a little less effort. And if we could smile just half as well as Uncle Richun did, maybe we too can bless those around us in the same manner that he has blessed us.
During our conversations over those few weeks spent filming with him, Uncle Richun would also frequently bring up the need for unity in the church. Never failing to mention as well, the many mistakes his generation and perhaps even those before him had made on this front.
At the church camp last year, during the sharing session on the last day, Uncle Richun went forward to share on some of the thoughts that he had after reflecting on the three-day camp. I do hope that most of us who were there would be able to remember, at least vaguely, what he had shared on the stage that day.
He mentioned how good the camp had been for him and how happy he was to see that we were able to be together as one, regardless of age or the services we attend back in church. He also mentioned how he was unsure of how many more of such camps he would be able to attend because of his age. He then, quite hilariously, proceeded to lobby for church camps to be done together in such a manner at least once in two years.
And now after remembering the many conversations we’ve had last year, I believe what he was really pushing for underneath the request for church camps to happen more often in the future was not so much just about the fun that we would get out of such camps, but what having those camps represented and could ultimately contribute to – unity.
And there was perhaps no greater proponent of unity in our church than Uncle Richun.
For in those many moments that he was willing to share his smile with all those around him in church, he made us all feel – whether we had appreciated it in those moments or not – an immensely great sense of belonging that would’ve caused anyone with the ability to appreciate such moments to say in their hearts: “Yes! This is indeed the love and goodness of our God and the family that He has blessed us with.”
And from watching his moving about in church and his interactions with other members, it would seem very likely to me that he hardly ever hesitated to share this same, powerful smile with anyone in church regardless of their age or the services they attended. He was truly the smile of the church!
He certainly helped me experience to a great extent, the joy of unity; someone who is 47 years younger than he was and unable to really carry a proper conversation in Mandarin. Yet, he served me on countless occasions and spoke to me in the same manner that he would with any one of his peers.
And so my intention in writing this post is to remember Uncle Richun and more importantly, the way he has blessed me and many others in the church. And I hope that this post, along with the video posted above, will also help you to remember him.
Personally, I am thankful to God and to Him be all the glory for the many lessons and experiences that He has blessed me with through the life and company of Uncle Richun, who like me, is a sinner and an imperfect man who has put his faith God.
May we as a church, hold fast to the same faith that Uncle Richun has in Christ. And through that, may we remember him by remembering the unity that he encouraged us to work toward. Let us also remember him by trusting always in the goodness of God in our lives just as it was so evidently seen in his, through his unforgettable smile.
Hakka Methodist Church