By Cam Roxburgh
This article is the fifth and final in a series on missional lessons from Henry Morgentaler. Start at the beginning here.
I did not know Toronto very well. Even though I found myself here often, my travels usually took me to the suburbs of Burlington and Oakville, and as far as Hamilton. Henry had given me directions into his upscale neighbourhood, but I had arrived early and gone exploring. What a spot!
To be honest, I was nervous. I had been invited to his home, to meet his family, to have a meal together and to play ping pong. He was getting old, like really old. There is no way I would lose to him at table tennis!
I pondered the unusual friendship I had with Henry. I recalled the time I had first caught a glimpse of Henry at the concierge desk at the Banff Springs Hotel, the long conversation over coffee, the emails and phone calls, and the lunch in the Japanese restaurant. We had a number of deep conversations. I could not say that I either really knew or even liked him, but we were close enough to be able to talk at a heart level. He was broken, and I wondered if I had the same experiences, how different than Henry would I have turned out? I still found what he did deplorable.
Yet, something about him drew me to him. I am sure it was the grace of God both in and for me. I was growing in my understanding of what it really meant for Christ to become incarnate and to establish His Kingdom here on earth. Jesus had a vision of what life should be like and gave Himself so that we might have a way to the Father and the possibility to enter into His way of life. I felt propelled to continue to share about Jesus as King, and the way of life for those who follow Christ. I wanted so badly for Henry to respond to the love and mercy of Christ.
It was time. I arrived at his home with a bouquet of flowers, and was introduced to Henry’s wife who was over 30 years his junior. I was greeted with suspicion, but nonetheless welcomed into the home. Henry’s 11-year old son also came to welcome me and then disappeared. I handed Mrs. Morgentaler the flowers, and headed to the basement to teach Henry a lesson or two about how to play ping pong.
I think we played seven games that took close to two hours. I was sweating, and determined that I would eventually win even one game! Dinner was ready. But who needs food at a time like this?
As I entered the dining room and took my place at the table, I looked around at my surroundings. It was a lovely home and clearly one needed a few dollars to live in a place like this. But it was not over the top. It was tastefully decorated and in many ways quite normal, except for the blinds. They looked thicker than any blinds I had ever seen. He told me that they were protective blinds, as he was afraid for the safety as his family. His life was in danger from others who held a different viewpoint. Something seemed backwards.
It was a long dinner with three hours of food, wine and wonderful conversation. We talked about his family, and his wife entered in telling her own stories. We talked of his training as a doctor and his experiences in medicine apart from the abortion efforts. We talked about the human body and how intricate it was. I expressed my opinion about creation, to which he of course responded with his own view. Even as a Jew, he was an outspoken atheist, especially in front of his wife.
The missional lessons were piling up. I talked about Jesus as a normal part of my life. I did not have to try and find a bridge into a “gospel presentation,” but just talked about Jesus as a friend with whom I had a regular relationship. Jesus was present in my life on a daily basis.
At one stage I pushed the envelope a little and asked if during his time in working in the hospital if he had ever seen people being healed without any medical or scientific explanation. He had on several occasions. I shared stories of seeing people healed through prayer and a deep-seated belief that God was involved in the world at present. Our Father did not just create it and wind it up to tick on its own, but cared enough to be involved on a daily basis. Henry’s explanation for these events was what he called “spontaneous healing.” There was no recognition that God may have done something miraculous.
We continued to talk about my faith and work in the church. At one stage I asked if Henry ever came out to Vancouver, whether he would come to my church and let me interview him as part of our gathering. He took less than a second to say he would be delighted. I told him none of us would agree with what he had done, but I wanted people to hear his story and to pray for him.
And there were other missional lessons. As in Luke 10, I had been invited into another’s home where I would eat their food, hear their stories and have them shape the conversation. I extended peace to them to see whether they would receive it; in other words, I tested to see if God was present and at work in their lives, or whether this was not the time. In that way I never had to force spiritual conversation, but rather just follow the lead of God. I called this the spaghetti principle. Would it stick?
On this occasion, it did not stick. There was no encouragement to continue the conversation past this point. Henry had gone to another room to take a phone call, when his wife turned to me and in a protective tone, asked why I was really there. What did I want from him? It was abnormal for her to see someone simply enjoying conversation with her husband and wanting nothing from him. She was hostile to the gospel and had enough of the conversation for the evening. When Henry returned, she excused herself from the table.
It was getting late and Henry had an early flight the next day. I needed to drive out to Burlington and so the conversation wound down. I thanked him for his hospitality and hoped I would see him again soon. We said good night, and I walked toward my rental car after five hours in his home, sad that the conversation had not produced what I had hoped.
One of the key things that I had learned was that I never had to force a conversation. I was deeply intentional, but never felt pressure (urgency, yes, but not pressure) to close the deal. I had been learning to trust God in each and every step. As I left the house that night and drove away, I knew I would continue to have to trust God.
I was not sure when or if I would ever connect with Henry again. But I had been faithful and had done my part. Now I would wait and see if there was another chapter in the story. If yes, I would to be ready. If no, God was in control. Whatever the next steps, I had been changed by the experience.