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It was one week before Christmas. I was 10 years old. Was I contemplating what gifts may await me under the tree? No. My mind was consumed with worry that I would not get home before my father died.

I had just taken my final exams at Quilmes Preparatory School, a private British boarding school I attended near Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was getting ready to go home for the holidays when my grandmother, who lived nearby, called.

"Luis," she said, ignoring any amenities, "your dad is very sick. We really have to pray for him." She gave me no details, but I had a terrible feeling he was dead or dying.

Luis PalauIt was one week before Christmas. I was 10 years old. Was I contemplating what gifts may await me under the tree? No. My mind was consumed with worry that I would not get home before my father died.

I had just taken my final exams at Quilmes Preparatory School, a private British boarding school I attended near Buenos Aires, Argentina, and was getting ready to go home for the holidays when my grandmother, who lived nearby, called.

"Luis," she said, ignoring any amenities, "your dad is very sick. We really have to pray for him." She gave me no details, but I had a terrible feeling he was dead or dying. The next morning, December 17, 1944, Grandma came to put me on a train bound for home.

"It's serious," she said. "Your mom wants you to come and see your dad."

The three-hour trip seemed interminable. I couldn't stand it. I wished I could have engineered the train myself and sped things up. I loved my dad more than ever. Although we had been apart more than half the time the past three years while I attended school, we had talked at length and made many plans.

But now I couldn't shake this ominous feeling. I was sure my father was already gone.

I sat in silence on the train, staring ahead, yet seeing nothing. There was no way I could ignore the dread, the certainty that I would arrive too late to say goodbye to my father.

I didn't even know what was wrong with my dad. I wouldn't learn until later that he had suffered for just 10 days. Bronchial pneumonia had been diagnosed and nothing could be done. December 1944 was not a good time to need penicillin. It was all locked up in Europe and the Pacific, helping mop up the end of World War II.

When the train finally reached Ingeniero-Maschwitz, the town where I lived, I was out of my seat and pressing against the door. I bounded down the steps and ran toward home.

Any shred of hope I might have harbored in the back of my mind during the long train ride quickly dispelled when I came within earshot of my house and heard the traditional wailing.

I ran through the gate and up to the house; I was in the door before my mother even knew I was home. And there was my father: yellow, bloated, still secreting fluid, blood drying, lips cracked. His body had dehydrated.

I ran to him, ignoring my sisters and all my other relatives. My father was in bed, as if asleep. He had died just a few hours earlier.

I tried to steel myself in the midst of all the crying and sobbing, but I began to shake. I couldn't believe this! I would never talk with my father again. He looked terrible, but I wanted him to be all right. I hugged him and kissed him, but he was gone.

My mother stunned but not crying stepped behind me and put her hands on my shoulders. "Lusito, Lusito," she said softly, pulling me away. "I must talk to you and tell you how it was."

She took me outside, and I tried to stifle my sobs while listening to her account. "When the doctors realized they weren't able to do anything else for him, we decided to call you so you could hurry home. It was obvious he was dying, and as we gathered around his bed, praying and trying to comfort him, he seemed to fall asleep. He was struggling to breathe, but suddenly he sat up and began to sing."

I looked up at my mother, hardly believing what she was telling me.

"Papito began to sing," she said, "`Bright crowns up there, bright crowns for you and me. Then the palm of victory, the palm of victory.' He sang it three times, all the while clapping in time as you children did when you sang it in Sunday school.

"Then, when Papito could no longer hold up his head, he fell back on the pillow and said, `I'm going to be with Jesus, which is far better.'" A short time later, he went to be with the Lord.

It was painful for me to mull over my mother's story of how my father had died, but I couldn't push it out of my mind. That he was sure of heaven was the only minutely positive element in the whole ordeal. That picture is still so vivid to me that I sometimes almost feel as if I had been there when he was singing. It was such a contrast to the typical Latin American scene, where the dying person cries out in fear of going to hell.

That Christmas season death became, to me, the ultimate reality. Everything else can be rationalized and wondered about and discussed, but death is there, staring you in the face. It's real. It happens. He was there, and now he's gone, and that's it.

Today, I often use my dad's story during crusades. What better way to show people the victory Jesus Christ offers even in death. But I almost never get all the way through without choking up. As soon as I start clapping my hands, singing, Bright crowns up there, bright crowns for you and me. Then the palm of victory, the palm of victory, my voice fails me.

My father was a living and dying example of Christ's power at work. And I know that power is available to everyone. Death doesn't have to be feared because you and I can have the assurance of eternal life through of the birth, death, and resurrection of God's Son, Jesus Christ.

The reason Jesus came to earth as a baby, the reason we celebrate the nativity, is so that we can live forever with Him in heaven. That's why my father could face death with such assurance. He believed what the Bible says: "We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).

That is the living hope of those who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. We don't have to fear death, unsure of what will happen in the after life. We don't have to stand condemned before God because of our sins. We don't have to spend eternity separated from God. All because Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again. The blood He shed for us on a Roman cross provides forgiveness for our sins. And His resurrection assures us of a home in heaven forever.

? 2000 by Luis Palau
Used with permission.

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