November 23, 2016

Evangelism, the Holidays, & My Atheist Grandpa

by Eric Davis
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Here we are again, launching into another holiday season. Most likely, many of us will be spending time with relatives of various spiritual persuasions both this weekend, and over the Christmas holiday. Times with lost relatives can be tricky.

I remember one such situation with my French, atheist grandfather who passed away a few years ago. His name was Georges Lycan, and he spent most of his life as a carefree, pleasure-loving actor in France. That I know of, he appeared in over a dozen Broadway-like plays in France, several TV shows, and about 50 movies, probably the most well-known being his role as Sheriff Stone in the Charles Bronson Western, The Red Sun.

From my early teen years, I often spent summers with him at his country home in the Loire Valley. He enjoyed spending those warm days showing me pictures from his acting days, taking me hunting, teaching me about French wine and cheese, and making me repeat the most difficult French words 100 times until I pronounced it right (e.g. “grenouille”).

But our relationship changed a bit when the Spirit of God gave me the new birth and I put faith in Jesus Christ. Not long after I was saved, I was off to France for another visit. I stumbled along as I attempted to explain to my grandfather that Christ had substituted himself on the cross for my sins. He fired back, proudly, “Je suis un athee” (“I am an atheist”). He tried to comfort me one day by saying, “Well, Eric, if I was going to be religious, I would be a Buddhist.” I often struggled with what to say and how. At times he was perplexed. Other times he would mock me. For example, when he dropped me off at the Paris airport that summer, he gave me a swift, “Bravo, Eric, on this new religion thing.” He had lived a life where, it seemed, he was always able to take care of himself. He had wealth, fun, and fame. The idea of Christ was as foreign as it was intrusive to him. For these reasons, family is often the crux of evangelism.

Then, after not being able to visit him for a few years, I got a call. My grandfather had been in and out of the hospital for a few months. Bone marrow cancer was bringing him closer to eternity. I hopped on a flight to Paris. My beloved grandfather was debilitated and he didn’t know what to do. Decades in the spotlight and self-sufficiency came to a screeching halt. He was a broken, humbled man.

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I knew he would be entering eternity soon to stand before a holy God. He needed to hear the good news that through repentance and faith in Christ, God could be his Father instead of Judge. But my French was rusty. I had very few private moments with him. Doctors and friends were coming in and out of his hospital room. One of his close friends came by who was a staunch Catholic. They said nothing to him about Christ. At the time, I couldn’t believe it. My time to leave was coming. I decided if I just read the Bible, then there would be no chance of stumbling over words and terms.

So, I prayed and finally I had about ten minutes with him. I thanked him for the years we had together. Then, I picked up a French Bible and started reading it to him. I didn’t know what else to do. I was weak and nervous, but he needed to hear (cf. Rom. 10:17). “Grandpa, I’m going to read you the Bible.” I wanted him to hear of God’s wrath which he deserved from his holy God and Creator for his sin. And I wanted him to hear of God’s mercy which God provided in the Person, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Among other things, I read Hebrews 9:27, Romans 3:21-26, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, Romans 6:23 and 10:9-10, John 3:16, Acts 4:12, and Ezekiel 33:11. The reading was rough but the words were pristine. After I encouraged him to turn to Christ for forgiveness, it was silent. In a weak murmur, he said he had to use the restroom. Pretty anti-climactic. Though he hoped to get to the restroom, he could barely sit up to use the bedpan.

Then, I saw one of the rarest sites in the world. My grandpa cried. You have to understand that this was a man who never cried, ever. He was at the top; the chief; the jovial, proud, and self-sufficient Georges Lycan. But, standing there in the humiliation of a broken body and a half-tied hospital robe, my grandfather wept.

Not much was said. He didn’t leap out of his bed. The cancer did not fly from his bones. He did not ask to be baptized in his hospital tub. A minute later, some family and nurses came in. They saw the tears. No one said anything. Soon, I was back on a plane. His health declined. A few weeks later, on February 6, 2006, he entered eternity.

I hopped back on a plane and returned to France. His funeral was a high mass in a centuries-old, dark, cold, French, Catholic cathedral in the Loire Valley. Old actor friends poured in from around the country. The priest did his thing. I was allowed to say a few words and share the gospel.

The reception was held at my grandfather’s hunting lodge outside a tiny village called, Sambin, near the lakes where he loved to hunt. I got to know many of his old friends. “I knew your grandfather from this film, or that play.” “You, Americans, you are pretty religious,” another remarked. Then, his nurse who was with him daily until his death approached me with tears. She said, “I don’t know what you said to your grandfather when you were there three weeks ago. But after you left, he was a changed man. He told me, ‘My grandson showed me the way.’”

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I don’t know what happened that night I read the Bible to my grandfather. I don’t know what happened in his heart. I don’t know if the Spirit blew his life-giving wind into my grandfather’s soul. I hope so. I will have to wait until my time to die to find out.

But I do know this: we can trust the word of God and the God of the word. When it comes to personal evangelism, I am often weak and trembling. But we don’t need to complicate it. Contained in the 66 books of Scripture are the inspired, inerrant, and sufficient words of God Almighty. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). There’s nothing like the Bible. No book has the power to take the dead and hell-bent and make them alive and holy-bent. “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” (Ps. 19:7). We can trust the power of God’s word in evangelism, even with the most hardened people. And, if the dead are not raised as we speak the good news of Christ crucified, we can trust the God of the word. He is sovereign. “O Lord God, the Almighty, righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations!” (Rev. 15:3).

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at the Cripplegate. May God strengthen us to trust the word of God and the God of the word this holiday season.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • alexguggenheim

    🙂 🙂 🙂 Grateful you shared.

  • wiseopinion

    Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate your honestly and candor in not knowing if the seed planted by humble words and reading from scripture made a difference of which eternity your beloved grandfather is facing. Too often we hear grandiose stories of complete healing, or restoration, or repentance…and while some of those stories are true and need to be shared…there are also a million stories such as you shared…where in our obedience in sharing we may never know if our humble words of the Good News made an impact that lead to saving faith.

    • Eric Davis

      Amen. Let’s keep throwing out the seed.

  • Lars B

    This was great. Thank you brother!

    • Eric Davis

      Praise God, Lars!

  • Jane Hildebrand

    Seriously. I need to just stop wearing mascara.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all my family at the C-gate. Grateful for you all.

    • Eric Davis

      Thank you, Jane. Grateful for you too.

  • Mike Lee

    Excellent post, my good man.

    • Eric Davis

      Praise God, Mike.

  • kevin2184

    What a great story, Eric. Thanks for sharing

    • Eric Davis

      God is good, Kevin! Happy T’giving brother

  • Russ Reemtsma

    Thank you. That was a blessing. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, too!

    • Eric Davis

      Thank you Russ, and to you too

  • Lynn B.

    What a blessing and what a great reminder to speak the Word. Thank you!

  • Ray Adams

    Thank you. An encouragement because clearly from the depths of your being and from the height of God’s word. On both counts my heart was stirred to be more like Christ the Living Word.

    • Eric Davis

      Grateful to hear that, Ray

  • Ira Pistos

    Thanks so much Eric. I really needed to read that.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all.

    • Eric Davis

      And to you too, Ira.

  • Excellent post, brother. What a great encouragement for us to be good stewards of the Gospel treasure entrusted to us — weak, frail earthen vessels.

    When it comes to personal evangelism, I am often weak and trembling. But we don’t need to complicate it. Contained in the 66 books of Scripture are the inspired, inerrant, and sufficient words of God Almighty.

    Amen.

    • Eric Davis

      Praise God, Mike. Thanks

  • Weeping tears of joy, brother. May God grant mercy to so many this holiday. Thanks so much.

    • Eric Davis

      Amen, Michael. I pray that he will

  • Karen

    Thank you for sharing that. It was very encouraging to me.

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for reading, Karen. Happy T’giving

  • bearmalcolm

    …thanks.

  • Bob Eddy

    Thanks for sharing this incredible story of God’s grace. I had a similar situation with my great uncle back in the 90’s. No matter how much I witnessed to him and told him about God’s grace and mercy, he always came back with “God could never forgive me for what I’ve done in my life.” When his health got bad, I was his only living blood relative close by so I made sure he was taken care of at an assisted living facility near where we lived and we went and saw him almost daily. When I got a call that he was near death, I came to see him and prayed on my way for “one last time” to share something that would penetrate his soul. As I sat next to his bed, I read him the story of the crucifixion and the thief on the cross who was taken with the Lord to paradise. I told Uncle Brad it was never too late. I then prayed for him and led him through the words he could use to accept salvation… all I could see was tears flowing down his cheeks. He was so weak he could not talk. When I was done, he grabbed my arm and pulled me down to his face and whispered “thank you” in my ear. That was the last time he talked and the last time I saw him alive. I just hope that when I get to heaven, I will see him there. But only God knows.

    • Eric Davis

      Great story, Bob. Thank you for that

  • 4Commencefiring4

    What a great story. I, too, had only a few fleeting minutes with my father at his hospital deathbed many years ago. Not having a Bible handy, and with him an a bit of a medicated state, I prayed a prayer of repentance and trusting in Christ. When I was done, I asked him if he had ever prayed anything similar. With his eyes still shut, and just able to mutter, he said, “Well…you don’t think I have. But I have.” He had always been a self-sufficient man, a “master of my fate; captain of my soul” sort.

    It would have to suffice. Attending personnel came in, and it was time to leave. I wouldn’t see him again.

    • Eric Davis

      Wow. Thank you for sharing that!

  • D. Mumford

    Thanks for this excellent testimony of God’s grace, and of your faithfulness. We are church-planting missionaries about 1 hour west of Tours (in Angers). It appears this is the area your grandfather was from. Here and there, other people are turning to Christ in France – the Lord is certainly not defeated here!

    • Eric Davis

      D – He was born right near Chenoceaux & his summer home was in Chaumont-sur-Loire. I have spent a bit of time in Angers. The gospel is greatly needed there as you know. What’s the name of your ministry? I’d love to come visit if I’m in France in the near future. Thanks!

    • D. Mumford

      Hey Eric – our church is called “Centre Baptiste d’Angers” – we are on the north-east side of the city. We’ve been here almost 19 years. I do get to Tours now and again – there is a good Christian bookstore right across the plaza from the train station (we have very few of those in France). There is also a church in Amboise that we know of. Look forward to possibly seeing you in the future. Dave

  • Jeff Schlottmann

    This is an amazing story Eric. It was all put into perspective for me today.

    At around noon Pacific time (Thanksgiving day), my neighbor of 9 years, named Chris, committed suicide by gunshot. He did it right outside on his steps after threatening his roommate and her daughter. I am positive he was not saved. With all the confusion that suicides bring, the only thing I could think of is that he just sealed his eternity. I can’t imagine doing that thinking you’re getting away from it all, only to have to face God as an unbeliever. That is a terrifying thought.

    I pray that more of us can give testimonies like yours. Thank you for the encouraging post.

    • Eric Davis

      Oh wow, Jeff. That is just terrible. The curse takes no holiday. I pray that you are able to be a light to that dark situation, brother.

  • Sam Hendrickson

    Thanks for this Brother Eric! Your post is a gift from Christ to me!

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