The first time that I saw Phii Tus warm, smile-wrinkled face, he was dropping his sister off for church before continuing on his Saturday-morning water-delivery route. Phii Tu was 53 years old but didnt look a day younger than 65. The cigarette between his lips hinted at the lifestyle he had led for decades.
One sad day nearly two years later, Phii Tus sister told us with tears in her eyes the rest of his unfortunate story. Phii Tu had grown up a sickly child who needed the care of his entire family, even his younger siblings. His family was Buddhist, but he attended a Christian grade school. Judging by the reckless lifestyle of drinking and partying he took up in his teens, he seemed to have no interest in Christianity, and he showed no leanings toward Buddhism either. His sister pled with him to become a Buddhist monk for their mothers sake, and he reluctantly agreed. But then, after shaving his head, he changed his mind and ran away before his ordination ceremony. Phii Tu was married twice and had children with both of his wives. He worked hard to support them, building dams with his brother-in-law and driving trucks for his sister.
I first met Phii Tus sister, Paa Manirat, in a superstore in Surin. When she learned that we had a church and radio station, she began listening to our program. Soon she began attending Sabbath mornings, catching a ride with Phii Tu. We were so happy to have Paa Manirat worshiping with us, and we tried to reach out to her brother as well. I gave him a Bible, which he accepted with great delight. He was interested in attending our church, but he did so only on rare occasions. Work was still the top priority in his life. But then Phii Tu struck up a friendship with our new pastor, and he began spending much of his free time at the church eating with the pastor, studying with me and helping with church maintenance. He became a friend to us and a real blessing.
Then one day, he came to us from the hospital with news that his doctor had just diagnosed him with cirrhosis of the liver. His stomach began to swell. His eyes turned yellow. Eating became difficult for him, and his face, arms and legs grew thin. But more than his health, he was concerned about his soul and his future with God. Pastor, he said, I really want to be baptized. What must I do? So I began baptismal studies with him, his sister Manirat and their mother. They opened their hearts wide to God, and on the final Sabbath of an evangelistic series last November, the three of them were baptized. But by then, Phii Tu was so weak that he could barely step down into the baptismal tank. But with help, he was baptized into Jesus death and raised to new spiritual life in Him.
One of the last times Phii Tu rode in my car, we spoke of some happy memories of things we had done together, including all the little repair jobs at the church. Im just glad I was able to serve God in some way, he said, even if it was for just a little while. A few days later, I got a phone call at 3 a.m. from Pastor Tim saying Phii Tu had just died.
Four Adventist pastors, a small group of our Surin church members and even some members from other provinces gathered to conduct Phii Tus funeral and comfort Paa Manirat and her family. It was a beautiful little service, but other than family and church members, no one else attended. This made the family members cry. Our brother had no friends, his older sister sobbed. In her view, this was just another evidence of her brothers wasted life.
Yes, Phii Tu did waste the prime years of his life and didnt make many friends. Though his thin legacy pleads with us all to remember our Creator in the days of our youth, I still cant help but thank and praise God that, at the very least, this prodigal son made it back to his Fathers house. He was reconciled with his Lord, and he died in His arms.
But thats not all! Through the love and testimonies shared in Phii Tus Christian funeral, his younger brother and sister-in-law were touched, and they have begun attending our vespers and church services. Paa Manirats husband has also said he would like to be baptized and join the church. Once again, Romans 8:28 holds true! I contend that Phii Tus life and death, though unfortunate, were not completely wasted. For from his ashes, we are beginning to see signs of new life.