Thirty years ago today, my Dad went to meet his Lord. He was just 59 years old.
Paul was born January 4, 1931 in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. His full name was Paul Innis Gallant; by those initials, you will quickly discern that his mother was illiterate.
Paul was raised by his grandfather, who in the classic terminology was a “tough old S.O.B.” You know the type: When Dad came home crying after being beaten up on his first day of school, the old man let him know he had better learn to take care of himself, or he’d get it worse at home. Or there was the time that grandpa Cormier, who was legally blind, was attacked by a bunch of twelve year old boys. What they didn’t know was that he could see shadows, and he laid a good licking on them with his cane.
The family was a familiar sort of devout-not-devout Roman Catholic one where nobody goes to church except on Christmas and Easter, but God forbid you go a different religious direction (when my Dad converted, his aunt told him to get out of her house).
Growing up, my Dad was not exactly the studious type. The teachers used to get him out of their hair by sending him out to get them cigarettes (these were the 1930s and 1940s, okay?). Eventually, he ran away at 14, having achieved a grade three education. He was functionally illiterate in those years; he used to say that he “had a hard time with a Donald Duck book.”
After a rough and tumble life as pretty much a hobo, in 1958, Dad was in the southern U.S. It was winter, and from what I recall of the story, he went in to sort sort of church service to warm up. I’m sure he heard something of the gospel there, but he didn’t really indicate so.
It was the next day on the highway (Dad was an inveterate hitchhiker) that it all went down.
Although he was not a reader, someone had given Dad a King James Bible. He couldn’t get past the “thees” and “thous,” he used to say, so he never looked at it. But for some indefinable reason, he carried it around with him. On that particular day, his hand involuntarily went into his pocket and pulled out that Bible — he would say later that it was like someone else had hold of his hand. He opened it randomly and it fell to Romans 10. He didn’t see or hear the Elizabethan English. What he did hear directly from the Word of God was that if he believed in his heart and confessed with his mouth the Lord Jesus, he would be saved. He did, and was.
Dad ever after always credited the Lord with teaching him to read.
There are so many things about Dad that I could say — his foibles and his strengths, his experiences and his beliefs. But there are a handful of things that I carry with me to this day.
One of those most astonishing events was the story of Ed Young.
Ed and Dad were friends for years. They had met when Dad did an odd job for him; and although they were not believers, we were regularly in their home whenever we were in Port Alberni. (That was where Mom and Dad met, and we lived there several times when I was young.) Dad was never ashamed to speak of his faith, but he never hammered on Ed incessantly about it.
I think that pretty clearly, Ed Young knew there was something to all this. One day while we were there, a Jehovah’s Witness came to the door, and Ed essentially said that if he ever got religious he would go the way Paul was.
But he never did.
We moved away, visiting on those rare occasions when we got back in town. Years went by, and we had not been back in forever. We heard that Ed was dying. I don’t even remember what from anymore.
What I do know is that Dad really wanted to see him one more time. We eventually ended up in Port Alberni for a visit.
But when we got there, Betty informed us that Ed was in the hospital and had been in a coma for a couple weeks.
We drove to the hospital and Mom and Dad went inside. It was as Betty had said. Ed was unresponsive. Dad prayed over him, and they started to go. But at the door, for whatever reason my Mom looked back and said, “He’s coming out of it.”
They went back to the bed. Ed’s eyes were still closed, but he seemed to be showing signs of consciousness.
Dad asked him, “Do you know who is here?”
“Do you know why I’m here?”
“I believe so” — a very typical Ed response.
“I want to lead you in a sinner’s prayer.”
There, in that hospital room, Ed Young gave his heart to Jesus Christ. And as soon as they were done praying, he slipped back into his coma and never reawakened this side of glory.
There are so many lessons in that story for me to learn. I hope one day I do.
The other story I want to relate today goes back to the early days of my Dad’s ministry. In 1969, he rented a hall a couple doors down from us for six months. For the first 3 ½ months of that, he preached there every night.
What he said later was that throughout that period, he felt like God was distant all day long — like his prayers were bouncing off the ceiling. His only release was when he stood and preached, and the Word of God carried him.
What he learned from that experience was that you can’t live on feeling. You have to stand on the naked Word of God. (Leave it to my father to learn from experience that you can’t live by experience.)
That devotion to Scripture is one of the most fundamentally important things that my Dad left me. Through all the changes in my thinking over the years, that has stuck with me.
The other thing he left me was a high view of God. While he had far too high of a notion regarding the reality of apostasy to be a “classical Calvinist,” he was unapologetic regarding the power and greatness of God. One time, a fellow minister was speaking derisively regarding a doctrine of (I would assume) irresistible grace. “It was me who got down on my knees! It was me who repented!” he exclaimed. To which Dad retorted, “Yes, and how long did it take God to get you there?”
God and God alone is the orchestrator of salvation.
Thirty years ago, after a 2 ½ year battle with ALS, my father breathed his last. He is now absent from the body and present with the Lord. And someday, this body will yet put on immortality, and the God whose Word is unshakable, whose power and greatness are without limit, shall fulfill what he has promised.