This article appears in the 29.1 edition of Just Thinking magazine.
It was the final event of our ministry trip, our last night in Shanghai. My dad spoke and then as he often did, he invited one of our speakers to join him for Q&A.
One by one, my dad answered each questioner with the clarity and grace that had come to define his approach—and by extension, that of the global RZIM team.
Then came the final question of the evening. A young man stood up and said that although he was a Christian, he didn’t really love God. I could tell by how my dad first responded that he was moved by the bravery of such an honest question asked in front of faculty and students at this Christian school for children of expats.
But the bravery and honesty of this question also resonated with me—for this question about love was true of my heart, too. I believed, but I didn’t love.
In response, my dad told a story—a story he had told me, and my sister and brother, when we were growing up. He had put it to paper years ago, and it became one of his published children’s books, The Broken Promise. My dad was a magical storyteller, using story to illustrate even complex truths so that they could be held. But he applied the story differently that night in Shanghai, suggesting that perhaps we don’t feel free to love God if we’re holding something back from Him. And in that moment, I knew that I was. I was holding back surrender, and I was afraid if I surrendered I would lose something that mattered to me. But that night, I surrendered completely.
I flew home the next day; a friend saw me soon after I returned and immediately asked me what had happened to me. It was visible, and it was visceral. My act of surrender created space for me to accept that God loved me, and then because He first loved me, I fell deeply in love with Him. That changed everything for me, and in ways I never imagined.
Shortly after my dad passed, I suddenly realized I never told him that story. I know he would have seen the change in me then, but I never told him how God used him to change my life. I suppose I always thought I would tell him one day. In his humility—and perhaps much like so many other fathers—he underestimated the full impact he had on my life.
And the story of that impact is still unfolding, as it will continue to unfold in all of us at RZIM.
Since his passing, I have thought much about the traits of who my dad was that I want to make sure we carry forward as a ministry: his humility, his integrity, the way he saw people, and his passion to bring the gospel to as many people as he could. When we talked and planned and envisioned the future of RZIM, my dad wanted us to continue to focus on reaching youth. He wanted us to bring a diversity of voices together to create space to speak the hope and redemption of the gospel into the sacredness of race and ethnicity, and even in a digital age, he urged us not to lose a personal connection with those we are seeking to reach. In his final days, from his bed, he was commissioning his friends to go to India to speak to young people there, perhaps in those last days poignantly remembering his own youth.
We will do these things, by God’s grace and through his strength. We will follow my dad’s example and carry on his legacy. We will do what God has called us to do: to bring the gospel message to the world, so that people may not just know Him, but know they are loved by Him and then love in return. For it is the love of Jesus Christ that saves us and transforms us all.
When my dad officially commissioned me as CEO of RZIM in 2019, after a prayer of commissioning before RZIM staff and ministry friends, he whispered in my ear, “The Lord will go with you, honey.” Let it be for all of us.
Sarah Davis is CEO of RZIM.