For the vast majority of Americans, the 4th of July is a time of fireworks, hot dogs (kosher?), and celebration. For myself and my family, every 4th of July brings another year since 2000 when the finest man I know, Jack Henry Downey (my dad), received the greatest Independence Day ever because he stepped into eternity and heard the words many long to hear, “Well done, thou, good and faithful servant.”
I still remember almost every detail of that horrible first 4th of July. I remember the phone call at 3:48 a.m. I remember how some dear friends helped me to get to the airport in NYC and on my way to mama in Oklahoma. I remember my sister and I finding his sermon Bible and finding a list of names, including my sister and myself, and realizing that until the day he died he prayed for everyone he had ever prayed with to receive Jesus as Messiah. I remember the fireworks that lit up the Oklahoma sky and holding my mom’s hand because as much as I hurt, she hurt all the more. I miss him daily and there are times when I long to have another hug from my Daddy Henry; however, I am glad he is in heaven with Messiah Jesus and away from the mess we have made of this world.
Within the Jewish world, there are two items which occur on the anniversary of a loved one’s death — Kaddish and the lighting of the Yarzheit candle. Kaddish is the mourner’s prayer that glorifies God and the candle is to always remember the light that was extinguished from this world. I have lit my candle and will remember the joy I had in simply calling him daddy. I will not say the Kaddish because I seek to honor my father in a different way … by living out the missional life he lived and taught others to live as well.
For my dad had a true missionary’s heart. He wanted to go to Australia as a missionary but was told he was too old. He shared the love of Jesus with anyone and everyone who would listen … and even a few who didn’t want to hear it. He lived long enough to see me surrender my life to missionary service and knew of the work of Jewish missions I was doing in New York City.
I will continue to do the work of Jewish evangelism not to honor my earthly father but because I am commanded to do so by my Heavenly Father. God called me to this work of Jewish evangelism in 1998 and I continue to this day because there are millions of Jewish people who need to know Jesus as I do … because Jack Henry Downey told me.
I perhaps have not uttered the Kaddish for my dad but I think he would like it better if I lived it every day of the year.