A Friend who Chasteneth
9 October 1943 – 19 September 2023
Chief Operations Officer CMDFA: 23 January 2012 – 30 June 2023
7 MINUTE READ
David and I were prone to share similar senses of humour and I detected a smile behind the serious façade of one who had packed his bags and was awaiting, with increasing indignation, the tardy swinging of a ‘sweet chariot’1.
We bantered on a bit, until humour petered out in the face of the more serious imperative of addressing the question of delayed departure. David was puzzled, indeed perplexed, by the extension of his last breaths, and was honouring me by seeking my opinion.
I fumbled for an answer: “There must be a reason. I think it means you must have some last blessings to bestow. Some final experiences to share. Some things to say.”
We had been alone for the short time of this conversation and were then re-joined by his wife Anne, daughter Susan and son Gary. To my surprise, when everyone was duly seated around the bed, David, assuming the role of chairman, declared to the gathering that I was to repeat my explanation of why he was still alive.
I rightly discerned both a command that could not be denied and the shared awkwardness of obedience. With the attendees wondering what was coming next, I did my best to comply, despite the distraction of brimming eyes.
At the conclusion of my theological explanation for his delayed departure when we had been alone, I had assured David that I too was being blessed by the alteration in his travel plans. I recall his quizzical regard: “Were we attempting to resurrect humour?” “No, we were not,” I glared.
I perceived the reality of blessing at the time, though its misty dimensions still remain unclear. In my mind (or was it my soul?) I could perceive his delay was permitting me to accompany him to the verge of Jordan, confirming all the Biblical analogies of our transience on this side, assurances of safe travel to the other, and of an awaiting welcome. It caused me to recall the cogent words of Jesus: “I must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; for night cometh when no man can work.” (John 9:4 KJV) After all, I am a bit older than David and have no greater right to health than he.
“The awareness of David’s pending departure was, of course, cause for human grief: even Jesus wept over a friend.”
Emotions were raw in that little bedside congregation, but I had been warmly embraced and was blessed by the fellowship. The awareness of David’s pending departure was, of course, cause for human grief: even Jesus wept over a friend. But it is fair to say there was no cold despair; rather, a warmth from the sure hope that ‘life shall endless be’2 and that we would all be meeting again, ‘at Jesus’ feet’3. David’s final works were working well: by his delay, he was blessing us with a graphic sermon on the promise and prospects of eternity… ‘let not your hearts be troubled… I am going to prepare a place for you.’ (John 14:1-2 KJV)
I was also blessed by seeing more into the soul of a man with whom I had developed a close friendship despite the remarkable fact that we had hardly ever met in person. How strange that in the ten years or so of David being in the leadership of the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia (CMDFA) and my being the National Chair, we probably only conversed face to face on ten occasions!
COVID-19 could be blamed for our physical distance, as could our living on opposite sides of Sydney, as well as my busyness at work. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, our friendship grew from mutual responsibility for the CMDFA, shared over the phone. From that technical base, imperceptibly, our conversations widened in context, deepened in character and moved from organisational business to unorganised forays into theology and the meaning of life, shared in warm fellowship, with lots of humour, sometimes twice a week.
Our last conversation was hardly verbose, with wording indirectly proportional to content, centred on his pending death but, as well as the immediate blessings from his delayed departure, another is emerging from a seed of rebuke planted imperceptibly. Why should rebuke be a blessing? Because the Bible declares, ‘Blessed is the man the Lord chasteneth.’ (Ps 94:12 KJV)
How am I chastened? Because, only now, provoked by the invitation to write an obituary, have I availed myself of David’s published collection of “prayers, praises and reflections”4. I find they appeared in 2016. Why had I not read them before? Why did I miss the opportunity to discuss them, at least on the phone? Why not face to face? Where was the Fellowship we proclaim?
In them, David bares his soul: in wonder at Creation, in thanksgiving for Divine love, in prayer for deeper Fellowship, and in commitment to Him.
In the very last verse of the last poem4, he summarises his testimony in a prayer that we should be ‘a witness to your love’, returning ourselves ‘as the only gift we have’, convinced that, in doing so, through His grace, ‘our portion’ in creation ‘will be cherished through the grace of your dear love’. In this he paraphrases the astonishing assurance of St Paul to the Philippians, that in a life given to Him, ‘God works…to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose’ (Phil 2:13 NIV), despite our human weakness.
“Looking back on David’s life, as revealed in his ‘Spiritual Journey’ at the beginning of his book, it is plain his prayer for deeper fellowship was steadily fulfilled…”
Looking back on David’s life, as revealed in his ‘Spiritual Journey’ at the beginning of his book4, it is plain his prayer for deeper fellowship was steadily fulfilled, with occasional leaps and bounds, always with the help of his ‘ever patient wife’.
He concludes ‘the real purpose of my life is to reflect the nature and character of God in all that I do and say and think’ but recalls a ‘hesitant’ beginning as a young person in a Presbyterian community in England where he began to search for the meaning of life. He sought widely, including secular philosophy, but was drawn to the Christian explanation.
Having trained in advertising and business, and accepted employment in Hong Kong, it was there David’s spiritual development underwent a quantum leap in conviction: he concluded the ‘universe’ could not possibly have arisen by ‘random chance’ and ‘had to be the result of a Creator God’.
At that stage, he had not accepted Jesus as the ‘incarnation of Yahweh, the God of Israel’s scriptures’, but he was being steadily led in that direction by the Christian fellowship he and Anne were enjoying with a vibrant expatriate community.
The next leap occurred several years later, when his employment had taken him to South Korea and where, one night, he accompanied Anne to a dinner of the Christian Women’s Association to which, fortunately for us all, he was permitted entry!
The service was pivotal. He found himself confronted, then and there, by the unavoidable challenge ‘to believe or not to believe… now was the time…I could not leave that point in space and time without making a decision about Jesus’.
“He decided in the affirmative: ‘to accept Jesus as my God and my Saviour and at that moment I saw the feet of Christ on the cross in front of me. The effect was devastating.'”
He decided in the affirmative: ‘to accept Jesus as my God and my Saviour and at that moment I saw the feet of Christ on the cross in front of me. The effect was devastating’.
From there David rejoices that he was ‘nurtured’ by the Christian community in Korea and then in Singapore from where, ultimately, he commuted to work in Indonesia.
In all the above locations, David and Anne cherished (and that is a fair word) the fellowship of the Christian communities: a theme that flowed through his memorial service, confirmed by many communications from lasting friends throughout the world.
“Looking back”, David testified “it was the churches that demonstrated how a Christian environment and society can be created and nurtured by pastors who love and care for their flock that really stand out”. And it was in that environment in Indonesia that David was inspired to record his prayers and praise.
David, Anne and family moved to Australia in 1987. After running his own business awhile, Anne pointed out a small advertisement in a Christian publication about a job with CMDFA, launching ten years of service with us.
Given David’s profound thanksgiving for his experiences in Asia, not only in the business world, but particularly in the fellowship he experienced, his estimation of the value of his time with CMDFA warrants meditation.
Despite his great regard for his experiences in Asia, David has declared his time with CMDFA to be the most meaningful period of service in his life. Anne declares he came to refer to ‘his beloved CMDFA’, enjoying not only Christian friendship but also purpose and commitment.
Therein, of course, lies no cause for pride in ourselves: rather, affirmation of the value of the work to which we have been called. David evaluated CMDFA through the secular optics of the business world, and the experienced optics of a committed servant. In doing so, he came to love our responsibilities, value our calling, and was inspired by our allotted ‘works’. Perhaps he saw the value of CMDFA more clearly than some of its medical and dental members and fellow-travellers?
He did not want to leave his family, nothing is surer. But, nor did he want to leave us, not because of who we are but, perhaps surprisingly, because of what we actually do.
“He did not want to leave his family, nothing is surer. But, nor did he want to leave us, not because of who we are but, perhaps surprisingly, because of what we actually do.”
Given the transience of human existence, David should inspire us, not only to greater service ‘out there’, but to greater internal fellowship. Herein resides my greater chastening. How did a decade pass without me knowing anything of the experience that changed his life? How was I only to read about it4, too late? Why was there no time for explanation of his vision?
Thus, perhaps David’s continued blessing might not only be encouragement to continue our ‘works’ for night ‘cometh’, and our labours are not as much in vain as we might think; his blessing might also lie in ‘chastening’: does our proclamation of ‘Fellowship’ in the CMDFA title match its practice ?
Ah, I can see him now. Is that a smirk or a smile? I really don’t think he would be smirking at my discomfort for having never explored his vision. After all, he now resides in the land of forgiveness. On the contrary, now that he is seeing all things clearly, I suspect he would be smiling in encouragement for us in CMDFA to proceed with confidence in the ‘works’ of proclaiming, enacting and sharing the Light, including in Fellowship with each other. Thank you, David. Vade cum Deo5 my friend, ave atque vale6.
Professor John Whitehall
Paediatrician Professor John Whitehall was National Chair of CMDFA during David Brown’s term as Chief Operations Officer.
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- Willis, Wallace (a Native American slave before the American Civil War). Date unknown. Hymn – “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”
- Willis,Mathieson, George. 1882. Hymn – “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”
- Rankin, Jeremiah. 1828-1904. Hymn – “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”
- Brown, David. 2016. The Dawning Light: a collection of prayers, of praise and reflections. Copies can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Vade cum Deo: Go with God (Latin).
- Ave atque vale: Hail and farewell (Latin). I salute you, and goodbye. used especially in a eulogy to a hero.