I will never forget the morning of March 1, 1961. I was 13 years old and my father had gone to hospital in an ambulance the day before. At about 7 am, I heard our car pull up in the driveway. Moments later, my mother came into my room, sat on my bed and held my hand. Tears began streaming down her face as she said, "Dad died at 3 am."
At that moment, I felt such intense emotional pain and I burst into tears. But it took several days for the reality of the situation to hit home to me--things were going to be very different from now on.
My mother did not know where to turn for help. All our money was in Dad's bank account--even the car was in his name--and my mother could not access anything until the death certificate was available and the will processed. That was going to take weeks.
What were we going to do to buy food? In desperation, my mother made an appointment to see her doctor. He gave her a small sum of money and said that he would see what he could do.
That evening, a couple called to see us. The husband, a colleague of the doctor, had been told of the young family that had just lost their father. They brought freshly baked pies, some cakes and bags of groceries.
They also left a New English Bible New Testament and a picture book about the Bible. They invited us to go to church and, though we had never been a church-going family, my mother went a couple of times. Over the years that followed, I would occasionally get out the Bible picture book and look through it.
Our family adjusted to a lifestyle on the widow's pension, which meant that most of my clothes were bought from the local opportunity shop.
One day, toward the end of my final year in high school, we had a visit from an older couple, who introduced themselves as friends of a woman my mother knew. The man said they had heard I would be finishing school soon and would be needing to look for a job. He and his wife had decided that they would like to buy me a new coat--a Bermuda coat--so I would be well dressed for job interviews.
I had never met or heard of these people before and I was inclined to decline their offer but, encouraged by my mother, I agreed to meet the man at a large department store. A couple of days later, I was fitted out with my new navy-blue coat. It felt so wonderful to have clothes that were new and fitted me properly.
In due course, I finished school and began applying for positions. My jacket must have made an impression, because at my second interview I was offered a physics cadetship at a prestigious research laboratory.
About six months later, we heard from friends that this kind man had passed away in his home. He had become ill quite suddenly and knew he was dying.
Calling his family to the bedside, he said goodbye to each member, closed his eyes, said "Thank you Jesus," then died with a smile on his face.
Even the local doctor who attended his bedside was amazed at the peaceful way this man had died. When I heard the story, I thought, How wonderful to have that kind of peace at the time of death!
As I contemplated my life one day, I asked my mother, "How do you find God?"
"You go to church," she replied. Encouraged by my mother, I rang the family who had visited us after my father died and asked if I could go to church with them.
They were happy to oblige and from a sermon at their church, I learned I had to accept Jesus as my saviour if I wanted to experience the type of peace that elderly man had, who had been so kind to me years earlier.
I began reading the Bible and attending church regularly-- gradually coming to the understanding that God was changing my heart, making me a new person. I began to understand why that kind man had bought me my new coat many years before.
I accepted Jesus as my saviour and was baptised in December, 1971. John Ashton is strategic research manager for Sanitarium Health Food Company. He is also the author of a number of books and lives in Cooranbong, New South Wales.