“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” ~ Luke 10:36-37, NRSV

My relationship with my father was ruptured when, at 17 years of age, I was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He was totally opposed and vehemently exclaimed, “You are no longer my son. You have no place in this home!” So, with deepest agony of soul, I ran away one dark, wintry day.

With church support, I was later transported to what is now Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, to begin studying in preparation for the ministry. Upon arrival I felt fatherless, motherless, and brotherless–certain I would have no friends but would remain an anonymous and isolated person. How wrong I was!

Before I left for Andrews University, my minister referred me to Mark 10:29-30. In that text, Jesus promises that those who have to leave father and mother, brothers and sisters, for His sake and the gospel’s, will receive not only the promise of eternal life, but an abundance of family in this world. So true! Church members became like parents, supplying so many of my needs; and caring college friends became brothers and sisters. I was surrounded by an incredible love.

Little did I surmise then, but that very love would later turn my father’s heart to God, my church, and to me (as Malachi 4:6 promises). It happened several years later. While on a visit to his homeland of Croatia, my father had a massive heart attack. A Seventh-day Adventist physician gave him a shot in the heart, which kept him alive until he reached the hospital. Her sister was also a Seventh-day Adventist physician, who worked in that very hospital, along with a Seventh-day Adventist nurse. They began visiting my father.

Living right next door to the hospital were the parents of a Croatian student couple who were in my class at Andrews University, where I was teaching. These parents visited my father every day, even though they were complete strangers. They brought him food he could not eat and drink that he could only sip.

These loving Seventh-day Adventists touched his pain-wracked body. They lifted him up and laid him down, turned him this way and that, to ease his suffering. And they talked to him of the love of God and invited him to accept Christ into his heart. He did. Soon after my arrival, my father told me, “If they make people behave like this, then I want to be a part of this people and be baptized.”

One day, as I was standing at his bedside, my father, who had once told me I was no longer his son, now looked me intently and affirmed, “You are my son!” I believe that when he said that, God was bending over him saying, “And you are my son!”

What made the difference and brought my father to a deep conversion experience? It was not doctrine, but God’s love operating through people. We are God’s language, His hands and His feet. The word of His love becomes flesh in us.

Ivan T. Blazen is professor of biblical interpretation and theology in LLUSR. After graduate studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, New York; University of Heidelberg in Germany; and Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, he received a PhD degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1979. He has authored journal articles, book chapters, and books.