“Honour your father and mother,” states the Fifth Commandment. In Sunday school long ago, the lesson was clear: Obey Mom and Dad, whatever they say. Does it mean more?
As “do not kill” covers a swathe of sin—hateful thoughts included—“honouring parents” points beyond rote obedience. With other Scripture, it tells us that all humans are to be honoured—including the weak whose contributions seem insignificant. This is in stark contrast to the narrative of our ego-centered, pleasure-driven world, as well as that of Canaanite and Egyptian societies of Moses’ time.*
Honouring the weak
Comparing (at a possibly stereotypical level) values of European and North American societies with those of other regions, we think of differences in age-related esteem. A core Chinese value of loyalty and deference to parents is captured in the word xiào.** The English translation, ‘filial piety,’ sounds a bit weak itself. But while non-Westerners might come out ahead on honouring the aged, my observations raise questions about a failure to protect the weak. Dishonouring the aged, devaluing the disabled: One way or another, barring biblical transformation, all societies violate this command.
Honouring our seniors
What about us in OM? Do we buy into the world’s narrative on the value of life, or do we live out a more godly view? In our early days, Brethren ecclesiology and Francis’ Schaeffer’s theology gave us a high view of work, and of each worker: bookkeepers and Bible teachers, evangelists and mechanics—esteeming everyone was built into our DNA.
Some who helped lay OM’s foundation have gone ahead to be with the Lord; many continue with us, several in their 80s: Ray Lentzsch, Pauline Jones and possibly others in their 90s. Over 400 active OMers were born before George, Dale and Walter drove to Mexico 60 years ago. Others have dropped from our personnel lists but are still heart and soul part of the family.
How can we honour these ‘mothers and fathers’? Inclusion is one way, encouraging their ongoing participation, not forgetting them in our concern. While OM thrives on the passionate energy and creative approaches to witness of youth, Mickey Walker’s ministry in Dublin demonstrates that the Great Commission doesn’t expire when pension benefits kick in. Nor, we must remember, does the potential of turning to Jesus for the first time. In years past, five of my Asian colleagues rejoiced when their fathers professed faith in Jesus, each within six months of his passing.
A delightful ‘moment of honour’ was expressed at our last OM USA Christmas party. Carl and Arlene Hoffman, volunteers according to the database but fully OMers at heart, were recognised for 60 years of service: hosting visitors, providing mailroom services, maintaining facilities, praying faithfully and much more, going back to the very beginnings of OM in New Jersey.
Financial care is another statement of honour. Some of our seniors are well-prepared for the years ahead; others find their bank accounts moving toward depletion. Laws and social practices varied in the countries they came from. Some were enabled (if not required) to make long-term provision; others lived—and still live with abundant generosity, while trusting God for daily bread.
And allow me to suggest a fourth, ongoing expression of honour: connection. None of our seniors desire control; they delight in the energy and leadership of younger OMers, rejoicing that God is doing greater things than before. Intentionally keeping them informed means much for their prayers and simply because they care. At a personal level, a phone call or email, a birthday card or (perhaps best of all) dropping by for a visit means so much. Why? OM seniors I surveyed told me that “keeping connected” was what they most desired from OM.
The contribution of our OM seniors might not be the same it once was in terms of books sold, tracts distributed, or miles travelled, but they are wonderfully worthy of honour. Together, let’s make sure we keep them connected.
David Greenlee is presently OM’s director of missiological research and evaluation. Based for the last three years at OM USA, he and his wife, Vreni, also serve as OM USA’s senior liaisons.
*I am indebted to Dr. T. Scott Daniels, now of Nampa (Idaho) College Church of the Nazarene for this thought.
**“What is Filial Piety?” www.thoughtco.com/filial-piety-in-chinese-68838