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Monday, January 13, 2014

Our Wonderful Friend Bali

Bali was a special person at Immanuel Church.  He was born in Malaysia but came to Sweden many years ago to play professional football (soccer).  At some point in his life he suffered some difficulties and had a nervous breakdown that led to some mental limitations.  But he loved Immanuel Church and Immanuel Church loved him.  He was such a character.  He had a big, bold laugh and he was a kind and generous soul.  He was always giving people gifts, sending post cards, asking about how people were doing.  He wanted to shake everyone's hand on Sunday and he truly embodied the reality of God's love for all of his children.  He would come to our Bible study and sometimes he'd contribute with something relevant, but most often he would be off on another topic!  My favorite line of his from our Bible studies was when Doug was asking people to identify with Abraham and Sarah, how they must have felt as foreigners in a strange land.  He asked the group to share feelings about when they first moved to Sweden.  Bali pipes up, "When I first came to Sweden, I thought the women were the most beautiful women in the world!"  How we have laughed about that.
Bali was a great servant as well.  He washed dishes almost every Sunday after our coffee time.  And even though he could've just come to our outreach lunches each month and enjoyed the meal, he came and served instead.
On Tuesdays he was Jewish because he could go to the synagogue and get free coffee.  Lots of people around town knew Bali because when we was still doing pretty well he would wander around town all day, stopping in and out of the places where people were nice to him.  Every once in awhile he'd bring a friend a little nuttier than even he to the church.  The two of them were quite a pair.
He did know more about global football than any other person I've ever met.  He was my go to guy for information during the World or Euro Cup.  He loved football and knew the game well.  He also demonstrated his amazing athletic ability until late in life.  We'd get together to play badminton and while he couldn't run or move quickly, his hand eye coordination was still excellent.  He loved participating in whatever it was we were doing on any given day in the church.  If the doors were open, he loved being there.
He loved calling us on the phone and did so several times a day and for awhile, the night as well!  We finally got him to understand that he could only call people between 9.00 a.m. and 9.00 p.m.  From then on, at about 8.45 p.m. every day, we'd get a call from him!  Even though at times it drove me crazy, when the calls stopped due his increasing decline, I missed hearing from him.
A little over a year ago Bali's health, both mental and physical, began to decline and a decision was made to move him to a home where he could get good care.  The downside was that it was 3 hours from Stockholm so he could no longer come to church and people from church could no longer visit him easily.  This was a huge loss for both him and us.  We spoke with him on the phone periodically but reaching him was harder.  And he was declining more and more so his contact with reality was getting more and more sketchy.
Yesterday we learned that he died.  It was hard news to receive even though we knew it was a phone call we would inevitably get one day.  He died in his room and we are unsure of the circumstances.  His heart had been failing him so it was likely a heart attack.  We are all hopeful that he went peacefully.  He's at a better place now but we will miss his presence on earth.
Every church should have someone like Bali in the congregation.  The Balis of this world remind you of the core of the gospel, keep you grounded in reality, bring you back to the basic values of God's love for all of God's children.  There were times when his incessant coughing during our sermons drove us mad and days when our patience with him would grow thin.  But then he'd smile his big grin, roar with his big belly laugh, and come up with a comment that would put a smile on your face for the rest of the day.
Our good friend Bali has left this earth and has now joined the saints in heaven above.  Their gain is our loss but what a gem of a person he was.  I'm very thankful that he was part of our lives for the whole of our ministry at Immanuel.  Peace to his memory.  There are many classic, wonderful ones to ponder.