"David wrote numerous books and articles on theology and mission, and taught worldwide with the goal of keeping the mission movement grounded in Scripture and sound theology."
"He always had biblical perspective, embraced the passion for world mission, effectively communicated in cross-cultural missions, and loved Japan and the Japanese deeply. It is not an exaggeration to say that the foundation of the Evangelical Free Church of Japan was build by Dr. David Hesselgrave and Gertrude Hesselgrave, and their co-workers. We will always remember them in our hearts with a deepest gratitude and highest respect. We will never forget Dr. Hesselgrave's missionary spirit and his smiling face. (Heb. 13:7) [...] May the glory be to God who sent Dr. Hesselgrave to Japan."
"I'll never forget his words at my folk's 50th anniversary celebration that took place here, just down the hall. That would have been almost 25 years ago. He expressed his love and dependence on mom for her support of his ministry and for maintaining the family when he was so preoccupied (way too much, he said) with work. She was the heart of hospitality extended to colleagues, students, neighbors, and many nationals. Mom's health failed years before dad's and so he followed up on that expression of gratitude and love by caring for her as long as his ability and strength would allow and, perhaps, even when it was too much for him. Many of you observed them together in these very halls and can testify to that.
Correction and support given to us kids was primarily based on example, seldom from empty, disconnected pontifications, like—'you should..., I told you...' He wasn't a nagger. When dad said something, we listened. Ron relates a time in middle school when he was not performing in math. Dad told Ron to come into his office—you must understand there was a bit of trepidation in those invitations. Dad told Ron to look around. Everything was orderly—desk, bookshelves, furnishings. Dad said that was a reflection of discipline, perseverance, and organization. Without those qualities there is no success. Dad told Ron it was time for Ron to apply those principles to his math. Ron said that was a lesson well taught, not only for math but for life.
I want to invite you into dad's heart regarding his dedication to the Gospel message, the growth of the Church, and faithfulness to the Bible. These stories will be drawn from the time I spent with dad in conversation during this last year of failing health and his confrontation with the imminence of death. I live in the Seattle area so those times were not as often as I would have liked, and I treasure those conversations. Here I must give credit to Ron and Kathi; Sheryl and Marty for consistently being with dad through these ups and downs—it has been a hard year, and they bore almost all of the burden, though they would stress that they did so gladly. And I have to give thanks to Joyce Conrad for constant support to all of us kids as well as constant encouraging visits with dad even after Stan's passing one year ago. Stan and Joyce were long time colleagues going way back to mission work in Japan in the 50's, and before. My thanks to each of you. In one of those conversations with dad he said, 'I don't like memorial services (and here we are!)—'there is,' he said, 'usually too much emphasis on the persons and their positive attributes and not enough on the Lord and our failures and need for grace and a Savior.' One example of his mindset in this regard was when I read to him a laudatory letter from a fellow missionary in Japan and former student in his class at TEDS. The letter praised dad for his role in founding the church in Japan and the instruction he got in dad's classes. Dad said to me in honesty and sincerity, 'That's too generous in praise; I don't deserve it. But if I had a small part in spreading the Gospel and growing the Church, in spite of my inadequacies, that is sufficient.' Dad wrote the same response in his own shaky hand writing expressing thanks to this colleague—that note was shared with me just recently.
One last story: Dad related to me that when he was at the University of Minnesota doing studies in his philosophy degree, he had a renowned professor who knew of dad's high regard for the Bible. He said to dad, in effect, 'I read and appreciate the Bible myself. There are many things I agree with but also a lot that I have issues with.' Dad's response was, in his own words, 'Professor, there is one main difference between you and me—when I read the Bible, I read it on my knees.' No story better illustrates his commitment to Scripture throughout his life.
Thank you so much for coming today and I hope this brief account gives you a peek into my dad's heart."
"When I look at David's life, it's obvious that few have had the influence he had on the study of missions from an evangelical perspective over the past several decades. His impact on the Evangelical Free Church of America has been clearly seen from his days as a student at Trinity Bible Institute, where he met his wife Gertrude, through twelve years of effective ministry and service with the EFCA in Japan, and on his time teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His writings and teaching have impacted scores of EFCA pastors, missionaries, and leaders over the years, keeping missions at the forefront of the work of God, that God called us to, as an association of churches. The Evangelical Free Church of America was founded with a deep desire to see leaders trained for ministry and effective mission work done around the world. David clearly embodied the heart of those early EFCA leaders."
"[He became the] strongest voice for Scriptural authority in evangelical missions. Evangelism and church planting remained absolutely essential to his understanding of missions. [...] It's pretty well-known he had disagreements with various other well-known people, like John Stott. And yet, he was always quick to say that even though he might sharply disagree on particular theological points, that he remained in fellowship and in warm relationship with those people.
[When I visited David a few weeks ago, he] told me I am not supposed to talk about him much, which is a promise I am not going to be able to keep very well, but I will try and keep it focused the way he wanted on the gospel and the Lord.
Most of all, his gratitude was to God. And that is no doubt the reason why he chose this passage in Ephesians 1 [for the memorial service message]. [...] He did not choose a passage like 2 Timothy 4:7, where Paul says as he approaches the end of his life, 'I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.' He didn't want a passage like that because that would have been too much about him. So, let's take just a good theologically-rich passage like this one that focuses the attention on God and His glory.
After WWII, of course, Japan was a defeated enemy. There was openness. People were saying, 'It's now the opportunity to go to Japan.' And he followed that call. But they found out the message was not always very welcomed, and the response was not what one had hoped for. But he was faithful in that calling. He was faithful because of this bedrock conviction that people need Jesus, whether they recognize it or not.
What he observed there was that in that era when Japan was looking to the future, the Emperor had abdicated, there was a liberal theology that said, 'Well, the Bible is actually kind of like a book of myths, a religious storybook. And Christianity is like all the other world religions that kind of all, basically, teach the same thing.' And he observed how that had cut the jugular of the Christian church in Japan. And when you have that view of the Bible, it sucks the oxygen out of the life of Christianity. He had seen what that kind of thinking and that way of looking at the Bible does. And this is one of the reasons he became so passionately committed—that whatever else good we do, and there are many good things missionaries do in the world, we can never lose this message, the message of truth as Paul called it. The gospel of salvation. Not just some good news—it's a good news that is a message that saves us for eternity.
He is probably the last of the great missionary wave in the post-war era. After WWII, there were waves of American missionaries, many of them soldiers who had been abroad for the first time who went out as missionaries. And, of course, that generation is rapidly passing away. And he's also one of the last of his generation of missiologists, that is theologians who taught missionaries, who thought about how missions should be done well. And so, there was this whole generation of them who were real pioneers in evangelical missiology—and he's really one of the last of those now departing from us. And so, the baton has been passed to us. And some of us, like myself, who were his students, are also getting further along. It will be to the students of his students, and for us to encourage them to carry on that kind of a ministry, that kind of commitment, and that kind of legacy."
(Emphasis added throughout)
"There’s a land beyond the river,
That we call the sweet forever,
And we only reach that shore by faith’s decree;
One by one we’ll gain the portals,
There to dwell with the immortals,
When they ring the golden bells for you and me.
Don’t you hear the bells now ringing.
Don’t you hear the angels singing?
’Tis the glory hallelujah
In that far off sweet forever,
Just beyond the shining river,
When they ring the golden bells for you and me."