I first met Roald after he had retired. I was called to be the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community in Seattle. Roald’s appearance captured my attention. In spite of his Scandinavian ancestry, he wore a Greek fisherman’s cap while walking along the waterfront of our campus. As I asked him about his cap, which was similar to the one I wore, he opened up to me about his past.
Roald Kverndal had lived a lot of life in his 93 years. Born to a Norwegian ship surveyor in London, he grew up speaking Norwegian and English with a British accent. His childhood faith was formed in the Seamen’s Mission Church in the east end of London. His pastor was the father of the young woman Roald would eventually marry.
Roald was in his 20s when he sensed the call to ministry. The Lord opened his heart to the unique needs of seafarers much like those whom he admired as a boy.
Over time Roald became an authority on missions to sailors, sea merchants, and longshoremen. The books he wrote on the subject were based on his research and his personal experience serving seamen’s missions in Australia, Norway, Belgium, France, Alaska, and several ports in the United States.
Because my maternal grandfather had emigrated from Norway, I felt drawn to this man who reminded me of my Papa Birkeland. He even snacked on brown goat cheese and hardtack like my grandpa served me when I was a child.
On a regular basis, Roald reminded me that he and his wife, Ruth, prayed for my family and me. From what I’d come to know about this retired pastor, prayer was extremely important.
Every morning my friend followed a predictable routine. Roald sat on a padded stool in the couple’s small kitchen, eating his signature breakfast of his own granola concoction in the special bowl and drinking a big mug of hot green tea. Then for the better part of an hour each morning, he would remain seated on that stool and pray for those on his lengthy prayer list—a list that included family, friends, missionaries, and world leaders for whom he felt burdened.
The window from his prayer perch offered him a view of Lake Washington. Not the sea, mind you, but a large lake complete with boats anchored at a wharf. It was a view that reminded my friend of his unique calling to encourage and share the gospel with those who traveled by sea.
When Roald was diagnosed with an incurable lung disease, I was deeply saddened. I stopped by one day to give him a small gift. It was a hand-carved wooden cross that was crafted by a friend of mine. The miniature cross fit comfortably in Roald’s hand.
Seeing his smile as he held it tightly, I broke out into the chorus of The Old Rugged Cross: “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.” When I had finished, Roald told me how important that American gospel hymn had been to him early in his ministry.
A couple of months later, it became obvious that he would soon be leaving us for heaven. The last day of Roald’s life, his wife called me. “He’s asking for you,” she said. “Come as quickly as you can. I don’t think it will be much longer.”
When I arrived, I pulled up a chair to the side of his bed. Placing my hands on his hands, I prayed over him. I thanked the Lord for the privilege of knowing Roald. I asked the Father to give my friend the grace needed for the journey ahead—that he would be granted a tangible sense of the Lord’s presence and an enveloping peace.
Because I was accustomed to Roald following up my prayers for him with a prayer for me, I asked him if he would pray over me one last time.
I leaned over his bed so he could see my face without having to turn his head. As he lay propped up by a multitude of pillows, he reached out his long arms and laid his hands on my head. My mind raced back to the pages of Genesis where old man Jacob blessed Joseph’s two sons, placing his hands on their heads and praying over them.
The most beautiful words flowed from Roald’s lips. The fact that he prayed in Norwegian didn’t matter. The prayer was melodic. With ebbing strength, he voiced the words with feeling.
Roald died a few hours later, and Ruth called to give me the news. After inquiring how she was doing, I asked her what he had prayed over me.
“Oh,” she said. “He prayed the Aaronic benediction he would always give in church at the end of the service.”
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26, ESV).
More than a benediction, those words were a blessing I will remember the rest of my life.
This article first appeared in a longer form in the June 2016 issue of Mature Living Magazine.
Greg Asimakoupoulos is a chaplain at Covenant Shores in Mercer Island, Washington. He and his wife, Wendy, have three daughters.