About an hour ago my godfather left earth. He is in the presence of his Lord, who he served faithfully for many years. My godfather was my Uncle Den. My mother and father chose them to raise me if anything should happen to them. My parents thought that my aunt and my uncle were people of character. They always have been.
My Uncle was never one to sit on the sidelines and watch. He wasn’t really one for sitting anywhere at all. He wasn’t even one for traveling slow. From age 33 he was a runner, he was a conoeist, he was an abseiler, and he was a walker (as long as the terrain was a challenge – like most men he hated walking in a shopping mall). My grandmother would be whisked around with some velocity as he ran her up and down the hills of Plymouth in her wheelchair. He was a good son-in-law. My mother didn’t know whether he would turn up at her place of work or at her house jogging or cycling. However, he would drop everything to go across town (sometimes even taking a car) and fix something that my mother needed help with. He was a good brother-in-law.
As my Uncle and godfather I got to know him as an authority on trains and as a very active youth leader. He would encourage the children in his care to overcome all kinds of fears and accomplish amazing feats, all for the sake of a Mars Bar. He would bounce along energetically as he and his wife belted out songs with more umph! than most polished worship bands. When I went to Caversham, in Reading, I had fun at church with my godparents. I used to look forward to the vibrant faith and the chilly hall on a Christmas morning. My Uncle’s faith was real. He cared about injustice and he was nicknamed The Angry Old Man (AYM) because his faith told him that reaching out to people all over the world was essential, it made him angry when the world sat by and let injustice happen. That influenced me. He was also compassionate. He cared for me, for his family, for Kenyans, and for his church in meaningful ways. He didn’t distance himself from me when I became an obnoxious train-spotter. He shared his knowledge of trains with me and he even arranged for me to drive a High Speed Train at 127 miles per hour between Reading and Swindon. He gave me a chance to minister with him in his youth work. Also, when I messed up he was willing to be my advocate in a difficult situation.
My uncle wrote to me a lot when I was traveling the world. He would write his address using coordinates for the absolute location. He would address the letters to AYM and sign them AOM. I remember returning home and sitting together on the cliffs of Bovisand looking out to sea, thinking that our relationship had become mutually respectful. He treated me as an adult, but still tested me with philosophical questions and physical challenges.
Last time I saw him he was weakened by the illness that took him. He was struggling to make sense of the journey ahead. He was bidding farewell to his beloved Dartmoor in poetry. We were able to talk and look out over the sea together. The most precious moment was when he suggested that we share communion. Four of us prayed together and I felt deeply touched. This faithful man overcame many challenges, but his goal was always to live for the ‘man from Galilee’. Even in his weakness, he exhibited strength.
I run regularly because of the values that my godfather passed on to me. However, I pursue God in a radical and uncompromising way because of what he modeled for me. He has run the race well. I pray that I will be the legacy on Earth that he would have hoped for.
Dennis Alfred Charles Batten d. March 21st 2011