We went to Chris’ funeral because we knew his mother Lindsey from church and we wanted to support her. She had frequently showed us pictures of her grown children and spoken of them with pride but we had never met either of them personally.
I expected it to be a small ceremony, a handful of family and personal friends. But as we sat in the gigantic chapel it gradually filled to bursting, with rows of people even crowding the railing of the balcony overhead.
As young as he was, Chris had had a phenomenal impact on his generation. Over 600 people attended, almost every one of them Cambodians in their early twenties.They not only attended the service but before it started they waited in a line which stretched all the way down the aisle and out the door to say lingering goodbyes to his physical remains.
The bilingual service was Christian. I knew Lindsey’s family were Christians but for a people group that is predominantly Buddhist, it amazed me that everyone around us during the service knew and sang the praise songs. Those who stood around outside afterwards eating sandwiches distributed to the multitude discussed his faith and the impact it had on them. And those who came to the Ung home afterwards all seemed to be committed, joyful believers in Jesus Christ.
In the lobby of the church hastily assembled montages of photos had showed Chris with dozens of different informal groups, hundreds of individuals, many with Chris in goofy costumes and poses. He was obviously a party animal.
But it also became apparent that he had a deep love for God which translated into a genuine love for people. In tearful testimonies friends and acquaintances shared how he had made time to give them his undivided attention, stayed up late to listen to them, encourage them, advise them, tease them, laugh and play with them, how he had changed their lives, even kept them from taking their lives. His sister Christine said he was her best friend, wisest counselor and staunchest defender–at an age where it would have been easy to ignore or be embarrassed by a little sister.
Hundreds stayed for the graveside service and through the burial. Teachers he had had at the California Academy of Mathematics and Science High School (CAMS). Fellow students from Cal State Long Beach. Members of his varsity tennis team and dance team. Members of the Cambodian Student Society and of the Filipino Club–of which he was president! Fellow board members of the local Cambodian Town, Inc.
At Lindsey’s urging, we came to their home afterwards. Not only the extended family but many of Chris’ friends were there, sharing noodles, fried chicken, cake, and slideshows of the day’s photos.
Lindsey told me her son’s friends loved to spend time with Chris, practically living with his family even though they had to sleep on couches and the living room floor. In fact the next time I ran into Lindsey, a couple of weeks after the funeral, she was making a run to Costco for toilet paper because his friends still didn’t want to leave. They wanted to be where Chris had been and talk about what they planned to do with their lives in light of his influence on them.
Last May, this young man had graduated with both a Bachelor of Science in Health Care Administration and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications. He was educated, prepared and ready to launch out on life when it was taken by a heart attack. I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful it was that he hadn’t waited until he started his career to start living.
I thought that God would not have prepared Chris for nothing, would not have wasted all this preparation. There must be something in the next one which God was preparing him for. Or perhaps the purpose of taking him when he was on the verge of making what would undoubtedly have been an outstanding contribution to his community and generation was not for him but for them. A sobering reminder to his generation that life may be terminal at any age. But an inspiration, too, to make the most of it.
I was impressed that Chris did not die, as many young people do, of a drug overdose or an accident due to their own drunk driving or a drive-by shooting by a rival gang. His friends could take with them a role model to follow, giving 100% of themselves to excellence and kindness and investing their lives in helping others. I felt chills of anticipation, knowing that after we are all on the other side, we will be able to hang out in heaven with Chris and his friends, hearing how 600 young people whose lives he touched went out and touched lives all over the world.