It was a little over one month ago when we last visited Dr. Ralph Covell at his nursing facility in Denver and sang “Happy Birthday” for his 90th birthday.
Last night, I received a message from Ralph’s oldest son, Kevin, informing us of some very sad news: Ralph passed away peacefully on February 2nd in his sleep…
This is how the public knew this amazingly humble man:
Dr. Ralph Covell served as Senior Professor of World Christianity at Denver Seminary. He joined the faculty in 1966 as Director of Admissions and assumed the role of Dean in 1979. He retired from Denver Seminary in 1990.
Dr. Covell received a Ph.D. from the University of Denver, and an honorary D.D. from Denver Seminary. He earned a Th.M. from Fuller Theological Seminary, a B.Th. and a B.D. from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a B.A. from Eastern Baptist College.
He served as a missionary with CBFMS (now World Venture) in China and Taiwan for twenty years. He translated the New Testament into the language of the Sediq, a Malayo-Polynesian people living in the mountains of Taiwan, and continued to be an advisor on the nearly-completed translation of the Old Testament. He also acted as translation consultant for the Bible Societies of Taiwan. He is the co-author of An Extension Seminary Primer with Peter Wagner and has written W.A.P. Martin: Pioneer of Progress in China; Confucius, the Buddha, and Christ; A History of the Gospel in China; Mission Impossible: The Unreached Nosu on China’s Frontier; The Liberating Gospel in China: The Christian Faith Among China’s Minority Peoples; and Pentecost of the Hills in Taiwan: The Christian Faith among the Original Inhabitants.
For me personally, and for CCAI as an organization, Dr. Covell meant so much more.
On January 5, 1987, I enrolled at the Graduate School of Columbia Bible College. Ten months later, when I informed my financial sponsor that I desired to continue my education instead of returning to China as an evangelist by the year’s end, all of my financial support was revoked and I was left with no choice but to give up my dream.
Then a miracle happened. As I was doing research on my final paper, I came across Confucius, the Buddha, and Christ, a book by Dr. Ralph Covell. On the back cover introduction, it stated that Dr. Covell was a former missionary to China and he spoke Chinese!
All I could think about was how sweet it would be to be able to talk to an American who knows China and speaks my language!
I quickly sent a letter to Dr. Covell introducing myself, my financial need, and my determination to finish my seminary graduate studies. A week later, I got his response:
“We would like to invite you to study at Denver Seminary and will give you a partial scholarship. You need to work for the rest of your tuition.”
And that was it. On Christmas day, 1987, my wife Lily and I stuffed all our meek belongings into a 1973 Mercury Zepher and got on the highway for the first time in our lives. Five days later, we finally and nerve-wrackingly entered the City of Denver that had just been blanketed by one of the heaviest snow falls in the city’s history. Our car had just barely crept onto the Denver Seminary parking lot before deciding to give up. There, standing before us, was a man whose picture I had saw just a few weeks before.
“Huan Ying (Welcome)! I am Ralph Covell.” It was the first time since coming to the USA in November 1986 that I heard the ear-soothing Chinese from the mouth of a Caucasian American! I rushed to shake his big but cold hands. He had obviously been waiting outside for us for a while.
“Oh, by the way,” he continued, “I couldn’t tell you since you were on the road, but we have decided to give you a full scholarship.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I quickly translated what he had just said to my wife who did not speak any English at the time. …I just remember running to each other and crying…
For the next one and a half years, Dr. Covell served as my academic advisor and spiritual mentor. With his unyielding faith and trust and constant encouragement, advice and prayers, I became the first seminary graduate from mainland China since 1949 when the atheist government took over the country. In September 1989, Dr. Covell, together with seven other wonderful Christian leaders, put his hand on my head and pronounced my ordination.
In mid 1992, when Lily and I felt the call to launch an adoption agency for the sake of bringing hope and homes to some of the thousands of girls forced to be abandoned by their parents as a result of the infamous one-child policy, we went to Dr. Covell again asking him to serve as the founding Chairman of CCAI’s Board. With no hesitation and a tremendous passion for the suffering children, he calmly said, “Yes.”
Dr. Covell served as the Chairman of CCAI’s Board until 2006, then as a member continuously until this past December, when we presented him with the CCAI Legacy Award. Under his leadership, CCAI became the largest and most respected China-focus adoption agency in the world by 1999 and continues to this day.
Godly, wise, patient, loving, forgiving, and trusting. These are just a few incredible characteristics Dr. Ralph Covell amazingly demonstrated and practiced on a daily basis. For me, he is more than a board member, spiritual mentor and advisor. He is my hero and he will be missed.