Family Life | History | Opinion

Theodore Koyzis (1928-2020)

A man who survived more than his share of near-death experiences

It is never easy to lose a loved one. It is especially difficult when the loved one is such an extraordinarily loving and gifted man as was my father.

Theodoros Antoniou – his given name – was born in the village of Koma tou Yialou, in a part of Cyprus now under Turkish occupation, to Antonios Georgiou and Pezouna Theodorou. He was one of seven children, a middle child. An unusually bright boy, he was a genius at mathematics and began writing poetry in two languages at age nine. His poems were published in the Greek-language Ethnos (Nation) and the English-language Cyprus Mail, which still publishes more than eight decades later. He continued to write poetry into his nineties.

After completing elementary school in Famagusta, he attended the English-language American Academy in Larnaca, an institution operated by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, often known as the Covenanters. Here he was expected to have a first, middle and last name. So the patronymic with which he was born became his middle name, and he added Koyzis, one of the names his grandfather had gone by. Here my father came into contact with Reformed Christianity, which he embraced enthusiastically while never completely giving up on his Orthodox roots.

Poet & reporter

When the Second World War began in 1939, his parents moved him and his siblings into a house in the old city of Famagusta, surrounded by 16th-century Venetian-built walls. My grandfather hoped that Hitler and Mussolini would be reluctant to bomb antiquities. When the bombing did come, the family would take refuge inside those walls, as my late uncle reported.

In 1948 Theodore left Cyprus and took a job with a British newspaper reporting on the ground during the first Arab-Israeli conflict. Disillusioned by the atrocities he witnessed there during his brief stay, he published a poem, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani” (My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?) in the Greek newspaper Elevtheria, expressing his anguish over the bloodshed. After a close brush with death – he had many throughout his life – he decided to leave for Nigeria, where he worked for a Greek businessman for two years. He started out in Benin City, moving to Lagos, and finally to Kano, in the Muslim north, where he quickly learned the Hausa language.

Beloved father

On the advice of American missionaries he met there, he travelled to Chicago in 1951 to attend the Moody Bible Institute, sharing a plane with and seated next to Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. At Moody he chafed under the rules to which students were subjected at the time, but nevertheless won the affection of the Dean of Men, Frank Broman, who became a mentor. At Moody he met my mother, Jane Marie Korpinen, from Milan, Michigan. They were married in 1954, and six children would follow in the succeeding years, beginning with yours truly. Theodore (“Ted”) was an independent businessman over the next decades, working with my mother from his home office at our long-time home in Wheaton, Illinois – some 40 km west of Chicago. Our family were members first of Bethel Orthodox Presbyterian Church and then of Evangel Baptist Church. My father’s prayers echoed the cadences of both the Orthodox liturgy and the King James Bible.

Throughout his 92 years he experienced vivid signs of God’s work. Ten years ago, he survived a lightning strike on the car he was driving, and five years ago he and my mother miraculously walked away unscathed from a serious automobile accident. So many times did such events happen to him that we sometimes thought him immortal. He was not, of course. But when God saw fit to draw his years to a close last month, we were thankful for a life well lived, confident that we will meet him again at the resurrection of the righteous. 

  • David Koyzis is a retired political science professor living in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the author of the award-winning Political Visions and Illusions (2nd ed., 2019) and We Answer to Another: Authority, Office, and the Image of God (2014). He has written a column for Christian Courier since 1990.

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