Sunday, 5 November 2017

Eine kleine Deutschlandreise

I grew up travelling.

We were a wandering family.  Moved home some 12 times in my first 6 years.   It seemed like we were in perpetual motion.  I have vague memories of being with my Mum on a plane when I was 4.  I got lost in a German railway station, I remember seeing Mount Ararat and the Caspian sea from the back of an OM truck, considered moving through airports with 10 huge suitcases as absolutely normal, insisted on Burger King over the golden arches as we drove across the US in a hand-me-down car in 1977 because BK gave kids small toys.

In contrast, Asha and Enoch have been relatively stationary.  Yes they are in boarding so we do burn the Laltipur-Delhi-Dehradun-Mussoorie line not infrequently.  Yes they have traveled over to Vizag every winter to be with Amma and Appa.  Yes we did a North East tour to Manipur and Meghalaya 3 sun-spins ago....

But we have not left the country yet as a family.  Asha and Enoch have not yet sniffed the air of other lands.  Sheba's foreign-jaunt was stepping out of India into exotic Birganj, just over the Bihar/Nepal border.  So this generation of Eichers has really not travelled outside of our beloved India.

That's about to change.

Last week we got this in the mail:  our visas for Germany!

The week before we bought flight tickets - in good Eicher tradition the cheapest ones available to Frankfurt - at the time of booking it was via Bahrain (instead of in the past via Amman, via Kuwait and other cut-rate carriers).

Here is the deal:

We very much want to see Germany along with our beloved Mum / Oma.

She turns the ripe young age of 80 this week (11.11.17).   This is the time for us to meet our relatives.  I was last in Deutschland in 1990 and the time before was 1984 so there has been some water flowing under the bridge since I last met my kinsmen (and women).

Mum is an only child - and her half her generation has died.  She very much wants to meet her cousins who are still alive, since most of them are in poor health and have limited mobility.

For our kids, this is the right time as Enoch is finishing his 9th standard at the end of November and Asha her 11th.   They then have 2.5 months holiday before they gear up for their 10th and 12th standards.  Both of them thus have a school year with an external exam looming in March of 2019, so (being the good Indian parents we are) travelling next winter-hols is not in question!  Study study study!

Plus we have some lovely friends who we have always wanted to meet in their Heimatsland.

Add to this an itch to see Germany, and that too in the Luther year, and we have a pretty perfect recipe for a month cram-packed with the normal Eicher insanity of trying to do everything, all at once, and on the proverbial shoe-string.

And here is the itenary (D.v. of course):

We fly out of New Delhi on the 11th of December 2017 on Gulf Air via Bahrain to Frankfurt.  From Frankfurt we take the train to Mosbach and there pick up a vehicle with OM Germany is very, very kindly putting at our disposal.

And then the open German roads...  our Deutschland-bummel looks like this!  Almost like a Schwartzwald-pretzel.  You can see that I am already ramping up the German-words-that-you-can-stick-together-and-make-new-words-with!

We return, by flying out of Frankfurt on the 10th of Jan 2018 via Bahrain and back to Bharat.




We will be staying with wonderful families and friends en route - with Hessigheim, Stuttgart, Schwann (near Pforzheim), Wurzburg, Velburg, Schneeberg, Chemnitz, Berlin, Leipzig, Gera and finally Frankfurt being the places where 5 weary Eicher heads will lay themselves to sleep on soft German pillows.

Germans being Germans you have to plan well in advance.  Mum was at it since the beginning of this year - and in March we made ironed out a time-table.  Then Mum sent emails to each family that we were hoping to stay with (all wrote back super positive of course) and then wrote to others who we are going to meet on 'day trips.'

Our side of the deal was getting our Schengen visas (all biometrically tabulated) via tons of paper-work.  But last week they were granted and it looks like its a green signal to plow ahead!

So we have a vintage Eicher journey on our hands.  Lots of lovely people to meet.  Driving through the country-side in borrowed vehicles. And even the odd speaking engagement.  Currently we are slotted for a church in Stuttgart as well as a Jan 5th 2018 time with Mum's childhood church - the Free Methodist Church in Leipzig.  A good amount of unknowns mixed in of course.

And then there is the excitement of seeing things - the museums galore (from the Mercedes one in Stuttgart to the whole raft of museums in Berlin), going to Wittenberg and Herrenhut to learn about Luther and the Moravians, the possibility of skiing (we are there in winter after all).

But most of all, the joy of being with old friends and the discovery of our relatives.   Mum wants to be with her cousins before they pass on.  We want to know the family while she is still with us.  And we have the old "India hands" like the Meisters (my teachers from the German School in Bombay), the Alis (from OM days), the Harnisches (Woodstock vintage) and especially the rollicking Winklers (senior and juniors) whom we are spending Christmas with.

Also auf fahrt!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Reformation Day


Exactly half a millenia ago, to this date, a young monk went public and nailed 95 questions demanding an answer on the door of the main church in Wittenberg, Germany.

500 years have gone by and the ripples of that act continue to move through the tides of time.  So much of what we take for granted today stemmed from that tipping point of an act.

It was a specific and provocative call to reform.  A call which was specifically aimed at a practice of selling 'indulgences' - get out of jail free cards from purgatory - where the real money was being pocketed by less than holy ones in the church.

But Luther's lightning rod was not social injustice: it was a deep and growing conviction that God reveals Himself to ordinary people through the His written word in the Bible.

Biblically-driven, revelation-doused Luther ended up alienating himself out of the church he sought to reform.

Of the many areas that I am personally indebted to Herr L - the biggest is this: his translation of the Bible into the language of the people.   Though the English language Bible has arguably had the largest reach - Luther's pithy German version brought the scriptures into the hands of ordinary people - rich and poor, doctors of the law and simple servants.  Gutenbergs moveable metallic press got the word to the world.  English translations showed up later - and the Word continues to spread into language after language, often being the first book printed in newly minted scripts that help oral languages become written ones.  The ripples of vernacular presses and people exchanging ideas when they have books in their own languages continue to move outwards.

Whether we like it or not - much of culture and history today is shaped by the Bible - both by folks who have sought to live it out and also by others who have pushed back knowingly or otherwise against what is revealed in this book. 

A young monk set the ball rolling (again) 500 years ago today.

As a family Sheba and I woke up today and read the Word on our own.  As we ended the day we read it together.   And in between many of our actions and attitudes have been shaped by its living power.  Yesterday I met with a room-full of men and women from all over our area who are shaping their lives and those of others through its living power.  Simple people, losers to many, ones who know the salt of tears first-hand.  But worthy followers in Central Bharat of the risen Lord, in each one's hand a Bible, far-off fruits of the acts set in motion by a brilliant young German from humble stock.

We thank the Lord for the re-formation - and ask for a deeper work of spiritual formation and overflow in each one of our lives.

Here's looking at you Martin sir!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Words for a mother, from a daughter

Being far away from the funeral of your parent may be one of the hardest crosses to bear.   My mother tells me just how much she wished she had been with her father in his last days - and at his funeral.  But she was not able to.


When Dad died last year, Stefan and Premi sent messages which we read at the funeral.   When Amma died last week - Daisy was able to send us this message from the heart.   

The picture below was taken in June this year when our families we gathered together for a special time with Amma and Appa at their home just outside Vishakapatnam.



Daisy wrote this message which we received on 29.10.17 and was read out by Peter at Amma's funeral: 

Today, as I was teaching Microbiology to my class, I was talking to my students about seeing the unseen and shared the loss of my mother with them along with this verse:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

The news of Mummy’s death has left us in deep shock. The moment I heard Peter say, “Mummy has gone to be with the Lord”; I heard the Lord’s assurance: “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.” Luke 8:52

If I were to describe this beautiful woman who served God’s calling to bring me into this world, it is simply this: she was blessed with Martha’s hands and Mary’s heart.

She was a God-fearing wife and mother who not only gave us physical birth but raised each of us her children to grow in God’s word, grace and wisdom. Whenever I had answered a question in my Sunday school class, my teacher would ask how did you know that? And my usual response, I learned this from my mother.

She was used by God to sow the seeds of His living word into our lives and today as she rests from her labor; her work is producing plenty of fruit wherever God has planted us in the building of His Kingdom.

Mummy was a diligent worker both at home and outside. She worked hard for more than 30 years to provide a good education for all of us. Her skillful hands have drawn knitted, embroidered, sewn, tatted, crocheted, tended plants and did everything a set of hands can do. She used to cook for an army and I never once heard her complain.

She has been a gracious hostess to have endeared her home and hospitality to both Christians and Non-Christians. She embodied all of the attributes of a perfect mom. I had the privilege of chatting with her almost every other day for past several months. We discussed every topic under the sun.

This caring, thoughtful, hardworking, compassionate, and loving lady embodies the proverbial woman in the Bible. Along with all of my siblings and church family, I celebrate Mummy’s promotion to glory.

We named our son Shofar which means trumpet, based on this blessed promise: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)


-- 
Daisy Savarirajan,

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Departure


When we touched down, she had left.

Sheba and I landed at Chennai airport on the flight from Delhi at 8.30 AM, groggy from a night awake since Sheba's train from Lalitpur finally rolled into New Delhi at 2 AM.  We were travelling to the Shiloh medical missions conference at CMC Vellore.  A taxi was waiting to whisk us to Vellore.

We didn't make it there.

As the cabin announcement chimed on, allowing us to turn on our phones, I saw a message from Sheba's brother Peter, telling us to call their home number.   Then the calls came. Two of them at the same time.  My phone and on Sheba's.  What we heard couldn't be.

Amma had died.  Sheba's mother had departed.

For the past 3 months Amma and Appa were visiting Sheba's brother Peter and his wife Yashmeet in Chennai.

The night before Amma went to sleep unwell.  She had vomited a few times earlier, and Peter and family took her to a local hospital, from where the doctor sent her home with some medicines.   Amma normally is an early riser.  She wakes up every day at 4 AM to read her Bible and pray to Jesus.   Every day.  Sometime early on the morning of September 28th Amma awoke in the presence of the Lord Jesus Himself.

At 7 AM that morning Peter tried to wake Amma up.  She did not stir.  They called a doctor from the building and he said that she was dead.  A massive heart attack had taken her in her sleep.

Numb with the unbelievable information, Sheba and I got into our waiting taxi and headed over the Peter and Yashmeet's home, 45 minutes away from the airport.  This was not on our agenda, but then again everything has changed with Amma's sudden death.

We walked into the room and hugged Appa.  What could we say?

Then we saw her.   Amma seemed to be only sleeping.   And in one way she was.  Her beautiful face was contented and peaceful, as if she was just taking a short nap and would soon wake up to start cooking or one of the 101 things she did each day.




But Amma's sleep this day was different.  She had departed.  Her body was with us - but she had left.

How can we understand death?  Words fail.  But one thing is sure.  A terrible separation is real when a person dies.  They are no more here.

In the Bible, the apostle Paul speaks of a blessed dilemma. for him.  He wishes to be alive and continue to serve people ... but he also wants to be with his beloved Lord.  He really does - it's not just pious talk. He yearns to actually experience God Himself.  Paul says: "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better."  (Phillippians 1.23).

For Paul living is great. Dying is better.  Departure is what he is looking forward to.

Amma has departed.  The essence of who she is: her soul, spirit, life-spark is not with us right now - but with the Lord Jesus Himself.   We await her physical resurrection.  We know that she is full of joy in the very presence of her Lord.


But for those who Amma has left behind, we grapple with the sudden, unexpected, complete break.

One evening she was with us.  The next morning she is not.

The tears and the loss are real.  The work of healing starts now.  And part of it is coming together to be sad and thankful together.  How merciful our Lord to have put Sheba and myself in Chennai on that morning - and able to be in the home to be with our beloved Appa and Peter and Yashmeet and Anmol just 2.5 hours after they found out that Amma had departed.

This would never have been possible if we had got a phone call from Chennai on a normal morning of work at the HBM hospital in Lalitpur.  The very, very fastest that we could have gotten down to Chennai would have been a day.  If not longer.  God's mercy got us to the family just 45 minutes after we heard the news.



Appa has lost his life partner of 50 years.  His life, his breath, his helpmate, his partner in raising Daisy, Sheba, Sarah and Peter.   To be with him so quickly at such a time as this is an act of mercy by our dear Lord.

Appa is now on a new journey.  One without Amma.  It is unthinkable, but real.  All of us need to learn to understand the "New Normal" - a life without Amma's presence in our midst. Without her twinkling eyes and ready smile.  Without the cheery phone-calls which kept us all together.  Without the constant service to Appa which has kept him alive and ticking 18 years after he himself had a massive heart-attack in 1999.   Medical opinion at that time was that Appa would live only another 5 years.   18 years later, it is his dear wife who succumbed to an unexpected heart attack, while Appa's daily grace sees him live another miracle day each morning.

Finding the 'New Normal" begins now.  All change.

To help all of us start on this trip we were blessed by our family streaming in from various places. Amazingly Victor and Sarah were able to get a plane down from Delhi to Chennai by mid-afternoon.  Yasmeet's parents and brother and his wife drove down from Vijayawada and arrived in the early evening.   Daisy and Ramesh were on the phone with us from the US.  How we wished they were around the corner, but sadly half the world separates us  How grateful we are for mobile phones.....

Other relatives were on their way.  Amma's surviving brother David and her sister Mary, as well as the two widows of her late brothers traveled through the night from Andhra Pradesh for the funeral the next day.  Appa's relatives arrived from Trichy,   Ramesh's brothers came from Pondicherry.  Peter's home become geo-centre for grief and consolation.

The phone calls kept coming and Appa bravely talked to his callers, telling what had happened.  His hardness of hearing results in his vocal volume being high.  We all heard him give brave versions of what happened - spoken in a loud voice to unseen callers in Hindi, English, Tamil and Telegu.  Some of us did not answer calls on our own phones.

Intermingled with the visitors of sorrow from afar were a steady flow of people who were near. Brothers and Sisters from the Christian Believers Assembly where Peter, Yashmeet and Anmol worship came to be with the family as soon as the news got out.   Before Peter knew it, a cool box had arrived.  Sisters from the church helped with preparing Amma's body.  Brothers from the fellowship dropped their work for the day and pitched to help organise the logistics.   People came to pray, to hug, to listen.

Amma and Appa have lived by the Word of God all their lives.  It was no surprise that numerous times we had songs of hope and prayers and sharing from the Bible.

Bro. Roy shares words of comfort from the Bible - the word that is alive
Amidst the swirl of sorrow there were practical things to do for the funeral on the morrow.   Invaluable help trickled in during the day, given with love and care: going to the cemetery and finding a suitable plot for the burial, organising the undertaker, getting the doctor's certificate, arranging for a webcast, ordering food, finding a place to accommodate our loved ones.  Who all helped?  A whirl, a swirl of love expressed through acts of service.  And hand-holding, hugs and tears and prayers as well.

That night we slept, while Amma's body lay sleeping in the front room.  The next day was her funeral.  We committed her body to the earth, since we knew that she had departed.  But we did so in hope - a hope which will not fail us.

How do we say good-bye to our dear mother?

There is just no easy way.  But say good-bye we must.


Our tears were real.  Some came copiously.  Some tears were silent and in our hearts.   Some were triggered  by a snatch of a song, but a word of remembrance, by a fragment of a memory...



Amma enjoyed making beautiful things with her hands.  Many a time we devoured her sumptuous and love-flavoured cooking.  One of the last things she wrote in her notebook the day before she died was a recipe.   Each room had a framed cross-stitch which Amma made.   Verses of hope threaded with beauty, words that continue to speak.

At 9.30 the coffin arrived.  A white box in which Amma's body was placed.  How strange to have our beloved Amma placed in this casket.  And yet how necessary since she has departed from us.


The funeral service was one of thanksgiving.  We met in the service area just below Peter and Yashmeet's home.   A common refrain through our time was gratitude to the Lord for giving us a mother such as Amma.   We tried to include our loved ones who were not preseent by live-streaming the service on the web and through our phones.

And then a long hour-long drive to the cemetery.  As the clouds and sun-shine came and went we sang our final songs and heard words of encouragement as we consigned Amma's remains to the grave.  One of the songs of hope goes like this:

"because He lives, I can face tomorrow, because He lives, all fear is gone, 
because I know, yes, I knww, He holds the future, and life is worth the living, just because He lives.

Whenever we go to a funeral, we have to ask ourselves where we are in relation with God.  Are we ready to meet Him?  Do we "long to depart to be with our Lord" like Paul did?   One of the great blessings of being adopted into the family of Jesus is this assurance, one that we saw through the real tears   We saw this in Appa's courageous and real assurance that he would meet his beloved Amma again, and that she is truly happy at this time as she is with our Lord.

The song continues:
And then one day, I'll cross the river,
I'll fight life's final war with pain
And then as death gives way to victory
I'll see the lights of glory and I'll know He lives

Gentle reader, is this your story?  We trust and pray it is.  Please do reach out to us if you are not clear of your eternal destiny.  Amma knew where she was going - and her not waking up on the morning of September 28th brought sadness to us, but not despair.  We know she has departed to be with Jesus.  And that this is no wishy-washy thinking of a pie-in-the-sky, but the very real truth that has infused our mourning with hope, real hope.
 

Dad departed last year.  Amma's turn was this year.  No one saw it coming.  Especially when we celebrated Amma and Appa's 50th anniversary earlier in the year.   I would never have dreamed that Dad would die in Lalitpur.  Neither could we have imagined that Amma would be laid to rest in Chennai.  But here we have it.  We interred her body among the tombs.  And we look forward to the bodily resurrection.

In the meantime, there is much living to be done.  Sheba and I took the return flight back to Delhi this evening.  As Oct 2nd slips into 3rd, we are waiting for our train to start moving for Lalitpur.  It looks like we are in for a long wait as I type this in stiflingly hot train carriage where the AC does not work and there is no way to open the windows.  After an agonizing wait, the AC has just kicked in.  We are over half an hour late, and are about to depart.

Same can be said for our lives.  About to depart.   Our tiny sliver of time that we share - be it the 19 years my dear friend Timothy Richards lived - or the 74 years Dad was given - or the 70 years Amma had.... all these are nothing when we look at the vast expanse of eternity.  The millions and billions of years that stretch ahead of us in whatever dimensions we experience eternal life.

Amma's life was a simple but profound testimony to the reality of the eternal.  She lived her life faithfully - and fully.   Her 70 years were lived in many places in India and even stints in Uganda and the US.  She leaves behind a deeply grateful husband and 4 amazing adult children - their very thankful spouses and 6 wonderful grand-kids - as well as many spiritual children too.

A life well lived.  Departure was unexpected, but no real regrets as well look back at the fullness of Amma's life.

How about me?  Am I ready for departure?  ... And how about you, gentle reader?


Therefore never send to know for whom the bells toll

it tolls for thee.   

- John Donne

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

What manner of love is this...


We were gathered in the room of one of our staff nurses.  Some sat on the 3 chairs available.  Others on the diwan.  Some on the floor.  Others in the next room.  It was our Thursday night cottage Bible study.

Dr. Sunny Philip, translated by Rev Emmanuel, took us through the story of the young Jewish servant girl, who was kidnapped by Aramean raiders.  She then ends up serving as a slave girl of whom? The wife of the very commander of the raiding parties - the Aramean general Namaan.

Dr. Sunny asked those of us gathered in the room to take turns telling the story of this girl, speaking in the first person as if we were the girl herself, each person adding a sentence.

We walked through the experience of abduction.  Many said that they prayed a lot - but the fact was that whatever prayers took place, the girl was torn away from her home - and most likely at least some of her family were killed.  And then she found herself in a far off place as a slave.

'What do you think the girl felt? What was going through her mind?'

Most of us responded that she was angry.  Afraid.  Hurt.  Confused.  Scared.  Scarred.  Angry.  Bitter. Wondering why God had not heard her prayers.  Perhaps wanting to take revenge.

As the servant girl of the commander of the raiders, wouldn't it be natural for her to want to poison his food as revenge for the ravages that he and his soldiers had brought about on her family, on her homeland?

And then what happens.... One fine day, she finds out that her master has an incurable disease! Leprosy.  That scourge of the ancient world.  No hope of any therapy.

Wouldn't it be natural for the girl to rejoice?  To thank God from her heart that justice was being done, and that he who had caused such damage to her home, was now being punished with this disease?  I think if I were that girl, those would have been my thoughts.

And yet instead of revenge this girl seeks the best for her master.  She tells Namaan's wife that if her husband would go to Elisha in Israel, he would be cured.  Amazing.  Way, way out in left-field kind of love.

This is not some sick 'Stockholm syndrome' - but a genuine love.  And this girls words are backed up by such a powerful life that the general Namaan goes to his king and asks for the unthinkable: to go back to the place which had been plundered and meet a seer who would heal him. And that too when a quick due diligence would easy show that Elisha had healed a total of zero people who had suffered from leprosy so far (and would not do it again it seems...).

Do we love this way? Counter-current.  Completely topsy-turvey?  The world shakes ever so slightly when someone does.

Two millenia ago, a young man, into whose wrists and ankles were cruel nails were being hammered cried out to His heavenly Father:  "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

Are any of His followers willing to put this costly love into action today?

One of the participants of the Bible study spoke up at the end.   He was visiting our HBM hospital from Jharkhand for a training we were conducting.  This man shared how with the recent "anti conversion law" being passed in Jharkhand, he had so much anger and hatred against those who pushed this legislation through, denying so many true freedom of religion.  And yet, hearing about the slave girl, and her love for her mistress and master, the man said that he knew that God had called him here to Lalitpur to hear this message. And to see the ugliness of his hatred.  And to forgive.

And then another of our guests spoke up.  A young man working in a remote tribal community.  He talked about how when we had imagined the girl's home going up in flames, that he remembered his own home being burned.  He was a tribal Christian from the Khandamal district of Odisha state.   Some years ago a local pogrom launched against Christians by various Hindutva outfits left numerous homes burned and a number killed as well.  He and his family had fled to the forest and lived there in fear for some days.

His family eventually got shelter in a refugee camp for some time and later he got a job in another state.  Later his family moved back to the ruins of their home.

And then we heard something that took our breath away.  The man talked about how after some time, the local leader who had initiated and promoted the violence against the Christians - this leader's son got leukemia.  Instead of rejoicing that the mob-leader was getting his 'punishment from God' - this man's father went and reached out to the family and helped take care of the dying boy.

Others in the local surviving Christian community criticized the father - saying that he should have nothing to do with such a wicked man.  But the father persisted in showing love to the man who had burned his house and seen people killed - by caring for the dying boy.  The local leaders heart was also changed by these acts of loving-kindness by the people he had instigated others to drive away.

My eyes were moist in tears as I heard the simple man tell this amazing story.

This is love.

Found in small places.  Where a great God lives.

A wounded healer who call us to follow Him.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

A year after Dad died

It's been a year.  It's been a life-time.

Dad died yesterday.  Dad died a year ago.  13th August 2016.  Home-going.

Dad and Stefan go for a walk in the monsoonal mists on the afternoon that Stefan left Mussoorie last year.
Stefan spent a blessed 10 days with Dad and Mum.   Dad's condition deteriorated the next day.
There is a Dad-shaped hole in my life.  And there should be.  He was a force of blessing.

This week I went to Jhansi and met some senior mission leaders.  Inevitably I was introduced as "Ray Eicher's son".  The main leader sat with me for lunch and told me how Dad had spoken to a group of young men many years ago - one of whom was him.

The story repeats itself over and over.  Dad did not have many degrees.  He wrote no books.  His bank account was always almost empty (mainly from his and Mum's quiet generosity to countless families).  But he was rich in friends.  He was rich in faith and in sharing his joy in Jesus.

A tear is slowly making its way down my face as I write this.

I am so grateful to have been born to such a man as this.  A man who did not fit many moulds, but chose to allow himself to be shaped by the loving potter's hands.

Dad was adopted by a missionary couple working in rural Maharasthra.  His father was a good man - but very much a man of his time.  My grandfather was not very affectionate, and his adopted son yearned for expressions of love.

Instead of being bitter, Dad become better.  With God's help he smothered us kids with love.  His hugs remain warm in my memory.  And in the memory of many others who experienced his embrace.

Dad and Mum and a less than 1 year old me at Nargaon - where my Grandparents were serving in 1969.


As a father, Dad was a learner.  He and Mum sought help from others about how to raise us.  They read.  The Bible was their base, but they also looked around for practical helps to guide their parenting.  And then they put what they learned into practice.  We were the products of their love.

I am glad Dad took the pains to discipline me.  I use the word pains because it pained him.  He would take me to a private place and then talk with me.  We went over where I had crossed the line.  I never remember a time when he accused me of doing something that I had not done.  The talk was usually more a trial for me than the short sharp sting that served as a reminder of the gravity of wrong-doing. And then Dad's hugs and prayers.

Dad with Stefan and me in on a Spaziergang in Germany - 1973
Ours was on open home.  Living in a what was a kind of commune with a common purse it was not easy to draw the lines about where our 'small family' was and where the 'big family' began.  But draw boundaries Dad did.  Most of our meals were with others - usually a guest or four - or a person going through a rough time (we kids did not know the back stories).  But Dad staked out a time for us that was sacred.  The evening book reading and Bible time.  Every evening he would read to us.  Reading opened us up to exciting worlds.  And we have the security of lying together on Mum and Dad's low bed, hidden away from others in their tiny bedroom in Nana Chowk.  No one else.  Just Dad and us as the family.   Likewise Sunday afternoons for games - and an annual holiday (usually to Kodaikanal).

I later found out that Dad would go to his office on many a night after those evening times with us as kids.  His love for us came at a price.  All true love does.

Mum, myself, Stefan, Premi and Dad.  Plus our first two pets - Snowy and Tiger.  
Good times as we moved to our childhood home of 'Elim' in Nana Chowk late 1975

As the years have gone by, I found myself bench-marking my life with where Dad had been at that point in his.   It was always sobering.   Handing over a national leadership position - at the age of 46 - so that younger people can have a chance.   Taking in a whole new set of foster children - after Stefan, Premi and myself had left the home.   Standing by Mum through the challenges of depression and recovery.  Always being ready to minister to people.  Always being ready to look at the positive side of things.  Always being ready to forgive.   Dad lived out the Bible.  Sometimes uncomfortably for a person like me who wanted a more 'normal' father - but in hindsight, Dad was spot on.  Not easy to 'live up' to a life like that - but by God's grace I don't have to.  Dad's example was a pointer not a blue-print.  And he spent plenty of time helping unpack his own life-lessons - ones that I inevitably find myself telling others about.  A rich legacy.

25 years ago - the Eichers celebrate Mum and Dad's 25th wedding anniversary in Upland, Indiana on the 23rd of Dec 1992.  We had hoped to celebrate their 50th this year - but that was not to be.








And then we have the final months of a life well lived.  Time since March 2015 was a blur.  From Dr. Stephen looking at Dad's MRI and telling us to get Dad to Thane immediately - while also informing us that 'this is the disease that will probably kill your father' - to the last days of Dad's life in the monsoonal green of Lalitpur - each moment that we were able to spend together was a miracle - a hyper-real opportunity to be.

Dad suffered much.  A lot in silence at night.  He was old-school about pain and spoke of it only when it was fairly unbearable.  Many a night in Mussoorie he sat in his chair (the most comfortable position for him) and prayed.

Dad's approach to God was always on the practical and experiential side of the spectrum.   Not for him weighty theological debates (though he had his own fairly eclectic views).  But rather the practice of the presence of God.  Lived out by love in action.  Lived out by reading the word and meditating on its simple truths.  Lived out by putting into place whatever the latest joy Dad had to share with all and sundry.

Forgiveness was a key word in the last few years as Mum and Dad helped scores of people deal with past bitternesses.  Letting Jesus help people forgive others was essential to giving release.

Dad put this into action just before he died.  The actions of a certain set of people had hurt him deeply - and in a time when he was hardly able to speak, Dad brought us together and with our help, spoke out his own sadness of not having forgiven them.  He then prayed a prayer of forgiveness and release - and was blessed with another portion of the peace that He enjoyed in such turbulent times over the course of his 75 years on this dear broken planet of ours.

Dad with his beloved Bible - sitting on his chair in Mum and Dad's bedroom in Shanti Kunj, Mussoorie
In the days just before we were able to shift him to Lalitpur, it would take Dad a painful 20+ minutes
to ease himself from his bed to his chair - a distance of 2 meters.












Did we pray for Dad to be healed of his cancer?  Of course we did.  During surgery.  During chemo. During palliation.  After all, we are asked to come to our heavenly Father as dearly loved children.

Am I disappointed that the 'miracle' did not take place?  No.  Not really.  I have seen enough death to know it well.  Dad lived his life to the fullest.  There is not a trace of regret in my heart that Dad had left something undone.  All that he had to say, he said.  All he had to love, he loved.  A life lived for God.  No regrets.

Dad left this world a year ago.  He was translated and is in paradise.  One day he will be resurrected. Flesh of his own flesh in new and wonderful way.  We have much to look forward to.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Reading the Book

I love reading the Indian Express.  Here in Laltipur, it comes a day late.  So I read yesterday’s paper which reports on events of the day before. 

But it’s not for the up-to-date log on what our dark world is churning through that I read the paper.  The Express has voices.  The op-eds curate a variety of viewpoints (including talking heads from the current regime) – and there are lovely summaries where basic data about how our nation is presented, analysed and explained.  And then to top it off there is a page each day that reprints 2-3 articles from the Economist.  (No, I have not been paid by Indian Express to put this blurb up – but any cash sent this way will be accepted gratefully).

On the 15th of July Ramesh Venkatraman wrote a thought-stirring piece Let’s talk about the Book which looked at the European Reformation and gently suggested that something similar take place for Islam.  It’s been raining here in Lalitpur and so after a few paper-less days, today two arrived and I got to take a dekko at Javed Anand’s response to this (Islam’s reform: Way to goIE 19.7.2017).

Javaid Anand zeros in this passage as the fulcrum of what he wants to say: 

Venkataraman quotes the philosopher Anthony Appiah as saying that the reform of Christianity 500 years ago was greatly facilitated by the fact that on encountering morally ambigious, contradictory or problematic passages, ordinary Christians who started reading the Bible for themselves decided on “which passages to read into and which to read past.” 

Simply stated, the reformists chose to ‘cherry pick’ from among the passages of the Bible, embracing what was appealing, skirting around what seemed appalling.”

I am not at this point going to address the main purpose of Javaid Anand’s article – but would rather step back and suggest humbly that my three friends Venkataraman, Appiah and Anand have got the issue of Bible-reading in the European Reformation half right and totally wrong.

Yes, common people reading the Bible was *the* seismic shift that brought about reform to the Christian church (reform which is still needed at so many levels).   Luther’s genius was to translate the Bible into the language of the people (German in this case) and combined with the spanking-new technology of the movable metal-type printing press, whole Bibles, portions of the Bible, sermons, tracts, bromides, letters and counter-letters started swirling around Europe.  One obvious fruit of this was the press which 500 years later I hold in my hand in the form of my beloved Indian Express and which allows me to have a (at least one-sided) conversation with Venkataraman, Appiah and Anand et al

A strong case can be made that Bible translation was thebiggest reason for the shift to a post-colonial world.  Wherever Bibles were translated, local people got presses in their own language (Bengali, Hausa, Bantu, Tamil) – and not the languages of power (Persian/Urdu, English, French).  Local communities learned to read, schools sprung up, local newspapers began being printed.  No wonder the British authorities in India spent umpteen efforts to suppress the ‘vernacular press.’

But this is not my point of departure from Mr. Javaid Anand’s take on events in Europe 500 years ago.  More than the technology of getting information out, I believe it was the actual process of reading the Bible together as Scripture, of meditating on it, debating it, applying it.  Of wrestling with the disparity between what is written and what a common life is like.  Of sharing and discovering in community which brought substantial changes to how we see the world.

Javaid Anand has picked up on what he calls “cherry picking” – looking for what is good and disposing of the rest.  The problem with that is:  what if someone else choses different cherries?  How do you know what is true?   A generation ago tonsils and appendices were removed willy-nilly as early surgery under anaesthesia gave the opportunity to ‘remove vestigial organs’ before the became inflamed later and caused you problems.   Well, we are still just discovering the myriad complexities of each organ.

If you have the write to pick and choose whatever strikes your fancy, then how can you be sure of anything?  There has to be a basic belief that the Bible is actually revealed truth for it to make any sense.   There have been cherry-pickers in the past – Thomas Jefferson comes to mind.  His view of God was one of a ‘Supreme Being’ who has left humanity long ago to our own devices.  The idea of the Supreme Being having anything to do with us in the here-and-now was embarrassing to Jefferson and so he published his own new-and-improved version of the Bible.  Every ‘miraculous’ event neatly cut out.  Vestigial organs for Mr. Jeff it seems.  Unsurprisingly there have been not many takers for his ‘cherry-picked’ version of Christian hope.

What makes the Bible so compelling to so many and why does it continue to be translated into various un-scripted languages around the globe?   Why do so many of its principles find their way into the broad spectrum of human excellence?  Why do different generations encounter it and come away changed?

One of the keys is in the process of belief and discovery in community.   You have to believe that something is true for it to have any authority and meaning in your life.  And yet, so many things seem so confusing that to find truth we are blessed when others are there along with us.  Joint discovery and mutual learning allow us to change.  Europe 500 years ago underwent a seismic shift when the Bible began to be read by the people.  Some of the outcomes were pretty ugly, but so much of what we treasure today as good and true flowed from these various streams of faith communities who were discovering and applying the Bible into their lives in vibrant ways.

Reading is a precious gift.  Deep reading, like in the ‘olden days’ seems to be evaporating.  Our house is full of books, but sadly, I seem to read so little these days.  PhilipYancey feels the same way.
But in my last trip up to Shanti Kunj I picked up a little gem.  “A New Motive for Living”  is the story of Venkateswara Thyaharaj whose grandfather Subbaiyar had been the dhikshitar (spiritual teacher) of the Maharaja of Travancore.   I am purposefully working through this gentle saint’s life and have been touched with many of his deep insights.

Here is Thyaharaj’s take on the Bible:

God has always had a wonderful plan for his world and not least for this land of ours.  To fulfill it he recruits, not demigods and astral beings but people like you and me… In the Bible.. God recruits men and women with nothing to boast of but his mercy and the change it is making in their proud hearts. 
Again and again I returned to that treasured Book, to its frankness about men’s faults and yet its disclosure of God’s amazing destiny in store for those who turn to Him.  How, I asked myself, in today’s darkening world can we fitly respond to God’s disclosure of his purposes for mankind?

How indeed?  How in deed? 

This is our life story – and one that continues to live out the beauty, and at times messy grappling with divine love and human perfidity, with the mist of so much of what happens around us and yet the piercing clarity of having our own beings revealed in the light of revelation. 


Sheba and I continue to read the Bible and be read by it.  We invite you to join us on this journey of discovery, as we join others in different places and times who are living in the light of the Book. 


a Bible study at our Lalitpur home last year