Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Deutschland Diaries: A moveable feast

We have been moving around Germany for the last 2 weeks, and have been feasting.  Really feasting.

At every home, we are have been blessed with the very best of what the homes have to offer.  The words 'spoiled rotten' come to mind - and some of us seem to have the kgs to show for it too!

Would you like to join us on the moveable feast we are on?  Here is a sampling of what we Eichers have been wolfing down on our Deutschland Reise.

We started our gastronomic journey in Baden Wuertenberg... and were treated on second full day in Germany to Spaetzle (noodles from the Black Forest) with meat and soup.

This particular feast was eaten at the home of Oma's cousin Otto and was lovingly prepared by his wonderful wife Rose.

That evening we had a sumptuous spread of cold cuts at Otto's son Michael's home.  Enid Blyton's stories have come to life for us.  While not every evening featured the lavish spread below - we have most evenings had cheezes, cold cuts and various forms of multi-grained breads baked in the same way that generations of Germans have chewed on (very different from our Indian 'double rotis').

Spaetzle appeared a number of times on our plates.  A real treat as we wended our way through the Black Forest and other parts of Baden Wuertenberg...

Breakfast in Germany?

Probably because we are guests we have been feasting in the morning as well.

Each day has started with the Lalitpur Eichers digging in to what for us would be a full meal...  Here is a sample from Shamshad and Inge's table in a small village along the Neckar river...

The spread above is a huge difference from the normal Eicher breakfast in Lalitpur, which is a cup of tea and a marie biscuit....  In addition to all the delicacies, we have also had liberal lashings of love as well.

You can't argue with a breakfast that has fresh Black Forest pretzels and fruit yoghurt!

And between meals, Germans drink coffee.   And for them coffee is not just a hot black liquid to drink... they seem to eat lots of sweet things with it.  As least we did, as we had timed our visit very well to be part of the Christmas festivities. 

Here is a picture of the coffee table at the home of Manfred and Gerda in Mosbach.

Stollen (not 'stolen') the lovely German Christmas cake anyone?  Or perhaps some lebkuchen?

It's Luther year this year.  500 years since the 95 theses.  But also 500 years of reformation in every area.   On the walls of one of the homes we visited was this picture of Martin Luther at the table of his dear friend Phillip Melanchton.  Food, family, fellowship and 'Fuerbitte' (prayer).  Four things we received lots of during out time in Germany.  500 years later the fellowship around the table continues...

Christmas Dinner?  In Germany Christmas is celebrated as "Heiliger Abend" on the 24th of December.

And at the feast we didn't have goose... we had something very, very different.  Raclette at the table of Christian and Irene Walter in Velburg, Bavaria.   Cheese melted on small metal shovels, with a bewildering number of options to put on top - and then added to boiled potatoes (Gemany's staple food).  Heavenly.  We had never had such a meal and will remember this Christmas feast surrounded by amazing people and celebrating the amazing grace of God. 

And then the next mid-morning a lazy Christmas day brunch was enjoyed at the senior Winklers home.  Dr. Winkler spoiled us with a full German breakfast at 11 AM - and what seemed a full lunch linked in.

As we continued our journey, the gastronomic adventures also ran apace.

After 10 days in the south of Germany it was time to head East.   We drove on the amazing Germany Autobahns (a sheer joy - esp. when your speedometer rests comfortably at 130 kmph).

We drove from Bavaria to Saxony, with our first stop being Plauen - where my Grandfather is from - we were treated to 'Klose' - grated potato balls 

 In Reichenbach it was Klose and raklettes.

Then further in the Erzgebirge in Geyer we were served green "Klose" with red cabbage and goose,

 And so the Eichers have been haing fine dining all around ... with more still to come as we write from Berlin and then still have to head over to Leipzig before rounding off our journey in Frankfurt.

But besides the delicious food - it was the company that really counted.  Every table was a new adventure in getting to know family and friends, and sharing the joy of  being together over sumptuous fare!

And tonight, we were alone - the 5 Eichers - for the first time in this trip.

And so what did we make here in the Capital of Germany, in the Deutsche Kueche of our cousin (thrice removed) Ina Winkler?

Why, Hindusthani Khana of course!

Monday, 18 December 2017

Deutschland Diaries: the big hop, skip and jump to das Land meiner Mutter

We have switched worlds.

One day we were in our own familiar zone of the strange that seems ordinary to us.  Like a mobile vegetable market barely 300 meters from the most prestigious medical college and hospital in India:

Veggies being sold at Gautamnagar (near AIIMS)

And barely 24 hours later, we are in the land of the Germans - wending our way along the Neckar river and seeing quaint, lego-like villages, each with their own ancient church, its august spire pointing to the skies...

And how do we get from point A - aam aadmi ka India to point B - Bessigheim und die Umgebenung?

Well, for one with a huge amount of grace and an amazing set of blessings showered upon us.

Over the last year we have been dreaming of a Germany trip with Mum.  This winter was the window of opportunity as the kids have finished their 9th and 11th standard in school.  Enoch and Asha's next winter will be the prelude to their external exams for 10th and 12th respectively.   And Mum turned 80 this year.

It has always been a desire for us to meet our German relatives.

We had a small surprise Birthday party for her with Stefan, Neeru, Ashish, Anjali and Anita on our way out to the airport.

Oma had a cake with 8 candles on it.  One for every decade of her event-filled life.

And so with a huff and a puff she blew out all the candles...  only to see them sputter to life again.  As a good trooper she blew them all out again... and of course most of them relit to the joy of all the lil' and big 'uns in the room.

What a life this amazing lady has led - and how proud we are that she is our mother and Oma to many!
We had been planning this trip since March this year, but there were many a slip between cup and lip and several times it seems highly unlikely that we would be able to get on a jet plane and fly away.

Money was one of them.  But God provided.  As He always does - and as far as Eicher experience has been - almost always in the 11th hour.  Visa problems loomed large. And so on and so forth.  Even when we took the big, big breath and bought our flight tickets (temporary advance provided by a near and dear one) it still seemed to be science fiction.

But sci-fi was turned into science-faction as we found ourselves walking down the aisles of Indira Gandhi International airport, heading for the Gulf Air flight to wing us to Bahrain and then over to Frankfurt.

A surreal side-note was to see the victorious Australian hockey team lounging in the airport waiting to be taken back to Oz, I suppose.

They were wearing Oz uniforms but were totally ignored by everyone.  Journeymen folks who had just won a major international tune-up tournament in Odisha - but Enoch and I could not think of a single name of a current player.

If they were the Aussie cricket team, however, the scene would be totally different with fan after fan breaking in an asking for selfies to be taken...  How fickle dame fame can be.

Our goal, however was to take to the sky, and that we did, winging our way out of Delhi at 9.30 PM and over to the Gulf.  Four hours later we taxied into Bahrain and after just over 2 hours in the Kingdom of Bahrain we flew out at 1.30 AM local time toward Frankfurt.

And so landed in the land of my Mother.  27 years after I had last visited.  And a first for the rest of the Eicher clan who were accompanying Oma on this special treat.

Thanks to Barry H. and family, we had train tickets in hand and went over to the Fernbahnhof at the Frankfurt airport.   Barry wisely suggested that I take a bit of time to acclimatitize to German roads and rules and the actual car which the saints at Good Books for All in Mosbach made available for us to use for our Deutschlandreise.

And so from the bowels of the airport we were whisked with the ICE to Mannheim.

Our initial ride was uneventful and we were sitting in our connecting train for Mosbach when I asked Enoch to check out what time our train arrived at Mosbach station.  He came back to say that Mosbach was not on the list of stations.  I asked another passenger if this was the S1 train and was told no - so in a small panic we rushed off the train and our 6 big pieces of luggage... and the train then left.
the sun rises above Mannheim railway station.

On the platform was an official with the German railway.  We told us that we had been on the right train after all - that the rear portion - where we were sitting - leaving for another destinaiton some where in the trip, and the front portion moving on to Mosbach and other points south east.  He then told us that he had also been on that train and had also become confused.  Later, sitting on the next train, we were pleasantly surprised when this officer came by to examine our tickets.

The train took its winding way along the Neckar river, deeper and deeper into the German countryside.  Oohs and aahs liberally provided by yours truly.

 And finally at 11 AM we were in Mosbach.

The journey of a 1000 miles, which had begun with a single step of finally heading out from Lalitpur on the 10th of December, and which had been already fueled with prayer and love, was now starting a new phase.

We were blessed with a VW Sharan - a beautiful 6 gear diesel machine which is a joy to drive.  I was given some good driving experience and tips on German driving laws and etiquette by the patient and joyful Andreas Schaefer... and then the Eichers were off by road to Hessigheim.

And that, dear friends, is will be where we carry on with our next episode.  Please stay tuned!

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


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.