Sunday, 13 November 2011

Living Legends: Selvanayagam

Of the many rich experiences we live through - a special joy is to be in the company of saints.

I am not talking about folks who moon around with ghostly halos glimmering over shaved pates.

I am talking about flesh and blood people whose tears have stained many a floor as the bitter challenges of life have hit them - but who have stood up after their time of prayer and carried on with the messy business of life.

I am talking about people whose ugliness has been evident to themselves - and who have cried out for forgiveness - and how move forward in newness of life.  Only to be back on their knees when their closeness to God shows them again a new previously unseen stain.

Over the past 12 years it has been my joy to be blessed by Uncle and Auntie Selvanayagam.  I met them for the first time at our marriage.  By then they had already been impacting Sheba's life for over a decade.

When Sheba went to Cuttack, Orissa for her medical studies she was looking for a church home.  She found it in the home of Uncle and Auntie Selavanayagam.


The church met in their home.  And after the Sunday service Sheba was always there for a meal.  Out of their slim resources, the Selvanayagams were liberal with love.  Many a time Sheba caught Auntie adding another morsel to her plate during Uncle's saying grace over the meal - a time while all eyes were supposed to be closed.

Sheba was informally adopted as the Selvanayagam's eldest daugther.  Their three girls were literally small girls when Sheba and the other medical students of her time camped at the Selvanayagam's place time and time again.  Amazingly, when we came to Mumbai - we found that all three of the girls - Prisci, Susie and Hepsi ended up marrying and living in the greater Mumbai area.

What makes Selvanayagam a saint?

It all starts out with him leaving Tamil Nadu for the Navy.  A hard-bitten navy man, Selvanayagam was posted in 1974 to Pune to do pharmacy studies when he came across some street-preachers.  Selvanayagam listened in and heard God speak to him through the messages.  He confessed his sins and received forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Shortly afterwards he was baptised.

That began his life-long adventure of faith.  He eventually left the navy.  Together with his wife the moved to Orissa and nurtured others in the faith through their words and their love - lives that were seemlessly meshed together.  Sheba was just one of many whom the Selvanayagams poured themselves into.

Over the years they have seen many tears as well.  As a couple, and as individuals they have made mistakes.

But I saw them this morning, sitting together before dawn on the corner of our living-room couch. Two old grey souls reading the Bible together and praying.  This is a life well lived.

The Selvanayagams do not have a bungalow down south waiting for them to retire to.  Their only building project is in heaven.  Where others have poured in years of work and funds into land and bricks and mortar - the Selvanayagams do not seem to have anything concrete.  Other than the concrete love that they poured into others lives - like the young thin medical student who was born and brought up in Orissa and was making her first foray into the world outside her home - our dear Sheba.

Uncle Selvanayagam is also a cancer survivor.  He was operated for cancer of the gall bladder - and is living in total remission!

And they are parents of a cancer survivor too!  Many months of tears and prayers went up - but their daughter has survived and is working and a mother as well...

We are so happy that the Selvanayagams  have not just remained in our past - but are very much in our present as well.  Over the years they have become adopted grandparents to Asha and Enoch.  Visits by 'Appachan' and 'Ammachi' (Malayalam for Grandpa and Grandma) are always a joy.  Uncle has a calm and deep faith - and the lovely conversations we have about books and theology - and Auntie's bustling love us expressed mainly in smiles and gestures as she does not know English or Hindi - and Asha, Enoch and I do not know Malayalam or Oriya.

Being near the Bethany hospital where Uncle and Auntie are treated whenever they come to Mumbai to be with their daughters' families means that we Eichers get a lions' share of them.

Yesterday I got a call from Uncle telling that they had some checkups at Bethany.  We are so glad to be able to host them as a family.

After spending the day in ministry with the local Brethren Fellowship - uncle and auntie returned in the evening and we had another pleasant time of fellowship together - with Amma and Appa with us as well.  The only person missing - and we sorely miss her - is our dear Sheba who is currently in Raxual, Bihar.

How much longer will we be blessed with the joy of spending time with the Selvanayagams?  We don't know - they certainly are not getting younger.

But we know that each visit is something special to savour.

This morning, as Uncle was preparing to go church - where he was due to speak - he confessed that he was filled with a sense of trembling.  To be given the responsibility of sharing the word was no small thing.  The immensity of being asked to speak on behalf of God was something that Uncle was acutely aware of.

Saints are saved sinners.  Uncle and Auntie Selvanayagam have lived this out to the fullest over their 70+ years on this spinning blue planet.  What a privilege to have them feed into our lives too!

Concert time

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