Sunday, 11 January 2015

A night to remember - celebrating 100 years of God's faithfulness!

Mum and Dad were drinking coffee with their dear friends Dave and Cathy Hicks.  It was just before 6 PM and they were on the last evening of a two day personal retreat – a time when both couples shared with each other, laughed and cried together, and did a lot of praying.   That evening they had planned to go out for a special meal to celebrate their ‘youngest’ – Dave Hicks’ upcoming 70th birthday.  Having stepped out of the campus and seated in the coffee shop – who should Mum see walking outside the window but her old friend Martha Udom!
Mum rushed out and brought Martha in to join them.  “Martha, what are you doing here?” she asked.  Martha was pleased to see them but evasive.  “I am here to attend a meeting” she said.  “Who is speaking at it?” asked Mum and Dad. “Well, there will be different speakers” said Martha – and after a few more questions, she extracted herself and went on to her meeting.

The foursome walked back onto the campus.  Mum and Dad had earlier met an ex-bar-keeper-now-preacher from Goa who was also staying in the same retreat centre.  This man told them that he had come to Mumbai with his wife to hold special meetings for some hundreds of people.   “Why don’t we check out the meeting?” Dave Hicks suggested to Mum and Dad. “Why not?” they said and walked over to a nearby hall.  

Who should they meet just outside the hall, but P.P. Daniel – Mum and Dad’s old-time colleague from the late 1960s in Operation Mobilisation.  Mum was stunned.  “What are you doing here brother P.P?”  she blurted out.  “I am here to attend a special meeting” he said and after a few seconds went inside the hall with his wife.  Mum was amazed to see a person she had not met for over 30 years.   

The front of the hall had tea being served - and a single figure was drinking it.  Mum looked closer and saw Carol Alter drinking tea.  “Carol!” she bleated.  What are you doing here?  “Have some tea” said Carol “it’s very good.”  Mum gratefully took a cup and launched into excited chatter to see her long-time friend here.   Dad had in the mean time walked into the hall.   A few moments later he came back.   “Darling, come immediately” he said and dragged her into the hall.

Dad had seen the real reason everyone was there.  Walking into the back of the hall with Dave Hicks, he saw people holding candles and singing ‘how great thou art.”  The person leading the songs in the front was his son Andi.  “Amazing that Andi and his church are doing a meeting on this campus” thought Dad.  Then he saw this banner in the front:

Having sung "How great thou art" through once already, and having repeated the chorus twice already and having seen Dave and Cathy Hicks come in with my father wearing his dark blue hat - but still standing at the back, we were straining our necks, waiting for the happy couple to come to the front.   But where was Mum?

She was still outside drinking tea with Carol Alter.  Dad dragged her into the hall and Sheba went back to bring them to the front.

The surprise was sprung!  And what a wonderful success it turned out to be.  The months of planning had worked - Mum and Dad had no idea that there was an evening celebration for them - a time when their friends from near and far could come and celebrate God's goodness in their lives.

And so it was that at just after 6 PM on the 7th of January 2015 we had one of the most special evenings we have ever experienced.

Last year in November Mum and Dad completed 50 years of service in India.  We had wanted to organise something then but it didn't work out.   But John Gabriel spurred us on.  "You must do something for  Mum and Dad" he insisted.  And then when we found out that Dave and Cathy Hicks - Mum and Dad's dear friends from 1967 - would be visiting in early January we knew that something could be done.

Step 1 was to get into Dad's email account.  It worked like a dream because he had just had someone transfer all his addresses to a 'mail chimp' programme.  I asked him for the password and voila - access to 1500+ addresses of Mum and Dad's dear friends from around India and around the world.  We set up an email account and wrote an email to everyone on the list - telling them about Mum and Dad having achieved a century of service together - and asking them to write in to the 'secret account' with their memories, thoughts and best wishes.

And from mid November the entries started coming in.  I knew that I would not have time to edit all these items with the swirl of the World AIDS Day and our JSK thanksgiving - so it was going to have to be only during the Christmas break that the editing would start.  And so many nights were spent downloading, reformatting, and making the book.   In the end we a special memory book with 250 pages worth of treasured thoughts and ideas from so many of Mum and Dad's friends.

And then there was the matter of getting a meeting where people could come and rejoice together with Mum and Dad - when this memory book was to be given to them. 

So we got Dave and Cathy to email Mum and Dad and invite them to a two-day retreat for both couples. We booked a Catholic Retreat centre in Andheri for this - after we were able to book a special hall on the same campus for the Thanksgiving time on the 7th of January.

Then there was the matter of contacting the local folks and a few special guests from outside Mumbai.   Emails and phone-calls went on over December and early January - and we finally had a list of about 90 odd folks who said they were joining us.

And so Mum and Dad walked into this gathering - seeing glimpses of people they knew and loved by candle-light - as the rousing strains of the Eicher band - Enoch on the keyboard, Asha on violin and Sheba and myself on vocals helped take everyone through our third chorus of 'how great thou art."  Everyone present held up their candles as a salute to Mum and Dad as Sheba escorted them to the front of the hall.

With Mum and Dad safely seated it was time to put on the lights - and have people introduce themselves.  What a joy to have so many of Mum and Dad's friends speak out words of blessing and tell about how many years they have known them.  And so many were from the very beginning.

Rob Sinclair - resplendent in his flowing white beard and his Enfield shirt - came forward to pray.  Rob and Carol are on a 5 month stint in India - driving a Royal Enfield motorcycle across India.  They had parked their beast in Ahmedabad and flown in for this night. 

Then uncle Alfy Franks took the floor to share from God's Word.  Uncle and Dad had worked together for so many years in Operation Mobilisation.  Using the passage about the Israelites facing the Red Sea in front of them and the Egyptian army behind them,  Uncle Alfy encouraged us all not to be afraid - but to stand firm and trust in God for all the situations we may be facing.  Looking back on the challenges and joys that he and Dad had experienced - Uncle told us that God has been faithful - and will continue to be.

It was my pleasure then to give a pictoral overview of Mum and Dad's lives through images from their childhood and their 5 decades of joint ministry in our country.  What an opportunity to look back in wonder on how God has been good to them - and how they in turn poured themselves into others.

We then had 3 special folks come up and share about what Mum and Dad meant to them.   First up were our main conspirators - Dave and Cathy Hicks.  

They presented Mum and Dad with special jolly looking mugs - to commemorate the '1 crore cups of tea' that Mum had made in her hospitable kitchen - and the 'half a crore cups of tea' that Dad had drunk in the course of those years!   They also presented Mum and Dad with towels to signify the servanthood that Mum and Dad exhibited over all these years.    Bro Rajendran came up and thanked God for Mum and Dad's service to Jesus.

The Eicher choir then led the gathering in a version of "He is able" before Naomi and Emmanuel Nathan shared their memories and Chris Williams from Pune came up to pray for them - and present them with a big study Bible!

We sang another old song - one which the late Chris Begg wrote - "for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord."  

Next we were blessed to have Claire Hivner - who along with her husband Rick had flown up from Bangalore to be with us - share the special way that Mum and Dad had ministered to her and others.   

Pastor Stanley Mehta remembered how Dad would always keep the 'tract rack' at Bombay Baptist Church full with different languages - and offered further thanks to God.  To remember that era, we all sang "Majesty" together.

We then had Rob and Carol Sinclair come up to present the memory book - and then it was finally time for Mum and Dad to share their thoughts.   

Mum told us all - to our utter delight - that the whole evening was a complete and total surprise for her.  She was just overwhelmed with the joy of seeing so many of their old friends and colleagues from across the years all gathered in one place.   Joy was beaming from her face - and we all reflected it back to her.

Dad took more time - and spoke movingly about God's amazing faithfulness to them as a couple - and to every person in the room with whom they are all so intimately linked.   He reflected back on his own birth and being chosen by the Lord to share the joy of Jesus with others - and on some of the experiences that he and uncle Alfy and others had experienced in their OM days.  Both the dark hours as well as times of great joy and encouragement when they saw God answer prayers of faith.

We had Ajay Shandilya come up to pray - a miracle in itself after his recent multiple hospitalisations and surgeries - and then all held hands to rousingly sing 'bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken."   

It was fitting to have John Gabriel come up to give the final thanksgiving for the food - since he and his family have all along been our major encouragers to have such a night for Mum and Dad.

The meeting broke up in the best way possible - clusters of people talking and laughing with each other - enjoying a delicious meal outside and catching up on years gone by.   Mum and Dad barely ate of course, as their dear friends smothered them with love. 

Looking back 3 days after that magical evening, we still get goosebumps -  to have so many of the people who are so precious to Mum and Dad together in one place... to see the deep love and affection and the way that God has shaped so many of these dear ones through Mum and Dad... to have a small role in facilitating a small set of thanksgiving for the immense mountain of love that Mum and Dad have invested in others... to see our Lord Jesus honoured all through the evening - with it beingso clear that Mum and Dad are simple people who have allowed themselves to be instruments of healing and joy for so many, as tools in the hands of their loving Master.   To be able to give Mum and Dad a book with so many amazing stories and wishes of their loved ones from around the world... and that all of this was a genuine, lovely and cherished surprise for Mum and Dad... we are very grateful. 
It was almost twelve when we sacked out at our dear friends John and Nalini's home in Powai.  Our kids and their kids would be going to school the next day to Bombay Scottish which is next door to them.  It took a while to sleep because of the wide grin I had on my face.   The smile continues...

We will of course never be able to fully thank God - and thank Mum and Dad for all that they have done - and all that they are to us and to so many others.  But the surprise night of Jan 7th 2015 marked a lovely glimpse of thanksgiving and joy for the century of love and service that Mum and Dad have given to so many in our beloved country.   A joy-drenched evening of delight.  A small taste, an appetizer of what lies ahead, when our Lord Himself will say "well done, good and faithful servants."

- picture credits - most photos taken by Edmund Peter Francis - with the last 3 taken by K. Rajenderan.  Thanks guys for letting us use these shots!


  1. I cried the whole way through this account. Thanks so much for sharing. Truly a glimpse of what eternity will be like.

  2. Thanks for sharing this! Sad I wasn't there!!!

  3. It is Legacy.... what they have left behind..... It reminds us His faithfulness and His promises to those who love Him and serve Him... Through MOM and DAD's life.

  4. Once again the evening testified of God's faithfulness ... a recurring testimony of 100 years in their ministry. The evening program was so beautifully executed, truly God was glorified. To have Bro. George Verwer deliver that special video message for his co-workers was heart warming

  5. Augustine & Omana A Koshy12 January 2015 at 11:03

    Thank you, a great job done by Andi and team. Thanks for sharing this news and the pictures. We only wished we could be there to be a part. May God continue to use Eichers to be a blessing to many.

  6. As I read this, my heart rejoiced in God's love, mercy and grace displayed in the lives of these saints who have faithfully served for over 50 years. But, I was also blessed knowing that so most of those present and who had written notes have also served for many years. I have no doubt that God was pleased with what He saw on this night of celebration that glorified Him. Press on my friends until we stand together around the throne in worship!

  7. very interestingly you celebrating 100 years of God's faithfulness the night..
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