We are back again in a train compartment, travelling through the darkness of a Maharashtra night.
It is only the 6th of January and we have spent almost half of the year so far travelling on the wonder of the Indian Railways. Starting before the crack of dawn on the 1st of the year, we snaked our way down south to Secundarabad and then up the East Coast till we got to Vishakapatnam on noon on the 2nd.
Then we crammed in 3.5 days of joy before being bundled off on an autorickshaw in the coolness of a Vizag winter night on the 5th so that we could get the train back to Thane.
Why the trip? So that we could be with Amma and Appa and Victor and Sarah and Joanna. We had not seen Amma and Appa for a year. It was Yohan’s first visit to them and first time he met Victor and his cousin Joanna.
Why not leave before? Well, we had said that we would be serving with Jeevan Sahara Kendra till the 31st of December and had much to do down to the very last hours of us being on duty (and still have some tasks when we get back).
Why rush back? Asha has a test on the 7th morning. Her first day back of school – a Thursday - welcomes her with the chemistry assessment – the first of a series of tests. One each day. We would have otherwise just waited till the weekend to return.
So let us start our tale from the end and then unwind a bit of these three and a half days of joy that we just had as a family in Andhra Pradesh.
Here we all are, just before we stepped out of the doors of Amma and Appa’s home for another of the many good-byes in our life.
OK. Now back to the beginning ...
We arrived off the train from Mumbai and were embraced by Amma and Appa. Appa had been waiting outside on the street for our autorickshaw to arrive. Amma and Appa live in a small village called Tungalam, nestled behind the many thousand acre compound of a large loss-making government factory – the Heavy Plates and Vessels Plant of the Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited.
We were greeted and immediately fed. Eating was to be a big part of the next few days. After a short afternoon nap, Sheba and I went off to buy things as we were baking cakes for the Sunday School meeting the next day and also wanted to get some seafood.
A lovely walk through the HPVP compound and a share auto-rickshaw brought us to the Gajuwaka Market. We had come to buy crabs as Yohan told us how much he likes crab and we in turn told him that Amma cooked a mean crab curry. The ladies in the fish section supplied us with plenty of crab. They also sweet-talked us into buying a massive fish which looked like something you would find while scuba-diving in the great barrier reef and some large plump prawns as well.
By the time Sheba and I returned the kids were already playing badminton in the small front garden and the next big excitement was to see when Victor, Sarah and Joanna were to arrive.
We celebrated our first evening together with an amazing feast of crab and prawn curries. Seventh heaven. Amma sure knows how to cook up a storm.
Yohan was pleased as punch - and so were his parents and siblings and grandparents!
He got to get the first crab as his supper is at 6.45 each day so that he has 2 hours without food before hi s 9 PM medication which is best taken on an empty stomache.
Sheba and I had in the meantime made multiple batches of cake and were sending them in to Amma’s tiny oven one at a time in order to get to the 200 pieces we thought we needed to make. The word ‘thought’ is the key – as we later found that we only needed to make some 70 odd pieces. The labour was hardly in vain, however, as the extra century-odd pieces were efficiently consumed by the 10 strong Eicher-Emmanuel-Rajan family over the course of the next 3 days.
Victor and I had been informed while we were on our respective trains, steaming for Vishakapatnam, that we would be sharing in the morning worship time. So I took the first message focusing on worship and the amazing reasons to rejoice in the Lord found in Romans 5. Victor then followed up with the message given before the Lord's supper and he took us through the challenging story of Gideon's son Abimelech.
Our younger generation joined the Sunday School - and were asked to sing a group song which they gamely did while Enoch shared his testimony.
Then there was the love feast. And what a feast it was. All of us sitting in lines being served by brothers (young and old) bearing the savory delights of biryani rice and mutton curry and a delicious sambhar. Everyone served. The the prayer and song and then we dig in to the goodness of food with grateful hearts.
Afternoon saw Victor, Appa and myself stay on for the 'youth meeting' while the others went back home to rest. Victor had taken a number of these before in times pass and so asked me to lead it. We looked at how Boaz is an example for us and a picture of Christ.
The next day was our last 'full day' in Tungalam, and so we had to do something.
What better than to go to the beach! A few calls in the evening and Victor had arranged for a taxi to take us around for the day.
Monday morning had Amma and Sheba and Sarah preparing lemon rice and egg curry for the lunch. At 10 the Tavera rolled around and we tumbled in for a day outside.
What a beautiful sight to come down from the empty scrubby hills to a belt of coconut trees and to see the strip of sand and the waves breaking constantly on it.
We got there before 11 AM and found the beach basically empty.
And so we got down to business!
There were sand castles to be made of course - and defended against the high tide as it came in!
And there was the wonderful salty miracle of the sea to be enjoyed.
We didn't go in deep - there is a vicious current and people have drowned in the past - but even in the shallows, the sheer joy of being in the Bay of Bengal is something else.
The older three cousins have been coming back to this beach for many a year on our winter pilgrimages to Vizag.
But for the youngest one in our group it was a huge novelty.
There is something totally wonderful about being out in the open and seeing the horizon as a flat line in the distance. About seeing small crabs skitter away into their holes and have small shells wash ashore.
Amma and Appa gamely come along with us each time, and this time we lugged a brace of chairs for them to sit and watch over us as we frolicked.
Victor was kind enough to get a jug of hot sweet tea from a local resort too. There were (surprise!) lots of pieces of cake to enjoy it with.
And then we saw the boat come in.
It was a small fisher boat - a single hulled vessel propelled by only the oars of the two fisherman who brought it in.
Fishermen coming in means fresh fish.
Amma and Appa were up and over to the boat, along with trusty Victor. Some haggling later and two amazing fishes were ours for Rs. 100 each.
I decided that it was time to get to know these beautiful specimens a bit better.
Before long it was time for a last soak together and a look out at the horizon.
We had lunch to dig into and an evening appointment lined up...
... so we reluctantly dusted off the sand and repaired to the resort where we had our lemon rice and egg curry.
Then off into the taxi and back home for a quick bath and 40 winks for most of the troops before we were out the door again, driving towards the steel plant in the evening cool.
Nagesh and Vasundhara had insisted that we have dinner with them and their lovely daughter Ruth Netanya. How could we resist?
Nearby was also the Steel Plant Hospital, where Joshua, the son of Uncle Kishore (relative on Amma's side) was admitted. One group of us met and prayed with him - while Sheba and the younger set dived into the joy of playing and talking with Ruth.
How amazing to see this little girl blossoming so much.
Ruth is fluent in Telegu now - and a lively bundle of joy. She is in pre-school, complete with glowing reports and a statement by one of the teachers that Ruth 'wants to be a leader.'
We are again so thankful for bringing this little girl into this family - and for the amazing love and acceptance that Nagesh and Vasundhara are giving to Ruth as her adoptive parents.
The angel told Zachariah that the long-hoped-for son would come - and would be "a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth."
We certainly have seen this come true for this family with Ruth being added to them a year and a half ago.
We left that home of love in the steel plant quarters with all of us being well-fed and thankful to the Lord for all He has done.
That night we all stayed up late talking. There is so much to discuss when you have been away from each other for so long - and such joy to drink lemon tea and unload that which lies within to your kith and kin.
And so we came to Tuesday - a day that we deliberately chose to lie low. More games of badminton and 'up-words.' Washing and drying all the clothes. More conversations. The beginnings of packing for the way back and cooking lemon rice and prawns. Another sumptous sea-food lunch - which carried on to dinner!
And then on to the train in the night and back to Thane!
Vizag now just seems like a dream. But dreams are real. And our thankfulness continues to bubble up as the beautiful memories of these days keep surfacing.