Sunday, 21 August 2016

A joyous goodbye, a delight-seasoned yearning: Ray Eicher's funeral

Dad spoke about his funeral many times over the years.  He told us on numerous occasions that he did not want some ponderous, solemn affair.   What he wanted was joy and thanksgiving and celebration - because Dad knew that he was going to be rejoicing with his Lord Jesus.

Dad got what he wanted.

Our time together at the Kellogg Memorial Church in Landour Mussoorie on the afternoon of the 15th of August 2016 was as joy-soaked as it can get.  "I have just come back from the happiest funeral I have ever been to" wrote a young man on a social media platform a day ago.  He was talking about Dad's thanksgiving service and funeral.

You can see the whole service here:


[the youtube url is: https://youtu.be/JdeGV8dWut8]

Pastor Timothy Patiraj welcomed us all and asked God's grace to fill us, praying in the name of Jesus, the conquerer of death.  We then moved into the well loved song Yeshu Masih - tere jaisa hai koi nahin.  

What a joy to look out over the hall and see so many dear ones from near and far who were there because of the love that they had experienced through Dad.  

It was always going to be hard to select folks to share testimonies of thanksgiving, but we finally chose 7.   We had to start out with Mum of course.  


With an amazing smile on her face, Mum talked about her companionship with Dad over their 48 years of marriage. About how blessed it was when Dad talked to her about going on a final trip - and how she was able to tell him that this would be the very best journey he has ever been on.

Our next two speakers were not present 'in the flesh' but were very much with us in spirit - Premila and Stefan.  I had the privilege of reading out messages that they had prepared for this time.

Premi wrote a letter which had been sent just before Dad passed away - and asked that we read it out at the funeral:

Dear Dad and Mom,

Over these few months I have been asking why? Why is God doing this to dad. A man that has sacrificed so much to serve You. A man who has so much compassion and zeal. That has obeyed. No answers have come to me.

But as I sit here, in my living room listening to the rain and looking out my window through the trees towards the mountains and listening to the Olympics in the background, and listening to the men a d women who have won. They have spent years training. Training hasn't come easy it's been painful, there have been injuries, disappointments, times where they have wanted to give up. Times where they are spent. And then the big race comes and they put their all into it, and that feeling when they cross that finish line. The feeling of relief. Peace, joy. And I'm sure their coach tells them well done, your faithfulness in training has paid off.

And I think about dads life, and all he has done, and went through. And he is where he now. I'm sure frustrated. And in pain, possibly some anxiety. And I just feel that God is saying to him " well done my Good and faithful servant" ( quote dad used to say in his sermons). And hopefully if you get this, I hope you can read this to dad MOM. And somehow dad will be encouraged.

Again, I love you both so much. My heart is with you both everyday.

Always yours, 


Premi Maus

It was my privilege to read a comments by my brother next.  Stefan sent a deeply moving meditation on Dad and the nature of forgiveness that you can read in full here.

Here are some of Stefan's words:

Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. It changes everything. It literally changes the world. And I am grateful for the many opportunities my father and I have had to forgive each other, to be forgiven by each other, and to set things straight.

My father has departed. But over the years, I have been grateful for many departures, up at the top of the hill behind Sisters Bazaar, where having walked up the hill from Shanti Kunj after yet another visit, I get into a taxi, and wave till the last moment possible and Mum and Dad disappear from view.

The ache of each impending separation became opportunities to set things straight, to seek out Dad’s forgiveness and in turn to forgive, to stand there at the top of the hill and experience the bliss of a father’s embrace of total love and acceptance. And I am grateful to Dad for that. Having had the chance to resolve so much, having experienced so much grace with my father, somehow this last goodbye here on earth isn’t as hard as I thought it would be.

Not only did he help give me life 45 years ago to this day, August 15th, but in deeply significant ways he also taught me how to live that life well: through his compassion, through helping me experience the reality of grace, and through knowing the wonderful freedom that comes from forgiveness.


Pastor Edwin Singh shared about how Dad met and greeted everyone he me with such compassion and love.  Be it the coolie laboring under a load that he is carrying, or a rich tourist up to see the sights of Mussoorie.  

Dr. Stephen Alfred talked about knowing Dad from when he was a teenager, but how he had the special privilege of knowing him as he had operated on him for the cancerous tumour at the Bethany Hospital in Thane.  Stephen shared how Dad would pray for him and all the other doctors - and how Dad faced the operation he was undergoing without fear. And how he blessed everyone in the whole hospital - from the person running the lifts and the watchmen outside to the nurses and the doctors.  He spoke about Dad's humility, his passion for the gospel and that he had no respect for persons - that he believed that every life was valuable.

Uncle Alfy Franks shared he and Dad had been such brothers - and that if it was his funeral Dad would have done anything possible to be there.   Uncle Alfy said that he has never seen a man who fulfilled the two great commandments like Dad did.  To love God with all his heart, and to love his neighbour as himself.   "Ray fulfilled these commands all his life. I could never find a man with such a hunger for God. Waiting on God, worshipping God... and such a desire to serve to fulfill the second commandment."  Uncle went on to share how early in their work they had s situation at a conference when a toilet was totally blocked and nobody knew what to do.  Dad took his hand and plunged it into the filth and cleaned it out.  "Those brothers will never forget what they saw.  All their lives they will have remembered it....   What a welcome Ray will have had when he arrived in heaven!"

Bro PM John share that earlier this year Dad had encouraged him and other Ex-Omers to gather together in different parts of India to worship the Lord and encourage each other.  Bro John shared how grateful he was to have Ray and Alfy as his leaders during the 18 years he served with OM India.  He talked about how his children had worn the clothes that Andi and Stefan had worn before them. "That's the kind of relationship we had... very few people are living in this world like the Lord Jesus - brother Ray was one of them. No words can express our gratitude for him."

A group song by some of the Eicher clan summed up some of Dad's favourite thoughts:

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

And then one day, I 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

The word of God was shared by David Rendall.  David is a man from whom Dad delighted to hear unpack the Bible many times over the past 2 decades (it helps that David enjoys Jesus so much that he has memorized the book of Romans).  David started out by telling us all that it was OK to be sad.  Loss is real.  Grief is real.  Our Lord Jesus Himself experienced sorrow and sadness.  To experience tears is only to echo what our Lord Himself did.  We all know that Jesus wept.  It is totally normal and right to feel sad at times of loss like this.

But the other thing that David shared with us was a living, throbbing gem of light.  The glorious truth is that we do have a real and genuine hope.  A hope that Dad has spoken of, has lived out, and has lived in anticipation of.  A hope of actually meeting the Lord Jesus and gazing in delight at His holiness.  A real and genuine fact that as marvelous and grace-filled as this life may be - and Dad experienced much grace and joy along the way - we are just getting the faintest taste of what is to come, the lightest feather touch of the weight of glory that is to be revealed.  Having read a passage from The Horse and His Boy David said that "Now at last Ray Eicher is beginning chapter one of the main story which no one on earth has read and which goes on forever."

David finished his sermon by saying:  "You know what Ray would like me to be saying to you?  My Friends. come home with me. Look at the Father who I am looking at right now.  You will never be disappointed. Finish the race. Keep the faith." 

We responded to this joy-bursting sharing of God's truth through His revealed word of scripture with Dad's favourite hymn: Martin Luther's A Mighty Fortress is our God.  The earthy Luther had apparently set his soaring God-drenched, experience-tempered words to the tune of a popular beer-hall tune.  And according to the biography of Luther that I was reading aloud to Dad when he died, Luther was a fine singer himself.  And his words reflect some of the struggles that Dad has lived through his 50 plus years of living out his life for God:

And though his world with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear for God hath willed,
His truth to triumph through us.

We had been celebrating and thanking God for Dad's life.  His funeral was just as he had wanted it - full of a deep joy in the Lord.  A tangible aroma of thanksgiving which mingled with our tears at not having him in our midst any more.  A church full of dear ones from near and far - the local shop owners sitting next to aging colleagues from the early days of OM, folks who had flown in from Bangalore and Hyderabad mingled with variouis members of the extended Eicher clan (some of the wonderful foster brothers and their families whom Mum and Dad have parented over the past 2 decades), pastors of local churches and members of the broader hill-side community.

And then, wonder-of-wonders, we had Dad addressing the group himself.   Over the past decade as a family we had many a time heard Dad say that he would like to have a video of himself shown at his funeral.   Amazingly, with the help of John Paulraj and Bhagat Pun, we were able to record 2 messages by Dad.  We showed the Hindi message at the funeral.  It was uncanny to see how spot on target he was - and how much his presence resonated through his God-directed words:



For those who can't understand Hindi, here is a similar message that Dad shared in English.  It was recorded at the same time, in the Prayer Room at Shanti Kunj.  Dad was suffering from terrible pain in the nights, but rallied around to record these messages which express his essential thoughts in the way that we knew and loved so well.

What better way to respond than our well-beloved hymn - How Great Thou Art

When Christ shall come, 
With shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And there proclaim, my God how great Thou art

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee,
How great thou art, how great thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to thee,
How great thou art.... how great... thou ... art!


It was such a privilege for me to thank the many who had worked behind the scenes for us to celebrate Dad's life in this way.  The leadership teams of the Kellogg Memorial Church and the Friends of Garhwal Church, the HBM Hospital community, the many who had prayed and helped out in so many ways.

We then had one of Dad's many dear friends come up to close the time in prayer.  It was an apporpriate choice as Dr. Raju Abraham was a trusted prayer partner of Dad's, who along with Dad and others used to meet in different Landour hillside homes for a daily 6-7 AM prayer meeting - a practice that went on for a number of years just after the turn of the Millenium.

It was time to move to the actual burial.  We had earlier put Dad's favourite Garhwali hat on his head and so as the family filed out past Dad's coffin, we saw Dad's body the way we had seen him many times before - dressed for service - and at peace with God.


Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.  And precious is the meeting of these saints as they offered words of comfort and condolence to all of us as a family.   

Mum was practically beaming as she met different loved ones. 

On the way from Lalitpur to Mussoorie she had expressed concern that she would not be able to emotionally handle it when people who loved Dad very much would meet her.   We prayed for courage and composure.  She got both in massive measure.  The joy of the Lord was her strength as she told person after concerned person about how much peace God was giving her. 


We then started on the short walk from the church to the Landour Christian Cemetery.   Many willing hands carried the coffin as we walked through the lush greenness of a Mussoorie monsoonal afternoon.  Our worship team walked ahead, leading in songs of worship as the procession made its way along the path that Dad had walked along with Mum many a time.  The difference was this time Dad did not stop to meet a stranger and give him or her a tract, or greet an old friend with a quick round up of news.  Dad's tongue - for now, and here on earth - is silent.  His body was being carried by some of those whom he had invested his life into.  It is now the turn of others to speak.



As we came to the cemetery, we left the road and walked down into the vivid greenery of the huge deodar trees and the lush ferns dotted with purple monsoonal flowers.  The path is steep in places as the hill drops down in breath-taking fashion.   'What a place to be buried' I thought as the clouds opened up momentarily and I saw the awesome beauty of the forested hills on the other side of the valley open up.  How glad I am that Mum and Dad had soaked in this beauty over their 29 years of living in Mussoorie - their countless walks together - and their hikes with us and other offering many times to praise the loving Creator of such heart-stopping beauty.


We passed the graves of the known and the unknown on our walk down, down, down to the bottom left corner of the cemetery.   Our path took us past British tombs large and small, glimpsed through the greenery.   More modern concrete markers reminded us of loved ones who had gone before Dad.  Diana Biswas - long-serving Woodstock teacher.  Joe and Marrietta Smith - dear friends of Dad's whose graves lie next to each other - their bodies having been laid to rest as a testimony to their love for each other, their adopted country and their Lord.   

And now it was Dad's turn. Scripture tells us that it is appointed once for man to die, and then the judgement.  We finally came to the place where a large hole had been dug - the place where Dad's mortal remains were to be interred. 

As we gathered next to the grave, waiting for folks from the long procession to catch up, my phone buzzed.  I looked at the number and saw '3444' which meant that it was Stefan calling (he uses a web-based app I think).  How amazing to be there next to the grave, and to have a link with Stefan and family there in Indianapolis, USA.   Stefan talked to Mum and was able to listen in to the final prayers and scripture readings and told me afterwards that he could actually hear the thud of the mud hitting the coffin at the end.
Our dear brother Rajesh Dongriyal prayed for us all.  And so we went into the final part of the funeral itself.  As followers of Jesus Christ, we believe in the resurrection of the dead.   Jesus, rose from the dead on the third day.  His spirit, which He had surrendered into the hands of his Father, was reunited with his body.  His physical body was itself transformed into a glorious eternal body - Jesus appearing to John later says "I was dead.  I am alive.  I will live forever more."  Jesus' resurrection is a triumph over death.  We lay the bodies of those who have accepted His free gift of life into the graves (or cremate them, or remember those whose remains we cannot find) in the sure hope that one day they will be resurrected by the power of the Lord Jesus Himself.

 It is in this hope that we had the well-known passage from 1st Thessalonians read out by the grave side: Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or grieve like the rest of men, how have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. 

We know that Dad died in the arms of his loving Saviour.  And so it was with great hope and comfort that we were able to consign his body to the grave.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and griefs to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.

The strains of this hymn rang out among the tall silent deodar trees of the cemetery.  Sung by many a loved one of Ray Eicher - echoing Dad's belief and experience over the many years he had spent in this life.

The other scripture reading was lived out in so many ways in Dad's life:

Love is patient, 
Love is kind,
It does not envy,
It does not boast,
It is not proud.
It is not rude,
It is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered,
It keeps no records of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil, 
But rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
Always hopes,
Always trusts,
Always perseveres.
Love never fails.  (1 Cor. 13.4-8a)

In many ways, Dad's life lived this out.  With the help and transformation of his dear Lord Jesus, Dad's days on earth radiated this character of Jesus in his words and deeds.  We have watched this and can testify this to be true.

And so after the final prayers by Pastor Timothy Patiraj, all that was left was to actually fill up the grave.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  But the mud that we filled the grave with being the very substance that God used to fashion our dear departed father and friend to many.  Our dropping of the mud was a humble acknowledgement that our days too are numbered - and that we look forward to the glory that is to come.

 Our strong, gracious and loving mother was also among those who dropped mud into the grave.  She tossed a single rose in as well.   A life-time of love has come to an end.  God has chosen to separate them at this time after 49 years of married life together.  We know that He is good and are so thankful for the many years that He gave them together.










What hope we have.  What joy to know that this is not all there is.  That the mortal remains will one day be clad with the immortal.  That our Lord has walked this bitter path before us and has conquered death and the grave.

Dad was born in Miraj, Maharashtra. Abandoned by his birth-mother as he had been born out of wedlock, Dad was adopted into the then childless Elmore and Alice Eicher family who were serving as missionaries in Maharashtra.

His adopted father served at one point as head of the mission and came to Mussoorie on a number of occasions.  Many a time Elmore Eicher would have passed the cemetery where his son Ray would be eventually be buried.  One of the greatest stories of grace that I know of happened on my grandfather's watch, in Mussoorie to boot.

Dad's life was rich.  He ran his race well.  He kept the faith.  He died on the 13th of August in the year of our Lord 2016, in our home on the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital campus in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh.

He leaves behind a rich legacy of people he and Mum have impacted together.  Our immediate family of Stefan, Premi and myself and our spouses and children of course.  The wider foster family of Rudy, Narendra, Upendra, James, Ken, Rajesh, Ram Surat, Luka, Chris, Bison, Lissie, Phil, Bhagat, Dhan Prakash, and their spouses and children too.  And then the ever further rippling layers of friends and colleagues from different times in his life.  All impacted in amazing ways by the love of our Lord, living through him and Mum.

For Enoch and Asha, their beloved Opa's death is a big step forward in their lives.

Enoch was blessed to spend a month with his Opa and Oma from mid-May to mid-June this year - and helped out with looking after his Opa here in Lalitpur as well.

Asha has been in boarding at Wynberg Allen for this period of time, but we were thankful that the authorities allowed her to be with us for this week, which was very helpful.

After the interment, there was more time for fellowship at the Kellogg Church as tea and samosas were served.

A number of Mum and Dad's friends from OM days were there - here is a photo of some of them along with Mum.   More had come, but were not in this photo...  We are so grateful for those who came at a drop of a hat to be with us.  And for all those who sent messages of love through SMS, email and social media - but most of all through prayer - we coasted through this day because of the prayers of so many.



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With the funeral over, it was time to go back to Shanti Kunj.  As always, it hosted many, with Uncle Alfy staying back for 3 days with us, and the Lalitpur team and Victor and Sarah also staying an extra day. 

Pancakes the next morning were eaten with joy.  We missed Dad flipping them on the electric plate that we still are using from his mother Alice, but filled in the gap with grateful memories and thanks to the Lord.  


The next day the Lalitpur team left with Victor and Sarah - and dropped of our dear Narendra to catch his train back to Varanasi.  Once again, we were up at Sister's bazaar to say good-bye to our loved ones.  Just like Dad and Mum have done on myriad occasions with us (and which Stefan alluded to in his comments).


Our process of grieving and dealing with Dad's departure continues.

One of the ways we were able to keep bringing closure is to talk about the Dad's life and thank the Lord for him.  To share some of the funny and heart-warming stories and place them back into God's hands.

Uncle Alfy has always been an older brother to Mum - and so to have him with us for those three day was very special.


 We also gathered on Thursday with our foster brothers and their families who lived in the Musoorie / Dehra Dun area in order to share our stories, to laugh and cry and thank God for a life-well-lived.

Each one of us had a story to tell.  Make that many stories.

 And as we spoke them out - and sang and worshipped together - complete with all the drums from the prayer room - so much like Dad used to enjoy - we experienced some more of the healing process that will have to continue to take place over the coming months.

Many years ago, while at Grad school I met a very young married couple, where the wife had lost her beloved brother suddenly in an accident.  I asked them how they dealt with their grief - with the painful memories that were bound to come up.  Their answer helped a lot.  They shared that when a pleasant memory of the brother came to them, one that brought pain as the loss was so raw, they would bring it back to God in prayer.  They would thank God for the specific event they remembered, and then consciously give it back to God in prayer.  Similarly, when a regret came to their mind, or an event which they wished had not happened, or they remembered something that they had done against the now departed brother, they would ask God for forgiveness, and consciously ask God to take that memory away.   Closing a chapter of a book.  Moving on in grace.

  As we came to the end of our Mussoorie sojourn, there was one task left to be done.

We needed to put up a small cross over the grave.   We found some wood in our home, and cut and hammered the pieces together and painted Dad's name on it.

Then, after dropping Asha off back into boarding at Wynberg Allen, we went back to the cemetery.  Mum, Sheba, Enoch and myself.

 The beauty of the place once again took my breath away.


And down at lower left hand corner, we placed this humble cross over the grave of the man who lived his life so well.

It was a joyous good-bye for our dear father.  And we are already yearning our eternal reunion.



5 comments:

  1. It is my prayer that this warm-hearted, yet realistic account of one humble missionary service will challenge many especially young generation afresh to whole-hearted commitment to serving Christ wherever they are called to do so. "God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong." (1 Corinthians 1:27)

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  2. Thank you Andi for bringing me into the service and burial as if I had been there. What a powerful experience! My prayers are with you, Stefan, Premi and especially Mum Eicher as you get used to a new way of life without Mr. Eicher.

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  3. I think Alfy Franks' comments are so right - your dad loved Jesus and loved people. His determination not to give way to the flesh and his commitment to pray were always a challenge. Please pass on our love and prayers to your Mum.

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  4. Thank you Andy for your moving and detailed account of Dad's funeral, which captured the essence of the life he lived for the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, with a great love for God's supreme creation, mankind, for whom Jesus gave up His life. Ray and Christa were parents to our children, Devan and Adrian and very good friends to my husband, David and I. We can never forget their input into our lives. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all as you move on without Ray, in the firm knowledge that as you live your lives for Christ, you will meet him again soon and be re-united for all time and eternity. Our especial thoughts and prayers are with Christa.

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  5. Mike Evans September 16 2016

    Ijust got word to day that Ray had arrived home. I remember with much gratitude the times spent with Ray during my many years with OM in France.
    Thank you for a very moving memorial and funeral service. May the Lord grant you his continued peace as you continue the necessary grieving process.

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