Monday, 29 August 2016

Some words on a wall...

Many years ago, when Stefan and Neeru were being married at the Christian Retreat and Study Centre in Rajpur, Dad wrote a message for them on a big chart paper wall hanging we prepared for them.

Here is what Dad wrote - in his inimitable handwriting.  Dad's words written in March 2005 ring out to us today as well:

Dear Stefan and Neeru,

Every day will be a whole eternity as you walk with the Lord.

All that happened yesterday is over and gone.

Whatever happened that wasn't so good or disappointing, put in God's hands and let His blood cover it... never let that thot ever bother you.

Whatever happened that [was] good... offer it as an offering to the Lord - for HIS GLORY!

"Tomorrow will never come" so you needn't worry about that.

By worrying anyway you cannot change anything.

So what is left? TODAY!!!

Live it to the fullest.  Enjoy every minute, every relationship.

See God in every moment, every object, every person.

At the end of each day, thank Him for having been with you, commit each other to Him, commit Tomorrow into His hands + have a goooooood restful sleep.

Love you both,



Thanks to Vinay and Melanie Rao for sending us this image and for their many ways of living out love to us as a family.   Much appreciated.

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:]

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.


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.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

A message from Stefan

Stefan wrote this message which we read out at Dad's funeral.  It deserves to be read in full.

Today, August 15th is my birthday, and so I guess, a good day to talk about my father, and reflect on the last 45 years I shared life with him.

Not only did he help give me life 45 years ago, but in deeply significant ways he also taught me how to live that life.

I think of walking with him at the up-market Kemp’s Corner, near our home in Nana Chowk in the heart of Bombay, where we lived for the first 15 years of my life. I was perhaps 10 years old, the age my son Ashish is now, and I remember as I was walking, suddenly realizing that Dad had disappeared.  

I turned around to see him, way behind, sitting on the sidewalk, his feet in the gutter, next to a leper who was begging by the side of the road. Dad had given him a tract about God’s love for him, and was talking to him with his arm wrapped around his shoulder, and the man with leprosy was smiling.  I remember feeling terribly awkward, feeling a hot flush of embarrassment standing there alone, as wealthy people in suits and briefcases walked by.  

However, it was only much later, while in college, as my sense of what is important in life began to crystallize, that I thought back to that experience. I distinctly remember the feeling of embarrassment being replaced with one of pride, deep pride for who my Dad was.  For his humility and love for the ordinary, the small, the poor, the down-trodden.  For his right-side-up values in a world that is upside-down.  

It was Dad’s clarity of vision, that people matter, that people are made in the image of God and have value, that has profoundly shaped me.  I remember a second time walking with him many years later as a 30 year-old in Connaught Place, the heart of New Delhi.  Right in front of our eyes an auto-rickshaw came careening out of a side alley, out of control, and although missing a second auto, clipped its edge and pulled off some of its bumper.  I remember the driver of the damaged auto getting out, livid, raining abuses upon the first driver.  

Dad walked up, gently touched his arm, and told him, “Look, think about what just happened in Gujarat”.  The terrible Bhuj earth-quake of 2001 had just taken place.  Dad said, “Think about the people who have lost their lives, the mothers who have lost children, the wives who have lost husbands, the children who have lost their parents. What you have lost here is nothing, just some pieces of metal.”  

I remember the auto driver’s anger dissipating, him thanking my father, him getting back into his auto and driving away.

Or the story of a Mussoorie friend who told me about the brand new generator my father had helped him buy for some hill-side project, which he had kept in his jeep and which got stolen overnight.   I remember this brother telling me how he went to Dad with great fear and trembling and was so surprised when Dad’s immediate response was: “No problem.  That is only a generator.  You are so much more important than a generator.”

And finally there is my own experience, learning about grace—that usually abstract theological idea that instead of the punishment we deserve, God embraces us with arms of love.  

I learned about grace, because with my Dad I experienced it. During a two-year period that my parents lived in the US while I was in college, somebody gifted them a car.  Having planned an overnight journey with some college friends to visit my brother 16 hours away I asked my father if I could take the new car.  Although quite hesitant, because they hadn’t even begun using it, he gave me permission.  

To cut a long story short, having driven all night on our way back, due to an error on our part the engine overheated and totally broke down.  I remember walking in the morning light, with dread in my heart, along the stretch of desolate high-way to a stranger’s house, knocking on the front door and asking to use his phone.  My Dad picked up the phone, and cutting me short as I tried to explain what had happened, asked me just one question: ‘But are you okay?’  

He then arranged for a tow-truck/crane to drive out to us, which pulled the car straight to a junk-yard.  Instead of the anger, or grave parental advice I expected and deserved, when I reached home he simply held me in a long tight embrace. And he never mentioned that car to me, ever.  Ever.

 Of course my father made many mistakes as well. With all the wonderful things about my father, he was also flawed.  We are all flawed.  But as children, we see the flaws of our parents up close, and often experience them in very direct ways.  As children we enter the world expecting perfection, as we should, and end up hurt, often disappointed.  

Just before my first child Ashish was about to be born I remember being gripped with fear about fatherhood.  I remember thinking about how impossible it was going to be for me to be the best father.  I was going to end up disappointing my child in some way or the other, just as I had known disappointment with my own father.  But then something released me from all fear: I suddenly realized that just as I have had been able to forgive my father for his failings, one day my child would forgive me for mine. 

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.

On behalf of my wife and three children, I want to say how deeply we wish we could be there with you all, but have found peace in the limitations that we are forced to live within.  I count it a special blessing to have had the opportunity to spend time with my father a month ago, during the double window of opportunity in which I flew to India, and my father still had his strength.  

I arrived in Mussoorie with much fear and heaviness, knowing that he was dying, knowing that those were possibly the last days I would see him on this earth. But to my total surprise, from the moment I stepped into Shanti Kunj, Mum and Dad were so full of peace and joy, and those 10 days so full of celebration and gratitude, talking about the past, talking about the future.  Gratitude for life to be lived, and gratitude for the remarkable life that God had granted him.

Friday, 19 August 2016

A trip back to a funeral

Raymond Elmore Eicher - Dad to us - died at around 7.35 PM on the 13th of August in the year of our Lord 2016.  Dad peacefully breathed his last in 'Bethel Villa' and went to be with the Lord Jesus Christ from our home on the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital campus in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh, India.

Within minutes of Dad passing away, our house filled up with God's saints.   The palliative care team came in and washed the body and dressed Dad in his favourite clothes.   The coffin, which we had arranged to be made before-hand was brought to the doorstep.   A large block of ice - pre-ordered - was wheeled on a trolley and willing hands got to work chopping it in small pieces and filling plastic bags.  The air-conditioned ambulance which was on stand-by was called from Jhansi.   A quick meal was cooked in our kitchen by some of the saints.   People filtered in to pray and give comfort.

Sheba and Enoch were already on the train to Delhi and Dehra Dun when we discovered that Dad was sleeping with Jesus.   As we had pre-planned, in the even of Daddy passing away, we told Sheba that we would leave as soon as possible and meet them in Mussoorie the next day.   

A quick email to Stefan, Premila and Rudy brought back calls from them within a few minutes.  We were able to tell them that Daddy was free from pain and was with the Lord.

Mum went in a room to be quiet and pray and write down her thoughts.  I started packing up for the journey.  It was going to be the last one with Dad.

A quick post on FB to tell our dear ones that Dad was free from suffering.  The post precipitated an avalanche of prayers and notes of condolence and encouragement for all of us in the Eicher pariwar - near and far.

Just before 11 PM almost all was ready.  Dad's body had been placed in the casket and ice put all around him (we had specifically had a larger coffin made for the ice).  We gathered in the living room for some words of encouragement by Rev. Emmanuel Masih.  Mum shared about just how much peace she had that Daddy was free from his suffering and with his beloved Lord.  Rev. Kishore Mathews prayed for us all. 

And then the surreal experience of having my dear father carried out of our home in a coffin.  I knew that his trip to Lalitpur would end this way - and since Mum wanted to have the funeral in Mussoorie where they have lived the largest portion of their life together - we had made the arrangements ready for this trip.  But to have Dad carried out in a casket...

Once the coffin was secure in the ambulance, and our things were stowed away in the HBM Hospital vehicle, it was time to thank our dear ones and pray again.  We were taking Dad away from a place where he had been blessed deeply by the care given.  Before we stepped into the vehicles, we broke up our circle in the darkness with the rousing shouts of Dad's favourite "Bollo Prabhu Yeshu Masih ki Jai!  Wo phir se anewala hai! Wo jeevan ka jal hai! Wo jeevan ka roti hai!  Boooollllo Prabhu Yeshu Masih ki jai!"

At 11.30 PM we were on our way, driving out into the darkness, headed for Delhi.   The small group of us in the main hospital vehicle - Biju Mathew (the hospital head), Sharafat (the driver), Arbind Singh (our dear friend from Mumbai days who is posted with the Air Force in Agra), Mum and myself - began our thanksgiving service in the vehicle as we sped along the highway past Jhansi and Gwalior and on to Agra and Delhi.   We reviewed the last days with great thankfulness and shared the last moments of Dad.  We sang and prayed as the dark countryside slipped past us, and the ambulance (with Narender and Rahul Singh - a male nurse from HBM in it) drove ahead of us, its small blue light blinking in the night.

A grey Sunday morning saw us pull into New Delhi.  Mum, Sharafat and Narendra went with the HBM vehicle to rest at Victor and Sarah's home, while Biju, Rahul and myself waited for the undertaker's ambulance to meet us.  We then transferred the coffin to the new vehicle and clambered in to where Dad's body was to be embalmed in North Delhi.

A small blessing was that the undertaker's office was not too far away from Neeru's parents - and so they and her sister Tanuja and her husband and son were able to meet me and pay respects to Dad. We are glad that Stefan was able to coordinate all of this.  The miracle of mobile phones which allow us to talk while driving through the night and set up a meeting like this.

Victor and Sarah had already arranged for Mum to fly to Dehra Dun with Sarah.  Mum was able to have some deep sleep and then she and Sarah left for the airport at 2 PM, while Victor joined the HBM vehicle to meet us up in north Delhi.  We were blessed to be able to pick up my childhood friend Indi and his wife Lydia and their daughter Hannah as well.

Our small convoy of 2 vehicles crawled out of Delhi in the mid-afternoon sun.  It seemed most of Delhi was also driving in the same direction.  Slooowly.  As we moved along the text messages kept coming in.  People near and far telling about how sad they were Dad had passed away, and assuring us of their prayers.   The vehicle hosted various planning sessions for the next day's funeral, and Indi got down to work (using his daughter's computer) to make a programme and song sheet.

Meanwhile, Mum and Sarah were in Dehra Dun after a short 30 minute flight - arriving at the quaintly named 'Jolly Grant' airport at just after 5 PM.  And where then greeted by a 4 hour traffic jam - only arriving in Mussoorie well after 10 PM.

For our part, we kept going with the body.  Knowing that the funeral was to take place the next day.   Not having slept much the previous night I dozed off more often the closer we came to Dehra Dun in the darkness.  A big Punjabi dinner was wolfed down at a dhaba near Roorkee, and the final kilometers disappeared into a haze of sleep for me.

We finally pulled into the Landour Community Hospital at 12.30 AM on the 15th, 25 hours after we left Lalitpur.   Dad's coffin was put in one of the rooms and we drove up the winding roads to Sister Bazaar and a dozy family reunion with Sheba and Enoch and Asha (who had been given permission for a week out of boarding from Wynberg) as well as Mum and Sarah.

The next day was going to be a big one so we slept at 1.30 AM.  We were so thankful to have made it up safely over all the kilometers and have Dad's body ready for the burial the next day.  The prayers of God's people sped us over the land, and enveloped us with an amazing peace.

A word from a 22 year old

Among the many tributes that have flowed in about Dad (and Mum of course), here is a special one: A scan of the decision form that Dad filled out when he first joined the mission that he spent most of his life serving Christ through - Operation Mobilisation (then called 'Send the Light').

Dad filled it out as a 22 year old.  It has a glaring mistake on it.  His date of birth - instead of Sept. 5 1941, is filled in as Sept. 5 1963 - the year he filled in the form.

But there were no mistakes about the core commitment in the form.  This was not an application - it was a commitment.  The form had Dad saying that he would be joining 'Send the Light' for a student literature ministry in Mexico in the winter holidays of 1963.

The next summer saw Dad pack a single suitcase - having disposed of everything else he owned - and board an aeroplane for France.   He told me that leaving La Guardia airport he distinctly sensed that he was saying 'good-bye' USA (he was forsaking his green card) and heading back to India.  Which he did.

A summer in France with other young people - living by faith and sharing their faith with earnest enthusiasm led him to confirm a long-term commitment.  The autumn of 1964 Dad joined the second group of young people who drove out in rickety third-hand trucks and vans to India (via Austria, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran ... and the others going through Pakistan ... but not Dad - and that is another tale to be told).   Among this group was a young Christa Roesli Fischer who would 4 years later become his wife, but that story will also be narrated another time.

A good 53 years later we are now in a position to weigh out Dad's life.  To see the sweep of what he and Mum did - and who they became with the grace of our Lord coursing through them.

But look at what Dad wrote as a 22 year old!  On the back of the 'decision form' he had written a testimony:

Dad concludes the short paragraph with this statement:  "I want to live my whole life for His glory and am completely open to His leading to whatever place He may have me in life.  I want his first and best for my life and want to tell others of His wonderful Self and of His saving power."

Wow.  Has that ever come true in Dad's life.

He has lived his whole life for the glory of the One and Only.  It is almost embarrassing to meet person after person who tells me about just how much Dad has lived out the love of Jesus - and how much they were impacted by him and Mum.  This evening a group of us - the extended Eicher clan of local brothers and their families - met together at Shanti Kunj to thank God and share stories and testimonies about how God has used Dad in our lives.   The stories went on and on... mixed with some tears, some songs, and a lot of thankfulness.  Multiply this by many.

Does this mean Dad did not make mistakes or have flaws?  Certainly not.  But the overall outcome of his life is one where God was glorified - and many of his short-comings were ironed out in the process as well!

Dad has been open to the leading of the Lord Jesus wherever He wanted.  Mum shared this evening that they moved 7 times in the first 7 years of their marriage - including living for some months (around my birth) in a hell-hole of a place teeming with rats.   Dad moved out to visit countless teams over his tenure as co-leader of OM India - and traveled the globe to share about the needs and raise prayer support.

He also traveled some distance in the various ministries he poured himself into.  After handing over the main OM India leadership at the age of 46 (sobering to me... as I am 47 now) and then moving up to Mussoorie he carried on serving with OM for another 7 years or so.   After that, Dad served and learned with local churches, was involved with prayer ministry and YWAM, and finally he and Mum spent the best part of a decade helping promote the inner healing and deliverance work linked with Ellel Ministries.  Dad certainly went wherever Jesus wanted him to.

It  is such an honour to say that we have watched Dad live out his desire articulated as a 22 year old - that he wanted God's first and best for his life.  An almost unending parade of people are testifying to this.  It is humbling to receive the kind words that have flooded in over email and social media over the last week.  Dad put God first.  And did so consistently over the years.

And regarding telling others about the wonderful person of Jesus and His saving power...  well we have seen this lived out time and time again (sometimes to our annoyance as we wanted to get on with our walk or errand of the moment).  The most recent being a joyous sharing of his faith to a doctor couple from Jhansi and a student from Bhubaneshwar while they were travelling with Dad on the train from Delhi to Lalitpur.

Dad's tongue is now silent (at least down here on earth in this life that we are living).  But it was not silent over the course of his life.

How blessed to know that Dad has lived out the desire of his heart as a 22 year old.  We are all the richer for it.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Dad's last days

Dad was with us in Lalitpur for three weeks.

He came to Lalitpur very sick.  A miracle trip across a goodly portion of our country.  Buoyed by the prayers of so many.

He and Mum's time with us was a blessing.  An intense final three weeks of daily caring for Dad.  A night and day participation in his life and pain.  An hourly opportunity to talk and pray.

And pray we did.

All kinds.  The basic one for 'healing' was definitely there.  We are after all asked to come to our Lord Jesus as little children.

But alongside that prayer were many auxiliary conversations.  Talking to God to help Dad with pain relief and strength.  Prayer for aiding in his breathing difficulties.  Thanksgiving for the many blessings that we have received over the years.

And Dad prayed too.  Prayed after he had his first pleural tap with Dr. Tony and Rahul in the hospital. Blessed people who came to see them.  His life continued to show forth love.

 Life was stripped down to the very essentials for Dad.

Sleep.  Pain relief.  Food. Toiletting.  A walk.  The Word.  Massage.

Food was an on-going challenge.  It was heart-breaking to see how little Dad ate.

This was a picture of an early meal.

Many of them went hardly eaten.  We tried to encourage him to eat - but he had the struggle of pain of digestion and very uncomfortable gas.  The legacy of a very complicated life-extending surgery done last year - and the on-going spread of the cancer.

Each day he seemed to eat less.  We were told not to force him.  His body was shutting down.  We tried to respect his need for calories and balance it with a loving encouragement to eat.

Dad struggled with breathing as the cancer in his lungs did its thing.  The fluid which accumulated in the pleural cavity started to crowd the lungs for space.   It was so hard to see Dad struggling to breathe.  You feel so helpless.

And so we took the help of our dear Dr. Tony and the medical team Dad had a pleural tap done.  Three times in the three weeks.  We knew that the cancer in the lungs would produce fluid again - but wanted to breathe as easy as possible.  This is what they took out the first time.  Almost 1 litre of fluid.

It was repeated 2 more times when Dad's breathing became hard.  We are grateful to the palliative care team that they were able to come to our home and do the procedure in Dad's bed room.   The three procedures done  really helped Dad's quality of life.

Dad did not want to die.  None of us do.  One of the things he insisted on was a walk each day.  His walks were slow and painful, but he tried hard to get out at least once a day.  As the days went on, the walks become slower and shorter.

And then finally, he did not walk outside at all.  Even the walk to the toilet was a strain and would take some 15 minutes to cross 15 meters.

Taking his medications was key.  We had a little book in which Dad wrote the doses he took and when.  He was meticulous about this.  But in his last 10 days, he had stopped writing.  His world had shrunk.

I had the privilege of giving many of the medicines to him.  We had previously had his medicines beside his bed, but since he was not taking them regularly, I stepped in and prayed each time Dad had to take his morphine.

The drug did help a lot to control his pain.  But did not leave Dad pain-free.  There was always pain in the back ground.  It was hard for Dad to keep talking about it.

One way around the pain was to distract the mind.  I read aloud the major portion of a biography of DL Moody to Dad.  We also read from scripture - covering 11 chapters of the gospel of Luke.

Mum and others would also read with Dad, and sing and pray with him.

As time went on Dad began to slip into greater and greater dependence.  I found it harder to have him stand up and sit down.  Walking took ages and required a set of instructions to keep his legs going. Dad would fall asleep talking to you.  But what a privilege to hold this dear, dear father of ours.

A few times Dad apologised for 'the trouble he was causing us.'   We were able to tell him repeatedly how blessed we were to be caring for him - and that Sheba and I were doing so on behalf of Stefan and Neeru as well as Premila as well.   Dad was reassured to hear this.

Dad's slipping into greater and greater dependence marked a role-reversal.  The hands who had cared for me when I was an infant now needed caring for.  The meticulously organised mind now needed us to write down what medications he had taken and when.  The large pastoral heart now needed encouragement and constant inputs.

Mum was such a rock of love and support for Dad.   Christian marriage is based on a promise to each other and to God... in sickness and in health... till death do us part.   Mum lived out the consistency of love over the 48 years of their life together.

I found the same in my dear Sheba who uncomplainingly supported in her quiet and efficient way. For most of the nights I slept with Dad so that Mum could get some rest too.  Sheba's love and service helped Dad so much.

As did the prayers of the saints.

Victor and Sarah were planning to come over the 13-15th weekend.

Seeing the deterioration in Dad's condition, we asked them to come the next day which they did.

While all of this was going on, we were also planning for the next step.  Mum told us that she wanted Dad's funeral in Mussoorie, so we began getting the logistics together.

Stefan was in regular contact with us by phone and through him Premila was also being kept abreast with the situation.  Rudy called daily after he spent the first week of Dad's Lalitpur sojourn with us.

In the last week, our dear foster brother Narendra Kumar came out from Varanasi to care for Dad, which was such a great blessing to us.

 On  Tuesday, Dad became more and more disoriented, and less and less able to care for himself.  Feeding was now by spoon.  His walks had been stopped.  He started to lie in bed more than before.  Previously, Dad had insisted on sitting, even though most of the time he was dozing off.

Thursday night was traumatic as Dad slipped into a regular groan.  The groan continued the next day during his waking hours.

We had to continue to give Dad his medicines - and what food he would take.  In the end we mainly spoon fed him.  We were able to give almost every dose of his pain medications as tablets which he swallowed.   In the last days, when he was mainly sleeping we did give 2 subcunateous injections of the pain killer when the pain spiraled and he was not able to swallow.  But since we did not have much injectable morphine in stock, and since Dad did waken up most of the time, we would crush the medications, put them on a tea-spoon, mix it with fruit juice which he then swallowed - followed up by more fruit juice to take away the bitter taste in his mouth.

All through these times, it was such a privilege to care.  To look after one who had been so healthy earlier, but now was painfully thin .   We were exchanging roles.  We are now able to care for him whose loving hands and heart had cared for me, as well as Stefan and Premi and Rudy (and their spouses and kids).

The Bible tells us that "It is appointed for you once to die, and then the judgement."

Dad lived this out to the 'T.'  Even in his pain, he tried to make small jokes.  As he drifted in and out of confusion, it was not clear how much he understood, but when we sang, we could hear noises from Dad as he kept the tune, but which he could not get his mouth to sing the blessed words of the songs we sang together.

Dad was mentally and spiritually ready for death, and his failing body was taking him there.   How many times I got up in the middle of the night and wondered if Dad had been taken from us.  But each time I could hear his breathing.  Not this time, then....

The last few days were a total blur to me.

Dad's groaning and mental confusion were disturbing, but our main task was to help Dad be as at peace as he could.  We fell back on prayer and reading scripture aloud and hugging Dad and telling him just how much of a privilege it was to care for him and Mum.

On Saturday the 13th of August, we started Dad on a new set of medications.  They seemed to work a bit, as Dad's groans subsided.  But the pain did not fully disappear, and so we continued to touch and massage his feet and back, and pray for Dad.

His breathing was stronger than before, but still enough of a problem to require constant Tender Loving Care.   Dad clearly relaxed and his groans were so much softer.  After a while Dad drifted to sleep.

At 7.30 pm, Mum slipped into Dad's room and planted two kisses on Dad's forehead.  She wanted to do some journalling, and decided to do that in another room.

I had been talking and praying with bro Arbind Singh in the front room.

I quietly stepped into Dad's room to see how he was and noticed that he was very quiet.  Very, very quiet.

His breathing seemed to be quite soft.   I tried to hear his breathing or see him move, but he did not.   He was warm but I could not find a pulse.

I called up Dr. Tony and he came over immediately.  We looked at Dad and shone a light in his pupils. They were dilated.  Dad had died.

We said a short prayer and I went out to call Mum.  I brought her into the room and told her that Dad had gone to be with Jesus.

She held me and said: "Thank you Lord that Ray does not have to suffer anymore."

Friday, 12 August 2016

1 AM and all is not well

It's been a very tough day.  And we are well into the night - and early morning of the next.  1 AM to be precise.

Dad was in pain and had difficulty breathing all last night.  That continued into today.  How we wish we could have a magic button to press and have everything 'turn out right.'  Well, that doesn't happen.

We do have prayers - sometimes anguished, other times joyful.  And we do sing songs of praise and hope amidst it all.  But no magic, no-pain-at-all solutions.

The day outside was sparkling.  The recent rains cleared and we had sunshine and blue skies.  And so many hues of green...

We also had a host of ladies come to the "Van's Hall" which is the HBM community health and development department's training room.  They were here for a day-long training to get our village self-help groups more active and to continue to process of grooming leaders.

Rajkamal from Dehra Dun was our main resource person - and the day just flew by.   Each of our 18 self-help groups sent their president, vice-president and treasurer.   It was wonderful to see what God can do through these women.  Self-help groups - a form of microfinance - has huge potentials for helping create new value in situations of on-going poverty.

Much as I would have liked to attend the whole day - Dad's condition kept calling me back home.

It was a very hard day for him, as he was groaning through most of it.  Groaning because it was hard to breathe and he was distressed and in pain.  We were not able to give him tablets to swallow in the morning - so we crushed the morphine and mixed it with a teaspoon of fruit juice and give it to day with prayer.  He managed to keep it down.

But Dad did not get much relief for most of the day.   We have been taking turns to be with Dad.  But it was especially distressing today to have Dad moaning.  We tried to keep assuring him of our presence.  Tried to tell him how much we love him and what a privilege it is to serve him.  We read him a special letter from Premi.  We sang a number of times - with Dad even 'joining in' on the odd occasion with what can best be called musical grunts.

We don't have easy answers.  But we do have each other.

And we have people who have come to pray with us.   And talk and help with planning the logistics for the next steps given Dad's current condition.

We also have the intrepid Palliative Care team who all came over to help out with Dad tonight.

At 11 PM we felt that he just was in too much discomfort.  And so we did another pleural tap.  Amazing to have the team come to our door step.  Amazing to have the procedure carried out on Dad's bed - with our living room coffee table serving as a support for him.

We are humbled by the expressions of love and support that we keep getting.

So many are praying.  And do we ever need those prayers right now!

Totally out of the blue we had two chaps from our child hood.  In my growing up years, I was bookended by Romy (10 years older to me and Noel (almost10 years younger).  They stopped in - totally out of the blue - from Dubai today - and spent an afternoon with Mum and us before taking the night train towards points west.

The palliative care team of HBM did their job well, and we still have 2 members of the team with us till 1.30 AM to make sure that Dad is doing better - and to give him his morphine as an sub cutaneous injection then.

And so we live to tell our tales for another day.   But how long Dad will survive is an open question.
Each day he has been deteriorating some.  Today was hard.  It's now past 1 AM and all is not well. But we do know that the King is coming!  What a blessed hope we have.

Thank you so much for joining us on this journey.   Bon nuit!