Monday, 18 December 2017

Deutschland Diaries: the big hop, skip and jump to das Land meiner Mutter

We have switched worlds.

One day we were in our own familiar zone of the strange that seems ordinary to us.  Like a mobile vegetable market barely 300 meters from the most prestigious medical college and hospital in India:

Veggies being sold at Gautamnagar (near AIIMS)

And barely 24 hours later, we are in the land of the Germans - wending our way along the Neckar river and seeing quaint, lego-like villages, each with their own ancient church, its august spire pointing to the skies...

And how do we get from point A - aam aadmi ka India to point B - Bessigheim und die Umgebenung?

Well, for one with a huge amount of grace and an amazing set of blessings showered upon us.

Over the last year we have been dreaming of a Germany trip with Mum.  This winter was the window of opportunity as the kids have finished their 9th and 11th standard in school.  Enoch and Asha's next winter will be the prelude to their external exams for 10th and 12th respectively.   And Mum turned 80 this year.

It has always been a desire for us to meet our German relatives.

We had a small surprise Birthday party for her with Stefan, Neeru, Ashish, Anjali and Anita on our way out to the airport.

Oma had a cake with 8 candles on it.  One for every decade of her event-filled life.

And so with a huff and a puff she blew out all the candles...  only to see them sputter to life again.  As a good trooper she blew them all out again... and of course most of them relit to the joy of all the lil' and big 'uns in the room.

What a life this amazing lady has led - and how proud we are that she is our mother and Oma to many!
We had been planning this trip since March this year, but there were many a slip between cup and lip and several times it seems highly unlikely that we would be able to get on a jet plane and fly away.

Money was one of them.  But God provided.  As He always does - and as far as Eicher experience has been - almost always in the 11th hour.  Visa problems loomed large. And so on and so forth.  Even when we took the big, big breath and bought our flight tickets (temporary advance provided by a near and dear one) it still seemed to be science fiction.

But sci-fi was turned into science-faction as we found ourselves walking down the aisles of Indira Gandhi International airport, heading for the Gulf Air flight to wing us to Bahrain and then over to Frankfurt.

A surreal side-note was to see the victorious Australian hockey team lounging in the airport waiting to be taken back to Oz, I suppose.

They were wearing Oz uniforms but were totally ignored by everyone.  Journeymen folks who had just won a major international tune-up tournament in Odisha - but Enoch and I could not think of a single name of a current player.

If they were the Aussie cricket team, however, the scene would be totally different with fan after fan breaking in an asking for selfies to be taken...  How fickle dame fame can be.

Our goal, however was to take to the sky, and that we did, winging our way out of Delhi at 9.30 PM and over to the Gulf.  Four hours later we taxied into Bahrain and after just over 2 hours in the Kingdom of Bahrain we flew out at 1.30 AM local time toward Frankfurt.

And so landed in the land of my Mother.  27 years after I had last visited.  And a first for the rest of the Eicher clan who were accompanying Oma on this special treat.

Thanks to Barry H. and family, we had train tickets in hand and went over to the Fernbahnhof at the Frankfurt airport.   Barry wisely suggested that I take a bit of time to acclimatitize to German roads and rules and the actual car which the saints at Good Books for All in Mosbach made available for us to use for our Deutschlandreise.

And so from the bowels of the airport we were whisked with the ICE to Mannheim.

Our initial ride was uneventful and we were sitting in our connecting train for Mosbach when I asked Enoch to check out what time our train arrived at Mosbach station.  He came back to say that Mosbach was not on the list of stations.  I asked another passenger if this was the S1 train and was told no - so in a small panic we rushed off the train and our 6 big pieces of luggage... and the train then left.
the sun rises above Mannheim railway station.

On the platform was an official with the German railway.  We told us that we had been on the right train after all - that the rear portion - where we were sitting - leaving for another destinaiton some where in the trip, and the front portion moving on to Mosbach and other points south east.  He then told us that he had also been on that train and had also become confused.  Later, sitting on the next train, we were pleasantly surprised when this officer came by to examine our tickets.

The train took its winding way along the Neckar river, deeper and deeper into the German countryside.  Oohs and aahs liberally provided by yours truly.

 And finally at 11 AM we were in Mosbach.

The journey of a 1000 miles, which had begun with a single step of finally heading out from Lalitpur on the 10th of December, and which had been already fueled with prayer and love, was now starting a new phase.

We were blessed with a VW Sharan - a beautiful 6 gear diesel machine which is a joy to drive.  I was given some good driving experience and tips on German driving laws and etiquette by the patient and joyful Andreas Schaefer... and then the Eichers were off by road to Hessigheim.

And that, dear friends, is will be where we carry on with our next episode.  Please stay tuned!

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Eine kleine Deutschlandreise

I grew up travelling.

We were a wandering family.  Moved home some 12 times in my first 6 years.   It seemed like we were in perpetual motion.  I have vague memories of being with my Mum on a plane when I was 4.  I got lost in a German railway station, I remember seeing Mount Ararat and the Caspian sea from the back of an OM truck, considered moving through airports with 10 huge suitcases as absolutely normal, insisted on Burger King over the golden arches as we drove across the US in a hand-me-down car in 1977 because BK gave kids small toys.

In contrast, Asha and Enoch have been relatively stationary.  Yes they are in boarding so we do burn the Laltipur-Delhi-Dehradun-Mussoorie line not infrequently.  Yes they have traveled over to Vizag every winter to be with Amma and Appa.  Yes we did a North East tour to Manipur and Meghalaya 3 sun-spins ago....

But we have not left the country yet as a family.  Asha and Enoch have not yet sniffed the air of other lands.  Sheba's foreign-jaunt was stepping out of India into exotic Birganj, just over the Bihar/Nepal border.  So this generation of Eichers has really not travelled outside of our beloved India.

That's about to change.

Last week we got this in the mail:  our visas for Germany!

The week before we bought flight tickets - in good Eicher tradition the cheapest ones available to Frankfurt - at the time of booking it was via Bahrain (instead of in the past via Amman, via Kuwait and other cut-rate carriers).

Here is the deal:

We very much want to see Germany along with our beloved Mum / Oma.

She turns the ripe young age of 80 this week (11.11.17).   This is the time for us to meet our relatives.  I was last in Deutschland in 1990 and the time before was 1984 so there has been some water flowing under the bridge since I last met my kinsmen (and women).

Mum is an only child - and her half her generation has died.  She very much wants to meet her cousins who are still alive, since most of them are in poor health and have limited mobility.

For our kids, this is the right time as Enoch is finishing his 9th standard at the end of November and Asha her 11th.   They then have 2.5 months holiday before they gear up for their 10th and 12th standards.  Both of them thus have a school year with an external exam looming in March of 2019, so (being the good Indian parents we are) travelling next winter-hols is not in question!  Study study study!

Plus we have some lovely friends who we have always wanted to meet in their Heimatsland.

Add to this an itch to see Germany, and that too in the Luther year, and we have a pretty perfect recipe for a month cram-packed with the normal Eicher insanity of trying to do everything, all at once, and on the proverbial shoe-string.

And here is the itenary (D.v. of course):

We fly out of New Delhi on the 11th of December 2017 on Gulf Air via Bahrain to Frankfurt.  From Frankfurt we take the train to Mosbach and there pick up a vehicle with OM Germany is very, very kindly putting at our disposal.

And then the open German roads...  our Deutschland-bummel looks like this!  Almost like a Schwartzwald-pretzel.  You can see that I am already ramping up the German-words-that-you-can-stick-together-and-make-new-words-with!

We return, by flying out of Frankfurt on the 10th of Jan 2018 via Bahrain and back to Bharat.

We will be staying with wonderful families and friends en route - with Hessigheim, Stuttgart, Schwann (near Pforzheim), Wurzburg, Velburg, Schneeberg, Chemnitz, Berlin, Leipzig, Gera and finally Frankfurt being the places where 5 weary Eicher heads will lay themselves to sleep on soft German pillows.

Germans being Germans you have to plan well in advance.  Mum was at it since the beginning of this year - and in March we made ironed out a time-table.  Then Mum sent emails to each family that we were hoping to stay with (all wrote back super positive of course) and then wrote to others who we are going to meet on 'day trips.'

Our side of the deal was getting our Schengen visas (all biometrically tabulated) via tons of paper-work.  But last week they were granted and it looks like its a green signal to plow ahead!

So we have a vintage Eicher journey on our hands.  Lots of lovely people to meet.  Driving through the country-side in borrowed vehicles. And even the odd speaking engagement.  Currently we are slotted for a church in Stuttgart as well as a Jan 5th 2018 time with Mum's childhood church - the Free Methodist Church in Leipzig.  A good amount of unknowns mixed in of course.

And then there is the excitement of seeing things - the museums galore (from the Mercedes one in Stuttgart to the whole raft of museums in Berlin), going to Wittenberg and Herrenhut to learn about Luther and the Moravians, the possibility of skiing (we are there in winter after all).

But most of all, the joy of being with old friends and the discovery of our relatives.   Mum wants to be with her cousins before they pass on.  We want to know the family while she is still with us.  And we have the old "India hands" like the Meisters (my teachers from the German School in Bombay), the Alis (from OM days), the Harnisches (Woodstock vintage) and especially the rollicking Winklers (senior and juniors) whom we are spending Christmas with.

Also auf fahrt!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Reformation Day

Exactly half a millenia ago, to this date, a young monk went public and nailed 95 questions demanding an answer on the door of the main church in Wittenberg, Germany.

500 years have gone by and the ripples of that act continue to move through the tides of time.  So much of what we take for granted today stemmed from that tipping point of an act.

It was a specific and provocative call to reform.  A call which was specifically aimed at a practice of selling 'indulgences' - get out of jail free cards from purgatory - where the real money was being pocketed by less than holy ones in the church.

But Luther's lightning rod was not social injustice: it was a deep and growing conviction that God reveals Himself to ordinary people through the His written word in the Bible.

Biblically-driven, revelation-doused Luther ended up alienating himself out of the church he sought to reform.

Of the many areas that I am personally indebted to Herr L - the biggest is this: his translation of the Bible into the language of the people.   Though the English language Bible has arguably had the largest reach - Luther's pithy German version brought the scriptures into the hands of ordinary people - rich and poor, doctors of the law and simple servants.  Gutenbergs moveable metallic press got the word to the world.  English translations showed up later - and the Word continues to spread into language after language, often being the first book printed in newly minted scripts that help oral languages become written ones.  The ripples of vernacular presses and people exchanging ideas when they have books in their own languages continue to move outwards.

Whether we like it or not - much of culture and history today is shaped by the Bible - both by folks who have sought to live it out and also by others who have pushed back knowingly or otherwise against what is revealed in this book. 

A young monk set the ball rolling (again) 500 years ago today.

As a family Sheba and I woke up today and read the Word on our own.  As we ended the day we read it together.   And in between many of our actions and attitudes have been shaped by its living power.  Yesterday I met with a room-full of men and women from all over our area who are shaping their lives and those of others through its living power.  Simple people, losers to many, ones who know the salt of tears first-hand.  But worthy followers in Central Bharat of the risen Lord, in each one's hand a Bible, far-off fruits of the acts set in motion by a brilliant young German from humble stock.

We thank the Lord for the re-formation - and ask for a deeper work of spiritual formation and overflow in each one of our lives.

Here's looking at you Martin sir!

Friday, 6 October 2017

Words for a mother, from a daughter

Being far away from the funeral of your parent may be one of the hardest crosses to bear.   My mother tells me just how much she wished she had been with her father in his last days - and at his funeral.  But she was not able to.

When Dad died last year, Stefan and Premi sent messages which we read at the funeral.   When Amma died last week - Daisy was able to send us this message from the heart.   

The picture below was taken in June this year when our families we gathered together for a special time with Amma and Appa at their home just outside Vishakapatnam.

Daisy wrote this message which we received on 29.10.17 and was read out by Peter at Amma's funeral: 

Today, as I was teaching Microbiology to my class, I was talking to my students about seeing the unseen and shared the loss of my mother with them along with this verse:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

The news of Mummy’s death has left us in deep shock. The moment I heard Peter say, “Mummy has gone to be with the Lord”; I heard the Lord’s assurance: “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.” Luke 8:52

If I were to describe this beautiful woman who served God’s calling to bring me into this world, it is simply this: she was blessed with Martha’s hands and Mary’s heart.

She was a God-fearing wife and mother who not only gave us physical birth but raised each of us her children to grow in God’s word, grace and wisdom. Whenever I had answered a question in my Sunday school class, my teacher would ask how did you know that? And my usual response, I learned this from my mother.

She was used by God to sow the seeds of His living word into our lives and today as she rests from her labor; her work is producing plenty of fruit wherever God has planted us in the building of His Kingdom.

Mummy was a diligent worker both at home and outside. She worked hard for more than 30 years to provide a good education for all of us. Her skillful hands have drawn knitted, embroidered, sewn, tatted, crocheted, tended plants and did everything a set of hands can do. She used to cook for an army and I never once heard her complain.

She has been a gracious hostess to have endeared her home and hospitality to both Christians and Non-Christians. She embodied all of the attributes of a perfect mom. I had the privilege of chatting with her almost every other day for past several months. We discussed every topic under the sun.

This caring, thoughtful, hardworking, compassionate, and loving lady embodies the proverbial woman in the Bible. Along with all of my siblings and church family, I celebrate Mummy’s promotion to glory.

We named our son Shofar which means trumpet, based on this blessed promise: “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

Daisy Savarirajan,

Tuesday, 3 October 2017


When we touched down, she had left.

Sheba and I landed at Chennai airport on the flight from Delhi at 8.30 AM, groggy from a night awake since Sheba's train from Lalitpur finally rolled into New Delhi at 2 AM.  We were travelling to the Shiloh medical missions conference at CMC Vellore.  A taxi was waiting to whisk us to Vellore.

We didn't make it there.

As the cabin announcement chimed on, allowing us to turn on our phones, I saw a message from Sheba's brother Peter, telling us to call their home number.   Then the calls came. Two of them at the same time.  My phone and on Sheba's.  What we heard couldn't be.

Amma had died.  Sheba's mother had departed.

For the past 3 months Amma and Appa were visiting Sheba's brother Peter and his wife Yashmeet in Chennai.

The night before Amma went to sleep unwell.  She had vomited a few times earlier, and Peter and family took her to a local hospital, from where the doctor sent her home with some medicines.   Amma normally is an early riser.  She wakes up every day at 4 AM to read her Bible and pray to Jesus.   Every day.  Sometime early on the morning of September 28th Amma awoke in the presence of the Lord Jesus Himself.

At 7 AM that morning Peter tried to wake Amma up.  She did not stir.  They called a doctor from the building and he said that she was dead.  A massive heart attack had taken her in her sleep.

Numb with the unbelievable information, Sheba and I got into our waiting taxi and headed over the Peter and Yashmeet's home, 45 minutes away from the airport.  This was not on our agenda, but then again everything has changed with Amma's sudden death.

We walked into the room and hugged Appa.  What could we say?

Then we saw her.   Amma seemed to be only sleeping.   And in one way she was.  Her beautiful face was contented and peaceful, as if she was just taking a short nap and would soon wake up to start cooking or one of the 101 things she did each day.

But Amma's sleep this day was different.  She had departed.  Her body was with us - but she had left.

How can we understand death?  Words fail.  But one thing is sure.  A terrible separation is real when a person dies.  They are no more here.

In the Bible, the apostle Paul speaks of a blessed dilemma. for him.  He wishes to be alive and continue to serve people ... but he also wants to be with his beloved Lord.  He really does - it's not just pious talk. He yearns to actually experience God Himself.  Paul says: "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better."  (Phillippians 1.23).

For Paul living is great. Dying is better.  Departure is what he is looking forward to.

Amma has departed.  The essence of who she is: her soul, spirit, life-spark is not with us right now - but with the Lord Jesus Himself.   We await her physical resurrection.  We know that she is full of joy in the very presence of her Lord.

But for those who Amma has left behind, we grapple with the sudden, unexpected, complete break.

One evening she was with us.  The next morning she is not.

The tears and the loss are real.  The work of healing starts now.  And part of it is coming together to be sad and thankful together.  How merciful our Lord to have put Sheba and myself in Chennai on that morning - and able to be in the home to be with our beloved Appa and Peter and Yashmeet and Anmol just 2.5 hours after they found out that Amma had departed.

This would never have been possible if we had got a phone call from Chennai on a normal morning of work at the HBM hospital in Lalitpur.  The very, very fastest that we could have gotten down to Chennai would have been a day.  If not longer.  God's mercy got us to the family just 45 minutes after we heard the news.

Appa has lost his life partner of 50 years.  His life, his breath, his helpmate, his partner in raising Daisy, Sheba, Sarah and Peter.   To be with him so quickly at such a time as this is an act of mercy by our dear Lord.

Appa is now on a new journey.  One without Amma.  It is unthinkable, but real.  All of us need to learn to understand the "New Normal" - a life without Amma's presence in our midst. Without her twinkling eyes and ready smile.  Without the cheery phone-calls which kept us all together.  Without the constant service to Appa which has kept him alive and ticking 18 years after he himself had a massive heart-attack in 1999.   Medical opinion at that time was that Appa would live only another 5 years.   18 years later, it is his dear wife who succumbed to an unexpected heart attack, while Appa's daily grace sees him live another miracle day each morning.

Finding the 'New Normal" begins now.  All change.

To help all of us start on this trip we were blessed by our family streaming in from various places. Amazingly Victor and Sarah were able to get a plane down from Delhi to Chennai by mid-afternoon.  Yasmeet's parents and brother and his wife drove down from Vijayawada and arrived in the early evening.   Daisy and Ramesh were on the phone with us from the US.  How we wished they were around the corner, but sadly half the world separates us  How grateful we are for mobile phones.....

Other relatives were on their way.  Amma's surviving brother David and her sister Mary, as well as the two widows of her late brothers traveled through the night from Andhra Pradesh for the funeral the next day.  Appa's relatives arrived from Trichy,   Ramesh's brothers came from Pondicherry.  Peter's home become geo-centre for grief and consolation.

The phone calls kept coming and Appa bravely talked to his callers, telling what had happened.  His hardness of hearing results in his vocal volume being high.  We all heard him give brave versions of what happened - spoken in a loud voice to unseen callers in Hindi, English, Tamil and Telegu.  Some of us did not answer calls on our own phones.

Intermingled with the visitors of sorrow from afar were a steady flow of people who were near. Brothers and Sisters from the Christian Believers Assembly where Peter, Yashmeet and Anmol worship came to be with the family as soon as the news got out.   Before Peter knew it, a cool box had arrived.  Sisters from the church helped with preparing Amma's body.  Brothers from the fellowship dropped their work for the day and pitched to help organise the logistics.   People came to pray, to hug, to listen.

Amma and Appa have lived by the Word of God all their lives.  It was no surprise that numerous times we had songs of hope and prayers and sharing from the Bible.

Bro. Roy shares words of comfort from the Bible - the word that is alive
Amidst the swirl of sorrow there were practical things to do for the funeral on the morrow.   Invaluable help trickled in during the day, given with love and care: going to the cemetery and finding a suitable plot for the burial, organising the undertaker, getting the doctor's certificate, arranging for a webcast, ordering food, finding a place to accommodate our loved ones.  Who all helped?  A whirl, a swirl of love expressed through acts of service.  And hand-holding, hugs and tears and prayers as well.

That night we slept, while Amma's body lay sleeping in the front room.  The next day was her funeral.  We committed her body to the earth, since we knew that she had departed.  But we did so in hope - a hope which will not fail us.

How do we say good-bye to our dear mother?

There is just no easy way.  But say good-bye we must.

Our tears were real.  Some came copiously.  Some tears were silent and in our hearts.   Some were triggered  by a snatch of a song, but a word of remembrance, by a fragment of a memory...

Amma enjoyed making beautiful things with her hands.  Many a time we devoured her sumptuous and love-flavoured cooking.  One of the last things she wrote in her notebook the day before she died was a recipe.   Each room had a framed cross-stitch which Amma made.   Verses of hope threaded with beauty, words that continue to speak.

At 9.30 the coffin arrived.  A white box in which Amma's body was placed.  How strange to have our beloved Amma placed in this casket.  And yet how necessary since she has departed from us.

The funeral service was one of thanksgiving.  We met in the service area just below Peter and Yashmeet's home.   A common refrain through our time was gratitude to the Lord for giving us a mother such as Amma.   We tried to include our loved ones who were not preseent by live-streaming the service on the web and through our phones.

And then a long hour-long drive to the cemetery.  As the clouds and sun-shine came and went we sang our final songs and heard words of encouragement as we consigned Amma's remains to the grave.  One of the songs of hope goes like this:

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

Whenever we go to a funeral, we have to ask ourselves where we are in relation with God.  Are we ready to meet Him?  Do we "long to depart to be with our Lord" like Paul did?   One of the great blessings of being adopted into the family of Jesus is this assurance, one that we saw through the real tears   We saw this in Appa's courageous and real assurance that he would meet his beloved Amma again, and that she is truly happy at this time as she is with our Lord.

The song continues:
And then one day, I'll 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

Gentle reader, is this your story?  We trust and pray it is.  Please do reach out to us if you are not clear of your eternal destiny.  Amma knew where she was going - and her not waking up on the morning of September 28th brought sadness to us, but not despair.  We know she has departed to be with Jesus.  And that this is no wishy-washy thinking of a pie-in-the-sky, but the very real truth that has infused our mourning with hope, real hope.

Dad departed last year.  Amma's turn was this year.  No one saw it coming.  Especially when we celebrated Amma and Appa's 50th anniversary earlier in the year.   I would never have dreamed that Dad would die in Lalitpur.  Neither could we have imagined that Amma would be laid to rest in Chennai.  But here we have it.  We interred her body among the tombs.  And we look forward to the bodily resurrection.

In the meantime, there is much living to be done.  Sheba and I took the return flight back to Delhi this evening.  As Oct 2nd slips into 3rd, we are waiting for our train to start moving for Lalitpur.  It looks like we are in for a long wait as I type this in stiflingly hot train carriage where the AC does not work and there is no way to open the windows.  After an agonizing wait, the AC has just kicked in.  We are over half an hour late, and are about to depart.

Same can be said for our lives.  About to depart.   Our tiny sliver of time that we share - be it the 19 years my dear friend Timothy Richards lived - or the 74 years Dad was given - or the 70 years Amma had.... all these are nothing when we look at the vast expanse of eternity.  The millions and billions of years that stretch ahead of us in whatever dimensions we experience eternal life.

Amma's life was a simple but profound testimony to the reality of the eternal.  She lived her life faithfully - and fully.   Her 70 years were lived in many places in India and even stints in Uganda and the US.  She leaves behind a deeply grateful husband and 4 amazing adult children - their very thankful spouses and 6 wonderful grand-kids - as well as many spiritual children too.

A life well lived.  Departure was unexpected, but no real regrets as well look back at the fullness of Amma's life.

How about me?  Am I ready for departure?  ... And how about you, gentle reader?

Therefore never send to know for whom the bells toll

it tolls for thee.   

- John Donne

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

What manner of love is this...

We were gathered in the room of one of our staff nurses.  Some sat on the 3 chairs available.  Others on the diwan.  Some on the floor.  Others in the next room.  It was our Thursday night cottage Bible study.

Dr. Sunny Philip, translated by Rev Emmanuel, took us through the story of the young Jewish servant girl, who was kidnapped by Aramean raiders.  She then ends up serving as a slave girl of whom? The wife of the very commander of the raiding parties - the Aramean general Namaan.

Dr. Sunny asked those of us gathered in the room to take turns telling the story of this girl, speaking in the first person as if we were the girl herself, each person adding a sentence.

We walked through the experience of abduction.  Many said that they prayed a lot - but the fact was that whatever prayers took place, the girl was torn away from her home - and most likely at least some of her family were killed.  And then she found herself in a far off place as a slave.

'What do you think the girl felt? What was going through her mind?'

Most of us responded that she was angry.  Afraid.  Hurt.  Confused.  Scared.  Scarred.  Angry.  Bitter. Wondering why God had not heard her prayers.  Perhaps wanting to take revenge.

As the servant girl of the commander of the raiders, wouldn't it be natural for her to want to poison his food as revenge for the ravages that he and his soldiers had brought about on her family, on her homeland?

And then what happens.... One fine day, she finds out that her master has an incurable disease! Leprosy.  That scourge of the ancient world.  No hope of any therapy.

Wouldn't it be natural for the girl to rejoice?  To thank God from her heart that justice was being done, and that he who had caused such damage to her home, was now being punished with this disease?  I think if I were that girl, those would have been my thoughts.

And yet instead of revenge this girl seeks the best for her master.  She tells Namaan's wife that if her husband would go to Elisha in Israel, he would be cured.  Amazing.  Way, way out in left-field kind of love.

This is not some sick 'Stockholm syndrome' - but a genuine love.  And this girls words are backed up by such a powerful life that the general Namaan goes to his king and asks for the unthinkable: to go back to the place which had been plundered and meet a seer who would heal him. And that too when a quick due diligence would easy show that Elisha had healed a total of zero people who had suffered from leprosy so far (and would not do it again it seems...).

Do we love this way? Counter-current.  Completely topsy-turvey?  The world shakes ever so slightly when someone does.

Two millenia ago, a young man, into whose wrists and ankles were cruel nails were being hammered cried out to His heavenly Father:  "Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

Are any of His followers willing to put this costly love into action today?

One of the participants of the Bible study spoke up at the end.   He was visiting our HBM hospital from Jharkhand for a training we were conducting.  This man shared how with the recent "anti conversion law" being passed in Jharkhand, he had so much anger and hatred against those who pushed this legislation through, denying so many true freedom of religion.  And yet, hearing about the slave girl, and her love for her mistress and master, the man said that he knew that God had called him here to Lalitpur to hear this message. And to see the ugliness of his hatred.  And to forgive.

And then another of our guests spoke up.  A young man working in a remote tribal community.  He talked about how when we had imagined the girl's home going up in flames, that he remembered his own home being burned.  He was a tribal Christian from the Khandamal district of Odisha state.   Some years ago a local pogrom launched against Christians by various Hindutva outfits left numerous homes burned and a number killed as well.  He and his family had fled to the forest and lived there in fear for some days.

His family eventually got shelter in a refugee camp for some time and later he got a job in another state.  Later his family moved back to the ruins of their home.

And then we heard something that took our breath away.  The man talked about how after some time, the local leader who had initiated and promoted the violence against the Christians - this leader's son got leukemia.  Instead of rejoicing that the mob-leader was getting his 'punishment from God' - this man's father went and reached out to the family and helped take care of the dying boy.

Others in the local surviving Christian community criticized the father - saying that he should have nothing to do with such a wicked man.  But the father persisted in showing love to the man who had burned his house and seen people killed - by caring for the dying boy.  The local leaders heart was also changed by these acts of loving-kindness by the people he had instigated others to drive away.

My eyes were moist in tears as I heard the simple man tell this amazing story.

This is love.

Found in small places.  Where a great God lives.

A wounded healer who call us to follow Him.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

A year after Dad died

It's been a year.  It's been a life-time.

Dad died yesterday.  Dad died a year ago.  13th August 2016.  Home-going.

Dad and Stefan go for a walk in the monsoonal mists on the afternoon that Stefan left Mussoorie last year.
Stefan spent a blessed 10 days with Dad and Mum.   Dad's condition deteriorated the next day.
There is a Dad-shaped hole in my life.  And there should be.  He was a force of blessing.

This week I went to Jhansi and met some senior mission leaders.  Inevitably I was introduced as "Ray Eicher's son".  The main leader sat with me for lunch and told me how Dad had spoken to a group of young men many years ago - one of whom was him.

The story repeats itself over and over.  Dad did not have many degrees.  He wrote no books.  His bank account was always almost empty (mainly from his and Mum's quiet generosity to countless families).  But he was rich in friends.  He was rich in faith and in sharing his joy in Jesus.

A tear is slowly making its way down my face as I write this.

I am so grateful to have been born to such a man as this.  A man who did not fit many moulds, but chose to allow himself to be shaped by the loving potter's hands.

Dad was adopted by a missionary couple working in rural Maharasthra.  His father was a good man - but very much a man of his time.  My grandfather was not very affectionate, and his adopted son yearned for expressions of love.

Instead of being bitter, Dad become better.  With God's help he smothered us kids with love.  His hugs remain warm in my memory.  And in the memory of many others who experienced his embrace.

Dad and Mum and a less than 1 year old me at Nargaon - where my Grandparents were serving in 1969.

As a father, Dad was a learner.  He and Mum sought help from others about how to raise us.  They read.  The Bible was their base, but they also looked around for practical helps to guide their parenting.  And then they put what they learned into practice.  We were the products of their love.

I am glad Dad took the pains to discipline me.  I use the word pains because it pained him.  He would take me to a private place and then talk with me.  We went over where I had crossed the line.  I never remember a time when he accused me of doing something that I had not done.  The talk was usually more a trial for me than the short sharp sting that served as a reminder of the gravity of wrong-doing. And then Dad's hugs and prayers.

Dad with Stefan and me in on a Spaziergang in Germany - 1973
Ours was on open home.  Living in a what was a kind of commune with a common purse it was not easy to draw the lines about where our 'small family' was and where the 'big family' began.  But draw boundaries Dad did.  Most of our meals were with others - usually a guest or four - or a person going through a rough time (we kids did not know the back stories).  But Dad staked out a time for us that was sacred.  The evening book reading and Bible time.  Every evening he would read to us.  Reading opened us up to exciting worlds.  And we have the security of lying together on Mum and Dad's low bed, hidden away from others in their tiny bedroom in Nana Chowk.  No one else.  Just Dad and us as the family.   Likewise Sunday afternoons for games - and an annual holiday (usually to Kodaikanal).

I later found out that Dad would go to his office on many a night after those evening times with us as kids.  His love for us came at a price.  All true love does.

Mum, myself, Stefan, Premi and Dad.  Plus our first two pets - Snowy and Tiger.  
Good times as we moved to our childhood home of 'Elim' in Nana Chowk late 1975

As the years have gone by, I found myself bench-marking my life with where Dad had been at that point in his.   It was always sobering.   Handing over a national leadership position - at the age of 46 - so that younger people can have a chance.   Taking in a whole new set of foster children - after Stefan, Premi and myself had left the home.   Standing by Mum through the challenges of depression and recovery.  Always being ready to minister to people.  Always being ready to look at the positive side of things.  Always being ready to forgive.   Dad lived out the Bible.  Sometimes uncomfortably for a person like me who wanted a more 'normal' father - but in hindsight, Dad was spot on.  Not easy to 'live up' to a life like that - but by God's grace I don't have to.  Dad's example was a pointer not a blue-print.  And he spent plenty of time helping unpack his own life-lessons - ones that I inevitably find myself telling others about.  A rich legacy.

25 years ago - the Eichers celebrate Mum and Dad's 25th wedding anniversary in Upland, Indiana on the 23rd of Dec 1992.  We had hoped to celebrate their 50th this year - but that was not to be.

And then we have the final months of a life well lived.  Time since March 2015 was a blur.  From Dr. Stephen looking at Dad's MRI and telling us to get Dad to Thane immediately - while also informing us that 'this is the disease that will probably kill your father' - to the last days of Dad's life in the monsoonal green of Lalitpur - each moment that we were able to spend together was a miracle - a hyper-real opportunity to be.

Dad suffered much.  A lot in silence at night.  He was old-school about pain and spoke of it only when it was fairly unbearable.  Many a night in Mussoorie he sat in his chair (the most comfortable position for him) and prayed.

Dad's approach to God was always on the practical and experiential side of the spectrum.   Not for him weighty theological debates (though he had his own fairly eclectic views).  But rather the practice of the presence of God.  Lived out by love in action.  Lived out by reading the word and meditating on its simple truths.  Lived out by putting into place whatever the latest joy Dad had to share with all and sundry.

Forgiveness was a key word in the last few years as Mum and Dad helped scores of people deal with past bitternesses.  Letting Jesus help people forgive others was essential to giving release.

Dad put this into action just before he died.  The actions of a certain set of people had hurt him deeply - and in a time when he was hardly able to speak, Dad brought us together and with our help, spoke out his own sadness of not having forgiven them.  He then prayed a prayer of forgiveness and release - and was blessed with another portion of the peace that He enjoyed in such turbulent times over the course of his 75 years on this dear broken planet of ours.

Dad with his beloved Bible - sitting on his chair in Mum and Dad's bedroom in Shanti Kunj, Mussoorie
In the days just before we were able to shift him to Lalitpur, it would take Dad a painful 20+ minutes
to ease himself from his bed to his chair - a distance of 2 meters.

Did we pray for Dad to be healed of his cancer?  Of course we did.  During surgery.  During chemo. During palliation.  After all, we are asked to come to our heavenly Father as dearly loved children.

Am I disappointed that the 'miracle' did not take place?  No.  Not really.  I have seen enough death to know it well.  Dad lived his life to the fullest.  There is not a trace of regret in my heart that Dad had left something undone.  All that he had to say, he said.  All he had to love, he loved.  A life lived for God.  No regrets.

Dad left this world a year ago.  He was translated and is in paradise.  One day he will be resurrected. Flesh of his own flesh in new and wonderful way.  We have much to look forward to.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Reading the Book

I love reading the Indian Express.  Here in Laltipur, it comes a day late.  So I read yesterday’s paper which reports on events of the day before. 

But it’s not for the up-to-date log on what our dark world is churning through that I read the paper.  The Express has voices.  The op-eds curate a variety of viewpoints (including talking heads from the current regime) – and there are lovely summaries where basic data about how our nation is presented, analysed and explained.  And then to top it off there is a page each day that reprints 2-3 articles from the Economist.  (No, I have not been paid by Indian Express to put this blurb up – but any cash sent this way will be accepted gratefully).

On the 15th of July Ramesh Venkatraman wrote a thought-stirring piece Let’s talk about the Book which looked at the European Reformation and gently suggested that something similar take place for Islam.  It’s been raining here in Lalitpur and so after a few paper-less days, today two arrived and I got to take a dekko at Javed Anand’s response to this (Islam’s reform: Way to goIE 19.7.2017).

Javaid Anand zeros in this passage as the fulcrum of what he wants to say: 

Venkataraman quotes the philosopher Anthony Appiah as saying that the reform of Christianity 500 years ago was greatly facilitated by the fact that on encountering morally ambigious, contradictory or problematic passages, ordinary Christians who started reading the Bible for themselves decided on “which passages to read into and which to read past.” 

Simply stated, the reformists chose to ‘cherry pick’ from among the passages of the Bible, embracing what was appealing, skirting around what seemed appalling.”

I am not at this point going to address the main purpose of Javaid Anand’s article – but would rather step back and suggest humbly that my three friends Venkataraman, Appiah and Anand have got the issue of Bible-reading in the European Reformation half right and totally wrong.

Yes, common people reading the Bible was *the* seismic shift that brought about reform to the Christian church (reform which is still needed at so many levels).   Luther’s genius was to translate the Bible into the language of the people (German in this case) and combined with the spanking-new technology of the movable metal-type printing press, whole Bibles, portions of the Bible, sermons, tracts, bromides, letters and counter-letters started swirling around Europe.  One obvious fruit of this was the press which 500 years later I hold in my hand in the form of my beloved Indian Express and which allows me to have a (at least one-sided) conversation with Venkataraman, Appiah and Anand et al

A strong case can be made that Bible translation was thebiggest reason for the shift to a post-colonial world.  Wherever Bibles were translated, local people got presses in their own language (Bengali, Hausa, Bantu, Tamil) – and not the languages of power (Persian/Urdu, English, French).  Local communities learned to read, schools sprung up, local newspapers began being printed.  No wonder the British authorities in India spent umpteen efforts to suppress the ‘vernacular press.’

But this is not my point of departure from Mr. Javaid Anand’s take on events in Europe 500 years ago.  More than the technology of getting information out, I believe it was the actual process of reading the Bible together as Scripture, of meditating on it, debating it, applying it.  Of wrestling with the disparity between what is written and what a common life is like.  Of sharing and discovering in community which brought substantial changes to how we see the world.

Javaid Anand has picked up on what he calls “cherry picking” – looking for what is good and disposing of the rest.  The problem with that is:  what if someone else choses different cherries?  How do you know what is true?   A generation ago tonsils and appendices were removed willy-nilly as early surgery under anaesthesia gave the opportunity to ‘remove vestigial organs’ before the became inflamed later and caused you problems.   Well, we are still just discovering the myriad complexities of each organ.

If you have the write to pick and choose whatever strikes your fancy, then how can you be sure of anything?  There has to be a basic belief that the Bible is actually revealed truth for it to make any sense.   There have been cherry-pickers in the past – Thomas Jefferson comes to mind.  His view of God was one of a ‘Supreme Being’ who has left humanity long ago to our own devices.  The idea of the Supreme Being having anything to do with us in the here-and-now was embarrassing to Jefferson and so he published his own new-and-improved version of the Bible.  Every ‘miraculous’ event neatly cut out.  Vestigial organs for Mr. Jeff it seems.  Unsurprisingly there have been not many takers for his ‘cherry-picked’ version of Christian hope.

What makes the Bible so compelling to so many and why does it continue to be translated into various un-scripted languages around the globe?   Why do so many of its principles find their way into the broad spectrum of human excellence?  Why do different generations encounter it and come away changed?

One of the keys is in the process of belief and discovery in community.   You have to believe that something is true for it to have any authority and meaning in your life.  And yet, so many things seem so confusing that to find truth we are blessed when others are there along with us.  Joint discovery and mutual learning allow us to change.  Europe 500 years ago underwent a seismic shift when the Bible began to be read by the people.  Some of the outcomes were pretty ugly, but so much of what we treasure today as good and true flowed from these various streams of faith communities who were discovering and applying the Bible into their lives in vibrant ways.

Reading is a precious gift.  Deep reading, like in the ‘olden days’ seems to be evaporating.  Our house is full of books, but sadly, I seem to read so little these days.  PhilipYancey feels the same way.
But in my last trip up to Shanti Kunj I picked up a little gem.  “A New Motive for Living”  is the story of Venkateswara Thyaharaj whose grandfather Subbaiyar had been the dhikshitar (spiritual teacher) of the Maharaja of Travancore.   I am purposefully working through this gentle saint’s life and have been touched with many of his deep insights.

Here is Thyaharaj’s take on the Bible:

God has always had a wonderful plan for his world and not least for this land of ours.  To fulfill it he recruits, not demigods and astral beings but people like you and me… In the Bible.. God recruits men and women with nothing to boast of but his mercy and the change it is making in their proud hearts. 
Again and again I returned to that treasured Book, to its frankness about men’s faults and yet its disclosure of God’s amazing destiny in store for those who turn to Him.  How, I asked myself, in today’s darkening world can we fitly respond to God’s disclosure of his purposes for mankind?

How indeed?  How in deed? 

This is our life story – and one that continues to live out the beauty, and at times messy grappling with divine love and human perfidity, with the mist of so much of what happens around us and yet the piercing clarity of having our own beings revealed in the light of revelation. 

Sheba and I continue to read the Bible and be read by it.  We invite you to join us on this journey of discovery, as we join others in different places and times who are living in the light of the Book. 

a Bible study at our Lalitpur home last year

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Our supreme need

This week is a turning point for us.  Three of our dear friends, three amazing colleagues have stepped out of the HBM hospital, and Sheba and myself find ourselves in the position of being the Medical Superintendent and the hospital leader respectively.

Mr. Biju Mathew - who has for the past decade poured his heart and strength into building up HBM Hospital is as its administrator and leader is taking a 3 year leave of absence from our parent organisation EHA... and helping out another struggling mission hospital in South India.   Dr. Tony and Dr. Asangla Bishwas have been asked to take up the challenge of serving with a larger medical team at Chhattarpur Christian Hospital, our sister concern 3 hours away from us in Madhya Pradesh.

Biju Mathew sharing at Dr. Tony and Dr. Asangla's farewell this weekend - we already bid Biju and his wife Anu farewell 2 months ago,  She and the kids are at the school she is teaching at, while Biju came back to help us work out the transition 
It has been very hard to say good-bye to our friends.  My eyes have been moist many a time over these last few weeks.  And my heart carries the grief of separation.

And so we are two.  Our kids are far away from us in Mussoorie and back in Mumbai. We are in a large empty house.  And currently we have empty homes for neighbours: Biju and Anu's now empty home is next to us and opposite that is the home till recently occupied by sis. Sujatha, our nursing superintendent who moved at the beginning of this month.

Our hospital is currently being run with two doctors.  Sheba is now serving as the med superintendent and Catherine has joined us after finishing her MBBS from CMC Vellore.  They are on call every other day.  Last night there was a man admitted in a very poor condition - semi-conscious - a tribal man whom the big government hospital opposite us had discharged late at night and told to go to a bigger hospital in Jhansi - 100 kms away from us.  Sheba admitted him and prayed and treated.  Amazingly he is still alive and has started talking again.  Another tiny preterm baby was born and Sheba supervised the bagging to keep the child alive in our nursery.  A woman came after a miscarriage and Sheba helped her by performing a DNC.  Today she had her diabetic clinic and the waiting hall had the health teaching posters which we developed earlier in the year.   Our days are packed and yet we are on a fine line, working in a hospital which has gone through some very deep financial waters, with no clear end in sight.  Can we keep going in this way?  Will other doctors join us and move things forward?  So many questions...

Over the past few days, I have been trying to come to grips with the intricacies of hospital management.  As I step into this role of the acting SAO (for how long?) I am taken aback at all the different things that Biju has been doing to keep this ship sailing forward.  As it is I am less than happy about how we are faring with our community work in the villages, and now this...  a feel like a huge wave of different regulatory compliances, income tax assessments, stock and cash verifications and other sundry tasks is going to break over me and wash me out to the deep blue...

And yet, we are so blessed.  Monday night we gathered for our weekly prayer time and were joined by trainees from our Community Lay-leaders Health Training Course - a 20 day residential session for the year-long course that equips grass-root level folks to reach out to their communities through health promotion and simple cures.  Amazing to see how God has helped us start this up here at HBM this year.  Today I went over and talked to 30 young people who will be interning with us this year as part of their practical social work experience from the Lalitpur Bible Seminary.  What potential each young life has.

The work remains massive.  So many possibilities - so many opportunities - so many challenges.  Over the last week there have been a number of times when I felt very, very overwhelmed.  The old hymn comes very much to mind:

We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know

And yet in all of the turmoil, we do have hope.  We are being shaped into something else.  Not quite the way we expected it, and with so much more to go, but God is clearly at work.

We want to share with you, gentle reader, one of the many gems from Geraldine Taylor - a pioneering missionary to China (who married Dr. Howard Taylor - Hudson Taylor's son - and wrote the classic book Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret).  While speaking in 1901 in New Orleans, Geraldine Taylor said this which speaks directly into our hearts these days:

"At a time of conference, we cannot but realize afresh the greatness to which God has called us. We know not fully the purpose of God in calling us together, we know not what the outcome may be, but to some extent we realize the solemnity of the occasion.

Before us the great map of the world lying in darkness, above us the opened heavens and Him who sits on the throne saying: "All power is given to me.... go ye therefore."

Too often in seeking for help we forget the source of power. 'Power belongeth unto God.'  Too often we are taken up with people and with work, with calls made upon us, with what we can do and what we cannot do, with our plans and projects and so on, to the exclusion of Him alone, who is the great Worker.

Oh, this morning let us sweep all this away and come to God, face to face with God only, realizing that the place whereon we stand is holy ground.  This is our supreme need, not money, friends, openings, sympathy, enthusiasm, good meetings, a going concern; but Himself, the living God, the Fountain of all fullness.

Would that the Holy Spirit now, in this quiet hour, might take full possession of our hearts, showing us afresh our great need, showing us afresh our great God."

From the remarkable book: Mrs. Howard Taylor: Her Web of Time  p. 177

Monsoon clouds over the Thyle Residence - of which the second phase (2 more flats to add to the 6 we dedicated in Feb this year) is being built in the midst of the deep uncertainties our hospital is going through. God is so good, He's so good to us!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Woodstock meri jaan

I have been blessed with several Alma Maters - but the one which shaped me the most was Woodstock School up in Mussoorie.

Today marks 30 years since the 54 of us from the class of 87 walked across the stage at Parker Hall to collect our degrees.  After filing out of the hall we stood in a line and shook hands and were  hugged by our parents, friends and teachers (not mutually exclusive sets).  Most of us had tears in our eyes - and the post-grad line was called the 'wailing wall' in our time.

30 years.  Time certainly flies.

And time also stands still.  I am so very grateful that my parents decided to send me up north in 1985 after I had finished my 10th at the Deutsche Schule Bombay.  Switching back to English was a joy - and the two years at Woodstock were an opening up for me - for which I am very grateful.

As heavy drops of rain fall into the darkness outside our home here on the HBM hospital Lalitpur, 30 years later, a few words looking back.

Our teachers were out of this world.  Each class I took in 11th and 12th grade was very much college level.  Problems of the Modern World with Ranjit Das.  Modern Myth with David Weidman (main text book: Lord of the Rings), Advanced Bio 2 with Max Dass (we memorized the 10 essential amino acids), European Novel with Kathy Hoffman (Darkness at Noon by Koestler stands out), German with Cherry Gough (Romulus the Great)...  the list goes on.  Our teachers poured themselves into us.  As did the dorm parents (the amazing Criders looked after us unruly lads at Hostel).  And then there were dramas and concerts, weekend hikes and the bazaar on Saturdays, the charms of Cozy Corner as we entered our Senior year and cinnamon buns thrown up to us on the balcony of the Quad art room on lazy Tuesday last periods...

A look at our year book (the first colour pages as far as I know were introduced by us in our 'double vision' themed 1987 Whispering Pine) shows one of the finest of men - Adam Azor-Smith - French teacher and life-traveller - who 'chaperoned' Anand Sinha, Steve Satow and myself on our memorable Senior year activity week to Ranthambhor National Park in Rajasthan.

 And then is the amazing experience of being brought into community.  I joined in 11th standard with about 3-4 other 'new kids' (Danny Watters, Irene Winkler come to mind).  Some of my classmates had been together since primary school.  And yet we were welcomed and made part of the bigger picture. I shared rooms over the 4 semesters with a Bangladeshi who grew up in Abu Dhabi, a Bombay-boy whose father owned an iconic hotel in SoBo, a Punjabi whose Dad worked with a large govt Engineering co, a Thai, an American mish-kid, and an England-returned Bihari.

Beyond these room-mates was a further smorgasbrod of nationalities and cultures - into which we plunged ourselves and learned to the precious gift of mutual joy through the beautiful (and some times tear-streaked) experience of building friendships.  Late night maggi noodles, long conversations with the lights out, small study groups slogging on our Bio, post-play sleep-overs, the seemingly interminable slog up the hill to school - a new world for me.  Early in my first semester I realised that I was trying to keep people out - trying to push through on my own strength.  I had a picture of myself as a miserable little prince walled in with concentric circles of barriers.  I realised that allowing others into my life was not a sign of weakness...

Thirdly, I am grateful for Woodstock for allowing me to grow in faith.  Woodstock School in the late 1980s was intentionally Christian with many staff being earnest Christians.  Most students, however, were not followers of Christ - with various religious and irreligious beliefs and practices lived out by my friends.  With no Mummy and Daddy to say 'do this' and 'do that' - it was a time of discovering and living out my faith in a new way.   Having a small sub-group of friends who were also exploring what it meant to know Jesus was mutually helpful.  My first 'church' was a group of earnest guitar-strumming fellow students who met every Sunday afternoon in Bothwell Bank (a long trek far, far up the hill) for Bible Club.  "BC" was the object of much gentle derision (some of it well-deserved) but having to step out and identify who I was and be intentional about Jesus was a huge step forward for me.  It helped to have others to worship and pray with - as it does today 30 years later.  Some of the songs still echo in my mind (sing that sweet, sweet song of salvation...).

And I have not even touched upon mentors like the Satow family who adopted me, and the Hamiltons, and, and....

30 years ago today those two years of my life ended at graduation - and the seeds sown and relationships nurtured have entwined in our lives to give much so flavour and zest over the decades.

Woodstock is an essential part of the at times almost comically complex person I am - Woodstock meri jaan. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

From the mountains to the sea

As we start this post a few words that may seem almost an apology:

Life is not as perfect for the Eicher pariwar  as these pictures may give the impression.  We have lots of grit and regret and stains that do not seem to get reflected much on this blog.  The many weeks of silence will probably point to some of that.  Will we write about it?  Perhaps - when time and tide allow - and the Spirit gives utterance...

In the mean-time, we want to acknowledge the healing virtues of vacation.  The Bible says that in repentance and rest is your salvation.  And here share some of the this journey are some pictures of our life together as a family ... A kind of photo-album of small snippets of beauty that are woven into our lives, which we wish to acknowledge with thankfulness.

A week ago, this is where we were:

Sheba with Tamana - looking down the hill from Flag Hill in Mussoorie.  We were on a day-hike with Mum and Narendra, Pramila and Tamana.   A beautiful sunny day nestled in the midst of clouds and mist - a gift for us plain dwellers to see sights like this.

And walk down paths that seemed like the central aisles of tree canopied cathedrals...

But this vacation took us to another places as well.

From the mountains to the valleys, hear our praises, rise to thee...

This year we are squeezing in a trip to coastal Andhra Pradesh as Daisy and Ramesh and their lovely kids Frankie and Shofar are in India after 2 years...

So it was good-bye to Oma Eicher - for a few weeks at least - since Asha and Enoch need to report back to boarding school in Mussoorie on the 28th of this month.

And on to a marathon cross country train trip.   We started with a rather trying drive down the hill - a huge traffic jam met us near the bottom with SUVs galore jostling through the narrows - and more than one person with affluenza showing that they thought traffic rules don't count for them - and so further added to the jam of jams.

We were blessed to have given much time as a buffer and so we were comfortably in time for our super-swish train to Delhi that nudged out of Dehra Dun station at 5 PM sharp.

Our Delhi sojourn could almost be counted in humming-bird-wing-beats.  A late night dropping-in at Victor and Sarah's place - a few conversations - packing lemon rice for the journey ahead - some prayer and sleep that was almost in the single digits of minutes.  We came in darkness and left just before dawn - with our dear Joanna Grace along with us for the journey.

As soon as we were in the train bunks were set up and blessed, blissful sleep took over.

And that is pretty much what it was like for the next 36 hours as our train took us across the parched plains and badlands of the Deccan Plateau (passing by our blessed Lalitpur but not stopping as we wooshed by in mid-day slumber)...

And with the second day of our train trip (and third on our journey) seeing us enter the land of the Telegus - 

Here be clouds....

... and the blessed beauty of green thanks to what we hope-and-pray is a 'normal' monsoon

As we trundled into Amma and Appa's home in the village of Tungalam, just outside Vishakapatnam, we were so glad to come home again.  Home to one of our safe places.  To a place of quiet and rest. And a blessed down-pour the next morning:

-------------------------------------- x x x ---------------------------------------

And now a few words in praise of food.

It takes so long to make - and seems to disappear so quickly - but what a comfort a good meal is - especially when eaten with those we love.

My mid-riff is showing the evidence of much love (Asha and Enoch have given me a 8 kg loss challenge), but what can you say when your first morning is blessed with a meal like this:

It is a pleasure to be with Daisy and Ramesh - and catch up on their lives being lived out in far-away Arizona.  Amazed that Frankie is about to start as a freshman at ASU this fall - and that Shofar is turning 7 today (more on that in another post).   Time to talk and unwind.  We planned to visit others in the villages, but are just too tired, and to in need of down-time at this point to do that.  Hence we are happily ensconced at Jaba Villa and are doing the essentials of eating, sleeping, reading, talking, praying, eating some more (you get the picture).

Being near the sea, we are blessed with its fruits:

Which means some more serious noshing en familie

As said many a moon ago when Steve Satow and I spent a winter holiday visit to Anand Sinha's family in Patna: sometimes silence at the table is the ultimate complement to a good meal - as all the trenchermen (and women) are blissfully working away at their victuals.

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And then there is the joy of being in a village.  Yes, Lalitpur is rather rural, but there is something about the good folk of  Andhra that makes you want to go out for walks.  

Colours seem more vivid here.  Buildings are painted with what seems a desire to explore the breadth of the palette.  The vegetable market is Kodachrome-worthy:

Local delicacies - plastic footwear - fish (dried and fresh) are all available to the discerning shopper at the weekly market held in the BHPV campus - a large government undertaking which makes 'heavy plates and vessels' (whatever those may be).

And well, when you are walking around in a market, the purse strings do beg to be opened.  Enoch decided to snack on some 'mini-samosas.'

On our way back we are confronted with the paradox of village life here:

A gold colour Gandhi statue - looking rather grim and a bit forlorn guards the entrance to the village. Next to him is a rather limp CITU flag - one of the communist trade unions from the government plant.  On our way in, a young man had chosen to lean against the pedestal of the 'father of the nation' while making a phone call on his mobile (or was he updating his facebook status?).

Behind Gandhiji the village pond.  Complete with ducks.  And a collection of temples and houses that continue to spring up in many-hued splendour under the grey early monsoonal skies.

Meanwhile, the dogs are asleep... and I have promises to keep.