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