Friday, 21 October 2016

A sparkling memory - a shared joy in a time of division

In the quest of truth and beauty, my dear brother Stefan has transplanted himself and his amazing wife Neeru and their three children Ashish, Anjali and Anita to the US for two years as he pursues a Masters of Fine Arts.

Stefan and family have been pretty busy - and here is one of their projects - an ambitious public art project called '38th and Shine.'  In this project, they tirelessly worked to bring together 4 quite dissimilar neighbourhoods together to a mass lighting of sparklers.   A beautiful moment was created.

A short film has been made on this.  It has just been released on the '38th and Shine' facebook page, and you can see it here.   In the mean time, here is an early version of the film which is worth seeing in itself....

He has been a busy lad, and the 

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Stepping out into the dark night

Our HBM Hospital is smack opposite the government district hospital.  

At times, when I seen the free govt. ambulances drive into the gates of that hospital I wish that some more of those patients would get help from our healing centre.

For the last 3 days, that has happened.

There is some kind of strike going on in the govt. hospital.  No small children are being admitted.  We have a steady stream of very, very sick babies coming to us.  Our modest nursery is full.  Over-flowing.   The extra ward which we have been allowing a local paediatrician to use is also full.

Today we had the sad experience of seeing two of these young lives slip away under our care.

It would have been so easy to just tell the attendants right at the beginning to go to Jhansi.  100 kms away.  Big hospital there. All the facilities.  Except that we know that 3/4 of the families will just not go and the babies will die at home.

So we have been caring for them.  Well beyond our comfort zone.  And with the sadness of seeing these tiny bodies stop breathing.


Sheba was on call this evening.   Amma and Appa and Enoch and myself went off the hospital campus to a Bible study at our palliative care staff member Amit's home.   The hospital jeep, carrying a good 25 folks joined us.  The room was packed.

Meanwhile, Sheba was on call at HBM.   As usually she went and did her evening rounds.  And then things happened.  A child who had been admitted by the paediatrician and who was under his care died in the ward he is using for his patients.

A mob collected.  30 - 40 people barged into the hospital.  Chairs were broken in the melee.

Our cool-headed Medical Superintendent Dr. Tony came out to talk with them.   An hour was spent in confrontation.  Tony is an amazing man.

And then another group formed.  This one about one of the previous kids who had expired.  Tony talked with them too.

And then another group came.  They had been at the govt. hospital with a sick child.  They wanted to admit the child at our hospital.  We are full.  We are reeling with two mobs already this evening.

The group that was refused admission for their child was enraged.  More shouting.  Some threats. And then somehow that mob was also dissipated.

Unsurprisingly, Sheba is flat out in bed right now.  The quietness of the Lalitpur night may yet call her back to the hospital, given so many sick kids who are admitted.   I have said some quiet prayers on her behalf - and on behalf of the families who have brought their sick ones to us for healing.  We may have been their second choice given the strike at the govt. hospital - but we wish that their loved ones will be touched.  And that we as a hospital will keep growing to be the first choice.  A place where people know that we care and love and treat in the name of spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ.   We are locally known as 'Isahi Mission Hospital' - and would like to live up to our local name.


So spare a thought for the young doctor of today's India.

Who in their right mind would like to come to a place like this?

Why would anyone want to meet a mob.  And not one, but three in the same evening?

It is no wonder that mission hospitals - real ones - that are really in places that need medical care - are finding it harder and harder to attract and retain doctors.   Why would a young medical grad want to come here - when a plush corporate hospital awaits in a big city?   And given that most young medical grads (in India at least) are not really making their own choices, but rather making Mummy and Daddy happy - why would any parent want their young adult to spend 'the best years of their life' (and the crucial years of getting into higher studies) in a 'God-forsaken' place?

The days of the missionary doctor setting up a small clinic under a tree and having scores of happy villagers line up for his (or her) wonder-drugs are long, long, long gone.

The days of the mob are here.  And are here to stay it seems.

Almost 20 years ago, when working at the Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand we saw how deeply entrenched the law of the mob was.

A lady had died.  The mob collected.  Glass was broken.   A fresh specialist doctor from Vellore was on call.  Her face was very close to where the glass splinters were flying.  The hospital filed a case in the police station.  The perpetrators came and asked the hospital to remove the case.  We asked them to give us a written apology for the damage done.  They refused.  And filed a case in the consumer courts that wound on for years before it was finally closed in our favour.  The lady doctor in question had to travel back to the hospital a number of times.   Unsurprisingly, she and her specialist doctor husband are not serving long-term in one of our hospitals.

And then this.   Nav Jivan was (and is) in a hot-bed of Naxalite (or 'Left-Wing Extremists' if you prefer) activity.  One fine day our administrator and medical superintendent are called 'into the jungle' to meet a commander.

When you get that kind of a call, you go.  They went.  There they met the folks from the underground who were holding court.  And who should be with them, but a well-known trouble-maker who had set up shop (literally) just outside the hospital gate.

The reason our good folks were called to meet the men with the guns?  Well, it seems that our 'outside-the-gate-man' had some issues to accuse the hospital of.  "you do not have a paediatrician!  You need to get a gynaecologist.  You need better equipment in your lab."  and on and on.

Our medical superintendent and head of the hospital was a tough-talking Odiya doctor.  He took the bull by the horns.  Pointing at Mr.-know-it-all, he asked him point-blank about who had looked after his father and nursed him back to health from certain death.

The Naxalite leaders soon realised that they had been led along by a man talking through his hat.  They ended the meeting soon and sent our friends back to our hospital and we did not hear from them about this issue at least.

But the absurdity of it.  Being called into the jungle and told in the presence of men-with-guns that we should improve our staffing and get 'better doctors.'

So there you have it.  Voices and experiences from 2 decades ago.  With our dear country showing not an inch of improvement.  If anything, we see more and more mobs taking over and forcing things.  Put the word 'mob' into the search feature of this blog and you will find that over the past few years I have written about the actions of angry masses a fair bit.

Today we got the news that in Bangalore more busses were burned because people are angry that the supreme court made a judgement on how the water of the river Cauvery should be shared between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.  What took my breath away was that the Karnataka govt. gave Rs. 10 lakhs to the families of those who died when the police opened fire on a rampaging mob.  The deaths were tragic, but these were people who were breaking things up and could have killed people in their anger and refused to stop when the police fired in the air.   To give them a 'reward' seems absurd...

And so we continue to live in the midst of love and leaves and the at times aching paradox of broken humanity.  

We are only here because we are called.  Called to see if others would like to taste and see that the Lord is good.  Called to welcome and model a life of Christ-following, strengthened by His very presence, humbly living out a life of (hopefully) joy-driven service in the midst of the sometimes ugly face of a world which is upside down.

Its 11.55 PM.  Sheba has been woken for a call.  She has just stepped out of the home into the dark night to go to the hospital.

I say a small prayer of hope.


Pause. Stop. Take a deep breath.

The last few months have been very much about Dad and his final days.   Its been a month now since he died.  Translated to glory.  The chariot of fire came and whisked him away.  Quietly.

There is much still to write.  A whole life-time.  I was up in Mussoorie last weekend and just peeped into a few of Dad's many files in his office.  A whole set of life-times.

But I have intentionally not written for the last two weeks.  And will probably not write about Dad for some more time.

Just to sort things out a bit in my own head.  In my own heart.  To go back to the rhythm of life.  To discover the new normal.

I need to pray more and talk less.  To be quiet in the presence of the Lord.  To sing more and walk in the morning coolness.

There are letters to reply to.  But they will have to wait.  There are thoughts buzzing in the head, but they will have to settle.


The German word is spelled the same way.  Pronounced 'Pow-seh'.  It means 'recess.'

Some days ago my sister Premila posted on social media that she was stepping away for a while.

I have done the same - and want to extend the time of quiet for some more - at least on the many-faceted Dad-shaped hole in my heart. 

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.