Sunday, September 5, 2010

"A Good Friend To God"

When Dad and I were in India in the spring, we visited a college that had grown out of the work of the college where Dad had laboured for over 40 years in Bangalore. This next-generation college was in Trivandrum, and Dad was to speak at chapel for almost a week as well as on the Sunday we were there.

"Sir" and Mathan
Mathan, one of Dad's former students, is the Dean at the college, and it was he who met us at the airport and he who introduced Dad each time before the latter spoke.

He told anecdotes about Dad as his teacher and as his Dean and as his Vice-president when Mathan was a student. And in listening to Mathan, and in having the privilege of being with Dad for the next three weeks, I got a fresh perspective on this man whom I thought I knew so well.

As Mathan introduced Dad to the students for the first time he told about how he first met "Sir" and how in the years that followed he sat under him in classes and watched him and followed his life. He talked about Dad as a man of prayer and of moral courage and of integrity and of leadership and of kindness.

"He is a good friend to God," said Mathan.

Philip's church
The Friday evening we were in Trivandrum, Dad went to a tiny village church where Philip, another former student and a current teacher at the same college where Mathan teaches, is the pastor and where Dad spoke in English and Mathan translated for him. The respect and love with which these three men hold each other was palpable that evening. At the bottom of this post is a seven-minute clip to give you the flavour of that evening.

Dr and Mrs P.D. Cherian
After Trivandrum, we went on to Coimbatore, to another college and another group of former students and faculty members and friends who wanted to see Dad again, to talk with him, to shake his hand. Pastor Joy Benjamin and the President of the college, PD Cherian, and Bruce Schwalbe all vied for his time. Bruce is an American and started a school for the deaf, launching it from Dad's college in Bangalore many years ago. His wife, RuthAnne, told me that the only person she doesn't have to sign for is Dad: for some reason, Bruce can read Dad's lips easily and loves to be in meetings where Dad is the speaker.

We went back to Bangalore and Dad's great friend, Mr. Subbaiah, met us at the airport. How Mum and Dad loved Subbaiah and his wife, Pravin! We got to spend some time - not nearly enough! - renewing our families' friendship over the next week.

Mr and Mrs Subbaiah
Jeremiah and family
And of course in Bangalore there were many people who love Dad and were so overjoyed to see him again: the barber, who wept when he left; Mary Swinden, the college's faithful secretary, and Padma, the retiring librarian. There were the vendors in the market and at Koshy's bakery; old neighbours; the choir director and the piano player for the college; Ed and Joh, Dr Chelli's boys who are now carrying on the work of the college and who regard my Dad as their second father; Rajah, faithful and loyal servitor to the college, who would bring Dad his hot water and lemon in the morning and would come to Dad to give and to receive counsel; Jeremiah, former student and now excellent teacher.

Many of these people would also seek me out to tell me what an impact Dad has had on their lives. And the recurrent theme throughout each of their narratives was one of love and service. A couple of them told of the time the sewer system got backed up at the college. There were no on-call sewer companies in those days, and tempers on the campus grew frayed. None of the sticks and hooks and pipes that were tried would unblock the septic tank. No one seemed willing to deal with the crisis further - it was, after all, India with the caste system simmering just below the surface at all times - and so finally someone went and laid the situation before "Sir."

Dad quietly listened to the whole story, and then quietly went to the septic tank and quietly reached his arm into the cesspool and somehow released the blockage. The angry voices on campus were stilled as they realized that their Vice-president was willing so to humble himself. He never had to say a word. And now, over 25 years later, that story is still passed down from one generation of students to the next and there has never been an instance where people have not been willing to follow in the footsteps of Sir.

Keynote speaker at Berean's graduation 2010
In listening and observing for those three weeks, I started to ask myself what it is about Dad that causes the loving response people have to him wherever he goes. And I have finally come to the conclusion, after pondering it for these past six months, that the main message Dad brings to any situation no matter where he is in the world is love. How he shows God's love to all the people he comes into contact with! In his sermons he emphasizes the love of God; in his actions he portrays that love; in his presence one can feel the presence of God in the room. As a matter of fact, even here in Canada several of my unchurched friends have remarked that when Dad prays to God, it is like God is another person right in the room whom Dad is talking with. The clip you can view illustrates this: we are in a small room with some of the poorest people any of us will have met. Some of them are blind and maimed and orphaned and widowed. Most have no running water in their houses and not much education and not much hope, according to the standards of success in the world. But Dad talks to them about God's great love for them, just as they are right in that tiny room. The whole sermon went on for almost an hour, and by the end you could feel the presence of hope renewed and faith brought into focus. They were not asking God to take them out of their present circumstance, but to have the grace and strength to bear it. They were thanking God that this "old man" who came from overseas took the time to meet with them.

Dad is a man of faith and principle and he will not compromise his principles; but at the same time, he is reluctant to judge other people's motives, firmly believing that it is God who sees the individual's heart and it is God to Whom the person must answer, not Dad. He does not indulge in gossip and speculation. His focus is on knowing God.

This weekend we are celebrating Dad's birthday in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, where Dad is scheduled to speak to a men's breakfast on Saturday morning and then church on Sunday morning. Today - his birthday - he came back to the motel and told us how after the breakfast meeting he gave a neck massage to a couple of old guys who had knots in their necks, and then foot massages to a few men with aching feet. He takes delight in helping people and people respond to him because they recognize that it comes from a pure heart overflowing with kindness.

I am beyond grateful for this year in which I have had the privilege of travelling with Dad, of sitting at his feet when he speaks both in Canada and in India. My view of him, limited for the most part to being his daughter for all these years, has expanded tremendously as I witness the impact that his life and ministry have had on countless people, even to the fourth generation.

As Mathan said to me whilst he introduced Dad for the last chapel service we attended in Trivandrum: "He is your father, but he is our Sir."

Happy birthday, Sir. How we all love you!


  1. Karyn: the first photo of your father and Mathan, captures your father’s spirit. Recently, when discussing a controversial topic with him, I tried to “corner” him on a point. I will never forget his response—he just smiled. That was the best answer!

    “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing.” Albert Schweitzer.

    Your father’s faithfulness, courage and generosity in word and deed influences and encourages many. A true gentleman! I am grateful for his example.

    Happy Birthday, Sir! Blessing throughout the year!!!

    May God give you...
    For every storm, a rainbow,
    For every tear, a smile,
    For every care, a promise,
    And a blessing in each trial.
    For every problem life sends,
    A faithful friend to share,
    For every sigh, a sweet song,
    And an answer for each prayer.

  2. The love & respect his Indian brothers have for him is so clear, as is his love for them and for our God. He is indeed a very unique & special person.

    Dianna & I feel that love during our Bible Study time.

  3. Hey Karyn, thanks so much for this: what a pleasure to read, how nice to see the pictures and put faces to names I have so often heard. Thanks especially for the you tube link, now, any time I am in need of comfort . . .

  4. The love of Christ is indeed very evident in every word and action of your father. So thankful to have met him. He reminds me so much of my own father that it is hard to write this without tears. After he passed away many wrote that if not for the love that he showed them in so many situations they never would have stayed in church. They felt the condemnation of many, but were encouraged that Dad cared for them and encouraged them in their spiritual walk. So many times people are driven from churches because they only feel our judgment. It is up to the Lord to judge them and up to us to share how God loved them so much that He sent His only Son to die on the cross for their sins. Thank you so much for sharing these stories about your dad and also for sharing him on his birthday weekend! May God bless your family throughout this year and also in the years to follow.


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