This week, my great-uncle in India passed away. He was my grandmother’s brother, and each visit with family in India, I always looked forward to time with him. He was a man of great wisdom and integrity and immense joy. He continually smiled and laughed deeply. He enjoyed the company of children and the taste of sweets. He even indulged occasionally in peach snuff. Even now, just the thought of this great man brings a smile to my face and warms my heart. There was no way I could spend a moment with my great-uncle and not walk away knowing I was deeply loved by both him and Jesus.
He, the Very Rev. Father Dr. Kurien Kaniamparampil, Arch Corepiscopa (the highest honor presented to a married priest in the Syrian Orthodox Church), wrote over 80 books and translated the Bible Malayallam, the language of some 38 million people worldwide. He was a legend and beloved by so many. However, I knew him best as Vallichayan, the sweet great-uncle who entertained children with silly faces and a gentle spirit.
He left a tremendous mark on the world for Jesus, and I am both honored and humbled to be in his family. Vallichayan also gave me one of the greatest pieces of wisdom I have ever heard. I was 21 at the time, engaged to be married, and visiting India. He pulled me aside after church one Sunday morning and asked me about the man I was to marry. I told him about Devin and how Devin was called to ministry and would be heading to seminary to continue his education and training. Vallichayan, as most serious as I had ever seen him, told me, “A pastor, eh? You must know that if you marry him, the calling will not just be placed on him. The calling will be placed on you as well, and you can never be angry or hold a grudge at him for being obedient to God. It is for you both to be obedient, and you cannot resent him from doing so.” As I heard the words, saw the intensity in his face, and glanced at this sweet wife waiting patiently off to the side, I thought I understood what he was saying. Little did I know how often while standing by someone in ministry those words would come back to me as a reminder to remain steadfast, to keep my heart clear, and to remember that the One who calls, calls us both. Whether Vallichayan was speaking from experience or out of response to what God had laid on his heart, it was a truth I needed to hear and would continue to need over my lifetime.
Not many of us get a great-uncle in India who spoke great truth, shared his wisdom, and loved and served deeply. I understand fully he was a treasure and that I was blessed to have those moments with him as a mentor and a family member.
Seeing how well he served others and his precious Jesus makes me look at my own life and see not only what kind of legacy I am leaving but also who I am known to be right now. Vallichayan’s joy, contentment, and passion to see the next generation come to know Christ in a very real and personal way are aspects I want to carry forward in my own life.
I had no idea at the time when he spoke to me about the calling to ministry being a calling on Devin and I’s marriage that there would be another vision for a ministry outside the church walls. I didn’t know about the wonder and discovery of a dream, the pain of waiting and becoming who God needed me to be, the combined excitement and fear of taking a risk and stepping forward, or the hard work and sacrifice to develop the vision into a reality. I didn’t know about all the ups and downs, the highs and lows, or the mountain tops and valleys that would come along the way. I didn’t understand how much I would come to lean on God to provide or how much I would need others around me. But I believe Vallichayan knew, at least in part, that the road ahead would be a long one, but a great one if I chose to see God as the source of the call and if I chose to be obedient. And now I know, at least in part, the valuable truth in what he shared with me.
In Vallichayan’s example, I saw a man who found joy in everything, who made others feel as though they truly mattered, who gave everything he had for the gospel, who made time for laughter and time with others, who never complained when circumstances were challenging, and who loved his Savior deeply. It was a legacy I will remember well and hope to continue to learn from. And in doing so, may I leave my own kind of legacy.