“This article is for the glory of God and is dedicated to Sunil Thomas, who died on March 17, 2013. It is written in memory of Sunil. I had known Chacko Thomas, family since the earliest 1989 when I joined the Operation Mobilization Ships Ministry, when I boarded Logos II, in Amsterdam, Holland.”
By Stephen Tut Puol,
Nov 27, 2014(Nyamilepedia) — It was with great sadness that they laid to rest the body of their 17 years old son, Sunil, at Beckenham Cemetry in London, England, “said Chacko Thomas Sunil’s father”. He had been fighting a cancer called Hodgkin’s lymphoma for over two years. We were thankful for each day he was alive, especially when we saw that we were fighting a losing battle. Sunil has successfully beaten his parents and his older sister to the finish line. He was promoted to glory on March 7th, 2003.
Literally, thousands of people all over the world prayed fervently for his healing. I do not know anyone else for whom so much prayers and even fasting has gone up in his name. Surely, the Lord would heal him? There were some “prophecies” and even “dreams” shared with his parents to that effect; but it was not what happened. They even wondered if they had failed the Lord to do his will in miraculous healing, through their sins or unbelief.
The main answer to prayer was that Sunil’s own faith and his parents remained strong to the end, even though it was severely challenged. Though the Lord refused to heal him he poured out his grace, which was more than sufficient for his parents, friends and relatives. God also richly made provision for many of Sunil’s wishes to be fulfilled. His cherished wish to see is grandmother in Singapore was arranged soon after the doctors in the Teenage Cancer Unit in London told his parents that there was nothing more to be done medically. He spent the next two months with her and took in the sights and tastes of Singapore in spites of being wheel chair bound. The events he enjoyed most were the two visits to the Night Safari Park, Christmas and New Year with their church, and the Chinese New Year celebrations in China Town in London.
Half-way through the visit they learned from the Singapore doctors that Sunil might not have more than four months left. Soon after that he insisted that he want to return to his home and friends in London. This was made possible through the generosity of many good friends and good Samaritans. One particular Christian family in London put themselves at his service. Among other things they drove him around the country, to the London Aquarium, the Marwell Animal Park and the Birds of Prey Sanctuary, fulfilling a longing he would have for four years.
Sunil parents had no plans for the day after the visit to the sanctuary they would have been out the whole day, around trip of 240 miles and were all tired. But just to give Sunil something to look forward to his father promised a ride in the car as he was leaving for the office at 7.00pm. When he returned home at 11.30pm he had already gotten his mother to arrange a visit to his school at 2.30pm 30 minutes before it closed. According to Chacko Thomas, he would not take time here to explain what a marvelous reception he had at the school from teachers and staff.
Little did they realise that this was going to be the final day of Sunil’s life. They knew that he was weak and his breathing was laboured. When they got home the hospice nurse was waiting for them and soon there was a visit from the local doctor. After examining Sunil she told them he was doing very poorly and advised them to send for his sister, Sheela, who was attending counseling’s course about two hours away. That night at 9.45pm 30 minutes after Sheela arrive Sunil entered the Lord’s presence as the family prayed together. The next few days were unbearable for Sunil family, relatives and friends. For Sunil parents, they could not control their tears, for they have never loved anyone more deeply than they loved Sunil, said his Dad Chacko Thomas.
Their hope for miraculous healing was shattered. Many had encouraged them to keep believing and praying for a miracle. Chacko Thomas said, he had seen many scripture portions during those many months which he thought were pointing towards God’s miraculous intervention. They were expecting a miracle till the last minute, even while seeing his condition worsen month by month, day by day and hour by hour.
“Nevertheless, they prepare their children for a long life”, implying not for death, wrote his mother in an account of her teenage son’s promotion to glory. A question that came often to Chacko Thomas mind was “how could he have better prepared his son for the death”. How does a father, who wants his seventeen years old son to outlive him, tell him that he may not recover and that he must be prepared to die? In his role as a father he tried to give Sunil hope and courage, though he will not take credit for the strength he showed in his death. But should they do not do more, especially as parents, pastors and fellow-believers?
He remembers their pastor in Singapore coming to him after a service saying that he had chosen a particular song with Sunil in mind. He assured him the whole service was appropriate for him. There was enough there to make us all look forward to meeting the Lord. God had other ways of preparing Sunil, too.
One thing Chacko did when the opportunity came was to preach in his local church. He chose to speak lovingly on 1Thessalonians 4:15-18 about “the Christian hope of resurrection”. He remembers a month later driving with Sunil and singing, “Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace. He wants to see his Saviour’s face! Heaven is a wonderful place”.
However, he was afraid that most of his scripture readings with the family were to strengthen their faith for healing and living, rather than to prepare his son to die. He remembers an email from Ron Penny, who had lost one-week-old grand-daughter just weeks before. He wrote: “Don’t just look upward, look forward” imply that we should look forward to the hope before us, to be with Christ.
About three weeks before Sunil passed away Chacko was at his desk. Looking up, he saw on the bookshelf a book a friend had given him when Sunil was first diagnosed with cancer. It was entitled, “Will God Heal Me?” The book did not interest him at a time, then because the answer was obvious: God heals, which meant God will heal his son, God will hear him especially when he fast and persist in prayer. After all, he had seen so many answers to prayers. He had let the book remain there for two years. Now, however, he needed some hope. Lipping through its back pages, the title of a chapter called “I have come to help you die” caught his attention.
This chapter told the story of a young lady who had come to the end of her life. Reality was going the opposite direction of all prophecies and dreams and visions that various others had been given about her. Unlike his situation, visitors and prayers were diminishing as the once enthusiastic prayer supporters saw her condition deteriorating. Then a minister went to see her.
“Have you come to pray for my healing?” asked the young lady with great expectation. Maybe the moment for the fulfillment of all predictions had come. “No”, answer the pastor. “I have come to help you die”. The minister then turned to the many scripture passenger’s that speak of the Christian’s hope of heaven, resurrection and eternal life. Thus scriptures verses, did prepare the young lady to meet the Lord, and soon afterwards she did.
Chacko Thomas had received several hundred emails and many phone calls and visits since the Lord took Sunil to Himself. Many spoke of the fond memories they have for Sunil. Though he died young, friends assured his parents that he had lived a full life and finished his mission. 400 people turned up for his funeral service because, as one later wrote, “he had touched their lives in some way”. His life did touch thousands of others around the world over 40 nations he visited while on OM Ships Ministry. This was clear from the emails which were being received by his parents. The nine people who paid tributes at the service also made that very clear. No wonder that about 30 students and 17 teachers and staff from his school were at the service. Three of his nurses and several of their parent’s non-Christians neighbours were all present and heard the gospel through the top OM leaders Peter Maiden and George Verwer.
Many wondered how such a young life could be wrenched away so prematurely. Peter Maiden in his words of welcome at the service of celebration for Sunil’s life said, “Christianity makes no great attempts to answer the philosophical issue of suffering. Instead, it offers to us the God of the Cross. In other words, God’s answer to our suffering is to share our pain; to suffer with us, and ultimately to take all our suffering upon Him and leave us free; as Sunil, is this Friday morning from all pain and all suffering; and he will be freed for all eternity. That’s the promise of God: not immunity from sufferings, not explanations for all our sufferings, but the invitation to come to Him with our pain knowing that he understands and saying to us: “In my son, Jesus, I have been there; I have been where you are; I fully understand, what it means to suffer”.
A prayer by ‘George Verwer’ ministered to many who question and even frustrated that God did not heal Sunil. He prayed, “Father’ we just want to have a tie of thanksgiving to you and I just thank you for the life of Sunil. I would have never done it this way God if I were, you but you know it best. I don’t like the way you operated living God if I am honest, but I worship you in mystery. I submit my own lostness and my own neediness and believe in your sovereignty and as it say in those last verses in Romans 11, we will never be your counselor, we will never fully understand your ways but we go forward by faith.
“Lord you have spoken today loud and clear. You have spoken through this family. So many families when they lose a young child like this, bitterness, anger, confusion and depression comes rolling in but Lord, we see your grace in Thomas family. Not that they won’t experience some of these things but we believe ultimately they have that victory in you sovereignty Lord Jesus. Although we greatly missed Sunil, we know that he is in a far better place and what our whole ministry is about to rescue the perishing and the dying. We thank you that you have saved Sunil and that he is with you for all eternity”.
Chacko cherish an email from Jonathan McRostie, an OM leader and a friend writing from his wheel-hair, to which he has been confined since a road accident on the mission field two decades ago. He wrote, “Recently I was at the funeral and memorial service of my own father in California. Obviously my circumstance is quite different than yours as my father was 98 and had completed a long life for the Lord; whereas your son Sunil was 17 and had a short life for the Lord, nevertheless they are both now in eternal life with the Lord. The eternal life with the Lord is a great blessing for both of them! When going through some books that my father had left, I found a quotation underlined by him from the book “My Daily Meditation” by John Henry Jowett. Jowett was a British preacher in the 19th and 20th centuries. On page 81 of that book he was commenting on Revelation 22:1- 6, here is the quotation that my dad underlined; in some of the last years of his life. “And yet I must die! Yes, but the old enemy shall be my friend. He will not be my master, but my servant. He shall just be the porter, to open the door into my Father’s house, into the home of unspeakable blessedness and glory. Death shall not hurt me. How I wish that Sunil had read these words.
Christians do not look forward to death, but look beyond death to life eternal in the presence of the Lord. The Christian’s death is compared to sleep, sleeping yet alive. The Lord has come to help us to die. There is sufficient help through the teachings in God’s word. The examples of the Lord, in his suffering death and resurrection are a big help. No one is more prepared to die than the ones who love him. Sunil’s last words were, “I love you, Jesus”. He told his mother a week before his death that he was not afraid to die, because he was going to Jesus. In spite of Chacko failure to prepare his son to die, the Lord had prepared him. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for he is with me. I have heard it said that, “God gives dying grace to the dying man”.
We are not alone in helping our loved ones to walk through that dark valley, but we have a role to play. It is not easy, but it is not impossible. Several said at the service for Sunil that it’s our wish, when it’s our time to go, we could go in the same spirit that Sunil did. On the front cover of the order of serviced were the words of our Lord Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they died liked everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this?” What a hope! And what a help!
Chacko was concerned for months how his wife and daughter take Sunil’s home going. He was relieved to hear his wife pray, “Thank you for giving Sunil to us. Thank you for taking care of him. Thank you so much for the love he has received from so many and we thank you lord that he is safe with you and that you have taken responsibility of him. I just want to thank you for today. In Jesus ‘name’ Amen.”She had found help to accept the Lord’s decision. Chacko daughter told him that “soon after Sunil had passed a way she looked down and saw his body and she felt someone saying, ‘Sunil is not there, he is alive’. The Lord has helped her too to accept the death of her brother; thank you Lord Jesus for helping us all to face death “Chacko”.
A CELEBRATION OF SUNIL
London, March 14th. The little church was packed to the doors, with many people standing: Next door neighbours, church friends, classmates and teachers, three nurses who had cared for him, Omers and former Omers; young and old, they came from nearby, from all over the United Kingdom and as far as Germany. They gathered to remember a 17 years old boy whose brief life had touched them all in a special way.
Sunil Thomas would have been surprise and pleased by the tributes. Younger students at the Langley Park School for Boys had asked their headmaster, if the flag could be flown at half mast that Friday and so it was. Sunil’s fellow sixth formers were not required to attend the service but they decided they wanted to be there. So did several of Sunil’s teachers, the head of the Board of Governors, the school’s Assistant headmaster and the headmaster himself, who asked if he could say a few words.
After reading a poem by Sunil that reflected the teenager’s great love of animals, he mentioned Sunil’s gift in the area of art, noting that his work was part of the travelling exhibition to other schools. “In his GCSE year, out of almost 200 students only one was awarded the highest prize; and that was Sunil. Life was never easy for Sunil. He was diagnosed with dyspraxia, aspergers syndrome, epilepsy and hodgkins disease. But he brought out the best in us all pupils and staff just by knowing him”. The headmaster ended by announcing that a new addition Langley Park School would soon accommodate autistic students. They had decided to name the new building in Sunil’s honour: “The Sunil Centre”.
Representatives of OM India and OM Ships also spoke of Sunil’s impact on his world, the love and laughter that he gave to so many, his commitment to Jesus, his refusal ever to complain. Pastor Gabriel Yee commented, “Sunil was taken when he was only 17. But many of us in our 50’s and even 60’s are still struggling to love the way Sunil loved”.
Vera Zabramski, OM team member and “buddy” of Sunil added, “By the world’s standards he was disadvantaged but that didn’t stop him from enjoying life and he had an unshakable faith.
OM’s International Coordinator and Associate Coordinator, Peter Maiden and George Verwer, also shared. “Sunil has been a part of God’s plan to help change me to be more like Jesus,” said George, with emotion. “It’s not how long you live, it’s the quality of your life that better”.
Radha’s brother, who spoke on behalf of the family and the men from the small church that Sunil so much loved refused to allow professional funeral staff strangers to shoulder his casket and took the responsibility themselves. A large number went on from the memorial to accompany Chacko, Radha and Sheela to the committal service, at nearby Beckenham Cemetry; then they returned to OM office to share further remembrances of Sunil and marvel at the samples of his artwork on display.
Sunil’s love of eagles was very evident in those paintings. The day before the Lord took him, he had fulfilled a 4 years cherished dream to see the Stellar Sea eagles in a distant birds of prey centre. As he sat watching them in his wheel-chair, perhaps these words came to him, the words sung today at the celebration of his young life:
Hold me close, let your love surround me! Bring, me near, draw me to your side and as I wait, I will rise up like the eagle and I will soar with you, your spirit leads me on, in the power of your love. You are free at last, Sunil. Soar on until we meet again!
You can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org