A story from Hilda’s past as told by her uncle Gnana Bhaktamitran (my father) on the occasion of her 75th birthday
This happened in the life of one of my sisters. We called her Retnakka. Her full name was Gunarathinam, which means ‘a gem in character.’ Since she was the third among the siblings, and I happened to be the ninth, she was to me a mother figure. I still vaguely remember her ‘oottifying’ curd rice to me. May be I was three years old then.
During the days leading up to her wedding, it is said that my father, so inexperienced in domestic management, bought a small bag of vegetables, stating that it was for the wedding feast. My mother, we were told, felt this experience to be so hilarious that she was not annoyed. Either after hearing this story or on his own, my mother’s brother, Felix mama in Madurai, sent a cart load of vegetables, rice bags, fruits, coconuts, and one goat for the special feast. Incidentally, the groom was the brother of Felix mama’s wife Arputham Athai. Naturally, Felix mama would have had a special concern for the marriage of his own brother-in-law on the one side, and his niece on the other. This incident used to be frequently talked about, in a lighter vein, i.e. the small bag of vegetables my poor father bought from the market vis-a-vis a cart load of food items. I still remember the food being unloaded in front of our house in Pudukotai.
The parting after the marriage, as expected, was very sad for us. The couple left for Paramakkudi, where Retnakka’s husband, Rajamanickam athan was employed. Since she had a special liking for me, she appealed to my parents to send me to their home during one of my school vacations. Both of them were very fond of me. Rajamanickam was fun- loving, gregarious, fond of travel, and loved going to the cinemas in the company of everyone in our family. It was my father who was responsible for setting him up in a job in the office of a Swedish missionary in Paramakudi. Prior to that, he may have held a secular job. He regarded my father, Rev Gnanamanickam, as his guide and mentor. At the time, Rajamanickam athan was not a religious person and no one minded, because his company was so much liked by all of us.
In order to come to the main point, I must switch over to another story in connection with our family. Through our father, we heard about an extraordinary event in church life, which was with reference to an English missionary, an Anglican Bishop by name Pekkenham Walsh. We were told that he resigned from his covetable position in order to serve God as an independent missionary. This was sensational news in Christian circles in South India. It was stated that he had experienced a special call from God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in South India in a very unconventional fashion. He was a rich man and channeled all his wealth into establishing an ashram in Coimbatore.
Twice a year, he left his ashram to visit various Protestant churches, giving special lectures on what it was to be a Christian. His talks were considered to be a great blessing by all the churches. When he visited the Lutheran church, my father was the translator. We enjoyed his messages, although I was too young to understand them in depth. Within a short time we heard that he had a special anointing for healing sick people. His ashram was found to be ever crowded with people either eager to listen to his messages or wanting him to pray over them to heal them of some sickness.
Be that as it may, picking up the story from where I left off, Retnakka and Rajamanickam athan were not blessed with children although three years had passed. This caused considerable concern not only for the couple but for all of us also. Two more years passed and our parents and elders were very sad and disappointed. Some at least in our family must have been praying. In the sixth year, news reached my ears that Retnakka was expecting a baby!
Hilda was born in August 1934. What a joy her birth was in family circles! She was their first child and the second grandchild for my parents. Because Retnakka was employed as a teacher, she needed someone at home to look after Hilda, their precious gift. At last, one of Rajamanickam athan’s sisters volunteered to help. But being young and inexperienced in child rearing, she could not do her job efficiently. We used to think that she was ill-treating Hilda, but now I can understand that it could never have been the case.
One morning, we received a letter that Hilda accidently got scalded all over her body with boiling water. My brother Anbannan (Dr.G.C. Anbunathan), who was in his second year M.B.B.S. rushed to Tirupattur, where they had moved from Paramakkudi. After examining her, he felt it necessary to bring her to our house for better treatment. She received excellent medical care and became a part of our family, like a twin to my younger sister Suguna. Hilda was a beautiful child who some said was the exact replica of Shirley Temple, while others thought she was exactly like Baby Saroja. For a year or two, Hilda’s parents were happy to see her growing happily in her grandparents’ house. But gradually their longing for her became too much. Her pretty face and stylish school uniform was not making things easier for them. My family was reluctant to give her up, but her parents were insistent. Then Hilda herself was asked to choose.
To their utter disappointment, Hilda cast her vote to stay with us. This created an awkward dilemma. My father felt that it was bad to force the child to leave the place of her liking. So helplessly, her parents returned to Tiruppatur. Before a year had passed, Rajamanickam athan could not put up with this nonsense anymore and Hilda had to leave our home. It was not easy for us to get over the sadness. Weeks became months, and months became years, we gradually became reconciled to the idea that Hilda belonged to her parents.
But one day, I found all the elders looking sad and whispering something. I looked around to see if anyone was missing. No, they were all there. Then the news trickled down to me. Hilda had an incurable illness. She had leukemia, cancer of the blood, and had barely four months to live. This was something that no one in our home could put up with, much less my father. It occurred to him to refer the case to Bishop Pekkenham Walsh, the man well-known at the time for praying for the sick. Because he was a good friend of my father, he replied immediately that he had noted Hilda’s name for prayer.
He also stipulated some conditions to be followed by those who loved Hilda.
1. Pray earnestly to God through the Lord Jesus for healing.
2. Be free from any besetting sin.
3. Forgive everyone with whom you have a grievance.
Word of this spread like wild fire to all kith and kin; my father had taken the initiative
This was the time Rajamanickam Athan believed that there was a God. He was in touch with some Evangelical churches abroad. When they noticed his interest in the gospel, they sent him some expensive Bibles. (He presented one of them to me, which I still have with me in Auckland!) In those months, family prayers became very regular and we all drew near to God. Two months later, a routine blood test created a big commotion in the laboratory. Doctors assembled to discuss the matter. All symptoms of the cancer had completely disappeared. I do not need to explain to you the sensation this caused in our home.
Hardly had a couple of months passed than the thought, initiated by Satan, passed our minds that perhaps there had been an error in the original laboratory analysis. (This kind of thinking reminds me of the well known liberal theologian Dr. William Barclay who explained away all things supernatural, including the miracles of our Lord during His years of ministry, saying that although the Lord Jesus Christ was the Son of God, He did not do anything supernatural; people mistook them for miracles. Barclay did not even believe in the virgin birth.) I do not remember if this spiritual sickness of ingratitude, ever took root in any in the family. But in course of time the intense gratitude to God for this miracle slowly but surely weakened. When I was spiritually regenerated, later in life, my gratitude for God’s mercies returned in strength.
It is a blessed thing when an event like this, whether experiencing it first hand or reading of it, is used of God to spur a spiritual awakening, or causes us to commit our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ who died to save His people from their sins.
A note about healing from God:
All healing, whether providential or miraculous comes from the Lord. While we believe that Hilda’s healing was a real miracle in every sense of the word, we know that miraculous healing of this nature is more the exception than the rule. But there is one miraculous healing that God freely gives to all those who come to Him with faith and repentance—healing from the uncurable sickness of sin.
But He was wounded for our transgressions;
He was crushed for our iniquities;
upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with His stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)