A Saint in Santhipuram
By: Cynthia Butler
We were in our dorm room at college when we got the phone call. The news from India was that Chicky had just died. People had come from all around to attend her funeral- even people who didn’t know her- because they heard that a saintly woman had passed away. Like the prophet Elijah, she had been given warning of her departure. She was about to be taken to Heaven, she told her family; so they all prepared for that day. It was a car-wreck, though (not Elijah’s chariot of fire) that ushered her into the next life. But just as the prophet centuries before, her destination was sure and her mission on earth was complete.
It was strange news to swallow. We had only just returned to The States. Chicky’s home had been our home. She had mothered many people in her lifetime, and for one summer we had been like her children, too. Everyone who loses a loved one ponders such things, but Chicky’s death was different. She could have died only months earlier due to cancer, but God had healed her miraculously. What an odd final chapter to a story that seemed to have already ended so well.
I remember sitting with Chicky at my parents’ dining room table as she prepared us for some of the things we would see when we entered her country. “What do you think happens when someone visits an idol and they pray for healing?” she asked us. “They are praying to a demon. Can a demon heal?” It was something that we had not encountered before, but the answer seemed obvious enough. An idol has no power to heal. And yet there were many who were being deceived by false gods. These idols were drawing crowds of people, some of whom were claiming to have been healed of one disease or another. “A demon cannot heal,” Chicky continued, “But a demon can give someone a disease in order to draw them into idol worship and then take it away once they begin to pray to the idol.”
We listened to her wisdom from across the table, and thought of what we would encounter across the globe. But it was at her family table in Andra Pradesh where we would dine with her once again after she herself had experienced healing; true healing from God’s hand.
The mayflowers were about to bloom when we arrived in Santhipuram; the winds were changing. Soon the monsoon season would descend on the countryside; but for now the sun was shining down on the dusty campus and the thick summer trees provided welcome shade. We settled into our simple apartment just beside the school dormitories and listened to the chatter of little voices as we unpacked our bags.
We had come to partner with Stuart and Chicky Taylor in their ministry for a month and a half. The Taylors were native to India and God had placed many children in their care; some in their household; some in their schools. Taylor High School, run by Stuart, was one of the best schools in Kupam and surrounding areas; so, although it was a Christian academy, people of all different religions sent their children there.
The school at Santhipuram, run by Chicky, was a Christian boarding school. For some of the children who had been orphaned, though, it was more like a home, and the Taylors were like parents to them. Eleven children also lived in the house with Stuart and Chicky. Although not biologically their own, these children, who had each been abandoned, became their family.
On this first night of many in Santhipuram, we walked to the Taylor house to gather with all the children and their parents for dinner. We took our place at the long wooden table. The plates were filled with a fresh variety of foods in front of each person, but not where Chicky sat. Instead she held a cup of milk and drank it contently as she watched the rest of us eat. Chicky had committed to a 40-day fast just as Jesus had undertaken. It was something she felt God had called her to do after learning about the cancerous growth that was in her body.
Most people seek medical answers when they have a disease, especially cancer, but as Chicky anticipated a trip to the hospital she sensed that God had a different plan. When she told her family that she was going to fast and avoid medical treatment they were afraid that she would die. They desperately tried to discourage her, but she was convinced that this was the right path. So, to the dismay of her loved ones, she followed through with her intentions and began to fast. The first week passed and then the second; God gave her strength despite her lack of food. But on the 18th day she felt so weak she wondered if she was about to die. Collapsing on her bed she prayed to the Lord, “I’m not ready to go yet.” Like a second wind, Chicky’s strength returned, and she rose up in thankfulness to get ready for the day. It was that morning in the shower when she saw the cancerous growth pass from her body.
Peace was written on her face as Chicky recalled her journey toward healing, and we listened intently. We had never experienced a miracle before. It seemed like such a rare blessing to talk with someone who had.
That night, lying on our straw mattress inside the mosquito net, our minds replayed Chicky’s story. The sun would set on Santhipuram 44 more times before our last night there. By then Chicky was not only someone we respected, but someone we loved- someone who had brought us breakfast in bed when we were sick, held our hand while we cried; someone whose gentleness made us feel at home although we were oceans away from our own family.
Boarding the plane to return to Texas, we wondered whether we would get to visit our friends in the future. Little did we know that we had shared some of Chicky’s last days on earth. Only months later, when we heard about her death, I cried, even though I hadn’t know when I would ever see her again. I wondered why God had cut her life off so soon after He had healed her. And here I sit over a decade later pondering the same thing. Why does God ever heal a person? What is the purpose of healing?
When we pray for a friend to be healed, we are often praying that he or she will survive their illness, but the purpose of healing is not to keep a person from dying. The Bible teaches that everyone “is destined to die once” (Heb. 9:27). Other times we pray for a person to be healed so that they will not have to suffer anymore. God is our deliverer and offers salvation not only from condemnation, but also from the evils of this world. Even suffering, though, is not purely an evil. It is said to produce perseverance which leads to character and hope. (Rom. 5:3).
So what is God’s reason for healing? I believe that it is for our good- to bless us; to give us relief and joy; to strengthen our faith. But more importantly healing is for God’s glory. And death can also glorify God. Jesus said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24) And the scripture teaches that the death of His saints is precious to the Lord (Psalm 116:15). For the believer, death is only a passage into everlasting life.
Last night I dreamed that I returned to Santhipuram. But it wasn’t the concrete walls and dirt paths I remembered. Instead, I saw opulent flowing fountains and tile mosaics. “Santhipuram”, meaning “a place of peace”, lived up to its name. But there is a place of deeper peace, and that’s where Chicky is now. Maybe that’s what I saw in my dream; a Heavenly “Santhipuram”- a place of eternal peace.