Saturday, 13 December 2014


Each year we give thanks.

For another year.

For another set of miracles (some seen and many unnoticed).

For being alive.

When we do this with people who are HIV positive it has a special spin to it.  A number of the folks who were here last year are no more.

Some have moved away.  Others have died.

But so many are still around.

And then some show up again.  Like young Samir (name changed) who had run away from an orphanage, and whose widowed mother had moved away with the man she was living with.  But just last week we got a call from Samir.  And here he was today.  All of 15.  'Grown up' almost feral.

But the bulk of folks who came tonight of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra annual Positive Friends Thanksgiving time - were folks who are moving deeper.  Deeper into stability.  Deeper into relationships.   Deeper into health.  Deeper into making sense of the challenges they face.

Not everyone has everything figured out.  But what a privilege to be along with the our friends for the journey.  And how humbling to see so many come tonight.

We prepared for weeks.  With over 100 volunteers of various kinds.  There was just so much to do.

Our staff and volunteers met for prayer and preparation for weeks before.   They invited families.  Planned the refreshments.  Ordered and purchased.  Gave generously. Made last minute orders when our cake-suppliers backed out at the last minute.  Made a large display out of over a hundred slips which our Positive Friends filled out - expressing their gratitude for what they have experienced in 2014.   Purchased gifts for each family.  Packed and wrapped.  Decorated the campus.  Registered and welcomed our guests.  Sang and did skits.  Served refreshmenst and gave gifts.  Spent time with families.  What a blessing to have folks from so many different churches all serving together.  A seamless stream of people helping out in so many ways.  Living answers to prayers.
And suddenly - today is the day.  After a thunderstorm woke me up at 2 AM - and caused a mild flutter of worry, we were off and running at 3 PM in the golden afternoon sun of a Mumbai 'winter'  (short sleeves of course).

Our dear friend Danny got us off to a great start and ably guided the programme through - a 3.5 hour programme that smoothly and beautifully unfolded as lives were shared - songs were sung with joy - and we enjoyed looking back with gratitude and ahead with anticipation.

What do you do when you are happy?

Why you sing of course!

And when you have Dr. Emmanuel Isukuru tickling the keys - well, then you sing all the more.  We were blessed to sing together - as one big family.  And to have folks from the Living Water Community Church and the UBM Thane Sunday School sing for us.  A poignant skit from the Thane Marthoma Church youth rounded off the first part of the programme - and that was after we heard the heart-warming story of Titing - a young Burmese theological student who is volunteering with us for a week.  She told of how she had stepped on a land-mine and lost her leg - but how later she found the joy of Jesus - and what a difference it is to her.  Despite the pain of her prosthesis, Titing keeps wanted to go out with our home-based care staff to meet our Positive Friends in their homes - and what a blessing to hear her share her story.

Further blessings in store...

Dr. Stephen Alfred teamed up with bro Devraj, his translator (always fun to hear a message twice when you know both languages) to let us rejoice in the wonderful news of God who has become one of us.  Has made himself knowable.  Has taken flesh.  Who cares.  Who cries with us.  Who comforts and changes us.  And who has triumphed over sickness and sin and death.

All through the evening we heard stories of people's lives being changed.  Shaped anew.  Blessed and touched by our dear Lord Jesus.

Some were able to stand up and say that they have been living with HIV for 15 years.  Others told about how they just found out they had the disease.  Some spoke eloquently. Others simply.  Some with tears.  All shared what God has done.  As the sky went dark around us, we came to the end of our time of thanksgiving.  Grateful.  Glad.

And so another amazing time had come to an end.  We had prepared 550 food packets.  All were gone at the end of the night. What a blessing to be alive.  And to be able to tell the tale.


Friday, 12 December 2014

A gift, a read, a treat

Each year for the past number of years we get Christmas gifts from the Applebys in Scotland.  Merryn and I were classmates many moons ago at Woodstock - and the whole Appleby clan - Merryn's husband Alistair and their lovely sons Sam and Luke stopped through Thane a few seasons ago.

The gifts are always a treat.  Arriving well before Christmas (you can tell Merryn grew up as a 'missionary kid' in a postally-structured era), the package will have Merryn's distinctive hand-writing on the cover.  Each year we get a cheery note on a colourful social-cause-supporting-card.

Previous gifts are still very much in circulation.  Excellent children's books (read by both generations of Eichers).  A CD of TS Elliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" (read by Sir John Gielgud!). The list goes on.

Sadly, we have not been sending stuff from Thane to Scotland.  And yet true friends don't give up. They keep giving!

And look what arrived this year.

It's a book.

Yes, a book.

But not any old book.

This is Merryn's first novel.

Oh frabjous day! Callooh callay!

I can peek through the hand made rice paper and know for sure that it is "A House Called Askival" - Merryn's debut novel which talks of Mussoorie, and missionaries, and empire, and lives lost and regained, and everything in between.

Merryn has been writing for years - publishing short stories and having radio readings and plays. Now she joins the big league with her agent getting her published with Freight Books.

Take a look at what people are saying about Askival by clicking: here

Expect my own take in a few weeks.

I can't wait.

And I still use the Landour Cookbook - almost every other week.

Talking in a local train

Two men got in a local train.  For Mumbai standards it was ‘empty’ – which means that people could actually sit down.  One sat opposite our friend Arbind.  The other sat next to Arbind.

And then they started talking.

“How that fellow died!” said the man in front of Arbind.

“Listen” chimed in the man beside him “he died of HIV!  His wife also had HIV.  They both had it.  Within one month of each other both were dead!”

“That fellow used to go to the bars and over there he had a girl.  He had a relationship with her and spread it to his family.”

“Looks like his kids will have it too.  They were with him the whole time – they also sleep in his bed”

After hearing this much of the conversation Arbind could not remain silent anymore. 

He chimed in: “Listen, HIV does not spread this way.   We do things that are not right – and then we find out that we are trapped. 

But kids don’t contact HIV that way.   A mother who is pregnant may pass it on to her unborn child.  That’s how some kids get HIV.  But even then, if the mother gets the treatment at the right time, her child will not be born with the disease.”

Both men were quiet and listening attentively as the local train continued to rumble ahead.

“People say that do whatever you want, just use a condom and you are safe.  That’s hardly the truth.  God has given each one of us a wife.  We must be faithful to her.  That’s what gives us security.”

Arbind then hugged the man next to him.

“Look – HIV does not spread this way” he said “It is not a disease that spreads by casual contact.  We can eat with a person with HIV, use their clothes, sleep in beds they have used, do all the daily acts of life without fear.  HIV will not infect us.”

“But if we step outside that patterns of healthy relationships that God has set for us” Arbind continued “then we are putting ourselves at risk.”

“God has given each one of us a wife – why not be faithful to her?”

“Look – all of us who are sitting in this train.  None of us is worthy to even sit here and be alive.  But God loves us and that is why He helps us.”

The men looked at Arbind.  One of them said: “Sir, where are you from?”

Arbind answered: “I am from Bihar.”

“Yes sir” said the man “that is what I thought, I am also from Bihar.”

“Look” said Arbind “if any of us has done something that puts us at risk for HIV – we need to get tested.  Go to an Integrated Testing and Counselling Centre for an HIV test to find out the truth.”

“If you find out that you or your loved one has the disease, then there is free medicine available which you can take and live a healthy life!”

“If you need any help for anything related with HIV, you can approach the Jeevan Sahara Kendra which is at the Old Lok Hospital building in Thane.  They will help you and your loved ones for sure!”

One of the men got up as his station had come and respectfully left.   A few stops later Arbind and the other man got up as they had reached the station they were travelling too.

Our words can bring death... or life.


Arbind serves in one of the Indian armed forces and has taken leave to come and spend time helping out with Jeevan Sahara for these past two weeks.  He is a blessing to us all – and speaks truth with love in various settings.  Yesterday he was travelling by train for some personal work when the above conversation took place. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A mother's love

Sheba came to the Jeevan Sahara Care Centre late in the night to do a night round with the man admitted there.

He was brought to us in a terrible condition.  Extensive tuberculosis damage to his lungs.  A long history of schizophrenia.  Semi-conscious.  All-round sick.

When Sheba entered his room this is what she saw:

The sick man's aged mother was lying in his bed.  Sleeping with him.  Her head close to his often coughing face. Her hand on his shoulder.

When Sheba asked her why she did that, her response was that her son was scared.

What love this mother has.

Undeserved and unreserved love.  Love in action.  Love in deed.

Love given to a son who has lived such a shambles of a life.  To whom life itself is an open question.

We are deeply privileged to be able to facilitate this man's recovery.  Our hope is that he will be healed in body, mind and spirit - and be able to thank his dear mother for the love she has poured into him.  And for him to be a blessing to others too.

In the mean time, he fights for life - and his mother loves him.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Proud Parent

The Positive Friends Family Bible Camp was coming to an end.  Our dear friends at the Thane Khrist Mandali had poured themselves out in so many ways to bless the 60 odd men, women and children who attended.  Each participant had enjoyed 2 full days of laughter and joy and songs and prayer and soul-stirring messages.  Now it was time to share what they had learned.

Before the final testimony time - the children (who had a special programme run for them) came forward to present a special song and some skits.

The mothers - many of them widows - were delighted.  And so was everyone else in the room.  And then we saw a beautiful sight. As the kids performed, the mothers pulled out their phones and were recording. Not one. Not two. But every mother who had a phone.  Their pride and joy in their dear children was so clear.

Do you know that God our good heavenly Father is delighted with you?  His eyes are roving over the land - and He sees everything we do.  How much joy He has when we live out our lives worthy of the great love He has poured out for us!  How much He longs to help us live a life that brings joy to His wonderful heart.

We used to sing a song in Sunday school... 'oh be careful little hands, what you do... there's a Father up above, and He's looking down in love, so be careful little hands what you do..."

As a kid I never really liked that song - because there was always a certain fear element in my heart. But as a parent, I can see the very clear moral failings in my children - and still not only love them, but deeply desire that they change.

Our Father's relationship to us is a million times more intense.  So deep is His love that He gave our beloved Lord Jesus.  And how much He yearns for us to experience the joy of being changed into His very nature.  He is the best 'proud parent' we can ever imagine - precisely because He is good well beyond the limits of our finite imaginations.

Thanks Daddy - for your love and delight in me.  And for your deep desire for me to be more and more like You.   

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Looking back, looking forward

We are working through a situation where a parent of a child on our school bus has accused the children in the bus of traumatising him.  That includes our kids.

First response?  No way.  Not our kids.

They got back in tears this afternoon when the parent got on the bus and shouted at them - telling them to get out and apologise and not listening to their version of the events.

But then my mind went back to when I was in 8th standard.

We had a boy who was a year below me.  We will call him Marcus.  His father was a scientist who lived in Thane.  Marcus commuted into Bombay everyday from Thane.  His father also helped teach us chemistry as the school did not have a full fledged chemistry teacher at that time.

One of my friends started drawing pictures of pigs.  And soon we were all doing it.  And then we linked Marcus and his father with our pictures.   As pigs.  He called him pig.  We called his father pig (never bold enough to his father's face of course - we were too cowardly for that).  And we just did not stop.  How long did it go on?  Why did I not stand up for Marcus?  How could I allow my conscience to be trampled so much?  How many excuses did I make for my behaviour?  And even now - don't I find myself slipping into an excuse mode?

Many years later I did get into email contact with Marcus and sent him an apology.  But how many of what should have been days of joy for Marcus did I rob because of my cowardice and active complicity in the teasing that went on?

The past is foreign country, they do things different there... 

One of the challenges in any life is what to do with the skeletons of the unruly and unpleasant that continue to jangle in our conscience. 

For me it starts with a full and complete confession to the one I have done most harm too - even more than Marcus - it is my loving Lord who has given me life and joy only for me to squash his gifts and follow my own twisted desires.    

I can't change the past - but I can help shape the present and future by being as honest as I can.  As I confront the sheer ugliness of what I did / am - I have a glimmer of hope because I believe that this is precisely why Jesus stepped out of eternity: because I am helpless to change and pay back for the sheer twistedness of my actions - something only He can do (for an interesting take on this - click here). Next to humbly ask God to change me - and completely trust that my Lord can reshape me into who He is.  And be willing to take whatever steps of obedience it takes to walk along this new path.

Deep breath.  Silent prayer.  Forwards.

Monday, 17 November 2014

50 years ago yesterday...

Yesterday 50 years ago a young German woman crossed the Pakistan-India border in a truck.  She was not alone.  Along with her were a small group of idealistic young people who had completed the 7197 km route from Zaventem in Belgium to the Wagah border. 

Christa Fischer came to India with the idea of spending 2 years in Bible school and using her holidays to go door-to-door with young Christian women from India to share her faith.

50 years later she is still very much in India.

One of her fellow travellers on that epic trip - made with trucks which had been purchased from scrap yards in Europe, and refurbished for the trip out East that these enthusiastic volunteers made - was a young man called Raymond Eicher.

He was an Indian citizen and at the Iran / Pakistan border the Pakistani authorities refused to issue him a transit visa.  And so the band had to leave him behind with US$ 10 in his pocket and plenty of time to pray.

Ray stayed at a local Gurudwara and prayed.  Two weeks later a local Indian business man had given him money for a flight ticket to Karachi and from there he was put on a ship to Bombay where he arrived just as the two trucks (including Christa Fischer) trundled into the city.   They picked Ray up and headed for Pune and then points South.

Three years later Mum and Dad got married!  It's a long, wonderful tale.  But just to say that yesterday we remembered Mum and Dad in church - thanking God for their life together and their lives of service to so many others over this century of shared service in our country.

On Saturday they had an open house up in Mussoorie - one where several of their friends came to share stories and laughter and tears of thanksgiving for the years that have gone by.

We wish we could have been with them.  And from far-away Thane we salute our wonderful parents and their lives of consistent and on-going love to others.

We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses...