Saturday, 24 January 2015

Valmik Eicher

This morning we welcomed Valmik into our family!

For the last month and a half we have been praying for a home for this lovely 12 year old orphan boy.

Over the past week we took the step of faith - from our scripture readings over the past weeks we see over and over again that God cares for the fatherless and the orphans.  We have gradually, incrementally come to the conclusion that God is answering our prayers - and that He has chosen our family to be the answer to our desire for Valmik to have a home.

So Sheba and I have a new son - and Asha and Enoch a new brother.

What a blessing to have Oma and Opa with us at this amazing time.

By mid-week we made our decision - Saturday morning we will bring Valmik home.  

This morning Sheba went over to JSK at 9 AM - her usual time.  But she came home with a new son.  Valmik brought his tiger "Karan" along with him as well.

So this is what the Thane Eichers look like as of 24.1.2015

As soon as we welcomed Valmik into the home - he went with Enoch bhaiya to play.  Out came the duplos and the two builders got to work.

 Half an hour later - the house was brought out for our inspection.

Who would have imagined at the end of 2014 that we would start 2015 with a new son.  But here he is - a living miracle and a blessing to us already.

In the coming months we will be built up as a family.  Like the bright duplo bricks - we have different sizes and colours  and functions, but we are being built together by our Master-builder Jesus Himself into being a dwelling place for Him.

We solicit your prayers as we embark on this new chapter to the Eicher adventure.

The next few weeks will see us work through the paper work and rework our schedules to be able to look after Valmik.  We are going to be immersing ourselves in non-traditional education as we help Valmik read and write.  We are going to be exploring ourselves as we find out who we are in a new way.  It's a wonderful journey - and a terrifying one as well - but we know who holds our hand.
With Oma and Opa with us for another week - we have a beautiful opportunity to dedicate Valmik to the Lord tomorrow morning at the house church which meets in Jolly and Suma's home.  We wish all of you could be with us on this happy day - but know that many of you who read this will be rejoicing with us in spirit and that your prayers are going to be carrying us forward!

We look forward to all of you getting to know the newest Eicher a lot better over the coming weeks and months.  This morning Valmik has come home.  

Vizag Village Days - Post-cards from another land

We have been back in the big city of Thane for 3 weeks already - and were caught up in a swirl of activities with Stefan and family being with us the first week, getting ready for Mum and Dad's surprise thanksgiving time in the middle of the second and topping it off with a visit by 14 folks from the US who wanted to learn more about our centre and work on the weekend.
But before all of this, we had an amazing 2 weeks in Andhra Pradesh.

So let’s travel back in time - to mid December 2014.

We were exhausted.  So what's new

The ring of events we organised around World AIDS Day and Mumbai AIDS Sunday through Jeevan Sahara Kendra ended with the climax of a massive annual Thanksgiving Evening for our HIV Positive Friends were some 500 odd people living with HIV, their family members and kids, church volunteers and JSK staff got together to celebrate another year of God's favour on the 13th of December.   Four days later we were in Powai at night for Asha and Enoch's annual school concert - and then early the next morning we were on the train for Andhra Pradesh.  Absolutely exausted.  Ready for the bliss of being with Amma and Appa.

And bliss it was.

Our train deposited us on the other side of the country.  We were welcomed at Vishakapatnam station by Appa's big smile and got into the big autorickshaw that he had hired for us from Tungalam village where Amma and Appa stay on the Vizag-Gajuwaka road.  

As we passed out of the town we could still see the destruction that cyclone Hudhud had wreaked.  No large spreading trees remained.  None.  Every one of them was blown over, many already cut up into logs - but some still spreading their bare branches plainatively to the sky.  A few had fallen on huts. The walls had ruts where trees had fallen.  But all things considered there was less damage than we expected from a storm of such intensity.  Any building with a slanted roof had damage.  But the squat concrete blocks which is the general way of building ‘pukka dwellings’ in our dear Bharat.  This combined with the fervent prayers of many saints meant that mercifully few people died considering the massive numbers of people in the huge swath of area that the hurricane affected.

But what a joy to get to Amma and Appa’s home.  The sheer goodness of their solid love.  Delicious meals.  Long lazy conversations.  Books.  Badminton in the front yard.  More food.  Sleep.  More food.  The joy of not having to rush around.  The actual lovely smallness of this village.  Driving with the scooter over to Gajuaka.  Unwinding.

hot channa-wada and payasam! yum!
One of the great things about Amma and Appa's place is its sheer remoteness from anything that would grab the attention.  It is in a little village and there is really not much to 'do' other than just enjoy life as it slowly washes over you!  

 The village itself has been growing more prosperous as the years go by - with a number of plush 'Singapore houses' being built on remittance money from folks who have gone abroad.  But at its core it remains a village. Clusters of homes where folks live and talk and gossip and where various farm fowl wander about happily while the children go to their tuition classes.

Cups of tea were of course sprinkled through out the day. 

I think our family has been sponsoring at least 2 tea gardens and supporting all their workers through the amount of this stimulating beverage that we consume!

The one 'task' I had was to get cracking on Mum and Dad's memory book.  Imagine my surprise when I find out that Amma and Appa's computer is on the blink - and so they do not have an internet connection... So my visits to the local cybercafe begin!

And the editing starts and stops between games of badminton and general family hilarity.

It was humbling to see what different people wrote about their experiences with Mum and Dad over the years.  We finally finished it back here in Thane - and now have a book of 265 pages of memories and stories of God's faithfulness through Mum and Dad.  Do write to us at if you would like a copy and we will whiz it through the internet to you!

Sunday saw us attending the local Hebron fellowship in Gajuwaka. I was put on a double bill – preaching both the worship and the table message – with a competent translation into Telegu.  And a delicious meal of sambhar and chicken curry (!) afterwards.

It is fascinating to see how this church has grown - in numbers and in size and in structure - with a new building coming up after much prayer and giving.  But also touching to see some of the faithful folks who we have now been meeting for a number of years on our winter visits.   The church is so much more than bricks and mortar - the Bible tells us that we are 'living stones.'  With all our imperfections and abilities to irritate and get each other's goats - it is still the people who make up any local congregation - and it is our privilege to see people grow over the years.

Besides the pleasant rounds of food and reading and badminton at Amma and Appa's home, we also planned a two day outing to Amma's ancestral village.  We had never been to see Sheba’s aunt and cousins in the their remote village - and so chose the 24-25th of December for this.  We thus 'pre-poned' our family Christmas celebration for the Sunday evening - on the 21st of December. 

The festivities as a family this year included a detailed quiz...

A quiz you say?  Yes, and in excruciating detail too!

We had fun when it came time to share what we had written down.

It is so good to laugh.  (Memo to self: Laugh more, response from self: how?)

We also sang and thanked God for the miracle of His incarnation - which continues to today - though our Lord now has a resurrected and glorified body - but He remains amazingly 'flesh and blood' and will always be so since that remarkable event 2K years ago.

And then there was a treasure hunt which lead to the stash of gifts that we had got for each other.  Good times!

The next day dawned with the lovely normality of a Tungalam village day.  After a time of prayer and reading the Bible, Appa was out in front of the house with his beloved paper.

The minute examination of every scrap of information on a printed page that appears early in the morning is a habit (an urge, an addiction?) found almost exclusively in those of us in the family who carry an XY chromosomal pair.

Enoch has taken to the papers with gusto - especially pouring over the sports results and being able to confidently hold forth on the mysteries of the English Permier League football and other allied esoteric subjects.

On the Monday evening we had a very special outing.  

We were invited to the home of bro Nagesh and sister Vasundhara and their lovely daughter Ruth Netanya.  

Nagesh and Vasundhara had arranged for a special gospel meeting to take place in their home and wanted all their friends to come.  We were invited too.

A brother Stephen - from the Hebron fellowship in Vishakapatnam came and spoke.  Mercifully, he spoke in English and was translated into Telegu.  We have attended several meetings where the preaching is only in Telegu - with the rare word in English being thrown out with the (pretty vain) hope that we will get the gist of what is being said.  Not so this time - the speaker crisply and coherently shared the reason to be joyful and Christmas - and all year round.  And then we had another lovely meal.

I couldn't help taking a shot of the back of their synthesizer.

I didn't realise that there was a biblical foundation for using loud-speakers!

What would David have done if he had had access to the technology that is available today?  However he would have adapted his psalms to the instruments that we use today, there is one thing David certainly would not do.  He would never dilute the fervour in his soul, nor dim the longing for and delight in the Lord which comes out so strongly in so many of the songs David wrote.

Ruth?  Well, she is growing into a beautiful little girl.  And is being loved to bits by her wonderful adoptive parents and their whole extended family.

Needless to say she had us absolutely charmed.

We are just so happy that this beautiful girl has been given such lovely and wonderful parents. And vice versa!  What answers to prayers we experienced last year.  We went back to Amma and Appa's place that night with a song in our heart.  We had just seen a living breathing miracle - a wonder called Ruth who will continue to bring joy to so many hearts in the coming months and years...

And so after another day of rest (and me trying to get some more progress on 'the memory book') we were finally ready to go to the village.

Our first leg was by auto-rickshaw from Amma and Appa's home to Duvada railway station.  As the sun was coming up we could not help notice that the asbestos roof sheets of the platform were missing.  Another evidence of the fury of hurricane Hudhud. 

The 2 hour train journey to Samalkot was surprisingly crowded...  and the folks were surprisingly unhelpful in making place for our aged parents and our young ones.  To each his (or as it was overwhelmingly her) own I guess...

We were met at Samalkot station by Sheba's cousin Augustine.   He got the family into a big autorickshaw and then asked if I wanted to go with him on his motorbike.  Did I ever.  And then when we left the town, he asked me if I wanted to drive it.  Well, it has been sometime since I rode a bike - but my old Jharkhand days came back to me and I just couldn't say now.  So here I was driving in the middle of Andhra Pradesh and seeing scenery like this:

Drop-dead beautiful.

When we got to a point where we had to leave the main road, Augustine gently asked me if he could do the driving again.

I am glad he did - because we were soon engulfed in a sea of water buffalo - and the quality of the basically dirt road was Mars-mission-training grade.  It's always good to have locals take us through the by-ways which lurk just off the high-ways. 

Our first destination was the village of Ellapatty, where a new prayer hall was being dedicated. Nine months earlier, someone had burned down the previous prayer hall, which had a highly flammable thatched roof.  The new building was constructed in just 2 months - with various local Hebron fellowships chipping in with labour and money.  Augustine's mother had come regularly to help out - and Augustine who works as an electrician - had done much of the wiring.

It was humbling to see the simple, dear folks who came.  People who clearly love the Lord. Others who clearly are curious onlookers - and pretty much everyone in between. 

After the meeting - it was time to celebrate with a big communal meal.

One which had several sittings so that everyone would eat and be satisified.

Everything done by local people, using local resources.  Very humbling to see the zeal and love for the Lord Jesus that our Telegu brothers and sisters have.

We were then bundled into another autorickshaw and started our almost 1 hour trip to Amma's native village (it has an almost unpronouncable name - I will write it down and update this lapse of memory a.s.a.p.).

And so, as the dusk was beginning to take the first hues of night, we came to the home of Devenamma - Augustine's mother and widow of Isaac Uncle - who is the brother of Sheba's mother.  She lives there with Augustine and her daugther Anbo.  An elder daughter is married and in other place and an elder son died.  

The tragedies don't end there - her daughter Anbo was doing her nursing studies when she fell of the motorbike of a friend and dislocated her vertebrae - which meant she was bed ridden for 4 years and only by God's grace has she started to walk again.  Slowly, not sure of herself - but with much courage and God's grace.

We were deeply moved to see the simple and childlike faith that Auntie has.
 Village life certainly has its charms.  And this village was even more cut off from the world than Tungalam (where Amma and Appa stay outside Vizag).

Sheba tried to do some old fashioned grinding of spices and other veggies with the grinder and was reminded just how difficult it is do do so!

Auntie Devenamma also kept hens and chicks and so we had some fowls wandering around.

She makes idlis every morning and sells them to others in the village - but had told her regular customers that she would be having company (us) and so we did not get to see her idly production skills.

What we did get was food that had been bathed in love.  And the amazing story of how God has touched Aunties's life, after she had been rebelling against God while her husband was still alive (uncle died 8 years ago of a sudden heart attack).  She is now so full of the joy of Jesus!

Do you like to eat guavas?

We had our fill - on guavas - and also took a dozen odd home.   All this thanks to the tree (which is in their back yard) and the enthusiastic help that Augustine gave.

The final product was scrumptious!  Enough reason for us to go back to the village again?

On a more sobering note, we wished we had visited when Uncle Isaac was still alive.  It was so good to hear about him - and how he sacrificially gave for the church - the evidence of which is clear in two ways:

1) there is a simple but beautiful building here they meet on Sundays for worship.  Uncle gave the land - and gave his heart to bless others through this church.

Something like 40-50 folks meet each Sunday to worship in this structure.

2) There are people whose lives are changed.

As we went over to the church early in the morning, two little boys followed us in, listening to everything we said.  I took it that these were some random kids who had come to see what was happening.

Turns out they are very much part of the Sunday school and could even sing some songs in 'English.'

All too soon it was time to go.

We had just begun getting a glimpse of what life is like to be living in the village - when we needed to 'up stakes' and start the journey back to Vizag.

By God's grace, we were not using transportation methods like what we saw on the byways of Andhra Pradesh

We also are in an interesting era, where technology is making headway into a variety of fields - including priests who answer calls while riding a motorcycle (note the large - and probably illegal flex boards - Christmas meetings being advertised).

Time for one last bike ride.

Augustine and I went to Anaparti station to buy the tickets for the return journey.

 A last drive through the verdant green countryside. Feasting my eyes on acres of clorophyll.   In our urban jungle of Thane, it is hard to imagine a place like this - but God has made it and what a joy to be immersed in nature's beauty - even if only for a few minutes while riding a bike. 

Good byes are always hard to say - but we know that we are linked in prayer.

Our final leg was over to the Anaparti railway station to take us home to Duvada - the station closest to Amma and Appa's place.

The train this time was 'empty' - meaning, people are sitting in almost all the place but they were not crushing each other.

Sheba found a small friend too!

We were all so happy as we came to the door of Amma and Appa's home in the darkness of the night.

A wonderfully good mini-trip - and many prayers answered - and many challenging things to see happen as we pray with deeper understanding for our loved ones.

And so we came to the end of our time in Vizag.

Dreams come true.
They really do.
We have come back to tell this to you.

We miss Amma and Appa very much - and really wish and pray that we do not have to wait too long before we can meet them again and rejoice together.  In the meantime, these precious memories are still bright in our hearts.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Then and now - Fab 4

With the age of the digital camera - we have a plethora of images.  And a thousand ways to lose them too.   How many shots have perished due to hard disk crashes, or the mundane fact that we have forgotten them on some lonely disc somewhere?

Yesterday I came across a shot taken in May 2005.  It was of the fabulous 4 - Asha and Enoch with their super duper friends Nikita and Jasper.  The shot was - of all places - in the "JSK Positive Friends Confidential folder."  But there is was - the four wonderful friends who had already then become so close.  And it instantly reminded me of a shot from this weekend at Asha's B-day party.  

So here are the two shots together - with 4.5 years separating them:

The scary bit is how little Enoch seems to have changed - same haircut - same grimaces - down to wearing a yellow t-shirt (the same one now well bleached with age?).

When I went to retrieve the picture from the office computer today - I came across this portrait of Enoch and Nikita:

 - and was again reminded of a shot of the two of them that we took this Saturday near the oven while the pizza was being made.  Now we can see some differences:

What a huge privilege to have friends like Nikita and Jasper - who are literally growing up with you.   We are so grateful to John and Nalini Gabriel for sharing our lives over all these years - and for their lovely daughters who mean so much to our kids.

As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another is what we read in our Bible time tonight.  How sharp our fabulous 4 are after 13 years of friendship (with Enoch and Jasper's birth being well into our friendship as families).

Here is to many more years of friendship ahead!

B-day girl

Our darling turned 14 last week.

Has it really been 2 cycles of 7 years already since we saw her for the first time on a cold winter day in Jharkhand?

A full 14 years since Asha was carried by us for the first time as a independent small parcel of joy.

A full year of teenage-dom passed already - and well into her 8th standard in school, we stand in awe and delight when we consider the wonderful girl we are blessed with!

Naturally it's important to celebrate.

And so a day after her 16th Jan birthday anniversary, we celebrated with some of her friends.

Will you join us too?
As usual in the Eicher household, there were lots of last minute things to do.  Nothing is ever exactly where it should be - and fully on time.  But we had many hands at work!

It is especially nice to have Oma and Opa around.

Oma made the pizza sauce and got all the toppings ready.

We out-sourced Opa one of the tasks that he had done when I was a boy:  doing the icing for Asha's birthday cake!

 Which he did with his usual care and thoroughness.   This year we decided on a roller-coaster cake.

The challenge was keeping the upright portion from toppling over.  I made a cardboard brace as in the cake first started leaning to the right.

But by the time Opa was putting on the basic layer of icing, he had the opposite problem - the cake was now leaning to the other side.  Ever the engineer, he anchored it with an ingenious safety pin contraption.

And kept on icing.

 We chose the roller coaster because of Asha's love for adventure and thrills (something that we seem to be leaking these days - is this an effect of age?).

I remember a few years ago stopping by a small amusement fair in down town Thane as a family. Asha insisted on going up on a kind of whirling wheel where small buggies were swirled around a large spoke at high speed and 3 stories in the air.

I was the sacrificial lamb to go with her.  The contraption started out and I was horrified to see how close the jerry-built contraption was taking us to a large wall.   Asha, of course, was just chortling with joy at the whole thrill of the ride.  Needless to say, we did not repeat it - and many prayers for safety were positively answered having been fervently offered up by one parent being whirled around with Asha - and another parent watching from below!

As for this year - our thrills were virtual - and at a very small scale.  The final touches to the cake were added by me and voila!

The car at the top of the roller coaster has four folks riding in it.

Enoch and Asha take the front row.

And Oma an Opa the rear.

Now if this were only in real life, on some really vertigo inducing roller coaster - and not just a cake - we would have a very happy girl.

As it was - even at a small scale - we do have a happy girl.

This year has been one of adjustment.

A new school.  New curriculum.  New areas of being stretched - like having to take the school bus for 45 mins to an hour 15 mins each way, each day.

And finding that coming into a group of folks who have known each other for years as an 8th standard student is not easy (surprise: there are cliques!).

Some of these issues are still being worked out - but we are just thrilled to see what God is doing - and the immense further pontential that Asha has.  So we chose Eph. 2.10 for her verse this year.

And so we had games - sadly not the cerebral salad that we had hoped to toss together this time (maybe for Asha's 15th B-day party... if we start preparing now?) - but some rib-ticklers like trying to figure out words by having the letters written on the back (and having another team doing the same).

The lovely thing about laughter is just how infectious it can be.

Memo to self:  more laughter in 2015.

It is certainly good medicine!

Enoch and Harsh were paralysed with it in one of our games - allowing the other team to over take them twice because they just could not shake the giggles in their final lap of the relay.
Great minds at work - feverishly memorising the 49 different objects on display.

We have a bunch of bright kids around.  When the individual lists were pooled together, both teams almost managed to get all of 49 items by memory.

Perhaps the rigours of rote-learning and short term cramming are paying off - rewiring the brain into new shapes?

Memo to self: possible research project on learning styles

Time certainly flies when fun is in the skies - my list of games was not over as the darkness started to fall - and parents started circling ("no, please come up - we very much would like to have you" "we are in the vehicle and have a housing society meeting to attend...").

But some serious business was pending.  We gathered the troops and shared about what Asha meant to us and why we chose to remind ourselves that she - and each one of us - is 'God's masterpiece.'

Time to light the candles!  Gosh, 14 of them!  The numbers mean that some start making nice puddles of wax before everyone is lit....   But what a testimony of God's grace - a small light for each of the 14 years that we have had Asha with us.

 Asha took her big breath:

And huffed and puffed and blew them all out!


Nalini aunty prayed for Asha and blessed our darling girl.

And now for the next part of the party.

In a first for the Eichers, we had pizza to bake.  Thanks to our new oven that Oma and Opa blessed us with.

So each of the kids (and a few of the adults) got to 'decorate' their own pizza with toppings of their choice.
It seems a long way since my boyhood in Nana Chowk, but some things remain the same.

Hot pizza, made 'from scratch,' gladdens the soul - and belly - of many a boy and girl (and that includes bald 45-year-old-boys too).

The one thing missing is a raucous night-time chor-police game - but perhaps we live in a different age today. 

The ruffians that we were, we made our way through multiple compounds and over walls and past chowkidars in the pursuit of 'freeing' those in 'jail.'   I don't think that many 8th and 9th standard kids would do that today (but am very happy to be proved wrong!).

And so in went the beauties - and out came tasty treats!

12 pizzas.  All of 11 wolfed down on the night.

And 1 which remarkably made it through 48 hours before being demolished for breakfast by two hungry young people we know very well (esp. one whose name starts with E and ends with H).

Our using the new oven for baking still needs a bit of fine-tuning partly due to mysterious symbols which mean that we don't know what is 'bake' and what is 'toast' and an instruction book which is sparse on real instruction.

But as a pizza maker - big success!

As the conversation and laughter flowed around the rooms of our apartment - we had pizza after pizza popping up - and being claimed by their 'creators.'

Divya - one of Asha's friends from our building - decided to do her pizza toppings as a face.

Take that Pizza Hut!

Needless to say, it was promptly dispatched.

And so was the time - rapidly dispatched in the swirl of folks coming and going - of multiple conversations spanning rooms and worlds.

How wonderful to have a daughter - and to see the different folks that she brings together.  Friends who are here because of her.  And what a joy it has been to have John and Nalini Gabriel at each of the 14 birthday parties that Asha has had - stretching all the way back to the first party in 2002 when we had just found out that they lived nearby us in Borivali's IC Colony.

So sweet princess Asha...  here is to an amazing 15th year for you!

May this year really be a break-through one for you - where all the joy and delight of who you are spills out and overflows into the lives of others.

Where will you be next year?  Who knows... but our prayer is that you will have shared more of the joy of who you are, with more people and in more ways than we could imagine right now!

This past year was a big one - your baptism, your going to Odisha with Nikita, your shifting schools.

This coming year will I believe be even better.

Onwards and upwards!