Saturday, 19 July 2014

A new home

Ruth playing with Asha and Enoch when she visited us with her new parents last month.  It was very special to see how these three bonded with each other so beautifully!
We recently talked to Amma and Appa - and heard that they had been visited by a very special family - Nagesh and Vasundhara and their new daughter Ruth!

It was wonderful to hear about how Ruth is so loved in her new home.  How she talks to her 'Daddy' and 'Mummy.'  How she sits next to her mummy when she is washing dishes and 'helps' out. When the clothes are dried Ruth pitches in too.  How at not even two years old she sat through the whole Sunday school session away from her mother.  How she prays fervently.  How when she laughs she also closes her eyes like her Mummy does.

The other day her Daddy was talking on the phone and left the home for his duty at the steel plant.  Seeing him leave that way, Ruth called out: 'Daddy pray!' - and so he came back in to pray with her.  Nagesh and Vasundara are so in love with their daughter - and so grateful to see who she has bonded with them.  We got an email this morning from Nagesh telling how much they see prayers being answered in their lives.

We are so glad to know that Ruth has a home.  Her Daddy is the youngest in his family - with 4 older sisters.  Each one calls daily to speak to little Ruth.  What a loving family this wonderful little girl has now!

Next month is Ruth's 2nd birthday - plans are already afoot for a celebration in Hyderabad.  Her first birthday was celebrated at Mukti Mission - and by God's grace her second will be celebrated with her parents and extended family.

Amma reported how she and Appa were charmed by the little one.   Ruth ran all around the home like a free spirit. When Amma was sweeping the house Ruth joined in too.   At one point during her visit she took one of Appa's books and went into a corner and sang lustily in Marathi.

There is a wonderful promise in scripture: God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68.8a).  We are so happy to see this lived out in front of our eyes for a very special little girl - and a very special set of parents!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Behind bars

Sheba went to jail today.

To the Thane jail.  The large hulking expanse of a fortress - designed to keep people in rather than repel invaders from outside.

She went along with folks from the Sahaara Charitable Society who have been working in the 4 jails that serve the 18 million people of Mumbai.

Till now Thane jail has only had male inmates.  But recently the authorities decided to open a women's section because a number of undertrials had cases in the Thane and Borivali courts - and the constant transportation from the other jails to the courts took so much time.

Sahaara has been working for years with inmates - meeting them and caring for them in various ways.  Sheba could see just how good a rapport that Ravi and Sanjeev and Kavita had with the prison authorities.   Amid all the guns and bars and doors - the three of them walked with full confidence.

Since the women have just shifted to this facility, the jail authorities asked Sahaara whether they could arrange for a Gynaecologist and a Paediatrician to help out.  A number of the women are mothers.  Jail rules allow them to have their children with them in their cells till the kids are 5 years old.  Then they need to be looked after by family members outside the jail.

So Sheba and Sandhya went to see what it was like.

Well, scary is on thing.  So many gates to go through.  Seeing men lined up and then hand-cuffed so that they can be taken out to the prison bus which will take them for their hearings.  Seeing so many guards - armed and otherwise.  A totally different world.

And so Sheba finally met the women.  There were about 40 of them.  Some had children.  They greeted Kavita with joy - since they had met her in their previous prisons - and were now meeting her for the first time here.

All the prisoners have an HIV test done on them.  Two of the women were positive.  One is a lady from Africa - whose CD4 level is still quite good.   The other lady has just found out about her status - and also has a month-old child.  The prison officer who was with Sheba and Kavita and Sandhya asked for advice on how to care for the child in order to minimise transmission.  They have started providing baby formula - but the mother is still breast-feeding.

Soon it was time to leave. 

Back out through the clanging gates.  And out of the prison itself.  Back to the clinic with a number of challenging cases who came today.

We have a big opportunity and a big decision to take.  Do we commit to visiting regularly?  There are at least 2 ladies with HIV.  Most of the other women will have various health needs.  All of them need a friend and a counsellor and someone to give them hope.

Kavita - a simple lady who turned down a government job in favour of serving with Sahaara Charitable Society with the jail ministry - had story after story about how they had seen prisoners changed.  About how God had brought hope and new life into hopeless situations.

So many open doors - even where there are bars keeping people in.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.   
- Hebrews 13.3 NIV

Still seeking a cure

Earlier this week we got the melancholy news that the HIV positive child from Mississippi who was thought 'functionally cured' of HIV because of agressive early treatment - has HIV in her again - two years after she had stopped her medications. 

So the number of people 'medically cured' of HIV goes down from two to one. 

The sole person world-wide that we have documented as being cured of HIV using medical treatment being 'the Berlin Patient' - an American man who was given a bone marrow transplant for an advanced leukemia (people living with HIV get other diseases too...) and who was able to stop medications because the donor had a known mutation which stops HIV from reproducing.

I was talking to a man day before yesterday.  38 years old.  Intelligent.  Kind.  A man who helps others as part of his calling.  A man who found out 10 days ago that he is HIV positive.  How did he get it?  We did not probe on this - but he did speak about being abused as a child. 

WHen I asked him what questions he had - he did not dwell on the issue of how he got the disease.  Maybe we will talk about that later.  The question he had was how long would he live.

My response was that I can't tell.  But that today that is good news rather than bad news.

Because of the medications - we now expect people on Anti-Retroviral Therapy to live past their national average lifespan.  Our ladies who are on ART have a body mass index signficantly higher than our national average (which is woefully thin).

What I told my new found friend was that if we find out that he needs to start the medications - that if he takes them regularly - he should be able to live a normal life-span.  This is wonderful news - the kind of stuff that we would only dream about 10 years ago.

God is answering our prayers - all around us are people who are able to live because of the pills.  And because they are taking them.

Sadly there are people who are not taking their meds.  People like Mr. and Mrs. Tamam whose family situation is so chaotic - and whose personal behaviour is so erratic that you want to just weep.   Despite countless times of counselling and a number of apparent steps forward, this family seems to be bent on self-destruction. 

And then there are others who are clinging to hopes of cures through other means.  Sheba talked yesterday to a couple who have tragically spent over 20,000 rupees on an 'ayurvedic' treatment from Kerala.  We are trying to get them to start free ART treatment - and the lady is saying that she doesn't have the money to take an auto-rickshaw here - but that her husband is being cured by this 90 day therapy. 

The man is thin and coughing.  Sheba told them that we would check for TB and if we find him to be suffering from TB, then we will have to start on both TB drugs and ART. 

The most notorious swindler - is a chap called T.J. Majeed - who the supreme court has banned from selling HIV medications (his website does not have anything about HIV right now - but plenty of hints that his 'medicines' will kill viruses...)  A man who it is said has built a house (and pretty big one at that) called 'Virus.'

And here we have sitting in our clinic a couple who have fallen for this man's lies.

It's just so sad that we are still fighting such unscrupulous touts.   And shows how far we still have to go - especially as people with HIV now have medications that world wide are cutting the death rates and allowing people to live.

People like my friend 'Eddie' who will be coming to meet me tomorrow.  A Bible school graduate (which he did after he found out he had HIV), Eddie is dropping in after his appointment at the government hospital to pick up this month's medication.

Five years ago Eddie was dying from TB of the heart.  We helped diagnose him and treat him and with prayers and meds he got better.   This handsome young man is the last person anyone would think is living with HIV - but he is alive thanks to the ART meds - and his prayers and willingness to stick to the meds religiously (literally!).

We are still seeking a cure - but till we get the gold standard - we have something really, really good that is helping so many of our dear friends with HIV!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Goodbye Lydia

One of the blessings of the last 12 years of our work with Jeevan Sahara Kendra is that we have some amazing people coming along to help out.  Lydia Ganta was one of them.

Lydia's parents are Christ-followers who lived in Papua New Guinea and in exotic Chennai - and Lydia attended boarding school at Hebron school before going to the UK to study nursing.  After her studies she got a job with the NHS.  At the same time, her friendship with her school mate Sam Ganta blossomed into marriage.

So Lydia put her NHS job on hold and came back out to India.  After many years in the Gulf, Sam made a foothold in Mumbai - and so after their marriage Sam and Lydia set up their first home in Vasai - a hefty 1 hour bus drive away from Thane.

Eight months ago Lydia joined JSK as a volunteer nurse.

For eight months she has come 4 days a week.  By bus. Arriving before the 9 AM prayer time we have.  Leaving at 6 for the long bus ride back.  Taking night duty when needed.

Eight months have passed in a flash.

Last week we said good-bye to Lydia and Sam.  Sam's visa is through and they are off the UK.

In the morning Lydia shared in our prayer time.

As a team we meet each morning from 9 - 9.30 to ground ourselves for the day by a short time of worship, followed by a time of sharing God's word and then prayer for our Positive Friends and for each other as we plunge into the day.

Being Lydia's last day it was appropriate that she shared.

Then at noon we gathered as a team for lunch and a send-off time.   Priorities (and Sam being still on the bus) demanded one thing.  Lunch first!

It's been a while since we had a proper JSK staff pot-luck.  Well there was no luck here - and lots of pots - of superb food.  This had nothing to do with chance - completely pre-ordained - even a cheese cake for crying out loud!

But more than food - this time was about thanking.  Thanking God for Lydia.  Thanking Lydia and Sam for their time with us.  Being glad to see one chapter of their lives over and a new one beginning.  Expressing our sadness at their going - and gladness at who they have been with us.

And so this chapter ends.

We will remember Lydia for her gentleness and grace.  Her willingness to serve.  Her hard work at learning Hindi - which she ended up speaking pretty decently.  Her never-complain-about-the-long-bus-ride-to-JSK attitude.

We wish we could have seen more of Sam - but that's the way the cookie crumbles.  We were blessed to have him along on the JSK staff retreat this year and he won everyone's heart with his fresh candour and love of life.

As our friends take wing on the 19th of this month and head over to 'Blighty'  we wish them all God's blessings and joy.

We would love to see you back Sam and Lydia! 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A rest day

With the kids getting the bus to Bombay Scottish at 6.50 AM each day - we parents have to get up by 5 AM latest.  Read Bible - make tea - get uniforms ironed and ready - pack tiffins - wake up kids - feed not-so-hungry mouths - fill water - tiffins into bags - are the shoes polished - pray - kids out the door - wait for bus - off they whoosh towards their 8.20 school start!

So the alternate Saturday when this doesn't happen - and we don't need to be at work at 8 AM is a sheer joy.

Today was such a day.  Only woke up when the lady who takes the garbage down rang the bell since our bag was not outside.

And so with sleeping kids well after 8 AM - there was the leisure of the morning cuppa while reading the Good Book.  And then a plan to make waffles bubbles up.

Idea was good - but sadly the iron decides to eat the waffles - two attempts and two scraping offs later... the waffles turn into pan-cakes!

In the mean-time Sheba gets a call from the centre.  A patient has come.  She says she hopes to be back in an hour.

She is back at 3 PM.  So much for a rest day.

A woman with a low haemoglobin came for admission.  We had given her a blood transfusion earlier and asked her to get a bone-marrow sample done at our parent hospital.  She was given an appointment but did not tell us about it. And didn't go for the appointment.

Instead - when she got ill again she admitted herself at a pokey hospital at a huge cost.  Amazingly, the church that Drs. Emmanuel and Mokshaa worship at meets in this building.  They somehow found out that she was there - and told her to come to JSK.

She shows up on Saturday morning - our off day - but Sheba's on-day.  Since everyday is her on day when it comes to sick people.

When she came back I was reading Freedom at Midnight to the kids.  We then switched with Sheba spending some time with Asha and Enoch's homework - and I went shopping for supper.

Mum's spagetti sauce recipe was put to good use by me since we had company tonight - our dear Agnes and Annie Haokip and our JSK intern Elizabeth.

The power went out during dinner, allowing us to bring out the candles!

As Eichers we can't have guests without at least a game.  So we dug out the pictionary and had a whirl.   Then Bible and prayers...

And then Sheba went out with the ladies - over to Jeevan Sahara to see the patients on her night call.

The kids and I got our costumes ready for tomorrow night's match.  We will be wearing Black, Red and Yellow - so you can be sure we are not supporting Argentina to get a 3rd star on their football jerseys!

Sheba came back at 10.30 PM.

Dishes done.  A load in the washing machine.  Hamsters fed.  Kids in bed.

A rest day ends.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Flying visit

We are a global family.  And even in India we all live in different places.  So our heart aches for each other.

So when we heard that Daisy and Ramesh were coming back to India for a month we were so glad.  Not happy for the reason that they came - Ramesh's mother is very ill and on dialisis now because of her failing kidney - but happy-hopeful-sure that we would see them all - especially our littlest cousin/nephew Shofar who none of us Thane Eichers have met yet.

And then came the news that Shofar was not well and that Ramesh's mother continued to be very sick.  And on top of it airfares within the country have returned to the land of the ridiculous. And so the hopes of meeting started to evaporate.

But meet we did.

This was the proverbial 'flying visit.'

The family touched down in Mumbai just before 9 PM on Thursday night.  We were still stuck in traffic on a soggy monsoonal evening.  But by the time we reached the airport it was our turn to wait as Daisy and Ramesh were waiting for a stroller that the airline had said they would get on arrival in Mumbai - but which had been sent off to the International airport.

The long-awaited family emerged from the Arrivals gate at 9.30 PM.   That gave us just over an hour.  A precious hour.  To be together.   The bitter-sweet experiences of transience.

We had earlier hoped to take them to our dear friends John and Nalini's home.  But the impending reporting time of 11 PM was now too close to us.

So we ducked into a temporary living room - local Starbucks cafe - which was blessedly empty.

And so sister caught up with sister.  And cousin met cousin.   Last time Frankie was the oldest cousin and an only child.  This time she still is the oldest one - and a very graceful loving one at that - but has been joined by young Shofar!

Enoch got some Auntie-time with Daisy Auntie!

He certainly has grown since the last time we met as families.

How do you cram catching up on years of separation into just a few minutes?

Well, you start with the basics.  How is school?  What are you studying now?  What is work like?  How are your parents.

It seems unreal to be with your loved ones - and knowing that in just a few minutes they will be whisked away.

But how much better to meet and talk and pray and enjoy each other - than not to do so at all!

And so fortified by coffee and cake and various sandwiches we plunged in and enjoyed each other.

For us Thane Eichers, seeing Shofar for the first time was such a treat!

This young man certainly charmed us.

We have not seen him as a baby - only got emailed pictures of his growing up so far - and now here he is - all of four years old.

Shofar is quite an active boy - but here we are meeting for the first time.  He is quiet and a bit withdrawn.

He looks at us carefully, sizing us up.  We also keep darting glances over to him.  Who does he resemble more?  We see sparks of Daisy in him.  We detect parts of Ramesh too.

We have a gift with us.

Shofar shyly takes it.  Being a boy it is opened pretty quickly.  And being a boy it is deployed almost immediately.

In the old days photo-albums would be carted along and opened up.

Today mobile phones do the trick.  I think we must be the last folks on the planet not to have smart phones - but that doesn't stop us from looking into the pictures on those of others!  And so we were taken to Pondicherry to see Ramesh's parents who had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary during Daisy and Ramesh's visit this time.

 And so as the minutes ticked away the conversation swirled.

And then the witching hour came.  It was time for Ramesh family to get into a taxi and head over to the International Airport.

Photo time.

A waiter was pressed into service to get all of us in the frame.

And then there were the two sets of cousins.  How much we wished Shofar and Enoch could have had more time together.  They were just starting to play catch in the Starbucks when we corralled them for this shot. 

And the very same held for Frankie and Asha.

How achingly sad to meet this amazing young woman - and just have the barest glimpse of her personality before we have to say the goodbyes.

Photos done we gathered around for prayer.

And then the short walk out to the taxi.

Enoch and Shofar maximized their time together.

Our joint families walked over to our latest parting of ways.

A last round of hugs.

A request for us to visit the US.

A last look at each other.

When will we meet next.

It's God-be-with-you then.


I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
                   - Tennyson (In Memoriam A.H.H.)

Tuesday, 8 July 2014


We have been running a hospital for the last 2 months now.  Yes. That is right.  A hospital.  A place where sick people are cared for 24 hours a day.  A place that does not shut down.  Ever.

Three years ago we shifted the Jeevan Sahara Kendra from our small clinic to a wonderful facility in the Lok Hospital building when our parent hospital shifted to the greenfield Bethany Hospital.  It took 2 years to refurbish the Lok Hospital building (big thanks to EMMS) and then another number of months to get the team together.

And now it is.

For the first few months of the year, we would admit a person.  And then look after them.  And then they would get better.  And the care centre would be empty again. 

10 new beds.  Gleaming floors.  No patients.

In early April we were joined by a wonderful doctor couple - Emmanuel and Mokshaa and a new nurse - and we thought that we would take off.

But we did not.  The same drip, dribble, drab of the odd person being cared for. And then being discharged.

Now, it must be said that those who were cared for during all this time have been deeply loved by our nurses and doctors.  Though the numbers were low, the care was not deficient by any way.  In fact, we are experiencing something that we have prayed about for a long time - that people get better.  That the Jeevan Sahara Kendra be a place of healing.  That just being admitted at our centre, and receiving love and prayer along with the appropriate medical care - our folks will improve.

We are seeing small signs that this has taken place.  Folks with long-term diahrrea which stops when they are here.  People who have not eaten properly for months, now digging into their food after a day or so of being looked after.

But the question has been, how long can we keep rooms empty?

And so we prayed.  Prayed for folks to come who need help.  Prayed for people who we know to need admission to soften their proud hearts and receive care.  Prayed that we would be bold and admit people who are hard to take care of.

Well, the prayers are being answered.

In May we admitted 9 people and had 48 bed-days of care  (up from 12 or so the previous number of months).

In June we admitted 12 people and our medical team gave 72 bed days of care.  Since may we have not had a single day with no patients.  And what patients.  The majority are suspected or confirmed TB sufferers - with two last month who had multi-drug resistant TB.

Tonight there are 4 people admitted and being cared for.  Sheba went at 9 PM to meet them for her night rounds.  One man had his diarrhea stop today.  A woman keeps vomitting, probably due to her body finding the ART medications hard to take.  Another woman has regained an appetite - but is full of complaints.  The other man - skin and bones and a deep alcoholic - is cheerful.  His fever is gone and he is eating well.  But the cough continues.  Each one is very precious.  Each one has a story and a future.  May we be able to keep caring and rebuilding these precious and complicated lives.

Sheba is the lynch-pin in all of this.  Her calm demeanour and compassionate heart, her medical skills and experience and desire for touching a person from within all work together to help our folks who are admitted take steps forward into wellness.  As her husband, I am in awe of this remarkable woman I have the privilege of having my life twined together with.

We are also so grateful for our nursing team.

Agnes has been our main stay.  Her devotion and hard, unthanked work, have made all the difference.  We are so grateful for her listening to God and serving here with us.

Yerusha has just joined.  Newly married to Daniel we are so glad she is on board.

Lydia, our German volunteer nurse, is doing her last week of care with us before she and her husband Sam move to the UK where she will continue her NHS job there.

Dipali and Sunita, our nurse aides, fill in the gaps. 

Do pray for each one of the JSK Care Centre Team.   Who would have ever thought we would be running a hospital - but here we are!