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...








Sunday, 16 November 2014

Talking HIV with the potato man...

I was buying potatoes from the chap who has a vegetable cart across the street from where we live.

His cart is next to a bunch of others - the carts taking up the entire side of the street - a mobile row of fruits and veggies.

As I was choosing my spuds, an elderly man wearing a neck brace came up to me and asked me where I was from.  I told him from India - and we had the normal chat about who I am, where I am 'really' from, what my native place is etc.

I convinced this gentleman pretty quickly, and he proceded to tell me that he had spent most of his working life in Kenya, and had been to Europe, and had approached me because he wanted to help me, since he knew what it was like to be a foreigner.

In the course of the conversation, the potato man told this gent that I had been around for a decade or two - but then asked me the surprising question about whether I owned a restaurant.  Now I have not been asked that question before, and so quickly disabused him of the notion.

I am a social worker I told him and shared that my wife and I work for people who have HIV/AIDS.  

But there is no cure for the disease, my trusty potato seller told me. 

Aha, but there is treatment.  A life-long treatment that gives life to people with HIV, I replied.

The next veggie seller (he specialises in green leafy veggies like spinach and garnishing like cilantroe etc) then chimed in.  I know someone who has the sickness.  Can I bring him to you.

Of course, I said, bring him over to the old Lok Hospital building on Monday morning with all his papers etc.

We live in a age where most people know about HIV.  But so many still don't know that we have excellent treatments available.

We also live in an age where thankfully, shall we say miraculously, HIV has not spread as it was feared.

I remember reading a man who claimed that 2 lakh men were being infected every night by prostitutes in Mumbai.   Yes, there are anywhere between 1-2 lakh women who are selling sexual services every night in the greater Mumbai area.  Yes, they have between 2-4 clients a night.  But each contact - even with an HIV infected person has a less than 1 percent transmission rate.  Add some prophylactic and the rate dips further.

But most importantly, we have a low back-ground level at this point.  Yesterday our team conducted a testing camp with a local church.  96 people were counselled and received free HIV testing.   Not a single one tested HIV positive.  A number had had recent sexual exposures.   This is a total miracle.  And we have seen that for the last 3 months, our community HIV testing camps have found no positive person.

What a difference to Durban, S. Africa, where a dear friend of ours told us that they had hired 4 maids in 6 years.  Each maid had to be replaced... because she died of AIDS.

We are very, very grateful that we are not working with HIV prevalence levels like that.

But, for all the good cheer, we still have the disease.  The green-veggie seller, next to the potato man, knows someone who does not seem to be linked to HIV care yet.

The disease still does not speak its name.

We still have some distance to travel.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Mauerfall


Today is my dear mother's 77th birthday.

77 years ago she was born in Leipzig, Germany.  Two years later the gears of history shifted and collossal conflict that we know as the Second World War started.  Mum grew up in the war.  And after the dust had settled (literally - most of Leipzig had been efficiently bombed by Allied flying fortresses) Mum and her parents found themselves in the part of Germany occupied by the Soviet forces.

A grim charade then began as the dark cloud of the iron curtain fell over Europe.  This was the trully free part of the world - and the nasty capitalists in the west were really fascists in disguise.  The 'Germany Demcratic Republic' was formed in 1949.  My grandfather's coal business was taken over by the state.  But the could not take over his heart.  He worked his entire life as a good honest man, a lay preacher with the Free Methodist church, a lynch pin for the family as peace-maker and friend to many.  Mum went to school where they had to sing Marxist songs and were taught that scientific materialism would soon sweep away religion and all such redundant rubbish away into the dustbin of history.

There was a problem, however.  By the time most of the happy East Germans came of age, many of them realised that life was better in the other 'occupied zones' - and they left.  Thousands and thousands of them.  By 1961 3.5 million had left.  That means 20% of the population had gone.  The authorities obviously noticed that wave after wave of young people were going to 'visit their relatives' in the West - and not coming back.  The borders were gradually made tighter - but with a subway connecting East and West Berlin - the flow of refugees grew to a flood with most using Berlin as their gateway out of the Marxist Paradise.

My mother was one of these who went to 'visit her relatives.'  My grandparents considered leaving too - but prayed about it and sensed that God wanted them to stay.  And so stay they did.  But Mum - with a combination of bitterness and joy left.

Her generation was the last to leave.  On August 13 1961 the East German authorities plugged the last big hole - by building an Antifaschistischer Schutzwall (German is a great language - an Anti-fascist protection wall) unannounced, almost overnight.

Mum had left a few years earlier and was already in Spain - where the wall of her heart was broken and she gave up her bitterness and surrendered to the Lord Jesus.

We grew up with the wall here in India.  It loomed large as our grandparents in the far-away GDR were never able to come an visit us.  I only met my grandfather Fischer once - he died in 1975.

The thought that there was ever going to be anything other than the Cold War we grew up with - with its seemingly permanent division of the world between the West and the Soviets - was hard to imagine.  The Berlin Wall crystalized this contrast between systems.

When Ronald Reagan (not the most popular of chaps for many of us) stood up and said 'tear down this wall' it sounded like he was mouthing words from one of his cowboy flicks.

And then, miracle of miracles - 25 years ago on the 9th of November 1989 we hear that the East Germany government was allowing its citizens to 'go West' (thousands had already done that by driving through Chzeckoslovakia that summer) - and then saw the amazing scenes of people flooding over the wall, celebrating, sitting on top of it, hacking away at it with hammers...

Mauerfall.  The fall of the Wall had actually happened.

That was 25 years ago.  That was yesterday.

In 1990 - with German reunification having just taken place, Stefan and I spent a few weeks in the newly formed united Germany.  We visited our relatives in the former East Berlin and asked them if we could borrow a hammer and a chisel.  Then we went to the wall.  And hacked some pieces off it.


This weekends' retrospective look on those heady days a quarter of a century ago have brought a lump to my throat.  Change is possible.  What seems immovable can be moved.  We saw how much the prayers of the people - and the individual acts of bravery brought a demise to the whole apparently-immovable Soviet system.


Happy Birthday Mum!

In an age of Facebook I couldn't help by download photos my friend Binod Mahanty took yesterday evening.  To commorate 25 years of Mauerfall - a 'wall of lights' has been erected where the Berlin Wall used to stand.



May light shine into a lot of the walls that are still standing.  Especially the invisible walls that we carry around with us.

Time for more Mauerfall.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Camping

Diwali Holidays have come to mean camping for us.  Not camping out in the open, under the stars with a tent... that we usually do in Summer in Mussoorie.

Camping as in being part of the Church Family Camp.  In Khandala (7 out of the past 8 years at least!).

Well, this year it was 2 camps.  A youth camp and the church camp.  Same place.  2 days of 55 young folks.  Then the flood gates opened and the numbers swelled to 325.  Biggest camp ever.

2 weeks later, on a quiet Sunday afternoon, it's good to relect back on the camps.

As a family we have not only been attending the camps, but have at various levels been running them as well.  Last year I was one of the main speakers.  This year was no different.  "The Camp" looms in the horizon post July... and various levels of organising meetings take place over the weeks running up to it.  This year a number were around our dining room table.

Reflection No. 1:  It's amazing that the camps even happened.  Given so much that goes into putting them together.  Given so few who seemed to be willing to work.  Given our own overwhelming tiredness before we even got to the camp. 

But, once again we look back in wonder.  At how the few were able to do so much.  At how in our weakness we saw things come together.  At how the faithful inputs of simple people are enough - with God's grace present in abundance of course.


Reflection No. 2:   We crossed a bridge this year - there were clearly many more 'non-English speakers' than those who primarily speak in the Queen's tongue.  In past years some talked about 'the Hindi crowd' - well that crowd was clearly the majority this time.  And it is a good thing.  It means that we have people who are experiencing a walk with Christ in a fresh new way.  And people who are still very much in a seekers mode.   Some of the stories of folks who we met at the camp are amazing.  What God can do.  How much He is able to change lives - and how much more we all have to follow Him. 

There were some rough edges too.  A mobile went missing at the youth camp.  And some hot words followed as someone tried to look into other people's bags to see if it was there.  But then that is exactly what our camps are for.  We want people who are hungry for change.  And we know that in the mix will be a number of folks who are just there for a good time.  Or don't even know why they are there.  But am I ever grateful to be able to spend time with young people - and older ones too - some of whom this was the first real time out of the bleakness of their day to day lives.



Reflection No. 3:    Our young 'uns are spreading their wings.  Sheba and I made a pretty much last minute decision to both help out with the youth camp.  Enoch was below the 13 year cut-off and so happily spent 2 days with his friend Nathan before coming up to the main family camp with Agnes and the bulk of our folks.   Asha was off with her friends for most of the time.  We saw her occassionaly at meal times.  We got word from others that the younger Eichers participated well in the discussion times.  On Saturday evening - after 5 full days in give-it-all Sheba and I decided to head home a day early for a day of rest as Sheba was going to Tamil Nadu early next week.  Normally we would have rounded off Asha and Enoch and headed out.  This time?  They wanted to stay.  And stay they did.  We had a beautiful quiet Sunday with each other and the Lord - and were joined by Asha and Enoch when the campers arrived back that evening.


Reflection No. 4:  The camp theme - Shake and Shine - has struck home at many levels.  As followers of our Lord Jesus we all are commanded to be salt and light.  This is not an option, an extra curricular activity, a momentary whimsy.  It is part and parcel of being a disciple.  No taste?  Booted out.  No light?  Not like our Lord.  How much my everyday needs to be more and more of Jesus.  How much every minute counts.   One of our staff attended the camp with her parents.  Her father drives an autorickshaw.  Since the camp he has been talking with his clients.  Living light. 


Reflection No. 5:   It's all about Him.  At the end of the day - it's not me or my agenda that counts, but our experience of the living Lord Jesus.  Being at camp is an intense time of multiple responsibilities, multiple needs, multiple pressures and joys and demands all at the same time.  Sheba has folks descending on her will all kinds of ailments - the majority of which would have been dealt with at home but since there was a doctor around...  But the real reason we were at the camp was not to see ourselves served but to serve.  And to be a part of the Lord's big plan of reconciling all things to Himself.  An amazing thought.  Without Jesus all of the camp made no sense.  With Him, all the pieces start to fall into place.  Our jagged edges are still there.  Our faults are still pretty plain to see - but the work of healing and change and challenge are also going on.  And as we do so together, we fulfill our Lord's loving command to not give up meeting together.  So may my thoughts be focussed ever more sharply, and ever more lovingly our our dear Lord. 

Take me in, to the holy of holies
Take me in by the blood, of the Lamb
Take me in to the holy of holies
Take the coal, touch my lips, here I am...


pictures courtesy Renee Varghese

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Partition

I am reading "Freedom at Midnight" with Asha and Enoch. 

It is taking us a long time.  Mainly because we used to 'read during lunch' - and now school has reopened so we don't get as much reading time together.

But it is also taking a long time because of extraordinary complexities of partition. 

I grew up in an era were 'Indian' and 'Pakistani' were essentialised.  Pakistanis were the bad guys.  They tortured brave Indian soldiers by putting them on ice (a story I was told breathlessly by a friend when I was about 10 years old or so).

And yet reading through the book we see a different story.  Many different stories.  And the multiple possibilities that could have been.

We see the confluence of multiple peoples and the rapid end of empire - and the rise of the two (and then 3) nation-states.  We see the hodge-podge of princely states amidst the status quo of rule Britannia (and we are not talking about a biscuit company).  We see the aspirations of multiple peoples coalescing around the Indian National Congress Party, with only Jinnah's Muslim League able to provide a counter-weight with its demand for a separate land for Muslims.   We hear the myriad impressions of people involved in the handing over of power.  The authors have hunted down hundreds of players and we listen in on conversations, are guided through memories, feel the touch and smell the sweat... and blood.



The authors have obviously been utterly charmed by Lord Louis Mountbatten.  So much so that almost half of the book (so far) has been about him.  A rakish and by all means remarkable man.  And so were the key players who got the spoils - Nehru and Patel showing up on the Indian side.  Jinnah on the other (with one TB-infected year to live before he went the way of all flesh as Gov. General of Pakistan) side.  Gandhi at this point seemingly off in his own world.  Other voices heard mainly as participants in the grand sweep of handing over of power by the British and the horrific carnage that burst out upon the nation when the final contours of the new nation-states were announced.

What strikes me on reading this book again - some 30 odd years at least since I last read it - is just how little most care.  And at the same time how much the RSS has moved from being at what seems the periphery to being firmly in the limelight of the current political / cultural dispensation we have.

No one debates about Godse and co's assassination of Gandhi.  No one really talks about the horrors of those who were hounded out of their homes and slaughtered.  It's somewhere in the background - an itch which we subconsciously scratch whenever the next 'riots' take place 'between two communities' (our papers don't even use the words Hindu and Muslim).

So we plug on.  Reading about some of the forgotten stories of what happened almost 70 years ago. 

We talk about Radcliffe and his terrible task of drawing the boundaries that resulted in so many deaths.  We need to talk more.  Ask questions.  Look for answers.  Not just accept things as they are because that is how life is...

How many other untold stories are there - and who is writing the stories of today?  Of the choices and tragedies great and small.  Of the value and vice that we see swirling around us.  Of heroic decisions and sacrifices that only eternity will resound with - and also the basest and most sordid actions that we see happening with a thin veneer of aspiration draped over them.

And what does the weight of such history do to us as people?  Do we know that it is even there?   Does the shadow of the partition carnage still linger - or have we cleansed our mouths with the sweet lies of Bollywood - and washed all of that into the vague background of our lives?  In an age where swiping a mobile has enclosed most folks, are we even open to listening to what is real and true (no matter how grubby and tarnished that truth may seem)?

The next chapter we hope to start tomorrow is called "our people have gone mad..."