Thursday, 29 November 2007

Worth the wait

Two events just around the corner:

YAA Fest 07 kicks off in 48 hours from now - on World AIDS Day. An evening of music, drama, testimony, seminars modelled after a college festival. The challenge - for young people to lead the change and show that it is possible to experience relationships and life in a way that pleases God.

Mumbai AIDS Sunday follows on - churches across Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai will be lifting up their hearts in prayer for people with HIV as well as seeking the scriptures and listening to what God is telling them.

Its been a long slog getting ready for these events - and some of the slogging is still being done was we put finger to keyboard.

If you read this while the 48 hours are ticking down - do spare a prayer for us - if you read it afterwards - do say a prayer for thanks!

Worth the wait? We hope and pray!

Wednesday, 28 November 2007


One of the fun things about blogging is that people all around the world can read what you write.

How much they read is a different matter - but I do confess taking a peek each day at the little counter that we have on this site. We are edging towards 1000 visitors (many of them yours truly of course)...

The slightly bizarre bit starts now. This blogsite collects a medium amount of information from each visitor. The server you use, the location of that server (give or take a few hundred kilometers sometimes). In a separate place, I can plot the last 10 visitors on a world map etc.

The other weird bit is that sometimes I can tell what the referring site is. A number of times people have been linked to this blog by doing google searches. Today someone in Plano, Texas - using a JC Penny Company computer googled the term "A Century of Planting" - it lead them to a posting on this blog... Who that person is I have no idea - but I am sure there are programmes out there that actually track down to the level of email addresses etc.

Point is this. The old children's song is still true: "Oh be careful little eyes what you see... there's a Father up above, and He's looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see."

Down here below there are plenty of eyes that are very interested in what we see - and where we visit on the internet.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4.8

Happy Birthday

At our positive friends meeting today a good friend of ours told us all that he was grateful to see today. It is another birthday for him - and one that he did not think he would see - twice. The first time 11 years ago when he first was diagnosed with HIV - and sent back to India from the country he was working in. The second was when 2 years ago his haemoglobin level went down to 3.

He is very much alive today. And grateful.

Cherishing each God-given day.

Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


Al Gore once said: "Denial is not a river in Egypt"

The truth is that denial is a basic coping strategy that many - most? - of us use.

For a person with HIV this is all the more so.

We are dealing with a very sick man - who is in a very poor relationship with his wife.

He says that he got HIV while he was working in Africa. So far ok.

He says that he got it "through the air - because there is so much of it there."

His HIV negative wife is not buying that. He clings to the shreds of his own denial. The truth looms darker and he is alone.

Truth is a bitter pill at times. But very very very necessary.

Denial is deadly.

Monday, 26 November 2007


That eternal mystery - what takes place when our eyes are shut. How is it that we spend so much of our lives in suspended mode - and how does sleep refresh and rejuvenate?
I was a mild childhood insomniac (partly spurred on by listening to the Radio Australia in the dark using an ancient East German shortwave radio - at low volume of course).
One of the verses my mother used to comfort me was Psalm 127.2b: for he grants sleep to those he loves.
Today its my turn to comfort the little ones. What nightmares they have at this age - I don't understand - but I do remember that even in the remarkably sunny childhood that I was blessed with - a particular dream of when I was 5 years old.
I dreamt that a darkened figure was coming in through the door of the balcony and into our bedroom - and when I ran into the living room there was my brother Stefan and the lady who helped with cleaning the floors. Stefan was totally calm, sucking on a small piece of Lego.
Over 30 years later the nightmare remains fresh in my mind.
What I do know is that whatever the internal terrors we may be going through. Our Lord promises His presence to His children. When I pray with Asha and Enoch on one of their nightmares - I know I am not putting empty words into space - but am invoking the gentle but powerful lover of us all - and from whose love nothing can seperate us.
Time to put my words into action. Good night! Sweet dreams!


You just don't know who you will meet on the street.

Tomorrow morning school starts up again after the 3 week Diwali holidays for our wonderful two-some.

We had to buy some sports shorts for Asha - she is growing - and the local dealer had run out. Off the 4 Eichers went on our trusty (and slightly rusty) scooter - into the depths of Thane town.

After securing the needed shorts and some socks for our 2 - we were on the street in the bazaar looking at cheap knickers from a roadside vendor when who should come up to us but an elderly Muslim gentleman and his wife.

We have been looking after this dear man's HIV positive daugther on an occasional outpatient basis - she lives with her husband deep in Bombay-town. They were so happy to see us - but said that their son-in-law has been admitted again at hospital for high fever. The on-going tragedy of HIV.

Later, just as we were about to come home we saw a familiar face on the road. We stopped and back-tracked. It was Vicky - who had been admitted last week to the hospital because of dysentry (see: sick child). Vicky is a young man who has been helping one of the families we are in touch with - and especially little Hari - who continues to recover from pneumonia. It was good to see Vicky on his feet. He was with friends and they coming back from church - walking the 20 min walk to the bus-stop which will take them home. He said that the church had announced about the Youth Against AIDS festival next Saturday - and that he will be there.

Our lives are intertwined with others.

Sunday, 25 November 2007


Just realised something this evening at dinner - Asha is now the age when Dad read to us our first 'real' book.

We were on our first vacation as a family - to Chikaldara - housed in an old mission bungalow there - and every evening before sleep Dad would read from Black Beauty. I was swallowed up by the story (tears flowed freely) and started into the magical world of books.

Naturally our happy two-some love hearing stories.

We read from a book tonight - a fictional tale of a boy who lived around the time Jesus did. Tonight's chapter ended on this cliff-hanger: the boy and his friend see a stranger wearing a white robe in the middle of a crowd.

No prizes for guessing who that 'stranger' will turn out to be.

But how sad that the author has such a wierdly stereotypical picture of the European Jesus - with his spotless white robe. I wonder what washing-machine he had access too - or maybe it was a small miracle that he kept doing to keep his robes spotless?

The gospel writer Mark shows things so much clearer - and more challengingly.

Jesus goes in private to a high mountain and is totally transformed - he becomes light and is joined by the two iconic figures of Jewish history - Moses the lawgiver and saviour - and Elijah the prophet and reformer. But even more astounding than this - a voice from heaven declares that 'This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him"!

After this mind-boggling experience we get a ground eye view of how people reacted to him at the time. Coming back down from the mountain "as soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him." (Mark 9.15).

With so few words Mark paints such a rich picture. The crowd was overwhelmed with wonder and runs - to greet him. Such a strange word to use - totally against what I would write if I were writing instead of the dear lady who we read tonight. But here it is. The people greet our Lord.

Have you greeted him yet? He deserves to be.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Where are you brother Hussain?

This picture was taken from a kite. The photographer rigged up the camera onto a large kite and flew it so that he could get kite's eye view of our wide and varied land.

Islam is in the news - again. Yesterday because of the riots in Kolkota which seem to have started from the protests against the Bangladeshi writer Tasleema Nasreen - as well as moves to highlight the violence that Muslims have suffered at the hands of the Communist Party of India - Marxist cadres in the 'reclaiming' of Nandigram district in West Bengal.

At the same time we have an advertisment today's paper about a Discover Islam Conference and Peace Exhibition organised by a group that seeks to win the world for Islam - and sponsored by Peace TV - a global Islamic TV channel. The front man in the ad is Dr. Zakir Naik - a well-known Muslim apologist.

We are of course walking a fine balance. On one hand we have two failed states flanking India - the wounded wings of the Land of the Pure which was carved off from the rest of India at partition. On the other hand we are the second largest Muslim country in the world with the third largest to the north (China) and the fourth and fifth being just around us.

At the local level we continue to see more and more ghettos being formed. Post the 1993 riots the Mumbai scene led to shifts in local Muslims moving out of previously mixed areas into localities with high Muslim populations like Bhiwandi and Mumbra.

Our composite culture - much talked about by Amartya Sen and others - seems to be increasingly unravelling - if it ever really existed. The local religious right-wing brands every Muslim as a sympathiser with violence. The left does not know what to say - especially since it was clear that most of the people in Nandigram were Muslims and that there were clear orders to 'teach the locals a lesson' by the Party Command.

What does the kite's eye view tell us?

As we look at the beautiful domes of the Jama Masjid in Delhi we marvel at its beauty and the poetry in stone that the emporer Shah Jehan oversaw. We see very little of the daily life of our Muslim brothers and sisters as live in the varied dwellings that squeeze in around this largest of Indian mosques.

There is a lively debate going on between various apologists. For a number of years Jay Smith - a UK based American - has been vigorously talking. With the advent of youTube much of this has gone on the web. For an example, click: here and here and for a take on Islam in India: here. The beauty of YouTube is that you can also see responses, for example: here. There are multiple websites with various levels of apologetics (a google search will get you into a dizzying array).

What we don't see is a loving debate taking place at the local level. In our homes and with our neighbours. Part of it, I think, is fear.

We are afraid of the other. We are afraid to talk. Things have become so soured and so tight with the horrors of the Iraq war, the daily reports of horrific acts of suicidal terrorism, the many years of cyclic riots etc. here in our beloved country (when the press talks about tension between "two communities" you know that it has a Hindu-Muslim angle).

Lets come down from the kite's eye view - and lets honestly and lovingly share who we are with each other. We don't need to be afraid. But at the same time we are not helped by acting as if we do not have differences. True love casts out fear. We need to talk with each other - from the heart - with respect - but also knowing that it is false to act as if there are no differences.

Sadly I don't know of a single Muslim in my building of 7 stories and 4 flats per floor. If they are there, they don't stay for long. Hussain - our charming soft-ware engineer neighbour shortly after we first moved to 'Happy Valley' was only here for a few months. Where are you now brother Hussain? Where has the gentle young man from Ratlam gone?

Prayers for a sick boy

As we were writing about little Hari last night - a miracle happened.

We had not planned to admit Hari but he came to the centre in teh morning in a very sick state - drowsy - disoriented. We monitored him over the day and wanted to send him and his mother home in the evening since none of his relatives knew he had come to JSK for admission.

At 6 PM he had still not stabilised so Dr. Adam said he would be back at 8 to check in on him and discharge him if possible.

At 8.30 PM Hari was in a very serious condition. High fever of 104, rapid breathing, semi-comatose. The dreaded thought of whether Hari would survive the night....

Adam and Sandhiya and Hari's mother prayed. Hard.

At 9 PM Hari suddenly got up and wanted to walk out the door. Fever - down to 99 degrees. Sandhiya took Hari and his mother home at 10 PM.

A total miracle.
------- x --------- x ----------- x -----------
Please keep praying.
Hari is back at the centre today. We want to see this beautiful little boy healthy again. The road is long - but there is hope along the way.
God answers prayer.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Sick child

We have a brave boy who is sick and admitted at the JSK centre.

Little Hari has had HIV since he was a baby. Though he is now 12 years old, he looks a good two years younger. He had come on Monday with a cold, but it did not settle and now he has pneumonia and is quite weak.

Please pray for Hari. He is from the village with his mother. He had come to get TB treatment and was staying with his late father's brother. During the treatment they found out that Hari had HIV as well - which is how we got in contact.
"When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions." (W. Shakespear Hamlet Act IV scene V)
We asked Hari's mother to call Vicky, the church member who has been going out of his way to help Hari and his mother - and taking them to church as well as well. Turns out that Vicky is himself admitted at a hospital for dysentry.

We had hoped to discharge Hari well at 6 PM this evening. He is not better yet. As we go into the depth of the night we pray that angels will watch over this dear brave boy.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007


For many of us growing up Tintin and his friends were part of our lives.

Who can forget the sharply drawn characters and the basic goodness that shines through 'the boy reporter' (who never seems to be writing any stories of filing any reports - but that's a different matter).

For me the Blue Lotus remains my favorite tale - with its heroic look at individuals - and its realistic look at the challenges of Japanese nationalism in pre-WWII China.

Where are you today Tintin? Professor Calculus (see below) has been looking around for help, but doesn't seem to find it. All of last month we have seen a vicious civil war as the CPM local goons have battered slashed and burned their way back to power in Nandigram... Today the army was called out in Kolkotta because rioting broke out after a group of Muslims were protesting against Tasleema Nasreen... Recently a group of men broke into a prayer hall and beat up the pastor - and their henchmen video-taped the whole event - hoping probably to scare others with it (you can see the link: here)

God is looking for people to stand in the gap. He can use anyone who is willing.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair. - 2 Corinthians 4:7,8

Wednesday night prayer

We meet every Wednesday night for prayer. A small group of us. Tonight there were 2 - including your 'umble writer of this little screed.

The idea is to pray. For an hour. Less talk. More prayer.

No, its not lions that keep us few in number - unless you count the lions of busyness and the cheetah of tiredness, the ocelots of time-wasted-doing-other-things and an assorted menagerie of other issues that crowd into our lives.

We talked at the recent church family camp about being still and knowing that God is God. About having hungry, tender hearts which lead to satisfied hearts.

Our enemy mocks us. It all seems so futile at times. But God hears. He yearns to listen to His children talk to him. He delights in us pouring out what is inside in His presence. He wants to still us so that we can listen to Him too.

Keep prayin'...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Skin transformed into stem cells

This just in: Skin cells have been tweaked to behave like stem cells in the lab. (click here for the story from the BBC site)

Translation: Researchers have cajoled normal skin cells to behave as if they were in an embryonic stage - reproducing in such a way that they can produce any kind of tissue - rather than just more skin cells.

Further (and very crude) translation: If you want to grow some tissue in the lab - even an ear and other whole organs potentially - you do not have to 'harvest' the stem cells from human embryos which is what is being done currently.

I find myself increasingly distanced from my first love of biology. We were speaking around the table this evening, and Sheba and I went backwards year by year, telling one memorable event from each year of our schooling.

For me standard 8 in the Deutsche Schule Bombay was turned upside down by Mr. Heuser from Hoechst. A part-time teacher and full time researcher in their animal serum / vaccine programme, he threw out the biology text book we had, and started lecturing to us - college style - from his own notes. The mysteries of the cell opened up, and then even more excitingly - the amazing twists and turns of the DNA. All along the good Dr. Heuser challenged us to be sharp and to tell him what we knew.

Heady stuff. It took me deep into bio - which lasted all the way up the mountain of Mussoorie (hats of to PM Dass) and then over to the cornfields of Indiana (where I was subverted by the radical botanist/succession ecologist duo of Rothrock and Squiers) and finally over to the grimy brownstones of New Haven (where the biological ebbed into the social/ anthropological/ epidemiological).

Anyway, from a disgruntled distance the main driving force behind all the breathlessness around stem cells etc. seems to be the mighty buck.

The whole question of ethics is treated as a slightly embarrassing side-show. Since there now seems to be an opportunity to tweak cells into behaving like stem-cells without killing unborn and hardly formed humans - well, you can almost feel the sighs of relief emenating from various sources. "Whew - enough of those luddites"

Point is that we are still left with the multiple questions of what is actually going on. What are we moving towards in using these various genetic technologies.

Take a look at the following diagramme (harvested without permission from the BBC site):

Nice and simple isn't it?

The neat drawing. The classic petri dish. The helpful arrows. All tidied up. Exhibit B is just the same as A - but without the 'ethical' problem of being embryonic in origin. Hooray.


Where is the overall direction of each little lab going? What invisible guiding hand moves the broad contours of research? Governments don't seem to have much say. Peers? Patentability? Profits? Probably the latter two mostly.

And yet we still have so many totally solvable issues going on all around us.

Just the basic issue of toilets for example. We know what should be done. There are even programmes in the government etc. But still we put up with so much filth. And even in states where there are 'many toilets' - like in Kerala - most are poorly situated with no thought about the ground water etc.

Medically we know that intestinal parasites eat up about 1/3 of the food we eat as Indians. Think about that. Get rid of the bugs / worms inside and we raise real food production by 33%!

Socially, we know that alcohol abuse is a part and parcel of most of our societies. And yet we continue to tolerate our cricket stars and cine artistes promoting surrogate advertising for booze and cancer sticks.

The list goes on - and I will stop here.

So much can be done. And will be one day.

I want my beautiful biology back!

p.s. We are helping to organise a one-day conference for Christian Doctors called: Following the Master Physician's Heart: Excellence and Ethics in Medical Practice Today on Jan 26th 08. For more details click: here.

Finding a Foothold

Notes by Stefan on his new tryptich painting:

Somehow or other pigeons find a foothold in the city, on precarious ledges, hidden in nooks and crannies.
Like wise the poor.
And in the process they cling to their dignity in the most depraving of conditions.
We welcome the pigeons and even feed them.
Yet the poor we forcibly drive out from our cities.

Stefan Prakash Eicher

270/T-10 Masjid Moth,
Opp.Uday ParkDelhi 110 049
Mobile: 91-9810859579

"The poor do not want your bread, they want your love; the naked do not want your clothes, they want human dignity." Mother Theresa.

Break downs

Pic by Genzo Yamamoto - in Central India - late 2003

What do we do when things do not get better?

This is a central question for our friends with HIV. So many of our HIV positive friends come to us when they are already quite ill - when years of erosion of their immune system leaves them vulnerable to constant infection - and a seemingly ever-increasing set of illnesses.

We pray, of course.

We pray for healing and strength. But what happens when we don't see it. Or don't see it soon?

How to know when to take on the child-like, God-trusting 'you are going to get better' prayer - and when to pray the 'your will be done' prayer?

Mr. Babulnath has just not been getting better. Admission at JSK. TB medicines. Anti-retroviral drugs. He is TB sputum positive (meaning the previous course of TB drugs he took have not contained the TB and it is likely to be drug resistant). He continues to have a fever. He is depressed. The family has rallied bravely. A young feisty wife came from the village. She is mercifully HIV negative, but it is hard to look after a husband who continues to waste away. Their plump 9 year old son - and Mr. Babulnath's aging father fill in the rest of the family here. Another older son and his mother are in the village, far away in the north.

Mr. Babulnath may die soon. The drugs don't seem to be kicking in. He wants to see his mother and almost persuaded his family to take him (unreserved of course) on the long 2 day train journey to his village. Instead his mother is now coming here.

Where do we fit in the picture? We try to share hope. We try to do what is medically possible. We meet and pray and talk and listen. We serve as a conduit from a church where some of the members are collecting food from their table for Mr. Babulnath (and others like him - see A Handfull of Rice). We help by providing day-care and a midday meal for Nikhil at our Child Care Centre (see Kid's Stuff). We share about Mr. Babulnath to others to pray for him and his family.

In some ways the sum of what we are able to do seems so little and so sadly inadequate for the complex set of needs that Mr. Babulnath and his family are experiencing. But at least it is a little.

Pray for each one of our staff who regularly meet Mr. Babulnath and so many others like him. Rahul, Varsha, Shanti, Lata, Seema, Daniel, Sanjeev and others are key to seeing change and hope take place. But all of us end up drained by the experiences of break down.

Pray also for local churches and prayer groups to live out the love God gives them in practical ways.

What do we do when things don't seem to be getting better? For one thing we don't give up. We can't afford too. Eternity is too long.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Art with an urban soul

In the beginning was beauty. And truth. And a master artist.

In the meantime lots has happened.

Thank God - literally - for artists.

Art with an urban soul - that's what the Hindusthan Times calls the latest art camp that Stefan and his colleagues at Creative Conscience are part of. Read about it: here

Here is an excerpt:

Stephan Prakash Eicher, one of the artists from Creative Conscience, has done a painting called "Finding a Foothold", drawing a contrast between the pigeons and the mass of young rag pickers who are a common sight in all towns.

He says that pigeons come to cities in search of food and do get a foothold. Rag pickers too migrate to cities in search of food but find they are less privileged that the birds.

The ongoing art workshop, "Disparity - Exploring Urban Growth and Urban Poverty", in New Delhi has brought together artists from India and abroad together to use their paintbrushes to raise awareness about rising inequality in urban India.

"People of cities give food to pigeons, but they like to drive away rag pickers, who deserve respect as fellow human beings," Eicher told IANS.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Sad tales on a warm afternoon

Our Friday afternoon staff review meeting often ends up as a rather melancholy affair. And its also often fairly warm too.

We have about 180 positive friends in Thane who we meet regularly through the home-based care work of Jeevan Sahara.

On Friday afternoons we discuss some of cases. Usually the difficult and serious situations. Often our friends are in such a mess that there seems very little that can be done.

It doesn't make for a very happy talk.

Sometimes the stories are almost episodic - with each fortnight or so bringing about a new twist to the tale.

Today's twist was a revelation that about a man from the family in which we now have the largest number of positive friends: four members. Besides him, his wife and two of their 6 kids are infected with HIV. This man is known for his drinking and wasting money. His wife looks like a walking skeleton.

Today it turns out that besides the above, this man is also some kind of a thief - stealing materials from some of the building sites that keep sprouting up in Thane. He is said to get over Rs. 10,000 per month for this. But his wife remains starving.

The money dissappears with cards. When we went to give her the TB meds this morning at 10 am, she was still trying to make a simple breakfast. He was out of the house. Their late-teens son has taken after his father's shiftiness - and the father won't stand it and has asked his wife to throw out all the sons clothes and get rid of him.

Misery loves company. And brings more of the same.

A few stories like this and you feel crushed. What can be done. What should be done?

The scripture song goes: 'put on the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, lift up your hands to God..." So we did. We stood up. Praised. Prayed.

We serve a great God who wants His children to do acts of loving kindness - obeying Him and delighting in Him. We had earlier learned through some of the SALT training materials how "Kingdom Math" was different - God wants even the poor to be generous and to share - even the destitute to be kind to each other and love their neighbours - and that too not just in word, but in deed too!

I would like to be able to write the following: and then everthing worked out perfectly, and everyone was totally encouraged since all the possible problems were solved.

No. The challenges of this family continue. As do the many others who are living through the wide set of problems that people with HIV go through (which often mirror the challenges people without HIV may have). These are not going to go away immediately - but we do see some steps forward.

It may be just a small cloud, the size of a fist rising over the sea, but a new day is coming. Really.

These are the days of Elijah...

Friday, 16 November 2007


200 plus people. One holy book. Time to be 'Hungry and Thirsty for God'. Manna for the soul.

We were blessed over the Diwali weekend to escape from the city and to meet up with our various house-fellowships for a 'family camp' at Khandala.

The venue - a charming if slightly spartan boarding school - mercifully empty other than a series of rowdy simians as seen on the right.

I was totally exhausted the day before going. But we made it there. Our ragged edges showed on the first day or so. But God allowed us a time together and with His people which was very special.

"Be still and know that I am God." How many times I had read this with so little effect. Be still. Quieten down. Acknowledge who is who and what is what (in that order). Allow God to be God. Still. Quiet. In His presence.

Let your Glory fall.

---- ---- ---- ---- ----

At the same time we also realise how brittle and frail we all our. In stark contrast to the beauty of God and his amazing love for us - we see our own brokeness and short comings. There were a lot of hurting people there - and not everyone left made whole. The challenge for the local fellowship is to continue to heal our wounds and allow God to use each other to shape and mould us.

Camps are often mountain top experiences. And that is what they should be. Who wants to spend time having a horrible time - though that is of course possible too...

Back here in the valleys we look back on the days together with gratitude - and as a challenge to continue to love each other in word and in deed.

The big lie, however, is that this is somehow a more 'real world' than the one we experienced in the camp. Our challenge is to continue to live out His kingdom and to see that His will be done - on earth as it is in heaven.


One of the real pleasures of working at JSK has been working with interns from the Union Biblical Seminary in Pune. This year's crop is a fine one - Jacob Darlong (extreme left) and Pyn Shullai (second from right). Jacob is from Tripura (just left of Bangladesh) and Pyn from the state of Meghalaya (just above Bangladesh).

We are privileged to have TEARfund send us the interns for a 7 month period each year. They jump right into what we are doing at JSK - doing home visits, helping out in all manner of ways, sharing life with our staff, ministering to patients... We trust that they leave JSK changed people.

Our first two from 2005 were Bendang Jamir from Nagaland who is now working as a pastor in Patna, Bihar, and Jaiprakash Chauhan from Chhatisgarh who is now a pastor in Pune. Last year saw us host Arun Dimple from the Punjab and Ebenezer Dip from Orissa. Both are finishing off their studies at UBS. Arun and Ebi were the ones who got JSK focussed on young people. They helped us start the Youth Against AIDS Festival on the day after World AIDS day last year, which laid the foundation for the Youth Against AIDS clubs this year and the YAA Fest 07 which is 2 weeks away from us now.

How does the world of the seminary intersect with the gritty world of the street? We see the tremendous opportunities in Jacob and Pyn - as they have been living out their love and compassion. We trust that the experiences in serving with people with HIV in Thane will prepare our seminarians to be the kind of leaders Jesus wanted as shepherds for his flock - men of compassion and kindness, who are bold to do what is right and say the truth.

Jesus said: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4.18-19

As our seminarians head back to Pune in 2 weeks, we pray that they will leave with a piece of us in their hearts. We hope to see them again - and hear about all that God has done through them.

We have 2 more short weeks with Jacob and Pyn before head off home for Christmas - and then on to Seminary. We already find it hard to say goodbye...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

YAA Festival - Prayers needed!

Our countdown at the JSK office says 19 days - Dec. 1st is just around the corner. YAA Festival is almost here!

The stakes are high. We hope and prayer this Festival on World AIDS Day 2007 will be a real time of challenge and decision for young people - to really open up minds about what can be done and how it is possible to live a life of purity in a sex-satiated world.

Please pray that the right publicity will go to the right people and that we all the myriad things that need to be done between now and Dec. 1st will get done!

We have finally updated the Youth Against AIDS site - you can see it by clicking: here

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Ten Lions

What do you call the first 10 Sikhs on top of mount Everest? Ten-Singh!

That was one of the dreadful jokes that came out this morning as we had a visit by Tenzing - the cousin of our very dear friend Dr. Cherring from Sikkim (see: A hospital far, far away).

Tenzing has been travelling the country - for the past 9 months - on his trusty Enfield. After leaving his IAS posting in Kerala, he has hit the road in his Kerala-registered steed and is writing a book about journey.

The journey so far has taken him up and down our dear country - including a visit to his cousin Cherring at Nav Jivan Hospital - and this morning we were included in the itenary.

A brief breakfast - time for a few songs sung by Asha and Enoch - then over to the centre for morning prayers - a summary of our work on powerpoint - and then it was off for Tenzing. He mounted his iron horse, and rode it up the Godhbandar road towards the Mumbai-Gujarat highway towards Ahmedabad.

Riding sounds romantic. But 10-12 hours every day? Tenzing confessed that the first 2 weeks were excruciating for his posterior - but that things worked out better then. All the same - this is his last month - then off to Nepal for quiet and writing for the next 4.

Fare well traveller! May you have the strength and courage of 10 lions!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Spare a thought for Pakistan

Something dramatic is taking place in Pakistan.

No, I am not talking about the latest emergency / dictatorship / martial law.

That is old hat - or should it be old military topee?

What is different was pointed out in the Indian Express article 2 days ago.

Pakistani army forces on the Indo-Pak border are at an all time low. Not because peace has broken out - but because Pakistan is now fighting an all out war on its north western frontier. And inside its own territory.

There seems to be an all-out civil war in Swat - a beautiful mountainous region of Pakistan - where Taliban-like forces seem to have dug in. The difference between the Talibs and the locals seem to be virtually none at this point. The dogs of war have returned with a vengance. Years of rhetoric (and support) of jehadi activities in Afghanistan and Kashmir seems to be pushing a fragile state to its limits.

There is no joy in my writing these things. As we look across the border, it is with sadness that we see the inevitable taking place. The good book says that those who live by the sword will die by it.

Though we have our own insurgencies of various scales, India seems to be on the ascendant, while the rump state of what was to be the land of the pure looks increasingly precarious. A state cannot be based on a relgious identity - which is the raison d'etre of the birth of modern Pakistan (the two winged bird without a body is what Rushdie called it once). More so when the Bengali Muslims defected and formed their own country of Bangladesh.

Our prayers need to be directed to see that this radical shift towards a total breakup of our fragile neighbour will be averted. We need a solid, freedom-loving and open neighbour. We do not want one where the car bombs go off everyday. Someone has said that after Iraq the most people killed to terrorism are from India. I don't know the truth of it, but we see a vast belt of discontent of the most violent sort spreading out from Iraq and Afghanistan. Pray hard that this will be rolled back - and that our dear friends between here and Jerusalem will live in true Shalom.

100 Years

100 years is a long time.

In 1907 - Christian Eicher and others from the Christian and Missionary Alliance started a training institute to prepare Marathi-speaking village evangelists to reach out to their communities. The location was Bodwad, a small village out side of Bhusaval, Maharasthra - near the main railway line that runs between Mumbai and Kolkotta.

Today, the Maharashtra Bible College celebrates its centenary. Among those present is Christian's grandson Ray who will be sharing about God's faithfulness and his heart of love and compassion which seeks to reach out to this broken world.

This morning at Jeevan Sahara we were blessed with guests - the support group for Dr. Adam's from the Queen's Park Baptist Church. As we introduced ourselves and shared how God had brought us here, Lata Pote, one of the JSK staff shared her story. After making a decision to follow the Lord Jesus, Lata was sent to the Maharashtra Bible College for training.

Today she is ministering to people with HIV with a deep passion and joy.

For Christian Eicher's great-grandson - it was a great joy to know that the small institution he was instrumental in starting 100 years ago - still continues to bless many. Even people with HIV/AIDS in urban Thane.

100 years may not be so long a time after all.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

An urban hike

We started with a birthday party. We ended with a time of silence.
Today our young people celebrated the successful completion of their Youth Against AIDS Club (lead by Santhosh, Ryan and Joshua) - and the completion of the exams, with a picnic and hike.
A happy group of 17 trooped into the Borivali National Park - whose Manpada gate is a stone's throw away from our house - just after noon.
The generosity of sundry mothers was immediately experienced as we tore into a sumptious (and very carnivorous) lunch.
The setting was the beautiful little arbour next to the Nature Interpretation centre. We had it all to ourselves on a hot but lovely afternoon.
Yash and Shashank, the two members of the YAA club along with Joash (seen right) fit right into to the rest of the crew.
After rousing song for Sanjeev's birthday - a cake was cut and bubbly shared (the orange and black coloured stuff - peddled by the Pepsi co.).
Then some games and a time of praise and sharing. The sun filtered through the overhanging branches as we took stock of what God had done through the YAA club. It was exciting to hear the lads talk about how valuable it was for them to learn about relationship and sexuality and God's purposes for them. What made it even better was to hear the plans to further the clubs in different parts of the city next year. The training of trainers concept had hit home.

As the heat wound down a bit, it was time to head up.
We took to the trail walking through the drying grasses that the monsoon had left the hillside covered with.
Asha and Enoch did an excellent job on the trail. We passed the spot where we as a family had reached 3 years ago when Asha was 3 and Enoch was 1. It helps when little feet move on their own and we do not have to carry them the whole time!
After a stop or two for water along the way we were in sight of the ridge.
Finally we got to the top.
From the ridge Thane spread out in front of us.
The ribbon of water in the distance being the creek which empties into the sea.
The Happy Valley housing complex - where we Eichers live -can be seen in the middle of the picture.
A series of new sky-scraping residential houses continues to shape the city. All around them are the low-raising squalid slums that house all those who do not have the almost obscene amounts needed to live in 'standard housing.'
But from here it all looked tranquil.
And it was.
The sheer beauty of creation.
The wind blowing through the grasses.
The view of the other side - green hills.
A sunbird froliking in the sky.
God's good creation reminding us of His beauty.
We spent 15 mins in silence.
A short de-brief later: people shared how God had spoken to them.
We headed down refreshed.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Prayers of illiterate saints

WH Auden has a poem in which a line goes something like this:
...and maculate cities are spared by the prayers of illiterate saints.
I can't find the actual poem for love or money (I think it was called Plans for Departure) but that line has stayed with me.
This week we saw it in action.
We have a young lady called Neharika (name changed of course). She is HIV positive. Her man left her when she was very sick. Her aged, one-eyed mother looked after her as best she could. They are garbage pickers. Neharika had an infant daughter who was only drinking watered down milk months after she should have been eating solid foods. The little shrivelled girl was behind in all milestones. She mirrorred her little shrivelled mother Neharika who had been left to die.
But this is not about Neharika. Her story will have to wait another time.
This is about her mother. The simple, at times crude lady. Who loves her daughter Neharika so much. And who now loves the Lord Jesus.
Last week the mother called up. Thinking it was about Neharika being sick Sheba asked her what the mother wanted. The mother only asked about how we were doing. How is everyone at JSK? How are the children? Are we all fine.
Finally it came out. She had had a dream about Sheba the night before. She wanted to know if we were safe.
She prays for us all every day. Every single day we have the privilege of being prayed for by this illiterate saint.

30 Days till YAA Fest 07

The countdown continues.

We have 30 days left before the YAA Fest 07.

A lot has happened - we have a great theme: Lead the Change!

We have clarity on the main idea: to see young people take leadership in showing what it means to have a passion for purity - to live out their lives against so many of the flows around them - and to make a bold and confident stand for that which is good and right!

We have our main speaker - Indrajit Sunderam - poet, song-writer, pastoral care-giver, teacher, activist - a Bombay boy yet serving with an urban church in Delhi... a man passionate for living out Jesus in the here and now.

We have a band: CommonUnion

We have a great location: St. John the Baptist School - down in the heart of Thane.

We have lots and lots and lots of work to do!

Thanks for praying - all extra hands, feet, eyes, etc. very much appreciated - contact us immediately if you can help out in any way!