Monday, 29 December 2008

Positive Friends Thanksgiving time

Each year we spend some time thanking God for what He has done among our HIV positive friends. We do it near Christmas because it is near the end of the calendar year and allows us to look back – and also because of our joy in Emmanuel – God who is with us!

When we started our first time of thanksgiving in 2002 we met with 5 positive friends and their families who met with us at the Home of Faith Church in Subashnagar. A few months later we asked one of the children who had attended when they last ate an egg. They told us that it was at our Christmas meeting.

Amazingly, those children were with us this year. Their mother died in 2003, and they have now transitioned to their teenaged years being looked after by their grandparents.

We had over 200 of our friends, their family members and our JSK staff and volunteers together on the 17th of December. The event was kindly hosted by the Covenant Blessings Church. It was truly a time to thank God for the great things that He has done.
Fittingly, we started with some stirring worship. Bro. Trevor Ross took us into the throne room and was ably supported by Jairaj DeSouza on the drums. What a taste of heaven to see so many praising God!

Then there was talent to show. One of our SHGs acted out Abraham’s obedience to God in being willing to sacrifice of Isaac. We were reminded that at just the right time God provided a ram instead. At just the right time He has provided for each one of us in so many ways. At just the right time Jesus came into this world!

The children then shared their testimonies. Some gave a verse, others talked about what God had done for them and their parents. Varsha Mohite – our Child Care coordinator told all of us – that she has been blessed so many times by the prayers of the children. We saw the fruit of it in this time of thanksgiving.

The Jeevan Sahara Kendra staff put on an excellent drama – a ‘reality TV’ style expose of how two different families lived out the Christmas story (or did not). The ‘hidden cameras’ caught one family getting ready for the dance party – and another preparing to welcome a widow with HIV into their home. Lots of laughs – and the message hit home too!

We were blessed to have Bro. Oliver Ammana share the main message. It was simple and direct. We need to understand Jesus – but not just know about Him – but to experience Him, to think and dwell upon Him, to live Him out in our lives.

Oliver challenged young and old with a simple parable about a boy who bought an umbrella ('a magic water-protecting stick')- but found it to be of no use to him - until he learned how to use it correctly.

As we came to the time of testimonies, I had the privilege of looking out at the crowd and was so touched by what I saw. A sea of faces. Each person known at various levels. Each one touched by HIV in some way. Each one visited by our staff and church volunteers. Each prayed for by people near and far. So many of whom in which we see the amazing work of God having taken place.

The testimonies bore the theme of our meeting: Great is thy Faithfulness. We had Mrs. Laila, a lady who sells dry fish talk about how she had come to God in her time of need – and how He has never failed her. This year, after much prayer, her drunkard son has stopped drinking for which she praised God.

We had Mr. Shrishti, whose previous child had died just before it was to be born. This year he and his wife were bathed in prayer as the next child developed and was born. After birth the child did not cry – a deeply worrying sign. More prayers. The child started to breath normally. We were so glad to see the miracle child with us.

Then there was Mrs. Karla. A prostitute who has just come out of the trade she knew that she had HIV some years ago. But her brother told her that it was nothing to worry about. As she shared her story tears flowed freely. Sorrow at finding out that she had been lied to and that her body was now broken and worn out. Joy at knowing that people had cared for her enough to bring her out of the trade. There were many moist eyes as Sister Lata prayed for this dear sister of ours.

Of course, we cannot forget Mrs. Candy – multi-drug resistant TB patient. This year her son started school after being a vagabond. This year she was started on second-line TB treatment. Though her tale was long and rambling (we had to finally lovingly take the mike away!) the intent was clear – to give glory to God in her own way.

And so it went on – story after story – all telling of how good God has been to us all.
Though we wished we could just go on and on (a foretaste of heaven) we had to come to an end. We had a special thanks to all those who had come alongside JSK over the year and blessed people with HIV. As a special recognition, we gave a certificate of appreciation and a small gift for Mrs. Hoofriz Ross, who has so lovingly ministered to the children of people with HIV over the years – and whose presence has been such a blessing to us at JSK.

Then it was time for some snacks. The JSK staff and volunteers served the crowd and also gave a gift to each family. We were blessed this year to have the whole Thanksgiving time supported by gifts from local church members and a prayer partner from the gulf. What an encouragement to know that God’s people are there and want to keep blessing those with HIV.

And so we move into 2009 – thankful for what God has done – and hopeful for what He is going to do! Our meeting with our positive friends was a reminder – and a challenge as we know that God is going to continue to do His good work in the lives of our brothers and sisters.

Amma's cake

Since we talked about cake yesterday, I just couldn’t help putting this picture of Amma’s just-baked, still-warm pineapple upside down cake. I wish we could send the smell and texture over the internet too. Enjoy!

Sunday, 28 December 2008


The internet is a great source for recipes. Here is a good example. Both image and recipe shamelessly fleeced of different sites.

The cake came out great here in Tumgalam as we celebrate Sheba's elder sister Daisy's birthday today and younger sister Sarah's B-day yesterday! (don't worry - there was a gap of 3 years between the 2 births - but Amma did have 4 kids in 5 years!)

Here are the ingredients for the cake:

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk

And this is what to do:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x9 inch pan or line a muffin pan with paper liners.
2. In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth. Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan.
3. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven. For cupcakes, bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back to the touch.

Talking about our work

We were asked today by some of Amma and Appa’s fellow church members about our work with people with HIV. It seems odd to talk about what is often a very grim subject when we are in such a season of being pampered and fed – when all around us is the greenery of coastal Andhra Pradesh – when we are enjoying games with the kids and long conversations over tea and cake.

But talk we must. Here of all places. Andhra Pradesh leads the country in the largest number of estimated people with HIV. Our dear friend John Forbes tells us that the Nireekshana clinic’s Vishakapatnam branch has registered 1200 cases.

And so we do talk. We tell people about how lives are changed. We try and share the challenges faced by people when the get the disease and find out about it. I shared with the concerned family this evening that we are seeing people’s lives change – but that these changes do not mean that everything is smooth sailing for people with HIV. Each family has their own set of challenges - and once one set of pressing issues is dealt with (which itself is nothing short of miraculous for most) there are often other sets of problems cropping up like mountain ranges just as you get to the top of the first pass.

In everything, however, there is hope. Hope based squarely on the person of Jesus Christ. He who became flesh – and still is in human form – which he will be forever – knows what we are experiencing. He cares. He has compassion. He wants to be part and parcel of who we are. And he wants to change us. He will not always change the situations – but he will always change us – if we let him.

At the end of the day, we see that families who have embraced Jesus are so much better off than those who do not. HIV continues to spin out complex sets of issues in both groups – but those who follow the Lord have hope. Its as simple – and as complex – as that.

New family shot.

We take a lot of pictures – but rarely seem to be in one all at the same time. Well, thanks to Amma’s photo prowess, here is our nuclear family all in the same frame, taken outside Amma and Appa’s home in Tungalam, Andhra Pradesh.


Sea, sand, kids' legs without shoes on, squeals of delight. What more can you ask for? We are so grateful to God for his manifold goodness that we have experienced this year. Our ultra-short beach visit on the way back from the Zoo is just another example - so many blessings. Thanks!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Zoo story

We had a lovely time at the zoo today. The Indira Gandhi Zoological park which is nestled in between the steeply rolling hills just outside Vishakapatnam. A superb location – this zoo is an open park with largely open enclosures nestled in wonderful scenery. We arrived just as it opened and thoroughly enjoyed exploring the animals with hardly another soul in sight.

Enoch spent most of the day running. He was always ahead of us. Every animal was something new and amazing for him.

And yet the old questions keep coming up. Is it right for these beautiful animals to be in enclosed areas. Some of the cages were clearly not what the animals are meant for.

Sheba was most upset by the sight of two huge bison rutting around a bucket, trying to lick something in it. It just seemed so wrong for an animal of such power and majesty to be rummaging like a stray cat.

Then again, for me the sight of a magnificent white tiger walking across open ground was awe-inspiring. The sheer majesty of muscle and sinew took my breath away. I also came away a little better informed - the signboard told me that white tigers were not albinos (as I had supposed) but rather an expression of a recessive gene.

The sheer blue of a peacock at close quarters remains in my mind. But the black grating of the enclosure also does. The wrongness of having animals cooped up is mirrored by the wrongness of having these magnificent animals killed ‘out there’ because they and their habitat are in the way of the ever widening human footprint. Even as we look at these animals - and the efforts of the park authorities to make at least a semblance of their original habitats - we sense an unease - a knowledge that all is not right.

Perhaps knowing that things are not right is itself worthwhile. We know things are not as they should be - and that points us to an ache in our heart that tells us that we were actually meant to be in a garden - actually meant to be living in harmony with the animals instead of in fear of them (or them in fear of us). The Bible opens with Adam and Eve in the garden - from which they were expelled - and we still feel the homelessness they did. It ends in a city - but nothing like the crude piles of excrement we call cities today - the new Jerusalem is a city of light and life - where the lion and the lamb are together - and where a river flows and a tree provides healing for the nations. That's where our home-sick hearts are yearning for. And that's where the picture of nature - even when framed in the bars of a zoo - points us to.

More statues

I can't help but show you these beauties which adorn the RK Beach in Vishakapatnam.

Exhibit one is Mr. ? The name plate hasn't been chisled out yet - so he (or she) remains muffled in a sheet till a dignitary will come to unveil the statue.

Our second exhibit is a man heroically letting a dove fly. Alas there is a lady who is far larger than life behind him trying to get us to shop at the CMR Mall.


Most poignant of all is this statue of Subash Chandra Bose - revolutionary, founder of the Indian National Army, progressive to a fault. A man who even today arouses deep passion in West Bengal where to even publicly say that he is dead (he died in a mysterious plane crash in the last days of WWII) can lead some of his followers engage you in fisticuffs. Here at RK Beach the great man is totally dwarfed by a huge hoarding for Chevrolet - and his plaque looks miniscule compared to the name of a mobile phone provider which embraces him on both sides.

Strange how even the tallest look small when even larger idols are placed behind them.

Friday, 26 December 2008

The village through the eyes of our children.

Lankalakoderu is no ordinary place. Lankalakoderu is a totally ordinary place.

This sleepy village of 5000 odd people, nestled in the rice and coconut bearing bosom of the West Godavari district is not just a 20 minute autorickshaw ride away from the town of Palakollu. This is the ancestral village of Amma, Sheba’s mother.
Coming ‘home’ to this tiny hamlet (no more people than your average Thane slum settlement – but spread out over 10 times the area). Come walk the shady lanes with Asha and Enoch. Take a look at the place through their delighted eyes.
Here chickens live with David Thatha (Sheba’s uncle David). They all go up to sleep on a roost when it gets dark and the rooster has announced his intentions repeatedly.

Here eggs are laid - not bought from the egg-wallah. A warm one – straight from the nest early in the morning is held by Enoch – and soon becomes part of the omelet that the kids have for breakfast. Talk about fresh!

The village has small, shady neat paths that wind between the different homes. Over everything is the green roof of coconut leaves. This makes for a very cool and beautiful feeling all day. It also means that it gets dark quickly.

Most of the homes are small and neat. This is the house where Mummy’s cousin Agnes and her Mummy live. Agnes' Daddy died a few years ago and Agnes now works as a nurse in Vishakapatnam. She came home with us to see her Mummy and brother.

Agnes, her Mummy, Amma and Chunti took us around the village for a walk. Everywhere we went we saw new things. And people saw us too! Daddy was trying to take pictures with the camera. We felt a little like tourists – but it was so nice to be able to run and see the whole place.

Some houses are very nice and made of bricks and cement. Others were simple with mud walls and thatched roofs. Some had walls of brick with thatched roofs. Most of them were kept neat and clean with bright white designs on the road infront of their doorsteps and along side their walls. A few homes were not so neat and clean. David Thatha said that some people in the village have gone to far off countries to work. His own son Wesley is working in Dubai. They are in the process of building a pakka house too.

Wherever you go, there are animals. Especially the great majestic water buffaloes!

Lankalakoderu village has a water tank. Mummy’s great-grandfather – one of the first people in the village to become a Christian – gave his field so that a permanent pond could be made. This is the same pond which Mummy swam in as a girl.

It was fun to bring water to Agnes’ home in a small pot. We saw that our uncles and aunties in the village did that every day. Many times a day.

The village is where many of our relatives are. We did not know Telegu so we could not speak much with most of them – but some knew Hindi – and when Amma or Agnes was with us they would translate for us. It was amazing to meet so many relatives. Most of the people we met seemed to be related to us in some way.

Everything is used in the village. The droppings from cows and buffaloes are collected and stuck onto trees and walls to dry. They are then used for burning in cooking fires.
People also used cow dung to make their floors smooth and to put on the sides of their houses.

In the village, our relatives cook with gas and with fire stoves. Agnes’ Mummy made some special treats for us on our last night there.

The previous night we had a grand meal at David Thatha’s home.

Most people in the village bring water to their homes by carrying it in pots. Asha learned how to draw water from the small well near David Thatha’s home.

Enoch had a bath next to the well early the next morning. I think this was the first time for Enoch to wear a dhoti.

Daddy got calls from Thane on our mobile phone. There is now a mobile tower near by. He told people in Mumbai what we were seeing around us. We also saw pay phones outside some homes.
It was strange to be in homes with thatched roofs and see that families had more than 1 mobile phone!

It was so much fun to play games with our relatives. Here Enoch is playing ‘memory’ against the prodigious talent of Chandu and Lulla – his distant relatives!

We were very sad to leave this place and all our relatives – many whom we had met for the very first time.

We were also very very sleepy as you can see from our final group picture after prayers in David Thatha’s home on Christmas Eve.

Graven images

Besides the statues of the gods – there are plenty of statues of mortals to be seen.

Dr. B.R.Ambedkar has now become part of the pantheon. More people than you can shake a stick at have claimed him for their own. The latest entry into the Telegu world of politics is the film actor Chiranjeevi (him of the 20,000 odd fan clubs) and in his pantheon of heroes that he adorns the back drop of his Prajya Rajam (People’s Rule) party posters – Ambedkar takes pride of place. Interestingly enough, Mother Theresa shows up too.

So wherever you go, there is an Ambedkar statue to be found. A few posts ago we saw Ambedkar at Christmas. This is a more standard version. Note the amazingly pink skin he is painted with. Though he did prefer suits to Gandhi’s khadi, and did have a foreign wife, he certainly did not undergo the kind of treatment that our dear friend Michael Jackson did. It is interesting, though, to see the colour that he has been given. What does it tell us of the place that the “Englishman” still holds in our colour-conscious society.

Then there is Gandhi. We don’t see so much of him these days. For some reason, the Gandhi statue at Tungalam (the village Amma and Appa live in) is golden. The garland around him has withered away to a dark crust. Could it be from his birthday celebrations on Oct. 2nd? We hear very little about Gandhi these days. For all intents and purposes, nobody seems to take him seriously at all. I have yet to hear anything about him brought up in the context of the Mumbai terror attacks.

And then there are various local notables. This gentleman blowing what seems to be a shennai was seen in Palakollu near a prominent intersection. I don’t know Telegu – and he doesn’t seem to be NT Rama Rao. Any gentle reader with Telegu skills who can help me out?

More Ambedkar. This time a golden Ambedkar bust – with a Jagjivan Ram bust to go with it. Spotted at Tungalam. Maybe they like their statues in a golden hue here? This twosome was outside a small school which we pass when we take a short cut to Amma and Appa's home. I had to ask Appa who they were as I could not recognise these distinguished gentlemen. Maybe I need Ambedkar's blue suit after all to clue me in!

What is a Communist to do with all this false consciousness floating about? Well, we are not deep in Kerala, so no Karl Marx or Lenins around. But the humble flag post outside the local Marxist trade union deserves something substantial - hence this concrete reminder of the CITU - complete with local loafer smoking a bidi and Bible verses written on a wall nearby!

Finally, the whole pantheon. Obviously a staunchly Congress pantheon, with Indira Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru on the left, next a very muscley looking Gandhiji, and then various other leaders overlooking a main traffic circle in Palakollu town. Subash Chandra Bose makes a saluting appearance – and I think I recognize Andhra’s own prime minister PV Narasimiah Rao (3rd from left – holding what looks like a cane in his hand). Below these giants of yesteryear – are the film posters of the giants of today's Telegu heartland. There are a bewildering number of he-men and she-ladies (usually half the age of their male counter parts and always wearing far less clothing – the recession perhaps?) that make up Telegu cinema.