Thursday, 31 January 2008

2 deaths and a new life

We found out today that two of our friends with HIV have died.

One man - who we will call Nathulal - had moved back to his village with his family as he felt he was not getting better here in Thane. His HIV positive wife remains in the village. We had tried to persuade Nathulal to stay on here but he was fixed on leaving. It was a miracle that he did not die in the train.

Another man - lets call him Tappan - died in a little hut. A long series of alcoholic relapses had interspersed his TB treatments. His wife had long since left - unable to bear the continual abuse she got from him. The day before he died one of our staff members - Rahul - had met him and again shared with him about Jesus. Which side of eternity Tappan is on is known only to our Lord.

We also found out that one of the many small miracles had taken place.

Bunty, the son of Mr and Mrs Washim (all names changed of course) was born 2 years ago to a broken family. Mr Washim was in the hospital with HIV. Mrs. Washim had just found out their infant daughter was HIV positive. There was so much despair.

But there was also prayer.

We prayed. The church prayed. Mr and Mrs Washim prayed. She took Zidovudine in her last month of pregnancy - and gave the drug to her infant child for his first month.

Bunty has been growing more and more beautiful. He weighs almost the same as his older by 3 year sister - who has HIV.

We found out today - that Bunty does not have HIV.

What an answer to prayer. It is like he has been given a new life!

We were dreading having to do the HIV test on Bunty - esp. as there was a small chance he would be postive despite the medication. We are so thrilled and really thank the Lord.

And so the 31st of January 2008 comes to an end. A month has already slipped by. People have slipped into eternity. The world continues to turn.

And so we are borne into the future. A chosen people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood - once we were not a people, now we are the people of God - being called out of darkness to show forth His glorious light

Gandhi's ashes

One of the better commentators we have is Pratap Bhanu Mehta. Today is the 60th anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's assassination. Here is how Mehta closes off his op-ed piece in the Indian Express:

But on the sixtieth anniversary of his assassination, it is difficult to shake off the feeling that he is revered more because of his absence than his presence. As with Munnabhai, his ghost occasionally haunts us, but the important thing is that it is only a ghost. His assassination allowed us to cope with him.
How jarringly true. The picture at the right is made up entirely of the word 'Ram' - the name Gandhi invoked even as he was dying. The picture comes from the US where a Californian Hinduistic commune has posted it as part of their inner healing. Despite the many 'Gandhis' that we see bandied about today - his essentially Hindu religiosity just cannot be extracted from him.

What struck me in Bhanu' s op-ed was realising actually how much Gandhi's death saved Gandhi from the ignomy of marginalisation (did anyone say 'Tony Blair'?). And how much our political climate today resembles the powerful Hindutva currents of the early 40s - which were subsumed by the embarrassed silence for a few decades as the 'Gandhi-killers' found the wind robbed from their sails.

On another tangent, here is what our dear friend Salman Rushdie said a few years ago in TIME:
Gandhi today is up for grabs. He has become abstract, ahistorical, postmodern, no longer a man in and of his time but a freeloading concept, a part of the available stock of cultural symbols, an image that can be borrowed, used, distorted, reinvented to fit many different purposes, and to the devil with historicity or truth.
In the end most of us really don't know what to do with Gandhiji - and so he gets invoked in every which way. In today's rememberences of him we have the irony of a solidier guarding his statue. And far more interest and column-space is given in the press to our robust cricketer Harbhajan Singh's slanging match with his Australian bete noire Andrew Symonds than in the shots that cut short the frail but intensely complex man that Gandhi was on a cold last day of January in 1948.

The best place for a troublesome person is to deify him. Our nation cares nothing about what Gandhi stood for. It should be pointed out that the complex tapestry of Gandhi's life doesn't provides much of a realistic - or even desirable way of life (there is only one person in history who can lay claim to have lived an exemplary life). But the irony is that our nation has disemboweled Gandhi and stuck him up like a trophy - with his saintly visage gracing many an official item - while we bask in the aura of Gandhism - without having to even act like anyone of us follows a whit of what he stood for.

The Performer

Sheba and I had a treat last night.

A complete one-girl performance of the class Christmas play - performed by Asha Esther Alice Eicher. All parts. Including stage directions. And dances.

Today is the programme - her standard 1 is show-casing different festivals - and her section has been chosen to do a Christmas festival programme - possibly because her teacher is a Christian.

Christmas on the 31st of Jan. In a Jain school. Wonders never cease.

What we do know is that we have a little live wire in Asha who just loves to perform.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

The Team

There was a time in my early teens when I used to love reading about the Second World War - especially about the daring deeds of spies and the resistance in Nazi-occupied France. An amazing book called A Man Called Intrepid tells of how the Allies worked to counter the Nazi spread through a variety of espionage and counter-intelligence methods including code-breaking and active planting of agents. The book also chronicles a generation of young people who were prepared to penetrate France by the Allied intelligence agencies - and how many of them died shortly after parachuting into enemy territory.

We are all looking for superheroes aren't we? Perfect people who can do anything. Looking back at those heroic days in the WWII, I now don't see so much the great break-throughs that thrilled me at the time - I am more taken by the many heroic failures - and the willingness people had to lay down their lives for the cause.

Take a look at the folks in the picture above. They are most of the JSK team (Dr. Adam was not in that morning) and represent our very modest set of folks who are shaking the world. For the most part we are all very ordinary, normal, mundane.

And yet.

If we need superheroes to run things - well - we won't get them. The brilliant, the erudite, the charismatic, the all-rounders - they all stand out precisely because they are so rare. What hope is there for change if we have to wait for the exceptional to show up to bring it about?

God's plan has from the beginning been to use the weak, the limited, the sin-stained-by-redeemed. We fit that mould very well. We are focussed (most of the time) on the task at hand (thank God), but my do we ever squabble and pout over the silliest of reasons...

And all through this, amazingly, God is somehow able to use us to make an impact the sufferings that people with HIV/AIDS are going through.

This is the hope that we also hold out to others. Its not that we are some special people who are doing this work. Hardly. Its more that we are flawed people who are grinding through - and if God can use us and our motley crew - well then He can jolly well use anyone. Any church. Any set of His people who listen to Him and seek to please His heart (even if not successful so many atime).
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. I Cor. 1:26-30

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

An unsettled neighbourhood

Our neighbours are sadly restive. As we look across South Asia - we see almost total chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan (the image above is of Pakistani policewomen taking a break from duty) with an on-going Talibanised civil war going on there. To the South we see Sri Lanka throwing away any pretence of peace as the goverment feel they have the Tamil Tigers on the run. To the East the quiet military take-over of Bangladesh. To the North we have the Maoist republic of Nepal and the quiet conflict of Tibet / China taking place.

Where does this leave the great expanse of India? Naipaul says we have a million mutinies now. To an extent that rings true. The on-going insurgencies in Kashmir and the North East fit the bill. On republic day an army officer was given a gallantry medal - the next day - while his family was still celebrating in their home village - came the news that he had been killed in a fire-fight with the ULFA in Assam. The low-level warfare that dots most of the Maoist infiltrated areas of central India bear this out. The lumpen-criminalisation of vast swathes of the Gangetic plains. The powerlessness of the government to bring people to task for the numerous gruesome 'riots' between 'different communities' (read: Hindu and Muslims). All point to a deep and lasting decay in the fabric of our land.

And yet, living in urban Thane, all of this can seem strangely far away. The daily comforts of life, the media barrage of filmi-flingers and flannelled-fools, the pleasures of a semi-broad-band internet connection - suddenly the other India and our restive neighbours seem to belong to a distant dreamland.

How do we make sense of the big picture while remaining true to the here and now? How do we be world-citizens while also nurturing our local heritatge and involvement?

Jesus had some interesting contrasts. He attended marriages and funerals (though the recorded ones seemed to end in un-funerals) - he ate at special meals and wandered dusty roads - and yet while his interactions were often intimate and restricted to a small number of key followers - his words reached out farther. He headed to Jerusalem and cried over it and its fate. He spoke to his disciples in the present, but always had an eye on the future.

Our hope and prayer is that Asha and Enoch will be able to see our restive neighbours and our often fevered land be changed into the peace and tranquility we are all praying for. May they learn how to be both passionatedly involved in the local and here-and-now, while at the same time thinking and praying big. And may they learn this from their own transformed parents!


We had the distinct privilege of hosting another of God's many living legends - Dr. M.C. Mathew.
The night he spent with us was suffused with a grace and calm that seeps out of the good doctor.
The next day at the EMFI Conference he spoke in his wonderfully measured and calming way - about life and its beauty.
The word that struck me was formation.
Before you were born I knew you - I formed you in your mother's womb.
God speaks of forming us - mirroring the initial work of God's hands in forming man out of dust - and breathing his spirit into them. Humanity became living beings - as we do in the secret places.
Formation also speaks of process - of development. We change in that mysterious apparently self-promoted manner - which observers have the arrogance of calling 'undirected'. How quickly we assume we know everything based on the ability to detect certain patterns. Just because I can describe 1 zygote become 2 cells, and then 4 etc. hardly qualifies me from feeling that I know it all.
Formation speaks of time and change - and growing into structures of meaning. How beautiful to think of our very being being formed. The image of the rough but purposive hands of the potter come to mind - shaping the spinning lump of clay into the swirling circle of a vessel-to-be. We think of the sculptor chipping away at the block to unlock the beauty she sees inside the rock.
Formation hints at the process of change that we go as we begin to understand God. Our spiritual formation sees a quickening by the Spirit as we start to taste truth and allow our lives to be shaped by Him.
Formation speaks of a Former.
Thank you Dr. Mathew for giving us a glimpse of the Lord.

Monday, 28 January 2008

Bring in the clown

I can't remember exactly the last time I went to a circus.

On Saturday we passed the big tent of the Kohinoor circus while on our way the to EMFI Christian Doctors conference -and I realised it would have been near the end of my first decade - and now here I am almost at finishing my fourth!

The big animal acts have been stopped in India. No more roaring (and usually fairly mangey) lions and tigers. No more gigantic elephants. In their place we have horses and dogs. And Russians. The last 2 decades have seen various circusses importing Russians to add special appeal - usually trapeze or ice-skaters - both allow for spectacle and skimpy costumes..

At the Eicher's home this morning, however, it was circus time again. Enoch was to go to his class as a clown. Later in the morning Sheba and Asha were able to visit the 'Jumbo Circus' that the teachers had organised in Enoch's class. A splendid time was had by all. Sheba along with the other parents were asked to do activities ranging from artistic (making a pin-point picture) to the aesthetic (twirling a hula hoop). She was given a star on her hand by Enoch's teacher - we won't reveal which activity deserved the prize!

There is of course the special poignancy of a clown. As I put on the war paint on Enoch this morning (enjoying myself thoroughly) I had to wonder about those who do this for a living. The many dwarf-people who find the circus as one of the only places where they are accepted and able to earn - and yet where they are the butt of people's laughter all day long.

"I am Peppy the Clown, I never see anyone frown" said Enoch today. How true is that in reality? The real ones will see at least one person frown - their reflection in the mirror at the beginning and end of their day.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Doctors' Meeting

Following the Master Physician's Heart: Excellence and Ethics in Medical Practice Today is a conference that we are helping to organise for the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India.
Its taking place now! On our nation's 58th Republic Day celebrations. We are blessed to have wonderful speakers in Dr. MC Matthew from CMC Vellore and Dr. Ashok Chacko who helps lead the EMFI as well as our own Dr. Stephen Alfred from the Lok Hospital / Bethany Trust.
There are so many things that we hope this conference will do - but to start with we have two thoughts:
1) Christian Doctors in the greater Mumbai area need to meet with each other and fellowship together. It is so important for doctors to be able to share about their experiences and situations with others - and in turn to be blessed and challenged and encouraged to know that they are not alone - and that others are also working through similar issues.
2) We all need to be challenged to live our lives in the light of the the LIGHT. We are so steeped in the ways of convenince (and worse) that we forget our true inheritance. The challenge of ethics in medicine starts at the most basic level - do we even make the smallest of efforts to be ethical in our work? As followers of Christ we have no choice - our Master took the lonely, difficult path time and time again - and expects no less from us. The twist is that when we do so - though others may mock - His joy is there with us.
Though we hope that the time will be a joyous one - and that all the participants will really have a wonderful time - we know that the issues at hand are deadly serious.
On the phone yesterday Sheba talked to our dear friend Dr. Cherring at Nav Jivan Hospital. Another case of a ruptured uterus was operated on at the hospital - something that in Mumbai is unheard of. It still occurs in so many parts of the rural hinterland!
At the same time today we had the shocking news that a little 12 year old girl died of TB. We had seen her 2 days previously when a local church member brought her and her grandmother and brother since she was quite sick. We sent a staff member today to take her to the govt. TB treatment centre - but she had died - and died of familial neglect. Even that morning - when she was deadly sick and her family put her in a rickshaw to take her to a govt. hospital - her mother said 'no, anyway she will die there, might as well be here at home.'
So as the doctors meet tomorrow (or actually today as we have crossed the 12 AM line) pray that God will speak - and that his children will listen - and obey - and follow the Master Physician's Heart.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

A jungle path prayer

Heard this morning:

Rahul, one of our JSK staff, was called last week by a partner organisation.

We had referred "Noreen" and her daughter "Ovi" to these dear folk for terminal care. They now called and said that they were not able to handle them - Noreen was too sick - and that we should take them back.

Rahul had picked up Noreen's husband 'Ram' from an AIDS hospice and went to the far-off rural site where the organisation was looking after Noreen.

As he went in to talk with the person in charge - the staff of the organisation already put Noreen into the auto-rickshaw. She had bad diarrhea and they told Rahul to take her and put her in a government hospital.

A phone call to us at the JSK centre - we said that we had sent her to the organisation for end-of-life care. To take her now to a hospital was pointless. We suggested that Rahul ask them to care for her some more in her last days.

Ram was crying.

Rahul just did not know what to do. The authorities were firm - you brought her to us - you take her away. Do whatever you have to do.

Rahul remembered Jesus. He told Ram to wait - and that something would work out. He then took a small walk along the jungle path next to the place. Noreen remained in the rickshaw. Rahul talked to God.

The idea came to try again at the hospice that Ram was staying at. They had previously looked after Noreen and discharged her because they could not cope with her psychiatric behaviour. We had previously enquired about whether they would be willing to take her back.

It seemed a long shot, but Rahul phoned up.

Yes. They were willing to take her back and care for her.

Out in the middle of now-where. With a woman suffering from uncontrollable diarrhea. With no apparent options in sight. God had opened a window of hope.

Rahul came back and told Ram that they were taking Noreen to where Ram had come from.

Portable Jesus?

Came across the title of a book today: "Jesus in a Nutshell".


Another attempt to down-size the Alpha and the Omega. To make him bite-sized. Palatable. Convenient.

The absurdity of even talking about the Great I AM in such a pitifully confined and limited way.

Reminds me of a saying:

"God is looking for spiritual fruit - not religious nuts"

Wednesday, 23 January 2008


Nano. One-billionth.

For a country of 1 billion-plus, this is a dream come true.

A car that costs just double a motor-cycle. Rs. 1 lakh (100,000). About US$ 2500. The cheapest car on the planet - and with Euro 3 emission norms.

We are about to see a revolution in manufacturing in India. Tata wants to build a million of these little things immediately. They will all be sold. All of them.

The amazing thing is how tenacious Ratan Tata has been about this project. He wanted his car to be made - and he wanted it to be a 4 door - real car.

So what if it has only one windshield wiper and no place for a radio. It is one of those break-through events that define what our industry can do.

How much can be done if we are passionate about it. Our greatest enemy is lethargy. The old-fashioned vice of sloth is not talked about much these days - in fact it is quietly lionised in the media-consuming mass that we have become.

More than the Ambanis and their fabulous wealth - I admire Mr Tata's drive and ability to translate what seemed total folly to many into reality.

A couple of generations ago, a humble German car changed the way the country worked. Take a look:
Will Nano do something similar in India? Lets see.


The power of prayer continues to astound.

We take is oh so for granted.

Last week our staff were with a lady whom we have known for years. We will call her Tanya.

Tanya is a widow. She came to us in a deeply depressed state near the beginning of the JSK work in Thane and we started her on anti-retroviral medications.

Though Tanya's physical health stabilised somewhat - we did not see much progress in her inner person over these years. She tolerated the home-visits by our staff - and after we were able to get her onto the free government ART treatment, she stopped coming to JSK totally.

On this day last week when our staff met Tanya she was most upset.

Tanya had sent her teenaged son to get her medications from the government - and he had taken the empty plastic pill bottle to exchange it for her monthly meds. The problem was that she had put about rupees 2000 in the bottle - without telling her son - and he had taken that empty bottle with him. She was sure that her money was going to be lost - and could not contact the boy as he had left and there was no way to contact him.

Our staff told Tanya that they would pray. God would give the money back.

When I heard our staff share this in our meeting the next day I was a bit angry inside. Why are we raising false hopes? Why be so categorical in stating that God would restore the money?

Today I take my place along with Didymus.

The staff visited Tanya yesterday and found her so happy! When the boy had given in the bottle for exchange, he had heard a sound of a coin. Curious to see what it was, he opened it up and found the money - and brought it back home.

In such barren soil (both in Mrs. Tanya's life - and in my own heart) God answers prayer. He is a good father who loves us very much. Lets talk to him.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

God's Faithfulness to His Faithful People

40 years is a life time.

40 years can be several life-times.

We had the wonderful privilege of celebrating 40 years of God's faithfulness to Ray and Christa Eicher - Mum and Dad to us - on the 20th of Jan 08.

On Dec 23rd 1967 Raymond E. Eicher and Christa Roesli Fischer became Ray and Christa Eicher. Married on our grandparents - Elmore and Alice's mission station at Bodwad, Maharasthra, Mum and Dad chose a life of mutual love and cherishing - from which we have reaped blessing upon blessing.

And not only our direct family.

Mum and Dad have had very big hearts over the years. Our family is spread all across the globe. Many have said that they do not remember a word of what Dad spoke during the conferences but they do remember him sitting and praying with them - they do remember the cup of coffee or fried egg that Mum made for them.

Growing up Eicher meant that we were rarely if ever 'alone' - our nuclear family around the dining table.

Far more often than not there was a guest - or two or three. At times we would walk out of our room and find hippies in the living room. Other times it was someone who just needed a bit of quiet and a book to read. Or to hear Mum play some songs on the piano.

One of the surprises we were able to pull of for our thanksgiving time with Mum and Dad on the 20th was to put together a retrospective of their lives - covering the 4 decades they have pilgrimmed together. We were deeply moved to be able to briefly cover their lives - and to see time and time again how good God has been. Through the tears and dissappointments - as well as through the times of great joy - God has never let Mum and Dad down. And has left a rich legacy of people who they have touched through their love and care.

It was great to have some of their old friends present - and to hear them share about what Mum and Dad have meant to them. Of course, a number were linked with OM and the pioneering work that Mum and Dad did through the mid 60s and onwards. What came out time and time again though was not the big scale actions - but even more so the love and respect that they had for people. It was humbling to realise just how many have been blessed through them.

Mum and Dad also shared what was on their hearts - their vision for each other and for seeing people released into the healing and joy that Jesus has for them.

The power of forgiveness is something that they both take pains to share - and to freely admit to having been blessed by themselves.

It is so very clear that these are normal saints - ordinary folks who have listened to what God has told them - and obeyed. Their own lives bear testimony to the transforming power of God - and the rich legacy of lives that have been deeply touched through the lives of Mum and Dad goes on and on.

We had the wonderful privilege of giving them a final surprise. Unknown to them, we had managed to get a copy of their master address list a week before. We stripped it of all the non-email bearing names, and sent out a letter to every email address we could find (over 1300 if I recall correctly) - asking them to send memories, photos, words of encouragement, bible verses, songs etc. to

The response was phenomenal.

We received almost 300 contributions by people all over the world - and from all eras of Mum and Dad's lives. Detailed write ups of early OM days were pasted into the memory book next to neighbours accounts from Mussoorie and along side Ellel colleagues best wishes. And so on - an amazing cloud of witnesses who wrote in and photos, poems, and memories galore.

Mum and Dad were deeply moved by the whole time and absolutely floored by the book. They were in a lovely state of shock the next day - repeating their gratitude over and over again for the love that people had expressed for them.

The good book says that anyone who loses his life for God's sake will receive 100 fold in this life and eternal life after death. We see this in Mum and Dad - they have thousands of homes all around the world, thousands of brothers and sisters in many lands - though both are single children. We are so proud of them and challenged to live a life of love and devotion to Jesus which we see so richly in them.

Thanks Mum and Dad. We want to be more like you - and allow Jesus to shine more clearly through us!

Perfect 7

A life is like a flower - unbloomed.

We really don't know how each person buds and blossoms - until we see it before our eyes.

Last week we celebrated 7 years since Asha was born. What a beautiful journey it has been. This evening we visited a dear elderly uncle in hospital - Asha was close to his head, stroking his hand lovingingly. The uncle noticed her deep love and was very touched.

On the 16th we had a real treat of a party - a fun group of girls (and 2 token boys - Enoch being 50% of that) - sprightly games - good food and a great cake - a word from the Lord through the story of the donkey who carried Jesus - and above all the real joy of celebrating with our darling Asha.
Having her beloved "Oma and Opa" there was an added treat. We are so blessed by grandparents (and so wish our parents were able to live with us the whole time instead of being so far away).
Asha had been thinking about this day for at least 2 months prior.
The countdown to Eicher birthdays seems to wind well into the previous year (shades of the US presidential election?).
But the wait is well worth it.
We prayed before this party - that God's peace and joy would be with us - and it was. It was lovely to have people from very differetn worlds meet up - our dear friends John and Nalini Gabriel from Borivali, talking to Thomas from Bhandup - Mum chatting with the mother of Vidisha - one of Asha's school friends - who is an customs officer - Dad talking to Naveen our businessman neighbour...
We are thrilled to see Asha blooming into a person worthy of her hope-bearing name. She is a very special girl and we are so privileged to be her parents and experience life with her.
Bloom well daughter - the world is an often ugly place (for now at least) - and we need all the hope of Jesus that we can get.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Slumming it

I got up in the dark. The electricity had gone during the night, so I worked on the laptop in the dimness of the slowly creeping morning. My host family was still asleep under their mosquito net. There was no chair in their room - and the sciatica in my left leg was killing me - so I put a few stools together and stood up - trying to type in interviews from the day before.

Gradually the sleeping forms on the floor stirred. One by one my hosts woke up, went out the door and down the steps to the toilet they share with their Muslim landlord. The net was folded up and the bed was rolled away. A porridge made and a new day begun.

We were in a small brick room at the edge of a large slum pocket in Eastern Delhi - near the border of UP. The gray winter morning awaited us outside. A quick prayer and we had gathered for breakfast - while the youngest son was dressed up in the uniform of the local school - "The Green Crescent School" was what I remember from his blazer.

The morning dishes were washed from a small tap, from water which had been carried up the steps. The waste water was then taken out to discard.

My host and I stepped out into the mud - a bit of a rain splatter during the night had turned what was dusty into what is muddy. The wonderful Hindi word "Kichard" came to mind.

But all around me was beauty.

I had been deeply privileged to have spent a few hours with an amazing Australian family who have for the past decades been living a prophetic life among the poor. "All for love's sake became poor" goes a song about our Lord - and my friends have and are doing that. Their 11 year old son is a minor genius - and loves seeing life statistically - while being the school boy he is and wrestling with his father and 6 year old brother in the evenings.

I was in Delhi to help evaluate the SHALOM Delhi AIDS programme. I ended up being evaluated myself. By the grain of the lifestyle that our dear friends have humbly and without fanfare adopted.

Unless a seed of grain dies...

Monday, 14 January 2008


We have done a fair bit of flying as a family recently.

After our lovely vacation with Amma and Appa in Vishakapatnam, we 4 Eichers had lunch with them, then boarded a Jet-Lite flight to Hyderabad and then on to Mumbai - and were here in the evening. This generous gift to us enabled a wonderful week to be capped off beautifully by us swooping down to Mumbai through the evening sky, gliding down past the orange-hued Western Ghats.

Then the next week I took an Air Deccan flight to Delhi. After a good 3 days of happy slogging on the SHALOM Delhi HIV Programme evaluation, I was back on a Spicejet flight to Mumbai.

This evening Mum and Dad missed a flight from Bangalore to here - they had just had supper and were rechecking their flight tickets for tommorrow evening's flight - when they realised that the flight had left an hour ago - today! We talked over the phone about it - and prayed - and soon a friend of theirs booked another ticket for tomorrow evening. Just in time for Asha's 7th birthday on the next day (the 16th of Jan!).

As I type - Peter, Yashmeet and Anmol are getting ready to board their flight from Hyderabad to Nairobi. We talked with them too - and prayed. Only the Lord can keep them safe.

We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!
We go not forth alone against the foe;
Strong in Thy strength, safe in Thy keeping tender,
We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Back in the DDR

Our histories continue to structure who we are. And who we will be.

Take the dear old DDR - thats Deutsche Demokratische Republik - or GDR - German Democratic Republic as it was called.

East Germany - now defunct as a political state - but still a part of many people's lives.

In our case the life of Christa Eicher nee Fischer. My mother.

And Willie and Roesli Fischer - her parents - whom we grand-kids got to see only a few times in our lives before they died. And that too in 1975 and 1980 respectively.

Not much to remember - thanks mainly to the gross lie of scientific materialism (a.k.a. communism - at least in the East German flavour of it).

I remembered the DDR recently while giving a bath to our kids and their neice Anmol. I remember having a bath with my brother Stefan in the large bathtub of my grandmother's tiny socialist appartment in grey Reichenbach. I remember the empty streets of the town - and the curiously empty stores. It all seemed at the time more 'advanced' than what we had in the India of that day, but the contrast to the bustling West Germany was stark.

One of the few TV programmes we were allowed to watch in that place was a puppet show each evening called the Sandman. At the end of the episode, we would come and sprinkle sand in the eyes of the kids and everyone would sleep. Sort of like the whole society did - but with their eyes open as they accepted and parroted the lies of the socialistic state.

One of the strangest memories of the time - however - was a game we played with Dad. He would go into the bedroom of our grandmother and hide - and we would try and find him. He normally hid under the enourmous feather-blanket or some other fairly obvious place. But once we just could not find him. Anywhere. The window was open and I wondered if he had jumped out of the 2nd floor flat. Finally he emerged. He had somehow squeezed himself up in the very top of a cupboard. An amazing feat.

I think we will delve a little more into the late great DDR in a few days. In the meantime, sleep calls.


We have been thinking and praying a lot for Kenya these days - as the country seems to be spiralling into ever greater circles of violence.

Peter, Yashmeet and Anmol were due to head back on the 7th but have postponed to the 15th. Bro Vinogee - their Elder in the Assembly they attend - has already returned with his family and says that they have 4000 police in the area they live in - but that food and supplies are scarce - and very expensive.

The vicious cruelty being meted out is hard to believe. What a broken and messed up world we inhabit. We have our own sets of cruelties of course - and our prayers continue for the unspoken and forgotten people in Orissa who continue to hide in the forests for fear of returning to their burnt homes and churches.

To be safe. To have security. Its what we all want and crave for.

Though we have relative freedom and safety here in Thane / Mumbai - even that is not to be taken for granted. Early in the morning on New Years day a mob of 70 odd men molested two women who had just come out of a swanky hotel with their husbands (click: here). It was only passing press photographers who shot the scenes and called the police that stopped the frenzy. How many other incidents take place without at Hindusthan Times photographer stepping in?

At the most basic level - we have only our Lord.

As a family we pray for safety for Asha and Enoch - and ask God that our home will be an ark of refuge for them and for others. But we know that times of violence are here and will continue to come. Our prayer is that our Asha will see the hope that is there and our Enoch will understand what it means to be dedicated.

To close - an email that our dear friend John Forbes just forwarded to us. This family writes from where over 30 people were burned to death after seeking refuge in a church. Please pray for them and countless others in the great land of Kenya.
From: Tom & Hellen Malande
Sent: Wed, 2 Jan 2008 3:29 am
Subject: Update from Tom and Hellen

Dear Friends,
For many years our country Kenya has celebrated the honour of those who died in the struggle for independence and somehow worked hard for over fourty years to fight what has made it famous around the world namely-ignorance, sickness and poverty!
Today we are ashamed of what is happenning since the election was held on 27th of December 2007. The country is messy as I write. We are at the main gate of Violence and no one seems to know how to deal with difficult situation, meaning that education and civility has been shelved!
Hellen and I together with our Children, an American volunteer couple and five families that make a total of 31 people have been indoors since the election night. Houses are being burnt within a radius of 1 kilometer from where we are and that includes the church in which people were burnt. Men have run away from the area and we cannot move when we see neighbours wives and children crowd our sitting room for protection that only God can give.
One thing we have opted to do is to be still and see the Salvation of the Lord. We study the scriptures and sing gospel praise even though we get tempted to grieve. We have decided to be strong for everyone in the house though our hearts push to sink to the shoe!
We called the U.S. Embassy to alert them of the American couple and we are in touch. The couple is fine and everyone too.
We are asking that you keep praying for us. The story of Elijah is true to us as it was to him. Thousands of youth that torch houses come in three waves and pass my house running to fulfill their mission and terror reigns around. Our electricity is cut and we are in a blackout at night. The food in our deep freezer is getting finished and we have enough for two or so days now but God has given us Himself. We are no longer scared and are waiting for His direction.
We hope that the killings which have spread country wide will stop. God will not allow this to prevail against His chosen people. I am telling all my staff to remain calm wherever they are and pray for peace. Our children are learning great lessons from all this.
We have only one small bag of our documents and the Bible to walk out with in case we are asked to do so! We tell the boys that that is the only possession we have and that everything else God has given us is to bless His people.
They have shared all their clothes with the orphans who are here with us (Six orphans) and they are good friends. Huston is calling all his friends to encourage them and once in a while he goes out to their houses during the day and back.
Keep praying for us,we love you all and the Lord is in control. Nothing shall separate us from the Love of Christ and that sorts it all out for us what a joy!
In His service, Uncle Tom and Hellen Malande.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Cricket - Cracked?

Somewhere in Sydney, 22 flannelled fools are engaged in a 5 day contest which sees many an empty chair in the stadium.

We don't have a TV in our home (our two live channels - Asha Channel and Enoch Channel come free and don't need a set).

So my fix of cricket comes by SMS on my mobile.

Every morning I get a Bible verse as an SMS (I have conveniently labelled the number as 'Bible').

On days when there is a cricket match on, the "Bible" sender also sends updates on the matches. Since the current contest is in Australia - it is half over by the time we have breakfast here and so both the Bible verse and the summary of what has already happened come at about the same time - just after 8 AM.

Why does cricket appeal to us Indians?

Is it the almost tragic certainty of loss? Is it the melodrama of seeing grown men grind out often improbable outcomes? Is it the fact that it is one of the few sports where we sometimes are world-beaters? Is it the glamour of our feted heroes? Is it that the game roughly follows the plot of a Hindi movie - everyone knows what will happen - a fair amount of escapism - the obligatory bad guys (either the other team or the umpires) - an occaisional hero who comes good - and lots of people to curse if the outcome is not what we want?

Hard to pin point, but we seem to be a nation of cricket nuts.

Wasn't always this way.

While doing my forestry field research in 1993 (yikes that was a while ago), I lived for 6 months in a Himalayan village in the Naini Tal district. One of my favorite questions (way outside my research topic) was to ask the old guys of the village about the changes they had seen with their eyes.

One of the surprising responses I got was that at least in the late 40s and early 50s, football was the only game in town (make that in the small hamlets that dot the almost vertical steepness of the hills there). Whole villages would gather to see their teams play each other, and good players were feted for miles around.

It fits. A hallowed fact in our sporting history was the victory in the 1911 final of the Indian Football Association Cup by Mohun Bagan - a Calcutta Club which was the first win in a final by an Indian team. Till then all tournaments had been won by British teams based in India.

A quick take from Wikipedia tells me that:

The Indian national football team was also quite successful until the 1970s, qualifying for Olympic tournaments and the FIFA World Cup. The team qualified for the 1950 World Cup finals in Brazil, but could not appear as they still played in their bare feet at that time. The Indian team also won the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games gold medals in football. In 1956 the team finished fourth at the Melbourne Olympics.

Its been a long time since anything great has taken place in Indian football (though one of our church members is deeply into the club scene here both as a player as well as an assitant coach).

In the mean time, cricket is our fix.

Till tomorrow then - when I find out whether Ganguly and Tendulkar have been able to stave off the mighty Aussies in their home lair.

"Ahoy Sancho Panza - up and at the giants" - and on Don Quixote rushes towards the windmills with faithful Sancho in tow.

Thursday, 3 January 2008


We got back from Paradise and are faced again with the virus.

On one hand its all very depressing and sad.
- The 26th of December saw another of our friends die.
- One of our long-term positive friends who was able to start a job - is now back on alcohol since he gets daily wages.
- Today one of our staff went to Mr. Babulnath's house and picked up the container into which our nurses had deposited the dirty syringe after giving him his injection as part of his TB meds. The house is empty after his death as the family have moved back to the village.
- Another positive friend with a CD4 count of 15 (!) got himself discharged from hospital because he did not like the food there and is back on the streets with his dispirited wife.
- A person who we have seen many times in our society came with the news that a releative of theirs is sick - with HIV - and they heard we do something - can we help.

The list goes on. Where does it - and when will it end.

Makes us want to go back to our parent's place in Vishakapatnam again.

And yet, this is why we are here.

We are here to see what can be done - and to face the challenges bravely and with hope. We know that many of the friends we are in touch with have intensely broken lives - and must not give in to the hopelessness that seems to shroud so many of the situations.

There is hope. It is dispensed through the faulty and limited people that we are. It is grounded in the reality of a loving God whose hands are pierced - not for self-mutilation - but because of His great on-going love for us.

We are in the right place. At the right time.

Lord, may you find us with our hands on the plough - while the day lasts.

This virus will pass. But may we be found doing all we can while there is still time to bring about healing and reconciliation.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A cup of chai in 2008

Its 11.54 on the 2nd of Jan.

I am dog tired.

But wired.

Cup of chai at the JSK men's hostel did it.

I stopped in to see how James was doing. Arrived at 10 PM - left just before 11 but had a big cuppa there - and know though I am tired and my back is hurting like anything (I spent just over a day of our just finished paradise-vacation flat on my back because of the pain) - and the whole Eicher household is deep in slumber - I am not.

Prayer comes at times like this. I pray especially tonight for two very troubled areas that are close to our heart - the beloved state of Orissa where hundreds of Christian Tribals are camped out in the forest because they are too scared to come back to their burnt out homes and churches - and for the great country of Kenya where years of corruption have come home to roost with what threatens to be a terrible uprising of tribe vs. tribe.

Lord have mercy - and use your people - right now - to be agents of reconcilliation - just as you are reconciling all things unto yourself. Amen.