Monday, 31 March 2008
Asha is at the end of her first year of school and is taking her final exams.' So far she has been flying through these.
Enoch has come home with sheets which inform us that these concepts were successfully taught to him at school. When we ask him to read the words he was supposedly taught, we get guesses. Sheba - in her love and patience - has started sitting with Enoch to help him do what the teacher is supposedly doing in school.
One think both Enoch and Asha do - however - is they love to be read to. We are currently going through "The Light Princess" by the Victorian author (and great influence on CS Lewis) George MacDonald. A wonderfully redemptive tale - and told with such wit and sleight of hand - I wish I could marshal words - and esp. thoughts in the same way.
It looks like we have many years of sitting with the kids and their books ahead of us!
"God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother's is sure."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Unless we are ready to face death - we cannot help others do the same. It is an impossibility at one level. But one thing we know - our Lord Jesus faced death and went through its bitter door - only to come back with compassion, strength and joy to help us as we take that path.
One of the participants had to leave the room during this exercise. He was thinking about his wife who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. Who will look after her? He could not bear thinking about it and went out to cry. A little further in the feedback and discussion, however, God spoke to him. We had been talking about how Asha and Enoch were not with us that day. They were in the care of others - and really were in the care of God. If Sheba and I were to die now - then God would continue caring for them just as He is doing so now. Our brother was tremendously blessed to be reminded that his dear wife - who is such a great blessing to so many - will continue to be cared for - even if he as her loving husband is taken away to be with Jesus.
Are you ready? Am I? I do not want to keep any thing undone which would be an embarassment and bring sadness to my family and my Lord if it was found out. The Bible says that the heart is deceitful above all things. Let my heart be continually purified.
Cancer caused by HIV.
She had known that she was positive for 8 years. The pressure on her to marry was too great and she finally got married to him. That was just over a year ago.
Last month he buried her.
He has HIV now.
Sheba asked him what he would have done if he found out that she was positive before they married. He said that he would have still married, but that he would have been able to take some precautions for himself.
There is no easy way out of testing for HIV. It is vital to know the truth. But how hard it is for us to take the courage to actually look. And how much harder - once we see something that we dread - to share it with others.
Lets roll the credits (in alphabetical order of inhabited continents):
Africa: Sheba's brother Peter, Yashmeet and little Anmol tell us that things have settled down somewhat in Kenya, where they live in Nairobi. Peter and Yashmeet have just started a house-fellowship in their home last night!
Asia: Most of us are in India. We 4 are here in Thane, while our co-brother Victor and Amma and his daughter Joanna are in Delhi. Appa is travelling down South and should be visiting his aged sister in Trichi now. My brother Stefan, Neeru and Ashish are in Delhi - I think. Once when I was unable to reach Stefan on his mobile for sometime I called up Dad - and was told that Stefan had gone to Thailand! Stefan once did all 6 inhabited continents in a single year!
Australia: Sheba's sister Sarah is in Oz for 2 months as part of a special training she and her colleagues from EHA are taking in data analysis and programme planning. She is especially focussing on TB programmes. Hence Amma in Delhi helping to look after her daughter Joanna.
Europe: Mum and Dad should be in Austria now - a brief stop-over on their way back to India from the last 2 months of travelling around the US.
North America: Another raft-full. Sheba's sister Daisy, Ramesh and their daughter Frankie are in Arizona. My sister Premila is in Idaho and our brother Rudy Gomez and his wife Aneng are in Virginia. Their kids are all over - Kimmi and Timmy have both been to China with YWAM (Timmy is heading over to Hawaii for communications training at the U. of Nations there) and their youngest Renata is about to do her final year in high school.
All of this has been made possible by the wonder of flight. It still gives me goose-bumps to know that you can get in an aircraft and be 1/2 way around the world in 1/2 a day!
Thursday, 27 March 2008
Now that things are underway the actual immensity of it all is daunting. Besides the physical renovations - which take up a goodly chunk of our time at present - we also need to keep developing our capacity to run the place - an Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre - which we plan as a portion of the continuum of care with the government HIV work.
We do not just want to have a nice place for the work to take place. We want to see our work develop so that people can be blessed. Our infrastructure - modest as it is - is there so that people in deep trouble can get peace.
Wednesday, 26 March 2008
Two thoughts here (out of so many possible ones):
1. Christ died once and for all. He was the perfect sacrifice. There is no need for any more sacrifice - and no need to reenact what he did for us on that terrible day.
2. One of our responses to His death may included some sorrow - because we nailed Him - I drive the nails into his hands through my actions - but more than anything, it is one of JOY! The empty tomb is the pointer to the cosmic mystery. A man who has triumphed over death by experiencing it and now living forever more! And an opportunity for us to live this risen life. Right here - right now!
Mind boggling - and certainly 1000000 times better than getting the tetanus shots in prep for ritual mutilations (even if it is in the name of Christ).
Monday, 24 March 2008
Chai chats with the Eichers enjoys living on the cutting edge. This is the world premiere of a bootleg copy of Justin's Song - sung by David Householder and Justin (the puppet).
The clip was shot using a camera phone by Sharon Joseph (age 10). Thank you Sharon. Enjoy.
Sunday, 23 March 2008
This evening we had a debate - the group split into two groups. One group argued that the Bible as we know it is authentic and reliable and that the 66 books deserve to be included in the canon. The other group took the opposite view-point. It was encouraging to see the seriousness with with our youth went at it. The actual debate was a bit uneven - but we know that the process helped each person know what they believe.
After the debate, it was time for cake.
Thomas Daniel turned 25 today. There was a delicious cake and candles - and a very loooooong birthday song. There is a lot of love for Thomas in the air.
We are blessed to have Thomas as part of the youth group as well as to worship with him every Sunday at our house-fellowship which meets at Jolly and Suma's house in Samata Nagar.
Thomas is a quiet giant. The tallest of us all, his well-pre-pared contributions to the Sunday worship have been a great blessing.
His encouragement of others and gentle nature are a balm.
Though his life has been anything but easy in the first quarter century, we know that God has wonderful plans ahead of him.
As Thomas finishes off his computer engineering studies - and awaits the results of the placement process - we congratulate him and ask the the Lord will really use him for His glory.
The apostle Thomas - known for his doubting - ended up coming to India. St. Thomas' life ended in martyrdom - but that after establishing the church in India - a good 2 millenia ago. Where will his 25 year old name-sake be taken?
Saturday, 22 March 2008
Today was a day when everything outside ground to a stand-still. Anyone is game for being smeared with what is often toxic colours. Bura mat mano - Holi hai - don't take offense - it is Holi - is the phrase used. Sadly for most people it is tied up with fear - and the overwhelming strength of the majority. In popular consciousness - it is a festival of gaeity and good natured jesting - where colour is spread with much joy. The really galling thing about Holi is how much it allows people to do things they would otherwise not. Trains are pelted with mud and stones. Coloured water is sprayed on walls - and remains there - months later. The beast within is very close to the surface for most of us.
She refused and instead took him to his village. He died there. We think it was probably to do with the small plot of land that he possessed in his name. Judging by the look on her face during those days we wonder about possession of another kind.
A few months ago - after a very, very long time - Mrs. Samrath surfaced again. She was sick. Her fruit business was still running - the little cart she used continues to be her main source of income. She had also found an NGO that was helping her out with various items - and had become a field-worker for them for some time.
One of our staff - Lata - took a special burden for Mrs. Samrath. We started hearing more about her - and then she came for a checkup. She had also started to take interest in things of God and had attended the 'healing prayer' that is conducted at Vasai.
We referred Mrs. Samrath to a the local government hospital to start her anti-retroviral therapy (ART) - the medications that reduce the HIV to minimal levels - allowing the body to recoup its immunity. We were happy when we heard that she had been started on the medication right away.
Friday, 21 March 2008
The venue for the play was the Mulund Christian Ecumenical Fellowship meeting. An off-shoot of the Mulund Christian Cemetary Committee - we were part of a remarkable meeting of a good 400 plus folks from all flavours of Christendom - meeting in the main hall of the St. Pius X high school.
I have heard of Ecumenical gatherings before - but this was very different. It was totally focussed on Jesus. We started off with the local Bishop reading out a homily in Hindi welcoming us all and affirming all the churches that gathered together in the name of Christ (interestingly the good bishop did not use the term "ecclesial communities" which a recent communication from Rome uses). And then we had prayers, songs, worship, sharing from all comers - Catholic, Charismatic, Orthodox, Jacobite, Marthoma, Independent... The "prayer fellowship" of the local Parish could have easily been a New Life fellowship worship band - black t-shirts, rock-n-roll praise - the worship leader saying that "Jesus is the only way". It was an amazing and blessed experience. A small taste of heaven.
We were invited as JSK to do a small skit - which we did, sharing the life of a person with HIV - and his good neighbour. The staff did an excellent job, and Rahul followed it up with a great speech. Perhaps in keeping with the Ecumenical labels, the Jeevan Sahara name got lost in the shuffle. In the official programme we were listed as "Bro. Pravin Thomas' Pentecostal Group"
After the programme we met the remarkable principal of St. Pius X High School - Father Clifton (or was it Clinton??) - a lovely man who was born in Uganda and came to India during the Idi Amin era. He has been involved with HIV and life-skills education and has been working with the young people of his school and parish to make a difference. Who knows - we may even see this year's Youth Against AIDS Festival take place at St. Pius X!
Mrs. Reshma is one of them.
Having lost her husband - and having 4 small children - the oldest was 9 and a young infant to boot, Mrs. Reshma was trying to sell vegetables and eking out an existence - between bouts of illness.
She needed to be started on medications for her HIV - but she was alone. We finally were able to send her to Purnatha Bhavan - a rehabilitation home for women and children with HIV which OASIS India runs in Igatpuri.
Mrs. Reshma and her 4 bright children have been at Purnatha Bhavan for 2 years now. She has deeply appreciated the love and care she received there and would like to stay longer - but her term is over - and her oldest son has out-grown the age limit for young boys.
We are gearing up for Mrs. Reshma's return. But to what? Two small rooms that are in her husband's name. A smattering of largely disinterested relatives. A small church which she used to regularly attend in the months before she left. A shocking change of scene after the beauty and care she received at Purnatha Bhavan (or PB as many call it).
Please pray for us as we seek to partner with local churches to look after Mrs. Reshma and her kids. It is not easy - especially for her church which has hardly any regular wage earners attending. But we have to believe that with God all things are possible.
The hard fact is that Mrs. Reshma is unlikely to be able to work much - she has been losing weight recently, even though she has been on anti-retroviral therapy for 3 years now. The challenges of helping her look after her children seem immense - but with God our weaknesses can be turned into His opportunities.
We hope to welcome Mrs. Reshma to her home - soon. In the meantime we need to work out what is possible for some kind of employment, how she can be helped to look after her children, what role the local fellowship will play, how to spruce up the house so that the shock of transitioning from the beauty of Igatpuri to the slum where Mrs. Reshma lives is made a bit less. Above all - to allow the peace of Christ to guard her heart and mind in Him!
Wednesday, 19 March 2008
More than the laughter (plenty of that of course) was the deep messages that were so clearly shared through the medium of puppetry. Getting along with each other... Allowing God to move us instead of going our own way... Trying to soldier on when we know things are falling apart due to hidden sin...
Over the last weekend we were able to visit so many of our dear family and friends! At the drop of a hat (and with much grace from God) the Eichers were able to go over to Nallasopara and meet Sheba's cousin John, his wife Mala and their children Agnesia and Utkash (seen left with Enoch). It was shocking to realise that a good 4 years have gone by since we last saw them!
After a memorable time at the Hebron fellowship we used to worship with when we lived in Borivali way back then, we went over to our final family for the weekend: Philip and Epsi Ambrose. The second of the 3 sisters in Cuttack from Sheba's Med School days - the whole family welcomed us with great love. We are thrilled to see their kids Hannah and Bobby growing so much in wisdom, stature and favour with God and man.
In the bad old days when travel by outsiders was pretty restricted to the tribal parts of Manipur (which I guess still rings true today) - it was rare to have foreign guests, and even rarer to have a whole posse of Koreans.
But that is what our dear friends in Churachandpur town got - a visit by a delegation of Korean church leaders.
The team was feted and given many opportunities to speak. During my time in Churachandpur it seemed that people attended church on what seemed an average of 4-5 nights a week. The Koreans were thus asked to speak repeatedly.
The problem was that they did not know much other than Korean. Even their interpreter did not seem to know much English. And he had to translate it, after which it was translated into the local dialect spoken by that particular church.
On one night the Korean pastor speaking forgot that we was being translated. While preaching his sermon he launched into an impassioned speech that lasted a good 20 minutes - all in chaste but otherwise uncomprehensible Korean.
His interpreter stood dumbfounded as the torrent of words continued.
Finally they stopped and it was his turn to now translate all that impassioned speech into English - after which it would get the local treatment.
The interpreter stood silent for a few moments and then gave this classic summary of the sermon till then:
The church erupted in laughter - the belly aching laughter that just doesn't stop and that our brothers and sisters in Churachandpur love.
The story was lovingly told to me - what must have been years later - and the laughter continued even then when it was brought out again.
"Eat Bible" is not a bad idea. The more we feed on the word of God - the more we will know the living Word.
We do have a literalist among us though - I had to think of this story when I saw this photo recently of Stefan and Neeru's son Ashish:
I have many, many reasons to be proud of my brother.
Here is another one: he is running an art gallery!
Last week saw the opening of Reflection - an art gallery and studio space that Stefan and his merry band of Kingdom artists are developing. The achievement is stupendous - it is one thing to write and teach about art - and a totally different kettle of fish to actually produce, display and market it!
The first show was a private one, displaying the "Sanctity of Life" works that were done last year at the art camp that Stefan helped organise. But what a start - a display space full of challenging pictures - a buzz about all sorts of ways of reaching out - a discovery process about how the whole funny game of putting monetary value to works of art - its all there and has all gotten a big kick start.
Here's to you Stefan and Neeru! For daring to dream and for putting faith in Father God to make these dreams take root!
Normally such a statement brings a big smile to your face and a hearty round of congratulations for the person who said it.
Not this time.
It was said to Seema and Lata - two of our JSK staff - by Mrs. Harappa - a 35 year old mother of three children.
Mrs. Harappa had been admitted at the Civil hospital because she had intense pain and severe coughing. She has HIV and is the widow of a man who died from HIV. One of her children also has HIV.
"Take this money" Mrs. Harappa told her younger sister who was attending her in the hospital, pushing a 20 rupee note into her hand, "and go and buy them some sweets - we will celebrate now."
The grim reality of HIV - and the horror of having a young woman lose her mental bearings was too much for the sister. When their mother came from the village - having heard her daughter was in the hospital - she broke down crying. What has happened to my daugther she wailed - does she have some dreadful disease.
The curse of HIV is that it does not bear speak its name.
Mrs. Harappa had never told her mother about her condition. Now her mother knows.
We have been meeting Mrs. Harappa regularly - and the JSK staff have poured their lives into her and her children. But most of the time Mrs. Harappa ignored the advice and positive steps suggested - preferring to live in her own fantasy world of denial.
As young students all across the city sit down for their class 10 and class 12 exams - we know that one student - who passed her exams long ago - lies dying in a government hospital still reliving her moment of glory.
"I have passed my exams, come lets celebrate."
Thursday, 6 March 2008
Pastor Benny and Pastor Jairaj from the Covenant Blessings Church - our neighbours and long-time friends came over to be with us - as did Bro. Pravin Thomas from Lok Hospital.
We were deeply challenged and encouraged by Pastor Benny who shared that we have the same spirit which rested on Jesus when he stood up in his home synagogue in Nazareth and said that "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 NIV).
We are God's hands and feet and through the things we do we allow God to work in lives that are broken and without hope.
We had a time of prayer afterwards (no - I am not despairing for life though the picture looks like it).
Then it was pop and sweets time - the wada pao came to late for our friends to enjoy - but we JSK staff dug in anyway.
Here is Sanjeev enjoying Bombay's finest!
Tuesday, 4 March 2008
Mary has a broken family relationship and was looking for a place to spend her day time and earn a bit too. The local creche sent her to us. We thought and prayed for a long time before saying yes. She has been a great blessing and having her at home - doing many of the basic chores - picking up the kids from the bus - making chappatis for the evening - has given Sheba and I the flexibility to be able to be at JSK and that too for Sheba often beyond her 'working hours.'
Mary has a home and a son and daughter-in-law, but they are not on speaking terms - and she does not want them to know she is working in a home - as she feels that they will use it to torment her. We respect her wishes - but are so saddened and pray that she will have the courage to trust in Jesus enough to forgive her son and his wife - and be trully reconciled. Her 60+ years and poor health would indicate that the time is now rather than later. Out of respect for her - we are not showing her full photo on this site. People without HIV also have a range of confidentiality issues that we try and respect.
2 weeks ago Mary said that she would not be coming anymore. She was feeling too old and had lots of pains. The long walk from the bus-stop was hurting her legs. We prayed for a replacement. None has come so far.
On the last day of February we suggested requested her to help out another 2 months - till the kids finish this term, while we look for someone else. We suggested we could also help a bit towards an autofare to help with the walking. She agreed. We are looking.
Groups of Rajputs - or should we say groups of people claiming to represent the Rajput caste (they use the word community but this is what they are) - are claiming that this film is unhistorical and puts their community in a bad light - hence it must be banned. And that is what the state governments of Rajesthan (of course), Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have done. The Supreme Court has stepped in and (at least temporarily) lifted the ban.
The point here is this. We are now at a point when any group can claim that any film / book / magazine is objectionable and will lead to law and order problems if it is allowed to be seen. The law and order problems? Rioting and looting by the very people who say that the offending item be banned to prevent rioting.
Something is fundamentally wrong with our beloved land when the rioters are given honour - when the ones who provoke and destroy are 'protected'. We have seen this time and time again in our dear country - artists like M.F. Hussain are in exile because they are being dragged through the courts, films like Water could not be made in Varanasi because it was objected too, writers like Tasleema Nasreen are roughed up in public by the so-called guardians of the Islamic Community. The DaVinci Code film had various Christian dignitaries imploring the government to ban the thing (never mind that the book is read by all and sundry and not many Christian notables have the time to mount a decent critique of the fallacious page-turner Mr. Brown has churned out).
We stand at a crux in our country - unless the courts and other partners in civil society allow a wide variety of voices to be heard - we will never be able to be the open and learning community we hope for.
Perhaps most disturbing (as pointed out by Pratap Bhanu Mehta - here) is the recent Supreme Court ruling asking the author James Laine to delete certain paragraphs of his book on Shivaji that the "interest of justice would be best served.” Whose justice are we talking about? The justice that says if you write a scholarly opinion - backed up by the facts you have marshalled - and someone takes offence and trashes a place of higher learning - that the Supreme Court will suggest that you delete certain paragraphs so that the people who smash are appeased? Justice? Ha!
Pray for our dear Land! We have been blessed in so many ways by a judiciary that speaks its mind - and clearly steps into places where many would be shy of treading. But every now and again we hear something that is clearly wrong. But which meets with deafening silence. Or the continued demands to ban.
So, no Jodhaa Akbar for us. Not because of the Rajput angle, but because we just don't have the time for that fluff - but do I ever want others to have the right to see the flick if they want. We don't want the mob making rules for us. Keep it up Justices! Just don't give in like you did for the Laine verdict.
There is not much space at the current centre, so we are moving out the home-based care, Youth Against AIDS and Church mobilisation work - as well as the basic administration work. To our a small office - 10 min walk away!
Over the next few days we will have to sort and resort everything - and get used to operating out of two different locations. Things like telephones and internet connections will also take time (hopefully not too long though!).
We are grateful for the team for pitching in and working hard to get the shift done as smoothly as possible.
Every little step is a challenge. Thanks for joining us on the journey!
Monday, 3 March 2008
I have a venerable history having picked up a disc prolapse between my 5th and 6th vertebra when I was working in Jharkhand (driving the 120 km jungle journey by motor-bike from Nav Jivan hospital to Ranchi with a heavy computer laden back-back did it).
Sheba has lived through the memorable occasion of our attending the first watch-night service at the Hebron fellowship in Borivali, with me lying down - almost in state - while the service went on.
Most days I just have a dull ache. Some days I forget it all together.
Then there are days that it is killing. This Saturday for example.
2 days of rest have done wonders. I am doing my physio-exercises too. Religiously.
Prayers are happily accepted.
Back pains are a pain.
Sunday, 2 March 2008
Spread around the world (US, Kenya, Delhi and Thane). Have children of their own and instruct these in the faith (4 girls and a boy).
On the last Sunday of 2007 we had the unique privilege of being with Appa and Amma at their Hebron congregation at Gajuwaka, AP (the Bethel Prayer house) - a time when two of his son-in-laws and his son gave messages in the fellowship and the family sponsored a meal for the whole fellowship. God has been very good to our dear Appa.
We Thane Eichers wished we could have been there in the flesh, but know that this is the challenge of distance that all of us face. By God's grace he has taken us all this far. We look forward to the day when all of us can look back like Appa and thank God for his grace over so many decades!
As we look out our balcony, from the 7th floor vantage of our flat, we see a huge bank of houses on the other side.
But infront of us - oh, so blessedly - a park with large trees - and lots of eye-soothing green.
Our small balcony garden, mirrors this in a rather forlorn way. The current set of plants are rather pitiful examples of plants that survive with very little care.
Case in point is a mimosa vine, lovingly brought from Vishakapatnam 2 years ago. It died a forlorn death a few months ago and was languishing as a sad little duo of dried twigs. But yesterday - lo and behold - a new bud emerged! Hope springs eternal.
Let us thank God for green things!
She was able to fish a few of them out from the rubble of their 'home'. Enough to last her till Monday. The kids have been taken to her sisters house. What next?