Monday, 31 March 2008

Exams

Its not every day that Enoch does up Asha's shoes as she goes to school. But then again, it is not an unusual thing for him (or her) to do. The kids are very loving and affectionate almost to a fault.

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!

We are not meant to be alone...

"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

Preparing for the end

We did a small exercise last Saturday at our training for church members in HIV care. We asked each one to imagine that an earth-quake had just taken place - and they were trapped in a small room with no exits - and they could feel the air getting less. A piece of paper and pen are at hand - what to write to our loved ones? What message do we want others to find when they pull our bodies out of the rubble?

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.

Testing

We had a grown man weeping last week. He had come to talk things over since his wife had died of cancer last month.

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.
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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.

Global family

We Eichers are pretty far-flung - and today we are even more far-flung than normal. Including the Rajans we now have someone on every continent except for South America (and Antarctica).

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!
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The one regret is how far we all are from each other spatially. It is sad that our kids grow up seeing so little of their cousins - esp. for me since I did not have cousins in the first place. At the same time, there are so many precious people in our own city that we do not find time to visit....

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The new Counselling, Testing and Care Centre at JSK

The carpenters are at work. The walls are being scrubbed down and coated with paint. The electrician showed up today too. We are in the process of developing a testing and counselling centre at Jeevan Sahara.

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.
Please pray for supernatural wisdom - and doggedness to get things done. Pray too that we will continue to be able to develop the staff capacity to not only run the ICTC - but to take the whole JSK programme forward.

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.
We are hoping to have an inauguration prayer time at 7 PM on the 4th of April (only 8 days away!).
It hardly seems possible that the place will be ship-shape by then - looking at the chaos it looks like now.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Don't forget the Tetanus shots!

Each religion has its set of masochists - Christianity is no different. Over the holy week - it seems dozens of folks in the Philippines decided to re-enact the crucifixion of Christ - by having themselves nailed to the cross. This is apparently such a phenomena there that health authorities have suggested that folks who get themselves nailed get their tetanus shots first. Note the watch and the jean pants and plastic chappals. Also note the placement of the nails - in the palms not as it should be - through the wrists.

Hmmm.

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

Puppet video - the experiment

video

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

The Canon and the Cake

Saturday nights are youth nights at the Eichers.

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

Holi day


Holi revellers at Happy Valley complex - where we live
We were due to have our last session of the church members training in HIV care today. When planning this time we did not notice that the day fell on Holi. James D'Costa made calls to all the participants. One of the responses was - "you are post-poning because of Holy Saturday?" - "No" said James "because of Holi".

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.

Mrs. Samrath

Mrs. Samrath is the widow of a fruit seller who we met early in the Jeevan Sahara experience. He was HIV positive and suffering from TB. She found out that she was positive too. We went through a number of cycles of care with him - finally urging her to have him admitted at the JSK centre for inpatient care.

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.

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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.
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Shortly afterwards - at one of our weekly staff meetings we discussed Mrs. Samrath. She had come the day before and said that she had already stopped taking the ART medications. We were aghast. These meds have to be taken at a 95% compliance level - you should be taking it so that you miss less than 3 per month. To have her stop so soon was horrible.
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Sister Lata went over to Mrs. Samrath's home that evening. Her ears were still ringing from the dressing down of not following-up on her and allowing a lapse to happen so quickly.
When Lata arrived at the house it was in darkness.
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Mrs. Samrath was not happy to see her. A man was fixing her electricals. Lata asked if she could come in. Grudgingly Mrs. Samrath obliged. Lata sat quietly as the man continued his work. Mrs. Samrath angrily said she did not want to come to JSK again. She was not going to carry on with her medications.
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As this conversation was going on, the wife of the repair-man came with their daughter. She started shouting at him. Their daughter had managed to put mud in her eyes that morning and despite taking her to local doctors, was in pain and could not open her eyes. Why was he doing this work - when he should be taking them to the specialist?
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Lata talked to the woman. Did she know about Jesus? He touched people who were blind. Could she pray for the girl? The woman agreed, and there in the darkness Lata prayed for the little girl. She asked her to open her eyes. The girl did not. Lata told the family: "Take her to the doctor, and let him see her. Her eyes will open." The electricity had been fixed and the small family left.
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Lata continued to listen to Mrs. Samrath. She was upset at the thought that she should choose between deities. 'If you have some handicapped member of your family - do you ignore them or push them out of your house?' she asked. Lata told her that whatever choice she would make would have to be her own. She shared her own story about how Jesus had changed her life totally - and how she was wholly devoted to him.
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The conversation was cut short when the family came back excitedly. She little girl had opened her eyes. The doctor had done a quick examination and pronounced her fine. The woman had remembered that the sister who was visitng Mrs. Samrath had prayed for the child in the name of Jesus.
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Signs and wonders do not belong to only the 'olden days' - they are seen today among the poor and broken. Mrs. Samrath's demeanour had gradually been changing. Lata left the home - having seen a miracle. She was there way beyond the 'call of duty' in the first place - and saw God answer prayer in a dramatic way - and had left having seen Mrs. Samrath's heart warm a bit too.
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Before Lata left, Mrs. Samrath had said she would keep coming to Jeevan Sahara - and that she would start her ART medicine again. She took her first dose in Lata's presence. There is still a long road to walk in Mrs. Samrath's life - but in the midst of darkness we see light.

Friday, 21 March 2008

Ecumenism - Jesus style

Meet sister Shanti - one of our home-based care staff at Jeevan Sahara Kendra. No, she is not about to become a politician in real life. The photo was taken back stage just before Shanti and the others went out to preform a small play on looking after people with HIV. Shanti plays a local leader who comes and visits and HIV patient and makes big promises - and then exits quickly when she hears that the patient may be supporting another party.

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"

We ended off with a simple but touching display - different church leaders being asked to come up and make the above message - while the Marthoma choir led us in singing "Bind us together".

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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!

Coming Home

As the years move on - we are privileged to grow with some of our long-term surving HIV friends - and their families.

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

Living legends - David and Linda Householder

A few weeks ago we got an email from the depths of my childhood.
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Dr. David Householder - Uncle David to me - was coming through Thane. Did we know of a place to stay?

The choice was clear but there was the delicate question - was Uncle David alone? Was Auntie Linda with him? Where there others?

An email went back to ask the question. The response was classic.
Along with Aunt Linda, we have Justin, Timothy, Sunny, and the King of the Socks [my mind is not able to latch onto the name!]. The last 4 being puppets.

I had to think back to 1978 when at the OM conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, we were enthralled by Uncle David and his Yeti puppet. Further on to places where our lives had intersected - in Delhi, in Mussoorie where he was the chaplain at Woodstock School when I was there.
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Amazingly David and Linda Householder continue to move forward. Having worn multiple hats over the years of their association with India and Nepal, they were in town to provide some member care for folks that they are helping support - drawing on their vast experience on the front-lines - as well as their pastoral hearts.

But they sure didn't forget their puppets.

We Eichers were in for a special treat, as we got to see a wonderful array of puppets when Uncle David shared at a special 'children's meeting' at our church (which included many overaged members of that tribe who laughed hysterically at the puppets) and with the staff at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra, among other places.

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...
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God can use stones to praise Him. We as a family were deeply blessed to have his servants David and Linda stay with us and input into our lives.
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Just before they left Uncle David pressed a beautiful gift into our hands - a superb digital camera. The shots that you see here are the first fruits of their generosity to us.

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!
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While in Nallasopara we also met Solomon and Susie - and their kids Grace and Lois. Asha and Enoch just enjoyed playing with these bright little girls. Susie was the youngest of Uncle Selvenayagam's 3 daughters - where Sheba used to worship while she was studying in medical school in Cuttack (Orissa) and whose home became her home during the med school years. It is amazing to see this love and friendship continue over the years - and into the next generation!
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Then it was over to Borivali where we had first come when we arrived in Mumbai as a family in late 2001. John and Nalini Gabriel and their daughter Nikita were special friends to us - and we have continued to grow together over the years (and the additions of Enoch to us and Jasper to them). Nikita and Asha are very much 'best friends' and the younger two get on pretty well too!
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It was lovely to see the 4 kids love each other so much - and display their own particular personalities. The kids are so bright that sometimes you wonder when it will end? I certainly don't think I was anywhere near where these kids are now! We had the beautiful privilege of a morning Bible reading in which Nikita and Asha took turns to read. It was wonderful to see their minds grow and expand - and our prayer is that they will continue to grow in love for God as well.
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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.
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A splendid time was had by all - and we returned by bus to Thane very happy and refreshed.
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Our family is very big!

Eat Bible!

While in Manipur a good 12 years ago (ouch!), I heard this story.

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:

"Eat Bible"

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:

Reflection - the Gallery!


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!

12 Standard Pass

"I passed my 12 standard exams today - please have some sweets and celebrate with me!"

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

Opening prayer

We prayed together with God's people to open our new JSK office this morning.

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

We have been blessed to have Mary helping us in the home the last 6 months.

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.

Mob's rules

We have not seen the film Jodhaa Akbar. And are unlikely to see this confection that Ashutosh Gowarkar had dished up. But the film - a romance between the Mughal Emporer Akbar and Jodhaa - a Rajput princess - has already caused plenty of hearburn.

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.

Moving

We are shifting our office - at least part of it - today. JSK has wanted to run a counselling and testing centre for some time now. Today we are making room for a small lab and counselling room to be made.

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

back pain is a pain

My back pain is back again.

Literally.

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

7 Decades

Appa at Enoch's birth - 19.2.2003
Today we celebrate God's goodness in the life of Savari S. Rajan - our beloved father - as he completes 70 years since he was born on the 2nd of March 1938.
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Born in Trichi, Tamil Nadu, Appa grew up without a father - his Dad having gone to Malaysia soon after the Appa and his sister was born. The remittances came from Malaysia, but his father never returned.
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As a young man Appa had various adventures, working in a factory in Mysore and in the jungle camps of the Nilgiris. Then, he up and left the south - hearing about a huge new steel factory that was being built in the forests of Orissa and the job opportunities there.
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Arriving as a teenager in Rourkela, Appa was hired. He worked over 40 years for SAIL - the Steel Authority of India Ltd - in their Rourkela steel plant. He worked in captive mines and in the plant itself. In the heat of the blast furnaces and the grime of the mines that fed the insatiable steel smelting plant. He didn't tell his mother where he was going - preferring to go first and inform later.
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In many ways a self-made man - he taught himself English by reading the newspaper and listening to the radio - Appa has always had a thirst for adventure. Be it the early political activism of the rationalist movement and Dravidian politics at a local level (he met Karunanidhi once in those heady days) to the jungle experiences which have provided many hours of stories for wide-eyed grand-children (see picture on right of Appa telling the famous 'Donkey Tiger' story) - Appa lived life to the fullest.
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It was in Rourkela that he met some Tamil-speakers who were going to a certain meeting. Little did Appa know that this would be the turning point of his life. He was confronted with his own true nature - a lost, broken man - searching for hope. And he found it in the person of Jesus Christ! The group was a local assembly of the Hebron Fellowship - which Appa joined then and there and has been faithfully worshipping with over these 50 years since!
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It was in the fellowship that Appa was introduced to a young Telegu lady who had just got a job as a clerk in the steel plant. Anna Victoria Krupa Star became Mrs. Savari Rajan soon afterwards at the Bethany Assembly. Four children following in the space of 5 years. The days were tough, but Appa and Amma worked hard, prayed hard, saved and invested in their 3 daughters and 1 son. Clothes were made at home. Every way of stretching the salary rupee worked out - but at the same time God and church took primary place.
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In the years before retirement, Appa and Amma bought a small plot of land near Vishakapatnam, Andra Pradesh. Over the years they gradually built a small bungalow on this plot. A few years ago it was broken into - while Amma and Appa were with us in Thane - the thieves did not leave with anything as all they found were some life insurance policies - an old fridge and an old TV. No gold. No cash. Appa's investments were in the family - and the homes a testimony to frugality and hard work rather than what the thieves probably expected - lots of cash.
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Appa's mother eventually came to live with them and help out in rearing the kids. Appi as she was fondly known - poured herself into Daisy, Bethsheba, Sarah and Peter with great devotion. She had come to faith during this time as well. The family moved from quarter to quarter as time went on - but their spiritual home remained in the Bethany Assembly.
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Appa's health has not been good. He had a massive heart attack 8 years ago - one which the Drs. gave a 5 year life-span after. He is still alive - and conscienciously takes his heart meds and his diabetes meds every day. When he was with us last year he tripped and fell badly - but did not suffer any grevious damage by God's grace. We pray for Appa's health every night!
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Appa has seen all his 4 children grow up. Be educated well beyond the opportunities open to him (1 Phd, 1 MD, 1 MBA and 1 Hotel Industry trained). Marry godly spouses. Grow in faith.
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).
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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.
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We salute Appa on this day - amazed at God's goodness over these 7 decades. We are awed by the distance he has travelled in his life - his life of faith and devotion to God. His love and care for all of us in the family. His unfailing desire to see the good news of Jesus spread.
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We are proud of you Appa - Thatha to the grand-kids - and thank God for you!
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Post Script:
On the evening of the 2nd a prayer meeting was held at Victor and Sarah's flat in Delhi to thank God for his mercies in giving 7 decades to Appa. Sarah sent her regards from Australia via Skype as she is away for 2 months on a course there. Joanna was thrilled that Ashish Eicher also came over for the festivities. Bro. Prakash George shared from the word and all had a wonderful meal cooked by Amma.

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!
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At least we can virtually join in as Amma feeds her beloved husband his birthday cake!

Green

There is a tremendous blessing locked into the colour green.

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!

Smash-up

Mr. Langru came 'home' earlier this week and smashed up everything. The miserable little hut he and his wife and children shelter on the pavement. He was drunk and angry. He beat up his wife and burned much of what they had. He tore up her papers and burned them and threw her Anti-retroviral medicines away.

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?