Wednesday, 30 April 2008


We experienced a small taste of paradise over the weekend - our annual Jeevan Sahara staff retreat - and by far the best yet.

With families we made up 20 adults and 7 children. We were well and trully away - in the pristine surroundings of the Satyagiri centre for training and retreat, run by the Dominican order in the small town of Igatpuri.

We chose the theme of "The Joy of the Lord is my Strength" and found a thread of joy running through the weekend together.

Dad was our main speaker - and he shared about the need for all of us to be clean vessels in the Master's hands. How as we help others, unless we ourselves are made pure from the muddyness of past and present sin, healed from the hurts and wounds we have received, and delivered from any bondages we may be under - we will not be able to experience the joy of service and see others freed and restored.

The joy of the Lord demands that we are right with Him. And what a beautiful set of opportunities with stirring worship, times of prayer and asking forgiveness - and lots of meaty input from the Word.

It was a joy to be lead in worship by Trevor Ross - and to express our devotion to our sweet Lord in song and praise.

We didn't neglect the outdoors either. On Sunday morning we had an 'Emmaus Walk' - splitting up in pairs and talking about things - with Jesus walking along side us as the third in the party. Our wanderings led some of us up the nearby hills, while Sheba and Lata (accompanied by our daughter Asha and Jaya's daughter Stuti) went down to the nearby lake on their walk.

There was a lot of laughter too. Had to be if our dear Hoofriz Ross was around! Around cups of tea old jokes were pulled out from cold storage. A constant click of cameras kept us well documented and the kids had a ball playing, running around, turning one of the rooms into their own play-house.

The evening saw us show-case the various talents available. Everyone participated in at least a small way - with songs and skits taking the lion's share of the talent on display. The Eichers upheld their thespian tradition with a short play illustrating some of the points Dad shared about earlier in the day - how many of us are carrying burdens that we really don't need to - and how quickly the Lord is able to take the burdens on Himself - if we are willing to!

We also saw some beautiful dancing, another side of Giri Nayak - namely side-splitting mimes! - and a poem written and read out by Adam Black.

The Sunday morning saw two moving experiences. In Dad's last session he encouraged us to make a list of un-dealt-with sins, as well as a list of hurts in our lives. We then had an opportunity to symbolically pin these to a cross and give them over to the Lord. The lists were then burned. It was a deeply touching time - and brought deep joy to us all.

We then had a time of washing each others' feet and celebrating the Lord's supper together. It was very humbling and moving to have my feet washed by my dear brother Sanjeev - and a great joy to be able to wash the feet of my brother Oliver. There were many tears of joy and emotion as we did this service to each other. And the joy during the breaking of the bread was palpable.

Before we knew it, we had already reached Sunday afternoon. But the Retreat was not over yet.
We had purposively chosen Igatpuri as our venue for the retreat because of our close co-working with the Purnatha Bhavan centre for women and children infected and affected by HIV which OASIS runs.
A quick visit there was a blessing to us all. What a delight to see the dedication of the staff, the changes in the lives of the children and women, the amazing hand-crafts that the ladies are doing. We were also able to spend some time with the staff sharing our own challenges and praying for each other. It is so valuable to see how God is using others for His kingdom. We are proud (in the good sense) of the work that Purnatha Bhavan is doing.
We left the Retreat with the Joy of the Lord a deep reality for each one of us. We are proud of our JSK team. Each member is very valuable. This retreat brought out again how important each one of us are for the work of the Kingdom. It also showed us that we must constantly growing deeper and going farther in God. What a privilege to be on this pilgrim journey together!

Post-Retreat Blues

A constant challenge after experiencing a wonderful Retreat is the jarring knock of the day-to-day grind afterwards. We were really refreshed by our weekend in Igatpuri - like the rose above - but when you get back to life in the trenches it all seems far away.

Which is exactly what the enemy of our souls wants to have us think. 'Its all a mountain-top experience' 'Its not real' etc.

Well it was real. It is real. And will continue to be real. The truth of hope, forgiveness and life that we heard and experienced is more real than the hard knocks each day gives us. Thats why we go on retreats - to remind us of the deeper reality that lurks beneath our often slightly soiled (and sometimes positively filthy) days.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Eicher Emmanuel Mennonite Church

In the US state of Iowa stands the Eicher Emmanuel Mennonite Church.

Its roots go to a certain Benjamin Eicher who left the Amish community in 1874 along with others who founded this church - and eventually joined the Mennonite Conference. A short account of this can be seen: here. The gist of it being a pithy reminder by a fellow Amish bishop: "a minister should wear clothing that would show people he was a minister, not a banker." The offending clothing? Round buttons instead of eyes and hooks (like what ladies use today for their Punjabi outfits).

Of course, there would have been so much more than just whether our distant anscestor wore buttons or hooks. The fabric of relationships, the willingness to submit or challenge, the constant balance between individual conscience and the tugs of pride in each of our souls.

To leave a church is no easy matter. Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters may look askance at the proliferation of small fellowships ("ecclesiastical communities" as the current incumbent of the Holy See calls us) , but the great value in this is based on the conviction that we must obey our conscience, especially when guided by scripture. Time also winnows out losers. In order to continue, a church must be more than just a personality (which I am sure Benjamin Eicher had plenty of), but must also be a living community that worships and grows together.

I don't know much about the Eicher Emmanuel Mennonite Church. We know about it through a distant relative of ours - Tom Eicher - who wrote to us recently. He had stumbled upon this blog and wanted to know if we were related. We figured out that my great-grandfather and his grand-father are cousins.

But what we do know is that each generation has to rediscover - and re-be church. We cannot just inherit a building / pattern of worship / set of rituals. We must ourselves plunge into what it means to worship God together as community - and be His hands and feet. We may end up very different from our parents "ecclesiastical community" - but one day this current set of splinters will all be washed away in the massive roar of praise around the throne of glory - and I suspect that there will be folks there who have round buttons as well as eye-and-hooks!

The eyes have it

Over a year ago a phone call came: "We have HIV and are pregnant and would like an abortion. How much do you charge?"

Sheba talked to the woman and asked her to come the next day with her husband to talk it over. We prayed.

In the course of the meeting she found out that neither really wanted to abort the baby, but that someone had told them if they already had one HIV negative child (which they did) the next was guaranteed positive. They were also under much pressure from their family to end the pregnancy.

Sheba talked to them more. She shared about how precious each child is to God - and the wonder that is there in each creation. She shared the facts about the low chances of transmission given the medications we use today. She shared about how each child has an angel who sees God's face. She asked the couple if they knew about Jesus. To her surprise, the woman said that her sister attends Christian prayers and that there was a bible at home.

The next few months were a roller coaster. The woman feel sick with TB. Other doctors strongly favoured terminating the child. She was admitted at a government hospital for the abortion. We prayed. The church prayed. She left the hospital.

Finally the child was born. A boy. A beautiful boy. That was 10 months ago.

Today the family came. What a joy to hold little Hanif (name changed) - this wonderful life in our arms. Sheba held the child like Naomi held Obed. We wish we could share the photos of Hanif and his parents, but there are clear confidentiality issues at stake.

Take a look at his eyes, though. The road to today has been long already, but full of miracles. Hanif has an amazing future ahead of him - having been bathed in prayer since a pre-born!

A Talented Poem - by Adam Black

First dispach from our just concluded JSK Staff retreat at the Satyagiri centre in Igatpuri:

We had a wonderful time around the theme of The Joy of the Lord is my Strength. Part of the joy was having a 'talent nite' and one of the items was Dr. Adam Black reciting a poem he wrote especially for the occassion. Here it is:

A Talented Poem? You Choose!
So many paths,
Such worn shoes.
We determine our future,
By the paths that we choose

A man of worth,
Came, stayed, went,
To each of three servants
Some money he lent.


Such trust an honour,
Consider it privilege,
To waste it a shame
Or perhaps sacrilege


How much do you have?
How much has been given?
But greater than this,
Does your path lead to heaven?


To some is given much,
To some less, to some little,
But its how we proceed,
That tests our mettle.


From the man who has much,
Much more should be made,
But not to be kept,
To the master repaid!


For the man who had less,
When brought to account,
Through hard work the test,
Doubled his amount


But the man who had least,
What worthless dalliance
Hid what he had,
And returned just the balance.


See its not what we have
That counts in the end,
But it’s what we accomplish
With what we’ve been lent.


No matter how “much”,
“Less” or “little” you feel,
Lift the edge of your bushel,
And let it reveal

A treasure, a jewel,
That shines from within,
Then the true path to heaven,
Our worn shoes will win.

- Adam Black

Thursday, 24 April 2008


The VBS ended today. An amazing sight to see 130 kids take out a procession through the shantytown settlement where the programme was held - singing songs and wearing golden crowns.

Here are the boys from Sheba's group. Each one of them so bright. So much potential.

Our kids - a good 40 strong - each from families affected by HIV - and some with the disease themselves - mingled in with the other 80 odd kids who were there today. As we looked out over the crowd we could see them like gems, familiar faces popping up here and there.

Many of the children who walked the streets this morning will be wearing crowns forever.

The disappeared

10 million girl children are not growing up amongst us. 'Female Foeticide' is not some abstract idea. We see it in all sections of society - and especially among the rich. Punjab and Haryana - which head the league in average incomes in our beloved country - also have some of the highest rates of sex-selection abortions.

Stefan and his merry troupe of artists and activists have been working on this issue - seeking to see how God's people can be a voice and speak the Kingdom into society. Their current group show is called "Sanctity of Life" and has already drawn various responses (including a troupe of ladies from an arm of the UN who arrived already convinced that a group of fundamentalist artists had been at work). Stefan and his colleagues listened to them and tried to gently engage them in a conversation on affirming and building the rights of all - the unborn, the born, women and men...

As part of the larger dialogue Swami Agnivesh will be giving at talk at the Reflection Art Gallery and Studios on the 25th of April from 6-9 PM.

We need to talk. 10 million silences surround us.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


A shot of a boy cooling off in Bhubaneshwar, Orissa - the state where Sheba was born and brought up in. They are going through a heat wave with temperatures in the mid-40s centrigrade. Unimaginably hot. Heat kills. Over 25 officially reported. How many others?

We are pretty warm here in Thane too. We were definitely in the high 30s today. Forcast has us touching 40 day after tomorrow. But we have our fans and electricity (most of the time) and cool water to drink. Our many blessings carry on.

Providence at work

Its not often we thank God for a bounced cheque.

The Alfreds are doing that right now. Somehow the health insurance payment for the senior Alfreds was not accepted, and their insurance lapsed. The company demanded a whole raft of tests to reinstate Uncle and Aunty.

Dr. Stephen and family had already left for the UK when the results come back. The routine ultrasound of the abdomen showed something in Aunty's kidney. An MRI was ordered and showed a cyst. Immediate surgery was done. The kidney removed. The growth is malignant.

All this has happened at lightning speed. Auntie is still in the ICU. Dr. Stephen is due back in 3 days. The treating dr. here says that it seems the malignancy was only in the kidney. Auntie has lost a kidney, but it seems that with it went the cancer.

Had it not been for the bounced cheque - and the tests done - this would not have been discovered.

God works in mysterious ways.
Please continue to pray for Aunty Alfred's recovery. She is in her upper 70s and has served the Lord for many years.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Commoners and Kings

HIV brings you in touch with God's people from every level of society.

Around noon today a man and his wife stopped by at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Care Centre for their anti-retroviral medications and a check-up. Mr and Mrs Dayanidhi (name changed) were clearly not fully healthy - their jagged faces told that - but they were grateful that their appetites were back. A sleek car waited outside. They own a string of pharmacies. The only reason they were darkening our door was because they were both HIV positive. And yet, over the months, we have been able to build a relationship with this dear couple.

While this couple was talking to us - a few meters away a man was lying in one of our beds at the care centre. He has TB and needs treatment. A week ago he came for help - and was asked to do some investigations and come on Monday for possible admission. He didn't come. Our staff met him in his home and talked with the family about doing something for him. They said that they did not have the money. Lata (JSK staff) prayed with the family. At that time, his mother came in and after some discussion with her, she gave a gift of money to get the tests done. Today they came for admission. He is sick and coughing. Three ladies were with him the whole day. The whole family are rag-pickers.

We are so privileged to be in a situation where we can serve both those with financial means and those who do not have assets. All God's children have holes in their hearts that need filling.

A leg to remember

Dear Diary,

We had an autorickshaw strike today all across Mumbai. The autorickshaw drivers want higher fares and do not want digital meters installed. They say it will last 3 days. Thats 3 days without income for most of the drivers - many of them who are paying thousands a year just to use someone else's liscence.

A direct consequence of the strike is that I had to take Sheba to Mr. Nandi's house today so that she could do the dressing. No place for Sandhya so I played the nurse as well. Before going Sheba asked me if I could do it. I said yes - and there wasn't much of an option - not much room on a scooter for 3. So the two of us it was.

Sooner, far sooner than I expected we were there. The slum is called Gandhi-nagar (most slums are named after political leaders). The house could have been one of any of the homes we passed. Small single rooms with a washing platform in them. Most without toilets. Being on the first floor it meant a steep climb up a ladder of metal steps.

Sheba went in first. Mr. Nandi had just turned around to get a bit of cool air - since the power was going to go any minute. In the narrow 4 x 12 foot room, we could barely turn him around again so that we could get at his right leg.

No fever - a good sign. Pain in the leg. Not so good. The heavy bandages should have warned me about what was beneath. Sheba cut through the gauze that kept the pads to his leg. And then it was off.

Somehow I didn't pass out. There was no skin from almost the thigh down to the knee cap. I could see the muscles like something out of an anatomy text book. Only this was real live Mr. Nandi - and this was his leg which had been neglected till it filled with pus and had to be cut open.

Sheba got to work cleaning it out. I won't describe it any more, since I feel nauseated now. While there I was able to stay calm and play the back up nurse. I am amazed at Sheba's calm and love to clean out what was clearly infected again. I mixed the betadine and hydrogen peroxide mix in a small bowl and Sheba dipped in the small gauze swabs and then scooped out - there is no other word - the liquid from the insides of the wound.

All the while Mr. Nandi's loving mother looked on. The power had duly shut off almost the moment we turned him around, so we were all bathed in sweat under the low asbestos roof. Mr. Nandi did not let out a wimper. The mental strength of that gaunt man. His mothers loving and sorrowful eyes. The sweat under my gloves. The rapidly filling yellow bag of infectious wastes from the cleaning.

Mr Nandi is in the pathetic situation he is for one main reason. He has HIV, and because of his status, he has consistently been denied medical treatment appropriate to the state of his leg. Today it seems to late. He needs a skin graft, and at least a long recovery in a sterile surrounding. Otherwise the infections will kill him. Our skin protects us from so much. He has this gaping hole where skin should be. And his is immuno-compromised to boot.

What to talk with such a man. After it was all over, I was able to look Mr Nandi in the eyes. They were sad, but grateful eyes. Though he is gaunt, there is much life in him. I talked about the good shepherd and how Jesus came to give life and life abundantly. The wound that I had just seen was massive - but is was visible and indisputably bad. But all of us carry hidden wounds around with us. Ones that he hide in our hearts and which are just as putrid - but here's the rub - we refuse to even acknowledge that we have them - let alone allow God to gut and cleanse us.

It was time to go. A prayer with Mr. Nandi and his mother. They wanted to go and buy cold-drinks. We drank water and I tucked into two pieces of sweets. Mr. Nandi is a Jain. His mother said that the sweets are made at their temple in downtown Thane - and that they use pure ghee there for their sweets.

Going back through the narrow lanes - carrying the bright yellow hazards bag, filled with pus stained dressings - I could not help but be thankful that God had given us this opportunity to love this man. Life went on outside. Girls chatted in the shade. Shopkeepers rearranged their shelves. The odd motor-cycle growled by. But there in their midst is a gaunt man with a mangled leg - but who is very loved by God.

Good Catholic boys?

Channel V is a competitor with MTV. Recently they had a short write up on one of their blog-sites ( on our friends Richard and company who play for a heavy metal band called Revelations - as well as Common Union. They were our headline band for last year's YAA Festival.

The writer was trying to get around this idea that Christians are playing heavy metal (you can take a look at his piece - and even sit in on a short jam by clicking here). At one point he says: - Don’t get any ideas - the band is made up entirely of good, decent Catholic boys, united by a common love for God and the glam band Stryper.

We will let the Stryper bit go by without comment. But the other aspect is classic. Christianity in Mumbai is synonymous with Catholicism. Good Catholic boys (as opposed to bad ones I suppose) are the "gospel" types (as they say in the North East about goody-two-shoes). Missing from the pic is the essential issue - there are no 'good decent folks' - just lousy lyin' n' cheatin' ones - and a smaller set who come to Jesus desperate for help. He is the only one who is good (why do you call me good? Only God is good he points out to a person - underlining His divinity).

Have you heard of Astravidh? You can check out another set of rockers who love God insanely and want to shake up society by clicking here. Incidentally (and not co-incidentally) Astravidh headlined our first Youth Against AIDS festival in 2006.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Food prices

Its a fact. After years of relatively cheap food, things are suddenly kicking in - not only in our beloved India - but all around the world.

The causes: Hazy at present. It may be the cost of oil. It may be increasing demands for food production to other non-edible (but lucrative options). Whatever it may be, the issue of real hunger is once again making its way in our midst. And it doesn't look likely to vanish soon.

At Jeevan Sahara we have been doing a small programme called: A hand-full of rice. The idea is that as we cook our regular meals, we will put aside a handful of rice or atta (whole wheat flour) every meal - and pray for a family who has HIV and need nutritional support. At the end of the month we bring our bags of food and give them to those who need - and whom we have been praying for.

We were thrilled to know that one of our partner churches from Mumbai - Cornerstone Assemblies of God in Kurla - is doing a similar thing. Pastor Stanley John shared at a recent meeting for churches that they are doing a programme called "Food for All." On the Sunday that they have holy communion, they encourage people to bring food as well. They were challenged by the need to help one family in need. Pastor was thrilled to find that so much was given that they are now helping several families!


This morning we were blessed to see about 40 of the children whose parents Jeevan Sahara Kendra have been working with (i.e. whose parents are HIV positive) attend the Vacation Bible School being run by Bro Emmanuel and Sister Naomi Nathan.

As with any endeavour, the starting had some hiccups. The bus which we hired didn't come (as reported by JSK staff) - did come but no staff in sight (as reported by bus owner). Anyway. No bus. Plan b - bring the kids by autorickshaw. Tomorrow will tell if the bus turns up. Rumour has it that the Thane autorickshaws are all going on strike.

Sheba found herself taking one of the sections - and giving the missionary story - this time on George Washington Carver.

But what a wonder to see so many dear children beautifully listening, participating, learning, being blessed. We are very grateful to Emmanuel and Naomi for their vision and action in putting this precious opportunity for so many of the kids to join in (including the Eicher two-some of course). Each investment in these lives pays big returns. In their lives. In the lives of their family and community.

Yesterday night a friend from Church - Ethel had supper with us. The conversation came to the issue of finding our faith. Ethel said it was at VBS. Sheba said hers was a VBS. My choice had come earlier - but it was a children's camp at Borivali where I first decided to be a missionary (ignored for many, many years afterward - but alive in the mind of God!).
We have three more days of this VBS ahead of it. Enoch and Asha have been told that they can wear a crown on the final day!

Yellow-bordered wonder

I travelled a lot this evening.

Visited the large Hadron collider being built by CERN to try and unlock further secrets of early cosmology / sub atomic physics. Tried to go up Nanga Parbhat - in winter - with a Polish climbing team (unsuccessful). Listened in on the raging debate in Iceland between those who support the damming of a high altitude lake in order to feed an aluminium plant with electricity, and those who want to preserve the Icelandic wilderness as it is. Joined a family of western Gorillas as they moved through the hot jungle. The silverback, his 4 wives and their children. Looked into how much animals think. The list just goes on and on.

All this travel, adventure, stimulation comes within the pages of that wonderful yellow-bordered magazine: National Geographic.

We grew up with NG. Still have bound copies from the late 70s and 80s at Mum and Dad's place in Mussoorie. Over the last few years, our dear friends the Satows have been faithfully giving us subscriptions to this treasure. The tradition continues. The other day I found Enoch pouring over an article about aquatic dinosaurs (another NG tradition...).

Sunday, 20 April 2008

House church

Blood on Water - Painting by Stefan Eicher

We meet every Sunday morning at the home of Jolly and Suma Thomas for worship of Jesus and remembering Him through the breaking of bread.

Its a small group. Three core families. Three other singletons. We often feel like simpletons. But that's ok. We are called to consistency. Do not neglect meeting with your brothers...

In this small group, however, we also have the seeds of greatness (potential mainly - but also some already achieved). The small loving acts, done in love... A home that is prepared each week for us to meet. Music played with love. A small special time for the children to learn about God - offered by the teen-aged daughter of host family. A time when people share what God is teaching us. Plenty of time for worship. Breaking of bread and taking of the cup together each week. Remembering Jesus. Learning from His word.

We talked today about God's glory. The songs - the various testimonies that different ones shared - all fit together. The amazing fact of that the God of the universe - the creator of space / time and various known/unknown dimensions makes Himself visible... We have seen his glory - and are living to tell the tale. Oh that we will stop living so mundanely, in the light of all that was and is to come. God continues his plan of showing His greatness through very ordinary, weak and limited people. Our little group is exhibit no. 1.

Learning to fly (o.k. ride)...

First steps can be sudden. Or slow.

This afternoon marked a small but significant one for Asha. She was able to wobble her way a good 20 meters or so on the bicycle.

As a dad who remembers my own delight at cycling at 5 years of age, I confess that I have not been the most patient of teachers / encouragers / coaches to get Asha going. How to motivate her to move fast enough to keep her balance - knowing that it is also the speed at which a good prang will mean copious tears and various skinned appendages? She knows that falls are likely too - and so keeps slowing down.

But today I was able to leave her after getting the intial speed going - and see her maneover in more or less a straight line forward - while balancing on her own. The mini crashes that signalled the end of these little flights were without too much skin lost (two skinned knuckles and a bit of a knee was the damage this afternoon). We had a bit of a close shave when Asha bumped into the standing bicycle of our friendly door-to-door egg and bread vendour. His cycle had a large rack of a good 200 eggs on it. Asha just managed to come to a stop as her cycle nudged the front of this potential disaster. We escaped without having to compensate the good man for many cracked eggs!

Tea time - after a dressing done

Sundays are a day of rest. Mostly.

For a person with a huge wound - and having HIV - and no hospital willing to take him for the long period of healing needed - a daily dressing is vital.

Sheba went this morning along with our nurse Sandhya for a Sunday morning dressing of Mr. Nandi's leg. The wound is still huge. He really needs a sterile place and a skin graft. Both are almost impossible dreams. He lives in a rented room in a slum. He is HIV positive. Whether the skin graft will be accepted by his leg is almost moot - since which doctor and hospital will take him on for this...

After Sheba and Sandhya and cleaned and dressed the wound it was time for tea. Mr. Nandi's mother had been brewing it while the cleaning took place. She explained that she had to have a cup every morning. And it had to be made her own special way. The tea has to be from of the Hasmukh brand. She boils it down till there is almost no liquid left, then she adds the milk and a bit of sugar. She served Sheba and Sandhya the tea with a saucer to drink it out of. It was good. More so because of the love given. How precious each of our dear friends are. How quirky their lives can be. In the midst of great suffering we also small pictures of their God-reflecting humanity too.

Saturday, 19 April 2008


I hate the word 'blog'. It sounds too much like 'blob'.

And I don't know why it has taken me this long to realise what I have been up to. You, dear reader, are leafing (or perhaps 'scrolling') through the current shape of the fine, old-fashioned diary.

Looking back at the family history, it is perhaps not surprising. My great-grandfather (Austin Cravath) and brother both left type-written memiors, as did his daughter Alice Eicher (after whom Asha is named). Reading those accounts is fascinating - especially as at least one of them talks about how the Christian and Missionary Alliance was formed. A self-taught railway surveyor (think of that!) Austin Cravath carved a life of purpose and laid a foundation in my grand-mother Alice's life that blessed many others.

On my mother's side, her father Willi Fischer was a regular diarist - and we still have a small leather suitcase in which a good 40 years of occasional but regular journalling rests. My German is getting rusty, and I need to decipher his need by spidery handwriting to get the meat. And what a meal awaits - Germany in between the wars - the 2nd world war and then the communist state of the DDR. Willi also cut out newspaper articles, pictures and other things (like the food ration stamps they used during WWII. If I remember correctly, the telegram announcing my birth is also pasted in one of the diaries.

The beauty of the diary is the intersection of right now with eternity. A slice of what I am experiencing, thinking, wondering about today is written down. That serves as an on-going voice. I may later disagree or become sentimental - laugh out loud or wonder what I was thinking then - but the diary puts it down.

The strange thing, though, is how much is written for me - and how much for you - dear gentle reader? I realise that I make real choices about what I write depending on at least a few segments of potential readers. Censorship? Perhaps, but I hope I am not guilty of grand-standing either. The nice thing about this site (I will not call it by what rhymes with 'slog') is that it allows a collage to emerge. Each piece gives what I hope is a short and sharp picture - and when you take the small pieces and look at the larger work - the bigger pictures emerge.

I would also appreciate any inputs you may have, honoured reader, as to what you find worth-while in our Chai Chats together - and where I need to improve to strengthen the site. Please do leave comments or write to us (


Art attack

Stefan's gallery - Reflection Art went live this evening. A full-scale commercial exhibit using the work the art camps have worked on over the past few seasons. Amazing.

Amazing too, to find that one of Stefan's class-mates from Woodstock School - Chris Green - has a fascinating permanent exhibition in the US at a museum called the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. I am just including two shots of an absolutely remarkable set of animals from the show "Noah's Ark at the Skirball" that Chris has crafted.

Chris was responsible for making 46 life-sized animal sculptures and puppets. Each animal chosen is from an endangered or threatened species. Each animal sculpture is made largely out of recycled and reused materials - and includes some moveable part (like the bell that can be rung at the heart of the deer shown below). You can take a peek at the other wonderful beasts by clicking: here. On a small side note, Chris' India heritage shows a bit here as that is exactly the kind of bell my grandparents would use to summon the cook!

The sheer beauty of these animals just took me aback. Chris has married old 'junk' with sleek beauty to make what is both whimsical and awe-inspiring. The irony (and there is plenty of iron there too) of using cast-off materials from an industrial age to craft the animal refugees is clear. The rescue act of Noah and family finds resonance in 200 cultures according to Chris' website.


So much can be done - and yet we waste most of our time in the most stupid of pursuits...

Thursday, 17 April 2008


Score one for creative acronyms: CORINTH stands for the astounding Christian Organisations' Response In Networking To HIV/AIDS.

Being in a Corinthian city that greater Mumbai is, it makes sense, in a rather perverse way.

We met as CORINTH today. A small group of 15 odd souls - hosted at IM Cares - one of the founding groups that helped get CORINTH underway a decade or so ago. Besides ACT, Oasis, Sahaara and us at Jeevan Sahara, we also had two pastors from AoG churches to round off the meeting.

What struck me today was this: each person in the room - every single one of them - has done so much to make a difference around them. It is such a privilege to call these men and women as friends and colleagues. We have seen that each one of them have been faithful at what they were entrusted with. At the end of the day, what more can we ask? We have our warts and weaknesses, our hobby-horses and tangents - but at the end of the day, I am so proud to be part of these dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

How about you? Who are you working with? Are you building them up or tearing them down? The days we have to live are not many. Lets make the most of them. Time is short, life is full. Lets move along with people who really matter (warts included) and structure our days together.
On a very different note - the meeting was held in 'Elim' at Nana Chowk, the very house that I grew up in. IM Cares is renting it now, and OM used to be there. We moved there when I started class 1 at Cathedral School, and moved out when I finished boarding school at Woodstock. Just over the street is now what is India's largest appartment building - all 45 floors! And on my way to the meeting with James DCosta, we saw two huge towers that are almost finished - they are going to be 65 floors high. Right behind the compound another 2 huge towers are being built. Timothy Gaikwad tells me that they are going to be 65 floor monsters too!

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The Long Goodbye

The call came early in the morning.

Uncle is sick - and we are going South today.

The elderly couple left Mumbai at the stroke of noon.

Their grown children abroad, calling on the mobiles, giving advice

Uncle sitting erect with his native dignity, somewhat intact

Both of these saints have HIV, the sickness that does not dare say its name

They were leaving town because at the end of the day they needed love, respect and help

Neither of the abroad-settled adulted children of theirs could offer

A small sliver of hope rests in a cluster of families who said come, live with us

Will we see Uncle again, this side of eternity?


Why does this photo grab your attention?
I think it has to do with the exotic in the familiar - and what is familiar being exotic.
We don't have a tribesman from the Phillipines driving through our neighbourhood everyday (though we have lots of other sights and sounds that would seem super strange to many of you...).
The wooden scooter also catches you off guard. I drive a black (and rusting) metal Honda scooter. Would love to slip by on the wooden jobbie our friend is using. The familiar in unfamiliar form...
Finally, the expression on the face of the man. So, well - normal. He seems to have stepped out a Tintin comic (you almost expect Thompson and Thomson to be in pursuit) and yet though he has a slight smile - he seems to be moving forward as if he is the most normal person in the world.
Which he is.
We create our own exotica by what we don't see in our surroundings. For this dear man - his life is as ordinary (and as many splendoured) as each one of us experiences our own.


Its been over a decade since I came back to Bharat from my many years of study in the US. One of the things I still remember is arriving at JFK airport and being told to stand in a queue for 'Aliens'.

It felt down-right wierd to be called something from outer space. Enoch has recently made a line of bunny rabbits in clay that have that alien flavour to them:

But then again - the apostle Peter writes to the Christians who were scattered by persecution all over the known world of that time - and addresses them as God's children - strangers and aliens in this world.

"What a mess this world is in, I wonder who began it? Don't ask me, I'm only visiting this planet" said Larry Norman many moons ago (he actually died recently).

The good news is that we have a home - here on good old earth - but one that will be marvellously different from what we see around us today. St. John writes about seeing a 'new Jerusalem' coming down from heaven - and sees all of God's people living in this new city - with God Himself to be our light and life.

I'm on the side of the aliens.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008


One of the problems with the Bible is that it tells things like they are. Far from being a pie-in-the-sky hopeful-monsters account of the world (past, present future) we get a warts and all picture of what we dear humans look like.

Today's bombings when another 70 Iraqis died underlines this horrible trend. Nothing new if you look through the savagery of men described in the book of Judges. At the same time, the continued blood letting cries out for some kind of change. Surely this cannot go on?

It was into a time of anarchy that we see the defeated widow Naomi returning to an uncertain future in her long-before-abandoned town of Bethlehem. All she had with her were her bitter memories of the past - the shame of the present - the uncertainty of the future - and her Moabite daughter-in-law: Ruth.

In a time of terrible sexual violence - we see Ruth going out to the fields to try and glean grain. She finds shelter in the field of Boaz - a righteous and godly man. Against all odds - Ruth not only thrives - but is united in marriage to Boaz, and completes the cycle by having a child Obed. This Obed make his mark as the grand-father of King David.

We see so many desperately sad situations. It seems often that God has left the picture. Not so. Ruth and Naomi point to a God ever willing to intervene. Do we believe? Really? Around us we see women abandonned as their husbands die of HIV disease. Every path seems blocked. Just like it was for Ruth and Naomi so long ago. The same God is still around. A God who personally looked out for Ruth - and brought her into a family. We know that there are no easy answers - no push button solutions in sight. But His own presence is there - even in the darkest times - and we are His hands and feet!

You are the often the answer to the prayer you are praying.

Heart / Stroke

Mr. Treman was very sick when he came into our centre this morning. He couldn't use one arm. His pulse was hardly detectable. We thought it was the end. His mother was in tears - praying to God. Please help him - save my son she cried.

Sheba came over and checked him out. It looked like a heart attack and a stroke. We couldn't help him at our centre - people with HIV get strokes too. He needed an ICU. And fast.

We called up our parent hospital - Lok Hospital - and asked whether he could bring him over. Our staff member Daniel Kautikkar went over with the family. The cardiologist detectd an arterial blockage in the arm. Two days of the medication would cost Rs. 30,000/-. The hospital agreed to give all the other costs free - if the family could pay for the meds. They did. It was a question of his arm - being amputated - or his life ending. The meds and the prayers flowed.

This morning we got the miracle news. Mr. Treman is able to use his arm again. He is out of immediate danger. A big, big sigh of relief.

We feel so small so often. And yet God has and is using us. Another miracle. He loves Mr. Treman and his large and often complicated family very much. He loves you too.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Urban / Rural

India lives in the villages. Or so we are lead to believe. Well a lot of the village has come to the city.

The 2001 census data still states that 72% of our population is rural. I think that will be radically different in the 2011 census (only 3 years away now!).

Thane as a city has been doubling in population every decade. And this is not because the good folks hwere are very fruitful. The reason is simple. The cities offer cash. Offer some kind of hope. Offer dreams of something better than rotting away on a little bit of land, at the mercy of the rain and the tight set of local institutions that make up life in many villages.

And yet, when things get really rotten here in the big city - it is the gaon - the village that so many of our HIV positive friends talk about. A month ago, Mrs. Carlisle was deathly sick. Her husband had gone back to the village to see if his long-abandoned parents and siblings would welcome him. Mrs. Carlisle suffered from a perforation in her intestine. Somehow the neighbours took her to a government hospital. An emergency surgery was performed. She survived. Barely.

Mrs. Carlisle's aged mother finally came to look after her. In her post-op she was back in her hovel. Her husband came back - but could not get and keep a job. Food was perpetually low. This morning we found out that she had made a decision. Her mother, Mrs. Carlisle and the two children went back to the village. For how long? Her husband does not know. He has already rented out the tiny space of a home - to someone else - so that he can have some money to live off. Where will he sleep? Somewhere.

The village. Far off. Beckoning. A place dear to many living in urban squalor. A place of identity. An anchor of belonging - though this is often more wish than reality. And yet, for all the wonder of the village - we keep seeing people come back. If they are healthy enough too.

HIV adds its own twist to the story. Many say they would like to go back - but are too sick or too gaunt to dare. Others are so sick that they can only imagine what it may be like - to be 'home'. We know that most of our friends - if they are sick - who go to the village - don't come back. We hear about their deaths a few weeks later - if at all.

Most of us remain villagers at heart.

Living Legends: Chandrakant Wakankar

Loving your culture, loving your country... how do we do is in a pluralistic, multi-faceted land like ours - and how do we do it if our first love is the risen Lord Jesus?

Chandrakant Wakankar shared some of the above while speaking at the 'It's a Great Life' series of public lectures which our group of house churches has run the last 2 years. Using his own life as an example he wove together a challenge for us to trully be part of our wonderful nation of India- with all its jostling cultures - while at the same time humbly speaking truth in love into the different situations we find ourselves in.

Chandrakant draws on a life lived in learning - a lifetime of carefully observing - reading - sifting through material and testing them out - which gives him a unique set of insights into our nation. As the chief Environmental Education officer for the World Wildlife Fund (India) for many years - Chandrakant has down countless treks and camps - tracking and observing wildlife and flora. This was wedded with another fascinating set of interests - namely the military history of the great Maratha King Shivaji. Using various books as his source, Chandrakant walked the land of the battles - looking at the geography of the area and sifting out which descriptions were true from the fanciful.

This life-time of discovery has ended him up in a unique place where he is able to put these ideas into practice - Chandrakant is currently contributory faculty at the Unversity of Pune in the departments of Environmental Studies and Defence and Strategic studies, besides being a consultant to the Science and Technology Park (also part of Pune U). His spell-binding tales did not only enthrall little boys with wide open mouths - it led him to be lecturing cadets and officers of the national defence academy on military history and strategy.

We live is such a push-button age. A time when we want everything given to us immediately. A quick google search here, a web-browse there - and then we feel we have 'researched' enough. How wonderful to hear a person share small insights into a lifetime of learning. It struck me that we not only need to be learning ourselves - but that we need to be learning as families and communities. The church - as God's body on earth - must together be sifting through and picking up - cherishing that which is good - burnishing that which needs a polish - lopping off this and that which clearly do not belong...

The beauty of our country - the amazing fact that it has 11 out of the 12 major biomes (only the Medditeranean biome is missing) - the almost infinite number of plants and animals (one example below from a near-by park) - and then the overlapping of various human histories and cultures brings us back in awe to the source of it all. We love our culture and country by loving God ... with our eyes open.

Saturday, 12 April 2008


How would you like to be lost in Pune at 10.50 AM - knowing that your very dear friends are getting married at 11 AM - and that you are the best man - so the wedding party is waiting for you?

Add another tale to the Eicher's life - the case of the missing best-man - starring yours truely and a motely crew of saints in a minibus. We had left Mumbai early in the morning to drive to Pune. Your humble Eichers got up at 3.30 to get to the designated meeting point - sadly - a few others did not meet the time lines - including the bus itself. By the time we had come to the outskirts of Pune we were there by the skin of our teeth. By the time we got lost - that skin had disappeared. Yours truly did not exhibit too much grace - and other assorted fruit of the Spirit on the occasion....

The marriage of Jeremy Richards and Mary Jacob was a sight to see and a time to cherish. The vows were exchanged at the Hindustani Covenant Church - in an ancient chapel that was clearly an British army church at one point (Jesus carried a flag of England in one stained glass window and below him were the crests of two regiments in memory of fallen comrades).

"This is amazing" was what Jeremy kept saying through the day of his betrothal. A glorious day of joy as he and Mary pledged to honour, love and protect each other from that day forth. We were so blessed to actually be with them - and witness the fruit of much prayer and hope.

Uncle Geoff Richards spoke about how Jesus was invited to a wedding - and how He comes - but how also He is the one who is the host. Uncle Geoff reminded us that all the servants gave Jesus was water - common - simple stuff - but when given in obedience to Jesus - He turned it into the finest of wines. We also bring our common, broken lives to Him - and He changes us into something beautiful.
In the midst of the joy there was also the note of sorrow. Uncle Geoff shared that it was two years to the day that his beloved wife Jeanne had gone home to be with Jesus after a long fight with cancer. For us as a family our joy was tempered by the shadow of death - on our way to the wedding we received a call the Mr. Mark had died at the JSK Centre at 10 AM. Uncle Geoff reminded us that following Jesus does not mean everything is always easy - but that joy - real deep and true joy - will find its way to us through the griefs we go through.

As a family we celebrate Jeremy and Mary's life together. Uncle Geoff talked about a uniting of lives - we started the day with Jeremy and Mary as separate people - during the day they were united. Their journey as a new entity - a new union as Jeremary - has begun in the presence of God and man. We rejoice at the reality of them growing more and more as one - and being an every greater blessing to others.

Our thoughts also go back to our own parents. Uncle Geoff and Aunty Jeanne sang at Mum and Dad's wedding in 1967. The legacy of Godly parents and their sacrificial lives have been a deep and lasting blessing to us all. It was a special blessing to represent the Eichers on this wonderful day.

The next gen of Eichers were in full swing too. Asha was a very enthusiastic flower girl - going well beyond the call of duty. Enoch did not have a specific role - but made up for is with energetic running around.

I had been asked to raise a toast to the newly-weds. As part of the happy haze that surrounded the wedding - the grape juice had already been served as a cooling sherbert - and so we had a toast without the liquid - but a blessing none-the-less.

As Jeremy and Mary start out their joint life, Sheba and I look back to just before the millenium change - 15th Dec. 99 - and are amazed at the wonderful journey we have had since then. At our reception in Mussoorie, one of the people who prayed over us said that there would be many tears - very true - but also much joy. Joy will search and find us all out - as we turn our faces towards Him!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

A joining of lives

Tomorrow we leave at an ungodly hour - to take part in a God-drenched event: the wedding of Jeremey Richards with Mary Jacob. Jeremary - as uncle Geoff has already called the couple - have been brought together across the seven seas. Though Father God knew them and was preparing them for this great day - they did not know of each other until they found themselves serving on the OM ship Logos II.

Mary is from Tamil Nadu. Jeremy is from the world. His passport says Australian, but he has lived in Kenya, Cyprus, India and various other points. Both are open to where God wants them next - but know that God wants them to be living out their lives together now.

The wedding is in Pune - where Mary has been serving with the Good Shepherd ministries for many years. We as a family are planning to go - to celebrate with the new couple and various family members. From Australia Uncle Geoff - his brother and sister - and Jeremy's sister Fiona and her new baby Tabitha. From Mumbai and Pune - many others. More than the ceremony - where I get to be best man and Asha flower girl - and all of us witnesses and pray-ers - more than the solemn and joyous vows - we look forward to growing as a family with Jeremary!

Caring for the dying - and the should-not-be-dying

Update on the two men admitted on Monday. We were able to get one of them - Mr. 'Nandi' - admitted at the main government hospital at Sion - and after much advocacy he was posted for emergency surgery to drain the pus from his knee at 4 AM this morning.

Whether Mr. Nandi will survive we do not know.

The other man - Mr. Mark is still with us and very sick. He has not passed urine for a day and is very weak. We are waiting for some test results before starting on treatment - but it doesn't look good.

The fact is that both these men were admitted at government hospitals - where they should have been getting treatment for their infections. Mr. Nandi for his infected leg - Mr. Mark for what looks very much like Tuberculosis. Both were discharged after spending many days and getting minimal treatment - mainly because they are HIV positive.

Today we are ministering to the dying - when they shouldn't be. It is one thing to try everything and still have the person slip away. It is quite another to have been in a place where treatment should have happened, but be sent away with anti-retroviral therapy as if that will magically solve all the problems the person is going through.

Three Flowers

Here are three flowers:

The first is our dear Asha, who has made a bed for her newest teddy: "Gloria"

The second is the lily that bloomed on our balcony this morning. After a year of spending a fairly mediocre existence - it bursts forth in such amazing colours that you just have to say 'wow'!

The third is our dear Enoch - who went to school this morning for his last day of 'juniour kindergarten'. The holidays now stretch ahead till mid June - when he joins the ranks of 'senior kindergartners'!

We have many more flowers in our lives - but here are a few to brighten your day - they certainly have done so for us.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


Time flies. Pretty literally. The trusty BBC website had this image today - which brought back some of my recent conversations with Enoch.

Having finished 5 years of his life - Enoch is interested in many a thing. Recently it is all about firsts. The other day the question was - what was the first car like. Was it small? As small as a toy car? When was the first scooter made?

This evening I was asked: what was the first shop? When I confessed I didn't know what the first shop was, the second question followed: what was the second shop? A simple economic history followed - but as Enoch's dad, I really have to wonder at how quickly things change - and also how certain things don't - or at least not as quickly.

Take the picture above - from the first mechanised flight to the rise of the jet airliner took about 50 years or so. But since then, we basically have had the same technology. Enoch saw a clip of a 'space plane' which may offer 'space tourists' a few minutes of weightlessness before gliding back to earth - but that is really not pushing the limits much more. We are not really talking about flights that take us around the world in 5 - 6 hours - for instance - something that rocket propelled aircraft may be able to do. Then again - the road to the airport (or space-port) is quite likely to be blocked with traffic of a more humble kind - so the huge extra amount of money that any of these technologies would probably entail (at least in the first part) would hardly be adding much utility.

When was the first airplane?

Monday, 7 April 2008

In-Patient Care

The paint is hardly dry - having successfully dedicated our (re)new(ed) JSK centre - we moved our work back into it today - with the strong smell of paint still upon us.

The new cabins are tiny - and will take adjusting to for our doctors and as we start the counselling and testing process we will have to develop new ways of using space cooperatively.

But one thing is sure - we continue to walk by faith - and not by sight. On the very first day back in business as a centre we have already admitted 2 patients.

Both men are in pathetic condition. We had wanted to admit one of them earlier - we will call him Mr. Nandi - as he had terrible pain in his leg which suggested a severe infection. After a lot or persuasion, our staff helped to admit him at the Municipal Hospital in town. Very sadly, he was there for almost 2 weeks - and nothing - literally nothing was done for him.

The main reason is that he has HIV.

The orthopaedic surgeon was called repeatedly, but clearly did not want to touch him. When he finally was 'discharged' he came to our centre - emaciated, in great pain - and with a huge amoung of pus in his knee. We were stunned to see that he was sent off without even a diagnosis written on his discharge card. We really do not have the capacity to do what is clearly a major orthopaedic procedure - but his mother is at her wits end and so at least for now - as I type this in at 9.45 PM - Sheba is over at the centre doing her night rounds with the patients. We will try what we can - and pray.

The other patient - lets call him Mr. Mark - was met while he was also admitted at the same government hospital - by Mr. Raju - one of our long term Positive Friends - who has himself moved away from Thane - but who comes every month for his medications. Mr. Raju saw that the mother of Mr. Mark was deeply distressed - and Raju told her that she should come to Jeevan Sahara. She came last week full of hope, and was so grateful to be talked to and to have people who cared for her. Today she brought her son. He is painfully thin, but has come in hope that something can be done.

Miracles - big and small - are very needed tonight.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The all-seeing eye of the Internet

We had a colleague at the mission hospital that we worked at in Jharkhand whose wife did not want her name on any document that would be put out over the internet. I thought that rather quaint.

Last week I came across this picture:
An unknown person, lying in a bed eating dominos pizza. The bizarre thing is this - it was taken on the 14th of Sept. 2006 but a group of motorcyclists who stopped in at Mum and Dad's place in Mussoorie - while they were not there. The picture is of the lower bedroom in the house - what used to be called "Andi's flat" and is the bed I slept in for a good year or so after University. The shot is one of 15 odd photos showing almost every nook and cranny of the lower flat at Shanti Kunj. You can take a complete guided tour courtesy of the unkown persons from the biker site by clicking: here

Big brother may not be here - but lots of small brothers seem to be. We may not be seeing a total overhaul of privacy by some all-knowing hidden power - but the huge amount of info about bits and bobs of our lives continues to flow - and laps up in unexpected places!

A walk in the woods

Being in urban Thane - we tend to get overwhelmed by the grittiness of life in the city. All the more so since we work with so many who live in such horrible situations - the filth and refuse of their shanty-town surroundings mirrors that miseries of broken relationships and sordid bondages.
It is important to come away for a while. We did that as a team yesterday - spending the day with our dear friend John Forbes in the Borivali National Park. The amazing part of it all is how spatially close we are to nature - just a 10 minute walk from our centre brings us into the national park.Once inside, it is a 1/2 hour walk up the hill and there we are on the ridge. With trees and a few small fields and no one else in sight. We worshipped God in the sheer beauty of his creation. Heard John encourage us about allowing God to do new things in us - and discovering the on-going work He is doing. We then listened as each person shared what they had learned in the last 3 months. The reports ranged from the personal - new things learned, small but important frontiers crossed - to our work where people have seen spiritual break-throughs in people's lives and where one of our staff said that instead of just loving others with HIV - they had received so much love from the people who have HIV that he was serving. We had time for team-building games - a crab-relay got the pulses racing- and brought lots of laughs and cheers from all. Another game with animal names and rythmic clapping made sure everyone had ample opportunities to laugh. We also reviewed the past 3 months and spent time praying for the next 3. Then there was the business of lunch....
A sumptious spread showed the culinary skills of all and sundry. This amazing spread had been brought up the hill and was eagerly devoured. Almost like something out of Enid Blighton. We only needed the Famous Five to show up.

Post lunch we spent time alone. Time to be quiet and listen. To the rustle of the wind in the leaves. To see the bamboo flowers - which only bloom something like every 18 years or so. To watch hawks and listen to birds. To be enveloped by the buzz of the cicadeas. God speaks through His creation.
From the ridge we could look down the eastern slopes to the urban sprawl of Thane - ever populated with more buildings rearing themselves up. A glance over to the Western side shows the forest opening up to the ridges of the National park. We could be looking at anywhere in central India. The hills and scrub forests - the occasional house or two of a long-standing village settlement.

And so we came back for a final feed-back and prayer. The time up away - and together - had been a deep blessing for us all. Nature does that to you. We return to seeing people with HIV and their needs on Monday. God has been looking after them in our absence. But we return with a bit of the hill-side peace in our hearts. Be still and know that I am God - it says in the good book. We did. We know.