Thursday, 31 July 2008

Satish update

Our little boy who has been at the JSK centre for the past 10 days seems to be ever so slowly turning the corner. He is eating on his own - his 'death skull' look is ever so slowly receding. Satish is still hovering on the brink - but a lot of love and care - and many prayers later it looks like he may make it after all.

The next question is where to discharge him to?

The street, where the ruin of a hut awaits them at their pavement site? Add to that the monsoonal rains and we understand how Satish came to be in the miserable state he is in.

The challenges of urban squalor and destitution don't go away.

We are trying to locate relatives. We have found some, but they want nothing to do with the family. Sadly, not a single person from the relatives have come to visit and inquire.

Poverty is primarily a poverty of relationships.

And how to involve God's people in all of this? What steps to take, what options to give.

We find so many questions surrounding us - and so few hard (and even fewer easy) answers.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008


Gentle readers - we are now 300 posts old. Whew!

Last year - during the monsoons - we were visited by the wonderful John Forbes. Since he was travelling around India I suggested that he write a blog about his adventures. Though I had never written one myself, I bravely suggesting I could help him set it up - and so we put together a small blog for John - something that I thought would be fiendishly difficult. Not so.

After a month of regularly checking up on-line to see what John was doing - I finally gave in and Chai Chats with the Eichers was born a year ago tomorrow.

The very first post had an image of a woman peering out from behind her veil and this text

In the beginning was the Word.
And the Word was with God.
And the Word was God.
Oh that the Word would be known
by all whom the Word fashioned
by all who call on the Word,
with words
But let my words be few
and let them join with the songs around the Word
and around the world.

Have the words been few? Seems like there have been many. And always more to say.

Our hope is that some of the thoughts and experiences we have shared have touched different places in the heart and have made there ways to different spaces in the world.

We are encouraged by some of your emails (including from all the way out in Lincoln Nebraska) Its a real lift to us as the situations we face are often bleak. We yearn for conversation - and hope that this on-line diary may help towards talking things out. Please do post comments and links to other sites too - let iron sharpen iron, and let charity prevail!

Life is beautiful (and cruel) and then there is an eternal second helping (with no hint of cruelty to stain it)!

In the interest of full disclosure - the dashboard said I had 300 posts - but I think it counted 4 that I deleted. When I actually tallied the posts from 2007 and 2008 to date it comes up to 296. Not quite such a pleasing round figure after all, but since this has already gone out into the ether...

Tuesday, 29 July 2008


Morning prayers were over and the teams were about to head out for the home-visits on a wet wind-swept day.

James looked excitedly and gestured us to take a look out the window of the JSK centre and into the tree which had been planted by the late Sachin.

What should we see but a bat!

A fruit bat by the look of it - a goodly 30 cms long or so - hanging upside down and shivering with cold.

Though wet and wretched from what being out in the almost incessant torrents of the last 24 hour hours - the bat still retained the amazing beauty and strange wonder to see a furry flying thing.

What struck me most was his fox-like face. But then, just next to it is the claw that is so bird-like - and the folded leathery wing which seems so alien to us ground-bound creatures.

Monday, 28 July 2008


A small update on Satish - the little child admitted at JSK:

His face still looks like a tiny skull - the sunken eyes accentuated by him drifting off to sleep ever so often. Satish is still teetering on the verge of death. But he is eating. And really wants to eat.

Our nurses have been doing 12 hour shifts for a week now. Sandhya started nights this week, with Sunita going to do the days. Sheba goes over in the nights as well to spend time with Satish and his mother. The other 2 kids (older and younger to Satish) are taken to the child-care centre during the day.

The absolute torrent of a rainfall today did in whatever was left of their shack on the pavement. Rahul and Akshay went to the ruins this morning to see if they could salvage some of the papers that Satish's mother says she left there - including her card for her anti-retroviral medications she gets from the government ART centre in town.

On Saturday, Satish wanted to eat fish. He insisted on it. Sunita gave in. She bought fish and cooked it. Satish ate fish for lunch. And for supper.

Later in the night, when Sheba did her rounds with him, she asked Satish who made the fish. She expected him to say: "Sunita Sister" or "Sunita Auntie" or "Nurse Sunita".

Instead he said: "Jesus made it."


Sheba and I had a conversation that I never thought we would. What should we tell Asha and Enoch to do if they find themselves in a bomb blast.

And what should they do? The very thought of it boggles the mind. A newly married man watched as a loud blast shook the street and threw his wife in the air. She was closest to the explosion - and died. What should Asha or Enoch do if they see something like that? If they experience that in their little bodies?

Whoever was responsible for the blasts this week in Bangalore and Ahmedabad was cold blooded in the extreme. The Bangalore bombings - where the newly-wed man lost his wife - saw multiple blasts - at least 7. The bombs in Ahmedabad were timed to kill people who were helping (something we hear from the Middle East) and for the first time they even targeted a hospital. Over 50 people died in the 16 known blasts.

Though we do not like to admit it, we are living in an age of terror. The anonymous act of violence looms over each one of us to greater or lesser degrees. My mother had a childhood defined by bombs - but those were from the Allied aircraft, carpet-bombing German cities in the quest for victory in Europe. The families would huddle around the radios hearing the evening news about in which cities bombs had fallen and what the damage was. Mum was sent to the countryside since Leipzig was a major target for the bombers - and during the three years she was away from her parents this little girl would listen and wonder if her parents had survived.

What we see today, however, is something altogether different. The bombs seem to be randomn. They keep coming. Its not clear who is actually doing this. A few groups 'claim responsibility' afterwards - but who can even understand their bizarre rantings? Who are these people? What drives them to purchase pressure cookers from the bazaars and pack it with explosives - and prime it with their mobile phones?

One thing is sure - these are frightfully normal people. How true the press reports are is hard to know, but one of the men who died while carrying out one of the previous bombings in Mumbai kept a bar-dancer as his mistress and lived with her for some time. Hardly the stereo-type religious fanatic. Very much like many of the young men we are in touch with.

Inside each one of us lies the seeds of hatred and revenge. They may be small and ignored, but our thoughts lead to actions. We know that each person will stand one day before the great white throne and give account for everything that they have done. The bombers - whether found or not - will stand before their maker and will have the shocking task of seeing everything they thought and did laid out before them. Likewise the many who may not have actually bombed but supported them materially. Or logistically. Or by agreeing with their principles. Or by harbouring hatred in their own lives. Or by thinking thoughts of hatred towards others. From God's perspective - thoughts - if dwelled upon and relished - are just as real as the actions that often follow these fantasies.

So what to we tell our children? Well, right now we have decided not to specifically tell them what to do. We are going to love them and let them know that they are very precious to us. We are going to enjoy each day with them - and seek to build their character to carry on even if we are suddenly taken away from them (by bomb, accident or some other unexpected shock). We are going to spend time singing and exploring what it means to live with God as part of who we are right now.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The end of a training

Just finished off another set of Church Member trainings in HIV care today. 4 day-long sessions - interspersed at fortnightly intervals.

Each batch has its own unique flavour.

Today we were discussing death and how to help people who are dying. While we held the session in the meeting hall used by the Bethesda Assembly, just a wall away in our JSK centre, little Satish was fighting for life (note - it looks like he may pull through - he ate a whole banana on his own tonight - and some fish).

One of the salient points that came out again and again is that we are able to face dying - because of Lord Jesus has himself gone through the bitterness of death - and is able to help us with courage and hope. The other is that we are being comforted through Him and are able to comfort others in any kind of trouble (2 Cor. 1.4).

As we reviewed the training with our participants and staff we can only say that we are very grateful - all of us - for the learning experience we had together. An exercise we did was to stand in a circle. One person held a ball of red knitting wool. He or she then expressed something that touched us over the 4 sessions - and then threw the ball across the circle, while keeping hold of the end of the thread. The result was a beautiful web of red. We heard each point of the star as something that was to be thanked for.

Now that the training is over we need to see where our dear friends will take what they have learned. We were blessed to have 2 members of the Blessing Youth Mission who are working in rural Maharashtra and have come across many people with HIV. Other blessings were seeing local trainees meet people with HIV in their homes over the last 2 weeks.

This evening our youth from church discussed about how one of their 'mini-teams' have been visiting the home of a very sick person with HIV. Its sometimes not easy to visit him given his on-going illness and depression - but they are sticking with it - and have seen some small improvement in the man.

This is what we want to see take place - common people reaching out in love in the name and strength of our uncommon Lord Jesus.

Friday, 25 July 2008


We started out this monsoon wet. Very wet. Then a span of dryness. Now we are wet again.

How many prayers went up on behalf of the weather? Hard to say. The papers have pictures of various religions praying for rain. When it comes each will take credit for it.

We certainly prayed for rain as a church and a family. Though our creature comforts are a bit disturbed by the deluge that a good Mumbai monsoon is - we know that so much of our country depends on agriculture.

Being in Thane, we already have 4 hour power-cuts because of the rain scarcity (hotter - so more people in power-cut-free Mumbai use their air-cons more). But that is nothing compared to the farmers who have sowed their seeds in anticipation of rain and see grey but rainless clouds each day.

Did our prayers swing it? It certainly feels like it - though as said already folks from other faiths will also claim it was their efforts that brought about the moisture from above. Nothing new here too - we can think back to an episode where a man like you and me prayed, and the Lord shut the heavens for 3 years - and then he prayed again - fervently - and the Lord poured down rain.

How loving and gentle God is to hear his children.

How much of the intimate history of the world we will have to unwind and trace to the simple prayers of God's people.

A child slipping away

Little Satish is very sick. He lies in the bed at the JSK Centre with his eyes half-open, half asleep.

What is he thinking at this time?

Satish's little match stick arms peep out of a dress that Asha used to wear. He has had diarrhea so often that he is dressed in clothes that we and others have given to JSK to give away. Earlier in the day - when we had our morning team prayers with Satish's mother and older brother and younger sister I could see each of the children wearing one of Asha or Enoch's old clothes.

Pray for Satish and his mother. It doesn't look like he will pull through.

His mother's eyes fill up with tears anytime we talk with her.

Death is very close to us. Will Satish slip into the arms of the Lord - or will he come back to us and be the little boy we knew?

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Living Legends: Rob Sinclair

Charles Darwin? Father Christmas? Karl Marx? Sri Rajneesh?

The bearded man with the big smile is always a stand out. Rob Sinclair - him of the dusty sandals and the Ganges walk - was in town with his 15 year old daughter Alisha (how do they grow up so quickly) and the twosome stopped in to see us Eichers this afternoon.

After a prayer with little Satish at the JSK centre, Rob and Alisha climbed up the 7 stories to our flat (no power) and climbed down again (still no power) on their way to taking us out for a meal.

In the din of multiple birthday parties (and multiple times the famous song was sung) we had a lovely time with Rob and Alisha. Time was too short, of course, to reminisce on the many years we had together in Nana Chowk when Rob was the team leader of the OM mens team there.

Rob did tell Alisha that he had taught me my first lessons in driving - in a Willys jeep on the University grounds at Ranchi in 1983. He also remembered that I plundered his music collection at the time - and was fascinated by the now defunct (and forgotten) pop act called Supertramp. I idolised Rob and Pradip Ayer and made a memorable trip out to meet them in Ranchi as a 13 year old.

Rob is a real Barnabas. He continues to come to India every year for a season - of walking down the Ganga - meeting people - blessing them with his presence - his huge laugh and gracious persona.

As I write this on a sleek little MacBook that Rob and his wife Carol left for us - I know that we will be remembering this amazing family a lot in the days to come!

A question

We start our day at Jeevan Sahara with worship, prayer and a sharing from the word.

Yesterday we were joined by Rev Santosh George. Santosh lives in Delhi and is married to Atula who helps the SHALOM Delhi HIV care programme recruit churches to look after people with HIV. Santosh was in town to meet with the UBS Interns at JSK and other projects ministering with the poor in the city.

This is a story Santosh shared with us:

A mission hospital in the state of Orissa admitted a destitute woman who was so sick she could not move. All she had with her was a 7 year old boy. The doctors and nurses started looking after the woman - but the son proved to be a hand-full. He would cry and howl. Then stop. Then howl again. Noone could stop the noise. Some of the other patients and nurses threatened the boy. "If you don't stop we will give you an injection" "If you keep crying we will beat you." No effect. The boy kept up his intermittant but persistant howling.

A nurse saw this - and when she went to her quarters for a meal, she gathered some food into a small packet and took it back with her to the hospital.

When she met the boy again, she gave him the packet. He tore it open and wolfed down the food. The mother - who had seen all that was going on, but could not speak or move had tears in her eyes. She knew that the boy had not eaten for 2 days. The nurse did not linger - but went to rejoin her duty.

As she was walking away, she found a small hand on her. She looked down and saw the boy had run after her. He looked up at her and asked her in his Oriya dialect: "are you god?"

Monday, 21 July 2008


Come summer and the magic of the train would take over. The long journeys which ended up in the improbable cool of the hill-station of Kodaikanal - where my father went to school as a boy - were longingly looked forward to during the term.

Finally the day would arrive and off we would go to Victoria Terminus to get the Madras-bound train. The bustle - the clatter - but most of all - the sheer majestic splendour of a huge black steam engine...

What the journey was for our parents I now can only shudder at - but to us kids it was pure bliss. To look out the window and see the wide expanses of country side - little villages flitting by - the occasional boy waving at the train in which we were travelling - the crazy flickering of light from the coach windows at night - now near and now far as the train furrowed through the night.

For me - especially when I was a bit older - the real pleasure was sticking my head out the door of the moving train and seeing if I could see the engine while the cool air pressed into my face. With the air usually came something else. Soot. I used to be pretty caked in it by the end of a journey. The first bathroom I was washed in after the trip being well soiled with the carbon deposits washed off our my little body.

As Sheba will testify - I still love the train trips - still love getting off at almost any station and walking along the platform - seeing if I can find a somewhat current newspaper and a cup of watery chai.

Do I miss the steam? Only the romance of seeing a majestic coil of smoke billowing out of a steam engine in the distance. I am happy for the carbon deposits to remain safely in their coal beds.

A small child with AIDS

The shrivelled little boy looks like the stock image burned in our mind of an AIDS-afflicted child from Africa.

Except that he is admitted at our Jeevan Sahara Kendra centre.

Little Satish is skin and bones. And lots of diarrhoea. His father - Mr. Langru - died 2 months ago. His mother has HIV as well and is a rag picker. They are living on a pavement in a shack. Satish has HIV too. He is severly dehydrated and malnourished. But it is the diarrhoea that is doing the job of killing him now. And the lack of family.

We have admitted the little boy with the hope he will revive. Do say a prayer for him. His mother and two other siblings will be at the centre for a week. He doesn't know how to use a commode and so defecates on the floor of the bathroom. Repeatedly - since he has diarrhoea.

Our hope is that he will be rehydrated with the oral rehydration solution we have for him - and that he will start gaining a bit of weight soon.

We also hope that we will be able to get his mother off the streets. She harbours dreams that a man who works as a trucker will come and marry her and look after her and the kids. Unlikely as he already has his own family. Talk is cheap - but in situations of misery the cheapest words can be latched onto like a leech.

Mrs. Langru does have relatives. Her sister says that she has asked Mrs. Langru to stay with her. Mrs. Langru seems to say otherwise. What is the sum of miseries which have gone on over the years to have reduced the family to such destitution?

Remember little Satish for a moment. And his mother and siblings too. And our JSK staff who are lovingly looking after them. And believing in a miracle.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Balloon man

As kids we would see them on the roads. The balloon men. Holding an improbable number of balloons - some in the most amazing shapes - like monkeys and flowers. The cost was always the barrier - but it didn't stop us from looking - and looking pleadingly at our parents.

They still walk the streets - but we seem to see less of them (are we less on the streets?). The man above is walking a lonely road in Afghanistan - far from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai / Thane.

At the end of the day - what do the balloon men do? When 11 PM comes and no one is on the streets anymore. Do they deflate their wares? Do they count the increments of 3 and 5 rupees they have received over the evening? Do they eat some street food or trudge to their little holes-in-the-wall for their plate of rice and dal? Do they buy a packet of country hooch in a plastic bag?

There is a lot of colour and a lot of drudgery in this fallen world of ours.


Question and answers around the dining room table tonight:

Who is your most important teacher?

Answer from Asha and Enoch: "God, then our parents, then the uncles and aunties at church who teach us how to love, then our teachers at school."

Oh that we would keep this in mind throughout life.

So much of the time we spend muddling along on our own - when our great teacher - the wonderful counselor is there to help us.

Its been a great day - I was in town to meet with church leaders - we are preparing for a one-day meeting with Philip Yancey at the end of the year. Sheba took the kids out for a play in the play ground. Saroj - the lady who helps us at home - gave us the good news that her son had been admitted into junior college and her 3rd son had shifted schools. Asha and Enoch napped before Asha had her violin lesson in the afternoon. Hrishav, Urvashi and Jason came over - and their mothers joined Sheba for a ladies fellowship at Doris Jayakar's place. Yours trully played pictionary with the kids. Ryan, Reneta and Thomas came over for a time of prayer about the youth work - and having just visited the home of a family with HIV. We discussed and prayed and I had a prayer with one of the lads. We then went over to Lok Hospital to see little Joshua Thomas who was admitted earlier today with wheezing. He is getting better and we were able to talk and pray with his Dad. Then back home (10 PM by now) and a late supper and washing up and now it is past 12. Though we are tired, we really want to thank God for so many wonderful opportunities to experience Him today. He is a wonderful counsellor!

Friday, 18 July 2008

A vision

CORINTH. A network of Christian Faith-based organisations and churches who have a passion to work with people with HIV in the greater Mumbai area.

We met yesterday to think, pray, listen, discuss. It was good to be together. Good to meet old friends and colleagues. Good to meet some new faces. Good to think about how we can move forward. Good to listen to a good God.

In our small break-out group we were 5. Three of us knew each other from ages. The other 2 were new - a man and a woman. The woman is a volunteer with a local church. She shared her joy in meeting a lady with HIV from her church - and praying for her at home. The man did not seem to have much to say. We asked him what he was doing - and he said 'nothing.' We asked about what work he did with HIV, and he looked confused.

After a time of prayer - we asked if anyone had any pictures that came to their mind. Our group had three such pictures.
  1. A sceptre - which one of the members saw and felt reminded us of God's favour on His children doing work in His name.
  2. The second image was how the people built up the wall closest to their homes - during Nehemiah's time. The sister whose mind this came to talked about each one of us working faithfully at the place where were planted - and thus seeing the full wall built as a result of many small local actions.
  3. The final image was of a jug of water being poured out - and many glasses being filled. It struck us how apt this way for the work of the different members of the CORINTH network - many needs being met - many thirsty lives being blessed.

The last image was shared by the man.

At the end of the programme, I was having tea with Ravindranath - a gem of a man who is part of the a church prison ministry. We were talking about the lives that were changed by visiting prisoners in jail.

Ravi mentioned that he had brought one of his friends with him who was just out of jail. A man who had come to know Jesus while behind bars - and who lived nearby the venue for the day's meeting.

It was the man who had shared about the vision of the jug of water - and the filling of the glasses.

How wonderful to be refreshed by this dear man. How God can take a life - any life - and turn it into a blessing.

Thursday, 17 July 2008


We have been in the Mumbai area since late 2001 now. Among the many culture shocks I had when coming here as an adult (and that too straight from Jharkhand) was seeing my East Indian neighbours squeezing packets of bread to choose the softest ones (leaving the slightly harder and well squeezed rejects for the next customer). Today I squeeze away too.
When we got here the price of a loaf of bread was 7 rupees. Yesterday the latest increase brought that up to Rs. 13. Almost 100% inflation over 7 years according to the Eicher bread index.
We don't even see 25 paisa coins any more. As I rediscover my childhood hobby of coin collecting (in the guise of 'Asha's hobby') - it is sobering to think that there just don't seem to be any coins left. Even 50 paisa coins are rare with most products now priced only in rupees. It is said that the metal in the 1 rupee coins is now worth more than the value of the rupee - and that in eastern India folks are hoarding them and smuggling them to Bangladesh where they are made into shaving blades!
An article I read recently compared the lives of a family living in an appartment - with that of their maid living in the slum next door. We fit roughly into the category of the former. The line that really knocked me out was that the appartment dwellers income had increased 5 fold in the past 8 years. That is way, way ahead of inflation. At the same time, though the article did not say so, the wages of the maid will hardly have done so.
With our burgeoning middle and upper classes creating an almost insatiable demand for goods and services - we forget the poor and not so well off. The sad looking watchmen at our appartment building - for example - who are rotated regularly by their employment agencies. Contract employees they officially get Rs. 2000 per month for 7 days of 12 hour shifts.
A Rs. 1 increase for us in bread is not such a big loss. It adds about Rs. 20 - 25 to the monthly food bill. For our friends who work as watchmen it is huge. We will grimace a bit and carry on. What will they do as the cost of rice continues to rise? Will they borrow from others (sometimes at 10% monthly interest!) - or try and cut costs even more - or have a drink and try to forget everything?
We have had 13 solid consecutive years of a 'normal monsoon' - most of the monsoonal rains meeting most of India. We just need one poor monsoon to see many, many people who are on the edge of survival going over the edge. Though our local monsoon started with a bang - it seems to be on the whimper side of things now. I talked with Jagdish Solanki from Kedgaon yesterday and he said that they have not had any rain...

There be giants

Rahul, one of our JSK staff, shared in the morning devotions about the nation of Israel at the threshhold of the promised land.

They sent in spies to see what was there - the majority report was: fruitful but fearful. There were giants there - in whose eyes we seemed like grass-hoppers.

Rahul shared that he had experienced this last week. Sheba had referred Rajiv to Sion hospital for treatment. Rahul was asked to go along. The discharge from the private hospital in Thane took a long time. When it was time to go, Rahul saw the vehicle - a big one - that the family brought. He noted that these were people of wealth. Their size itself was huge. They insisted that Rahul sit in the front seat. He felt very small and scared. What will these people think of me? he thought and prayed hard all the time the vehicle was moving to the city and Sion hospital.

But when he got to the casualty department everything changed. As if in a dream, Rahul found himself able to guide the whole admission process smoothly. "The hospital treated me as if I was one of their staff" - doors were opened to him - while the portly and wealthy relatives were told to wait. Rahul was able to meet a doctor immediately who gave a sympathetic hearing and immediately started the admission process. God's hand was very much at work - and Rahul shared that he had seen his own personal giants of fear and feeling small and worthless defeated by the power of God himself.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A little girl

She's a little girl. Maybe 11 but we don't know. She has not done more than 3 grades of school. She is a double orphan - twice.
Leela's auntie died last Wednesday. A week ago. Her auntie had AIDS. Leela, all of 11, was her primary care giver. Her older cousin Tappan was out most of the day. Working. Drinking.
Leela looked after her auntie. Cleaned her. Gave her the medications. Cooked. Cleaned.
She ran away a few times. No wonder.
Leela's own parents are dead. Her auntie - who was a widow - was the only one who took her in. Now her auntie is dead too. Tappan wants nothing to do with her.
Leela is pale. We have not been able to find other relatives to look after her. Tappan is clearly not helping. The miserable shack of their home is no place for a little girl.
A very trusted organisation which runs a home for women and children affected by AIDS has said they have no room. We are looking further afield.
Its horrible to think of her there tonight, lying in the shack. Lying in the rain as it drips through the miserable excuse of a roof. She needs to come home to a new home.
Please pray for Leela. That her little boat would come into anchor, and safety.

A Voice

Hats off to Malti Joshi!

For those of you who have not had the privilege of meeting this fine educational consultant of Gujarati ancestry but impeccably British pronunciation - here is a small sample of what she shared at our the youth meeting last Saturday.

Malti was at CST Station (which used to be called Victoria Terminus - the largest railway station in Bombay) when she saw a sudden commotion. A crowd was running after a man who had a purse in his hand. They caught him. And started beating him. The woman who had her purse stolen from her came to him and started kicking him. Repeatedly. While his captors held him.

Malti couldn't stand still. A prayer to God and she waded in. Another man had tried to stop the aggrieved woman from kicking - and she started slapping him too. Malti did not know whether she was next - but she went forward. YOU CANNOT DO THIS! She shouted at the woman. YOU ARE BRUTALISING HIM. WHAT HE DID WAS WRONG, BUT YOU CANNOT DO THIS!


The woman glared at Malti. Malti was ready for the beating herself. It never came. Somehow they listened.

A voice. With help from God.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

In praise of the dosa

As a family we just got back from a bracing talk about how we as followers of Christ are to be good stewards of God's wonderful creation.

By the time we were home it was 9.30 PM. What to eat at this time of the night?

What better than a dosa! Out of the fridge comes the batter ('Maow') and a short time later a peanut-coconut chutney is made. The morning's alu-bhajji is added and we have a meal fit for a king. Fit for a royal family!

Hooray for the dosa - that crispy yet soft treat! Hooray for the goodness of coconut chutney! Hooray for the love we receive well mixed into our food!

Stanley Nelson reminded us earlier this evening: food is a gracious gift from God.

We couldn't agree more (esp. after 4 dosas are comfortably resting in my stomach)!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Hidden epidemic

130 friends in 6 years.

That's how many people with HIV have died. And that is only counting those whom we have gotten to know through JSK - and about who we know their outcomes. We are not counting the many with HIV who moved away from here - or those who told us that they did not want any further contact with us.

All around us, life goes on as usual. The traffic snarls. The pigeons are fed by the Jains. The monsoon plays hide and seek.

But interspersed in the fabric of our city - is a hidden net of holes. Lives that should be still lived out. Gone.

HIV continues to be the disease that dare not speak its name. The sheer terror of acknowledging one's status is enough to keep people who know they have the infection silent.

Sadly, we keep seeing people who actually die, because they have postponed their revealing of their status till its too late to get help. They are so sick that they do not recover. A heavy price to pay for the apparent peace of today. Fact is that we all seem to believe that 'everything will turn out ok.' If I can only swing it a bit longer - then things will be alright.... Not always. Not often.

Lets not keep quiet about this epidemic any more. Lets speak up. Lets calmly but clearly let light into what are often dark places.

Friday, 11 July 2008


Table conversation this evening: Asha asks at one point. "Who discovered poison? And how did they find out?"
Short exploration of the basics of science: cause and effect. Doing and observing. Seeing the relationships between things.
We had earlier prayed for Japan, N. Korea, Sri Lanka and Mongolia. Had talked about Columbus trying to find India and bumping into the 'New World' instead. Remembered the image that Keats has of the Spanish explorer (or conqueror) who looked out on the Pacific for the first time:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

He stared at the Pacific – and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise–

Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
- Keats on reading Chapman's Homer

That amazing vehicle of wonder - when we first see something that we have never seen before. I remember the first time a person with HIV who loved Jesus stood up in public and spoke. I was stunned and still have the scene frozen in my memory. Likewise, the first time I saw the internet - a crude programme called 'PINE' that was up and running at Yale in late 1992. I can still taste the awesome swoop of joy that came when I had my thesis together for Public Health - and knew that I had been blessed to see something new.
Our late S. Chandrasekhar - in his book Truth and Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science (which Stefan let me read eons ago) explores a fundamental fact: the simpler a theorem is - the more compact and parsinimous it fits - the 'truer' it is. Looking for beauty brings you to truth. Chandrasekhar was a nobel laureate (physics 1983) and went on to say that when he had the experience of coming up with a new mathematical theorem or proof - that it was like discovering a new country, like seeing a landscape that no one had ever seen before.
Once again we see finger-prints of the Divine. Would that we would open our eyes a bit more.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

You are my god!

We met them through the phone.

He had called up an HIV helpline. They found out where he lived and realised that the Jeevan Sahara Kendra was close by. The helpline called us twice to find out if he had come for help. He finally did.

A young family broken by HIV. Lets call him Sailesh. Lets call her Vinita. Lets call their little daughter Arpita.

Sailesh works but has HIV. He has been on treatment. He has had diarrhoea constantly for months. His life is in deep depression. Vinita - his wife - has HIV too. She is devastated - and not just because she has the virus in her.

Sailesh's childless brother took Arpita away from them. "I don't want to touch you" he told them. Arpita is negative. "You will make her sick too. So we will look after her." The pain was terrible. The couple considered suicide. "They looked after her like a fairy" said Vinita, but what point in living?

Today Sailesh and Vinita met Sheba.

A different story. "You are my god" Sailesh told Sheba. His diarrhoea has stopped. A miracle - nothing less. They plucked up courage and went to his brother and got Arpita back home. A miracle. They have life in their eyes. And gratitude.

Sheba was quick to point out that she was in fact not his god. But that she had prayed to Jesus with them when they last met. A situation which seemed so hopeless - has now changed. All glory to the true and living God - who cares so much for each of His children.

We do not always have 'happy' stories like these to tell - but what a great privilege it is to serve our dear friends and be entrusted with the intimacies of their lives. And what a wonder when change is seen!

Baloon lumpfish

This off the BBC website. We are given the helpful caption: "Balloon lumpfish attach themselves to a balloon at an aquarium in Tokyo, Japan."

What is it which is so bizarre about this shot? The primary colours that make up balloon and fish? The alien-like blue eyes of the lumpfish? The sheer slightly disorienting weirdness of seeing things we do not normally see?

One of the funny things about science fiction is how little imagination many of the 'worlds' end up being. They are all just versions of our own (I think Lewis pointed out this in one of his essays). At the end, we cannot really imagine something totally different from us. Come to think of it, even if we did - the strain of understanding would sink most stories - so we are pretty much stuck with this good old world and a few odds and ends tacked on.

Which is as it should be. Though we are loath to think of it - given the sheer number of stars and their associated planetary systems spinning round the cosmos - our world is actually a pretty neat place. It actually has been made pretty close to perfect to keep not only humans, but an eye-poppingly wide spectrum of life afloat. Take a look at those balloon lumpfish again. Then go look in your bathroom mirror. Which one is wierder? Which one has more to marvel at?

The wisdom of the old book tells us that we are 'fearfully and wonderfully made'. We saw that today all too clearly.

We saw fearfullness and wonderfullness in the beauty of meeting old friends of ours for supper - people we had prayed with for years and now are married and doing an amazing work for God. Marriage is itself such a miracle - how two lives can be twined together...

We saw fearfullness and wonderfullness in the woman who was carried into the JSK clinic - slumped over in a chair - her husband also sick and already admitted at one of the government hospitals - and with four children at home. The desperation of this dear woman - with all her brokeness - pointed again to the deep purposes that each life has...

We saw fearfullness and wonderfullness in our children. Who are these two beings who are developing and sprouting in so many ways? What depth do we start to detect in the actions and thoughts of Asha and Enoch? Listening to them pray - are they still repeating what we say or do we see new experiences of God in the next gen?

The list goes on... Thank God for baloon lumpfish. Its good to see something weird every now and then - if nothing else to reawaken wonder at God's grandeur.

Monday, 7 July 2008


We met a new positive friend today. Lets call him Rajiv. But perhaps we need to wait before calling him our friend. For now at least.

Rajiv was admitted at one of the better hospitals in Thane. They found out he had HIV. He knew all along

Rajiv has been on anti-retroviral therapy. From the government clinic in town.

He is very sick.

When he started his medications he started to get diarrhoea. Rajiv is sure its the meds that did it. He can hardly breathe now because he feels so weak.

Rajiv knew about his HIV for some years. His family did not until today.

The hospital ordered a battery of tests. He is sullen and alone. His father and other brothers found out that Rajiv's wife is also HIV positive.

Rajiv does not want to live any more. He says he does not want treatment. He just wants an end.

One of our JSK staff - who has HIV himself - went to meet Rajiv this afternoon. They talked in the general ward Rajiv was admitted in. A screen was brought in to bring some privacy. It didn't seem to do much good. Rajiv is finding it hard to talk at all.

We are all a bit like Rajiv. There are things in us that we do not want others to see. To have it ripped off and our un-mentionables become public...

When will we get over our denial?

It struck me that actually the church is to be the place where we let it all hang out. Where we should be able to gather the courage to tell what is deep inside - and allow the healing touch to renew us from within.

That's one of the functions of taking part in the Lord's supper. To examine ourselves. To speak up and confess. To allow truth and justice to sweep out the rubbish we hold on to - or tell ourselves we will clean up later - but which lingers on.

We just met Rajiv. We hope he will allow us to become his friends. We hope he will survive - besides his crushed spirit - he seems to be suffering from TB and pneumonia as well as the persistent diarrhoea. He is a precious man.

Deep breath

For some reason, we seem to have just had an almost painfully slow start to getting our Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre operational.

But take a deep breath folks - this week should see our first friends counselled and tested at JSK itself.

Its been a long haul to get here, and we still have some way to go - but we have been praying about the whole challenge - and know God allows us to move forward at the right time.
More prayers always gladly accepted.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Cleft palate

Mrs. Maninder has two children. Her older one had a cleft palate.

We first got to know the family through her brother. Her husband had brought her brother to us for treatment. Her brother had HIV and TB. We treated him. He got better and went back to Africa where he had been working previously.

The next time we saw him he was back from Africa and very sick. This time Mrs. Maninder and her husband were not in Thane having gone back to their home in another city.

Mrs. Maninder's brother died alone. His money and his rooms that he owned were taken over by his friend.

Sadly a few months later we found out that Mrs. Maninder's husband had also died. Of HIV.

It was only when she came back to Thane with her new-born child that we realised the full extent of the damage in her family. Her husband was dead. Her other brother a drunkard. She was living next to a garbage dump in a small shack in the rain.

Her older daughter had a cleft lip.

It looked totally hopeless.

By God's grace we were able to win her trust and have her accepted at a wonderful rehabilitation home for women and children infected and affected by a dear colleagues of ours.

The idea was to stabilise her daughter till she could have her surgery for her cleft lip.

A small grace was that her daughter did not breast feed due to her cleft lip. When we tested her she was HIV negative.

Over the past 2 years Mrs. Maninder has been in the rehabilitation institution.

She is now ready to come back. Her daughters lip and palate has been surgically improved. The three are healthy.

Now its her time to come back.

To what?

Her in-laws want nothing to do with her. Mrs. Maninder's brother is untraceable. Her parents are long-since dead. We don't know of other relations.

Beneath the surface is another cleft - one that is not visible on the outside, but just as ugly.

Before her husband died he was working with the Public Works Department. He was suspended for some issue - and forced to move out of his quarters. Instead the family broke open the lock of another quarters and squatted there.

Mrs. Maninder has hopes of getting her husband's pension. She even hopes to get his job on compassionate grounds.

We need much wisdom for the next steps. How to rebuild a life with so many deep fissures?

We are glad for our colleagues and the wonderful work they have done for Mrs. Maninder over these past 2 years. It is a joy to see the smile on Mrs. Maninder's daughter's face. The scar is still there - but it is so much better than what it was previously.

Now the next step. A step of faith to find a church willing to support this brave lady - with the many clefts - mainly unseen.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

UBS Interns

We are privileged to have a new crop of interns at JSK from Union Biblical Seminary in Pune.

This is the fourth year we are hosting the 7 month internship at Jeevan Sahara. Including the present batch, we have now had 9 young men - from 9 different states of our country (Chhatisgarh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Orissa, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, and Tripura!).

It is a real pleasure to have fresh blood aboard. This year we have (l. to r. in the pic) Leroy Varghese from Kerala, R.P. Silvanus from Tamil Nadu and Akshaydeep Kakade as our own son-of-the-soil from Maharashtra.

The internship programme has been sponsored by Tearfund as part of their effort to get seminarians out on the street, working with the poor. The interns who come to us certainly get plenty of exposure to the cruel situations so many are in. Working along with our staff, they visit homes and minister to families with HIV - while at the same time learning about what hands on work with the poor is all about.

Seven months may seem a long time - but it just seems to dissappear in a flash. We have already finished 2 months of their time with us, and have grown to love these fine young men.

Besides the nitty-gritty of working with people who have HIV, the interns also get valuable lessons in life. During their time they have already had to move from one appartment to another - had a mini-break-in at their room - have had to learn to cook together and manage their finances. As JSK staff, we benefit too from friendly smiles and the camaradery that the lads bring with them - as well as their more formal sharing of the word of God when it is their turn in the staff devotions.

The bottom line: lives are changed. We see three lives who are being groomed for leadership in the church - and know that they will never be the same. We also know that the people they have touched here are transformed too.


We were having our morning prayers before setting out for the day's visits when we smelled the burning plastic.

"I wonder who is burning garbage outside now? " I thought.

The smoke continued and filled the room - so we closed the windows and continued the prayer.

Then we heard a small explosion and the lights went off.

A look outside and we could see the cause - a bakery which specialises in 'hot chips' (spicy deepfried plantains etc) had caught fire. The explosion was from one of the gas cylinders going off (another went off later).

The first fire engine on the scene had only 1/2 a tank of water. Later 3 tankers came and the fire was doused. No loss of life or limb, but at least 3 showrooms gutted.

And a grand spectacle for all and sundry.

it only takes a spark, to get a fire going...

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Daniel Award

This just in from the good folks at Mustard Seed:

We are happy to inform you that from this year onwards Mustard Seed Foundation is introducing a new program for India "The Daniel Award".

This Award provides financial support and personal encouragement to Christian post graduate students who desire to impact Indian society by pursuing advanced studies at a premier Indian institution (typically those recognizedto be among the "top five" programs in the specific discipline).

Our goal is to empower students who show exceptional talent and evidence of a passionate vision for serving Christ in India in their field or discipline. Proof of admission into a top program must accompany one¹s application for this Award. The most competitive applicants are those whose fields are of critical importance to Indian society and are in need of greater Christian involvement. The fields that we are targeting at this time are Law, Social Sciences and Humanities (university level research and teaching), Engineering, Business, Journalism, Media & Film.
Vocations we do not consider a priority for this Award include: theological education, education through the twelfth standard, medicine, counseling, psychology, social work, or other fields that have tended to attract ahigher percentage of Christian young people. This award does not apply to post-doctoral or non-degree programs.

STIPEND: Each Fellow is awarded an annual stipend of approximately IndianRs.1,40,000/-

Complete applications must arrive in our office by July 31st 2008.

Mustard Seed Foundation
P.O. Box 9450, Chakkala,
MIDC Andheri (E),
Mumbai 400 093

For additional information and an application form please visit our website:
This award is only 30 days away! Do think of someone whom you feel would qualify and contact them now!

A small new site for Jeevan Sahara Kendra

We have just put up a small site specifically for Jeevan Sahara Kendra. It is designed to give a simple overview of what we are up to and allow people to contact us if they are interested.

Do take a look at and tell us what you think!