Sunday, 30 November 2008
At the same time we have also had many opportunities for joy.
Here are a few pictures to show how interspersed joy is in our lives. And how rich our experience of life itself is.
Friday morning. Mrs Maninder had brought her two daughters to the JSK centre while she cleans there. I pass by and see Sheba standing with them at the entrance. I can't help but take a picture of such beautiful people.
How amazing to see life in the middle of hopelessness.
Friday evening. After a long day of no power (including hosting a weekly staff meeting at our home - where all of us had to climb the 7 floors to get here) - we had an evening without power! But what better time to have a candle-light dinner!
And what better and finer folks to have dinner with than our little family!
Have you ever noticed that even the most delicious food tastes better when eaten by candle light?
Friday night. Bible study at Jolly and Suma's place. Rolly shared beautifully from the life of Saul and David. As a fellowship we spent time praying for the situation in Mumbai.
Then after the study a celebration of life. Reneta, bro Jolly's daughter turned 18 that day. All were on hand to help celebrate. Juanita helped decorate Reneta's face with cake icing - and the which was returned in kind!
Saturday saw us shift down to slightly gears. The many, many events of the week have caught up to us. We both put in a 1/2 day of work - with Sheba visiting a patient who is admitted at our parent hospital. This elderly lady is in shock, because during a pre-operation HIV test they found out that she was HIV positive.
Asha had violin class in the afternoon and then in the evening we were joined by some of our favorite folk - Bro Arvind, Sis Putul, Urvashi and Hrishav. It was Urvashi's 13th birthday and were we ever blessed to have a time of joy and delight with each other.
In our home, there is never any lack of volunteers to help blow out candles, cut cake and in general celebrate God's goodness in giving life.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
A few days ago our staff told us about a new, very pregnant young woman who was sleeping on the pavement. It seems her husband was a construction worker and fell to his death. His family did not want her and pushed her out in the 9th month of her pregnancy. Our staff helped her get admitted at the civil hospital where she gave birth to a beautiful little girl.
We have been trying to see what can be done about this tiny family. Our lady staff meet the woman on their way back to their hostel flat - and have talked with her, prayed with her. She asked them to name the child - and Lata christened her "Esther" since the child was shining.
We wanted to take this lady to Mukti Mission today. She said she was willing. But when we went to get her - she was gone. The local shopkeepers said that a stout lady had come, put her in an auto-rickshaw and driven away.
Where is little Esther tonight? Where is this new life?
How do you explain terror and carnage to a 5 year old boy. How do you even start to talk?
First we shut down the sports metaphor.
We are all on one team. Every man who died is a terrible tragedy. It means another family without a Daddy, Uncle or Brother. Every lady who died means more people without a Mummy, Auntie or Sister. This is not a game, Enoch. Its a very very sad thing that has happened. There are no scores.
"Why are they doing these things?"
How heart-breaking for me to have to discuss the brutal savage slaughter that our city has seen in the last 2 days. But talk we must - because if we don't he will hear it further from a hundred other lips. Our sin-stained world yearns for a day of true justice and mercy.
I don't know Enoch. But I do know that what is happening is very bad, and very very sad. We must continue to pray for all the people there.
Which we have been doing. In small groups - at JSK - in twos and threes - at last night's Bible study - prayers are going up. People are on their knees. We are praying for the peace of the city. We are asking God's mercy and justice to rule. We are asking God's blessings on our authorities. We are seeking forgiveness for our 'enemies' (who we don't even 'know'). We are praying for healing and hope for the families of the victims - and wounded - and for the horribly traumatised survivors.
In our Bible study last night we looked at Saul the king. A man of such talent and potential - and yet one who allowed envy, jealousy, self-glorification to take such a bitter hold of him - that he became a vicious murderer. He had no care about making his daughters widows - but only wanted to get rid of David - the man who had brought Saul his greatest victory. The transformation of a man of God - into one possesed and hurling spears at David could not be more stark. Examining the tragic of Saul - in the back-drop of what we understand seem to be very young men who came to carry out the brutal mass murders in our city - shows once again how evil the human heart can become.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Friday, 28 November 2008
As I write it still seems that there are still gun-men holed up in the Taj and Oberoi hotels. The body count is over 130 and many many more are injured. What the final count will be is anyone's guess. Some are saying that as many as 30 policemen are still unaccounted for. I don't think any one of us in our wildest dreams could have imagined such a horrible set of events.
Since the meeting was cancelled - and we had given out over 800 passes for this - we had a lot of phoning to do. And a lot of phone calls coming in. Some just wanted to know if Philip was safe. Others about the meeting. It was painful to say that we had cancelled the programme - but none of this compares what so many families across the Mumbai area are facing tonight - as they have lost family members - or are caring for the injured - or just don't know what happened yet...
In the middle of all of this gloom - we were privileged to host Philip Yancey this morning for a brief visit to Jeevan Sahara Kendra.
Philip met with our staff and heard some of their stories. Then he graciously encouraged all of us to carry on what God had given into our hands - and that it was very very valuable - especially since we have the privilege (and challenges) of serving Jesus among those who were most attracted to him - the poor, the outcaste, the down-trodden.
Then in the evening there was a small get-together at Dr. Stephen's house. In the salon-style group conversation we had with Philip and Janet, they shared about how he writes and the deep influence Dr. Paul Brand was on him. Philip mentioned that his experience with the church had left him so bitter and angry, but it all changed after meeting Dr. Brand. Over the years, Philip closely scrutinised him from all angles (his practice, his nurses, his patients, his family, his own life) and found Dr. Brand to be the real deal - a person totally changed and living out a Jesus life. "It only takes meeting one real Christian to turn someone around" said Philip. He also shared how odd it felt to come to India without Dr. Brand (who died 1.5 years ago) - and how much of a father-figure Dr. Brand had become (Philip's eyes were full of tears).
Later in the evening we gathered at the Covenant Blessings church for a time of worship and prayer. We prayed specifically for the city - for the victims as well as the perpetrators. A new friend of ours - Dayanidhi Rao sang - and Philip shared. So much could be written about what he said but here is a thought or two: Philip said that we needed to as a church be welcoming those who were not quite the same morally, not quite the same doctrinally, and that we should be a church which houses both the oppressed - and those who had been doing the oppressing!
It was powerful to hear Philip talk about his experiences with NYC and 9/11. We feel the same deep sadness and confusion when we see the ruthlessness of the men involved with these attacks in Mumbai. At the same time - what an opportunity to bless - to pray - to share love and compassion with those in such need. Philip shared about meeting with the KGB in the newly opening up Soviet Union. He realised that in the 30 years till then - he had never prayed for 'his enemies.' And yet at that meeting, one of the KGB officers said that Russia needed to learn - along with Glasnost and Perestroika - the word for 'Forgiveness.' The same man apparently later became a high ranking general in the Russian army - and purchased 2 million New Testaments - which he gave out to each of his men.
We ended the day with Martin and Saro over for a quick bite. What a privilige to be with wonderful people. As we go to sleep, we know that there is still much fighting, hatred and chaos - but that our Lord is looking over us - and that beauty, kindness, gentleness and love can flourish even in days of terror.
Thursday, 27 November 2008
This morning when we woke up we found the truth was far worse than we could have imagined. Multiple attacks. Indiscriminate firing. Targetted strikes against foreigners. Hostages. Bomb blasts.
The information is still not complete - but the picture that we get from the news is just horrific.
We have had to cancel the Philip Yancey meeting which we had planned for this evening in Bandra.
The whole city is tense. Most people did not go to work today. Schools and colleges were shut.
Some areas of South Mumbai are still under curfew we understand as police and army units battle it out with the gunmen.
Here in Thane things are quiet - almost sleepy - but we know that this terrible event has put a deep shadow on what is to come.
We had Philip visit us this morning at the centre - and he shared about how he had had a terrible accident and broken his neck 1.5 years ago. When he was wheeled into the ER, the doctor did 'torture tests' on him - pricking him with needles and twisting body parts to see where he felt pain. Every time Philip winced the doctor was happy - it meant that his body was communicating with itself. Philip pointed out that there were 50 emails waiting for him this morning from people all over the world concerned about him and the church in Mumbai. The body that feels the pain of each member is a body which is alive.
Please pray for our city. Pray for the confusion and hatred that swirls around us. Pray that we will listen to what God wants us to hear - and act in loving obedience to His heart's command to us.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
And how we need to pray - initial reports are just coming in about shooting and perhaps even a bomb at two of the city's upmarket hotels. We have been preparing for Philip Yancey's meeting tomorrow evening for months and the last thing we need is a terrorist attack - and the almost inevitable all out 'shut down' of the city.
Yancey's talk is to be on "Injustice and Reconciliation" and will also feature a short film about the situation in Orissa along with analysis by Brother
We certainly need reconciliation more than ever. Pray!
How do you spend an hour with a person whose books you have devoured?
After mulling this for some time, we finally settled on pretty much our standard approach we interaction with visitors. We will show a short 10 min presentation to give an overview of our work. Then have each one of us share something that we appreciate about working at Jeevan Sahara - or a challenge we face - or a person whose life we have seen transformed.
Then we will give the last 20 mins to Philip and Janet to ask further questions or perhaps share a few words from their experiences.
What's so Amazing About Grace still takes pride of place in books that were seminal to me.
Among the many memorable accounts, Yancey's recounting of a woman in the US who was renting out her daughter for sexual favours to get money to feed her own drug addiction - and then says: "Church - that's the last place I would go!" still haunts me.
Philip observes sympathetically, but not blindly. His irenic and gentle explorations bring an openness to so many challenging situations of life - while maintaining an unbroken strand of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
From what my father said - having attended a meeting in Delhi earlier in the month - Philip speaks simply and powerfully.
I think we are in for a treat.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Monday, 24 November 2008
Our staff have gradually developed a relationship with him through home visits. Mr. Karnal has HIV. So does his wife. So do one of their kids.
Mrs. Karnal was not at home. She had left. As the staff visited Mr. Karnal, they were told that she did not care for the kids and had left to stay with her family in Kalyan.
Last week Mr. Karnal said that his wife was sick, and could we visit her. Normally we would not, since she lives a good 1/2 hour out of the city and so very much out of our catchment area. But then again she is the wife of an HIV positive person we are looking after, and the mother of a positive child - and is positive herself.
When our staff met her, they quickly found out that the situation was not as black and white as Mr. Karnal had made it out to be. She loved their children very much, but had left because of the vicious abuse that she received from Mr. Karnal and his family.
As one of the many 'love marriages' she had known Mr. Karnal from their childhood. A fair lady, Mr. Karnal was intensely jealous of her. He beat her repeatedly in drunken rages. His parents were spiteful and oppressive to an extreme. Whenever she became pregnant he accused her of having affairs and demanded she abort. She did. This happened not only once. She aborted twins.
All of this came out today when Mr. and Mrs. Karnal came to visit Sheba. Mrs. Karnal was like a stone at the beginning. As the stories unfolded, so did the tears. Mr. Karnal did not disagree with what his wife was saying. To hear what this family has gone through was harrowing.
And yet, when Sheba told Mr. Karnal that he had to ask forgiveness, he amazingly did. And amazingly she accepted it. More tears. "I have only come here because of Jesus Christ" she said. "But don't force me to bow my head and go back to his parents home."
We don't have easy answers. We don't have rosy solutions. We don't have any magic button to press to make everything nice and neat and tidy.
We are dealing with relationships that are ragged and frayed. But what opportunities for grace.
Today was the first time we met Mrs. Karnal. They will be coming back next Monday again. We told Mr. Karnal that he has to earn her trust too. Lets pray that today's tears will lay the foundation for the family to be reunited.
It was hot. The boy did not have shoes. His mother - Mrs. Candy - has multi-drug resistant TB.
When they got to their destination, a small hostel run by a church in one of the outlying stations on the central suburban line, the children there welcomed them.
"We were like Tarun when we first came here" they said. "We did not have baths - we did not wash our own clothes. But now we are different."
Tarun is not an easy child. Having grown up on the street, he can hardly sit still in one place for any length of time.
Rahul had been talking with Tarun, encouraging him. Tarun was ready to return to the challenge of living in the hostel. It was not easy for him - but having been idle in the small shack with his sick mother - he realised this was an opportunity to grow.
"I will change, Rahul uncle" he said before Rahul left him. "I will wash myself and wash my clothes too."
What will the future hold for this boy - and for so many others like him whose partents have HIV. He has already lost his father - and his mother is holding on by a thread.
Rahul told us this morning with tears in his eyes - that he believes that Tarun will break the cycle of poverty and neglect. "He will be a great person - maybe a pastor" said Rahul.
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Two weeks ago when George Verwer was in town he did one of his inimitable prayers. He asked all pastors in the room to stand up since he wanted to pray for them. He then added - "stand up if you are a teaching elder in your fellowship". I found myself getting to my feet and being prayed for by George along with the others in the room.
How lightly I have taken the responsibility of teaching. In a small way I am trying to change this through a series of four teachings over the next month that looks at the way our fellowships can be transformed to be the kind of world-changing, God-reflecting places that we are meant to be.
I shared the first installment at our gathering at Samata Nagar this morning. I am so grateful to God for giving the words - and learned so much myself (always one of the benefits of preparing something for all of us to follow).
We have a small blog for the Church at Thane which can be accessed by clicking here (or by going to http://churchatthane.blogspot.com) in which I have already posted the introduction to this series, and hope to soon post a summary of the morning's sharing (which appropriately enough was about how the first church devoted themselves to the Apostles Teaching).
If you haven't heard about the YAA Fest 08 yet - here's your chance.
I was talking to 2 guys about the seminars that we are having (9 different ones) and they asked me how many days the Fest was. I said 1/2 a day. They were stunned.
2 weeks from today. Be there (or be there in prayer)!
We spoke at the "Its a Gr8 Life" seminar series this evening.
I had been up 1/2 the night coughing (ditto for night before). We got there at just before 7 to find a sea of empty white plastic chairs - and our faithful friends Zen, Veronica and Sashi.
The LCD broke down. The replacement LCD didn't work either. A few people trickled in and we had an intimate talk around a laptop.
Life is good.
Strangely - and blessedly - I didn't get upset at the technical knots or the under-average turn-out.
This is part of sharing about HIV. It seems that we always are up against a rock. Of indifference. Of fear. Whatever it is, it is an invisible mountain. I am sure that if the talk had been on the reality of UFOs and Martians that we would have seen double to crowd.
But as I said, we were bathed with grace tonight - and I was really happy to be able to share with those who did come - about 30 all told - about the challenges and joys of working with people with HIV and why the church must be the main way that we reach out and bless (and be blessed by) people who are living with HIV.
Each person there in that basement of the Marthoma Church in Mulund was so precious. Each person has the potential to make huge changes. HUGE ONES!
What a wonderful set of opportunities God has given us each day to make a difference.
As Sheba shared about different people with HIV in whom we have seen such dramatic changes - it struck me what a privilege we have to be living in this era - and how utterly amazing that we are entrusted with looking after so many who are in such need.
As we have mentioned before - we certainly do not feel in any way capable of doing the things that we find ourselves doing - and that only strengthens our conviction that God can use anyone - anyone - who is willing to be used.
What about you?
Friday, 21 November 2008
Even today Palestine sees shepherds and soldiers - as the shot above shows - and sometimes the identities are shared and blurred.
But with David we see two remarkable things in 1 Sam 18.
Firstly he develops this deep soul relationship with Jonathan. A beautiful love and unity between kindred hearts. Who are our deepest friends? Are they people of noble character - who spur us on to deeper and more beautiful things? Or are they outwardly smart and successful but insecure, bitter and angry people like King Saul. Those whom we are intimate with are most likely to shape our future.
Secondly, despite his victories, David goes back to playing soothing music during King Saul's episodes of spiritual oppression. Not only that - he is around - twice - when Saul hurls the spear at him in his anger and jealousy. What are we like. Do we feel threatened by the success of others. Is our hope in our own achievements and victories? Have we reached our limits - only to see someone else - who may be younger / more gifted - pushing the envelope back some more?
Or is our hope and reputation safe in our Father's hands. David the shepherd boy - and David the King-in-waiting - and David the Regal Majesty all share in common a faithfulness to God and his heart. He was successful not because he set out to be successful - but because God was with him. His heart was God-ward - and the other things are a natural outcome of a God-pleasing life.
May God grant us the hunger to be ever more shaped and fashioned into His character. Let us be faithful at our shepherding - and ready to dream big - and act boldly when our heavenly shepherd commands us to.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
A good decade ago or so the Templeton Foundation was promoting 'progress in humility theology.' I never found out what happened to that effort (perhaps those who got the awards were so humble that they were not spotted? - cheap shot that...).
HIV/AIDS has certainly forced a much needed dose of humility on medicine. After years of technology driven medicine - here was a challenge that seemed to defy all the norms of how to deal with disease - that brought about a fear and loathing that the standard bio-medical model just could not deal with.
Not that it stopped bio-medical researchers from doing their stuff. The field of AIDS research blossomed and shows no sign of stopping. The International AIDS Conferences now host a virtual city of researchers in all areas of dealing with AIDS - drawing thousands of delegates to another global city every 2 years.
There are a bunch of Nobel prizes in medicine in store for whichever team gets around the challenge of developing a robust short course therapy that can rid the body of HIV and not require a lifetime of medications (i.e. the 'AIDS cure' that has eluded us so far).
And despite most people still saying 'there is no cure for AIDS' - the progress that has been made is nothing short of breath-taking. I remember the excitement of being in a seminar room at Yale Public Health in 1995. We were listening to a researcher telling us that a large scale trial comparing the new 'triple therapy' (which was coined Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy - or HAART) with the then standard mono-therapy (mainly using Zidovudine) was stopped. Why? Because even early in the trial it was clear that the benefits of the triple therapy were far superior to the mono-therapy - and it would be un-ethical and cruel to continue to subject those with HIV to a clearly inferior therapy.
Today triple therapy is the back-bone of our anti-retroviral therapy. The excitement in that room was palpable. We were hearing something totally new for the first time. Those gains have been operationalised today - and we are reaping the benefits in our work here in Thane with people with HIV.
Every week the news flashes another set of messages about some progress or other. Today's was a recent study that suggests that children diagnosed with HIV should be started on HAART immediately instead of waiting for their CD4 levels to drop (i.e. that blood tests show deterioration of the immune function) since these may be delayed thus deny a significant number of children a chance to benefit from the anti-HIV medicine at the right time.
We still need humility medicine though. With all the advances - we are still dealing with the basic challenges of living each day with hope. Of seeing so many different issues crop up. Of working through drastic changes in our bodies and how they function. Of living a medicated life. Of working through the dark nights of the heart and spirit. We still need so much honesty to clearly state what we cannot do and do not know. And its a lot. Still.
Our Lord knew what it was like to have AIDS. He knows even now. He took pains to have the woman who suffered from 12 years of haemorraging come back and tell him everything she had experienced. Jesus knew her poverty, her loneliness, her alienation from God. He understood her physical weakness, her shame and rejection by others, her desperation for some kind of cure. "Daughter" he then told her after he had called her back and listened to her "your faith has healed you, go in peace" (Luke 8.48). Jesus included her in his family. He blessed her desperate faith. He sent her on her way rejoicing.
Through all the marvels of technology, through all the wonders of pharmacology, we need a human touch. We need a divine touch too. Keep praying with us as we work through what it means to live with this disease. AIDS is not going away anytime soon by the look of things now. May our hearts be tender - and our hands keep to the plough.
Keep praying for the hoped for 'miracle cure'. That minds would use knowledge to arrive at key breakthroughs in stopping the viral replication and ridding the body of reservoirs where HIV continues to linger. And keep praying for miracles of love, healing, confession, forgiveness, acceptance, hope, solidarity, perseverance, gentleness, service - the list goes on and builds a pretty good picture of the character of our loving Lord.
In an age of the city - where do we have opportunities to take in that which is wild anymore? We live in Thane - and have an entrance to the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (a.k.a. Borivili nathional park - since its main gate is on that side of Mumbai). But how often do we walk into this forested area? Very rarely indeed.
And what about all those who are far away from anything like nature in wild in tooth and claw? The brutal drudgery of urban life in India seems to sap any hope of something beautiful. The drab greyness of so many of our cities - poles festooned with a crazy mishmash of wires - every available space plastered with hoardings - and grotesque mug-shots of politicians (blame corel draw!).
Further, money is always short. And then so are jobs. Holidays? Forget it. If we get some time off - then there is family - marriages to attend - family issues to attend to.
I remember my fellow student Jen Tan's delight at spending summers doing research at Taylor University. A Singaporean, he was amazed at the forest next to our college - and the fact that he could go and collect berries and make jams.
When will we next get to look into the face of a monkey - and vice versa? What a hidden starvation for beauty we have despite all our so-called progress.
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
What I did not think about till recently are the other ancient links between our land and the Biblical narrative.
How many times had I read about Mary the brother of Lazarus breaking open a bottle of costly perfume and anointing Jesus' feet with it.
What was this perfume? It was made from Nard a plant which grows in the foothills of the Himalayas. The cost in Palestine at that time was something like 300 days of wages. Depending on how much a person gets paid that could be at least Rs. 30,000 based on a labourer's wages in a city in India - or something like US$ 20,000 if the wages were minimum wages in the US. Whatever the amount - it was extravagant. Enough to take everyone's breath away - while the room was filled with the rich scent of the perfume.
Part of the cost will have had to do with the painstaking process of gathering this mountain herb and transporting it over land or by sea. Given it being Himalayan, I would assume a land-route, but however long it took, we have the beautiful picture of something from our country being poured out as an offering on the feet of our Lord. Added bonus - Mum and Dad now live in Mussoorie - a beautiful little town at 7000 ft nestled in first range of the Himalayan foothills. Was the nard picked by local Garhwalis or by Kumaunis over in the next district?
It is especially poignant to me that this took place through the hands of a woman who along with her sister and back-from-the-dead brother really loved Jesus.
Disregarding what other people thought, she boldly did the loving thing - something that touched our Lord who said that she was preparing him for his funeral.
More than physical perfume - our Lord desires that our loving acts of obedience to Him will be a sweet incense to His name. May our nation become known as the place where people live out their love for the Lord Jesus in everything that they do. May we become known as a people who are extravagant in our love. Lavishing kindness on each other and on others because of what we have received from our risen Master who has nail-pierced hands.
Richard was part of the Obama campaign. As were many others of his generation. Fascinating how close we are to the seat of power. At the same time - how ephemeral all of it is.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
This evening an SMS came in: "Tanya her first steps tonight, un-aided! She's up to about 10 steps in a row."
The SMS was from Bennett and Bernie David from Tender Hands.
This is no ordinary little girl. This is a 18 month old child whose father died of AIDS and whose elder brother died of AIDS. Little Tanya and her brother Samir were then basically abandoned by their mother for her paramour. Despite loving care by a saintly lady who lives near-by, and much counsel and prayer with her mother, we saw no changes in that hard lady. Finally in desperation we approached B+B. They took both the children in and have been loving them.
We have lots of kids. Besides the two that carry the Eicher name - there are so many that we are blessed to be part of. Some have already gone ahead of us. Little Satish one of them. Tanya's older brother will be there to welcome us when we see our loving maker.
Other kids are still very much with us. Many are broken. Today we started one of Mrs. Maninder's daughters in a lovely local day-care run by a church. The little girl couldn't handle it. Unconsolable tears meant a phone-call to her mother to come and take her away. This little girl has had 2 surgeries to repair a cleft lip and palate - and still is unable to speak properly. She needs so much love and care - and it has been a joy to see her at our house these past weeks. Very precious - with many areas that she needs to grow and develop in.
First steps. How privileged we are to be part of the on-going miracle of life!
Monday, 17 November 2008
When its the boys with guns who are calling for the boycott you really have to wonder. Is their 'popularity' / 'representation' anything more than power flowing from the muzzle of the gun?
Kashmir has been on the boil for years and years. Everyone said no one would come out to vote. Today started a complex 7 stage process in which security forces are deployed as 7 different parts of the state vote on 7 different days.
Well today was the first day. And the numbers seem to be speaking for themselves:
The BBC website - no friend of the Indian govt. - said that 'unusually large' numbers of voters showed up - despite the threats and boycotts from the militants.
Our fractured political landscape is pretty bleak. But at least one thing happens. People are able to vote. They cast their choices. They choose among the limited options whom they believe will be the best.
We had large crowds of another sort in Indore. Not a political rally by the latest film-star turned politician. Not a protest mob against some real or imagined issue. But the bed-rock of hero-worship - our boys in blue - playing cricket against the English - and thrashing them.
Our cricketers are going through some purple days - 2-o over the mighty Australians in test matches (last time that happened was in the late 80s) and now 2-0 up in One-Day Internationals over England (with 5 more to play in this series). And the clincher is this - lots of young hungry players who know they have to perform to make it into the cricket team. It seems that at least for a season the selectors are actually selecting based on merit rather than on territory.
There is something about the nature of money that seems to brutalize us.
Or perhaps it brings out the brutality we harbour within?
Our parents recently gave us a gift of a water filter. We went out and bought the delightful machine and were told that in 5 days a person will come to install it.
It was an evening and we had just had a 2 hour power cut. The man had come but was waiting downstairs as he knew that climbing 7 floors and then not having power would do him no good - since his powerdrill needs electricity.
He was certainly not in a good mood to start. Neither were we. We had been assured that no plumber was needed. Now this young man tell us to 'turn off the water' so that he can undo the kitchen tap.
Problem. How do we do that? I furitively went upstairs and looked at which pipe goes where. Finally I felt that I knew the kitchen supply pipe - only to see that there was only a single valve. A man's gotta do, what a man's gotta tod - I turned off the water to all the kitchen taps on this side of the building. Then scampered down and watched feverishly is he did his stuff. Once the new junction was on and our tap put back I scurried up again to turn the water on.
In the mean time, we had shifted our dish-drying rack. The man did had put the tap back - but it was leaking. Try as he might he could not get it back to its upright position - and not have a leak. 'Its no big deal' he told us. We were not amused. Then he drilled the holes for the water filter. We asked him to drill some more for our dish rack. 'No, I only drill three holes each time. I need to go home" he said. Further dis-amusement from our part. The holes were reluctantly drilled.
We had a further discussion about the tap. 'You can just get a plumber to fix it' he told us. 'But you are the plumber.' we said. 'No, I am not - all I do is install the machine' 'But you unscrewed the tap - and it wasn't dripping before'. Not a happy jovial conversation. Not a kind loving chat.
He is single. His family is in Uttar Pradesh. He is 19 years old. He is here to try and get ahead in life.
His visit to us will probably fetch him 25-30 rupees. No wonder he wants to get out as soon as possible.
His words are confused. He is a jumble. Our unhappy faces don't help.
Nagging thought: "he needs to be told about God". He is in no mood to talk. We ask him to have a cup of tea. He wants to leave. He leaves. On his way out I give him a Hindi pamphlet - 'Peace with God.'
Later in the evening Sheba finds it on the floor of the lift. No surprises here.
It took us 3 hours to travel from Thane to Andheri - to the Free Methodist Church which is also the site of where the 1/2 day festival will be held on the 6th of December.
The meeting was to start at 7 PM. We got a call at 3.30 by someone who was already there. It was a portent. When we walked in at 6.55 - we found a room full of people. What a wonderful affirmation of what God has been doing - and of the hard work that so many have already put in.
The meeting offered an opportunity for the 60 odd folks present to break up into volunteer work groups and decide on what they will do to help bring the YAA Fest 08 into reality. We ended up with a prayer walk through the premises - going in groups of 2 and 3 and praying for the programme that will be held in less than 3 weeks now!
We have a small Youth Against AIDS facebook group up and running - you can access it by clicking: here We also have a simple website: www.YouthAgainstAIDS.com which has details about the Fest.
God is good - and He keeps using his simple people to do more than they can imagine!
A few years ago the "India Shining" BJP led govt. collapsed in Delhi - partly because the prices of onions had spiraled out of control (a newspaper report talked about a thief picking up a bag of onions from a kitchen of a house he was stealing from during those dark days...).
The main suppliers of vegetables for most urbanites have been men selling them from 4-wheeled flat carts - piled high with veggies which they get from the local market - which in turn comes from the larger markets.
A series of upscale supermarkets have moved in and seriously challenged these vendors - at least for the upper middle class section of their clientelle. Last year saw groups of small shop-owners and vendors stoning new super-market openings in places like Ranchi etc.
Opposite our building complex is such a place called "Foodland". It had started as "Spar" - apparently a Dutch brand - but was renamed "Foodland" since they already had a fleet of such stores and wanted to build their own brand identity - so much for the attraction of all things "Phoren" that I had grown up with.
The produce section of Foodland is generally impressive. Racks of veggies that you chose and then is weighed on electronic scales so you pay for exactly the amount you purchase. The prices pretty competitive with the vendors outside. Sometimes even cheaper. The advantage for the consumer is being able to choose what you want and the accuracy of the weighing. On the other hand, the vendors at the street corner continue their trade - and at times have cheaper veggies than Foodland does.
Just when you thought that we now have a new balance - a new equilibrium that has been reached a new player comes on the scene.
Instant markets - brought to you by trucks.
For the last 2 weeks, just below our house we have seen a veggie market emerge. A truck pulls up and the men lug out crates of different veggies. On cue folks from different buildings emerge to buy.
Apparently they bring the veggies straight from Nasik and villages in that area. I think that they just buy from the large produce whole-sale market in New Bombay and then bring it here.
The first week their tomatoes were Rs. 22 to the Rs. 34 at Foodland.
Naturally we and others bought.
This week the tomato index was reversed. Still Rs. 22 at this mega-vendor - but apparently only Rs. 16 at Foodland.
Its a tomato-eat-tomato world out there.
I have already missed the man who used to sell me green bananas outside the Happy Valley Complex gate. A thin elderly man with large protruding eyes - he just isn't around any more. Where has he gone? Did he fall ill? Did he go back to his village and not come back? Did his customers abandon him for the golden yellow bananas found in Foodland - or for the convenience of a mini-market in your own appartment complex?
The working poor are probably the most invisible group - because if they can't scrape by here - they have to scrape by somewhere else.
Friday, 14 November 2008
A brief summary - morning Enoch got dressed up for his fancy dress at school. At 7.40 I went to the office which was blessed with electricity for almost the whole time. Mrs. Maninder's two children came to our place at 9. Asha and Sheba looked after them till Sheba went to the clinic at 11. Enoch came back at 11.30 and Asha left for her school at 12. I returned home at 1 for lunch with Enoch. We put him to sleep for the afternoon. A quick pop-over to the office at 2 when Sheba came back from the clinic. Then our weekly staff meeting at our home from 3.30 to 6. Asha came home early because it was 'Children's Day.' In between phone calls on a number of issues.
After 6 we unwound a bit. Jolly from church wanted me to meet a family with him so I went at 7.30. While there bought some roses and was back by 8.30 to wish Sheba a happy 9th engagement anniversary.
Then a quick supper and prayer. Up to the terrace at 9.30 PM. For what? Our housing co-op society's annual general meeting (normally we would be attending the Friday night bible study at that time).
The AGM had its normal level of shouting. But actually had a note or two of sanity - the first time in the 3 years where we have attended a meeting with some modicum of order. Five minutes into our participation Enoch announced that he had to go to the toilet. Down went Sheba with him. She then called to say he has diarrhoea. When I got back from the meet at 11.30 PM he had already gone 8 times!
Its going to be a short night. Through all of the experiences we have we must hold on to the Word which says: Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. We have some wonderful training going on in how to live life to the fullest!
Enoch went dressed as a fox.
On the previous night he practiced hunting with Asha as the deer that he was stalking. He did such a good job at it that Asha became genuinely frightened.
A bit of cuddling and all was well again in the Eicher home.
Today in school a teacher asked him how many chickens he had eaten. "One" he replied. Figures - Enoch loves eating chicken - especially chicken curry - most foxes would probably eat their chickens more on the raw side.
Asha decided to wear her 'special blue dress'.
She looked very elegant in her dress and just purchased bangles.
Our little girl is growing up! Its such a delight to be with our children and to see how they are blossoming in different ways.
Over the last few days I have had the opportunity to be so very grateful for the wonderful mercies we receive. To sit in a clean house and have a delicious meal together. To be married to a loving godly partner. To wake up healthy and with a day full of challenges to face. To have a cup of tea while reading the Bible in the morning. The list just goes on and on - we are recipients of much grace.
We named our first-born "Asha" because we knew that we were going to be dealing with many sad situations - and we know that no matter what the future holds - we have hope in our loving Lord Jesus.
Asha has lived up to her name already.
This children's day we thank God for the blessings that we receive through Enoch and Asha. May they continue to bless others too!
Thursday, 13 November 2008
We wish we could - and do try to - but we see so much TB among our friends with HIV here in Thane.
A couple came on Friday. Both have HIV. He has been to the government hospitals now for the past 2 months. They have done something - checking his Cd4 count - and since it was over 200 telling him that he is 'fine.'
Whatever the government health folks have done - it is clearly not nearly enough. At JSK we try as much as possible to work with and help our Positive Friends use the government facilities. Compared to so many parts of Africa (and large swathes of our own country too) we are so privileged. At the same time, it is deeply disheartening to hear the apathy and cruelty that many of our friends with HIV have faced from the doctors and health workers at government health centres and hospitals.
This last month was terrible for our friend. He has lost 10 kgs. He keeps coughing and has no appetite, has a persistent fever and is always weak. Why no one detected this TB and started treatment on him is a sad mystery and an indictment of the way he has been treated.
When he came to meet Dr. Sheba he cried.
After discussing the situation and talking with him, Sheba prayed.
The couple came back today.
The wife could not help but tell this story. Before any medicines were given - when her husband returned home everyone was amazed - he looked so fresh and better than he had been in weeks.
They fully linked this transformation to the prayer on his behalf.
This episode is a small positive step for our friends. But even the longest journey starts with a single step.
What a privilege to be used in different ways. And what an encouragement to see pin-points of light - signs of the abundant life amidst the decay and degeneration that we see so much of.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
A few days ago Mrs. Ulema was admitted at JSK with high fever.
Mrs. Ulema was found to have TB last month. She and her husband both have HIV. She was asked to leave by her in-laws - but the couple could not find an affordable home and had to stay on.
Two days ago she had a fever of 104 degrees. We were wondering what we could do. We prayed and continued her treatment and loved her.
Mrs. Ulema was discharged this morning. We are amazed and thrilled to see her better again.
Last week a man came by.
He was afraid. He and a bunch of his friends had had a party and had visited prostitutes afterwards. They had used condoms but were very afraid. Their religious views meant that they were all teetotalers. He was their representative.
We talked about the risks he had taken. We talked about a test. We gently talked about the fact of his breaking faith with his wife. He did not want to discuss that. The main focus was on whether he could get the HIV virus or not. "I have talked to my priest and am doing the pujas" the man said. Talking with her? No way.
How many times do we sweep things under the carpet? How many elephants do we ignore in the rooms of our hearts?
This man is in all probability not going to get HIV. The statistical chances are small. But he carries around with him the unconfessed - and unhealed break of trust against his wife. Sooner or later that deep wound will make itself known. In their relationship. In the patterns of behaviours he models for his children. In the un-explained hurts that the children receive.
Here is the great secret - confession brings liberation. It may seem impossible - but God helps us. We are so stuck with fear about what will happen to us - that we postpone, delay, procrastinate until we have convinced ourselves that the issues are no longer important - or that they are unforgiveable.
An anthem of a mini-generation ago went like this: I have became comfortably numb. That's where systemic denial leaves us.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
But then again we have 'known' him and Auntie Drena his wife all our lives. Our early years of growing up in an OM family were shaped and moulded by the larger-than-life presence of George. His very name somehow had a special ring to it: "George" - you didn't even have to add a last name. As a leader his influence was immense. As a personal friend and mentor to my parents. As a visionary and motivator... he just hasn't stopped.
Today he returned to India. On Mum's birthday. Nov. 11th.
We went down to Mumbai to meet him. The journey there and back was epic. Sick kids. Tiredness - the joy of the local train - Asha vomitted on the platform of Churchgate station - Enoch provided an encore vomitting episode when we arrived back at Thane station. Full marks for Sheba and her grace to keep us going.
But here we were - at this historic opportunity to meet George. His wife Drena had also arrived - but was not feeling well and so was unable to attend the function.
What I took away from the time was this:
1. George continues his process of open learning - and inviting us all along for the journey. He speaks out and challenges others to join in living the Jesus life - and seeing his kingdom come in all areas - as it is in heaven. The raw material that George uses is the application of the Bible in his own life and in the OM movement that he has been so deeply involved with over the years.
2. George is *way* more interested in the future than in the past. I expected lots of melancholy remeniscing. Didn't get that. Some thoughts about the past - but mainly laconic - and generally underlying God's mercy. The main thrust was about what is to come. A quote he made: "I don't want to hear about the past - I am interested in the future!"
3. George's humility - and joy in preaching God's word. He continues to put in all his favorite things - challenges about how we are to be mobilised in God's vineyard - his total joy at getting good books into people's hands - his plea for love and mercy - his endless desire to see those who do not know Jesus get to know him as their friend and Lord.
All of these things bring up the basic issue. As James says - Elijah was a man like us - and he prayed and for 3 years there was no rain. Then he prayed again and it rained. Same for George. He is an ordinary man - who has allowed and extraordinary God to soak him through and through - and in the process has been used to catalyse thousands. God using the weak.
What hope there is for each one of us. Lets not stop - but keep pushing on!
Monday, 10 November 2008
After a long time we have admitted a person. She has TB. And a high fever. She is scared.
We know Mrs. Ulema for a number of years now. She married when she was 14. Her older sister and her married two brothers. They all live in the same house. Mrs. Ulema is barely into her twenties now. She got HIV from her husband.
Now that she has developed TB the pressure at home is almost unbearable. They have told her and her husband to leave. The couple have looked around for a rental place but with the prices so high and the deposits demanded so ruinous, they are forced to continue staying with the joint family.
The pressure to 'be well' has not helped Mrs. Ulema get better. We admitted her today to care for her and love and pray for her.
We have seen amazing things happen at the centre.
Folks who were on the very edge of death pulling back and entering life.
Mrs. Ulema is not critical - but she is very sick - and needs a lot of encouragement. Reading from God's word and prayer are so vital - just as much as feeding good nutritious food, taking the right medications, and being loved and touched are. They all work together.
Earlier this evening we thought how nice it would be for her to have some music too. I got out our broken CD player, prayed a simple prayer and pressed the button... it seems to be working! Sheba took it over and said it was working when she left the place.
Tomorrow we have the challenge of Mrs. Candy. She has been started on second-line TB medications. She is not doing well. What should we do? Admit her? Send her away? If we take her - we put us and all our other patients at risk - of getting multi-drug resistant TB. If we send her away she will surely die. We are praying and agonising - and moving towards admitting her with prayer - and with a mask (which we otherwise never do) so as to reduce the risk at least a bit.
TB continues to be a harsh foe. Pray for our dear friends whose lungs are caught in the grip of this bacteria - whose immunities are unable to flush them out of the system. Pray for us as we help through medicines, encouragement and steps of love.
I am very, very proud - in the best possible way - of my dear wife who went over to look after Mrs. Ulema. Though we see much sorrow - we also know that it's a great life - and we will move forward with hope!
After the curiously long Diwali holidays (3 weeks - pure Bombay - nowhere else) Asha and Enoch were back in school today.
And what an epic day it was. At least the start.
Saturday saw Enoch have a colossal fall from a jungle gym in the park. He got a deep gash under his chin. Sheba contemplated taking him for stitches, but the wound did not bleed much and so cleaned it up and we did dressings.
The first day bordered on the heroic. Enoch in bed with his faithful nurse Asha hovering about. His jaw really hurt, but it gradually got better.
The head bandage then was replaced by a band-aid which gets changed and dressed regularly. We were comfortable with him starting school today.
But then there was the matter of his diarrhoea. We won't go into details, but the long and short of it was that he complained of stomache ache and vomitting sensation this morning. Should we send him or not? Every parent's dilemma.
We sent him. We prayed and told him to call us if he felt sick.
He was fine.
I remember my phantom sicknesses before school started. The new male generation seems to have the same experiences I had in the mid 70s!
Saturday, 8 November 2008
50 odd years ago, he and two of his college-going friends went down to Mexico to put their obedience to Jesus into practice. No big funds in hand – God would provide. No extensive missionary training – they were just going to do what the Bible told them. No deep nuanced theology – just a radical commitment to doing what Jesus told them. Did the Bible say ‘forsake all”? They did – taking their possessions and selling them and using to money for evangelism. That was the beginning of Send The Light – which ended up becoming Operation Mobilisation.
A few months later, this group of young people were in Europe – living together, trusting in God to provide. A young German woman met them looking for a job in their bookstore. George talked with her and found out soon that she did not really know Jesus. He gave her Billy Graham's book Peace With God in German and a Bible. Shortly afterwards she was challenged by the verse: what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul. The young woman had left East Germany with the hopes of making it big in life. She realised at that point that she was running after things that would not last – and gave her life to Jesus. She was my mother – Christa Roesli Fischer at that time – later to marry Ray Eicher.
George later had a dream to come to India. He did. The earnest groups of young men and women who started coming to India in the early 60s and were joined by others from different parts of our country were part of an experiment in group living and honouring God that has had tremendous impacts in our churches and across our nation. For many OM was their nursery – their experiment of faith – their testing ground where they learned to love God and love their neighbours (often through hard means).
George and Drena and their young children (the youngest of whom was named after my Mum) were part of the OM India experience early on – but then had to leave in the early 70s. Though his heart has always had a special place for India – his passport was not given the necessary clearance to come back for many years. Till this year that is.
On Tuesday George is due to return to his beloved India. Mumbai – the “Gateway of India” is appropriately the place where he will be entering.
The world is George's oyster. He puts in lots of miles to tell people to go out and fulfill the great commission - and keeps doing his part of the bargain too. In the last 2 months he has conducted 60 meetings around the world. I get tired just thinking about that!
With George coming to Mumbai after such a long time, it is only right that a meeting is being organised at the Patkar Convocation Hall of the SNDT college, Churchgate – for old friends and new – to meet George and hear him share what God has put on his heart. We start with a meet and greet time at 4.30 PM and then have a time of hearing the from 6-8 PM.