Saturday, 28 February 2009

Last post in Feb.


Two months of 09 have already slipped by.

We are exhausted. I have had a low grade fever for the last 3 days. We finished today (which included the last session of the church training, a youth group meeting, taking Asha to violin class and entertaining a guest tonight) and are dropping off. Sheba and kids are in bed while I just clean up the last bits and then crash.

Thanks for coming along with us on this trip - gentle readers and loyal friends. Your comments, notes and prayers mean so much to us!

And now - on into March, whose silent arrival I shall be celebrating in my sleep!

Sleep is such a gift. A wonderful healing gift.

शुब रात्रि!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Wheels

Enoch rode his small bike on his own today. All on his own. Not the one which we bought (that has become Asha's bike) but one that we were given - which we in turn gave away - and which was then given back to us.

All in all, its been less than a year since Asha learned.

Enoch happily (and loudly) told the other little chaps who were scooting around on their bikes: "Look - no training wheels"

It was a tired, and happy, and pretty grubby little just-turned-six-year-old boy that I gave a bath to tonight.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Safe water

Where does clean water come from?

And how do you keep it clean?

Good questions for any aspiring Master of Public Health student. We had a crusty old veteran - the snow-white-haired Dr. Eric Mood take us through our paces in seeking to solve the world's water problems. As I seem to recall - this hoary gent started out in a career in public health that took him places while still a young man just out of the military at the end of World War Two.

As students in wintry New Haven, with its wooded reservoir-fed public water system and not a diarrhoeal case in site, the tales of water-borne diseases that Dr. Mood had for us seemed somehow removed, distant.

Bombay blows all that away:


Asha is getting the same education we did - but with a twist. We see diarrhoea here all the time!
And she is being taught about this in 2nd standard.

Yesterday night she announced (after 9 PM) that she had a project that could only be submitted the next day. On safe water.

So we all stayed up late. And made the project together.

So here we have it:

The reservoir lakes that need protecting from people dumping things into them. With their dams they supply water to the great thirsty 16 million odd folks who camp out in the greater Mumbai area:

The dams collect the water, which is then sent through those long snaking pipes that bring the millions of litres of water into the city (across 60 kms) every day:
The problem is this - the water is not sent through the pipe all the time - but rather only at certain times. The pipes are also old and have holes. Many shanty-towns are built right onto the pipe lines since this is relatively 'free space' (as seen in Slumdog Millionaire). When the water pressure is high - the water spurts out of the holes - and is used by the people living next to the pipelines... Then the assorted muck seeps back into the water pipes... and is delivered via into your house via your tap! (note the blue and brown water puddles in the model above).

So what's to be done?

Well, according to Asha's school book - we need to boil and filter our water!

And so we have Asha's cooking set filling in for this important task.

This is part of the great irony of the city - how a place with so many dreams and aspirations can in the end have such a poor quality of life in so many ways. People in high-rise appartments are boiling their water - because all their money can't buy them safe water (and even they have to order water-tankers). For the vast majority of the others? Municipal water is usually taken raw. Its no wonder every monsoon the quacks who sell 'Jaundice cures' have such a roaring business.

Because, look what happens to those who do not take care to purify their water:


You are correct: "Water-borne diseases such as dysentry, thyphoid, jaundice, cholera" (this sentence is directly from from Asha's standard 2 notebook).

As you can see in the tasteful tableau above - the man on the left is firmly esconsed on his throne (probably meeting the porcelain every 2 hours) - while the gent on the right is managing a double - 'loose stools' behind and vomit in front.

Ah the joys of education.

But also how sad that we are still grappling with such very very very basic public health issues.

Support group


"He knew about how I was getting my money - and yet he never told me to stop. Why didn't he?"

The lady who said this spoke in front of a group of people with HIV. She has the infection as well.

She was talking about her brother who had come to visit her in the big city where she was trapped in the flesh trade - giving her sexual services in exchange for cash.

The basic betrayal of family hurts her so deep. Tears were coming down her face as she shared her pain with the group. The lady standing with her, holding her shoulder and letting her speak also had HIV.

We fool ourselves if we ever make HIV into some kind of simple formula. The disease is in so many ways just the last straw in a series of betrayals and brokenness.

There were no simple solutions for this lady. She has made some huge steps already. Leaving her brothel, coming under the care of a group that helps women out of prostitution. But there are no magic buttons to press to make everything come out right.

She still grieves for her child who died while she was in the brothel.

Tears and prayer. Listening. Hearing the pain. Treating each other with respect. Talking to God. Encouraging and moving forward. Seeking forgiveness. Celebrating today. Taking our situations seriously. Delighting in the breath that we breathe.

Support.

Monday, 23 February 2009

India's most influential people


The Indian Express whose loyal readers the Eicher household is (partly in silent protest at the sleaze the Times of India has descended into) put out an unexpected supplement yesterday: the IE 100 - the most powerful Indians in 2009.

It made interesting reading. The top 10 were all politicians with Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani coming in at 11 and 12. From then on mostly politicians and bureacrats till 22 (Shah Rukh Khan) and 23 (MS Dhoni). Then the spread opens up more.

The first woman is at No. 2 - Sonia Gandhi who the papers thinks is well entrenched in power. Our dear prime minister is at No. 3. Leader of opposition (and current leader in internet ads - the 84 year old is trying to reach out to youth) is Mr. L.K. Advani.

The big surprise for me at least is the Indian Express choice of who they believe is the most powerful person in India today: Rahul Gandhi!

It seems like just yesterday the lad was being "ragged" at Delhi University. My school friends knew him at a distance (1 degree of separation) since they were 2 years his senior. Then Rahul dissappeared abroad. When he finally showed up on the Indian political stage, most treated him as a joke. But this young man (38 at last counting - less than half Mr. Advani's age) has played his cards well - and seems determined to move forward slowly and surely. There may be those who grumble at 'extra constituional influence' (esp. for his mother), but the man is backed by his party (perhaps foolishly, but clearly they are) and so far he seems to have kept his head on his shoulders - while backing up the Prime Minister on key decisions like the US-India Nuclear deal.

But lets think of something a lot older than the current crop of young - and not-so-young leaders (mainly the latter) that are going to be calling the shots in the next few years.

On the last Sunday of the month, our group of fellowships organises a public talk called the "Great Life Series." The idea is to look at how the Bible can throw light on life - in all its varied spheres. We have explored the environment, arts and creativity, whether we can love our country and culture, the mystery of the incarnation, caring for people with HIV, alternative healings... you get the picture.

Yesterdays exploration was of what it means to be a Citizen of our country - and what how the Bible can help us in this quest to be good citizens.

The talk was great. Really gripping. The 2 hours just flew by. Here are just 3 thoughts that came out of what bro. Stanley Nelson shared.

1) We have had an amazing Prime Minister of India - 2500 odd years ago. When portions of our country were ruled by the Medes and the Persians - King Cyrus appointed a very wise and capable follower of the God who created the heavens and the earth - a certain Daniel, to be his Prime Minister. Daniel thus belongs (at least in part) to India. His acumen meant that even the conquering Persians decided to keep this amazing administrator who had previously served 3 generations of Babylonian (read Iraqi) emporers. Surely it is possible that today - with all the blessings of democracy (however creaky it might be) that we will have men and women who really love God who are making a difference in our country? I looked with anticipation through the Indian Express 100 list - but did not find anyone that I felt fit this to a tee... But we definitely have people who can move forward to leadership without getting stained on the way as so many have. If Daniel could do it then - serving a blood-thirsty king - surely it can be done now?

2) The Bible tells us to submit to all authorities. All. This is not just submission when they are around, but also in our attitudes towards them. How quickly I slip into cynicism and disgust. How soon I slip in the knife of the cynic - when I have never even voted once! What a shame for me to be making any comments when I have never placed the value of my own franchise into action. Stanley helped us see that we sin when we mock and destroy a persons character through our attitudes and comments. Rather, God wants us to pray and support our leaders. Even if they are from parties that we may not particularly like. I may be convinced that Mr. Modi could have done much more to control the riots in Gujarat, I may even feel he was instrumental in seeing them happen - but does that give me license to speak ill about him? To denigrate him? Should I not be talking to God about this man? Praying specifically for him and the role that he plays in leading one of our most amazing states of India?

3) Stanley put up a slide which had pictures of Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, SC Bose, Dr. Ambedkar, Swami Vivekananda and Mohammad Jinnah. He pointed out that all had been involved in various ways in the freedom struggle against the British - but that each one had a radically different vision of how the new India should be. He then put up shots of our current leaders - most of whom were in the top 10 of the Indian Express list: Dr. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi, Mayawati, L.K. Advani, Prakash Karat etc. The question is the same. Each of these has a different vision of how our country should be. When we vote, we subscribe to that vision - we further it and develop it. How important it is to have people of vision leading our country - and how vital for this generation to take up the mantle.

We were challenged by the life of William Wilberforce - who not only helped bring about the end of the slave trade in the British Empire - when slave-trading was a hugely lucrative (and corrupting influence in parliament) but also was involved in bringing reforms to the East India Company, addressing issues of vice, founding the church mission society and even helping establish the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Will this generation see someone like this speak into the lives of our billion fellow Indians? The time is ripe for a change. Would that a humble follower of God will take up the challenge and be faithful in small things - while dreaming big dreams.

Perhaps India's most influential people are still unknown. May they not be any more...

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Steps

This is a story that is taking place in the urban India of 2009 - not rural India or the India of the past.

A young girl of 16 gets married off. To keep her from eloping like so many others of her cohort have been doing. Lets call her "Rashi".

Rashi got married off to a man in a near-by slum. She left her home in a slum and joined her in-laws in another one on the other side of Thane.

On her marriage night, after all the ceremony is over, Rashi's husband locks the door and goes out, leaving her behind.

Gradually the truth about Rashi's husband seeps out.

When Rashi goes to the communal toilet, the other women start asking her how she could have married that man - a known womanizer. She asks them why they are telling such terrible things about her husband. When Rashi threatens to tell her mother-in-law about what the women are telling her, they get scared and ask her not to reveal what they said.

One afternoon she comes back home and overhears her sister-in-law berating her husband: "you are such an evil man. We had hoped that by marrying Rashi you would change your ways, and still you are behaving this way." When Rashi plucks up courage to come in, they both fall silent, and are not able to look at her.

After a year of this she cannot take it any more. She calls her mother to take her away. At 18 she is back home with her parents. A few years later she hears that her husband has fallen sick. She returns to nurse him. He dies. He had HIV.

Today Rashi has the disease too. Not yet 25. A widow. HIV positive.

And yet, through all this despair there are glimmers of hope. Rashi has taken steps to put her trust in Jesus. She says that she has forgiven her husband and her mother-in-law. She is not going to live in the past.

There is still much sorrow in this young woman. The road ahead is no bed of roses. But we are privileged to come along side Rashi.

Negative

For most of us, the word 'Negative' is well... negative. Bad. Less than good.

But for a person who is being tested for HIV - to hear that they are 'negative' is very, very good news.

We have just started the HIV testing programme at Jeevan Sahara Kendra. This week was the first week in which we tested people.

By God's grace each one of the 7 people tested so far has had a non-reactive result - meaning that they are "HIV negative". 6 of those tested in the first week were children - all have parents who are HIV positive and whom are serving with. And what a relief to the parents to know that their kids have not received the virus from them.

We expect that we will soon be giving people the news that they have tested positive for HIV. As sad as that will be - it is better to hear it from us - than in a cold and unfriendly place. We know that we do not have all the answers (and certainly not all the answers in an easy way). At Jeevan Sahara, however, we are able to link people who test positive for HIV in with our home-based care programme, local churches and government health facilities.

In the mean time, we pray that more people who are at risk from HIV will be tested - and that many of them will hear the relieving words that they are negative. We pray, however, that when our Friends hear about the negative HIV test result, that they will make drastic changes in their lives. All possible only with a determination and will, support from friends and others - and God himself!

Friday, 20 February 2009

Shivaji and Enoch''s Bday

The great Maratha warrior Shivaji was born on the 19th of February.

So was a little boy called Enoch.

Yesterday we celebrated their birthdays. Well actually we celebrated Enoch's B-day more. The local politician had a do outside complete with loud music celebrating the great warrior of old.

At the crack of dawn - no make that before the crack of dawn - at 5.30 AM we had both our little ones up and ready for the great day.

We were blessed to have Opa with us for the festivities. As a family we thanked God for 6 years that He has given Enoch - and remembered the many miracles that had taken place. Then there was our family treasure hunt to find the gifts that we had hidden for Enoch (and a few for Asha too)
Being Shivaji's birthday it was also a holiday from school - so we were able to have a leisurely breakfast for a change (normally Enoch is out the door at 7.30 AM).

The rest of the day was spent getting ready for the afternoon party. Balloons were blown up and stuck in strategic places. The juice and snacks were made.

Opa got to work on shaping the birthday cake. This year it was a car.

The initial steps demanded much concentration and deep thought by Opa.

But he came through! In less than 3 hours the cake was ready - just in time for the party to begin! What more could a newly minted 6 year old boy want - than a racing car decorated with the no. 6?

The party was an afternoon one. And it was a blast.

What better way to spend an afternoon than with with a bunch of friends (old and new) and enjoying games together?

I remember the excitement I used to have when Dad (who has now graduated to 'Opa' in our house) put together different team games for us. It is such a joy for me to be the same to the next generation. There is something wonderful about living traditions - the things that you do because you cherish them - and seeing the delight on the faces of the kids!

We are blessed to be living on the top floor - which means the building terrace is just above us:

With Opa being here for Enoch's birthday (Oma is with Neeru, Stefan, Ashis and their new daughter) we had to make use of his expertise in the games.

He designed a 2 team treasure hunt that was a real treat! I wish I were on one of the teams myself...

We also took the opportunity to think a bit about God's love for us. Enoch walked with God - we talked about this and how God wants to walk with us. When we walk we leave behind footsteps. What kind of ones do we leave in our walk with God?


Then it was cake time.

The birthday song was sung with gusto.

And actions!


The car cake lasted only a few hours before it was carved up --- and consumed with great delight!

Enoch 'fed' all his friends.

Snacks were brought out (our Mumbai speciality of Pau-bhaji specially prepared by Sheba) and the party wound down to its happy ending.


It is nice to see Enoch growing up. This birthday was the one he was anticipating - for months!

He was joined by friends who were both older and younger to him.

Though some of the excitement turned into crankiness - the early morning wake up contributed - he was overall a gracious host and thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Which is what all of us did too.

Oh yes, it was Shivaji's birthday too...

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Discussion

There is so much work to be done. And so often it seems that we are just back where we started.

But when we work together - wow - is there anything to hard to overcome?

One of the on-going challenges of working with families with HIV is the challenge of working with each other. We are very frail, very simple (and at the same time very complex) human beings. We bring to our place of service our own old natures (often not so nice ones!) and have our own particular ways of doing and seeing.

But when we really talk, when we really share and pray, then we see some of the barriers drop.

As a team we start each day with some sharing from the Bible and prayer. Its never enough - a few songs - a short devotion to get us ready for the day - and a small time of prayer for the people on our prayer calendar - and for each other. But it is a foundation, a grounding for what each day's service holds.

The 3 home-based care teams (2 persons per team) meet one day a week with Sheba, Giri and Daniel to review their work. Monday's its Shanti and Seema, Tuesdays its Lata, Sandhya and Sunita, Thursdays its Rahul and Sanjeev. Then at on Fridays we all meet together to discuss our weeks work - and pray for the next set of challenges that are upon us.

Its seems sometimes that we do a lot of talking. But then we need to communicate, to share the challenges that our friends with HIV and their families face. And still we see things fall through the cracks at times.

"To jaw- jaw is always better than to war-war" said Winston Churchill. Though we do have opportunities to talk with each other - we need to keep deepening them, refreshing them, becoming more vulnerable and real.

Otherwise the cold-wars of silence will rule - however many meetings we hold.

555

I was walking between our office and the JSK clinic today and my eyes chanced on a blue box on the ground. Coming closer I saw that it was an empty 555 cigarette packet.

Immediately my mind went back to reading Time and Newsweek magazines as a kid - and the dominant adverts of the day - sleek paens to sophisticated life - courtesy of attractively branded cancer-sticks.

Coming from a home where the very thought of lighting up just didn't exist I never thought the ads had any effect on me.

But they did.

About a decade ago I actually had a vivid dream that I was on a yacht surrounded by 'beautiful people' and I was lighting up.

How that thought would have lodged itself into my sub-consciousness - and why and when it showed up is a mystery.

I do know, however, that the allure of the elegant promise that the ciggie ads seemed to have is too subtle to just walk away from. I find myself amazed that just seeing a discarded 555 pack immediately brought such a cascade of past ads to mind.

And here I have such a struggle remembering the simplest part of scripture.

We seem hard-wired for destructive pleasure - and have a huge entropy deficit when it comes to the constructive.

------------
The upside of all of this is proof that we are able to analyse our thoughts and feelings. We may have muddled and perhaps even destructive thoughts / urges, but at least we can make sense of them. And we can choose (with God's help) to change. The good book says - be transformed, by the renewing of your mind.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Art Attack! Woman - this is your story....


How I wish I could step into an aeroplane and be whisked off to Delhi.

Stefan and the merry folk at the Art for Change Foundation are putting on another exhibition of art that makes a statement - and statements that bring in the gritty beauty of aesthetics to life.

If you are in our glorious capital city for any reason what-so-ever, make sure you direct your steps to the Reflection Art Gallery and Studios in Shahpur Jat (near Asiad village) on at least one day between Feb 18th and March 11th!

Here is a handy map to get there:

Monday, 16 February 2009

Rose bud

We have three children who are not children anymore. And yet are still children.

Double orphans. Unwanted by their relatives in far-off UP. They are looked after by the eldest who is just about 20. The middle one - a girl is a small pathetic hothouse flower of a girl.

For some reason her body has not filled out like other girls. She stays indoors all day, not wanting to be laughed at by others.

Her mother had gone blind with HIV. She had seen her suffering for years in the darkness of having lost sight. Today the daughter has eyes to see, but is still caught in multiple bondages.

Don't we wish we had a secret button that we could press and everything would be alright!

This little family is linked to a church. Its ours. One of the three fellowships here in Thane. Our own inadequacies are painfully clear.

Sheba and I have tried to take a special interest in this small family. We feel so helpless to see what seems an opaque and murky set of relationships going on between the siblings - and who knows who else...

How much potential this dear girl has. The bud that she is, is tightly shut. Would that she would trust enough to unfold. Unclench. To be.

Please say a prayer for this dear girl.

Battered

They came this morning. Bruised.

They are husband and wife. HIV positive. Seen so much (including being put outside the house for some time when they had TB) and yet it seemed that the family was always with them.

Last night the ties seem to have snapped.

Their young girl ran away with a young man. The eloping which is fueled by a thousand films from Bollywood about true love winning out (and which has thousands of unhappy couples grinding through an unglamorous life cut off from family years afterwards).

Its not clear all the issues involved, but a major fight took place. This couple were considered to blame. They were beaten up. And told to leave.

This morning they came to the centre with only the clothes they were wearing.

After all the family has gone through - after all the hope and prayers that took place - to have it all seem to evaporate in one horribly contested issue...

------------------------------------

We are praying for restoration. But there is something in the choosing of a life-partner which seems to bring out the very worst in people. The very worst.

The Greatest Toy Ever. Period.

Fatherhood has many joys. One of them being the excuse to play with toys. And play we do in the Eicher household.

The king of all toys is clearly Lego. Those little bricks with thousands of possibilities.

What a joy to see Enoch digging into the tub of Lego pieces that were the fund of so many days of play for Stefan and myself. Some of the oldest pieces are at least 50 years old -(hand-me-downs in finest OM tradition). Most of the pieces are from the early 80s which puts them at least 30 years old.

How strong they are. How many sets of imaginations they have run.

And what a thrill for Sheba and myself to see the little dreams being made into reality by Enoch.

Above we see a mini-tractor with its liftable hood for repairs. On the side an ambulance. All conceived and made by Enoch - and soon to be remade into something else. Yesterday Enoch constructed a tractor with front wheels that were very cleverly articulated - something I don't think we ever thought of in our days. Today that tractor is already in pieces and being used for something else...

A huge thanks to Mum for faithfully keeping all these treasures. We hear that cousin Ashish has taken to Duplo with a vengeance, after uncle Phil brought a farm set to go with the helicopter set Enoch sent him.

A new generation of builders is being nurtured. The greatest toy ever continues to mesmerise small boys and big boys (who are pushing 40)!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Home-going


Dad is with us for a few days. We just had a conversation about his parents death.

Elmore and Alice Eicher had returned to the US after 45 years of missionary service in 1972. They lived for another 20 years after that in Florida.

At the end they were living in a community home in Deland where they were assigned a small home with the understanding that they would be cared for in the assisted living unit or admitted at the care unit when needed.

Alice (my grand-mother) was ill for a long time. She had always had health problems - including a terrible accident in India where she almost died. The last few years were ones of constant admission and care - especially with a long-term pneumonia. However she remained an amazing source of light to all her care-givers. Those who looked after her were blessed by her concern for them, her prayers and her amazing cheer.

My Oma Eicher (which is what we called her) had been in the care unit for over a year when her husband Elmore (my 'Opa Eicher') started to fall a bit sick. Till then he had been looking after himself in the home. After the sickness he was then moved to the semi-independent living unit. For two nights he was there.

On the second night the nurse checked in at 12 midnight. He was reading. At 3 AM he was asleep. In the morning he was dead.

The nurse went over to tell Oma Eicher. She told her that something had happened to Elmore. When Oma Eicher heard that he had died in his sleep, her first response was to throw up her hands and say gratefully "Praise God."

God calls each one of us at the right time. How good the death of the righteous are. How blessed it is to meet our Lord after a life well lived.

We very much look forward to meeting our grandparents in glory.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

A busy day


A deep breath is in order.

Today was packed.

Morning saw us up at 5 after a restless night.

Time with God. Time to get ready for the day. Time to put some breakfast together.

Dad is with us. His mouth is hurting from ulcers.

Kids are up. Its a Saturday - Dad (their Opa) will take them out to the park this morning.

I am dressed and out of the door at 8.15 This week a meeting has been called at the Church at Powai to see how independent churches can work together and reach out to people with HIV. I was asked to speak.

Will the scooter start? Eternal question. It does. I tank up and am off down the Eastern Express highway. Smooth. The battered 'Black Beauty' goes like a dream in the cool morning.

Arrive at CAP just before 9. Meet with Paulus who has come up from Madurai to lead the programme - Pastor Cecil of CAP and Dr. Alita of ACT-Chiraag. We talk and pray.

Meanwhile Sheba is preparing for the day too. We have a Church members training at JSK. She is taking two sessions in the morning - on preventing mother-to-child transmission and on helping people with HIV take Anti-Retroviral Medications. The kids are taken out by their Opa for a treat to the 'new park' near-by.

After Alita shared an HIV overview I talked about how HIV affects the whole person - and how the church is called to love and care for every broken part - and how Jesus helps us to do so.

Then it was off back to catch the 2nd half of our JSK training. One problem. The scooter didn't start. Off to the scooter-repair-walla. 12.30 departure became 1.15 PM. Back up the Eastern express highway. Smooth sailing. I rarely drive this far. Tried to keep the speed down.

Come back just after 2. Grab some channa-rice-dal. Into the afternoon sessions. One of our nurses was giving her testimony about how she was started on ART and now is doing so much better. Sheba prayed for her afterwards.

We hand over. Sheba goes back to the kids and Opa. I continue with the training. We discuss what the participants have experienced over the past 2 weeks. Amazing stuff done by many.

I then take a session that gave a positive Bible-based understanding of sexual love. Most in the room had never been exposed to this before. Much appreciated in the feed back session later. As was the whole day. We have an excellent group of trainees. This is the 3rd of 4 sessions which we hold fortnightly. Many are young people from a church in Bhayinder.

In the mean time, Sheba has admitted Mrs. Ulema, one of our long term patients. Mrs. Ulema has had severe pain in the abodomen. Strongly suggestive of an appendicitis. After the meeting is over I spend some time with Mr. and Mrs. Edwin, an HIV positive couple who are doing church planting and are in touch with a network of HIV positive people in a rural part of Maharashtra. They have faithfully been attending the trainings.

We then go and spend some time with Mrs. Ulema and her husband who has come to visit her. Mr. Edwin shares encouraging words from the Bible and from his own story. Mrs. Edwin prays for Mrs Ulema.

I return home to find that Opa has just returned from taking Asha to her violin class. He is taking a nap. Coffee with my beloved as we swap notes.

But the day is not over yet. At 7.30 our church young people are there. A time of worship and then they are sharing with each other what they have heard from God. Great group of young guns!

During this time Sheba has finished preparing the evening meal and has to go off to see Mrs. Ulema. Her condition has not improved - infact it has worsened. Sheba has no option but to refer to a government teaching hospital for acute care. We just do not have the nurses at this point to supervise a complicated case like this.

Sheba returns after the last young person has left. The last being Abhey Noor - a young man who has been a double orphan since he was 14 and who has manfully looked after his younger sister and brother. HIV has done so much damage - but we hardly notice because the dead do not tell tales.

We sit together for supper - at 10 PM. It is great to have Dad around. Much laughter. A short devotion reading. Prayer for all our family scattered around the world.

Now sleep. The rest of the family is in slumber. I find myself putting a few more words on the screen. Over and out.

Its been a busy day - and a Saturday at that!

Friday, 13 February 2009

V-day stories

Its Vday again. Tomorrow we will have our annual ritual of cards being bought, flowers given, the odd protest by "guardians of Indian culture" and the odder counter-protest (if you are particularly energetic you can google "pink chaddi campaign").

But beyond these epiphenomena we have the vast swelling ocean of relationships - and lack of relationships that make up our lives around us.

Two examples came our way this week.

The negative one first:

Mr. Naresh (all names changed of course) is a young man who has HIV. He came to us last time in an inebriated state and with sores on his genitals. He was unwilling to have our staff visit him at his home. He has not told his wife yet about his condition. Highly doubtful whether he takes any precautions with his wife or other partners. We did not hear from him for some time.

Today he showed up again. Same status. Inebriation. Sores. Barely there. Some V-day.


A positive one now:

Mrs. Mira is a widow whose husband who died a decade ago. She got his job in the railways. Over the last few months she has been losing weight and after doing the rounds with doctors was advised an HIV test. It came back positive.

Mrs. Mira has grown children. The shame was too much for her. She could not think what to do and contemplated suicide. Her days were dark.

Then a local lady who had been treated for TB met her. Mrs. Mira had noticed this lady kept reading the Bible. She told Mrs. Mira about Jesus. And suggested that Mrs. Mira pray. This she did and felt such a peace.

Then someone gave Mrs. Mira our address. She does not even remember who it was. Mrs. Mira lives far away in the middle of Mumbai. She made the journey out to Thane to meet us by train. Then she lost her way and looked for the JSK centre for ages. Finally she found the place and was so grateful to tell her story. To be heard and loved and prayed for. She had come home.

We have been able to link her up with a church in her own area whose pastor was trained by us in HIV care. She still has many challenges - but Mrs. Mira is full of hope. Out of a poverty of relationships - she is slowly growing into a family.

Long after the trite cards and roses and little teddy-bears bearing hearts have been thrown away - and after the various actors in the set-pieces about western culture vs. Indian culture have moved on to other sound-bites - it is the quiet web of relationships based on giving-love that will endure. We see so many opportunities for this among our HIV positive friends. May there be many more!

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Testing, Testing


Finding out whether I have HIV or not is the first step in my treatment for HIV/AIDS.

The WHO estimates that over 80% of people who have HIV in the so-called developing world do not know they have the disease.

As a country we have just come to the stage where the average income is now Rs. 100 per day (US$ 2.2).

Unsurprisingly most people who find out that they are HIV positive find out only when they are quite sick. By then a lot of time has gone by - and many precious opportunities to help our immune cells to fight HIV effectively have passed.

Many people die before they know they have HIV. We have enough TB around, enough malaria, enough dysentry that people can die of 'common diseases' without realising that HIV has pulled out the rug from under their feet.

This is why testing for HIV is so vital.

To be able to do anything positive for a person who has HIV - we have to know the truth. When I know my HIV status I can move forward. The HIV test puts this foundation of knowing into place.

At Jeevan Sahara Kendra we have wanted to get our testing and counselling going for some time now. Thanks to help from Geneva Global, we were given a grant to start such a programme last year. In the process, we our centre and even had a dedication program where John Forbes cut the ribbon for our 'new' premises.

But we have had months go by where we were not able to actually start counselling and testing our contacts. We still sent people to the government testing centre at the civil hospital, because we did not have the personel in the saddle for us to be fully operational.

Today that changed.

After a long time, we are able to say that we are beginning to start our testing and counselling programme at JSK.

As of today we are 'open for business' to anyone who needs to be tested for HIV.

Thanks to Vinod, who has come on board as a temporary lab technician, we now have the capacity to counsel and test people for HIV at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra centre.

The idea is to provide testing for people who think that they may have HIV in a way that honours and affirms them - while also linking them in to a continuum of care should they test HIV positive.

Not only do we want people to be helped through JSK's staff and contacts with local churches - we also want as much as possible for people with HIV to access govt. resources - especially for getting treated with Anti-Retrovirals when they need them. Our hope is that the JSK Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre will be able to sync in with the other government ICTCs. We in no want want to 'compete' - rather we want to complement and cooperate. There are plenty of people with HIV who have not been tested yet!

Lets take a look at things from another perspective:

We have staff at JSK who are positive themselves, and know the challenges of the testing and treatment process. We also have counsellors with real life experience in caring for people with HIV in their homes. We have a place where people can come and tell their stories - knowing that we will keep things confidential.

And we also have one more element. The element of hope. In a time when so many consider suicide - we know that God loves each person - with or without HIV. Though we do not have easy solutions - and certainly no formulas to life and happiness at the drop of a hat - we do know that our friends who come to us receive love, touch and care. And prayer.

For those about to get the big news of whether they do have HIV or not - that means so much.

And for those who are told that HIV has been found in their blood - it can make all the difference in the world.

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Please join us in praying and supporting this vital work. We feel very weak in starting this up - but know that God is helping us at every step.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Potential

Sheba did a night call to the JSK centre tonight.

She went to see our friend Eddie who has been admitted at the JSK centre for the past few nights with fevers.

We found out that he has a pericardial effusion - a large amount of fluid has accumulated in the area outside the heart. This is a dangerous condition, underlying cause is tuberculosis, something that at the end of the day every one with HIV in India is expected to get.

Its just that we don't expect it so soon. Eddie has had HIV for years - but is trim, fit and full of energy.

He hasn't been for the past few weeks. Its disheartening to be sick. Miserable.

But today the tide changed. Though Eddie is still sick, we now have a diagnosis for him, and are starting him on anti-TB drugs.

Earlier in the day I was alone with Eddie in the clinic. He sat up on his bed, his thinning face looked at me. Our two bald heads came close together. Eddie looked intently at me and said with quiet conviction: "Brother Andi, I want to give myself fully to do the work you all are doing when I get better."

Thinking back on my conversation with this sick man, I find myself sad and happy at the same time. Sad that we have to go through so much pain and despair. Sad because of the degeneration of this amazing young body that HIV is causing. At the same time, I am happy because we are gradually seeing a new Eddie. One that is so much more grace-filled. So earnest and eager to do something.

How much potential each person with HIV has to be a blessing to others. A single bee can pollinate so many flowers. A single person's life being changed can cascade into so many others too!

Red lights


Why do we have anywhere between 50,000 and 200,000 prostitutes in Mumbai?

Because there are men who will use them. Every night there are enough to keep the trade going.

One called me up recently. He has HIV. He struggles with temptations. He promised to start afresh this year.

He has given in twice already.

Over the phone we talked about what it means to really ask Jesus for forgiveness. And what it means to make steps that walk in the fruit of repentance. And what it means to receive the assurance that our Lord can clean us up. But also the great price that He paid for this. And the wonderful opportunity we have to live our lives pure.

Its something that we face everyday. Every Man's Battle (the title of a book on the subject). A silent struggle with sexual temptation - which so often is given into.

The oldest book in the Bible shows evidence that lust is not new. Job says that he has 'made a covenant with his eyes, not to look lustfully at a woman.' Ancient decisions still needed today.

Billy Graham is said to have mentioned that he can't avoid the first glance - but he certainly can the second.

This may all seem pedestrian - infantile even for so many to whom sensuality is king. But here at Jeevan Sahara Kendra we deal day in and day out with one of the most bitter fruits of our lack of self-control. Whatever fantasies exist in the male mind - the reality of HIV/AIDS cannot be wished away. The young man who called me on the phone after his latest fling with a prostitute has HIV. He will continue to spread it as long as he is unable to control himself.

We applaud the path-breaking work being done to stop the trafficking of women into prostitution. There are some amazing folks out there doing things to change the face of modern sexual slavery that would make Wilberforce proud. We must fight for justice and truth.

But what about the overwhelming silent epidemic in our minds? What about the meek surrender to the pornographic and widescale titillation that goes under the guise of being cool / open-minded / with it (insert your favorite nom de jour here)? What about the total lack of any sense of regret in using each other like so much meat? The foul crude torrent of so-called liberated sexuality that we are so enslaved to?

Supply side my friends. And the missing ingredient is that rarest of modern virtues - self-control.

50,000 - 200,000 women are in sexual slavery tonight in the greater Mumbai area because of the power of the male mind.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Princess

Her birth took place in the same huge hospital were her father had once been taken by semi-comatose by ambulance from Mussoorie - suffering from a malarial fever which he brought back with him from Africa. Stefan's right leg had been bitten by over 120 mosquitoes a few weeks previously when he visited lake Victoria. The miracle was that when we arrived at St. Stephen's hospital on that early Delhi winter morning in 1997 - that he opened his eyes and began speaking again.

But no such crisis brought this little girl into the world.

Rather it was the age old mystery of maternal pain through which another perfectly formed child entered into light - and started breathing for herself.

How strange that the sound a parent most wants to hear right after birth is the crying of the child. Silence from a newborn is a terrible weight. Happily this little nipper exercised her lungs duly!

Newly minted big brother Ashish is at hand to gently carry this small living miracle.

What will be going through his mind at the arrival of another Eicher - a new baby - and his onesome world now becoming a twosome?

We remember Asha's less than enthusiastic welcome for Enoch 6 years ago. But the few moments of uneasiness have moved into years of love and joy with each other.

Each child allows us to look at the world with new eyes. As their days unfold, this worn and torn world is experienced by them for the very first time. The miracles of light. The liquidity of water. The warm of mother and father. The profound realness of space and time - experienced in little doses - and co-discovered by her loving parents.

In the mean time - lots of sleep. And nourishment. And love.

What a beautiful picture of care that takes place with each child who is looked after by loving parents. The amazing fragility of life, so carefully nurtured and protected by mother and father. The tenderness and strength that we are able to give our little ones which echoes the care and love we receive from our heavenly Father.

Sleep well sweet princess. You have entered into an amazing life.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Broken angels

At our JSK centre we have admitted a young man with HIV has a fever - a fever that does not seem to be coming down. His mother - a sad, quiet woman has come to be with him. We are praying - and are giving him some high-level medications - but do not know yet why the fever continues. This young man has known he has HIV for almost a decade now - but has just in the last few months started to do things for God. Somehow, it is when we start taking steps of faith that all hell breaks loose - literally!

On the other side of India, an HIV positive doctor sees patients in a goverment hospital in a coastal city. He has suffered much rejection over the years and today is at home with his mother and siblings and the local church. The demons he fights are real - and also imaginary. Yet he carries on - seeing almost a 100 patients every day who come from near and far for the free Anti-retroviral (ART) medications that the goverment ART centre gives them. Having suffered severe neurological episodes over 5 years ago - it is a miracle that this doctor is able to continue to function and serve.

In our staff team we also have people with HIV serving. They are broken vessels - full of needs and challenges - and places where they need to improve.

Just like each one of us who may or may not know our HIV status. How many flaws we have. How quickly we can see our short-comings and failures. How often our own selfishness - our own laziness - our own pride-in-who-we-are-and-what-we-know gets in the way of genuine progress in people's lives.

Having HIV does not make people into angels. Neither does not having it.

Our challenge is moving forward and being a blessing to others, while at the same time being transformed ourselves.

We fool ourselves if we wait till we are perfect before we seek to serve others. We also fool ourselves in saying it doesn't matter what we do - and with what motives - as long as we are trying to do something (that we think) is positive.

Someone said: "Saints above are full of glory - saints below? That's a different story"

How gracious our loving Lord is - who patiently moves us along - and yet also seeks that we genuinely change - for the better!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Our own Punjabis

Don't tell any jokes about Punjabis to us. We have lots of family members who are Punjabis. Sheba's brother Peter has married the lovely Yashmeet, while my brother Stefan has married the lovely Neeru. So we have links to both the Sikh and Hindu strands that make up most of Punjabi culture.


Say Punjabi and the immediate thought that comes to mind is the Bangra dance. The zestful harvest dance that a thousand hand waving dancers at our myriad weddings replicate in a poor shadow of what the true Punjabi sons-of-the-soil do.

Enoch is in his final year of pre-school (he has managed to put 4 years into 3!) and stands on the treshhold of beginning 1st standard in June. The school is pretty enlightened in some ways - their 'sports day' consists entirely of non-competitive displays.


Enoch's participation this year was in the 'Bangra Dance'. Sheba and Asha went to the great day - and I had the task of dressing up our mini-Punjabi. Mummy's dupattas were used for a dhoti, a sash and a turban. Enoch was shy about going down to the bus - as he did not want others to laugh at him - but some coaxing later dutifully got on the school bus in his outfit.

The dance was a sliver of time - and part of a morning where each student in the whole school (3 years with 8 sections each with 50 in each class!) participating in some kind of display.

Maybe one day Enoch will really learn the Bangra. He could be doing something like this - a video of the Yale Bangra team, whose leader Govind Rangrass did a small study on elderly with HIV here two years ago. Take a look for some very robust dancing by clicking: here.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Job interview

I had been dreading this talk for days. When he called up on Wednesday and asked whether we should meet on Thursday or Friday, I gladly took Friday.

But there we were on Friday morning at 10.30 AM. On opposite sides of the table. Quick prayer, deep breath and into the conversation we went.

I asked him what his experience had been - having volunteered with Jeevan Sahara Kendra for a week - and seen us from the inside. And what God had been leading him and his wife to.

He was very positive. He appreciated the work and the commitment needed. He was challenged to see the way that people were being cared for - and the hope that Jesus can give to the situations we face. He and his wife had been praying that God would show them a breakthrough in January about where they can serve.

Mick, his wife and their 1 standard going daughter had left the North-East and come to Mumbai for the sake of her education - and to serve with a Christian organisation. As a family they have been helping out with a church made up mainly of folks from the North East in Kalina (and area that seems to have for Mumbai standards a disproportionally high number of folks from the 'Seven Sisters').

Then it was my turn. I had to tell him that though I really liked him and what he had to say, we just did not have the peace to take him and his family on to the team. It was not easy for me to say this.

But what happened next was beautiful.

I do not recall all the ins and outs of the conversation, but the gist was simple. He told me that he respected our decision, and appreciated the pains I had taken to tell him about it. He said that he had no regrets of spending the time with JSK and that it was a privilege to serve God this way. He said that he wanted to keep in touch and help out for future programmes - and that his family and church would continue to pray for us all. He said that he had gained a friend in this process.

I was overwhelmed. My esteem for this dear man went sky high.

I know that he and the family are in a very tight situation financially. One of the reasons why it was so hard for me to say what I had to. And yet this deeply mature man was able to be so positive. So trusting that God will take care of them. Not a grimace from his part. No pressure. No putting on any guilt trips.

I have also gained a friend in the process. And a brother.

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p.s. We had a very different experience with someone earlier. To read about it click: here

Am I Doing Something?

We talked with Sheba's mother the other day. She and Sheba's father had been to a day-long conference where our amazing friend John Forbes was speaking.

Over the phone, Sheba's mother said that she had learned from John what the meaning of AIDS is: Am I Doing Something?


John has just finished off a week of ministry in Vishakapatnam. He shared at churches, spoke in schools, met people who are living with HIV and talked to lots of new folks who are working with HIV or are interested to do work.

John is an innovator and path-finder. Living with HIV since 2002, John pioneers new places - listening to the heart of God and encouraging others to share the love of Jesus - especially with people living with HIV/AIDS. John shares from his own life story - but does not stop there - he is always learning - challenging and looking for ways that people can bring the true love of Jesus into situations marred by HIV.

In Vishakapatnam, John visited a clinic run by Neerakshana, a Hyderabad-based charity which reaches out to people with HIV. A short account of John's visit can be seen by clicking: here.

Last year John was in India (3 times), South Africa, China / Tibet, Peru, and the US of course. This year he is already back in India and due for another trip at the end of the year. In the meantime, John is planning a trip up to Nepal and the Tibetan border from this side. HIV circles the globe - and there are folks everywhere who need to be encouraged to get off their back-sides and obey the commands of our loving Lord (just look at 1 John 3:16-18 and James 1.27 for examples).

AIDS. Am I Doing Something?

Friday, 6 February 2009

A smell of opportunity

We knew we were approaching Mumbai. The night was dark, the train stations zipped by at such a speed as the night train clattered through empty platforms that it was hard to read the station names.

But we knew we were coming in.

By the smell.

That peculiar, rancid stench that wreathes the city of dreams.

The putrid pong of sewer. The acrid smell of smoke. The rottenness of it all.

The combined effluents of so many. Human, animal excreta joining the cast off products of our industrial and consumer age. The combined pool of many hands labouring. Many feet tramping. Many products shaped, fashioned and hustled in the bylanes of the great city.

It is something that we want to wish away. Something that we are embarrassed by - and which is increasingly being pushed out of the island city as the myriad small industries seek greener pastures in ever-more far-flung 'suburbs'. Mushrooming mini-cities spreading out along the umbilical chords of our railways.

To many, paradoxically, this is the smell of hope. Many trade the pure air of a native village - for the heavy stench of the city - because there is money to be made, education to be found, opportunities to be had.

The lovely lady who helps us out for 1/2 the day at home has gone back to the village for some days. Her grandmother is ailing and she wants to see her before she dies. Our lady organized another lady to help in her absence. She came yesterday. A big toothy smile lighting up her face.

As she left today I asked her if she could give me a contact number. She gave me a business card. I waited for her to write out her number on this piece of paper. Instead she pointed to the card and said "my number is here."

It was her daughter's card. She is a financial advisor for MetLife. The card has a picture of Snoopy dancing on it. The person who gave it to me is an illiterate woman from Andhra Pradesh. Her daughter is now a financial advisor.

Hardly likely to happen in the village. For a few generations at least.

The city continues to draw people. The stench - with all its admission of our own multiple failures to create a place which is trully habitable - still carries a very sweet note to it to many, many, many from our vast hinter-lands - the Mumbai stench carries in it a waft of the smell of opportunity.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Its a girl!



Stefan and Neeru were blessed with a baby girl this afternoon at 2.30 PM.

How totally appropriate that two wonderful people, who care so deeply for the right of any child to be born - and especially girl children - would be blessed with a lovely little girl!

We do not have all the details yet - but we know that Neeru went into labour this morning. They admitted her at St. Stephens hospital in Delhi.

Stefan a text message around noon saying she was admitted at the hospital - and had joined a labour union! Oma was on hand and was looking after Ashish. Father had found a gang of Emmanuel Hospital Association and quotables in the hospital cafeteria and was exchanging notes with them when the news of the birth came!

But then the next thing we heard was that the deed was done. A baby girl was born! Oh the joy! The delight of another life who we have seen prayed into the world.

What hope lies wrapped around this child. What horizons she will head towards. What hope and glory she will swirl around her. What constellations of people will she touch...

We are so proud - in the best possible way - for Stefan and Neeru. Fare thee well sweet girl. Grow in grace and love and joy.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Memory pictures

Enoch suddenly started to cry. Sheba and Ethel were heading for the door, as Sheba was going to introduce Ethel (who comes to our house fellowship) to our lady staff members. They were due to be away for about an hour or so of fellowship.

Enoch said that he wanted us to see something. Tears were coming starting to make glistening trails down his face now.

"Someday, when you die and go to heaven, I will remember you with these pictures" he said through his tears. We came into the kids bedroom and there in a secret corner he brought out a portrait of Sheba and another of myself that Enoch had made with pencil. We thanked him for these pictures and let him put them back in his secret place.

Then we prayed with him, holding his hands. All four of us as a family together.

Our children have already heard much about death. What goes on in their minds? Only the love and tenderness of Jesus can touch them.

Knocking


Mrs Tina came in touch with us 4 years ago. Her husband had died of AIDS. She was alone with her son. She had been started by a local doctor on anti-retroviral drugs for her own HIV.

The medications were costing her a fortune. She wanted help.

Though Mrs Tina had been off the medications, we were able to help her with highly subsidised medications. But more than the meds she needed friends. Mrs Tina was deeply depressed and despondent. The JSK ladies met her regularly. After a few illness episodes she pulled through and started work again. Her son did a 1 year vocational training course with a sister organisation.

When she shifted to the government medications we lost most of our touch with her. Our staff would go to meet her - but she would normally be at work. Dates that we set to meet would not always be honoured.

Its hard having HIV. Hard being constantly reminded of the medicines. Of having to take care.

Last year Mrs Tina started showing up on our radar again. Her CD4 counts - a simple measure of her inmune function - were dropping instead of rising. Over the last 2 months she has been hospitalised. Twice.

One of the big changes - Mrs Tina has made a few small steps of faith. Faith that holds onto the hope of Jesus in the midst of so many crushing dissappointments.

We started talking to her again about what steps she should be taking. Over the years she had worked out a system where her son would go and get the medications from her from the government clinic. Its not easy spending a day with a crowd of other people. All sick to varying degrees.

Mrs Tina agreed to go back to the main govt. hospital in South Mumbai to start 'second line' treatment. This treatment is hard to get as it is a quantum leap in expenses (and in treating complexity) and there is a long waiting line.

Today one of our staff is taking Mrs Tina for her next appointment there. Its a step of faith. The staff taking her is HIV positive as well.

We don't have easy solutions. Medications are not miracle pills. But they are ways of moving forward - of doing something - of expressing hope and love.

Jesus said - "ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you." People with HIV have a lot of asking, seeking and knocking to do.

Its a privilege to come alongside.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Forgotten wars

Amidst the technobabble of a million TV channels (which seem to be showing mainly short programmes pitched to get you to buy things) there are a number of wars going on out in our beautiful and fractured world.

Probably no where more poignant is the current set of fighting - touted as an end-game by the government - in northern Sri Lanka. Serendip - that magical island - has long since bled with at least 2 generations now having grown up with the poisonous struggle between Tamil seperatists and Sinhalese chauvinists (sweeping up everyone else in the debris).

We pay a bit of attention to the unfolding government army surge because in the end they are looking for Prabhakaran - the man who brought the modern suicide bomb into being. I would imagine that within this month the papers will be showing his body. It seems unlikely that he will be taken alive. Or does it? How much of what we 'know' fits the ground reality. Would it not make sense for a leader of a long-drawn out struggle - financed largely by Sri Lankan Tamils living abroad - to project the sense of heroic struggle that he demands from 'his' fighters?

Our leader of the unipolar world continues to maintain heavily armed robo-cops in Iraq and Afghanistan, while large swaths of NW Pakistan are further under the rule of those who used to rule Afghanistan. Amazingly, the US is attacking their enemies in Pakistani territory. Unthinkable a few years ago. But here it is going on quietly (at least relatively quietly - amid the din of 'buy-this, spend-on-that').

In our own beautiful and often perplexing country of India we face many forgotten wars. The other day 15 policemen were killed by ultra-maoists. Many Christians continue to hunker in relief camps in Orissa. Most of those who returned home bowed to the demand to 'reconvert' (that is what you called forced conversion) while others who left are settling in the cities to avoid going back. Our border states in the North East are home to long-standing insurgencies - and spill overs from the struggles of tribal peoples in Burma as well. When the bullets flew in Mumbai - the unstated fear was real: will there be a back-lash against the Muslim community? Will rioting break out? By God's grace we were spared that episode, but newer ones are always lurking just beneath the surface.

For a war to be forgotten you need to distance yourself. Physical distance (being a long way away helps somewhat), and even more importantly mental shuttering off is what most of us do.

After all, how much can we process? At what point do we lose any sense of normalcy amidst all the terrible things that very much do take place around us?

There are no simple answers (if there were, they would have been implemented long ago), but one important thing is true. Our view of the future colours our present.

If this is all there is, well then we live in a pretty crummy world.

But if we are on the cusp of something far deeper and better and realler than we have experienced so far, well then there is something that we can work towards.

The Bible teaches us that our Lord Jesus is due to return - and that all wars will cease. They will stop. End. Terminate. It boggles the mind. We are so war-stained that we can't even imagine it fully.

I ain't gonna study war no more... goes the doggerel. Well, here's the secret. There is a lot more truth in some of the simplest things we say than most of us want to admit (esp. because it deflates our sense of self-worth).

One of the reasons war is so horrible - is that we are not made to fight. The terrors of conflict point to something beyond us - an inner and irresistable understanding that we are really made for Shalom in all the luxuriant goodness of the word - in all the sparse vitality of our necessary peace.

The yearning is there. And it will be fulfilled. Soon. In the twinkling of an eye, the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, and we shall be changed....

Our forgotten wars - will be - have to be - trully, fully, completely (and blessedly) forgotten. But only when the true king Jesus takes His rightful place.

Magnets

There are usually three or four of them. Ladies wearing dirty clothes, something gypsy like about their dress, walking along the road site and poking their sticks into garbage.

Or that's what I thought they were doing until I realised that their sticks all had a round metal head at the end. At first I thought it was for breaking things open. Recently I saw otherwise.

Poking her stick into a pile of waste left over from some carpentry job or interior decorating debris, the lady pulled it out with a small swarm of black things around the head of the stick. She held out her can and scooped off the collection into it. Nails, probably. Rusty, small, bent - but all metal. And together worth something at least.

The ladies are prospecting for metal. Magnets are the name of the game. Its not pretty, but they are scouring refuse for pieces of metal - of whatever shape or size - which they will then sell to the next person up in the waste sorting system. The local 'rabdi-wallah' probably - who will then sell off this collected scrap metal to others who will resmelt it and make cheap shoe-racks or some other items out of the collected iron.

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I didn't have an image to go with this note - which has been in my head for about 2 weeks now - but then the trusty BBC website had a shot of a young boy who does the same thing in Kashmir. Long way from Thane - but the same business.

In the Bible the Israelites were told not to go over their fields twice - to leave some for the poor to glean - for the birds to eat. Living in the strange urban landscape that we inhabit - with its breathtaking luxury straddling squalor and want - where do I *really* look out for the poor?

Oh that my heart would be broken anew.