Tuesday, 26 May 2009

How to make cookies using love (5 easy steps)

Step one: Take two bubbly girl cousins. Dress them identically. Get them to grin.

Step two: Add a willing brother, a wise 'Oma' and lots of flour, chocolate chips, eggs, a blender, milk, sugar, fun, laughter. Mix this whole conconction well.

Step three: Have lots of "tastes' of the cookie dough to make sure it is good. Take out the batter in small pieces and place on a greased tray. Continue the work even if one cousin and one brother decides to go away to play and read Tintin comics. Bake well. Give extra chocolate chips to father to eat.

Step four: Take out the cookies from the pan after baking and place in a plastic container. Place in back-pack along with other food and games. Develop a good appetite by going on a small hike as a family.

Step five: Have a picnic lunch with hot parathas and alu bhaji. Play raucous games on the flat area. Lose a football and almost lose 3 frisbees. Sleep a bit. Open the cookies for a dessert before going back home contented.

We are really overwhelmed with the love we receive from Mum and Dad. Sheba and I have just been so blessed with such wonderful parents here in Mussoorie and in Vishakapatnam. How we wish we were with them always instead of such short spans of time.

Monday, 25 May 2009


We are in the green coolness of Mussoorie.

At times the stillness is so thick, you can cut it with a knife.

It is good to be quiet, and allow the gentle rustling of the oak leaves outsides to filter with the muffled voices of the kids with their 'Oma' in the kitchen.

Books. Shelves of them. Patiently waiting to be read.

Songs in the night. Games around the dining room table. The power going off and seeing the immense spread of glittering diamonds that are the Dehra Dun lights in the darkness of a rain-washed darkness.

The good book says that the righteous shall lack no good thing. We certainly do not lack. What mercy and grace are ours. Tangible. Words spoken in love. Real.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


I am so tired that I feel that I have something in the back of my brain that is biting into it.

The other day I got up with a crushing headache and proceeded with some dry retching before retiring for some more time to bed.

Prayers and love made me better.

The tiredness remains. Here is praying a bout of Mussoorie beauty with Mum and Dad and the extended family (Sarah + Joanna, Stefan + Neeru + Ashish + Anjali) will be a cure.

We can only squeeze in 9 days (including our arrival and departure dates) - but 9 days is better than nothing by far!

Next post from the mountain top!

picture this

"Come and Dine" The theme of this year's VBS.

Because of the poor quality of the images provided with the materials (mainly copies of 1960's sunday school flannel graphs) we have had to make our own.

Above a shot (taken by Sheba) of yours truly painting away to illustrate the Royal Feast - King David searching out and making the crippled Mephiboseth an honoured guest at the king's table.

In the background is Ashis Karthak - one of the 3 new seminarians from UBS who are spending their 7 month internship with us.

In 48 hours from now we will have finished the VBS, had a Saturday morning prayer meeting, conducted a 1/2 day training for church members, have boarded a plane for Delhi, have seen our neice (and the kid's cousin) Anjali-Rose for the first time in the flesh - and attended an opening night at Stefan's art gallery - all before getting on the mid-night train for Mussoorie. Life in the fast lane...

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

3 kids

We are in the midst of a VBS - with over 90 odd kids clocking in each day.

Its an amazing opportunity to bring hope to kids from many of our families - a time when we are with them and are able to share the joy of Jesus in a tangible way.

The whole operation - in the sweltering heat of late May - has been a challenge. As has been the challenge of looking after the 90 plus kids. There is a lot which seems to border on the anarchical - any time we do not have completely structured activities - the kids are running around - chasing, grabbing - a vast sea of Brownian motion. Some of our larger group sessions also suffer from this challenge - keeping the children focussed when poking their neighbour is always more fun...

I must admit that my patience (never very thick) has been wearing thin and it has shown many a time over these last few days.

But consider three of the children.

One rambunctious boy - when I sat and had lunch with me told me that his mother was in hospital - and that she was undergoing surgery today. After his father's death he had been in a hostel and has been sent back for bad behaviour. His mother has HIV (though he did not tell me this) and is being operated for cervical cancer.

Yesterday a girl bit our daughter. So hard that blood came. We prayed and talked with Asha. She forgave the girl. We have been praying for this girl a lot. Today she seemed a little more subdued. An orphan, the girl is being looked after by a single lady who has suffered a lot in the care of this girl.

Another girl complained to me that a certain boy keeps coming and hitting the girls in her group on the head with pencils. When I talked to the boy's teacher he told me that the boy told him that his father comes home drunk almost every night. He then wakes up the boy and starts beating him. Its no wonder we see such violent behaviour lived out in miniature.

And so it goes. Each one of these kids has been made in God's image. But so many have already started on a life of deviance and mistrust. We know many of their parents and it is a tragedy to see some of the same destructive behaviour live on in these children.

The VBS is one small step in this direction. In breaking some of the cycles of despair. We hold out the word - and allow God to do the work. We see so many limitations in us, but are heartened by the love and sacrifice of our teachers and volunteers.

Can the lives of these three kids be changed? They can, and we hope and trust that they will.
VBS teachers and volunteers talk and pray at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

The butcher butchered

Prabhakaran is dead.

Many men have lived and died. A few have become known for their hold over others. The late Prabhakaran surely fits this scheme. I remember reading the first accounts of the civil war in Sri Lanka in the early 80s. I had just started my then fascination with TIME magazine - purchasing it from old paper shops and reading up on 'the big world.' There were articles about various Tamil liberation groups that had sprung up - some clearly getting support from their brethren in Tamil Nadu.

PLOTE, TELO and others have come and gone. One group prospered. The LTTE, driven by their leader Prabhakaran carved out a niche for themselves. Carved it out with blood. Much of it their own - and the many that they pressed into service. The man who made all this possible: Prabhakaran.

When we heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York, my first thought out there at the small rural mission hospital we were working at, was that it had to somehow be linked with Prabhakaran.

I still remember hearing with dismay that Rajiv Gandhi was killed. How? With a human bomb. Something we could not believe at the time.

Prabhakaran believed. He pioneered the widespread use of human bombs. It is said that the bombers would be given a meal with him the night before they executed their missions. The power of this man. The allure of his thought of a Tamil nation. The hard ruthlessness that saw him take on the world, extort cash in millions from Sri Lankan Tamils abroad, run an army who kept the Sri Lankan national army at bay, who were willing to fight with the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka (inflicting heavy losses on our soldiers), who believed in himself above all.

We now have a picture of a bloated corpse, which the finally triumphant Sri Lankan military says is that of Prabhakaran.

The open eyes staring skyward are empty.

How does a single man wield so much clout? Where in the grand scheme of things do individuals tip the tide of history? Would the tearful recent history of the tear-drop nation of Serendip have been different without a Prabhakaran?

And what of the 70,000 who have been killed in the fighting over the years? Where in the scheme of things do we allot the murders on all sides. The deaths of journalists in Colombo. The deaths of young Tamil men taken for questioning over the years. The deaths of the civilians of every stripe of ethnicity and persuasion.

The guns have stopped. For some time at least. The last few days have seen such horror.

Much of the savagery was concentrated on a shallow strip of beach where the LTTE held its final stand, using thousands of civilians as their shield to operate from, and where the Sri Lankan armed forces mercilessly bombarded with artillery shells. Prabhakaran and his men had never given quarter. This time the SL army made sure they did not survive to rebuild. In the mix thousands were killed.

In my head my various Sri Lankan friends come to mind. Arvinda, Dan, Mark, Raj... from Sinhalese, Burgher and Tamil backgrounds. Will they be able to look back at May 19 2009 as a day when their country turned the corner and started rebuilding - or are we looking at the valourisation of one of the most cruel men of all times - and another unending struggle for sovereignity that flows through the barrel of a gun?

A week and a different (?) world.

They say a week is like a life-time in politics.

It certainly feels like it in some ways.

On the 16th of May the counting of the votes of our gargantuan national election finally were counted. In the days leading up to this verdict day the press was in a tizzy predicting all manner of scenarios. The regional and caste-based parties who had been the king-makers in the last number of elections were flexing their muscles (and sound-bites). The big two - the Indian National Congress - and the Bharatiya Janata Party - seemed locked in a struggle of attrition. Every one thought it would be an indecisive and 'hung' parliament.

The picture above - taken from the Indian Express front page of May 12th expressed the national mood (or at least the media mood) elegantly: May 16th would reveal who has the 'kursi' - the proverbial chair of power that all seemed to be hankering for.

Well we all had quite a surprise when the results were announced. Who would have thought that the Congress would get more than 200 seats. That Dr. Manmohan Singh would be the first Prime Minister to be re-elected for a 5 year term since 1957. That the Congress would sweep both Mumbai (6/6) and Delhi (7/7). There are so many fascinating sub-stories to all of this - but lets just put it this way. None of us thought we would see such a clear mandate. We were surprised in 2004 when the "India Shining" of the BJP did not shine so brightly after all - and here we are surprised again. A lot of prayers went up regarding these elections - but how much faith in the outcomes? Perhaps our Lord wanted to surprise us, his dear doubting-while-praying children.

The sobering fact is that governance is and will never be easy. We have seen the better choice of some pretty unsavoury choices - and are glad. But the victors are hardly folks who smell of roses all around. We have much more praying to do for our dear land.

The market likes what it smells though - with no more pesky marxists around (real ones - not like the American name-calling that goes on) - the decks seem cleared for some genuine reforms.

A week has passed. Will we see changes that last longer than the euphoria of election results?

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Last day

The trainees from North India return to North India today.

Before they go, they will visit the same families they did on their first day of training. The will visit, we believe - with new eyes - and a fire in their heart to bless people with HIV through local prayer groups and worshipping communities across the Northern States they are from.

We are proud of our JSK team who have rallied magnificently and poured themselves into this training. We trust and hope and believe that it will bear deep and lasting fruit as our dear friends now start their long journeys home!

Bon voyage - and light the candle!

You are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009


Almost each day brings us face to face with the tragedy of HIV.

While we have been teaching and sharing with people from all over north India in the gospel hall just behind our centre (courtesy of the kind help of the local Brethren Assembly) some people have been coming for HIV testing - and others have come holding test reports that they are HIV positive.

Lets focus on one family.

He is scared. He is HIV positive. He is sick. She has come straight from the village to care for him. They are vegetable vendours from the hinterland near Varanasi. She hides behind a bright red veil, not showing her face to anyone.

They have moved from place to place in his sickness. No one wants to look after them. Finally they ended up at his elder brother's room here in Thane. His elder brother looks old and weathered enough to be his father.

The man is shattered and scared. His wife - fresh from the village cannot make sense of the city. They yearn to be heard. The older brother is disgusted "He never listened to me - now look what has happened to him". But at least the older brother somehow found out about JSK and brought this little family here.

The story is not over. The story is far from over.

But a beginning. A contact. A friendship has been started.

Listen. Understand. Suggest. Pray. Encourage. Hope. Touch. Hold. Believe.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Training of Trainers (and Doers)

We are in the middle of an amazing experience of training folks from all over North India in basic Home-Care for HIV through local churches. Its heady stuff to be sharing our experiences with folks from the field. From many different fields.

We have church-planters from Sikkim, folks from a big mission hospital in Gujarat, small house-fellowship promoters from Bihar, people running an NGO in Madhya Pradesh. In short the complex and varied set of folks that God is using in various ways across our wonderful country.

All this to say: what a great opportunity to see God's love reach out to areas where people with HIV do not have care. Want a tremendous potential God has placed in each of us - each one so capable of making a huge difference if we take the path of loving obedience to what our Master desires of us.

The basic command is so simple. Love God. Love Neighbour. The basic set of humanity at our disposal is so flawed. But yet from the very beginning God has specialised in using very flawed, very simple 'salt of the earth' to make huge changes. Its a privilege to be part of this process, and to see people excited about helping others. May our inputs in training be translated into a lot of doing!

Sunday, 10 May 2009


We have been given so much. And yet how can we ever top folks like Mrs. Nahur.

Mrs. Nahur's family is in a mess. Each one of her 3 daughters have made very sad choices by way of husbands - and are working through much rubble. Mrs. Nahur's husband - an apparently dry alcoholic who has tortured her in the past - is tired of one their dead-beat (and HIV positive) son-in-laws and has forbidden her to help the family until the young men gets a job. There is a basic logic her husband's thoughts - but the reality is that this young man has TB and has just started on ART too.

Mrs. Nahur has been suffering from vomitting and severe headaches. Probably due to the challenges and strains she faces.

Mrs. Nahur has seen some direct answers to prayer though.

One of her daughters left her husband and eloped with a former flame of hers. He left his wife and 2 children for her. Mrs. Nahur prayed. Hard. Amazingly they have both gone back to their families. The impossible is in the realm of reality.

Today Mrs. Nahur came to the centre. In all the troubles she has, Mrs. Nahur is determined to give. And give she did. A sizable amount of money (a navy man came by today too - and gave only a 5th of what she did. Then she brought a brand new sari for one of our HIV postiive ladies. And one for a staff member who got married recently. All three items well beyond her means - but expressions of love.

Thinking about the amazing lady, the following words of Scripture come to mind:
And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. 2 Cor. 8,1-3a

What a privilege to know these true saints. Sinners saved by grace.

Lets vote on it

The other day our visitors from North India saw her sitting shrivelled up in her bed. Listlessly cutting garlics.

But a few days before Mrs. Tina had been doing something else. This lady with HIV has seen so many ups and downs. And mainly the latter with months of deep depression punctuated by what seem to be ephemeral days of hope. This lady had the mark on her finger. She had gone to vote. Her HIV infected finger was one of the many across the nation who will help shape the next government at the centre.

Another one of our HIV positive friends - Mrs. Reshmi - also went to the polling booth, but found that her name was not there. She saw that the name of her late husband's first wife, however, was there. She prayed. Literally prayed. That she would be able to vote. Then she told the local official the situation. She was the real wife of her late husband.

Amazingly, the man did something. He wrote some notes on an official paper and stamped it and allowed her to vote. She did. Her finger has the mark to show that she exercised her franchise.

It looks likely that the national picture will throw up a fractured mandate with no one party big enough to form the goverment on its own.

Be that as it may, the amazing thing is to think of all the HIV positive people who contributed to this democratic act. Who dragged themselves out like Mrs. Tina and voted. Who prayed like Mrs. Reshmi, and voted. And many, many more. Many who do not know that they have HIV. And many who do. Their votes count - and will be counted starting on May 16th.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Strands of hope

We are hosting 25 folks from all over North India - and sharing what we have learned. The training is being conducted by us on request from the Christian AIDS/HIV National Alliance. The participants are network partners from Gujarat to Sikkim and every where in between.

Today our friends went with our staff to meet some of the HIV positive friends we serve with. The experience was overwhelming for our guests.

"Today was the first day I met a person with HIV."

"I was so impressed with the gentle way that your staff behaved with all the family members."

"The lady was so thin and weak. She was sitting in her bed and cutting garlic. That was all she could do. She was too depressed to hear much what we said."

"The man said that he would have been dead. Twice over. If it had not been for the interventions of Dr. Adam and Dr. Sheba."

"She was just bubbling over with joy. I never imagined a person with HIV being like this."

"We went to one house and found it locked. Another and the person was out. But at the third one the lady was so happy. She had gained almost 15 kgs after JSK helped her with her TB."

The stories and impressions are deep. Real people. Real stories of grace. Challenges and hopes. We are very proud of our staff and their faithful service. We salute all the folks who have toiled - day in and day out - to meet people in their homes. To share love. To speak truth. To hold hands. To listen patiently. To challenge and prod. To live a common life with our friends with HIV.

The outside world will hardly notice any change. But lives are being silently knit together. At least partially. At least permanently. Heaven is the richer by far.
Enoch asked me today if I had met C.S. Lewis (we are reading Prince Caspian together). I said that I had not because he is dead.

"No he's not Daddy" said Enoch.

"Yes, of course - he is alive now, but he died before I was born"

"Christians have a small death, don't they Daddy, and then they are alive forever" said our little theologian.

Would that we remember the glorious hope we have more often.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Life in the fast lane

Things are moving pretty fast in the lives of the Eichers.

Tomorrow we will be welcoming 23 folks from all over north India for the week-long training of trainers in HIV care through Churches. We are doing this training at the request of the Christian AIDS/HIV National Alliance (CANA). They have asked members of their 13 regional networks in North India to come and be trained here - and then go back and share what they learned. The opportunity for us to share what we know is amazing.

Yesterday night we got a call from Siliguri, West Bengal. A group of 3 from Sikkim were about to get on the train. They will arrive tomorrow evening in Thane. 2 nights and 2 full days in the train. But they are coming. And coming to learn. The stakes for us to really share our hearts out are high.

Tonight we had a meeting with 12 teachers and other volunteers for the JSK VBS. We plan to hold a 5 day children's programme for many of the children from our HIV affected families - and their neighbours. We have 80+ names of kids already - all sanctioned by their parents / guardians. The opportunity to serve the little ones is so great! Our own capacity to do so is also so limited - but that forces us to depend more on God.

Earlier today we had the interesting experience of hosting an educational legend in Mumbai. Dr. Pinto stopped by to meet us, courtesy of our old Borivili-days friend Marshal. He sat with Sheba and myself in the little doctor's cubicle where Sheba sees so many people with HIV. His mind was so amazed at what can be done in the field of health care. I asked him how many schools they are now running - Dr. Pinto said "110 all over India." Sheba asked when he was going to start one in Thane - and he replied that there was one on the way. When we asked where - he called an assistant who found out - "it will be in a place called 'Manpada.'" We all laughed. Manpada is where we are right now.

In between we celebrated Daniel's birthday - and also the birthday of Joash Pravin - who is volunteering with us for some time. Today was the last day of a 3 day exposure visit by John T. George - a 1st year med student from CMC Vellore. We did a small evaluation for him and sent him off. Late at night we stopped off at Lok Hospital to pray with Susan, Joash's mother who is suffering from severe abdominal pain. Later still we had supper. We live in a lovely apparment - but only have water for 3 hours in the morning and 2 hours at night. Since we were not back before 10 PM - which meant we were not able to fill up for tomorrow. Now to get the morning dose...

Life at full throttle. We are grateful for God's mercy upon us in so many ways!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

A family, a work in progress...

We had a family over this weekend. He has worked his entire life (5 years shy of retirement). She has trained in music but has been at home. He is paranoid about going out and has rarely taken the family anywhere. They have two houses. One in the native place - one which they are living in. Their elder daughter has missed 2 years of schooling because of illness - and now wants to switch courses and go to another school.

They came for help. They wanted solutions. Most of the problems were deeper than their circumstances. The problems are rooted in their relationships. Their trust with each other. Their alienation from the lover of their souls...

We talked and listened. We shared our own lives as much as possible. We ate and took them to our church (he had to leave at 4 AM since he was on duty for the first shift on that Sunday).

When he came back we were still not much closer to solving their problems - other than seeing the ever-widening rift that lies beneath this couple - and their two children.

No easy solutions. But this is the place where we believe that we are not in a closed box. We know that besides the various states of mind - the internal pathologies of distrust and ambition - the years of accumulated venom that is simmering below the surface - beyond all of this lies the hope of honesty, redemption and forgiveness.

The only way forward is the way of our Lord Jesus and His cross. Nothing else will do. No amount of motivational talks, no magic solutions, no mumbo-jumbo. Simple, hard, brutal honesty is the only thing that will clean out the Augean stables of this family. Only the grace that is personified in Jesus himself - who cried out 'Father forgive them' as his hands and feet were brutally pierced can provide healing to our dear ones.

We feel small and helpless - but cling to the promises of our wounded - and victorously risen - Lord.

A work in progress.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A phone call

The mobile buzzed. It was a number that I didn't recognize. What to do? I was with Sheba's cousin and his wife.

I answered.

The voice on the other side was hesitant. I am calling from Malegaon. Is this the Jeevan Sahara Kendra?

I replied it was.

The voice told me that he had read about us on the internet. He has a 10 year old child there with HIV. Both parents also have HIV. They are finding it impossible to care for the child. Do we know what can be done for this child.

I really don't know what to say. And so I say what is true:

"We can't discuss this on the phone - we do not run an ashram here or a hostel for children - most of our work is to look after people who have HIV in Thane in their own homes. But if you would like to bring this family here - we can understand the situation and give advice for the parents and the child."

The voice agreed and said he would come within 2 weeks.

Lets see what happens.

There are so many who need help. What are we to do?

Friday, 1 May 2009


It was 47 degrees centigrade in Nagpur this week. Can you even think of a heat that hot?

Delhi's schools have been shut down because of the heat wave. My co-brother tells me it was almost 45 degrees there.

Our staff have been out in the heat during these days. People with HIV continue to need help.

Sister Nalini - a retired nurse - went to a home today of a woman with a distended bladder due to being unable to pass urine. She cathederised her - and saw over 1.5 litres of urine removed - and a very grateful woman.

Its hot but we have to continue the work. Prayers always welcome.