Wednesday, 21 October 2009

End game

The little girl with curly hair wears a powder blue shirt. She sits on her father's shoulders (or is it an older brother?) with a small smile on her face - her fingers in a V for victory sign.

Now we pan out and take in the other symbols. The checked keffiyeh shows up, as do the red-black-green-white colours associated with the Palastinian cause. Behind the girl - a smiling picture of Yasser Arafat - with a German statement of "our democratically elected President".

Then the shock.

The girl is wearing a head-band with some things written on it in Arabic script - and around her waist is tied some soft sausage like things. They look like oblong cotton wool sticks. And yet they are meant to signify something totally different - the sticks of dynamite or other explosives that are exploded around a person - by that person in a suicide bombing.

What does this little girl know about the grisly end that so many have trodden? Has she watched their testimonial videos, earnest faces denouncing others and urging more to join their ranks - before they blast themselves and as many bystanders as possible into eternity?

And what of the man who carries her. What does he plan to do with this girl. They are clearly in Europe. Will they go back to the promised land to carry out the grisly act?

How sad that when my children can read about Winnie the Pooh, and write essays on the Dodo, and when we can have wonderful people for dinner (as guests - not to eat them like Puddleglum and co. were about to be in The Silver Chair) - and yet here are girls who are being held aloft as little poster girls for destruction.

I read last year about a little 5-year old girl being seen in Britain wearing a tee-shirt saying 'Porn Star' on it. We mourn for this generation of little ones who have the crudeness of so-called 'adult' sexuality pressed down on them. With the little girl in the blue top and wearing the cuddly dynamite belt we see a similar overlaying of adult cruelty.

We knew that when we named our daughter 'Asha' that we were doing so prophetically - that there is so much need for 'hope' the longer our lives send their shadows across the paths we have trodden so far.

Today Asha and Enoch played with kittens. They read from books. They went with me on chores. They were polite to their elders and full of abandon in playing with a new friend. They heard about a group of builders who may be building in the national park - and promptly made a game of 'cops and builders' where the police locked up the builders - and escaping builders were recaptured by a king (the latter game carried out with gusto at a small lego mini-man scale).

Would that more kids be blessed like our two are being blessed. We may be living in an age of AIDS - we may be seeing destruction all around - but for our two we are not in the end-game as yet.

But where is the little girl in the blue top today?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


The US Marines may be part of one of the most powerful fighting force on earth - but a single command can bring a plane full of them down to the ground.

It happened on Sunday morning. A friend of ours serves our country with our airforce. An unscheduled civilian flight entered Indian airspace. It was noticed that the flight had used a military call sign when it landed in the gulf country that it had recently taken off from - but was now using a civilian code. When our friend radioed the captain about who was on board the flight, the captain admitted that the passengers were US Marines.

It is not unlawful for civilian flights to carry soldiers over India. But they need to get permission from our ministry of external affairs and from the defence forces. The Americans had not. Our man had found it out. He asked them very politely to land. Hectic calls came in. US Embassy. US Defence attache. Our man held firm. He asked the plane to land immediately at Mumbai airport. "Our fighters are ready if you do not come in, sir" said our friend.

The plane landed.

Why? Because of the authority vested in our friend. He is no hot-shot, but a man who takes seriously what he does. And the issue is one of national sovreignity.

I was thinking of this when our friend came up to the church camp later in the day. His shift was over - now it was others who had to deal with angry Americans. A simple, wholesome man he laughed when he told about the hornets nest that had been stirred. A TV channel was there within 30 minutes of the incident.

A single command, and the plane came down.

Why? Because this man was speaking on behalf of a sizable force. His brief was crystal clear. He was totally confident of his actions. His decisive act was not done in anger or emotion. It was just the basic exercise of authority. Even if the passengers were soldiers from our only remaining super-power.

Just before Jesus was taken up into heaven He said an amazing thing: All authority in heaven and earth is given to me, therefore - go into all the world and make disciples...

Christ offers each one of His followers a mind-boggling thought. The authority of the all-powerful. And to whom does He give it - very simple fellows - like our friend - and like me.

How do we exercise this authority? With pride or with humility? Do we even know what our standing is - and what authority has been vested in us?

In transit

There once was a family who were very blessed - with an abundance of wonderful things to do.

In the middle of October this family plunged into a church family camp in Khandala - and emerged refreshed, unscathed and deeply challenged that we are 'the temple of the living God'!

After washing 4 loads (that's right - 4) of laundry (and folding all of that), they in a 3 day period in which they are hosting visitors to JSK, having a staff family over for dinner, organising the on-going work of home-care for people with HIV, preparing for the upcoming World AIDS Day programmes, writing the prayer bulletin, awaiting any day another staff family's second child-birth, and preparing for a 2.5 day Positive Friends Family Bible Camp (starting on Friday the 23rd) and then going for a 10 day trip to the mission hospital in Jharkhand where they previously worked.

And in the middle of all of that, their first-born has to write a 10 page report on the Dodo. What it looked like and what its habitat is. How it resembles ducks and geese. How and why it became extinct.

That first-born would be Asha.

That family would be the Thane-dwelling Eichers.

That time would be now.

We are in transit - but are blessed with a wonderful fund of peace and good humour. May it continue! God is good.

After a simply superb church camp we are gearing up for the next 2 big things - our 90 plus participant/facilitator JSK Positive Friends Family Bible Camp (starting Friday) and then the train-trek to Jharkhand. We leave on Sunday night - the same evening we return from the JSK camp. A highlight is coming back with a one-day stop in Rourkela, Orissa - where Sheba was born, brought up, baptised and married to me (by the same Elder who married her parents!).

We arrive back in Thane at 4 AM on Nov 3rd. Asha and Enoch's school bus will come to our home at 12.30 PM that day to take them to the first day of there new semester.

Deep breath.... and dive!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


1 boy. 5 girls. What a day.

We are blessed to have Jaya and Oliver's younger daughter Stuti staying with us while Jaya is admitted at Lok. Last night she was joined by her cousins Ruth (next to Enoch) and Nissi (front right). The fun was compounded with Dr. Marise's daughter Keya also joined us this morning.

Enoch was clearly out-numbered but took things very gamely. The day was filled with laugther, comments, games and activities. A project to make a play about Noah did not get completed - but lead to much fun.

I for one am exhausted. Hats off to all who care for more than 2 kids. Sheba and I really enjoy having the 4 girls and our boy - but my word - is it ever tiring (and similarly why does the fridge empty so fast?).

Monday, 12 October 2009

Sarita is no more, neither is Malcolm

Shanti called us last night. She had gone on her off time - a Sunday afternoon - to visit Sarita - a young girl with TB.

When she arrived at her house, Shanti found that Sarita had just died.

It was a shock - and yet sadly was not unexpected. The little girl had been brought to us 10 days ago by a church volunteer. Sarita had tuberculosis. One of her lungs was totally shut down. Another hardly working. She was HIV negative - but the TB had ravaged the beautiful breath-sacs that God had given her. She had apparently taken the full course of treatment and was sputum negative. The TB bacterium were dead - but not before they had destroyed her ability to breathe.

We took on Sarita's case with little hope of cure. But a little hope is still hope. Three years ago another little girl had been brought to us. She had suffered from TB meningitis and had lost the sight in one eye. The municipal hospital had sent her home to die. We were able to start her on treatment again - and she survived. Her parents asked whether she would ever see again. We had her evaluated by an opthalmologist who said it was impossible - the damage to her eye was too great. Amazingly, a few months later we found that this girl had even regained sight in the eye that the expert had written off!

In Sarita's case we did not see such a beautiful outcome. We had hoped that with love and care and encouragement to eat she may just be able to pull through. Our nursing staff started visiting on alternate days. We were able to encourage her and her parents. But she just didn't pull through. Her little lungs just couldn't cope any more and she passed away. Add one more to the 8000 fellow-citizens who died of Tuberculosis on Sunday.


Malcolm's story is very different - but no less tragic. His mother called up one of our staff on Saturday to announce that he had died. A thin gaunt man, he had been abandonned by his wife - tired of the alcohol abuse and beatings that she got from him, well before we met him. Apart from a son who lived with him on and off - and his aged mother, Malcolm was alone. The many relatives in his locality were tired of caring for him. His repeated bouts of alcoholism did not gain him any sympathy or support.

Our staff visited Malcolm repeatedly. We helped him get admission at a hospice. He argued with the staff there and had to be discharged on their insistence. It was back to his mother again. The aging overweight lady was bent with sorrows - and her own sicknesses - as well as caring for her gaunt son. Her grandson was shunted between relatives.

We see real hope when people work to get better. Its hard, very hard, when our staff and volunteers love and serve - and then see patterns of self-destructive behaviour - which end up in self-destruct. HIV has claimed another person in Malcolm. Its heart-breaking to see the destruction that continues all around us - invisible to the shiny, bustling throngs all around us. In a time when many celebrate a festival of lights - one thin man has slipped away.

What of eternity? What manner of choice each one of us has in our hands, in our lives...

(all names are pseudonyms of course)

Vote for Banana!

Hooray for democracy! We have another election around the corner - tomorrow in fact. Our state legislative assembly - the Vidhan Sabha - gets a new round of leaders (or if the voters show patience with the current lot - the same old set).

Hats off to the election commission which gamely organises these events so regularly at National, State and Municipal levels. The current round have seen an army of 'government servants' (mainly teachers and the like) prepared and trained for their election duty (with holidays for the students of course).

Surpises are always possible. This year's national elections stunned the pundits with the voters placing their faith in Dr. Manmohan Singh and the Congress party (warts and all). The current elections are another toss-up between the current Congress-Nationalist Congress combine - and the saffron twins of the Shiv Sena and BJP.

Interestingly, though most parties choose their 'colours' these are variations on the saffron-white-green of the national flag (or was it that the national flag is a variation of the Congress party flag?). Some parties - like the ones that identify more with certain strands of political Hinduism jettison the other colours and keep the saffron. The Dalit focussed parties have long since taken blue as their colour (including the inevitable photos of Dr. Ambedkar wearing a blue suit), and so newer parties have also added blue to the saffron-and-green (read: Hindus and Muslims) combo.

Where is gets really interesting, though is in the choice of the party 'symbol'. Early in our democracy, the fathers of our nation decided that the illiterate masses should also have a right to exercise their franchise. This they have done regularly, even as our literacy levels is slowly inching upwards over the decades. But to help those who do not know - each national party is assigned a symbol which all of their candidates can use - and which is printed next to the candidates name on the election ballot.

Having an evocative symbol is of course a boon to a party. The relative merits of a bicycle (Samajwadi party) vs. a clock (Nationalist Congress party) is not evident at first blush. And what about the 'Three leaves' (Trinamool Congress) vs. the 'Elephant" (Bahujan Samaj Party). The Hammer & Sickle (our dear desi communists) is of course pretty obvious - but I could never understand why the Indian National Congress chose a 'hand' as their symbol. The BJP with its Lotus makes perfect sense - though allowing a party to use our national flower for its own symbol is also open to debate.

I understand that the election commission has in their wisdom allotted perhaps the ultimate symbol - the chair - to a local party where my parents live - the Uttarkhand Kranti Dal! All candidates ultimately vie for this: to sit in "the chair". The chair of power. The chair which puts you in control. My conversations with rickshaw drivers in recent days reflects both a disgust and a continuing fascination with the political process. People are almost resigned to the shenanigans of our elected leaders - yet fascinated by the process - and very interested in the outcomes.

But pity the poor independent candidate. Since so many of the 'good' symbols are taken up (hand, ladder, lion, elephant, lotus etc), what is left is distributed among the others - which are the many independent candidates. If you stand for elections, chances are you will be allotted a symbol like a drum, or a tea-cup, or a hat!

Take a look at the picture above. It is the top of a leaflet which was distributed at our appartment building, seeking our vote in favour of "Reporter Sabir Sherkhan." The gentleman in question has been handed the humble banana as his symbol. Vote for Banana! Don't slip up at this election! Vote for Banana! Bote for Vanana!

Saturday, 10 October 2009


We have a budding industrialist in the Eicher home.

Enoch has just constructed a factory - a motorcycle manufacturing plant no less. For me the highlight of it is a paint-shop where the worker sprays paint on a motorcycle suspended in the air (centre of photo above). Enoch helpfully explained to me that it was red paint being sprayed on and that the non-red portions of the motorcycle were parts that had not been covered by paint yet.

It is such a joy to see creativity. I remember Mum exclaiming "how original" when she saw us kids doing something - and never understood what the big deal was. I think part of it is recognizing that our children are 'not us' - they have minds and hearts of their own - and to see something totally novel, something completely different from what we have thought or experienced is such a great thrill.

Last month Enoch made a church. It was very small. And he chose to have the meeting around a table - remarkably capturing the central theology of our fellowships - namely that we gather around the Lord's Supper (even though we actually do not have a large table in the middle of the home we meet in). The number is also just about how many we meet on a regular Sunday - though we have a lot more space in the home of Jolly and Suma - our gracious hosts.

I was all excited about this nuanced representation of theology in lego bricks - when my balloon was quietly deflated by Enoch's next comment. He was making a proper church - where there was enough room for everyone in a big building. Having just read that the US now has 'church campuses' that are 4 miles in circumference - I wonder if our son has picked up something in the air that didn't come from his Mummy and Daddy.

And that's just it. The amazing development of our kids into people of their own right. If young Enoch decides to 'rebel' and join a mega-church when he 'grows up'? Well - then his old man will just have to grin and bear it. And thank God for making each one of us able to choose.

In the mean time - we revel in the evidence of our kids creativity - Asha's music, Enoch's jokes, their games and our times together talking and sharing and reading and praying. You have to be a parent to understand the joys that your parents had in you.

End of Term

"Mr. Sharma earns Rs. 5280 per month and Mrs. Sharma earns Rs. 3755. If they spend Rs. 4684 per month, how much do they save every month?"

This was one of the questions in Asha's math work. I know it because parents end up learning the entire syllabus assigned to their children.

Yesterday was the last day of 2 weeks of 'final exams' to end the first term/semester of our kids school year. Sheba has done a superb job helping Asha and Enoch both revise and learn for these tests. I came in at the very end of the process and am amazed at the amounts that Asha has to know - and at how confident she was about it all.

The picture shows Asha and Enoch just before they went to catch the bus on their last day of the exams. They have done such a good job at being great kids!

Today is the first day of their 3 week holidays - and already Asha wants to do her vacation project: 'understanding the Dodo.' At the end of this vacation she is to submit a 10 page report on that fine extinct bird. She is excited about going to the school library and reading the books there.

Enoch has benefited from being around Asha from the beginning. Ask him what question was on the test and he will say: "I forgot". But he certainly doesn't seem to forget when it actually comes to writing. I am amazed at how these two are able to navigate their early educational experiences - I guess having started school at 3 and 2.5 respectively may mean that they are attuned, but still...

Sheba tells me that if Enoch does have a problem with a question, or thinks he got something wrong he will tell it. Its hard for me to even imagine that - esp. as I was certainly not that way in my early schooling - but the results of both of the kids so far put them very much in the upper brackets of their classes.

So now our kids have traversed 3.5 and 1.5 years of their primary school journey. What lies ahead?

Well - spending their holidays for one. We have three action-packed weeks lined up. At the end of next week (over the main diwali time) our group of house-fellowships is running its annual family camp in Khandala (Oct 17-19). We expect about 250 or so wonderful folks spending 3 days of learning, talking, praying, playing with each other.

The next weekend is our Jeevan Sahara Kendra family bible camp at Lonavala (23-25th Oct). About 80 odd people will be together for a powerful 2 days. We are excited that our dear friends John and Nalini Gabriel - and their wonderful daughters Nikita and Jasper will be with us for this time.

On the night we return from the JSK camp - we as a family are off on a 10 day journey - to Asha's birthplace: the Nav Jivan Hospital in Satbarwa, Jharkhand state. Our train leaves Mumbai at 12.30 AM on the 26th! We have only been back to Nav Jivan once in the 8 years since we left - and yearn to meet Dr. Cherring and our other dear friends there. On the return journey we are also stopping in for a day in Rourkela, Orissa - the city where Sheba was born and brought up. We hope to meet Bro. John V. Rao - the 80+ elder of Sheba's home fellowship as well as many of Sheba's childhood friends - and show Asha and Enoch where their Mummy grew up.

We arrive (God willing) back at 3 AM on the 3 of November. The school bus will pick Asha and Enoch up at 12.30 PM for the beginning of the new term at Vasant Vihar High School.

Its a great life.

Thursday, 8 October 2009


We are in the middle of a deep challenge.

Jaya Oliver - our dear friend and past-colleague from JSK - has just undergone surgery. As we were praying for her - Enoch prayed: "Lord, help the surgeon to be a dependable man. Help him to be nice." The prayers of many across our city and around the world are focussed on the Jaya at this time.

Our sister needs it. Yesterday she suffered excruciating abdominal pain. It is just horrible to see a person you love in so much pain. We were able to admit her at Lok Hospital where they found that she had stones in her gall bladder. This morning the decision was taken to operate - to do a laproscopic removal of the gall bladder.

The surgery started at 4.30 this afternoon. Sheba was with Jaya before the surgery started and with Oliver and others from the church.

I just got a call which was not what I was hoping to hear. The surgeon came out to tell Oliver that he has found an unexpected mass. Because of this it is not possible to removed the gall bladder as hoped for. He is thus closing the cut and sending samples from the mass for biopsy as well as conducting CT scans etc. to understand the next steps.

This is heart-breaking stuff. We were hoping for a clean cut and then out. But now we face a whole further set of unknowns.

Pray for Jaya's husband Oliver and for their daughters Stuti and Arpana. It looks like they have a very challenging road ahead of them as a family.

Sheba is with Jaya now as she will be coming out of the anaesthesia - and will have to break the news to her that all is not as we had hoped. Life has some very challenging steps for all of us.

One thing we do know: He never lets go of our hands.

We must trust. One of our prayer partners sent us this verse late last night:
For I will restore you to health, and I will heal you of your wounds,' declares the Lord.
Jeremiah 30:17

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

on the edges (part 2)

This year 400,000 children will be born in our country of India - and will die before they see a second sunrise.

That's what a recent study says - the report was safely tucked away in the inside of one of our national newspapers.

A full 2 million under 5 year olds die each year in our land. Half the population of New Zeeland.

The tragedy is compounded when we understand how 'preventable' most of these deaths are. The cruel fact is that with all our development and with half of NASA allegedly of Indian origin - we still have so many - so very very many who are on the edges.

The term 'marginalised' itself is problematic. It seems to imply that there are a lot who are 'well off' and a few - the fringe - who are not. A fat well-populated round dot with a thin edge.

Perhaps our society is shaped more like a tree - or a pair of lungs - with a huge surface area, mathematically spread out to maximise exposure. We seem to have is an almost unbroken strand of the margin - of those straining to get through through life in some way or else - with those on the inside being the exception (though dominant and visible) to the rule.

My brother Stefan illustrates this with a mixed-media dyptich called "Child of God." In the second part (shown left), a mono-chromatic destitute man walks on gold foil, and a cut-away shows a colour photo of an adorable and well nourished child.

So much of this poverty is deeper than just lack of money or land. Much has to do with the state of our hearts - and how we relate to each other.

Take child birth in some of the villages that Sheba worked in, for example. After birth, mother and child are both prohibited from eating because of certain local patterns of belief. Or the villages where we used to work Jharkhand where virtually none of the local women would come to the hospital for ante-natal checkups. If the woman is brought at all it was only the last straw - and then too many times male relatives refused to donate blood - "you donate" they would tell the treating staff at our hospital.

It is heartening to know that there are brave people who are making a difference. We recently received the annual report of the Emmanuel Hospital Association.

We were privileged to work with EHA in Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand and continue to be amazed and encouraged by the breadth, commitment and impact that EHA is having. Our colleagues who work in the rural parts of our nation can easily have made choices to further their careers with lucrative employment options. Despite the 'global economic crisis' our health care industry in India is booming. A hospital head told me that if they wanted, they could turn the whole hospital into a treatment centre for Nigerians, who find it cheaper to fly to Bombay and get treated here than go to Europe for the same.

For all the faults that any institution has (not to speak of sets of institutions) - we know that the average EHA hospital or community health and development programme is changing destinies on a daily basis. With all of the challenges that our country faces, we also have so many opportunities to shape history.

We are acting on our itch to be back where we started - in the last week of October we plan a short visit to the Nav Jivan Hospital at Satbarwa in Jharkhand state - where we started our life together - and where so many of our dear friends continue to work faithfully. We hope to be a small encouragement to these silent - and unthanked - heroes.

How about you? And what about me? What are we doing to shape the future of our country? Are we going to wait for our children to read the same sorry statistics of infant death? Are we going to allow another silent generation of people on the brink to grow up around us?

on the edges

The rain poured down, then slowed, then started up in new squalls of fury. Buckets of water streaming down from the dark night sky.

Our neighbours had planned a small party. On the terrace of our appartment building. It was quickly clear that the unusual October deluge had washed away the evening's preferred venue.

Instead we were down in their flat. After the cake was cut and the song was sung the main entertainment began. The men took over the living room and the ladies hovered in and out of the kitchen and clustered in the bedrooms.

The bottles were brought out and poured. I found myself surrounded by members of an extended family who have all done very well for themselves. The elder generation were architects and decorators - the younger were into clinical research, big pharma and human resource management for large retail chains. They nursed their beers with studied determination. The odd shot of whisky (from a bottle labelled 'For Defence Personel only" - and not a fauji in sight) mingled with the even odder hand clutching a glass of black fizzy water (mine).

"Social service, eh?" The conversation was polite. But not much traction. I did the asking about them - there was not much coming the other way.

And in the middle of all were the invisibles. Silent. Noticably darker skinned. No gold. The odd young man coming in and carrying some item of food. Being ordered to clean up the dirt left from having shifted the TV into the corner.

I was in the kitchen when one young man carried in a tray adorned with empty glasses and bottles. "Take it outside" said one of the hosts. The young man looked blank. He had just been ordered to bring it into the kitchen.

We ate and left. Having kids offers a polite excuse to leave with some decorum. Their term exams were the next day so we were able to exit without seeming too rude.

As we crossed the foyer and took out our keys to open our door I looked up the stairwell. There, splayed out over the bright red plastic chairs which were to have been put up on the terrace, were three figures. Silent. Exhausted. Asleep.

These men are the men at the margins. We have outsourced our slavery. Who they are, where they live, what the structure of their lives is - are the least of our concerns. We order a product (in this case the chairs/lights for an evenings entertainment) and how it is provided is not our business.

None of us want to admit it, but we are in a colossally cruel world. The path most of us take is to suspend our feelings - to sequester and push away anything that disturbs our day to day feeling of niceness.

I don't have many solutions - but one thing I know. Each person is precious. Growing up the the same brutally inequal world that I now live in, I have seen some steps to bridge the chasm between us rich and them poor. I have seen it through my father's kind and person-affirming heart. The three sleeping figures could have been at least served a meal. I have seen it in his generous and open manner - and in the way he talks to people in a way that radiates their value.

Dad - with all his human limitations - embodies so much of his friend-of-the-poor Master - our Lord Jesus. He who sculpted the galaxies and upper structures of space - stooped down and was enfleshed as the son of a mistry, a rude labourer who made door posts and ploughs - and whose family had only enough money to buy a pigeon to sacrifice at his naming.

Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. Phil. 2.6-7.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


Its been a weekend of reviews.

Friday afternoon we looked over the past month with Jeevan Sahara Kendra. A good month - though challenging since our field staff running at 1/3 with 3 of our staff leaving in the past 3 months - and another one on leave as her father was quite ill.

Then yesterday we reviewed the past quarter. We spent time quietly thinking and praying. Then shared what the positives had been and what barriers we faced, mapping them out on a board before bringing them back to God in prayer. As the white-board kept filling up with facts - both triumphs as well as challenges - we experienced waves of thanksgiving - and deep jabs of regret at areas that we were not able to deliver in.

The second half of the day saw us sharing a meal at the 'nature interpretation centre' just inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a 15 minute stroll from our office. To be out in the trees, and hear birds sing, and be surrounded by green - so close to the death and destruction we deal with day-in-and-day-out is such a blessing.

The hard fact is this: despite all the progress in HIV, we are still dealing with people dying.

I was so happy that our Friday meeting reported no deaths among any of our families all of September.

But late last night Sunita, one of our nurses called. A man, whose name would translate as "Great-God" had died. His wife - also HIV positive - was not able to go to the government centre for her monthly Anti-Retroviral drugs. Sunita went over this morning with three days worth of drugs to tide over this new widow's need for medication. How much more this young woman will now face as she starts living with HIV without her husband.

This morning we met as a combined group of churches. Attendance was on the sparser side - with exam season seeing many parents staying at home for some last minute cramming instead of spending time enjoying God.

Their loss: God spoke powerfully this morning.

One of the insights came from the life of Elijah. In one of the flash-points of his often painful career as prophet - Elijah rebuilt the altar on Mount Carmel that had fallen into disrepair.

How many things in our own lives are in disrepair. We reviewed our work at JSK - and saw plenty that needed fixing. A good look at my own life sees much that is run-down too. But the hope is not in throwing out the old and starting from scratch. That's not God's way of doing things. He is totally into redemption, reforming, reshaping, reusing, rebuilding.

We have seen miracles - big and small - in our lives and the lives of others. The mountain-tops of victory - a life saved here - a relationship reconciled there - will always be challenged by the gut-punch of hearing that one of our friends has died - or that someone has made another spectacularly bad choice in life. Our institutions may be shabby, and our relationships may be frayed - but we are not to give up. God didn't do that with us.

Review. Restore. Rebuild.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Happy Birthday Gandhi-ji!

Early in my coin collecting days I came across what was even then in short supply - a brass "Gandhi" 20 paisa piece. The coin was minted in 1969 to celebrate the birth centenary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - better known as 'Gandhiji.'

Since I was born in 1969 the coin had a special pull for me. The coins were in short supply because the value of the brass had soon outstripped the 20 paisa it was representing - and hoarders collected them and melted the coins down for the metal value alone.

The portrait is also a bit strange, as he bears a faintly plump look which is a bit at odds with his iconic mode of austerity.

October the 2nd was the day when Mohandas was born to an aspirational middle-class (if such a term existed them) family in Porbandar, Gujarat state. If Gandhi were alive today, he would have turned a ripe 140 years on this day.

Our kids have a holiday on the occasion of 'Gandhi Jayanti' but of the man there seems to be little left in the public discourse. Having won freedom for the British - there seemed very little place for him in free India too. The place where we see him the most now-a-days is on all our bank notes. There is a certain poetic justice to this - since the trading community he came from is known for their astuteness and business enterprise. Many of the shop-keepers around us are Gujarathis - but they do not stick out as clearly as they do in East Africa (for example) since there are other trading communities as well (such as from the desert areas of Marwar in Rajasthan) and the general mish-mash of our society means that even our often vociferous 'sons-of-the-soil' do not raise too harsh a voice against hard-working internal migrants.

Whether Gandhi could have imaged the India of today is another matter. With great strides come great responsibilities too. While our industry (thanks in a large part to the Gujarati community) seems to have weathered the global recession relatively well - we continue to see yawning gaps in incomes.

On this 'International Day of Peace' the news is that 16 people were gunned down by Naxalite (i.e. ultra Maoist) forces in Bihar. The same Bihar state that Gandhi tramped up and down trying to keep from secessionist flames has gone from being a jewel in India to being a state synonymous with corruption and nepotism. At least 20,000 people have died in the recent decades of low-grade struggle by the Red forces in our nation's jungle belt.

The government has decided to remember Gandhi by renaming its flagship rural employment scheme after the great soul.

What is missing is the essential energy of the man. While there are many issues that we can legitimately disagree with Gandhi - at least he had some ideas. At least he wrote (copiously in fact). At least he publicly put things to debate and was alive to so many facets of life and society.

Take a look at our leaders of today.

The picture on the right says it all.

A group of toadies. "Washing" a statue of Gandhi. With milk.

Of all the absurd things to do.

How about actually helping young widows look after their children and seeing that the milk goes down the throats of young children, rather than washing bird-droppings off a statue?

Gandhi has become today whatever anyone wants him to be. A malleable icon that can be safely appliqued on whatever we would like.

Would that our current generation would get their hands off the gaming consoles, or off the study-to-get-into-a-prestigious-college-and-then-get-a-fat-paycheck books, and actually get our hands dirty serving. Our Lord Jesus - from whom Gandhi claimed receiving inspiration from - said that we should love our neighbours as ourselves. Not possible to do virtually. We have to actually put our hearts into our hands and step out of our comfort zones - and into the lives of others.

Happy Birthday Gandhi-ji - you have left us with a lot to do!