Thursday, 30 December 2010

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given


Its been a great year for babies! 2 days before 2010 scoots out the door we have been blessed with another one!

We being Anil and Sandhya Sainani - and their lovely boy who was born at Lok Hospital earlier this evening.
Proud Papa Anil welcomed us as the Eichers trooped into the room at 10.15 PM! There are advantages of being on staff - you don't have to stick to the visiting hours.

Happy Mama Sandhya has been at it for most of the night - and all day - when her doctor decided to take her in for the C-section.

Amazingly - Sandhya - who is our longest serving nurse at Jeevan Sahara Kendra - was working at JSK till the day before she gave birth! The previous day she had counselled an HIV positive family of 3 before they did a reconfirmatory HIV test. And then that night she started getting pains!

The other remarkable thing is that one of Sandhya's sisters - who has come out to help her - arrived today from Orissa. Along with her sister came their widower Father - and he had booked his tickets to go back to Orissa the very next day! With the littlest one arriving in the Sainani family just a few hours after his Auntie and Grandpa arrived from Orissa - it means that Grandpa Aind can go back having seen his newest grandson!

The upshot of it all is that we are blessed with another amazing little life. How good God is to give us hope in the middle of so much hopelessness! To see those little fingers starting to clasp and unclasp. To see the small delicate eyes - closed in sleep - as the little fellow spends his first night 'on his own' outside mama - using lungs that have till now not been used. What a miracle each little baby is!

We have been praying for this child ever since we found out that he was on his way.

Anil and Sandhya are planning to call their little man 'Abishek' - anointed one. Its a fitting name for a baby who we pray will grow up to be like king David - a man after God's own heart.

Our congratulations to the happy parents. God is good and continues to do His work in all our lives. Its been a privilege to be part of Anil and Sandhya's life so far - and we are so excited about the new member of the family! Hooray for Abishek! Welcome to planet earth!

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Earlier in the evening we had met another baby. This child was brought to the monthly support meeting that we have for people with HIV and their families. Though the girls mother is not positive (at least she was not when we tested her some years ago) - she is very much a teen-aged mother and her husband already has a problem with the bottle.

But today was a day of thankgiving for this family as well. The mother stood up and thanked God for giving her a daughter. The father later shared in a small group discussion and prayer time that he wanted to leave his drinking behind and start afresh.

The baby is just 10 days old - what lies ahead for this child? Her mother has said that it was a miracle that she receieved this beautiful child - and they have decided to call the baby as 'Angel.'

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Free Dr. Binayak Sen!

Right. Lets get it out.

On Christmas eve a court in central India sentenced Dr. Binayak Sen to life imprisonment after finding him guilty of "sedition".

In a land which a certain Trinidadian Nobel Laureate has called a land of a 'million mutinies' - this judgement has sent a chill that is deeper than the winter cold we are facing across the country.

Dr. Sen is a man known for his courageous voice - and years of service. One may not always be comfortable with the particular policitical flavour that that his life has been lived in - but as the vice president of the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties - arguably the most prominent national human rights organisation in India - he has been at the forefront of speaking out against injustices big and small.

So what has convinced the hon'ble judge that Dr. Sen is a threat to the state? Sedition by definition is a serious offence - one where the acts of the perpetrator threaten the very core of a nation.

This is what seems to be the rub.

Living in Chhatisgarh - Dr. Sen has seen first-hand the anti-Maoist 'Salva Judum' movement. It is no secret that we are in the midst of a low-level civil war with large portions of central India being contested between ultra-maoist groups (often called 'Naxalites') and the various security agencies that 'bear the sword.'

What is creepy is how similar to our erst-while colonial masters the current representatives of the state are in large tracts of our country. The power still rests with the district magistrate. The local police outpost is still a place where people fear. The forest and mineral resources are still largely exploited by large entities that have very little to do with building genuine local wealth - and all to to with people far away becoming very rich.

Dr. Sen has dared to speak up - publicly and consistently - against the excesses of various state enforcement agencies. That seems to have been enough to brand him an enemy - and to hand down a judgement that baffles the mind.

In a land where we have a miserable conviction rate - some figures talk about less than 10% of serious crimes leading to convictions - we have the opposite in the case of Dr. Sen. The court bending over backwards to put a brave voice behind bars. For life.

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So what is anyone going to do about the plight of Dr. Binayak Sen?

Having already served 2 years in prison before finally being set free earlier this year - Dr. Sen looks set for another lengthy spell in our prison setup.

Friends in the Free Binayak Sen Campaign have started up their support. Voices are heard in the press. Questions are asked as to why Christians are not speaking up? An on-line petition has been started - which can be accessed by clicking: here

Our fervent prayers are that God will show our nation to be a place where justice does prevail - and where the innocent are not lumped with the guilty - while the swindlers go scot-free. The fact that this 'conviction' has taken place in a season where every day the newspapers trumpet another mind-bogglingly large scam adds bile.

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This morning I stopped in a bank - and was talking with the person at the counter about my work. The young man looked at me whistfully and told me that he had earlier joined the communist party in his home state of Andhra Pradesh. There we were - seated opposite each other in a swish new-age branch of a leading private bank - and the man was telling me of his past as a community activist. Why did he leave that and why was he here in Thane? Family problems (code word for - money needs to be earned - obligations to be met).

To most of our countrymen - the plight of Dr. Sen is an afterthought. Life is tough and we need to survive. Few will have ever even heard of him.

To many of our more privileged countrymen - Dr. Sen is at best a slight embarassment and at worst a dangerous subversive who ought to be locked up anyway.

To an small minority of us Dr. Sen represents the best our country has to offer - a man who had the world at his feet having graduated from CMC Vellore - but who chose to live out his life among the poor - and challenge the portals of power that have so long ruled (and continue to rule) our dear land.

The fact that Dr. Sen has been linked to a group of people who are themselves wreaking havoc in the name of a people's revolution does not take away from the travesty of justice that is being carried out against him.

Dr. Sen's imprisonment has weakened the very fabric of our nation. His arrest threatens you and me. This terrible decision must not be allowed to stand.

There can be no other word than this: Free Dr. Binayak Sen!

Bitter

We have made some really big advances in caring for people with HIV. Hospitals in the West have long since shut down their 'AIDS Wards' since the advent of AntiRetroviral Therapy. People with HIV are living longer and healthier. More people are getting into treatment. There is a reduction in the numbers of new cases of HIV in many places.

All this is wonderful news.

But there are still so many who are suffering. In the thick silence that smothers so much of our Positive Friends lives.

Sheba went with our new staff member Santosh and Anil (a young man who is checking out JSK) to meet a man we will call 'Tarun.'

Tarun has been bed-ridden for months now. His family is tired of helping him out. They are angry at one and all. Including Tarun himself.

Tarun is now paralysed from below the waist. He has been incontinent. The cost of the pads has been adding up and his uncle decided yesterday that they would no longer buy them. Tarun was instructed to tell when he wanted to urinate and they would bring a bottle.

While Sheba and the staff were visiting Tarun wet the bed. His mother flew into a rage. She cursed him, telling him she wished he was dead and gone.

Our young men helped clean up Tarun and change the bed clothes.

Sheba then sat down with the mother to try and explain that Tarun has no control over his urination. Since he is paralyzed he cannot tell when he will pass urine.

A few minutes after this conversation Tarun wet the bed again.

His mother angrily grabbed the cloths and went off to wash.

We want so much to help Tarun and would love to look after him at our centre - but we need at least one female relative to come along. Tarun is not married and no relative is ready.

In the meantime this young man is dying - lying on a small cot in a 8 x 10 ft room which he shares with his mother, uncle, brother, sister in law and her children.

Its a silent bitter harvest.

Silence... is busy


Gentle readers,

The last week of silence has not been because we were deeply depressed - or that we had nothing to write about. The rush and swirl of life has been such that the fingers have not been tapping in further happenings. We now have a delicious backlog of amazing things to write about ... where to start?

The next few days should see an emerging of the busy month of December - plus various musings and rants.

Stay tuned gentle (and patient) friends!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Hardly a stain

I was puttering on the scooter to the office. Then I saw it happen.

Another scooter was coming towards me. Suddenly I saw a stray dog lunging agressively towards the scooter - barking furiously. Then the horror - the old lady who was riding pillion fell off the scooter. I saw her hands splayed out and the sight of her body hitting the road.

Then a whirr of events. The lady driving the scooter stopped and ran back. A few people came running from the sidelines. I think I briefly drove my scooter toward the horror of a dog to scare him off - and then ran over to help. The lady was laying on the road with her eyes opened but glazed. Someone called for water so I ran and opened the office and got a glass-full.

When I returned the old lady was sitting up. There was blood on the road. Someone had brought a lota of water, but she could not drink from it. She drank a bit from my glass and then a car was found for her to take her to the hospital. The younger lady gave instructions to a man to put the scooter away. The doors were opened and the old lady bundled inside. Seconds later the car had left. The scooter was pushed away to be parked. The small crowd dwindled.

Only the small pool of blood remained. And some water splashes on the ground.

Later in the morning I saw other dogs sniffing at the dried blood.

In the afternoon all that remained was the faintest of a stain.

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A day later there is no memory, no visual clue to what happened yesterday morning. Busses and cycles have passed over the place. The sun has risen and fallen. People have come and gone. The evening bhelpuri has been eaten. The morning papers have been delivered.

Where is memory hosted? What layers of the specific incidents of the past are plastered over the geography of the present? What is the link between our experiences then and now and what lies ahead?

Monday, 20 December 2010

Cure

"In conclusion, our results strongly suggest that cure of HIV has been achieved in this patient."

Whew! Don't we wish we could report that about any one of the folks that we are working with at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

Two weeks ago clinical scientists in Germany reported that very statement in the scientific journal Blood. Needless to say the news made headlines world wide.

The man they had been working with has been known for the last 2.5 years as 'the Berlin patient.' He is an American living in Germany who had been treated for a form of acute myeloid leukemia using a bone marrow transplant. Instead of only treating the cancer, the clinicians chose to see if something could be done about his HIV infection too.

It is known that about 1 in 1000 Europeans have a genetic condition which makes them resistant to HIV infection. This 'defect' is called the CCR5 delta-32 deletion.

To quote the article from AIDSMeds.com: This defect prevents CD4 cells from developing a receptor, called CCR5, on their surfaces. People who inherit this genetic mutation from both parents have CD4 cells that lack the CCR5 entirely and, as a result, are highly resistant to HIV

The physicians were able to find a bone marrow donor whose parents both had the mutation.

Following standard therapy, they then destroyed most of the patient's remaining white blood cells and gave further immunosuppressant drugs in order to acheive maximal acceptance of the bone marrow transplant. The transplant using what was hoped to be HIV resistant stem cells was conducted 20 months ago. The physicians stopped the patients' ART retroviral therapy at that point.

A relapse of the cancer 13 months later forced them to repeat the procedure of destroying the white blood cells and doing another transplant from the same donor.

The new cells 'took' successfully. The doctors have now reported that there is no sign of the leukemia anymore. And there is also no sign of active HIV.

This is a huge breakthrough - because it was assumed that reservoirs of HIV infection in different parts of the body would recolonise the person later. But this seems to have been thwarted by the newly resistant white blood cells.

The man - who last week revealed his identity as Timothy Ray Brown (picture above) in an interview with the German magazine Stern - is now recognised as having been cured of HIV/AIDS.

That he almost died a number of times during his treatment - especially after the relapse of leukemia - does not take away from the wonder of the achievement.

At the same time, we are not expecting any flood of treatments anytime in the near future. Commentary from various sources points out the obvious: It worked for Timothy Ray Brown - but not everyone could undergo the rigours of twice going through the chemo- and radiation-therapy that he did to receive the marrow transplants. And further - the vast majority of people living with HIV cannot dream of the resources needed to undergo such a set of interventions.

Still - just the thrill of hearing a set of august scientists concluding that for this person at least - a therapuetic cure has been achieved - is worth celebrating.

The thrill of seeing a man who has been cured - is something to be very glad about.

There is at least 1 Nobel prize in medicine still awaiting the team that develops a reasonable and replicable curative treatment for HIV.

This month we may have seen a small step towards what we are praying for.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Morning shuffle

Dark outside. Push the cage-like lift-door open.

Stretching inside. Then out. More stretching - tendons that have been slumbering for years are announcing themselves. Long lost ligaments speaking their existence through the pain of being.

Out into the twilight. Muffled security guard asleep at his desk.

2800 rupees per month. 7 days a week. 12 hours a day. No holidays (unless you presuade one of your colleagues to do a 24 hour shift for you. This is the way the city welcomes those who seek its embrace - and don't have the 'english-talking' smarts to get ahead (and don't turn to crime). Its no surprise that most will have to sleep.

My feet are cramped in the new shoes. Limber up the steps and then into the slow shuffle masquerading as a jog.

My feet plod along and I see cold dogs huddled in their nests along the road. Small scooped out areas in piles of dried leaves the sweepers have place for later burning.

The street is empty save for the odd milk truck carreening around the corner and the stray auto-rickshaw prowling for a fare.

I see a balding, middle-aged man huffing and puffing along. Wait - I don't see him - that's me!

My feet pass a group of girls sorting newspapers for distribution. Not something we see usually - most paper distributers are young men.

My right small toe is sore. The new shoes are too tight. Too late. Carry on regardless.

The odd fellow walker / jogger shows up in either direction. Most muffled with various layers of sweaters - we are in the deep of winter after all.

My legs decide its time to walk. The days of being 65 kgs are long over. There is a certain roundness to the mid-riff which wasn't there for the first 3 decades - but has emerged in the last year.

The sky is slowly turning. A cool breeze flows from the side of the road that runs parallel to the national park - 2oo un-built-up meters away. The rumble of the city is just about to start.

Even walking my right toe hurts. Ah the joy of minor pains.

I am just about to start the shuffle again as a cheery motor-cyclist calls my name. A local pastor who has dropped his daughter off at school (the dreaded 7.30 AM shift that so many kids have to go through).

The legs get pumping again as I turn up a road that goes past my office. A local slum in near by and I see men jumping over a wall - empty plastic bottles in hand. They have used the waste-land as their toilet and are returning to start the day.

My right pinky is clearly a blister waiting to burst. Left pinky joins in to make it a duet.

Three figures loom out of the mist. Is it a family? It ends up being two teenagers and a kid - all dressed in uniforms. At a bus-stand another two girls wait. Uniformed. Most likely from the shanty-town near-by - but making steps into a new life of hope. I hope.

I turn the final bend and trundle down the bomb-crater sized pot-holed road that my scooter (and long-suffering back) traverse so often. The sun has risen and is shining into the coolness - orange rays probing. I remember a morning long-ago in Yamnotri - waiting for the sun to caress the bitter cold of a hike.

Then I am back home. Its been just over 1/2 an hour. Its been a small lifetime.

I carry the soreness of muscle and tendon through the day. My blisters souvenirs of the novelty of it all.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Agnes

Agnes means lamb.

Latin.

Our Agnes does not know latin (other than some obscure medical prescription short forms like b.i.d. and p.o). But she does know Telegu. And English. And her Hindi is improving rapidly.

Agnes is one of Sheba's first cousins. She has done her GNM nursing in Andhra Pradesh and has worked in private hospitals for 3 years - working in the ICCU. After much prayer she has decided to join us at JSK as a nurse. A real God-send!

We are enjoying getting to know our cousin. With the JSK nurses hostel a bit cramped, we have been hosting Agnes for the past month in our home. It has been wonderful to get to discover who Agnes really is - as we had only met occassionally before.

One thing is clear - Agnes is very quiet. But still waters run deep. We are thrilled that she has taken the plunge and joined us here. Its a very different world to West Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh - but it is an opportunity for Agnes to live out a love for God and others. We have been praying for years for nurses to join us - and are amazed the the first GNM (equivalent to RNRM in other places) who joined is our cousin!

Asha and Enoch are really happy to have their Aunty with them. We are starved for relatives - and to have one actually staying with us for these weeks is pure bonus. As Agnes will be joining the hostel this weekend we already know that the home will seem 'empty' without her.

The lamb of God came into this sin-stained world 2 millenia ago.

May we be more lamb-like.

Having a name like Agnes is a great start. Even better is putting your name into action. We are so proud of Agnes for her decision to serve people with HIV as a nurse. More power to you Agnes!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Night time surprise

12.30 AM. Ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong.

We open the door. A beautiful heart-shaped cake is outside. 11 candles burning merrily around it.

No one in sight.

Well, almost no one.

A glance down the stairwell and we see the happy culprits.

Our amazing friends - John and Nalini Gabriel - with their happy twosome of Nikita and Jasper. This family started out from their home at 11 PM and prepared the surprise for our 11th wedding anniversary that started at 12 AM this morning!

Big grins as they came up the steps, hugs all around, amazement for our groggy kids as they woke up to the wonderful sight of their friends so unexpectedly present in our home. A big bowl of fruits (complete with coconut) followed. Then grateful prayer together for God's loving kindness.

His amazing kindness to us as a couple for helping us complete 11 full years of marriage. To us as a family for giving us a set of friends like this who place us first in their hearts. John left for Pune early in the morning. Nalini and the girls played hooky and took a day off school (unheard of in Mumbai-town). We were delighted that they stayed with us till 11 am before taking the busses back to Borivali and then on to their home at Goregaon.

What with a full 1 hour of sleep from 11ish to 12ish and then all of us up well past 2 am as we soaked in the joy of being together it was a shortish night. But how blessed to be blessed by such love.

11 years ago today - the two of us intertwined our lives together on a cold clear morning in Rourkela, Orissa. We did so through the promise that we took before God and man. Looking back we can only marvel. We have had our shares of rough-edges. Since we are our closest neighbours we have rubbed off on each other (and the rubbin' has not always beeen smooth). But what amazing grace as we see sooooooooooooo many many areas (to use my Dad's way of expressing himself) where God has allowed us to bless each other. Love is a decision - and has been nurtured over the years in countless ways.

And who could have imagined the marvels that Asha and Enoch are. Such mysteries they are - and in many ways how unprepared we have been to nurture them. And yet here they are - a blossoming girl who is about to touch 10 in mid-January, and a strapping lad who will be nudging 8 the month after. Two bundles of love and affection where the essential wonder of life is being played out before our eyes.

So much to be thankful for in the past. So much to live for in the present. Such hope for the future.

Its a great life. 11 years of marriage have been very, very, very good to us.

To all who have been along with us for this journey - thanks!

More than...

Who are we? What makes us who we are?

The young man in the pic above could be anyone. An athlete pushing himself further. A student determined to do well and get into med school. A child of God who has experienced grace - and is in the business of passing on the gift.

Caleb Baber is all of these. With a very signficant and life-changing twist - the picture taken of him doing a 5 km run - has left out a key component of who Caleb is at this point.

The picture above does not show the two prosthetic limbs that Caleb uses to walk with, to run with, to snow-board with. It does not show the remarkable on-going story of development that this young man is going through (previous postings on this can be seen here and on a dedicated blog here).

It does not tell about Caleb's being here with us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra for a month (manically sandwiched between his last day of exams of the fall term and the first day of classes of the spring Junior Year pre-med studies he is doing in the US).

We are so blessed to have Caleb with us. Life is more than limbs. And the two carbon fibre legs that Caleb straps on below his knees are more than just pieces of technology - they are extensions of a will to be all that God wants him to be - and parts of the means of grace which God is equipping him with to live out a life well lived.

Caleb has been writing about his adventures at JSK at www.calebbaber.blogspot.com

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Talented class-mates

Woodstock School occupied only 700 odd days of my educational career - but the impact it had on me was far larger than the now 1/20th of my life that I spent there.

The 54 of us who stood starry-eyed on the stage of Parker Hall on the 25th of June 1987 to receive our diplomas and step out into a world of adulthood are now scattered around the world.

Each one has - and is - making a mark somewhere on this fine globe.

Some - like Merryn Glover - have turned to their prodigious skills to writing. Others - like Sundeep Gupta are public health experts in Uganda with the CDC. Others have taken to the visual arts - like Davina Stephens who shows in Australia, France, Bali and Goa (among other places). The list goes on.

Today a note came from Christabel Khiangte Corazza with a clip of her latest - a gospel song she wrote and sings along with the Carolina Voices of Faith:



Last week we were blessed with a visit by the evergreen Anand Sinha.

From his facebook page it seems the man spends most of his life on the seat of a bicycle - traveling round the forgotten fields outside Gurgaon.

In reality the man is a head-honcho for Abt Associates in India. Slipping off his tie apologetically after arriving from a business meeting with folks from JK industries in Thane, Anand showed up as large as life - and as bald as ever - making me look almost hairy in comparison:

The (now) bald half of the infamous 'Pundits' reunited!

In the all-too short 2 hours that we squeezed in before it was off to the airport for Mr. A - we caught up on some rather large changes in his and Ratna's life. Biggest one being the smallest - their wonderful daughter Medha who adopted them just over a year ago. Life changed from a twosome to a threesome pretty rapidly.

Anand made the impatient taxi-wallah wait so that he could see our happy 2 come home from school! With Enoch's second name being "Anand" (named after the very same one) we had to have our Anand and his namesake together in a shot!

Just a few minutes before Anand had been regaling us with stories about his interaction with the head of India's Government Anti-Tuberculosis programme. We drank chai together and marvelled at the roads we have taken.


And so it goes. We are so privileged to know so many remarkable people - and the crop of 87 from Woodstock School ranks up there. Hats of the the happy "chaotics" - wherever they are...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Night watch

The little boy was crying. He is 11 months old. He weighs hardly 6 kgs. Severely malnourished. Severe dysentry. The pungent smell of his leaky bottom pervaded the room.

I had walked into the JSK centre at the end of a working day. Sheba was there praying with the nurses and little Bablu (all names changed of course). Mohan - Bablu's father - was with him. Sarita, his mother, had gone back to the tiny room they stay in to be with the other three children.

Bablu's parents are both HIV positive. One of his older siblings is positive too. It is too early to test the boy (we will wait till another 7 months before we can be sure that any antibodies for HIV are really his own). But Bablu was clearly sick. Very sick.

We came back later at 10.30 pm. We had been to a prayer meeting and my friend Jolly and I dropped Sheba off at the centre to see how Bablu was getting on. When Jolly tried to start the car again it didn't. The two of us spent another 20 mins outside trying to get it going - finally a friendly mechanic helped us start it up and with a vroom Jolly was gone.

Sheba had still not come out - so I walked back into the centre. The child was crying - Sashmita - one of our nurses was holding little Bablu. I think his mother was cleaning some of his clothes. When Sarita took Bablu into her arms again he calmed down.

Sheba was worried. "The boy is very sick" she told me. High fever. Frequent passing of stools. Very undernourished. We prayed with the family again and walked home in the night to our children (who were sleeping with Agnes - Sheba's cousin who has just joined us).

It was a tossy-turning kind of night (thanks to Enoch practicing judo on me in his sleep) and in the morning we were groggy. But the good news we got when Sheba called up Sashmita at the centre was this: Bablu's fever has gone - and he did not pass stool again all night after we left.

Small miracles.

What a privilege to serve this family and be part of their lives at this very difficult time.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Blood lust

The front page of today's Indian Express showed a horrific set of pictures. Images from a video of what seems to be the killing of naked men and women in the final stages of the elimination of the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

The accompanying article says that comments heard on the video indicate sexual abuse had taken place before the triggers were pulled. The video - apparently shot by one of the participants - lingers over the naked bodies. In one portion another hand can be seen capturing the scene using a mobile phone.

The cruelty that we as the human race mete out on each other. Where else has this scene been played out? A quick list that forms in my head include the killing fields of Cambodia, the dirty war in Argentina, the clusters of massacres in the Balkans, the slaughters in Rwanda... and these are all during my life-time, to speak nothing of the long line of incidents that keep being done along the long bloody trail of our historic inhumanity.

During this week I have a task at hand. To prepare a talk on one of the names of Jesus Christ - namely "Immanuel - God with us." Christians usually come to this name around the time they celebrate the birth of Christ. Its usually thought of in a sweet and lovely way. My own daily reading of the Bible had me covering the events of Jesus' execution.

In my revulsion and horror at the pictures from Sri Lanka - heightened by the knowledge of the sexual abuse that was carried out along with the murders - my cry was 'God, where are you at this time?' There is no pat answer - but there is one of flesh and blood. This is where my current Bible reading offered some insights.

The nakedness of those corpses was experienced by the naked corpse that hung from a Roman cross in AD 29. The abuse by the one who knew no sin - and yet was executed in the most degrading manner of the day. They stripped him of his garments, hurled abuse at him, marred him beyond recognition, yet tried to keep him alive so that he would experience the pain. Soldiers have over the centuries excelled in rape, torture and killing. The professionals who carried out the execution of Jesus of Nazareth would have taken pictures with their mobiles if those were available in those days. Perhaps to show their colleagues in the barracks later, perhaps for their own blood lust.

But the indescribable was experienced by He who flung stars into space. I can only imagine - in the most superficial way - the horror and pain those men and women went through in that nameless video. Jesus has experienced the degradation, the tearing of flesh, the unamable shaming in his own body, in his own soul and spirit. He remains true to His name - Immanuel - the God who is with us - even in the most unspeakable situations - because He himself has gone through them.

One difference to the men and women in Sri Lanka is that Jesus' death was public. It was witnessed by his enemies - who participated in further hurling insults and abuse at him - and at least some of his friends. We are told especially that at a distance women looked on. Mary Magdalen, Mary his mother, Mary Clopas (possibly his aunt) and others. What went through the minds of those who loved Him as they saw Him being tortured to death? What went through Christ's pain-scarred mind as He glimpsed His loved ones looking on from the distance?

As horrific as the account of Christ's execution is (and most of the Gospel accounts use very sober language when I would have gone into the gore had I been there) the fact of the matter is that they do not end with Jesus' broken body being brought down and buried in the tomb. The structure of Scripture takes us further - to His victory over death and repeated appearances before his followers.

And scripture also takes us forward into uncharted territory for us as humanity. A time when all will be called into account. A time when the ultimate war-crimes tribunal will take place. Where every deed is detailed, every hidden act is brought to light, when true justice will be meted out - once and for all.

Whoever pulled the triggers in the murders of the naked men and women in Sri Lanka, whoever used their bodies to rape and sexually abuse those about to die, whoever recorded the scenes for their further blood lust - all will be called to account. There can be no other way. The Bible says that the dead, great and small will be standing before the great white throne of judement - and books will be opened (Rev. 20.11-15). No dodgy FIRs, no hazy statements - just the facts - whatever they were in those hazy jungle days. And the eternal consequences for those who have not repented of what they have done.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Cure for melancholy

Martin Luther went through many bouts of what we call depression. One of his favourite ways to 'get out' was to sing.

A quote the just finished book about this robust man:

I would add another. Looking into the gorgeous smile of someone you love.

Like little Shofar for example.


He may be half-a-world away from us - there in Phoenix AZ, but my does that smile ever warm the cockles of our heart.

Blues? Where are you?

AIDS Day musings


Another 1st of December.

The sun came up on a mildly winter morning in Thane. Before the morning traffic got underway, students turned out for a marching rally - organised by the government HIV unit - wearing their red ribbons.

Our JSK staff has been out on the streets - meeting people - talking about HIV testing - giving information and on the spot counselling.

Its afternoon now, and a portion of the JSK team is now moving towards Dombivili where the District AIDS Prevention and Control Unit is organising a special meeting for young people. We will be running an information and counselling stall there - and meeting with youth one-on-one.

In the evening we are holding a small prayer meeting at the JSK centre.

All of this - while the earth continues its slow spin around itself. For 24 hours the world commemorates World AIDS Day. The 33 million brothers and sisters of ours who are living with the disease have the virus in them the other 364 days of the year too.

Its easy to get discouraged. Its easy to tune out. To move along with the many other things of life. What good is what we are doing anyway? And who really cares?

The government is trumpeting the figures that the rates of new infections of HIV in India are halved from 8 years ago. Any reduction in the numbers of people getting HIV is of course tremendous news. We are still far from being out of the woods however. At Jeevan Sahara Kendra we see the damage that is being done through HIV. Each day we meet the wounded from the silent bombs that keep going off in our midst - silent because of the fear of disclosure - and of rejection. A fear so deep that many many die even though treatment options are now available.

The challenge for us in India is not to let go of the efforts at this point! Though the new figures are not even a month old we now have statements like this:

[BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation] Standing committee chairman Rahul Shewale said, “The AIDS epidemic has been controlled to a great extent while the number of cancer cases, particularly among women, are rising. The BMC is determined to see that the project passes through.”

The context is a proposal by the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai (BMC) to build a cancer hospital on a site currently housing the Mumbai and State AIDS control societies.

Besides apathy - we also have plenty of down-right greed. The tribe of quack-doctors shows no sign of abating. They are happy to announce 'cures' (which are never free), but are never around when the person with HIV finally dies. The medical fraternity still remains largely indifferent if not hostile to peopel with HIV. Two months ago we met a lady who had been in labour-pains and was sent away from a private hospital where she. Sadly, is even our local govt. ART centre is accused of asking for bribes for treatment.

So how do we move forward?

Well, we do it by taking a deep breath and thanking God for letting any of us see today. We move forward by reminding ourselves of real people in whose lives a massive change has taken place.

We remind ourselves of people like Mr. Sam who joined our JSK staff members for this morning's outreach on World AIDS Day. Mr. Sam has had HIV for some years and was in such a debilitated state that he could not walk. But today he is walking on the streets telling others about HIV. Today he looks after his family with such amazing love. Today he radiates the simple joy he has found in Jesus in a way that humbles.

We thank God that we live in a country where Anti-Retroviral medications are free from the government. We now have over 100 of our Positive Friends taking ART - and what a difference it makes.

We are humbled by the quiet saints who are helping out in big and small ways. Some who whisper prayers each day for our dear friends with HIV. Others who come along and visit people in their homes. Still others who quietly support widows with house-rents and children's educational fees.

The list goes on. We move forward because a small but real number of God's people love.

Oh that we would see more. And that HIV/AIDS would only appear in our children's history books - rather than in the flesh-and-blood lives of our brothers and sisters!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Mr. Aur-kya?

Asha and Enoch have a name for our friendly shop-keeper. They call him Mr. 'Aur-kya' - since no matter how much you buy from him - he inevitably asks 'aur kya?' (what else? i.e. do you want anything else?).

The shop is a family affair. Our dear man shows up at just after 7 am - and the shop is open to at least 11 PM every night. The family consists of his wife - a lady who clearly has problems with obesity - and 3 (or is it 4?) sons who seem to span the ages of 13 to about 23 or so. The appartment they live in as a family is on the ground floor - on the other side of the building.

The other day I asked him about where he has from. "Rajasthan" he said - and it clicked. Here is another of the amazing trading families. They are called Marwaris - since many are from the Marwar area of Rajasthan - but then there are others too - Gujarathi families and trading clans that are not only present all over India - but have colonised large areas in Africa (think trading outposts like the ones I found in deepest Uganda) and the United States (think 7-Eleven kind of convenience stores and motels).

While visiting my brother in Africa a dozen years ago I was amazed to see these families running shops in remote areas of the country. A small sociological study by a Ugandan academic that I read tried to make sense out of why these families did so well financially - and why the other people groups of native Ugandans did not seem to be moving up economically. The difference seemed to lie in how wealth was used. The 'Indians' as these trading families are called - saved religiously, kept a low profile, lived frugally - and ploughed their money back into their business - and occaionally to giving loans to help other family members get off their feet. The 'locals' (I forget the term used) had a different story to tell. The 'big man' who has made wealth suddenly finds himself called to a patron of many - relatives start sprouting up and making their home in his shelter. Money is meant to be used liberally on others - and on prestige items like the big car. Not for nothing are these nouveaux riches called 'Wa-benzi' since the Mercedes Benz still has the reputation of being the car that matters.

So why did our Indian brethren in Africa do so well and not here in the home land? I thought - and then it struck me - they are doing plenty well here too! The trading family is alive and well. We have one who live in our appartment and run that shop in the ground floor. Hailing from the bleak and barren desert landscape they have migrated far and wide - and take their flair and hard work for business with them wherever they go. While I was in Manipur for 7 months - my local host family occassionally took pity on me and my craving for chappatis. Since my hosts, the Tusing home, were a strictly rice-every-meal home (par for the course in Churachandpur town), they turned to the local Marwari family and requested them to occassionally make rotis for me.

Reality is that since our trading community families look more or less like everyone else - their presence does not strike us as strongly as the sole 'Indian' in a rural African community does. But then I remembered the 'jokes' that attributed stinginess etc. to the Marwari community. I realised that there was more than just the surface ethnic-leg-pulling going on - that there were real senses of envy and greviences by local communities even here about the shop-keepers. There is money to be made selling to the poor - but few smiles are given to the shop-keepers by those who are buying.

As I talked to our shop-keeper friend - I asked him how often he goes back to his native place. Once a year - came the reply. But what about the shop? I asked. I have to trust my family to take care of it - he says.

I have never seen the shop closed. Not for a holiday. Not for nothing. Ok - if there is a violent 'bandh' I have seen the shutters go down - but never for too long. By evening the shop is bustling with customers again. 7 AM to 11 PM. 365 days a year. Every one pitching in.

"Aur kya?"

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Mumbai AIDS Sunday

Its that time of year again.

No - I am not talking about Christmas (which we gratefully celebrate as a family - but usually only for a day or two).

I am talking about World AIDS Day which is commemorated on December 1st.

The papers are breathless with the news that new HIV infections in India are down by 50% from before. The Indian Express article puts it this way:

In another indication that India has managed to contain its HIV/AIDS problem, the latest report by UNAIDS says the number of new cases annually has shown a 50 per cent fall from eight years ago. In 2009, 1.2 lakh people acquired the infection, which is half of the 2.4 lakh who got the virus in 2001.

Note that the issue of HIV/AIDS is already being spoken in past tense. While the figures are encouraging - after all no one really wants more and more people suffering - we know that even if not a single new person were infected from now onwards - the existing damage that has been wrought will take this and at least one more generation to work through.

Being in care for the long haul - that is one reason why we focus on working with Local Church congregations and prayer groups.

Each year the advent of World AIDS Day gives us an opportunity to call congregations to learn about God's heart for people with HIV, understand the context and needs of people in their communities, examine themselves, pray fervently for God's loving interventions - through us, and make real decisions to bless people with HIV and their care-givers.

One of the highlights of this year's Mumbai AIDS Sunday is a special meeting for all the churches in the Mulund area as well as neighbouring suburbs. We are focussing this Praise and Prayer to help reveal that Father heart of God for people living with HIV - and how we need to joyfully and thankfully respond both as individuals, as well as a fellowships faith.

The meeting will be held at 6.30 PM - 9 PM at the Marthoma Church, Mulund (opp. Fortis hospital). If you are in Mumbai or anywhere nearby - please do come by! We will be so blessed by you. If you are not going to be physically in the neighbourhood - we would deeply cherish your prayers!

A simple site has been set up at: www.aidssunday.wordpress.com

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

on the farm

Though Thane is an urban sprawl with a good 2 million or so folks living here (we will find out next year when the census results are published) - there is still place for nature and growing things.

Just near our house - we have the low Pokhran hills - which are the Eastern border of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park - the green lungs of Mumbai!

And last week we also had a full-fledged farm... in miniature of course...


Enoch was hard at work again with the legos (the pictures of this are now the only record it was made - he has already recycled the bricks for his next set of projects...
But
On the farm that Enoch made, however, Mr. Farmer goes for a walk to see how his animals are doing.

The sheep, pigs and ducks are doing mighty fine. In fact, looking at their size compared to the farmer, you might wonder if there is any doping going on - they look like they are all on steriods!

But then who am I to say - the lego farm has certain challenges that are scale dependent. Its not possible to make recognisable animal models below a certain size threshold! But it is just this limitation that combined with the durablity and connictability of the whole set - which for me enthrones lego as the 'king of games.'

In another part of the farm, Mrs. Farmer takes a small break at the picnic table in the park.

Its not easy being a lady on the farm. The work is never ending it seems - so it is a real blessing to be able to get away from it all every now and then!

Would that Mrs. Farmer's example be followed by us in real life - by the chap whose hands are banging the keyboard at this minute - who really needs to go to bed!

The peice de resistance for me was Enoch bulding a set of men actually repairing the roof of the farm-house. Its one thing to make something and break it. Little boys seem hard-wired toward that sort of thing - but which little boy builds something that is restorative in nature? There is obviously a grateful and slightly-in-awe Dad voice coming through in the previous sentence!



aflame for God

Time for a quote from Roland Bainton's Here I Stand - A Life of Martin Luther (p. 167)

Into a society where the lesser breed were given to gambling, roistering and wenching..., at a time when the choicer sort were glorifying in the accomplishments of man, strode this Luther, entranced by the song of angels, stunned by the wrath of God, speechless before the wonder of creation, lyrical over the divine mercy, a man aflame with God.

For such a person there was no question which mattered save this: How do I stand before God? Luther would never shirk a mundane task such as exhorting the elector to repair the city wall to keep the peasant's pigs from rooting in the villager's gardens, but he was never supremely concerned about pigs, gardens, walls, cities, princes or any and all of the blessings and nuisances of this mortal life.

The ultimate problem was always God and man's relationship to God. For this reason political and social forms were to him a matter of comparative indifference. Whatever would foster the understanding, dissemination and practice of God's word should be encouraged, and whatever impeded must be opposed. This is why it is futile to inquire whether Luther was a democrat, aristocrat, autocrat, or anything else. Religion was for him the chief end of man, and all else peripheral.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Two families

Troubles don't come singly.

One family that Sheba met today - we will call them the Mr. and Mrs. Mali - have a child who keeps getting fits. Three months ago was the last time they came into the clinic. Sheba's notes have her prescribing a simple but imporant epileptic medicine. They did not take it. Rather they have gone through various religious and occult practices to try and get rid of the fits. The child still has them. Sheba expressed how angry she felt with the mother and father for not following through with what is most likely to help. Towards the end of the time Mrs. Mali said that they have a new problem. Mr. Mali's sister - who was married recently - has been abandonned by her husband. She is also living with them. That would mean Mr. and Mrs. Mali, their 4 daughters, his mother, his sister and her child all living in a room no more than 8 by 10 feet.

Another family - Mr. and Mrs. Chandu - came later. The oldest of their 4 kids is HIV positive (like his parents). The middle 2 are negative. The baby is yet to be tested. A 9 month old child the baby weighs less than a 6 month old should. The oldest was recently admitted with pneumonia in a large govt. hospital all the way down in south Mumbai. Why they did not come to us? We had diagnosed from before that the boy had lost part of his lung function because of untreated TB. The big hospital did a CT scan of the chest and came up with the same conclusion. 'Permanent damage' is what the family was told. "Please take our children and put them in some hostel - some place where they can live" is what the parents asked today.

Oh, for some big green button to press.

A one shot solution to all the misery we have around us. All the misery that we are ourselves.

We don't have one of course.

But that doesn't mean that there are not solutions.

The very horrid nature of so much of what we see - the very recoiling and wondering about how much worse can things get - points to something beyond - a hunger for home - a deep-down-desire for things to be right, to be safe, to be as they should be.

Our own anger at the crazy illogic of poverty is real. We have to be moved with grit at the ripping up of lives that continues to go on while the trappings of the material splendour of 'India shining' (Sensex bubblign ever upwards - now over 20,000? homes retailing for 25 lakhs a shot? vegetable prices at what meat used to cost?). If we do not react emotionally to the relational wasteland that so many of us are going through - and the horrible aftermath of foolish decisions that people make - then we would only be made of stone.

Anger is real. The key is not to let the anger overwhelm. Not to allow it to overflow. Never to give it control.

That's not easy. Self-control is low on most of our priority lists.

The Bible talks about the fruit of the Spirit. An amazing list: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5.22-23).

We don't have simple solutions for these two families. Any answers we have are more at the level of becoming. We cry out to Jesus to help. To be the wonderful counselor that He is. To take our lips and hands and hearts and do that which can be done with these dear families. To seek changes that are real and last - and not just a bandaid over the wound.

Pray for us as we seek to link these families up with people from local churches. It seems impossible - but it can be done. Pray for breakthroughs at different levels - and for rest and hope for the parents as they live through their own HIV status - and make good choices for themselves and their kids.

Ex libris

We are on a diet of Luther right now in the Eicher household.

A book fair which I managed to squeeze an hour in to grab 2nd hand books at rock bottom prices yielded two on Luther.

Kitty my Rib
by E. Jane Mall is a fictionalised biography of Katerina von Dora - who became Katherine Luther after her marriage to 'the good doctor' Luther.

The book takes a breezy look at the life of an extraordinary woman - who left the nunnery and ended up marrying the ex-monk who had set the wheels of her own escape into motion.

The other book - Here I Stand: The life of Martin Luther (available online by clicking the title) - is by a scholar Ronald H. Bainton and gives a dense but concise picture of Luther and his time.

Both books were written in the 1950s. "Kitty my rib" is a straightforward telling of a domestic story. The author tries to put herself into Katherine's shoes - and comes up with a story of a woman who yearns first for freedom - and then for affection (and receives some) - and who lives a hard life caring for the good doctor Luther. I came away feeling that I know more about Katherine - but also about what the author feels is important in life and relationships: freedom, appreciation, intimacy. The big issues of Luthers life rumble on in the background - Katherine's world seems to be circumscribed by her family - and her desire to retire in a nice plot of land.

"Here I Stand" works hard to put the facts down - and paint the picture of the times. To be honest - Sheba and I are just starting into it - but I can already tell that it is written with more than a whiff of earnest 1950s modernism.

Both books gripped me and also left me hungry for more. Ultimately we will have to ask the good folks themselves when we meet up in eternity.

From the "Kitty" book we get the extraordinary picture of the Luthers ministering twice during plague outbreaks in their benighted little village of Wittenberg. We are so insulated today from the terrible fear of disease outbreaks. Where parents would abandon sick children - and vice versa. Where children would be found 'breathing on' their siblings - because it was thought that that the action of 'breathing' on an unifected person would free one of the disease.

The Luthers went house to house - morning to night ministering to the dying, caring for the sick as much as possible, helping to bring out and bury the bodies and consoling the greiving. All this without thinking that they were 'too important' to be exposed to the danger of dying themselves.

Martin Luther had many faults - but what a picture of courage and pastoral care we get here. How flippant and shallow so much of our so-called 'service' is when measured with this plumbline. You hear the echo of our loving Master who said - "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2.17).

The other find from the "Kitty" book is a sympathetic look at Luther's bouts of depression. A life-long set of episodes - it shows up as a cloud in the family. I would wonder how much of Luther's depressions were public knowlege at the time - something that mirrors what so many of us struggle through - in our own lives - or in the lives of those we love very much.

The genius of Bainton's book is to place a finger (a slightly cool one at that) on the intellectual / emotional struggle Luther has with his sinfulness. Bainton is dead on the money when he highlights that it is Luther's deep religious hunger - and his tortured dissatisfaction with everything that his relgious disciplines and understanding of the time - that drive Luther to the unexpected set of end points where Luther discovers the Bible in a revolutionary way. Particularly helpful for me was the brief discussion of how after confessing for hours at a time - Luther would end up being reminded of some other sin he felt he committed. Bainton suggests that what horrified Luther even more was the realisation that much of sin did not even bring remorse - Jonah sleeping in the ship as a case in point - which lays the foundation for an understanding of sin not as individual acts to be catalogued and then dealt with - but an underlying nature...

Lets see what else we will find out as we travel with Bainton through Luther's life.

Books take us to different places. They offer a commentary on our own lives. As we think through what we read (and we certainly don't need to agree with everything that is printed black on white) we gain insights into our own situations.

Plus the best books end up talking with each other - and most of all with the book of books!

Case in point is what we have just finished reading as a family - Madleine L'Engle's most excellent A Wrinkle in Time. It fairly drips with meaning - while taking you across space and time - and leaving you hungry for more.

Speaking of hunger...

On our bookshelf sits a huge red one-volume book that all of us are itching to read together - The Lord of the Rings. Alas we just do not have a span of a few weeks opening up for us to read through it. We know that once we delve in - we will not be able to extricate ourselves till we have read every page of it.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Circus

You would think that in the midst of the circus that is our life - we would hardly have time ... for well, a circus.

But lo and behold: the intrepid 4 Eichers made their way to the Gemini Circus this afternoon.

We made our way out to a scrubby wasteland that lies near the Kalwa Bridge in Thane. Sure enough a huge tent materialised in front of us and the sparkle razzle of the circus was around us. The kids have never been to one - and so we plunged in.

Looking at the circus as an adult has its own sad twinge to it. There was a sparse crowd for the 4 PM show - so we could see things clearly. I was struck by how sad many of the performers looked. They came - did their thing and left. Who are they really? Doing what they do three times a day - for people in various cities across the country. Where do they stay? When do they eat? What relationships criss-cross between them.

There was so little applause. The announcements were unintelligible. The place was hot - we bought plastic fans to fan ourselves with.

But it was a circus.

The real thing. We were there looking at it all unfold before our eyes.

Since our dear Menaka Gandhi managed to stop almost all wild animals in circuses (no more thrilling lions and tigers as I remember from my boyhood trips to Azad Maidan) - we were not expecting much by way of animals. (by the way - that is not a picture of Menaka being lofted up by a pachyderm - though I am sure many circus owners would be happy for their ele-friends to do that to her).

Oh yes, we did have 3 rather tired looking elephants made occasional appearances - as did 2 camels and a hippo. But as far as animals - there were probably more on the streets than in the big tent.

Instead we got lots of gymnastics. Some of it really heady stuff. Hats off to these men and women who put themselves through so much. The show just kept going on. Act after act. Finally ending with the trapeze artists whirling above us - some 50 feet or so high up near the top of the tent. They finished with a memorable 'black light' effect where they swirled through the air with the lights off...

Enoch liked the motorcyclists best. Four of them driving in crazy loops around the metal ball - the angry buzz of the bikes forcing little hands to quickly stop-up little ears.

Artists on bicycles. The obligatory bare back riding. Jugglers. The odd clown magician. The two and a half hours whizzed by.

This particular show had its smattering of foreign artists too - mainly slavic looking ladies who did acrobatic stuff with ropes - and a jubilant group of African tumblers. A number of others looked oriental - but that could mean Nepal, any of the 7 sisters - or folks from East Asia.

As each act made way for the next, a small army of workers made sure props were ready, cables were swung here and there... The band - up in their tent above the show entrance - warbled away with a vaguely circussy sound - spiced up masala style.

In the midst of all of this - the shabbiness of it all kept coming through. The tent was massive - but our shoddy seating on uneven ground brought us back to earth. As breath-taking as many of the stunts were - so much was shot through with sadness.

The clowns were mainly midgets. You just wonder what their life is like. The constant gaping they go through as people stare at them.

Their jokes were mainly burlesque. Crude hitting of each other. What redeemed them for me was the participation they seem to have in the other acts - often serving as assistants - and occasionally showing their own gymnastic skills.

It was perhaps appropriate that once we exited the tent we could not get an auto-rickshaw for love of money. As a family we trudged past the outer wall of the Thane jail - ending up at the main gate having done a good half-way round circumbulation - before the long awaited Auto was successfully hailed.

Seeing the prison brings the question to my mind: how many of the men and women in that circus are living in their own private prisons? Sparkly costume changes apart - it doesn't take much to see that all is not well.

Our kids were strangely subdued too. I think that their eyes have also picked up a lot about the real state of affairs.

Coming home to our beautiful home. A warm bath and a good meal later. We crash into our soft beds. So amazingly and totally blessed.

Half way across the city the last show of the day is probably still on... And then the tents will be packed up and the circus will move on to the next town.

Monday, 15 November 2010

A day

The last week has been a blur for us as we prepared for the dedication of the new Bethany Hospital. But that did not mean that all our friends with HIV suddenly went on holiday from their challenges.

I think back to one of the days. I think it was Wednesday (last week was a blur - as already mentioned).

Here are some of the people that Sheba and the team had the privilege of working with on that day:

One of our old friends - Mr. Oliver Lal came with his daughter. He and his wife have been living with the disease for years. We have tried to encourage them to get their daugther tested many times. They just couldn't get the courage to do so. Now she was sick. It looked like malaria. He wanted her tested. We did. Mr. Lal came back for the result today. Sheba had to tell him that his daughter had also tested HIV positive. Heart-breaking. I sat with him for some time and held his hand. The mist of tears in his eyes.

Mallika came and was amazingly winged off to Ooty. We were able to get a bus ticket for her - and a welcome in Bangalore (thanks to OASIS for both) and then get her picked up by our friends from Freedom Firm who took her too Ooty. Our staff member took her to the bus boarding point in Dadar - with a packed lunch to eat with her. Amazing that she got off and is starting a new life. God is good.

There were so many others who came during the regular hours. Sheba spoke with each one of them. Listening to stories. Understanding. Speaking words that come from our loving Master's mouth.

At the end of the day, the sisters of Mr. Anmol came to talk to Sheba. Mr. Anmol was a successful businessman. A life-long batchelor who lived with his spinster sister. He had retired and was given a big award by the chairman of his company. We have known Mr. Anmol for the last 2 years. He never told his sisters about his HIV status. He also has had a cancer of the neck. He has not shown us the reports from the cancer hospital to date. He refused house visits. Finally he was admitted at a private hospital - and the senior doctor their revealed Mr. Anmol's status to his sisters. They were shocked and horrified. They came to us demanding why we had never told them. Sheba explained that Mr. Anmol was usually accompanied by another relative. Mr. Anmol's sisters disabused us of that - the man was a friend not a relative. Sheba tried to calm Mr. Anmol's sisters as they worked through their feelings of rage and betrayal. No easy answers - especially when lives are spun around half-truths. Mr. Anmol is dying. May his last days at least experience the peace that has eluded him so far.

How do you end a day like this? One way (and we seem to specialise in this) is to collapse into bed and then arise to the challenge of the next. Life pushes on - in fast forward much of the time! Time waits for no one.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Dedication

Today marks a new day.

In a few hours we will be meeting to dedicate the new Bethany Hospital to God's service.

The gleaming new building is getting its final polish as we get ready for the many guests and supporters who will be with us for this time.

"Not to be served, but to serve" is the motto of the Bethany Trust - which runs the Bethany Hospital - and the Jeevan Sahara Kendra too. We have seen this lived out in the preparations for this day. Many hundreds of hours of behind the scenes work have taken place to get this hospital to where it is. And many more are needed to get the hospital moving forward.

When Dr. Stephen Alfred and his wife Claire returned from the UK to start work in Thane all he thought was that he would run a small 4 bedded nursing home. That changed with the Bethany Trust opening the Lok Hospital in 1996 - first as 2 floors and then expanded to 4 floors. Today we will be dedicating the next step, with the Lok Hospital work moving into the purpose-built 125-bedded facility at Bethany Hospital.

For us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra this means that we will start our work in a new phase at the current Lok Hospital building. We plan to start by using the first floor and offering a 10 bedded inpatient care facility for people with HIV who need hospitalisation.

We also want to scale up our work in providing and monitoring the life-long (and life-extending) AntiRetroviral Therapy (ART) treatments. We hope that our application to become a link-ART centre and be able to dispense govt. ART medications will soon come through. In addition, we intend to continue the integrated testing and counselling centre where people can come for confidential and voluntary HIV testing.

Jeevan Sahara Kendra also hopes to develop into a centre for excellence in HIV care and training. We know that the experience that we have gained over the past 8 years of service here in Thane is invaluable - and want to share it with others.

All this while continuing what we have tried to do from the beginning: caring for people with HIV in their homes - challenging local churches to reach out in love and welcome people with HIV and their families into a broader family of care - working with people who are living with HIV to make positive and life-enhancing decisions!

As the dedication of the new Bethany Hospital takes place today, we are so grateful to the Lord Jesus Christ for His grace in letting us see this new step forward.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Road called hope

We have walked some way along the Misery Road with Mallika.

By God's grace our friends in Ooty are willing to take Mallika on board - offering her a job with a handicraft unit - while working with her to build a new identity and work through the many scars she bears.

Small. Boyish in her dress and appearance. Mallika is all of 21 years old. But she has already seen such sorrow.

We are now working to getting her down to Ooty as soon as possible. Today one of our friends managed to book her a ticket to Bangalore on a bus for Thursday afternoon (trains are way over-booked since we are still in the Diwali festivities). We hope to have someone meet her there on Friday and then she will be taken up to Ooty, and the new parts of her life.

Everything still hangs by a thread. Will she come? Will she go all the way there? What are the things that are tugging her heart? What thoughts go on through her mind?

No easy answers. No quick fixes. But everything, everything we do for God and in the amazing name of Jesus, makes sense. And each life invested in - as slight and inconsequential as that life may be to the vast grinding wheels of history around us - each life is of collossal worth...

We continue to walk along a road called hope.

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Post Script - 13.11.2010

Mallika has safely made it down to Ooty where she has been given a job and will be living in a transitional living arrangement that the Freedom Firm helps run. We are so grateful for the amazing work that Freedom Firm does. Thanks also to our friends at Oasis India Trust who helped Mallika transition through Bangalore yesterday. Thanks for your prayers too!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Fun and Games

There is something deeply wired into the core of who we are - a deep love for play. We may spend a lot of time denying it - but the very attention that we pay to others - the slight quicking of our hearts when a good game starts shows our pretense for what it is.

Hunger for games is mirrors the itch to move our limbs in dance upon hearing the lilting strains of a melody - or joyous drumbeating rythyms. Playing is a wonderful joy of letting go - in creating another world with its own exciting rules - that mirrors and enhances the world we experience.

Consider a heap of mud that was shaped outside my office.

The red mud was gradually shaped a beautiful house - complete with a miniature working well. The sons of the miller who runs the flour mill next door (these same boys who were so often beaten by their father in the past) spent many happy hours building this marvel. I was delighted to see it take shape - every addition a testimony to the genius of play.


Note the small plant that was added (above) - and the styrofoam wheel (below) that was crafted so that a small bottle cap could draw water out of the well. A few days after this shot a carpet of green sprouts had made a virtual lawn...

Pictures courtesy Enoch Eicher - who was fascinated by this beautiful house.

Games take us into other worlds. Even the simplest one. Take the vicarous thrill of 'snakes and ladders'. A big equaliser. No real skill required. Just the joy and minor sorrow of seeing your playing piece move ahead - or slip back.

And then there are the more physical contests. We had special games times at the Church Camp - but these were relatively poorly attended. But at the same time spontaneous circles of sport opened up. Vigorous dodge-ball contests provided much entertainment - for participants and spectators alike.

Being a game of some skill - the group self selected. Most of the time it was the late high-school and college / young professional crowd that made up this particular set of games.

Asha and Enoch were masters at Uno - and spent many happy games at home (with us) and at camp (with tons of other eager players).

For me - I thank God for the plastic heirloom that Enoch spends hours playing with - our Lego set from days of yore.

Having a 7 going on 8 year old son allows this old man plenty of opportunities to play. Our latest project is below:


Our first swimming pool - complete with real water and lots of mini-men doing the float (they don't seem to be very active).

What is it about Lego that keeps bringing me back to it? I think it is a combination of the joy of seeing things fit together - the pleasure of seeking out pieces from the mountain of bricks that we have - of seeing a design take shape - constantly tweaking it here and there.

And also the joy of making something that is our world in miniature.

A small world that mirrors out bigger one. The pleasure of creating a similacure of something that we experience - or wish to experience. The delight in seeing the big in the small - an ordinary beauty of seeing the known scaled down into miniature settings.

And then the incongruity of our size which towers Gulliver-like over the land.

Play is of course robustly therapeutic. But more than the knock-on benefits - we play because we delight in living out stories.