Saturday, 30 January 2010

Pretty in Pink

The Saturday evening youth meeting was over. The wadas that Sheba had made had been eaten gratefully by all and sundry (the large crowd of 5 of us in the meeting that is - as well as Asha and Enoch the 2 servers). Our young people had gone home. It was time for a family supper together.

Then Asha came up with the idea: "lets all dress up in one colour." When asked which colour - prompt came her answer: "Pink!"

And so it was that at the end of Jan 2010 the Thane Eichers dressed monochromatically for their evening repast.

A jolly time was had by all.

My apologies to all gents from the Southern parts of our land for the sadly tied bedsheet - oops I mean lungi. The paper napkin bowtie also did not quite make the grade - but its the thought that counts.Its a great life. We are so thankful to God for each other - and for the on-going joys of living and loving as a family.

Breaking up is hard to do

Our problem with history is that we have so much and so little of it.

We live in India – a land that is millennia old. And yet how old are we really? Most cannot even tell our great-grandfather’s name – much less when he was born or what the village or town grew up in was like in those days. Beyond the vague "I come from here / there" label - everything else is haze.

As for our cities – well – other than the odd wall of an ancient fortress or stupa poking its way out of the grime and smog of a million auto-rickshaws and the festering nest of phone, power and TV cables – what history?

But boundaries and the eddies and currents of histories do still wield power. The latest is the rise of the regional assertion.
These students have stripped their shirts to demand the creation of Telangana State

On the face if it, having small states makes a lot of sense. If the US with 300 million odd folks has 50 states – why should we only have only 28 states (that too with 3 of them just turning a decade old), when our national population is at least 1.1 billion!

Smaller states means that the state capital is closer – that the chief minister is more in touch with the people – that the government offices and departments are easier to monitor than in states like Uttar Pradesh where the population is over 120 million people.

These folks have forcefully blocked the Vidharbha Express - in order to demand the creation of ... Vidharbha State

In the 50s our country was divided up into states that were amalgamations of the directly ruled British Raj territories – as well as the previously princely territories that the Maharajas ruled even under the British. Then in the early 60s came the various demands for states to be re-organised and moulded along linguistic lines. States like Gujarat (for Gujarati speakers) and Maharashtra (for Marathi-mother-tonguers) sprung out of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. Andhra Pradesh took a bow on behalf of Telegu speakers and so forth.

Things held pretty steady through my childhood and growing up years – but gradually the political scene shifting to the powers played by local parties – each region seems to have developed its own nativist or semi-nativist group (Telegu Desam, Asom Gani Parishad, DMK/AIDMK/MDK etc., Shiv Sena, INLD, Akali Dal … the list goes on…). At first these parties made their splashes by ruling their states – and then leveraging into power at the centre through coalitions of the willing (and the billing).

The next wave is still upon us – sub-regional groupings that saw how successful the regional parties were. These sub-regional movements hope to bring utopia by carving out ever smaller sections. And so we have the on-going tussle in Andhra Pradesh to have Telegana carved out of the northern part (including the capital of Hyderabad). The long-drawn fight to have the Darjeeling and hill parts of W. Bengal become Gorkhaland. The simmering demands for a Vidharba State out of eastern Maharashtra to overcome the ‘step-motherly treatment’ that this drought prone area suffers from the rest of fat and sleek Maharashtra State. And the list goes on. There are anywhere between 5-55 areas demanding statehood / autonomy / independence (the latter sometimes used as a bargaining tool).

Strike one for Telangana - this chap takes it out on a bus - all in the good cause of course of carving out a separate state!

These well-fed gents (with a reigning Telegu film super star amongst them) are adamant that Andhra Pradesh should not be split!

One interesting trend is that in the demanded splitting of states which share the same linguistic heritage (Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra) we see geographic issues – esp. related to water (or lack of it) coming to the fore. The dry areas want their own freedom (and also a big chunk of the river flows) which they feel the wetter parts of the state are misappropriating.

Distributional justice. Identity and purpose. Self-determination. Better and closer accountability loops.

My gut feeling is that we are wishing in a utopian way for something different. What we really want is basic governance. Justice. Order. Peace.

We want Gorkhaland! A young man wears his demand on his face.

Will these desired-for things drop our way when we make smaller states?

Well the data is in on our newest threesome. The last 3 states to emerge are now a decade old – and we have seen Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh and Uttarakhand all grow at more than 10% - more than many of their parent states. But do we see stability and an Edenic situation which the activists who were demanding the creation of these states promised? Hardly. Politically at least, these small states are just as volatile if not more so – and the horse trading after each election is notorious (esp. in Jharkhand – no surprises here).

So here we have it. On paper there is a strongish case for smaller states. And may a thousand (ok, make that about 75 at least) bloom! But the lived reality is always far from the rhetoric.

Our governance is in shambles not because we don’t have small states – its because we look the other way when top to bottom corruption touches our daily lives. If everyone stopped paying the money under the table – we would see so much real change take place.

But in the meantime our roads sprout pot-holes in 4 months, our water keeps disappearing. And life goes on for most…

A new song

Its not often that we are at a world premiere of a song - and not often that the song is dedicated to People with HIV around the world - and to Jeevan Sahara Kendra and CANA.

But on Wednesday, in our last session of the Training of Trainers in HIV Care through Churches, our friend R. Isaac Hmar - one of our participants - performed the song "Roshini, Asha" which he and two others had written after meeting people with HIV who have been changed by Jesus.

And so to complement the world premiere - we also have our first biggish upload to Youtube (it took 4 x 2 hours - the first 3 times being failures). You can take a look at it by clicking: here.

The song was shot using a simple camera and so the quality is not too hot - but I think you will get a feel for the atmospherics - we had it as our closing song as the candles were lit and we thanked God for a tremendous training.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

On the run

Mr. Shrishti is on the run.

His wife is 5 months pregnant, but he has not been home for 2 months now.

Apparently a murder was committed and 4 suspects are being searched for by the local police. Two suspects have been nabbed. Two are at large.

Since the cops can't find the 2 missing men - they have started after Mr. Shrishti's brother. The brother bolted to their anscestral village. And now it is Mr. Shrishti's turn.

Mr. Shrishti washes cars for a living. He is faithful and good at this. He continues to do this work. Only he is hiding. He sleeps in a room at the base of one of the appartment buildings where the cars are parked. This is his home for the last 2 months now.

We met Mr. Shrishti yesterday. He came with his wife to the JSK Positive Friends meeting.

In addition to his current troubles - Mr. and Mrs. Shrishti are both HIV positive - which is how we got to know them in the first place.

Their meeting yesterday was a small respite from the burdens that these last months have placed on them. Sheba prayed and talked with them. They have no clear answers - the closest they have come is to shift their room (rented of course) to a new neighbourhood and hope that the 2 million other residents of Thane will shield them from the police.

Our constitution guarantees the right to individual liberty. We celebrated 60 years of our Indian Republic earlier this week. 60 years of the constitution being operational.

Its a bitter anniversary for Mr. Shrishti. Though his right to freedom is enshrined - the reality of his situation says otherwise. Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) specifically states that: "No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law."

The procedure that actually takes place when a person is hauled up to the lock-up, when a person is thrown into prison as an undertrial, when a person's family is hounded by the cops is very different matter. We are grateful for the police force - but the grim reality that the poor face is just that - grim. The rich have their lawyers - who are able to spring them out even before they are arrested ('anticipatory bail') - but for Mr. Shrishti - and many, many others like him, the police are people to be feared.

Tonight, as I write this, he is sleeping in that small room. Mr. Shrishti is in exile - away from his 5 month-pregnant wife - and their 2 year old son.

On the run. In hiding. 300 meters away from his family. Unable to meet them and live as he should. One of the many silent, hidden people who do not stride the national consciousness, who do not prick the national conscience.

We still have a lot of work to do in our dear nation.


Yesterday a man was late for an appointment.

Instead of walking the 5-8 minute route, he hailed an auto-rickshaw and barked a command - telling the driver to go to a housing complex near his destination.

A minute later the man told the auto-driver to take a left turn - just before the housing complex.

The driver responded saying: "you told me you wanted to go to the housing complex" in a slightly surly tone.

The man exploded. He shouted at the driver. "You go where I tell you!" the man bellowed. The man's face was contorted with rage.

The shocked driver stopped the auto. "I say one thing and you start shouting?"

Enraged the man put down the fare of 10 Rs. on the back seat and jumped out. Grabbing the big cardboard box he was carrying, he steamed the last 50 meters to his destination at a furious pace.

I saw the whole scene yesterday.

I saw it with my own eyes.

I heard everything with my own ears.

Because I was that man.

Monday, 25 January 2010

CANA Training

We have 14 new friends. 14 folk from a wide spectrum of places in North and North-East India: Assam, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Delhi, Meghalaya, Orissa, and Uttarakhand. Our new friends have been brought here to Thane through CANA (the Christian AIDS/HIV National Alliance).

They have all come to be trained as trainers - so that they can help their churches and organisations reach out in love to people with HIV/AIDS.

Its a tall order - and we have some excellent folks: pastors, community social workers, network-leaders, evangelists, a radio programme producer, and a principal of a bible college.

How to share all about what it means to reach out in love to people with HIV? How to spur and mobilise people to work through their local churches to bless those with HIV in their congregations - and in the communities around them?

We have no easy quick-fix solutions - but we do have a set of teachings that JSK has developed over the past 7 years of our work here in Thane. These have been crystallized into a 4 day training programme which we give to local churches 2-3 times a year - with each session given after a 2 week gap. For our friends from North India we are doing them all at once.

But if people came all the way just to hear us give lectures - that would hardly do justice to the learning opportunities on hand. Our challenge is the issue of confidentiality. How to expose our trainee-friends to the lives of people with HIV, without jeopardising the often hidden HIV status that our HIV positive friends have?

What we did was take our trainee friends in pairs to families that JSK has been working with on the first day of the training. We will then be taking the same folks to the same families on the last day - to see how much they have learned in our training - and give them a chance to put it into practice.

In between - on the Sunday (which was yesterday) - we split them up into pairs and send them to worship with different churches - and then visit people with that the churches are looking after. This allows our friends to get a first hand view of the amazing way that people are being cared for - as well as many of the challenges that are involved.

Interspersed with our times of sharing on different key topics - we are also trying to have as much application as possible. We do this through small group discussions, games, case studies and role plays. Since we are not able to take people to people's homes as much as we would like - we have to recreate the challenges that people have - and ways of helping them in the class-room.

Probably the most powerful part of the training comes when people who are HIV positive themselves share their stories.

You can just feel the intake of breath when people say out loud: "I am HIV Positive" ... "I have been living with this disease for 15 years..." Many of our friends have never met a person who has HIV in their lives. To see and hear their story. To become part of their story. To move away from cold abstract statistics to the lived out reality of our friends lives - all of this is very precious.

We are excited about the impact that the current training is going to have in different parts of our country. The last training we conducted for CANA in May 09 seems to have really blessed all the participants - and contributed to some exciting developments in Bihar.

May this current training - born out of sweat and challenge - as well as joy and laughter - have a long-lasting heart-changing impact on our trainee friends from North India - and all whom they are in touch with!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Never a dull moment

Take a good look at the picture below:

Do you see anything unusual?

We were near the 'new park' yesterday - Sheba was teaching at the training for CANA - and I had taken Asha and Enoch to the park for a quick outing - when something fell down from a bush. I looked more closely and saw something green and motionless - a tree snake!

The beautiful creature just did not move. It knew that its colour and shape did a good job at camouflage - and without have seen the previous motion we never would have noticed this beauty.

To add to the joy of our outing, Enoch lost one of his teeth. He is pretty good at doing this at his age.

The current one came out while we were having a late breakfast out in the open.

And this is where that beauty came from:

Remarkable - how the next gen of teeth are making their appearance in Enoch's mouth. And to think that the ones he is now growing are going to service him for his entire life.

So did we go to the park for snakes and teeth? No - we did go because it was a Saturday morning and though we have a 7 day training going on - we had the luxury of being able to sneak off for a little bit for a late breakfast for the kids - and some fresh and fun for their dad.

What can be better than helping your children learn how to climb trees? Even if they are small chickoo trees - life is very very good. We thank God everyday for His goodness to us.

Friday, 22 January 2010

4 days to celebrate a once-in-a-year event

Birthdays are big in the Eicher household. Asha's bash for 2010 has almost been celebrated in biblical proportions.

The fun started on the eve of her birthday. Her beloved Oma and Opa were with us for the week and we had a Bible study at our home that night. We had baked a banana cake and shared it with our hungry church members. Since we started the study at the normal time of 9 PM and people lingered on after 11 - it was not long before Asha's hour of turning 9 came about. She insisted on staying up till it was her birthday - and then after a kiss and a prayer went to bed.

The next morning we were all up bright and early to celebrate as a family. One of the banana cakes from the night before was candled and gummy-beared and brought out with flowers and gifts for our princess.

Being one of our (rare) Saturdays off - we had the luxury of being together all morning - though Sheba needed to meet one of our Positive Friends - but after that visit we all trooped over to Pizza Hut (a real treat) for Asha's B-day lunch.
Asha was thrilled when the good folks at the joint play a B-day song on the system and presented her with a trio of balloons.

That afternoon we had the privilege of baptising 8 folks from church - and were all treated to a dinner afterward since the 16th of January is also Anil and Sandhya's wedding anniversary - and they graciously fed the church after the baptisms were over. Besides a raucous 'Happy Anniversary to You - Anil and Sandhya' our good folks at church also gave a rousing B-song for Asha too.

The next morning Enoch had some letters for all.

We were off to our house church - where we thanked God for Asha. Before we knew it, we were back for the big event - Asha's B-day party.

A splendid time was had by all.

Asha's friends turned out in force.

She managed to spend time with them all - and not slight anyone. Enoch and the boys disappeared into a back room and played robust Lego games (seemingly more interested in destruction than construction).

The games went superbly.

The treasure hunt was memorable.

Asha's Opa shared the good news with all of us - and her Uncle John Gabriel prayed for her.

The cake - appropriately in the shape of a book - as both Asha and Enoch are just mad readers - was lit, sung-over, had-candles-lit-on-and-blown-out, and was rapidly diced and served to the hungry masses.

Part of the fun was Asha 'feeding' all and sundry with her cake. "Don't take a big bite" she told me when it was my turn.

Like we said - Birthdays are big for us Eichers. Our parties for Asha and Enoch echo some of the thrilling parties that we had when we were growing up. What a joy to share our joy again with this gen.

We know that Asha will have many more adventures.

It's great to be 9 years old. And its great to have a daughter who is 9.

Another's shoes

I had been remiss about fixing my chappal.

The central thong had popped out a fortnight ago, but I soldiered on. Then yesterday it happened. The last little flap was torn off - just as I was going to the office for a last minute scramble before our training programme started.

A light went on as I remembered that on my brisk morning walk of 7-10 minutes to the office, I pass a cobbler.

A stout Marathi gent, this dear man shows up from the opposite direction just about the time I pass by his shack where he spends the day cobbling. His white cap - so often seen in rural Maharashtra - and so rarely seen here in the big city - offsets his white hair and moustache. We greet each other each day as we pass by.

So yesterday I stepped gingerly toward the corner where his shack is - nursing the flapping chappal and looking forward to having the good cobbler man make it right.

Sure enough - as I reached his store - he also had arrived. His bicycle carrying the large basket he brings with him everyday. I briefly showed him the injured chappal and looked expectantly at him.

The good cobbler told me that it would take some time for him to set up shop. I made a face.

Then he did something beautiful.

"Take my chappals" he said - slipping out of his flip-flops.

I gratefully did and was on my way - walking the final 100 meters to my office in the hard plastic flip-flops of a 50+ year old cobbler.

An hour later - on my way back to the centre and the beginning of the training - my chappals were patched up and after handing over a tenner for the man's trouble I was happily walking to the JSK centre to start the training.

Walking in another person's shoes has taken a new meaning for me. The basic decency of the man stands out. Though we live in an often heartless city - it is good to be reminded of the shards of common grace that we still see around us.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

3 generations

One one side of the table - 3 generations of Eicher women.

On the other side - 3 generations of Eicher men.

In the middle - 3 delicious pizzas.

The occasion?

As with most of the events last week - it was linked up with Asha's birthday. This being the lunch on the actual day - Jan 16th.

The result?

The pizzas didn't stand a chance.

Over an hour of wonderful conversation, feasting and enjoying each other. Every part of those 3 monster pizzas was devoured (the largest portion by yours truly) and we all felt that we needed to be wheeled away at the end.

Hooray for Grandparents! We are so grateful that they could be with us for this past week.

Two more glimpses into a week of heaven for us:

Oma with Asha for some 'special time' at a coffee shop. Oma enjoyed listening to Asha and having a deep conversation with her over Black Forest cake (where Oma's Mummy came from) and creamy coffee.

Opa reading to Enoch in the kids bedroom. Enoch is devouring stories on his own - but still loves to be read to if at all possible.

We dearly wish Oma and Opa could stay with us the whole time - and maybe there will come a day. In the mean time we are so grateful to them for travelling halfway across the country to be with us. Very deeply appreciated.

It is a rare - but sweet - thing for our 3 generations to be together.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Leaving on a jet plane

"Bill" should be in the airport as I type these words, getting ready for a flight to Hong Kong and then another one to Vancouver.

Bill is no ordinary dentist on a trip of India - he had lost much of his senses and was reduced to living - if that is what it can be called - as a deranged destitute on a footpath in south Mumbai. It was here that a group of simple believers in Jesus Christ made friends with him in his crazed, paranoid state - and managed to convince him to let them help him.

This evening I had the privilege of telling Bill "see you again." He was dressed in new clothes - still emaciated but so much better than on the first day when I met him in the hospital 10 days ago.

His mind was still wandering - but it was so much more lucid than when we first talked. His hands were still thin - but so much stronger than when I first held his hands and prayed with him.

One of the brothers who has been helping Bill out has given me a set of photos - ranging from when they first met Bill on the street - to a wonderful shot of him and I smiling from ear-to-ear - sitting on the hospital bed - just before we walked down and I said farewell to him.

For issues of privacy I will not be posting them - but they tell an amazing story of grace. Of how a man very lost, very hungry for love and understanding - could come so close to death - and yet be snatched back to life.

Bill has lots of challenges waiting for him when he arrives in Canada - sometime tomorrow. His physical, mental, social and spiritual rehabilitation are still big mountains to climb. But he seeing how far he has already come - we have hope.

As he puts his hands into those calloused carpenter's hands which are stretched out for him - hands that allowed nails to pierce them 2 millennia ago - Bill is going to be restored. His journey holding the hands of the one who made him has only just begun.

In the meantime - he is about to leave Mumbai airport and wing his way East to a new life.


We have not had much beauty recently on this site - so here goes. Two pictures taken recently.

The first is the evening sky from our terrace here in Thane (note the strategic TV cable wire that was impossible to avoid when taking the shot). We had come home from work. Mum and Dad were waiting for us at home. The kids came back from school. Then we saw the sky and we had to go out - and what a view we had. Awesome.

We don't often get up to the terrace - even though we live on the 7th floor of our appartment building - and have the terrace directly above us. But what a lovely evening we had gazing at the sky.

Mum and Dad have been with us for a week. They are just about to get onto the train at Borivali station for the long trip up North and back to Mussoorie.

The view from their terrace? Well, suffice it to say it is nothing less than fantastic.

Most of North India is covered with an almost permanent haze cloud in winter - a mixture of moisture - dust particles (thermal inversion) - smoke - and various other noxious things. The result is a pea-soup from hell - except that it is bone-chillingly cold.

The view from Mum and Dad's home - a South-facing cottage sticking out of a rock cliff at 7,500 ft altitude is quite different.

Feast your eyes on this:
Photo courtesy: Christa Eicher (taken Jan 2010)

Now you know why it is so hard for us to leave Mussoorie when we go there on our annual pilgrimage in May!

Monday, 18 January 2010


Two millennia ago, a wild young prophet dressed in coarse clothes made of camel's hair spoke a revolution. He challenged a culture of religiousity with simple but earth-shifting message: God's Kingdom is near - prepare for it by personal purity - and that not through nit-picking legalism, put by open and public repentance of sins - following by a life showing the fruits of repentance.

To symbolize this shift of heart, the prophet had people step inside the waters of the Jordan river. Then plunged them down under the water, and brought them up again. A symbolic death and resurrection.

John, as the prophet was called, became known as 'the Plunger.' The later English translators of the Bible decided to keep the Greek word as his moniker - and called him John the 'Baptist'.

John's cousin Yeshua of Nazareth (the Hebrew name meaning 'salvation' which is transliterated into English as Joshua or Jesus) also took to 'plunging.' After John's arrest by the corrupt authorities of the day (nothing new under the sun), Yeshua's public ministry blossomed, and his disciples also 'plunged' people who were coming forward to repent.

Yeshua's use of 'plunging' pointed to his own immanent death and resurrection. Both John and Jesus were gruesomely murdered. But Jesus arose on the third day. His final directions to his followers were that they were to tell the whole world the good news about him - and to make disciples - baptising (plunging) them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus had taught.

And so at the dawn of 2010 we continue to obey what our Lord has commanded us to do. On Saturday our house-fellowships gathered together and we had the privilege of 8 members testifying to the work of grace in their lives by obeying Christ in the waters of baptism. The 8 were all totally different. Each one's story unique - from different socio-economic backgrounds, speaking different mother-tongues, having come to Christ in radically different ways. But all common in a desire to make the logical first step of discipleship - the public declaration of following Christ through their symbolic death and resurrection in the water.

The whole process was not easy. Anything where we are working to obey our Lord is not easy. it is never easy to publicly testify about faith. But we are not called to a life of ease. We are called to a life of following our Master.

picture courtesy Reneta Thomas

Friday, 15 January 2010

Last day at 8

Asha steps into the big world of being 9 years old tomorrow.

How the world has turned 3287 times since the day she was born I cannot imagine.

As she continues to blossom, we can only be amazed at God's goodness to us.

It seems like just yesterday - well in real time it was just yesterday - that I was flying across the cold winter night between Delhi and Patna - hoping to get to the hospital in time for Asha's birth.

Despite the heavy fog of those days - the plane landed at 12 PM and I was met by Elias Bara and the hospital jeep for the drive down to Jharkhand and the Nav Jivan Hospital.

Dr. Colin Binks had found decreased fetal movement for Asha on the 15th of Jan and had decided that a C-section was in order for her. And so I dashed across to try and make it home.

Elias drove through the night and we arrived safely just after 7 AM on the 16th morning. A bouquet of flowers for Sheba, thankful prayers all around, a pint of blood from me for the forthcoming ordeal, and then at 9.30 Sheba was wheeled into surgery.

I was there with her when at 10.10 AM Asha entered this world with the sweetest cry imaginable.

And today we are at her last day of 8.

Thursday, 14 January 2010


Mr. Janak was admitted yesterday to the JSK centre for palliative care.

Our basic philosophy of palliation is that as much as possible a person should spend the last days of their lives at home. End-of-life care means many things. It means being in as much comfort as possible. Surrounded by family and friends. Having assurance of their passage from this life to the greater one that awaits. Being loved and cared for. Working through any unprocessed issues - appreciating and being appreciated.

The brutal grimness of many people's lives does not quite fit the above picture. But that doesn't mean that we haven't seen many of our HIV positive friends spend their last days in peace, even as they came up to - and then walked through death's door.

Mr. Janak situation is so extreme that we just had to admit him ourselves.

We met Mr. Janak and his wife 3 years ago. Both have HIV - and multiple other overlapping and confounding issues. The long and short of it is that she has suffered from a stroke - due to a brain infection - which has left her paralysed on one side. He has been in and out of alcohol - and was severely beaten up in his drunken brawls in the past. As his immunity has decreased Mr. Janak has fallen ever more frequently ill. Tuberculosis has been the main foe - and despite getting him onto treatment repeatedly - which has meant repeated advocacy on his behalf with local health authorities - he has also repeatedly defaulted on his drugs. All the hours our staff spent with him - encouraging, educating, just being - seem largely washed away by the bottle.

For the last few days things have spiralled totally out of control for Mr. Janak. He has been at home - semi-comatose and incontinent. He seems paralyzed from below the waist. His semi-paralyzed wife is unable to clean him and he has multiple bed-sores. The other family members have long since given up on care for him - leaving a scared and sad mother as his only hope.

We tried getting him into a hospice. No beds available. We took a deep breath and admitted him here.

Mr. Janak was sleeping this morning when I saw him. He was under a white sheet. What he was dreaming about I do not know. We prayed for him last night, and he was looked after all night by our nurse.

This may be Mr. Janak's last day on earth. At least he is in a clean place where people care for him.

There are many 'what ifs' in Mr. Janak's life. The time to act on those is past. Many things were tried - and for various reasons they did not turn out the way we hoped they would.

But now we have a work of care to do.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Good friends

One way to know who is a good friend: if they drop in unannounced - do you rustle up something to make sure they stay for dinner - even if you have already eaten yourself.

Drs. Santosh and Vanita Matthew and their amazing kids Grace, Mark and Nancy meet that test and surpass it by a mile.

photos courtesy Dr. S.P. Matthew
- here the Matthew clan cheerfully eats our kichidi and egg bhujia!

The good doctors run the Ashok Hospital in Dahisar - and are involved in many other amazing activities. One of them is that they are home-schooling their threesome - which is still something of a novelty here in Bharat-land.

Grace and Mark are holding their own pretty well - especially with the dedicated inputs that their parents put into them - and Nancy has recently blossomed into a lovely little girl - spunky, talkative, full of fun and caught up in the whirl of whatever is going on.

We have gotten to know the Matthews as a family at the church camps over the past couple of years - and know the senior M's from their involvement in the fledgling greater Mumbai chapter of the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India.

Mathew is a fearless thinker and speaker of his mind. Always willing to learn. Always looking to see how he can serve God more. I have been deeply challenged by the way he is willing to be radical in his obedience to Jesus.

The sum of their lives can be seen in their family. What a joy to be with. Would that they were neighbours instead of living on the other side of the great urban sprawl that Mumbai is.

But then again we are deeply grateful for their stopping by - and heading off for home well after 11 PM on that fateful night last week.

Our prayer is that our next gen Matthews and Eichers will continue the pilgrimage together.

Its a great life!

Monday, 11 January 2010


While at university, a woman called Jody joined our Wednesday evening Bible-study-pot-luck. She quickly made friends with the circle, introducing herself as a missionary-kid from South Africa who had been to boarding school in Southern Germany and was studying criminal justice at a near-by college.

Over the next few months Jody became part of the church group, and told us that she was particularly interested in working with gang-related issues in New York city - and that she was often on the streets, working with gang members in negotiations, as well as working with prostitutes and street children.

After some time she also told me that she was HIV positive - and that it had happened during an emergency operation while she was in Africa - and that her parents had disowned her because of her status.

I had good friends who had gone to her boarding school in Germany and asked one of them about her. He did not seem to recognise her. When I asked Jody about my friend, she said she did not really know him.

In the middle of all of this, she applied to Yale Law School for her higher studies. Unsurprisingly, she did not make it in and was crushed. Various people counselled and encouraged her. But then came the good news. Somehow, she had been admitted over the summer. There had been a second list and she was in. Congratulations flowed.

Just before the term began, one of my flat mates - who was a professor in International Relations at Yale - wanted to contact Jody. He called up the Law School to get her number. No record of her. He followed up and contacted the professor in charge of admissions. No record. She was not admitted at all.

When confronted, she fled. Jody dropped out of our lives. It had all been a set of fabrications. I saw her once or twice in the distance after that - and she crossed the street and went in the other direction. Other church members had the same experience.

How much of what Jody said was true?

Behind every good fabrication are nuggets of truth. Jody clearly knew something about missionary kids - Black Forest Academy in Germany is hardly the most famous school in the world (word of pardon to any BFA grads out there...). Her statements about gang warfare and negotiation may have come from an interest in the area - and then more.

One semi-truth leads to another - and then another. A relentless cycle of wanting to be accepted, wanting to believe. I would imagine that Jody started believing much of what she spun out - and finally cracked when the falsehood was called. Where is she today? Where are the many whose lives are built on fabrications? Probably nestled into a new web of stories.


The last week I have been meeting 'Bill' - the Canadian man who was picked up off the street in South Mumbai in a terrible condition. He has been recuperating in a local hospital, and finds it hard to remember things. Yesterday when I met him, he told me that we had gone to a restaurant the previous day. Bill has been lying emaciated in his hospital bed for the past 5 days - waiting for his papers to be processed for Canada.

Bill has told me about his being a dentist in a small town in western Canada. As we have talked over the last week, he told me about his estranged parents, about his fathers' dental practice, about the high life he used to live, about his search for meaning and the substance and alcohol abuse that he used to dull his pain. Bill talked about taking friends on his boat and the ways that he tried to be loved by preparing hand-made pizza for them, and the disappointment at their lack of true friendship when things became tough for him. Bill told me about the loneliness of being admitted for an overdose at the hospital and how his friends had cheated him of his money. He narrated how he lived for the thank-you notes from grateful patients and how his approach to dentistry had grated with his father's more straight-laced approach.

All these stories - and so many more - while looping back to certain themes. That he was going to make a change in his life. That he was feeling paranoid. That those who were looking after him may have been doing something without him knowing.

How much was true?

I did a google search of his name and town - and found that a business partner of his was sent to jail for bilking him of $70,000. His father's name as a prominent dentist also pops up on line.

The pain seems real. Many of the details are probably true too - though the sequence of events may not fully line up.

Jody is lost. Wherever she is today - if she still is that is.

Bill is lost too - but with all the confusion of his mind - there is still hope that he can rebuild his life. It won't be soon - seeing the damage that has been done to his body, mind and spirit. It isn't a guarantee - there are no little pills that can be popped to make everything all right. But real healing and real recovery is possible.

Bill doesn't really want to go back to Canada. "I don't want to 'face the music'" he repeatedly says. His rambling comments hint at a person who desperately wants to belong, to be appreciated, to be good.

Isn't that like each one of us? The more I meet Bill, the more I see him as an everyman - and see facets of myself in his story.

Bill has been running away from truth for a long time. He has - hopefully - hit rock bottom. But how he goes forward will depend on how much truth Bill is ready to take on board.

What Bill needs most of all is to follow someone who really counts - and to hold onto a truth that is more than running away from his problems. A truth that can look the muck of reality square in the eye - and yet have to gritty hope of redemption and transcendence.

Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8.31b-34)

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Would you like to see a picture of a country on ice? Take a look at the shot of Great Britain absolutely frozen which I just grabbed off the BBC website. Remarkable satellite shot (not one of those hoaxes) makes me so glad I am in Thane at this time - with the only ice around being the ice-cubes in the fridge.

These days are about as chilly as it gets here - and we did not sleep with the fan on last night - one out of perhaps half a dozen nights in the year.

Given the huge amount of attention weather gets across societies (every second cough is explained as due to 'weather change' etc.) it is remarkable that our well built world actually regulates itself so well.

Compared to the bleak cold of most of space - interspersed with the very occasional searing furies of fire - our little blue speck is a very hospitable place. Even if large parts of the northern hemisphere (including large parts of North India) are pretty cold right now.