Sunday, 31 October 2010

Steps forward

I have seen tomorrow. And it is here.

We met tonight in the gleaming building that will start to breathe soon as the new Bethany Hospital. We met as a group of volunteers getting ready for the dedication time on the 13th of November.

Dr. Stephen Alfred and Mr. EJ Stephen - the founder and CEO of the hospital respectively - were with us. Dr. S. talked about the 400 sq ft clinic he started out with at Gokhale Rd. in Thane. Then the 2 floor Lok Hospital - which had 2 more floors added on. And now this 8+ floor compact monster. Far beyond what a single person can think - and the result of the inputs of so many - in so many ways.

We prayed and talked about how we would be shepherding the 350 odd selected folks around the new premises. We walked through the gleaming corridors - while workmen were still putting finishing (and the stage before finishing) touches on the place. How such a huge structure can take shape. The 50 odd contractors that the hospital has been working with. The massive investments in equipment and furnishings. A nuclear medicine machine so that radiation therapy can be given for people suffering from cancer. The oh-so-right logic of a ground floor casualty with operating theatre right there for A+E patients to be taken straight in from the ambulances. And hundreds and hundreds of other details.

Breath-taking. Awe-inspiring. I felt like I was walking through Star-Wars. Maybe Star-Wards?

And yet all of this is crumbling ashes if it isn't inhabited with the love of Christ. What good is it to have the most glistening facilities, the most advanced set of specialists (Pediatric Nephrologist, Pediatric Oncologist, Pediatric Neonatologist, Pediatric Nutritionist etc - and that is only in Pediatrics...) - what good are the best docs in the world - if there is no real love - no real hope.

The crashing burden of super modern medicine was brought home to me again earlier this morning as I went down to buy a loaf of bread.

A man who distributes packets of milk was lying on a newspaper. I thought he may be drunk. He wasn't. He was sick.

Murali (pseudonym of course) is from (you guessed it) the south. He has had fever and chills. Malaria parasite negative. Query dengue. No chance of hospital admissions for him. He lives here alone with some other migrants from his area. He has had tests done and has taken meds but is not better.

In fact it gets worse. Murali is trying to pay back a debt. A debt of Rs. 5 lakhs that was incurred when his diabetic father had a heart attack. The hospitalisation and surgery put the family back that much. They sold off a portion of their land. 2.5 lakhs remained to be paid back. Murali has sold off his only 'asset' he has here - his paper route. Now he works for the person he sold it to. And Murali himself is sick - with seemingly no one to help him. All I could do was sit with him and talk. Put a hand on his shoulder and pray - before he went into the bright sunshine of his day - and back to the suburb where he shares his room with others.

We live in such a grim world.

Our prayer is that the gleaming insides of the new Bethany Hospital will be able to look after Muralis - as well as those who have health insurance and company health policies. Our working funds at Jeevan Sahara Kendra come largely from the profits that the current Lok Hospital - which will be shifting into the new Bethany Hospital. We are hugely grateful for this long-standing support for our work. And we are grateful for the huge opportunity that awaits us as we seek to shift the Jeevan Sahara Kendra work to the current Lok Hospital building.

Our Lord was full of grace and truth. May we follow his footsteps with joyful loving hearts.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Lives changing lives

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons says J. Alfred Prufrock in TS Eliot's poem.

We may drink many a cuppa of 'kapi' - and many a more 'cuttings' of chai - but we use a different metric.

We measure our lives with the lives of others.

What a joy to see another remarkable set of three young man pass through Jeevan Sahara Kendra - and leave their own indelible mark.

Paokholun "Lun" Haokip, Nimit Patel, Naveen Bhambal

A mere seven months ago. So long a time it seemed in at the cusp of April. So short an eye-blink it now seems as we edge into November.

Our three friends came from the Union Biblical Seminary. They came to learn. To experience ministry among the urban poor. To get their hands dirty in roll-up-your-sleeves work with a group of people who society abhors. They did.

And now suddenly its time to say 'good-bye.'

Time to take that deep bitter-sweet breath and grasp a firm handshake, give a tight hug, and entrust each other into God's hands.
We gathered at our home on Thursday night to say farewell to our heroes. They have each one of them blessed us immensely. We miss them already - even though they physically leave us only on Monday.

Looking back we are again amazed by what they have added to us this year. The whole process of starting HIV testing camps in local churches came through their sweat work. The amazing time at the Positive Friends Family Bible camp. The new set of worship songs that Naveen took us through.

Besides the sadness we also reveled in hilarity. An amazing game where we tested the depths of how much we knew our special three brought gales of laughter from one and all.

A sobering but challenging message from the Word: God having prepared us and placed us in the unique situations that we are 'for such a time as this' (Esther 4.14). We are not here by accident. There is a huge amount of work to be done. The stakes are sky-high. Literally. And if we do not... well, God can raise up someone else too. The universe does not revolve around us. We are privileged to move forward as part of the amazing set of work the Spirit is doing across the world.

The flip side - something that our friends understand well - is that not everyone always appreciates radical people. Lun, Nimit and Naveen are all headed for pastoral ministry. How many of their committee members want their pastors to talk about HIV and AIDS. Wouldn't they rather have them organise the Christmas pageant and arrange the prayers for young children in their exam times?

We measure our lives with lives. Lives that are shaped and moulded through the fire. Lives that change other lives.

We are humbled to have been a small part in shaping Lun, Nimit and Naveen. Where will they go now? 1.5 more years of seminary - and then out into the world of almost infinite destiny-shaping opportunities. At least in this generation we will be dealing with HIV throughout our lives. They are well equipped to be the servant leaders to help their congregations make a difference.

Our blessings on you three! We miss you already!

Misery Road

We got an email. A cry for help.

A lady who we met at the EMFI conference in Ranchi told us about a Tamil girl who was in Mumbai and had gotten into trouble and did not have a home.

The email said that she was staying at "Misery Road"

Sheba contacted the phone number and was able to talk to the girl. We will call her Mallika.

She is currently being put up with friends of friends of friends in a place called "Mira Road"

But she certainly is living in "Misery Road"

Mallika was sold when she was 9 years old. Her story is very dark. She has seen and experienced some of the worst things that anyone can experience.

A few years ago she was 'rescued' from the notorious brothels of Kamathipura by a pioneering social worker. Then started a long set of shufflings between different organisations. She has been up and down the country, trying to make a life. Currently she has burned some bridges with the latest institution that has been trying to help her.

Oh that we could have an orange button to press and make every thing work out right. Some magic wand to wave over a person and erase the past and make the present perfect.

Not going to happen.

Instead we join the chain of people who have been trying to help Mallika make a new life. Our involvement is small. Listening to her. Praying with her. Seeing what options she has now. Looking to see which of our friends can take the next steps in partnering with her. To move her out of 'Misery Road' and walk with her - for some distance at least - along the road of Hope. To see her come to a place on her pilgrimage where she is more and more of a blessing to herself and to others.

A broken and contrite heart, Oh God, you will not despise...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Welcome the little children

A little premature, underweight baby girl was abandonned at a mission hospital in North India. A nurse from the Nav Jivan Hospital was attending a training at that hospital. She heard about the abandoned child and asked her husband whether they could adopt the baby. He said yes. The nurse was Prabha. Her husband Christochit.

And so little Anushka was adopted by Christochit and Prabha Kerketta.

We are so glad for this couple - who we used to work together with in the community health department of Nav Jeevan Hospital. It is a special joy to us that we helped facilitate them getting married to each other while we were working at Nav Jivan Hospital 10 years ago.

And we are so glad for the lovely little girl - who is growing into a spunky chubby child.

By God's grace and a bit of nudging with the hospital authorities, Prabha was given maternity leave after adopting the baby - something that had not been done before.

It was just a thrill to see this beautiful child having grown and developed so much since we first saw her last year.

As with all of us - Christo and Prabha have their limitations - who among us fit the bill of 'perfect parents' - but what wonderful carers they have been to Anushka!

We are so proud of families who open up their arms for children. Adoptions, foster care, being hospitable, providing a safe place - for a day - for a month - any of these steps always means stepping outside our comfort zones. But oh what oportunities to experience the Father heart of God.

Being the son of an adoptee - and the brother of another - I can totally and unequivocally say - let there be more. We need to see the lonely into families.

Christo and Prabha are among the many unsung heroes who are showing the way. With God's grace and help they should not - and we pray they will not - be the exception. Lets open our arms out wide....

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Memento mori

I was just getting used to people not dying.

We had gone by for almost 2 months without a death.

Now we have had three of them.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

One man had a horrible side-effect to his anti-retroviral drugs. Tragically he did not take it seriously - thinking everything would work out ok. He ended up on a ventilator - and then he was just too weak. A tragic wasted life.

Another man was brought to us with severe seizures. He had been hiding his HIV status for years - and was even asked by sympathetic church leaders about it - but he denied having HIV. We were unable to care for his severe situation in our set up and so had to refer him to the main government hospital. He died.

Probably most unexpectedly was a Nepali lady who we have known for some time. She was on ART but since she has HIV2 - which is not very susceptible to the normal HIV meds - she was getting her medication from an organisation called MSF. She died in a road accident. She was crossing a busy intersection (just 300 m from our office) when a motorcycle knocked her down into the path of a bus. A section she had probably crossed hundreds of times before. Spot death. ART does not protect you from rash driving.

3 lives gone. It leaves a hole in us. People that we knew at various levels.

How faint the outlines of our lives are - how thin of skein stretches across the door-step to eternity.

Memento mori.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Falling sick, falling into poverty

A sobering thought.

A huge number of people are made poor each year in our country because of hospitals.

I think I heard a figure like 4 million a year during the EMFI conference in Ranchi. That figure sounds too high - but whatever the real figure is - the fact is that every year people slip into poverty through their encounter with the money-heavy medical profession.

How does this happen?

A person falls sick. They get rushed to the hospital. The hospital makes them give a deposit for admission. The treatment takes place. The bill comes. It is in the thousands of rupees. The family pays up. In order to pay they liquidate their assets. Or borrow money from money-lenders. Or both. This drives them into poverty. This happens over and over again. The doctor/hospital administrator says that all of this is not their business - they are providing a life saving service.

Driving to the Nav Jeevan Hospital from Ranchi, I was talking to Dr. Arpit Mathew - currently serving as a surgeon at Robert Hospital, Shillong. He told me a chilling story (I may have missed some of the details, but the core of what Arpit told me is here):

A man had been treated from a rural mission hospital. The (heavily discounted) amount that was finally to be paid was Rs. 1500. The family paid up. As he was being discharged he was asked how he got the money.

"From the money lender"

"What will the interest be?"

"1 rupee for every 10 rupees - per month"

"But that is 10% per month! How can you repay this?"

"I cannot"

"What will happen if you do not repay?"

"I will have to work on the field of the money-lender till I repay the amount"

The conversation continued and the man told the doctor that this was a good thing. By working on the field he was guaranteed a meal every day.

How heart-breaking to know that our country still sees not only the worst gut-wrenching poverty - but the willing submission into serfdom (slavery) - because of the desire for the basic necessity of food.

There are no easy answers for these issues - but at least some doctors are trying to make a difference through low-cost effective care. Their heart-breaks are the hope that we have for change in our country.

Thank God for a few who are putting their lives in the gap. May their tribe increase!

Friday, 22 October 2010


Life is a journey. Over the last month this has been quite evident for us as we have had a burst of travels - including a trip down to Vellore and Chennai for me - followed by a weekend camp at Igatpuri as a family - and then the next week travelling to Ranchi and our old hospital in Palamu District.
The highway down the hill from Igatpuri - looking out the window of John and Nalini's car

We have travelled in so many modes - by car, train, bus, auto-rickshaw, jeep, airplane... We have travelled alone and together - and the journeys have been all the sweeter by the shared conversations with old friends.

And what sights we have seen. The photo below is not taken at 9000 m altitude - but at about 200 m altitude - while driving down the ghats to Thane from Igatpuri - shot out of the window of a moving car!

Our most recent travel was the epic trip to Jharkhand. A flight from Mumbai to Ranchi (via Patna). 4 days in Ranchi at the EMFI conference. Then a 120 km drive to the Nav Jeevan Hospital in Palamu Dist. 2 nights and a day there. Then the same drive back to Ranchi and a shot through the sky back to Mumbai.
We hit Ranchi at the peak of the Dasserah festival - and drove by a large open space where the images were being readied for the night bonfire.

The road side bazaars looked just the same from 10 years ago. Perhaps without the bicycles and motorbikes it would be the same for 100 years ago too.

Green fields also look age-old. Except that they are not. So much of the rice planting is from the last few decades. Previously people used to plant more hardy dry-land crops like millets. The shift over to a rice-based cultivation - and diet - is still relatively new - and we really do not know what the effects of this nutritional shift really are - especially on the poor.

Lives flashed by. Three children walking home from school. An old man sitting by the wayside. The overloaded jeeps with people and produce heading for a market.

As we came to the forested belt we saw fewer people. The tropical decidous forest of Sal and Teak took over the landscape.

A sobering sight was a small cross in the jungle between Chandwa and Latehar. About 3 years ago a group of Maoists killed a Roman Catholic priest on this spot - waylaying the vehicle that he was travelling in. The fact that there is a low-grade war going on was clear with armed policemen manning fortified pickets in all of the main bazaar towns.

As we passed through one forested stretch we saw a man on the road and an over turned motorbike. Another man was with him. Was it a set-up? The thought went through my mind.

We decided to stop. A more qualified set of helpers you could not ask for: out stepped a general surgeon (Arpit Mathew), a medicine specialist (Philip Finney) and an orthopaedic surgeon (Kenny David) - who specialises in spinal injuries. In the van were an aneasthetist (Leejia Philip), an Family Medicine dr. (Sheba), a public health specialist (moi), a dentist (Aji) and an MBBS doctor to round it off.

The man was checked for broken bones - none. He was semi conscious with blood coming from his nose. Another motorbike stopped and the man was recognised. Both bikes were actually policemen. They called their pickets to report the accident. We offered to put the man in our vehicle - but they wanted to take their man in their own. After stabilising the injured man and being assured that it was ok to move on we did.

Kenny David making one of his hilarious points... just about to let out a guffaw

The trip from Ranchi to Nav Jivan hospital was replete with raucous laughter as we held forth on 'the olden days' when we all had worked at Nav Jivan Hospital. It was also seen through a number of new eyes - Philip and Leejia Finney's two sons Vinay and Rohan were making the trip for the first time.

Philip and Rohan take charge in the front of the vehicle
Sadly Leejia and Vinay were car-sick the whole way up to Nav Jivan Hospital - and back. The 120 kms over bumpy bumpy roads is not easy for anyone. It took us over 4 hours each way.

But for those of us blessed to not be car-sick... what better than the wind through our hair as the vehicle dodges on-coming traffic big and small!

How strange to have this earth-bound crawl bracketed by a shot through the skies.

To be in an airplane remains such a thrill for me. My family is slowly taking to the skies - Asha took to this trip because of the joys of a mini-TV in front of her.

Enoch still holds my hand tightly at take-off and doesn't want to look out the window - but is earning his wings too.
Sheba is no friend of invisible air-pockets.

To be 10 kms above the ground - flying at a ground-speed of almost 1000 kms/hr in sub-zero temperature - to see the glorious clouds from above - what a miracle!

Our flight back took us less than 2 hours, flying from the Eastern part of our country to the West coast.

Landing in Mumbai at 6.30 PM.

We had the memories of sun-lit clouds in our mind - as we ground through bumper-to-bumper traffic in muggy Mumbai. The taxi took over 2 hours to get back to Thane - longer than the flight from Ranchi!

Life is a journey.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Ranchi ho!

Going to Ranchi. My mind goes back almost 3 decades ago 28 years to when I ventured out on my first real 'journey' - a trip from Bombay to Ranchi.

I was a callow 13 year-and-a-few-odd-months-old. Those were the days before there were direct trains from Bombay to Ranchi. I took a train to Patna. Then was supposed to be picked up at the railway station by someone from OM and put on the bus the next morning.

It was the days before mobiles. The days when even phones were scarce.

No one came to meet me at the railway station. I ended up sleeping the night on the platform. The next morning I took the first bus down to Ranchi.

The thrill of travelling on my own. Of exploring things and making decisions. The joy (and relief) of making it safely to people who love you.


Tomorrow we head off to Ranchi in a very different fashion. As a family we will be flying with Kingfisher Red from Mumbai to Patna and then on to Ranchi. Leaving Mumbai 11.40 AM - arriving in Ranchi at 3 PM. To do it all in so short a time...

We are off to the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India's National Conference - held once every 2 years. This time Sheba has been asked to share her story on one of the evenings. We are also hoping to meet budding doctors and interns and tell them about the opportunities at the expanding work at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

And then there is the matter of meeting so many old friends. And making new ones of course. And going up to our old hospital - Nav Jeevan Hospital - which will be kicking off its 50th anniversary celebrations with an all-campus dinner and a special chapel on the morning of the 18th which we and some of the old stalwarts of yester-year will be attending.

Ranchi - here we come! This week is going to be a dream...

Monday, 11 October 2010

Living life abundantly...

There is only so much we can do in a camp. But then again - there is SO MUCH we can do in a camp.
you just can't argue with a view like this!

Getting away from the day-to-day struggle. Taking time to be quiet - to listen and to learn. Living together, eating together, playing together and praying together. 86 people. HIV positive and negative. Youngish and oldish. Rich and poor.

We were blessed to have old friends of Jeevan Sahara - Sam and Margaret Thomas come along with us.

Sam explored relationships with us. Looking at the giving Father heart of God through the story of the man with two sons. And helping us recognise our own 'younger brother' and 'older brother' lostness - and the 'foundness' that emenates from Father's embrace.

We explored the life of David - going through the terrible tragedy of the selfish decisions which lead to death in his family. Sam led us to see David's failures as a husband and a father - and recognise our own selves in his story. Oh that we will learn - and not go through those dark valleys. At the same time, we also looked at the way that David's heart was tender to God and open for change. We saw our own brokeness and the hope of real reconciliation.

The two days of the camp were chock-full of activity and joy. Its always great to sing songs of praise to our wonderful Creator and Redeemer!

The kids (and there were many) had a superb time with Peter and Daisy Chettiar and their team. They discovered the life of Ruth and Boaz through activities and games and songs. A major theme for them was on 'friendships' - with lots of activities around that too. These kids are full of energy - we saw plenty of in the frenetic way the carromed around the beautiful Satyagiri Retreat Centre. "Why walk when you can run?" seemed to be the kids unspoken but constantly implemented motto.

I have a feeling that the good Fathers who run the institution were slightly bemused but the noise levels (what is the fun with running without shouting?) - but they were too kind hearted to bring it up to our notice.

Sheba discussing the life of Ruth and Naomi with our ladies group

How do we live the abundant life - especially in the particular situations that we are facing? We used specific small groups to help unpack this. Sheba led a group of single ladies - all who have lost their husbands - through the amazing stories of Naomi and Ruth. As always - when you dig deep into something you are blessed as you are a blessed - which was Sheba's experience with the sessions she held with these dear ladies.

The camp was enriched by the new generation of young people. And they in turn were enriched by having John and Nalini Gabriel spend one on one and small group sessions with them.

For marrieds we had Sam and Margaret Thomas walking our couples through the practical ways that we can grow together, communicate, and forgive.

And it wasn't all serious stuff either - there was plenty of fun too with some hilarious games. Not surprisingly the loudest laughs were there when the couples competed with each other...
... or helped each other out - like the game where one of the partners had to walk on pieces of paper placed forward by the other.

In between so many conversations. Cups of tea. Meals shared together.
Late night talks in the rooms. Times spent together in prayer. Opportunities to be in community. To be in a place and a time of community.

All of this made possible through the hard work of the JSK team who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure everything clicked. Transport was organised. The food was served. The materials were ready. The many, many little details looked after. Kudos to the whole team!

Our only regrets: that some of the families we counted on to participate were unable to come at the last moment - and that our camp had an end!

We left the beauty of Igatpuri with memories...

There is only so much we can do in a camp. But then again - there is SO MUCH we can do in a camp.

Morning walk

Many of our Positive Friends have never left their homes on anything else than a medical emergency or some (generally onerous) family repsonsibility.

What a privilege to be with them in a place of beauty.

We took a small walk yesterday to the reservoir at Igatpuri.

Dawn had broken. Low-lying clouds rested on the tops of the surrounding hills. The crisp cool was mirrored in carpets of dew-beaded green grass on all side.

So totally different from the concrete jungle we live in.

We walked out - women and children - the occasional man with us too - gaping at the spectacle around us.
These are precious slices of beauty - ones that will be nested in the hearts of our dear friends.

It was fitting that it was a Sunday morning - and what else could we do but praise our living God.

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins (1877)

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Precious cargo

This afternoon a very special bus brought back an amazing group of people back to Thane. A good 50 odd JSK staff, positive friends and their family members.

Here are some of the kids.

Each one such a bundle of energy. Why walk when you can run?

Each one totally unique. Shaped in different ways from each other. Facing many challenges as they grow up. Many have come face to face with sickness and death from their very earliest days.

Each bearing the finger-prints of an amazing loving God who has shaped them and made them very special.

Our future. A great beacon of hope. Rough diamonds. Due to face an on-going life of challenge. But in each of them the potential to be a world-shakers. In the whole group the opportunity to see a different future written.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Less than a day away - 3 days with perhaps up to 100 people - most positive. A camp for families. For singles. For widows. A camp where we are all family.


I was bone tired last night. Crushingly, numbingly so. Somewhere in the haze of going to sleep I remember phone calls going off. Sheba talking. Myself asleep. Then waking up to hear Sheba tell me that Mr. and Mrs. Washim's house was wrecked.

We knew it may be coming. Mr. and Mrs. Washim had called up earlier in the day to say that the police were patrolling - criss-crossing the area in their vehicles while talking with each other on walkie-talkies.

The area we are talking about?

A stretch of land next to one of the main water-pipelines that supply the thirsty city of Mumbai. A no-man's land. A strip of land on the current margins - where people have built shacks.

Mr. and Mrs. Washim earn their living by Mr. Washim's auto-rickshaw driving. They do not want to live there. But they have to rent somewhere. And the prices are just too high in other places. So they paid their deposit and moved to this shack last year.

Last evening the hut was destroyed. The mechanised shovels went in and smashed it to bits.

Mr. and Mrs. Washim spent the night outside with their belongings. Their three children were sent to stay with a relative. Mrs. Washim called Sheba at 11 PM.

Being HIV positive is not the only challenge that Mr. and Mrs. Washim face. Having an HIV positive daughter among their 3 kids is not the only sorrow in their heart.

They are homeless. Last night they slept under the grey sky, next to the mosquito infested swamp where their shack stood. This morning they will try to find a new place. Their 'deposit' is only due back at the end of the month.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

The Lords of Poverty

A friend of mine who has even less hair than I do - and who drives a insanely expensive bicycle around the National Capital Area countryside - often relays posts from a wickedly funny man - Dr. Alden Kurtz.

Dr. Kurtz runs the global development organisation Hand Relief International. They describe themselves on their site as: "a cutting-edge humanitarian organization fully committed to saving lives everywhere the donor penny is available"

If you haven't twigged on by now that this guy is as fake as they come... then you may have a great future in the 'development industry.'

"Kurtz" - whoevever he/she is clearly knows his stuff. Even the name has undertones - think the original 'Kurtz' from Joseph Conrad's "The Heart of Darkness" and of course the 'Kurtz' in Apocalpse Now.

But what sets him/her apart is the blatant cynicism wrapped up in sugar-coated development-jargon-smothered 'insights.' The barbed comments are so shockingly close to the whole wooly web of words that the "humanitarian industry" cloaks itself with - that you have keep pinching yourself to remember that the person is spinning fiction. He/she has clearly been / or is at the hub of one or more of the big players in the global development circus - and so knows his/her stuff. The fiction is probably more likely at least 'faction' - if not 'fact' gift-wrapped in dripping sarcasm.

The good Dr. even shows up on other people's websites and makes comments - like this one - while staying in character.

Thankfully this inspired person is not alone. We have the joy of the marvellously faux site for a group calling itself the International Network for Enabling Poverty Development - which yields a delcious acronym: INEPD. Do click on to their site - it is top notch for concocting a potent mix of the real and the surreal - just like so many who are out there asking for funds for their work.

All of this has been said before. By Graham Hancock in his searing book The Lords of Poverty. Besides being an insiders tattle-tale book about just how bizarre the international aid community can be (told with a little too much spleen at times if I can remember rightly), our friend Hancock chooses to preface it with this poem:

The development set
Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet
I'm off to join the Development Set;

My bags are packed, and I've had all my shots

I have traveller's checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble

Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;

Although we move with the better classes

Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations

We damn multi-national corporations;
injustice seems easy to protest

In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks

And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.

Whether Asian floods or African drought,

We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution

Raises difficulties for every solution --
Thus guaranteeing continued good eating

By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set

Stretches the English alphabet;

We use swell words like "epigenetic"

"Micro", "macro", and "logarithmetic"

It pleasures us to be esoteric --

It's so intellectually atmospheric!

And although establishments may be unmoved,

Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you're feeling numb,

You can keep your shame to a minimum:

To show that you, too, are intelligent
Smugly ask, "Is it really development?"

Or say, "That's fine in practice, but don't you see:
It doesn't work out in theory!"

A few may find this incomprehensible,
But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,

Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.

Eye-level photographs subtly assure
That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses - on with the mission!

Our task is as broad as the human condition!
Just pray god the biblical promise is true:

The poor ye shall always have with you.

- Ross Coggins

Now a little bit about my own small journey into the 'charitable sector.'

I remember showing up for my first classes in International Health at my MPH programme at teh Yale School of Public Health. The professor was a very senior and seemingly avuncular fellow who had more consultancies under his belt with WHO and other such high-level agencies that you could swing a cat at.

The class was deeply disappointing to me.

I cannot remember hearing a single positive statement about development. About change. Not one. All I heard was negative running-down of what seemed to be any possible public health interventions. I almost packed up and went home after that particular class. The question that was forming in me was "why are you telling us this - if this has been your bread and butter all these years?"

Once I was done with that class, I learned to avoid that particular prof like the plague. And I sub-consciously stepped away from anything that dealt with macro-level policy-kind of interventions.

I was saved by the genial and truly kind figure of Dr. Jekel. Yes - that is his real name. It sounds a lot like 'Dr. Jekyl' - but is Dr. James F. Jekel to be precise. And what a blessing he was. A warm and honest man - Dr. Jekel loved people and was involved in setting up and monitoring programmes in various places around the world - and seeing real results take place - besides conducting reams of studies of issues like teen pregnancies in the 3 decades of professional work at Yale and writing a widely used text on Epidemiology.

The other thing that has kept me going has been to see the fruits of people who have invested themselves in others. Many of them have done so because of their faith in Christ - and desire to serve Him by serving others. They have often been considered unfashionable at best, with further opinions starting at 'narrow-minded' and proceeding downwards. But what these usually unsung heroes (and heroines) have showed me is that it is possible to take a cold hard look at the brokenness and deception of humanity - and still do good work. That there is real hope available - though many times the hoped for results do not show up as quickly (and certainly not as easily) as we hope. Some of these heroes are doing things that only eternity will be able to recount.

Despite the crass misuse of development by so many - we still believe that change is possible. And that's part of the reason why we do what we do at Jeevan Sahara. Many times we hardly see anything 'dramatic' - but we know that we are in this for the long haul. Just like God in His mercy continues to do his work of transformation in our own lives.


Home. We all long for it.

I was away from the family for a mere 80 hours last week. Its been a long time since I did some serious wandering. The time in Vellore was superb - filled chock-a-block with meeting old pals - and making a serious number of new ones. But a significant part of my inner geography was questing for Sheba and Asha and Enoch.

And what a sweet joy to step out of the lift at 11.30 PM and see the poster waiting for me. Then to ring the bell and dissolve into the embraces of my lovely ladies (Enoch had nodded off some time before - so his embraces were received the next morning).

We long for home. We have a hunger to belong. To be safe. To be secure.

Even if we don't experience it to the level that I am tasting it at this point - the very nature of this soft ache points us towards the reality of a true home. We may be a third-culture kid who has roamed the world and is looking for roots. Or we may be a person who has lived in one place all their life - and yet knows that there must be more than what we experience - something / some place of complete acceptance - a place of true rest.

A certain sage called Phil B once took us through a Bible study where he talked about how Jesus become home-less, so that we could find our way home. As humanity we have wandered far away - and yet eternity still rests in our hearts - pushing us towards our home with God if we will listen - if we will accept the loving hand of a man who did not have a place to lay his head - but who has gone to prepare a place for us.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Welcome to the city

Dinesh has TB. He has HIV too. He is 26 years old.

15 years ago, all of 11, Dinesh ran away from his home. Ran away from his handicapped father and illiterate mother. Ran away from the village where his parents live. Ran to the city.

As with many young boys - working in one of the many grubby eateries offered a place for Dinesh to get some food and a place to sleep. This has been his life since then.

Behind the glittering spires of swanky Mumbai town are the myriad lives like Dinesh who have come to make a better life. The better so quickly shades into the bitter.

Somewhere along the way Dinesh got HIV. Was it from a girlfriend or a prostitute? Was he abused himself? Did he experiment with other men? We don't know at this point - and though we will eventually help Dinesh explore his risk history - at this point we want to get him onto TB treatment - and assess him to see how far the HIV has damaged his immunity.

Meanwhile, on tonight's incoming trains another set of "Dineshes" will be entering Mumbai. Fueled by our 8% + growth rate. Fueled by hope of a better life. Some with contacts they hope to pursue. Some pursued by fear.

Tonight a few more boys will be added to the unending sprawl of greater Mumbai Urban Agglomoration - over 16 million strong in the census a decade ago. The vast urban stretch that is Mumbai will creak a little more. Most of the boys will meld into the shadows. A few like Dinesh will come in contact with people who care.

Growing up in Mumbai I had a blast. It was a city full of nooks and crannies to explore. Vendours selling old coins at Colaba. Red double-decker busses taking me along Marine Drive with the wind blowing in my face as we looked out the front windows on the upper deck. Cycle tours into the quiet greenery of Borivali National Park.

But then again I was so amazingly blessed to have loving parents who cared for me. To have a lifestyle that is inconceivable to a boy like Dinesh.

Being in the city now is less of a joy. The rosy glasses are off and the sheer horribleness of these fetid mess that we inhabit lingers longer. I certainly don't have many big answers to the issues of our urban blight, but I do know that the more we befriend Dinesh the better. As we step out of our comfort zone and participate in the lives of other 'Dineshes' we can see some changes take place. Our prayers together, our acts of service and mercy, our living life intentionally can and will shape the destinies of so many. And yet as we look we see so few being partnered with in these ways.

Press on.