Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Tuesday evening meeting

Every Tuesday night we go up to a small room. Three flights of stairs. Sometimes without a light in the stairwell. Its a 2 room appartment with only one window.

Asha and Enoch arrive at home at 6.45 PM. We quickly swap their uniforms for normal clothes and bustle them down, catch an autorickshaw and end up in Manorama Nagar - one of the large shantytown areas of Thane.

The room that we meet inin better shape than the shacks around it - but not by too much. It is brick and concrete. It is on the 3rd floor of a 5 floor "illegal" appt. building (as are all in this area). The room got a coat of fresh paint this week - so it is not as dingy as it used to be. But no real window. No ventilation. Par for the course for so many of our urban dwellers.

And yet this is where we gather to learn about the son of a carpenter - the man who was also the Son of God. We are reading the Gospel according to Luke. The amazing person of Jesus shines through. We read and pray and see how His life shapes ours. How our brokeness and rejection of Him is countered in His love and embrace - as well as His desire that we repent and change.

The small group that gathers are exactly the people Jesus would have been hanging out with. Frail and foolish. Wrapped up in cares. Clinging on to life. Probably half are HIV positive too. But that is not the rallying point on this night. We are here to hear about this man Jesus. We are here to measure our own brokeness by his completeness - and see our hearts moulded into His.

We talked about temptation. The constant choices we have to make. The real, very real benefits that are directly angled our way. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. Yet he had 40 solid days of anguish as our enemy sought to defeat him through every possible means. And at the root of it is this slippery thing called temptation - the bait to switch our loyalties from what we know is right - to what we is suggested we should have. Ditching our trust that God will look after us - and grabbing things in our own hands.

After the time together we talked with our brothers and sisters. One of the men lives nearby and had been bringing his autorickshaw home and was met by Shanti and told to join in. He talked about how he just does not have peace - that all day he is just struggling to get by - and that every free moment is spent worrying about what to do. And the rest of the time he is just waiting to explode in anger. We prayed together.

Afterwards I talked to another man. He asked for prayer. For India to win in cricket against Pakistan in the semi-finals of the World Cup. We laughed. I think he was serious. We talked that there were Jesus-followers in Pakistan who were probably praying this same for their team. If we do pray for cricket, it will be that the match will be a beautiful one.

We decided to walk home - about a 20 min walk through the slum - the road taking us up a hill and over the main highway to the next rise where our appartment is. We buy some tomatoes on the way. As we move down towards the highway a familar face emerges. "What are you doing here?" asks our scooter mechanic and insists that we stop in and see him room. We do. The four of us in the 8 x 10 foot room that his family of four live in. Parallel lives to us. Two kids. Girl and boy. In 4th and 2nd standards. We are given cashews and manage to escape tea only because it was so late at night. We leave a portion of Scripture with the man as we say our good-byes.

As we pass a neighbours home I see a lady who is a security guard at the local supermarket.

The world is alive with God's precious people. Its a privilege to live this life.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Roadside shack

One of the many things our dear friend John Forbes did when he visited us 2 weeks ago was to squeeze in a small visit to one of our most challenging Positive Friends.

Bali (as we will call him) lives in a shack on the side of the road just 100 meters from the JSK clinic. Its a pitiful contraption of old boards banged together - abutting a tree that juts out into the road.

pic. by John Forbes

The last few years seem to have been spent in a haze of alcohol. And that has been our experience with him for most of the 4 months that our JSK team has been ministering to him. Either he is drunk. Or his brother. Or his mother. Or all three.

Having HIV in this situation is not easy. We found out that Bali was suffering from TB too. The govt. health authorities initially balked at our request that he be started on anti-TB meds. But our staff persuaded. And so we were given his box of meds to give him every other day.

Our staff have gone the extra mile with Bali. And then some.

Given the chaotic situation in his 'house' it is not surprising that Bali has hardly been eating. TB robs people of their appetite. And Bali's mother and brother hardly brought food. Instead they repeatedly cursed him. Bali was weak and bed-ridden. We looked into possibilities for putting him in an institution - but nothing opened up.

Our staff and different volunteers kept meeting Bali. They spent time with him. They cooked food and brought it to him. They prayed and encouraged him. They listened and agonised about how best to help. Despite the food our staff has been giving Bali's weight was going down. Did he have malaria? The shack had a cloud of mosquitos. The bed was filthy. Bali had not had a bath... since when?

Each day brought a new distressing report. What were we going to do. It all seemed pretty hopeless.

Needless to say - Bali was also deeply depressed.

Early last week we decided to take him into the JSK Clinic as a day patient. Forget about his mother and brother's 'help' - we would try and do what we could.

Peter went to tell him about being admitted during the day. Bali refused. "What will I do there all day? And after that? I have to come back here. I am better here."

Those were the words spoken by Bali.

But what he was really saying is: "I am tired of all of this and don't want to carry on." The voice was his but the words were his depression and hopelessness speaking.

We persevered. That afternoon Peter went again. The next morning a small team went and put Bali in a wheel-chair and brought him to the centre. Giri gave him a haircut and a bath. A set of clean clothes on, Bali was admitted for the day. Our staff continued to talk with him. At the end of the day he was wheeled back to the shack.

Over the past week we are seeing a different Bali.

There are still challenges, but he has opened up.

He told Sheba about a childhood experience where he was rounded up on the suspicion of being a thief. He was placed in a 'remand' home and beaten so badly, that when he was finally released he vowed to fulfill what he had been accused of.

Bali told Sheba about the constant abuse that he got from his mother and brother. She prayed with him. Amazingly the last 3 days of the week went by without him being cursed by his near (and dear?).

Bali looks a different person now. But he still has HIV. His TB status is now sputum negative (big cheer!). But he still has many challenges - and is still immobile in his shack. He does have hope in Jesus. He has not touched the bottle for some time now. He has made some steps forward in his life.

The complexities of this man's life are a small picture of the teeming whirlpool of people who eddy through our vast grimy cityscapes. Each has so many stories. Most of them locked down under layers and layers of sadness. Or boisterous street-smart mannerisms.

We are far from the end of Bali's quest. We have been through some deep waters with him over the past month. But after a long time we do see some light instead of only darkness.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Urban dairy

Sheba visited a home yesterday.

If you can call it a home.

The family keep water buffaloes. Four of them. Urban dairy farmers.

Last week Mrs. Handi (as we will call her) asked for prayer. A buffalo was sick. Not giving the milk that she normally does.

The family lives on a little platform - a loft of sorts - above the buffaloes. Father and mother both have HIV. One of the 5 children have HIV too. The platform has no walls. It is open on all sides. This is where these 5 children are growing up.

We remember our Lord who was born in a stable - and whose parents were too poor to purchase a lamb...

Mr. Handi was not there when Sheba visited. The oldest daughter's marriage has been fixed for May. He had gone to buy some clothes. Whether these were for the daughter - or for some ceremony before hand was not clear.

Sheba talked with Mrs. Handi. This small woman talks so softly you can hardly hear her. There is much sorrow in her life. Much of it revolves around her husband and his drowning of his own self in alcohol. We have seen Mrs. Handi open up ever-so-slowly over the past few weeks. Something deep is taking place within her. We continue to pray for her.

Sheba asked about the buffalo. It seems it is fine now.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Change the world - through Art

Today is World TB Day. In Delhi a show of paintings seeks to bring the forgotten face - and faces - of tuberculosis to light - to those in power and authority - both in the government and business communities - as well as to all of us who are made in the image of God and are placed on this planet to make a difference.

The Spirit of Life - by Soni Singh

Stefan has been speaking about this to the press with the Times of India and the Indian Express carrying stories today.

"I talked to a man whose children were about the same age as my children. After the conversation he took off his mask and he was a completely different man. My painting is a reflection of how masks is a banner that separates on human being from another" Stefan said in the Indian Express article.

What next for these amazing artists who are changing the world - one picture at a time?

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A glimpse

I have an image in my head.

Its over a month old, but it pops up again and again.

There is a small woman who is destitute and lives on the street near our appartment building.

We will call her 'Tanya.' We have helped out this lady in various ways. While out on the street in late 2008 she was helped by JSK to give birth to her daughter. We then worked to get Tanya reunited with her daughter after the baby was placed in a home by a set of social workers.

Later, after much effort, our staff were able to get Tanya and her baby into a home for women and childre. After an initially hopeful time, we saw things disintegrate and Tanya show up in her previous spot again. Her child was used to gain sympathy - and she got a trickle of gifts from appartment-dwellers upset to see the small child on the street again. Tanya had burned her bridges with the institution and was unwilling to step into other situations. She was going to stay where she was. Our final step was to have her agree to let the daughter go back to the institution Tanya had left. Many tears.

Since then we see her pottering about. Collecting garbage. Talking to herself.

Tanya has a husband who has abandonned her. She has an older son who is being looked after by the husbands family. Each time I see her she seems to have shrunken a little bit more. The constant stab of the vast sea of misery is present in this waif-like woman.

And here is the image in my mind.

I was walking by the spot where Tanya stays, and saw that she was not alone.

She was lying on her back, with her head in the lap of a young boy. Maybe 12 years old. He was holding her. She was reaching out her hand and touching him. Hugging him. The boy allowing his mother to touch him. The tiny dirty woman now childlike, with her son though young in years now cradling her with motherly affection.

A glimpse of a small ray of light in a very muddled life.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

New Hope

Jagdish came to the Jeevan Sahara Kendra last week.

We had had a brief email correspondance and a telephone chat with Jagdish and encouraged him to come to the JSK Clinic.

He came.

Jagdish has known that he is HIV positive for the last 8 years. He is smart, well-educated and articulate.

His wife Neeta was also tested. Without her knowledge. She is also HIV positive. Jagdish did not tell her about her status.

For the last 5 years Jagdish has been running pillar to post trying to get treatment and a cure. He has been taking Neeta to a doctor who has treated her with Anti-Retroviral Medication for 4 years without telling her that she has HIV. Jagdish told her that she is 'weak' and needs to take this medicine everyday. He has also gone to various places which promised cures. One hospital in Andheri gave her 5 injections they said would cure her - and took Rs. 10,000/ for their 'treatment.'

Neeta is very depressed. Jagdish wanted us to treat her again without telling her what her status was. He said that she is illiterate and will not be able to take the shock.

We told him that we cannot treat people without telling the truth. We told him that Jesus has told us that 'the truth will set us free.' We told him about many others who were able to understand their condition even though they did not have much education. We told him that we would pray for them as a couple.

The next day Jagdish and Neeta came.

She was small and shrunken. When Sheba asked her what she felt, Neeta talked about how sad she was that they did not have a house of their own. A long conversation followed and the topic of HIV was brought up. Sister Chinnamma and Sheba were able to build a relationship with the couple. They listened and listened as the story of their lives was shared. They prayed with the couple.

Jagdish and Neeta both agreed to be tested together. As they left Jagdish looked visibly happier.

The next day the couple returned. We had the results in hand. As expected, both were HIV positive.

Sheba shared the result with Neeta in the presence of Jagdish. After giving her some time to digest the news, Sheba asked Neeta what she felt about this news. After a short silence Neeta burst out crying. "Why did you keep this hidden from me?" she asked Jagdish through the tears. "I wanted to tell you" said Jagdish, "but I was afraid about how you would react."

There is no easy way to disclose. But we were blessed to be able to help Jagdish and Neeta take a very important step in their lives together.

The next day the couple visited us again. This time to participate in a special meeting we had with John Forbes. John has known he is HIV positive since 1995 and was diagnosed with AIDS in 2001. His amazing life-story - one of brokeness and redemption is a powerful example of what God can do. He shared his story with our JSK staff and selected Positive Friends on Friday.

After the meeting Jagdish and Neeta went up to meet John.

"We have found new hope" they told John. "Before we came here, we did not know what to do, but we have received love and hope."

Its a privilege to walk along side our dear friends. Jagdish and Neeta still have a long road ahead of them, but we have seen a remarkable change in the course of just a few days since we first came in touch with them.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Annual days

This past week saw a double-header with Enoch having his annual day programme on Monday and Asha on Friday.

Our children attend a school run by a Jain trust with over 7000 other students. That's right. 7000+. Their school years have 11 sections each - with 50 students per class. So when they have to perform - it means that the teachers have to organise programmes to incorporate every student.

We knew we were in for a lot of dances.

Enoch was given the role of 'Mr. Walter' a foreign friend who comes with his family to meet Mr. DeSouza of the Adarsh Hindusthan Housing Society. In the course of his visit - our intrepid Mr. Walter and family are shown the various Indian cuisines and dances. Enoch was told to wear suspenders and 3/4 pants - which sound suspiciously like visitors from 40 years ago. But wear them he did.

Asha's annual day was an out-and-out dance panorama. Many of the states were represented by traditional and religious dances. Asha participated in a Vellankalli dance from Kerala. The dance recreates the rowing competitions and Asha essayed one of the maidens who come in after the race was won. Having earlier learned complicated steps for a Nagaland dance - she was disappointed when that was cancelled and she was assigned to this one. But dance she did with gusto. The same for her singing a patriotic song and the school song at the end.

I was a bit numbed at the end with all the dances - but like all the parents in the room - my eyes were glued on our own whenever they came on stage.

How much more our heavenly Father must look upon us with joy as we cross this big stage called life!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Artists vs. TB

This week marks World Tuberculosis Day. March 24th. Not a happy anniversary at all. But a day when some folks around the world pause to think about the progress in fighting a disease which continues to squeeze the life out of so many.

We need a vaccine. There are a few hopeful signs on the horizon. A recent article quoting our old friend Dr. P.D.O. Davies of TB Alert says that a vaccine target molecule shows promise - but that even in the best case a workable vaccine is still a decade away. We have meds that can cure TB. We have a free public distribution which does a reasonable job (at least in the cities like Thane). But we still have thousands who die of TB in our country every day.

Enter the artists.

Stefan and the Art for Change Foundation have been running "Creative Conscience" weeks where artists get together and do art. Together. Its an annual gathering where they live in community and fellowship and think and talk and create - along a common theme.

Late last year they did one on Tuberculosis. The artists gathered for a week and met TB patients at one of the largest TB hospitals in the world. Stefan worked hard to move the artists from a simple 'poster' based responses to ones with more bite and depth. One result of getting into the lives of these men and women were a series of paintings. Challenging - life-changing paintings. The other result were artists whose outlook had become all the richer - and more challenged.

The result of this week is an exhibition that opens in Delhi this week. Together with Global Development Associates and the Confederation of Indian Industry - the show will be at the Religare Art Gallery at Connaught Place. You can't get more central than that.

Our hope and prayer is that this set of paintings will indeed prick the conscience. Of whom? Both the industrial jet-set as well as the man on the street. The movers-and-shakers as well as the common man (or woman).

World TB day rolls round once a year. The other 364 days need people to uncover the hidden plight of so many. Especially in our vast and often contradictory country of India which has the dubious distinction of the largest number of people with TB and the largest numbers of TB deaths each year. May the brush join the microscope and the pill in being wielded by committed hands to fight an ancient disease which continues to wreak so much havoc.

Talented Amma

When Asha was dedicated we were gifted a beautiful cross-stich by the wife of Dr. Colin Binks (I have purposely not written her name as she once clearly said that she never wants her name on the web). It is a collection of 5 birds and their associated plants - and has the first verse of "All things bright and beautiful" written in the centre. A beautiful piece - we have always put it in our living room in all the homes we moved to.

While Sheba's parents were here this last month, Amma took down the cross stitch and took out her needle. Over the past 2 weeks we have seen the whole piece lovingly recreated. What a thrill to see the first bits of the familiar scene take shape under Amma's hands. And wonder as the whole beautiful ensemble was recreated. Stitch by stitch. Every one of them.

We now have a beautiful copy that is in Amma' bags as they travel back to Vishakapatnam after their month with us. What talent!

James Howen R.I.P.

When Sheba was young her mother returned home from work one day to find all the women in the neighbourhood clustered around the house. Worried, she rushed to see what was happening and heard the sounds of wailing from inside the house.

All four children were bawling their eyes out. Amma was worried something had happened to their grandmother. That worry was unfounded. Sheba's grannie was alive and well. The four siblings were inconsolable because their puppy had died - and no amount of comfort from their 'Api' was helping them.

I remember pet deaths in my childhood. We had a burial for one of my hamster. Complete with a sermon and a small cardboard casket. I had never been to a 'real' funeral myself - so don't know where the ideas came from. But the hamster was buried their in the soil outside our Nana Chowk house.

Our kids don't have pets. Not yet at least. A promise of an aquarium in June may be the first step towards new life in the Eicher home.

So when we had a funeral recently in the home it wasn't for a budgie or for a kitten.

It was for a marble.

Enoch loves playing with his marbles. He has given many of them names. They are organised in tribes (mainly based on their primary colour) and Enoch organises races between different groups.

Yesterday a green marble fell down and cracked. Enoch and Asha decided to bury him. A small casket was commissioned using the cardboard box from a small jar of cold cream. It was covered with white paper and the name of the marble
written on it.

James Howen was the name given to the deceased. Enoch's choice. I don't think the name existed before the green fellow cracked. A hole was dug in one of our defunct flower pots (the curse of the Eicher brown thumb) and the little fellow was put inside. A small white cross now marks the spot.

So what do our children know about death?

Well - a lot more than I did when I was their age.

Sheba and I do not intentionally talk about it around them - but inevitably it shows up. Too many of our Positive Friends die. Too many. Asha and Enoch have over the years gotten to know people who then die.

Other than Auntie Theresa who died of cancer when I was a boy - and the distant deaths of my mother's parents I don't think I was exposed much at all in my childhood.

I am glad that death is not taboo to Asha and Enoch. We have enough of it in the world.

Our dear friend John Forbes is visiting us currently. The other day he was talking with our staff at JSK. Reflecting on the unfolding tragedy of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan John commented that in a way he was fortunate to have a diagnosis of HIV. Fortunate - because he was so aware of his imanent mortality. When he heard that he probably only had 6 months to live since his CD4 count had dropped to 64 and he was in an AIDS stage - that shook him to the core and brought him back to God. The fact that he is now over a decade further into life and has been used all around the world stems partly from this acknowlegement of his mortality.

Would that we would live each day is if it were the last.

A play funeral for a cracked marble has helped me remember my own upcoming death day.

Monday, 14 March 2011

An email


can u tell me how much is monthly expenses to cure hiv.


The above note arrived in our inbox this morning. I have of course changed the name to protect confidentiality (and doctored the above image of my inbox as well).

The note seemed to be written by someone who had checked out our simple JSK site
This is what I replied:
Dear Jagdish,

Thank you for your question.

There is still no complete 'cure' for HIV - but there are medications that control the amount of virus in the body for many many years - which allows a person with HIV to live a normal life.

These medications are available free from the government at the ART clinics.

From private doctors it will cost about Rs. 1200 - 4000 depending on the
kinds of medications prescribed.

Please feel free to visit Jeevan Sahara Kendra if you have any questions.


Andi Eicher

JSK Director

Would Jagdish call me?

At 3.15 PM he did.

I was riding the scooter when he called. I told him that I would give him a call when I got back to the office. I did.

Jagdish is HIV positive. His wife is too. They live in 2 suburbs away in Mumbai. Jagdish wants to be treated - and has gone to various hospitals for treatment. He does not want his wife to know about their condition - because he says she is illiterate and gets upset / tension very easily. From what I could understand in our first conversation, Jagdish went to a hospital in the Mumbai's Western Suburbs and spent Rs. 40,000 on injections to try and cure him of the disease. Apparently his wife was with him too. His wife has said that she will not go to any hospitals anymore.

Its complicated.

Just in the phone call it is clear that it is complicated. Jagdish wanted to know whether we will treat his wife without telling her what she has. I told him that we work on the principal of telling the truth. We do not break a person's confidentiality. But we encourage a person to share what is really going on with their spouse and loved ones.

I suggested that Jagdish come and meet Dr. Sheba along with all his reports and medications that he is taking at this point. I assured him that we would not disclose his status to anyone else without his permission.

Jagdish should be there at 11 AM tomorrow.

Another opportunity for a real change.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Lift this!

We have a pretty amazing set of people working with us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

We did not realise we have a champion power-lifter in our midst.

Last weekend Santosh Sable - one of our family case managers - participated in the "Mayor's Cup" lifting competition organised by the Mumbai Municipal Corporation.

Competing in the 60 kg category (he weighed in at 59.25) Santosh managed to lift 82.5 kgs in the bench press, 170 kgs in the squat and 215 kgs in dead lift. This comes to a grand total of 467.5 kgs - almost half a ton!

That almost-half-ton was enough to get Santhosh first place in his division! Hooray!

We are thrilled with Santosh - who has been with us since December 2010. We knew that Santosh visited the gym regularly - but little did we know that we have a city-wide champion in our midst!

Friday, 11 March 2011

Missing boy update: Akash found!

Bernie David writes about Akash - the boy who went missing from their home last week:

We are so happy and relieved beyond belief to know where Akash is. It is not the best news but at least we have found him.

The details are still coming in but the police brought him in either yesterday or this morning to the Dongri remand home (juvenile home) and it is a notorious place and not for the right reasons. The 'treatment' of a new inmate is pretty grim, poor food, little supervision and a lot of bad activity. Boys are raped and beaten by the older boys.

We tried to get him out today but they would not entertain us. Tomorrow the parents are going to plea their case and we pray and hope he is released. If he is not released to the parents, then he has to stay there until next week until we would have a court hearing. You can imagine, we want him out of there asap.

PLEASE pray for total favor on the parents ! They have a much better chance of getting him out then an 'organization' does. One of our other little girls before she came to us was in a remand home and the street mom would not settle for anything other than her immediate release and they did release her. So, we know they 'can' do it.

Please pray the heart and minds of the staff at Dongri would release him tomorrow. We will be sending his school records so they know he lives in a home and leads a pretty normal life, etc. Also, please pray for his protection at the remand home, that angels would be encamped around him and his bunk or where ever he is sleeping. Please pray that not ONE hands falls upon him and that through all of this, he will cry out to the Jesus he knows. That the Lord will put a song on his heart that will comfort him and bring him hope and peace.

Our little prodigal is almost back....


Bernie David

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Ash Wednesday

Today marks the beginning of a season of fasting for many Christ-followers around the world. The 40 days are leading up to the celebration of Christ's glorious rising from the dead - which many Yeshu-disciples rejoice as Easter.

The fasting can be done at anytime. And so can the remembrance of Christ's resurrection. As a family we celebrate His resurrection every Sunday when we break bread as part of the Communion in our house fellowship.

In our brokenness and inadequacies - we come before He who makes all things whole and new again.

Its worth a fast - or a feast - to remember.

This beautiful film was made by Corrie Francis Parks - and comes from her post: here

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Marriage Season

Its wedding season. And what a blessed time it is.

As a family we attended 2 receptions in the last week. Both times of great joy.

The first one was for Dr. Vimalin and Dr. Rohini Samuel. Dr. Vimalin's parents Bor. Vedanayagam and Sis. Johnsy run the Living Water Mission - a programme that reaches out to women in prostitution and helps them start a new life. The Living Water Mission is right next to Jeevan Sahara Kendra - and we have seen many of their ladies in our clinic as many of them are starting a new life with HIV in them.

We were able to walk over to the time - and saw many a local pastor and friend of ours studding the well-wishers.

a choir of ladies being rehabilitated at Living Water Mission singing at the reception

With Vimalin and Rohini having already been married in Chennai the reception here was mainly for the friends, neighbours and supporters of his parents. The new couple are both from the Christian Medical College Vellore - and are currently living there while Vimalin is doing his higher medical studies. Vimalin's sister Dr. Vinotha and her husband Dr. Sudarshan (who were also at the reception) are also at Vellore where she works in Obstetrics and he is doing a Fellowship in Intensive Care.

What struck us was the simplicity of the do. A real time of prayer. A time of sharing joy of the parents. A time when the ministry that the parents have poured themselves into merged seamlessly with their lives. This was the simplest and best reception that I have attended in Mumbai town (where the marriage business puts many people in debt for years - all because of the social pressure to 'excel' at this time).

What a tribute to a set of parents who have put God first in their lives - and clearly see the blessings on their children.

The second reception saw us going considerably further afield.

Rolly and Doris Jayakar graciously took us over to Pune on a Sunday afternoon (and back on a Sunday night / Mon morning) to attend the reception of our dear friend Ethel and her husband Durai.

On the first Sunday of the month both our house-fellowships meet at Rolly and Doris's house for worship and for lunch. Since this was the first Sunday we did so and then left for Pune at 3.30 in the afternoon.

The drive up was pleasant and filled with conversation. It is amazing how much we all still have to learn from and about each other.

We slipped into Pune at just the right time for the 6.30 PM reception and were whisked up to the roof-top of a hotel in the middle of down-town. The place was It was called '7th Heaven' and it certainly was a stunning location. There under the night sky in a garden we rejoiced in God's goodness to Ethel.

It was humbling to see an amazing group of family and friends turn out - parts of Ethel's life that we were only dimly aware of - a legacy of God's faithfulness to her - and her impact on others in the years prior to her 5 years with us in Thane.

The testimonies about Ethel and Durai were touching in their celebration of this couple. We just sensed a wave of joy that God had been so gracious in keeping these two for each other. Durai is a stranger to us - but what we heard and saw of him confirmed our joy as a man after God's own heart. Ethel joins a formidable family with Durai's father a bishop with the ECI and his mother a leader in the women's wing of the church. But more than the backgrounds of the new union we see that they both want to move forward and serve God as a family. Rolly's blessing to them was shared by us all when he told them "we want to see you as a church-planting family."

Rolly, Doris, Juanita, Durai, Ethel, Sheba, Andi - with Enoch and Asha in front!

With the greetings over (and the dear couple to brave another 500 or so folks with their brilliant smiles) we then settled down to a quick feast before it was back on the road. Enoch took on Shane who along with Accamma had come up from Mumbai in a spirited game of table football - using a large confetti ball and a goal made of confetti and toothpicks!

And then it was back in the car and back to Thane.

We decided to take our table guests Shawn and Accamma along with us since their train was only at 11.30 at night.

As the car pulled out at 9.30 PM we were looking forward to being in bed at 12.30 AM.

Didn't quite happen.

For one the as-usual-un-marked roads of greater Pune led us to explore a bit more of the urban sprawl that Pune is becoming than we had wanted.

We breathed easy once we were on the straight-as-an-arrow Pune-Mumbai expressway.

Once we passed Lonavala and started down the ghats of Khandala we were dodging heavily-laden trucks trundling down with their loads testing many a brake-pad. With three of these behemoths around us we could hear that some-one's tire was punctured. The flap-flap-flap was unmistakable. "I wonder whose it is?" ventured Shawn. Well - it was our own back left tire that decided to give up the ghost.

Where to stop? We finally decided to do the necessary in the tunnel since it was well lit.

And so with trucks grinding by - and with cars zipping by at quite a speed - we had the three of us men enjoy the grunt work of half an hour of getting the offending tire off and a spare one on.

The others who had been alternatively sleeping and chatting - were now all up. The conversations continued be the in an air-conditioned SUV or in a grimy tunnel.
While one member of the party was blissfully unaware of all that went on. Afterwards Enoch claims that he knew what was happening - but continued on in sweet slumber.

It was a tired but happy party of Eichers who took the lift up to our 7th floor flat at 2 AM on Monday morning.

Missing boy

This just in from our dear friends Bennet and Bernie David who run an amazing group called "Tender Hands":

We really need your prayers for one of our boys, Akash.

Two of our boys were on time-outs most of yesterday, which is nothing new for these two guys who are constantly mischievous. Apparently one of them has been planning to run away for about 2 weeks and finally he found a companion, Raju to go with him. So at about 3-4 am, Raju and Akash went to the roof, scaled half the wall until they landed on the building under construction next to us and went to the train station.

Both of them are from VT train station (Victoria Terminus) and they took the first train back there. Apparently they separated on the platform, Raju left the train station but Akash must have been having to much fun riding the trains and jumped on another train. We just have no idea which train and to where. Raju left the station and was starting to roam around his familiar territory when one of the other mom's (Sara's mom) recognized him and assessed the situation pretty quick and grabbed him by the collar and tried to call Bennet. He did get away briefly but she was able to catch up and from then on, scooped him under her arm until his father was able to get there. So, Raju is back at home but has no idea where Akash went.

Akash's father also lives on the street at VT, we got a hold of him and he went to the police but because he is poor, illiterate and living on the street, the cops would not help him. They didn't want to file a report because then they may have to work a case. Bennet's brother, Melwyn works near by and was able to rush over there and file the police report and get it in the system. Apparently if he is found at a train station, we will know it as he is in the system. His father and his friends, as well as several other people are walking the trains and stations looking for him. It is a pretty tight knit community of the people living on the street and they are all looking for him. Joy is also searching for him.

At this point, in a city of 18 million people, looking for a 8 yr old boy is pretty much a miracle ! Please pray that the Lord will send his angels to protect him where ever he is tonight and that tomorrow someone will help him to get back to us in safely and unharmed. Pray that he does not end up on one of the outbound long distance trains that would take him anywhere in India.

Please pray for a big miracle, we serve a God that can move mountains and He knows right where Akash is tonight. Please Lord wrap your arms around him and bring him back to us !!


Bernie David

Monday, 7 March 2011

A small but valuable space

A quick look inside our Jeevan Sahara Kendra centre. For the uninitiated - the stars on the ceiling each have a name written on them. They represent our friends with HIV who we know have died. We won't be meeting them again this side of eternity.

The area where the chairs are stacked is used as our morning meeting place. Its about 6 m by 4 m in a thick L shape.

Each morning the whole team meets in this space at 9AM for praise and prayer. We take turns sharing from the Bible. To encourage each other. To keep us going. Then a prayer for the day's work and the Home-Based Care teams head out for the morning visits to people with HIV in their homes.

This room then sees various changes over the day. A quick sweep and swab by Rekha - our current helper at JSK (her two small daughters come with her each day - and then attend school in the afternoon).

When an HIV positive friend comes, or someone who wants to be tested for HIV, they are seated in this area. After counselling and preparation in the counselling room, the person is brought into first door on the right. This is the small lab we have and their blood sample is taken and processed there. The next day they will again be met by our counsellor who will tell them their HIV result.

For those who need to be seen by the doctor, the nurse will take their details in this waiting area. At lunch time - some of the staff eat their food here (if there are no patients waiting of course). Most of the staff end up eating on a set of stairs...

Post lunch the home-based care teams share brief reports of the day's visits so far and plan for the next steps. Then it is out for the afternoon visits.

In the afternoon Madhu - another helper - will again clean the place. Just before 6 whoever is still at the centre will gather for prayer at the close of the day.

On days when we have patients admitted - this place becomes a play room for their children - a counselling place for spouses - a visiting space for people who would like to meet the patients.

A place of many uses. These walls have seen many a tear. And some laughter too.

Photo by Anand Sinha - courtesy of letting us use it assumed - as we always do with our near-and-dear-ones

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Interviewing the future

They came into the gleaming office. Each one special. Short glimpses into multiple lives.

We were conducting the interviews for the first batch of trainees for a nurse-aide course that the new Bethany Hospital is running (as soon as they can get shifted into the gleaming building in which the gleaming office was).

The girls each had their own story. Some we knew - from our contacts through JSK. Others were new.

But what struck home over and over again was the transforming power of God. These are girls who have largely grown up in the large shanty-towns that blanket the great city of Mumbai. Many of them have lost a father - some lost their mother as well. A few of them have been rescued out of prostitution. All of them came with hope. To start something new. To carry on a work of change - which has been taking shape in their lives - and in the lives of their families.

It was striking how many of these girls had seen healings take place. Some in their own lives - but almost everyone had experienced answered prayers for healing in their families.

The other striking aspect that came out of the 15 interviews that we held was how evident it is that others have invested in these girls. Most of them were confident, idealistic, eager to learn and grow. As they talked about their situations they often referred to pastors or other church members who had helped them at various stages in life.

15 folks is a small slice out of the thousands upon thousands of young people what make up the bulk of our urban sprawls. What potential we have. How much can be done by giving opportunities - and by building these young people up - one by one. It is remarkable what some of the churches that operate in and out of these slum-situations have been able to do. But there is so much more that stares us in the face each day.

We do not know all the back-stories for these young women - but we know enough to realise that most grew up in pretty disfunctional situations. Which makes their poise and eagerness to move forward all the more poignant. And all the more vital that they succeed.

May this first batch of trainee nurse aides (when the course finally gets underway) make a huge difference for their families - and as gratitude for all those who have invested in them so far!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Appa's 73rd

Time flies. Especially when you are 73 years young!

We had the joy of celebrating a special birthday this week. Sheba's father (called Thata by the kids) turned 73!
The night before a cake was baked. A basic banana cake - but with a twist - 1/2 cup of grated carrot (found loitering in the fridge for some unspecified amount of time) - and a whole tangerine (narangi as we call it here). The tangerine - was ground up - peel, pips and all and dumped into the dough. It gave the whole cake a lovely kick. Vive la différence!

But enough about cakes.

The real joy was to be with Appa on this day.

The tragedy of our lives is how far away we live from our parents. How much we yearn for their presence. For the comfort and joy of them being around us.

Its been almost a year since we last met Amma and Appa. In the interim they have been in the US for 4 months with their newest grandchild - Shofar. It is a joy to hear Appa unravel his impressions of the United States - a combination of awe at the standard of living there - as well as concern about the general apathy he found in many people with whom he talked about God.

On the 2nd of March - we focussed mainly on God's goodness in Appa's life. To think of how Appa grew up virtually without a father (who went to Malaysia and never came back) - and how he had slogged over the years to bring up the amazing foursome of Daisy, Sheba (Bethsheba as she still is to her family), Sarah and Peter!

And now to be with us on this special day.

We were able to source a Tamil reference Bible just in time for the birthday (thanks Isaac and Anil for going out of your way!). And Appa was thrilled to open the heavy tome!

In the evening when Agnes came over after work, Asha and Enoch put on a special mini-concert for us - complete with an entry card which showed the concert programme and which instruments would be used in each piece. Needless to say - parents and grandparents alike were thrilled with Asha and Enoch!

As we put a shawl around Appa's neck (and Amma's too) we just have to thank God for the wonderful gift of godly parents. Appa and Amma's love for Sheba was complete. She never doubted their love. She never feared that they did not care for her. This gave such a solid ground for her to develop into the person Sheba has become.

We want to do the same for Asha and Enoch. Looking back on the life of Appa - all 73 full years he has experienced - gives us a challenge to look forward. With both of us coming close to our 42nd B-day celebrations - we have a good set of examples in Amma and Appa for our next 31 spins around the sun (D.v. of course).

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


A shadowy organisation holds a weekly meeting at the Eicher residence each Monday evening.

Small people come in the front door and congregate behind closed doors in the middle room.

A brave mother (bearing colourful potable liquids - and knocking the password knock) managed to get into the aforesaid room. Her courage knowing no end - she actually managed to take a photo of the hidden goings-on.

Here - in a world exclusive - we present a glimpse into another world:

The HVVVSC in session (the full form is too secret for us to reveal!).


A small room. A few women. Some of their kids. Add a small assortment of Eichers.

Tuesday night study of the life of Jesus Christ. We are unpacking the Lukan account.

We were in Shanti's home. We have started this study on Tuesday evenings. An hour. 7 to 8 pm.

Last week - after our first meet - one of Shanti's neighbours asked her why she had not been invited. The neighbour lady came today - along with her sister. After the study she asked for prayer. She has been married for 20 years without a child. She is almost 40 years old now. She works by going to homes and looking after small children and giving massages to new mothers. We prayed with her.

In sharing the snippet about Jesus' life this evening I was struck by the insights of two old people - Simeon and Anna.

Simeon - who had been told that he would not die before he saw the Messiah - was moved by the spirit to come to the temple on the day a Gallelian carpenter and his wife brought their son to the temple. They must have presented a pitiful sight - though of royal blood - now reduced to offering pigeons instead of a lamb.

But Simeon saw far past the surface and took the child in his arms and shouted out that he could now rest in peace. He had seen the saviour.

What did Simeon see? A month-old baby, held by a young girl and her rustic husband?

Simeon's spiritual eyes were open. They saw something far deeper. They recognised that the maker of the universe was confined to the helplessness of this babe. Simeon registered that the child he now held in his arms - would one day be his redeemer.

Do we have spiritual eyes that are open? Or are we keeping them tightly shut? Tightly status-quo-don't-disturb-me-I-am-fine-thank-you?

And then we have the person of Anna - this 84 year old widow - who spent all her widowhood it seems in the temple in Jerusalem. Instead of the pall of mourning - or the wiff of self-pity - you get the sense of Anna's eagerness and yearning for the Messiah. You can almost feel how connected she is with others who are seeking - because when she sees Jesus she tells everyone about him.

Are we seeking? Are we looking? One of the promises Jesus gives is that He will be found by those who genuinely seek Him.

All this in a tiny room, with 3 ladies, 2 teen girls and a gaggle of kids - learning about Jesus.
The beauty of the word is that it illuminates the living Word. Our contexts are simple. Our lives can be complex. But He reveals Himself through His life that we read together.

Next Tuesday. 7-8 PM. In a small window-less room in Manpada. The next slice of Jesus' life. Glimpses.