Monday, 30 April 2012

A religious childhood - then and now

My anscestor Samuel A. Cravath – writing about his early childhood in Oberlin Ohio in the 1840s:

There was still considerable wild game in the woods, such as squirrel and turkeys, partridges, quail and some deer, which helped out the family larder materially, but food and dress were frugal and plain in the whole Oberlin colony as part of its religion and covenant.

One of the articles of the Covenant read: “That we may have time and health for the Lord's service, we will eat only plain and wholesome food, renouncing all bad habits, and especially the smoking and chewing of tobacco, and deny ourselves all strong and unnecesarry drinks, even tea and coffee, as far as practicable, and everything expensive, that is simply calculated to gratify the palate.” - “We will also renounce all the World's expensive and unwholesome fashions of dress, particularly tight dressing and ornamental attire.”

This plainness and frugality of living soon became a bone of contention in the colony and of fervent prayer even in the meetings. All a man's property except for this frugal fare was supposed to be dedicated to the Lord and many a colonist began to feel that perhaps his neighbour was using a part of what belonged to the lord upon himself and his family. The general poverty, however, made plain living easy.

Economies were practised to raise money for missionary purposes, that came very near privations. Think of a parent hiring his child to go without butter on his bread for a whole week, and week after week, in order to give five cents for the missionary box on Sundays. And the bread was quite often corn bread. Yet this was not an uncommon method of 'earning' money for missionary purposes, tho' I confess it never was a favourite with me in my early childhood.

I was taught that there was speical merit in such methods of raising money for it was genuine altruism – the denial of selfish appetites for the good of others. I could deny myself one or two meals a day on one or two days, but when there was no meat, nor gravey, nor milk, and I had to dine on dry bread and potato, my love for the heathen was overome by love of butter, and the heathen had to go without the five cents unless I could find some other way of earning it.

Oberlin was founded as a manual labour college and colony. It was expected that every teacher and student would perform about four hours of manual labor each day and that this would be sufficient to feed and clothe him and pay for his expenses in college. The education was thoroughly Christian. It was not long before it had assembled a community in which questions – moral, religious, social, political, dietary and phrenological were discussed with eagerness and enthusiasm. Every crank in the country seemed to bring his grist to Oberlin where it was ground and sifted for him with thoroughness and dispatch not always satisfactory to hime. But there are always some in every community who are caught by such things and Oberlin in its earlier years became a hotbed of 'isms.'

Some thought it wrong to eat meat. Some thought themselves perfect, but it was observed that few thought their neighbours so. Some thought it wrong to laugh and joke or attend places of amusement. I recall an old man who used to make long prayers and speeches about the sinfulness of children playing. His arguement was simple: “Waste is sinful. Play is a waste of time, hence sinful.” My elders used to tell a story over me apropos of one of the prayer-meeting speeches. I had fallen fast asleep, while the speaker was droning along about the sinfulness of play. Suddenly I spoke out saying: “I'll play anyway Mary, Here's the sled.” I do not remember making the speech, but I do remember a vigorous punch in the side and a vigorous shaking, until I was awake.

As I look back upon those years (1841 to 1848) they seem to me to have been years of tremendous religious stress. Religion was the real, serious, business of the whole community, while ordinary employments occupied subordinate places. Planting and harvest could wait, but the Lord's work and worship could not. I do not say this was the actual fact, but it is the impress that was made upon my mind in childhood. Sabbath could could hardly be called a day of rest from a child's point of view. Immediately after breakfast came morning prayers - “prayers” I say because it was expected that not the parents only, but other members of the family should follow with a brief petition. The reading of the Bible was also participated in by every member of the family down to the smallest child who could read. Then came the Sabbath school lesson which must be “learned by heart,” then the Sabbath School in town, a mile and a half away from 9 o'clock in the morning until the time of the forenoon service; there a sermon two or more hours long; then a noon prayer-meeting for those who did not go home for dinner; then the afternoon service corresponding in length to the forenoon; than and afternoon or evening prayer-meeting in the school house near home and evening prayers. There were also numerous midweek meetings. Religion was the “strenous life” and “woe unto those who are at ease in Zion.”

What do I make of what my ancestor wrote about his own childhood?

It is now over a century and a half later – and I am have already spent a decade with Sheba and the family here in Thane, India. It would seem that there would be nothing in common between SA Cravath us us. But reading these words that Samuel Cravath wrote near the end of his life resonate in a number of ways.

For one, I actually went to a graduation at Oberlin College. I think it was one of my brothers' school-mates in the mid-1990s. The contrast could not have been starker. There was not a shred of religiosity to be seen. One of the graduates dressed up as a roman soldier and did not wear a shirt. The college president at the time was roundly disliked by the students - and a goodly number of the graduates took small stones along with them as they got on the stage. Each one of them, then gave their stone to the college president as he shook their hands and gave them their diplomas – leading him it seems to have to fill his pockets with their stones.

I remember the high-light of the college president's speech was a plea for greater mutual understanding. As his centrepiece he talked about a Chinese picture which some said was a bird – and others a fish. But in reality it was both. The picture frame had a corrogated middle in which the image of the fish was painted on one set of faces, while the image of the bird was painted on the faces which were at a 90 degree angle to the fish image. The soppy president then triumphantly brought out this contraption and proudly showed what a wonderful insight this had made to the task of getting along together.

The fact that this was actually two different images that had been cleverly place near each other – and hence is of no use at all to the challenges of coming to understandings about basic truth issues - seems to have escaped the keen eye of the unloved president.

But reading the other parts of Samuel's childhood resonates with us in a number of ways. For one, I have grown up in a pattern not too far different from Samuel's. We were in a commune setting (at least in some of the early days of OM) where having private property was considered wrongish – since we had left everything to serve the Lord. Most of our clothes were second-hand – so living the simple, frugal life does not ring too odd to me.

The severity of privation that Samuel remembers is of course quite foreign to me – as is what clearly is a state of religious fervor that left very few opportunities for young Samuel to follow Christ on his own accord. However, the filling up of all hours with meetings is not only familiar, but rings eerily true of our lives right now. We worship on Sunday mornings from 10 am to 1 pm in one of the homes we regularly meet in, then from 6-7 pm we have a gospel meeting. On Tuesday nights we go as a family to lead a Bible study in the home of one of our staff. On Wednesday nights a few men come over from 9.30-10.30 pm for prayer at our place. On Friday nights we have a Bible study from 9-11.30. In addition we are now preparing for the Vacation Bible School so have been holding Thursday night meetings to gear up and pray for that. Sheba has a Lady's fellowship that normally meets on one Saturday a month – I meet with fellow Elders normally once a month too. And then we have 30 mins of morning prayers at 9 am every day at JSK and often are part of a small ward prayer at 5.30 pm with those who are admitted JSK and their relatives.

So where does that place us on the religiousity scale. Obviously pretty high. Do we see echoes of the life that little Samuel Cravath faced? Yes we do.

But here is the biggest difference. It was the difference for me when as a boy I would attend church and yearn for the hymns to end – especially those which had 7 or 8 verses in them (and were sung lustily and often off-tune by the grown-ups). The difference boils down to how real Jesus is to me. In my own childhood I had believed in Him, but beyond that He was not the central to who I was – and was hardly the Lord of my life.

Coming to a quickening in my faith in High School – especially two pivotal years at Woodstock School – started a process of spiritual formation where God has increasingly become the focus of my life (and since we married 12 years ago – of our lives).

Would a casual observer see any difference between our spirituality and that which Samuel Cravath describes of his early years in Oberlin? I would hope so – but would not be surprised to be tarred with the same brush of being some kind of wacko holy-roller.

Can all of these meetings become an end in itself? Yes, it certainly can. We can become people who are just trying to do religious things – and be so 'good' at being 'busy for God' that we forget the actual worship of the Lord in the first place. Jesus Himself faced a family situation where Martha bustling away in the kitchen, preparing food for Jesus and his merry men – was angry with her sister Mary who chose to sit at Jesus' feet and listen to Him. How easy it is to be so busy that we actually miss out on enjoying our Lord.

Reading the words that were typed out 111 years ago, which speak of a boyhood time over 60 years prior – I am surprised at how much I can identify with this well-written anscestor of ours. Samuel Cravath's story rings true – my only sadness is that he seems unable to clearly state what he believes himself. Perhaps it is natural for a person who owned and edited a newspaper in the Iowa town of Grinnel (another small college town) to hold his own beliefs to his chest – while describing 'the facts' in as neutral a voice as possible.

Friday, 27 April 2012


We need to be refreshed.

So what else is new?

As we live out our lives with people who are struggling with HIV (and many, many other things as well), we find ourselves more and more worn out.

That's why since the beginning of our time at JSK we have always tried to take time away to be refreshed - to retreat.

Looking back over the years we have had some wonderful times of  togetherness - times when we were able to escape from the daily life of JSK and be out in God's beauty.  Be refreshed by God's word and fellowship with each other.
a time of worship at our retreat in Pune in 2010

Today JSK has turned a corner.  We are now running a 6 bedded hospital.  There are 3 very sick people being cared for as I write this.  Our nurses are on 24 hour duty.  Our doctor is on call.

Going to Khandala, or Pune, or Kedgaon is not possible this year.  At least not if we want all of us to be together.

So we are doing our Staff Retreat 'on-site' this year.  All of us together. Not leaving our premises for long - other than small outings to the National Park and a local amusement park on the last day.

There may be rumblings and grumblings - but this is the challenge of community - to hold on to each other - to bear with each other - to include even when it costs you something.  That's love in practice.  Fairly easy to talk about - pretty hard to put into action.

We are blessed that Sam and Margaret Thomas are coming from Dehra Dun to minister to us.  The theme that we will be following through this weekend is 'Living your Dream' an exploration of the life of Joseph.  We will be walking through our stories individually and as a group - linked with the story of Joseph who lived over 4000 years ago - but whose steps of faith continue to challenge and amaze.

Ultimately, it is not just a change of scene that will change our weary hearts.  We could go to Hawaii and still come back heavy-hearted to face the tremendous challenges in the lives of the people around us.  What we need is a refreshing from within.  A renewal of our inner person.  A step into the recreated people that God wants us to be.

May we move forward with joy.  We need to be refreshed.  Lets plunge in. 

The retreat starts in 2 hours from my typing these words.  May the results be lasting!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Family Life Festival

Each one of is part of a family.  We may be estranged, we may be disfunctional, we may be 'boringly good' (sadly a very small percentage it seems) - but we have been born into a family - and grow into various relationships as time goes on.

This is right and good.  From the beginning God knows that it is not good for humans to be alone.

But over all this goodness lie many shadows.

We carry the seeds of our own selfishness around with us.  The love that we should be giving is usually squandered on meeting our own 'needs.'  Furthermore, we expect so much from our 'near and dear ones.'  By their very closeness - and our perceptions of what we have 'done for them' - we have raised a very high bar.  Instead of appreciating the love we receive (fractured and small though it may be at times) - we are dissatisfied and angry.

And then there is the fact that when someone close to us hurts us - the wounds go especially deep.  It may be that our 'guard is down' - it may be just the horrible feeling of being rejected by people we trusted.  Fact is that if we are honest with ourselves, most of us are hurting, and often it is from our own most 'intimate strangers.'

Its not by accident that Jesus tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves.  We often forget that our neighbours start with those who live with us - they are even closer than the ones next door.

And then you add on a layer of experience of having HIV/AIDS.  The challenges are huge for people living with the infection - or family members are living with and (hopefully) caring for another member who has HIV.

Once a year we take a group of our HIV Positive Friends away for a weekend retreat.  We call it the Family Bible Camp and we spend time learning from scripture how we can live our lives.  How we can forgive and grow.  How we can be renewed.

Last year we had over 80 participants all told.  It was great - but also a huge challenge to manage so many.

This year we want to open things up.  We are holding a 1 day special time for families affected by HIV.  This includes children, youngsters, singles, marrieds, widows, those who are seperated - the whole spectrum of people.  God loves us all and has specific plans for the way we can live. We are looking forward to a wonderful time of worship together, powerful teaching, small group discussions and sharing, games, fellowship over food.  It promises to be a cracker!

The programme is just a week away.  May 1st is looming large. A lot remains to be done.  Prayers are needed greatly as we battle through a fierce summer heat.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Bye bye Black Beauty

Later today Asha, Enoch and I will pile onto an old friend for a final whiz.

The dear 'Black Beauty' our 2004 Honda Activa scooter has been an old friend.  It got swirled under the flood during the 2005 deluge.  It had one or two bumps - including a memorable one where my angel(s) worked overtime it seems.  It had all 4 of us Eichers on it many a time - but now even 3 of us is hard going - esp. if two of us are the Eicher parents.

Sadly, it was showing signs of entropy.  Rust - our ancient foe - was sprouting.  The rear bar - which had a stepney on it - fell off one fine day - and there was so much juddering and clanging at the time - that I did not even notice its loss for a day!

Sheba has for some time felt strongly that we need to move on - and that the dear scooter should be sold.  But who would buy it? 

Repairs have been taking place with alarming frequency - and the local mechanics are not sitting idle - the Eicher 'Black Beauty' has put more than one chicken into someone's dinner curry!

And so we come to the end of 8 years with an old friend.

Last week we talked to an eager dealer - who offered a certain sum for it as a trade-in.  Today we are driving the Black Beauty to that dealer - and will be handing over her keys to the man.

Within the next fortnight we are expecting a new member of the Eicher family.  One that will look pretty much like this:

Welcome Nano!

Sunday, 22 April 2012


Our newspapers are hardly bringers of joy.  The last few weeks have seen a steady drip of political scandals, abductions by Maoist groups, the odd disaster (natural and human-induced), bombings in sundry places and so on.

We have such a daily diet of rape and mayhem that it takes some doing to really chill you.

I got the chills yesterday.

It was when reading the newspaper reports about the trial of the Norwegian man Anders Breivik.  AB carefully planned and carried out a spree of killings that left 69 people dead.  The authorities have ruled that he is not insane.

This man certainly seems to be relishing the limelight as he explained to the court in horrible detail about how he had even taken water with him since he knew that his throat would get dry from the stress of killing people.

So how do you judge a man who has clearly planned such an attack and takes great pride in telling people how he did it and why he did it?

We have our own version of AB - a young Pakistani man called Ajmal Kasab who joined the jihad and landed from the sea with with 9 other similarly armed men on November 26th 2008.  At the end of their killing spree at least 166 people were dead.

Like AB - our AK was captured alive and has been holed up in solitary confinement in a high-security prison since then.

How do you judge and execute justice in these cases.  Norway does not have a death sentence - something that AB mocks and claims that he should either be pardonned or executed.  AB's counterpart here is far less vocal.  AK seems barely more than a young boy.  From media reports of his trial, AK can hardly converse - and yet AK was honed into a killing machine.  It is now clear that AK and his fellow killers were meticulously guided by a well-planned and ruthless group who wanted to make maximum murder - and especially kill foreigners and Jews. Hearing about how their handlers told AK's other counterparts to shoot the wife of a rabbi through the head - and to do it so that the handler could hear it over the phone is just horrible.

So now that these two have been captured - and their cases are being heard - will justice actually be served?

For one, even if both perpetrators are executed, the sheer scale of the killings remains.

The trials themselves have become dangerous spectacles.  The Norway one provides a terrible opportunity for AB to speak out his hatred - almost seeming a reward for the enormity of his actions. . The Mumbai one grinds on almost as a mockery to the ability for the state to dispense justice.

Where is the healing taking place?  It certainly does not seem to be there in either of the court-rooms.

But when we step out of the present and look into the future a different picture emerges.

Both men in their own ways seem to be cocking a snook at society's ability to administer justice.  And perhaps at least in the present set up both the so-called sophisticated Nordic courts and our own sweat-and-grime creakiness of the Indian counterparts seem to fall well short of being able to handle these killers.

But there is another court which will take place in the future.  The Bible tells us that at the end of days a great white throne will be set up and the dead - great and small will stand before this throne - and the books will be opened.  Books that list what all of humanity has done.

AB and AK and a host of others will have to give an answer for what they have done with their lives.  Not only the grisly actions that the press has almost gleefully shared around the world - but the many decisions that AB and AK have taken to rebel against their loving Creator.

Each one of us faces a similar date in court.  Its not popular to say this - but justice will be done.

And at the same time - a great and terrible mercy will also take place.

For those whose names are found in the Lamb's book of life - all their terrible acts - every single one of them - will be pardoned.

Why?  Because the Lover of our Souls took the punishment on Himself and bore it as an innocent, naked man, tortured and nailed to a twisted instrument of torture for six hours outside Jerusalem in about AD 29.

The scary thing about AB and AK is how much they resemble us.  We don't want to admit it, but the horror of their actions strikes a deep unsettling chord in us because there is no 'logical' reason for them to do such terrible acts.  Just like there are no 'logical' reasons for our many acts of commission and omission.

One of the reasons we are so angry with the courts is their seeming inability to appropriately punish the perpetrator - and give relief to the victims (in these cases the families of the victims - and those who survived the shootings).  As I think about it, this sense of justice not being served points to something deeper in us - an innate sense that justice will indeed be lived out.

And it will.  Though many many of us have tried to live our lives blocking the thought out.

Eternity is a long, long time.  Stretching into infinity.

The infinite grasp of justice is just around the corner.

AB and AK beware.  And you and me too.

Child labour in our family

Samuel Austin Cravath - my great great grand-uncle on my father's mother's side was born on Sept. 27 1836.  When he was less than a year old, his father, grand-father and uncle all died within days of each other, having all moved together to Crawford county in Pennsylvania a few years prior from their previous residence in New York state.

This is what SA Cravath says in his memoirs:

A large area of timber land had been flooded to make a reservoir for the Pittsburg & Erie canal, and it was supposed that this flooding was the cause of a Malignant Malarial fever which prevailed extensively at the time and of which grandfather, father and Potter died.

About four years later, mother, having married Galcott Kinney meanwhile, the family moved to a farm which was about one and a half miles northeast of Oberlin, O[hio].  Here mother died May 30, 1848 - thirty nine years of age.  The children after mother's second marriage were, Mary, Joel, Chester and Julius.   The last died in infancy.  After mother's death the family was broken up and scattered among relatives.  George [my great great grandfather] found a home with his Grandfather Davis and his Aunt Amanda who kept house for grandfather Giles with his Uncle Augustus Cravath, and I with Uncle Giles A. Davis for a year or two and then with Aunt Amanda.  The family was never reunited and no two of them lived for any considerable time in the same family.  I was over ten years old at this time.

Samuel remembers coming as a family (with his step-father Galcott Kinney) to then newly established college town of Oberlin, Ohio:

The country was nearly level, sometimes swampy, and the great primeval forests had been pushed back but a little distance from the roadside.  Winding worm fences inclosed the small cleared patches of land which were thickly dotted with stumps. Oberlin was located in the forest and the first houses were constructed from timber cut upon the townsite.  The town and college had been founded but seven years at that time.  The stumps had been quite thoroughly cleared out of the town site, but they with the forests stood thick all around the rising college.

Father Kinney secured thirty acres of land a mile and a half northeast of Oberlin.  I think it was all dense forest.  While a house was being built we lived with a near neighbor, a Mr. Josiah B. Hall, who occupied a place that had been under cultivation long enough to grow an orchard and his apples were a temptation to the boys in the neighborhood for many years, for they were the only fruit, except wild fruit which grew in the settlement.

These early years must have been years of privation and some hardship to my mother for she had been reared amid more comfortable surroundings, but I was not aware of the privations.  During the six or seven years of residence near Oberlin, the forests were generally pushed back from the immediate vicinity of the house, but hardly more than ten acres were brought under cultivation so as to contribute food for the family. The cattle had free range of the woods and got their living there wholly in the summer and partly in the winter.  When feed was scarce in early spring, the forest trees were felled so that they could browse upon the buds and small branches.

It was no small part of the chores of my brother Giles and myself to find the cows in the unfenced miles of forest and drive them home for milking.  Did we ever get lost?  Yes, sometimes, but never so badly but that we found ourselves again by some land mark we knew, for we soon became familiar with the forests as well as the fields.

I remember one occasion, when after a long search alone, I had found the herd and tried to drive them home, but the old bell-cow broke away and passed me, taking the whole herd with her.  I could only follow, for I could not "lead" them.  She soon lead out into a place where a road had been surveyed through the forest and the trees filled, preparatory to making the highway.  I then found that the bell cow was right and I was wrong as to the direction of home.  (pp. 15-16)

Talking about his work at the time, Samuel Cravath writes a few pages later:

These were years of work, hard work for children of our years. Father Kinney was absent from home so much attending meetings and in colporteur labors, that a large part of the raising of crops on the home place and on rented land fell to my brothers and myself.  Day after day we were sent to the forest to fell trees and work them up into wood, with no older person to direct us.  We tracked down the smaller trees and generally managed to get them down without lodging them in some of their larger neighbours.

As I said previously, brother George [my great, great grandfather who was 4 years older than Samuel] never had a faculty to manage animals and was rather weak physically. This threw the team work on Giles [Samuel's middle brother - 2 years older to him] and me. One of us would drive or ride and the other hold the plow - generally taking turns.  Both driving and holding the plow was pretty lively work amid the stumps and roots of a pioneer farm.

The care of the team [of horses] gradually fell to me; perhaps from choice.  From the time I was eight years old to eleven, I generally went with the team whenever there was work for the team to do. I hauled four feet wood to the village and had to do the unloading myself.  I was sent not infrequently to Turkey Rock, a stone quarry fifteen miles from Oberlin, for large, square building stones, or half a dozen of which would make a load.  I enjoyed such trips, for tho' it made a long hard day for the horses, there was enough variety along the road to keep me entertained.  The loading and unloading of the big square rocks was always a matter of some anxiety for me.  As the quarry I generally got the assistance fo the quarry men, tho' with some grumbling.  At Oberlin, I generally got the load off alone with the aid of a handspike, which I learned to handle with some skill.  (pp. 19-20)

Reading these words that Samuel Austin Cravath wrote 111 years ago has been a challenging experience for me.  SA Cravath typed out his memoir when he was 65 years old.  As a man SA Cravath's careers saw him experience being a farm hand, college graduate (he returned  back to Oberlin to study), a teacher, a principal, a district school superintendent, a surgeon, a doctor, and finally a newspaper editor and owner.  The internet article I read on him also talks about him being a banker and prominent citizen of Grinnel Iowa which is where he lived the last years of his life.

For one thing I have always considered myself a son-of-the-soil Indian.  Well, this document shows otherwise.  At least one strand of my family was busy cutting the forests and steadily moving west-wards, colonizing the vastness of the United States.  

As a person trained in forestry I have always had a beef against people who allow their cattle to graze in the forests.  Even more so against people who do slash and burn agriculture.  Well, as a young boy at least, Samuel Cravath clearly was doing both. Its strange to find myself on the other side - considering the actions of my ancestor understandable as he helped his family eke out a living, pushing back 'the primeval forest.'

But the thing that really gets me is how hard Samuel Cravath had to work.  And at such a young age.  

I look back at the luxury of my life.  What did I have to do when I was 8 years old?  Read books.  Play downstairs.  Climb trees.  My father made us a tree house.  Samuel's step-dad was so involved with preaching and taking books to others - that much of the business of keeping the family afloat fell an Samuel and his brothers.  My father also did do some travelling when I was a stripling lad - but it never lead to any privation on our part, it never forced any extra labor for my sister, brother and myself!

Its a long way to 1844 and there abouts.  But its not so long - or so far.  Just a casual glance on the street, a quick look into the local eateries - or into the automobile workshops - will show that there are plenty of young children working in our city.  How many of them will be able to step outside this cycle of child labour? And how many will remain confined into the same general (and often alcohol-soaked) poverty of their parents and grandparents?

Reading Samuel Austin Cravath's life-sketch is such a tremendous gift of grace to me.  He writes in the forward that these notes (a 69 paged typewritten manuscript) were written at the request of his beloved daughter Myra... and that "this sketch is not intended for publication or public perusal, but strictly for the family which it concerns."

Well, as a descendant I am interpreting that particular injunction in the broadest possible sense.  Hearing what SA Cravath has to say about the incidents which 'have gone into the making up of a life' has brought many thoughts about my own life, and the function of memory which allows us to go back in time and listen to voices that are all but forgotten in the thick wall of 'information' that we now have to swim our way through.  

Friday, 20 April 2012

MDRTB again

Multidrug resistant TB is an unwelcome friend in our lives.

No, I will rephrase that.  It is not a friend.  It is a scourge.  And it is our friends who have deal with this terrible disease.

Take Balu for example.  We looked after him here at the JSK Centre.  He seemed to improve.  We were able to discharge him for care at home.  But he just didn't regain his weight.  We did a sputum culture.  The dreaded report came. 

He is multi-drug resistant.  Balu is so upset.  He has lost hope.  He refuses to cooperate with any further treatment.  He refuses to wear a mask.  He is angry and at home, a thin dying man being looked after by his wife and mother. 

How do we minister to him?  What precautions should our staff take?  What do we tell his wife?  She is very worried about herself. 

The tragedy is that we have an NGO partner who are willing to give medication for the multi-drug resistant TB. Free.  For the full 2 years of the treatment. 

But Balu is too fed up with treatments.  We are trying to convince him, but he is unwilling to receive help.

Its hard.

Across town a young woman has MDRTB.  Our partners have asked us whether we can admit her.  She is 6 months into her treatment for MDRTB and still sputum positive.

Hard.  What do we do?  Say yes?  Refuse?  Where else does she have to go.

No answers come easy these days (as if they ever did).

We will pray and move forward.  Would that MDRTB be just a memory - instead of a daily reality for us.

Thursday, 19 April 2012


Nalini is a woman dying at the JSK Community Care Centre.  She has been dying for some time now.  But yet she clings on to the slender thread of life.

Nalini was admitted 2.5 weeks ago.  She was found to have severe neurological involvement.  An infection of the brain has led to lesions which are basically incurable.  The medical literature talks about a 8% recovery rate.  The rest die within weeks ... or months.

When she was admitted, Nalini could not sit up.  Her control over basic functions was loosening.

At one point she lost control over her swallowing muscles.  We had to intubate her and have been feeding her through a nasal tube.

Last week we thought her end had come.  Sheba had gone over to see Nalini on a Saturday morning.  She came back saying that Nalini was gasping.  The low laboured breathing many people have just before they die.  She was incontinent.  Her arms were splayed out in an involuntary way - signs of the end.

Nalini's condition is heart-breaking.

All the more so when we see the love that her family is pouring on her.  Nalini was born in Assam.  Her family speaks Bhojpuri and has links to Bihar and eastern UP.  Her sister and her sister's husband have come from their village to help look after her.  At any time our centre has 3-5 people from the family - talking to Nalini, massaging her legs, helping her out. In the morning prayers we are joined by Nalini's sister Laxmi and her husband.  He wears a dhoti and looks like he has just stepped out of his farm.  Which he has.

Laxmi is a person who I have long heard about but have met for the first time now.

She is an unchurched follower of Jesus.

Laxmi has been to the Yeshu Mahasabha that takes place near Allahabad.  She has believed Jesus.  She knows very little about him, but has put her full trust in him.  She says confidently that he answers all her prayers - and that her sister will walk again.

Laxmi's faith humbles me.  It makes me wonder how much I believe.  How much I relegate the Jesus who brought back people from the dead - to the past.

What does it mean to believe?  How should we pray?

When Sheba told me that Nalini was fading my heart sank.  For Nalini - and her precious life - and also from Laxmi and all the family who are so happy that Nalini is being cared for here.  For the love and prayers that we are all able to give Nalini.

When Sheba came back from her afternoon rounds she had a queer look on her face.

I thought it was the end.

It wasn't.

Nalini lives.  She had improved a bit.  Her breathing was no longer the laboured breaths - her hands were back to how they were before.

The next day and the day after - marginal improvements.

On Monday afternoon Laxmi told Sheba that Nalini wanted to eat.  Sheba said that Nalini had lost her power to chew - but was willing to have her eat orally if she would do so in Sheba's presence.  Nalini tried to eat a bit of banana that Sheba put in her mouth - but did not seem to be able to.

Later in the afternoon Nalini pulled out the NG tube herself.  Her family members fed her some biscuits under the supervision of a nurse.  She ate them. Some time afterwards Nalini drank a mango milkshake.

'We have put her fully in Jesus' hands' say Laxmi and the other family members.  Nalini's husband - who recently found out that he too - as a 50 year old man - has HIV - show a faith that humbles.

How do we trust?  As little children.

What a great honour for us to serve saints like these.

Nalini is dying.  And yet she lives.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012


The indignities of being poor.

An HIV positive lady was talking to Sheba and Marise on Tuesday.

Her life is a royal mess.  And one of the strands concerns money.

This lady - who we will call Sheetal - had rented a room from another woman. 

As with many places in Mumbai she gave a deposit of Rs. 25,000/- to the land-lady.   After some time the land-lady gave Sheetal a necklace to wear.  Sheetal claims that it looked like it was gold - but what it really is she does not know.

One night, as Sheetal was sleeping with her children, she sensed someone in the room.  She felt a hand grab the chain around her neck, breaking it off, and saw a young man bolt for the door.

Sheetal recognised the man - it was the son of her land-lady.  She ran after him into the street, shouting for help.   He ran faster and escaped.

Sheetal went to the police and lodged a police complaint.

She told her land-lady about the theft.  Sheetal said she thought that the Land-lady's son was the culprit.  The Land-lady brushed off the accusation.  But she was surprisingly philosophical about the loss of the necklace.  'It was stolen from your neck... it could have been from mine.'  This surprised Sheetal alot.

Then the hammer fell.

Sheetal's Land-lady informed her a few weeks later, that she wanted Sheetal to leave the room, since someone else was coming.

Sheetal agreed - and asked for the deposit back.

The Land-lady refused - saying that the value of the necklace was 25,000/-.

Sheetal was devastated.   Her elder son even more so.  He seems to have lost his mind.  The boy mainly sits at the railway platform gazing into space.

Sheetal is trying to rebuild her life.  She has moved to a far off place where she only pays a deposit of Rs. 5000/-.

The life of the poor is rotten.  The widows and the orphans are preyed upon. 

What do you say to a story like this?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Passing the cup

Pastor Stanley Mehta spoke to a group of Christian leaders last week about dealing with rejection.  He talked about the bitterness that we have in our hearts when others disappoint us, when we feel slighted and ignored, when hurtful words worm their way deep into our hearts.

And Stanley talked about how Christ experienced all of this - and more.  None of us have had God turn His back on us - but Jesus experienced that during the darkness at noon when the sins of all of history were placed on Him - and Father God turned away prompting the anguished cry "my God, my God - why have you forsaken me?"

The good news is that Jesus took the bitter cup of rejection and drank it for me.

I don't need to drink it any more.  Jesus is willing even now to sip the bitterness and give me the release of forgiveness.

That's a great comfort - but first I still have to give Him my cup.

Here is an opportunity to put it into action:

In early January we got an application from a young nurse who wanted to join us.  We met her and she joined Jeevan Sahara on Feb 1st.  Over these two months we were pretty happy with her work and thought that she was adapting well to being with us at JSK.

On April 2nd her sister called up and said that her father was critically ill and in the ICU with a heart failure.  We immediately sent our nurse home to a small town in Maharashtra.  The mission hospital in that town is the one in which my brother Stefan was born.

On the next morning - and through the day - we tried calling our nurse.  She did not pick up the calls.  Our other staff members called.  Same.  One person got through and was told that she arrived safely and that her father was still sick.

Then silence.

More attempts to call.  No picking up.  Once or twice we got through but could not hear what she said.  Strange noises.  Silence.

Near the end of the week one of our nurses who has just left us after working for 5 years at JSK told us something.  She said that this nurse had told her she was leaving as soon as she got this month's salary.

We were devastated - but hoped for the best.  I sent an email to the director of the hospital - who is an acquaintance of mine - and asked whether a certain so-and-so was admitted at the hospital.   The director called me a day later and said that they had no record of the name - neither in the ICU, the wards, the OPD, the pharmacy...

It was true.  Our nurse and her sister had deceived us.  After agreeing to serve here for 2 years - she had left after 2 months - and without the courtesy of saying goodbye.  We sent her off with fervent prayers for her father's recovery.  She knew that there was no father in the ICU.

How not to be bitter?  How not to be angry at deception, at feeling foolish and betrayed?  How to share this with our staff team... another disappointing set of decisions made by a person we trusted and loved?

King Jesus tells us... give me that cup.  The one of bitterness and seeking revenge.

I am doing this.  As the thoughts come to mind ... I give them back to Jesus.  I pray for the nurse regularly.  As a team we have put her into God's hands.

At the end of the day we know that we can move on - but she is carrying the burden of her deception with her - and that the head of the mission hospital in her small town knows about her.  How she is going to get out of what she did is a puzzle - and makes it all the more painful for us since we really saw some excellent steps for her while she was with us.

Its a constant struggle not to allow the bitterness to seep in though.  But what blessed liberation to know that we do not have to hold anything against her.  And whenever the bitter thoughts come we can give them in prayer over to our Lord.

We are still keeping the door open for reconciliation...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Political hoopla - now and .... back then!

Dr. Samuel Austin Cravath was born on 27 Sept. 1836 and died on 20 April 1917.

I am reading his type-written life story.  There is so much that I would like to share that I have decided to give little morsels.  At the top of each of these posts, I shall be putting this little photo that I harvested off the net from a write up about SA Cravath

From out here in India - it seems that the current US Presidential race seems to be going on forever.  Today's news tells us that one of the Republican candidates has folded up his cards - allowing the big-spending front-runner to move forward and challenge Barack Obama.  Money in politics - and big money at that - just begs the question about how accountable any of these men (and the few women involved) are.

Our own dear country of India is awash with political money - with the police seizing money from no less than Raosaheb Shekhawant - who is the son of our head of State - President Prathiba Patil!  Being found with Rs. 10,000,000 in cash at election time he said "I had sought funds from the state Congress Committee for distributing them among 87 party candidates as most of them are women and poor."

So lets go back a 172 years to another era.

Samuel Cravath'a father died when Samuel was only a few months old.  It was thought that he died of malaria after moving from New York to Pennsylvania. His mother remarried, and a few years later the family set out from New York state to start life anew in Oberlin, Ohio - which was where the "frontier" was in those days.   

Samuel Cravath picks up the story telling about his travels in what would have been 1840.

"The campaign of William Henry Harrison for the presidency was at a fever heat at this time. Every little town and cross roads had its flag poles.  Each party was trying to erect a taller pole than its opponent.  Log cabins on wheels followed by a barrell of hard cider were a part of every Whig procession.  "Hurrah for Tippecanoe and Tyler too" was the salutation of nearly every man we met, for northern Ohio was very strongly for the Whig candidate. 

All this band playing, flag raising, marching, hurrahing and blazing torchlight processions was very exciting to the imagination of children.  We had never seen anything like it, nor indeed had our elders, for it was the first presidential campaign in which such displays ran riot.  We, of course, wanted to shout with the crowds but our step-father, Talcott Kinney, thought it all wrong and a sinful squandering of time, money and energy.  I think he was an Abolitionist at that early day and regarded both Whigs and Democrats as wrong, because both upheld slavery."

Monday, 9 April 2012

A treasure

We celebrated Jesus' resurrection yesterday.  Celebrated as a church by calling people together for a time of sharing our stories and and His story.  The whole week we prayed together in different people's homes.  On Saturday evening we hit the streets and gave our invitations to people we met on the road.

And on Sunday evening we celebrated in the JSK training hall.  As a church we celebrate here each Sunday evening from 6-7.30 by holding a gospel meeting for people admitted at JSK and their relatives - and others who wish to come too.  But for the Easter meeting we pulled out all the stops - music, a mini drama, a last minute correography (featuring Asha as one of the dancers) - it was all there.

We all enjoyed a lovely time together, sharing the joy of Jesus with a group of people of 80 odd people.  Who were they?  Our friends ranged from old acquaintances and neighbours to people who we literally met 'by God-incidence' on the street.

There are many stories to tell about yesterday evening.  But I will just stick to one small tale.

After the meeting was over we had a time of talking with people, praying with them - with chai, soda and sandwiches doing their rounds as well.

Small conversations sprouted across the room - and downstairs in the canteen area.

One of them was a woman who had a patient admitted at a hospital in Mumbai.  She had come for help.  She really wanted money.  One of our church members talked with her and prayed with her.  This lady was very restless.  She halted at the gate of the compound - confused, perplexed - and seeking some kind of help. 

What to do?  How to help?

These questions keep cropping up.  How do you help a person you meet for the first time?  Should you give cash?  How much do you need to find out more about them?  The list goes on...

The story yesterday unspooled this way....

As the lady was leaving another man who had come to the meeting - and who heard what she was saying - gave her a Rs. 100 note.

The man is an old friend of ours.  He has HIV.  A few years ago he was drinking himself to death.  Sitting with another HIV positive man in a place where bodies are burnt and drinking day and night.

Somehow - after many prayers and many visits - he turned a corner.  He is alive today.  He goes to work.

Lets call him Tamas.

At his workplace yesterday, he met an autorickshaw driver who showed Tamas a pamphlet he was given on Saturday evening.  Tamas recognised my name on it - and the venue.  And so he came.

It showed us again - at the crux of need - it is often the poor who know how to help best.

On the day we celebrated Jesus' resurrection - a broken life made whole again reached out and touched another who was in despair.

That small act did not pass the muster of the world's press.  It was not talked about in halls of power.  But the Father up above who is looking down in love saw it.

A treasure.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

A call from across the sea

The mobile phone rang.

I could tell it was not a local number.  Some kind of foreign call.  Who could it be?  One of our relatives?  A long-lost friend?  Someone who is trying to meet my dad?  Or someone who has a problem?

It was the latter.

The voice said that he had seen our website ( and would like to know whether we do HIV testing with the results given on the same day.

I explained that we counselled the person and then took the blood sample - and then give the result with counselling the next day.

I asked him why.  And what his name was.

He said that he was Suraj Kumar (obviously we have changed this) and that he was calling from abroad.  Suraj said that he had had an sexual exposure with a prostitute some time ago.  He had already been tested once but recently had gone to a massage parlour and was worried.

We talked some and I told him that if the time period he was talking about was correct - that he had nothing to worry about since he had an HIV 'negative' test result and it was over 7 months after the exposure.

He seemed relieved and we ended the conversation cordially.

I had just been dropping Asha off for her violin class when the call came in.

A few days later Suraj called again.

Would it be possible to have the test done on the same day.  He wanted to fly in and out.

The details seemed the same.  I tried to tell him that he need not worry so much.  And that the cost of flying from the Gulf (he told me what country he was working in) was prohibitive for such a simple test.

A few days later.  Another call.  This time he said that he really had to come.  I asked him to send me an email with the details.

The next day Suraj called and said he had booked a ticket.

He came.

We counselled him and tested Suraj for HIV.

We had asked our part-time lab tech to be there early on that day.  Immediately after the test was done our counsellor Giri Nayak called Suraj in and told him his result.

It was negative.  As we expected.

What a joy for Suraj.   He went out and hugged our lab tech - he was so happy.  He tried to give Giri and Vinod (the lab tech) money to celebrate.  They gallantly refused.

When he met me, he told me his real name.  'Suraj' is a name he set up for himself - complete with its own email address - so that he could make enquiries about HIV without having it linked with his real name.

'Suraj' has a wife and children in Chennai.  He lives in the Gulf.  He has a well-paying job.  But the cost of it all is a life away from his children and wife.

Sheba counselled 'Suraj' on the changes that he would have to make.  His pornography.  His unfaithfulness to his wife.  He had to change from the inside - and only Jesus can help in that.  'Suraj' told her that this was the first time anyone had addressed the real needs.   He had been to a top HIV service institution in Chennai - and they had just told him that he was negative - and to be safe.  They had not address the inner man.

We had a happy man leave that afternoon.

Will 'Suraj' change?  We hope so.

Chances are that he will go back to his previous behaviour patterns.  The mind - especially the mind fueled by sexual fantasies - shapes our actions.  The old testament prophet Jeremiah said that the 'heart is deceitful above all things.'  Ancient wisdom that rings very true today.  We are experts at self-deception.

But we move forward with hope too.

We believe that people can change.  Our hope and desire is that 'Suraj' will shift back to live with his wife and family in Chennai.  It may not be as lucrative a life as in the Gulf - but it is a life well worth living.  A life that God has called us to if we are married.

To have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part.  What God has  joined let no one put apart. 

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Prayer by names

Shanti is one of our JSK staff members.  A widow, she has been working with us for the past 6 years now - visiting homes of people with HIV/AIDS.  Listening to them.  Mothering them.  Helping in the way that she can.

Shanti also attends the house-church we are part of.  Last Sunday she shared this.

"I have been recuperating from my hernia operation and so have been at home for the last few weeks.  I thought I could rejoin JSK in mid March - but had to extend my time and restart in April.  Last week, the name Nalini (name chaged of course) came to my mind.  I knew two women by that name - and so I prayed for them during this week.

One of the Nalinis used to come to our church.  For a long time we have not had any contact with her.  After I prayed for her - she called me!  It was in the context of referring a patient to us at JSK, but I was able to ask her how she was.  Nalini says she is attending another fellowship. I was so glad to here about her.

The other Nalini was a patient of ours.  She was a young woman who found out that her husband and her had HIV.  She had tried to commit suicide at that time - and after than was brought to us.  We had made friends with her - but then she and her husband moved to Pune and we were not give a further contact address.

This Nalini also came to my mind, after not seeing her for three years, and I prayed for her.

Imagine my surprise when I went down on one day this week - and saw the second Nalini on the street!  She was so happy to see me.  I found out that they are living just 2 houses away from where I live!  They just moved back as a couple and have taken a rental room."

Now what are the chances of that happening?

Two people with the same name, being thought about and prayed for.  And then both coming back into contact with Shanti?

It was a privilege to meet the second Nalini in the Bible study we run on Tuesday night at Shanti's home.   We talked about the parable of the two sons - the lost one who went away and wasted the father's money - and the lost one who stayed at home and disgraced his father by not coming in - and the great love of Father for both of them.

How great Father love is for Nalini.  To bring her back.  And place her right next to Shanti's home.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.  Mathew 10.29-31

Friday, 6 April 2012

Rainbows and Second Chances

My brother Stefan Eicher (not to be confused with a certain Swiss crooner) does many things.  Being a great Dad for Ashish, Anjali and the newly minted Amira is one full time job.  Another one is running the Reflection Art Studio which is one of the projects of the Art for Change Foundation that Stefan and his wife Neeru helped set up.

One of the activities of the Art For Change Foundation is the 'Made to Create' team which teaches and immerses diverse groups of learners into the wonderful world of creativity.  Here is a recent art expedition that the Made to Create team did to Sewa Ashram in North Delhi.

Sewa Ashram is a community of the destitute which Stefan and Neeru have been involved in over the years.  It is an intentional community made up largely of men who have been rejected by all others - but have found a shelter to rebuild their lives in a place of acceptance and change.

I came across this series of pictures taken by Timothy Gomez with commentary by Stefan - and have imported it lock, stock and barrel into 'Chai Chats'.  Enjoy as Stefan steps up to the mic and takes us on a tour with the 'Made to Create' team:

One beautiful brother's 'colour flower'. The theme of last week's visit to Sewa Ashram (the community of destitute we visit each month) was the rainbow: exploring colour and the hope we have in God's promises and second chances He gives us.

On the way to Sewa Ashram, Shalem, who coordinates our 'Made to Create' project, hands out the day's lesson plans to the team.

Our destitute friends are waiting for us in the chapel.

Nirakar kicks off with an exercise getting everyone to write their name using their favourite colour. Half of the guys are illiterate so we have them make a small drawing instead, using their favourite colour.

After I've told the story of Noah's ark, speaking of the God of second chances, and the rainbow as a symbol of the hope we have because of who God is, Nirakar hands out paper and has everyone try mixing colours and make a colour wheel, shaped like a 'colour-flower.'

Hard at work on their 'colour flowers.'

I noticed one of the destitute friends sitting quietly without any paper and when I asked him he simply said: "This is not for me, I have never done it, I am not able to do it." I drew a circle and had him add smaller circles to make a flower. Soon he had a whole garden. I asked him how he felt about it. He broke out in this beautiful smile and said he liked what he had created. I shared with the group how he was evidence that we are 'made to create' because God is Creator.

Nirakar then gets everyone to work on a painting about something that gives them hope, just as the rainbow is a sign of hope.

Through simple exercises it's amazing to see signs of the beauty buried in our broken brothers.

Meanwhile in another part of the campus Shalem and Huma are doing the same lesson with about thirty children from a nearby slum who attend a small school run by Sewa Ashram.

 Shalem explaining the task.

Hard at work.

Happy rainbows!

And a proud Habib!

Back with the men, the painting continues.

Once everyone is done we have them share about their paintings, what they made and why.

A rainbow flower.

While setting up at the beginning, Muhammed had shared with me that he was a cycle-rickshaw driver who ended up at Sewa Ashram because of being stabbed in his side by people who robbed him of Rs.1500 and left him to die. By the end of our session he had painted a beautiful rainbow-roofed house.
I give everyone a better view of Muhammed's painting which he explained as follows: "The dark spot in the lower left corner was my life on the streets before. This house is my dream, it symbolizes my hope since coming to Sewa Ashram where I have found new life."