Carry your candle... go light the world go the strains of a stirring song.
We did that over this weekend. World AIDS Day - Dec. 1st was marked on Saturday - and Mumbai AIDS Sunday - was commemorated on the next day.
It was action stations all the way. The JSK team did an amazing job - running a huge awareness and testing camp at a nearby Primary Health Centre. Thanks to their tireless advocacy - and to the govt. doctor and nurses seeking to have all their TB patients tested - the team managed to counsel and test 159 people! This was a tribute to the hard work done by the outreach team who toured around the vast slum in which the PHC is located, doing street plays about HIV and handing out pamphlets about the camp and booklets aimed at young people.
Sangeeta, one of our staff, told us this morning that she felt shy doing the skit at the place where she normally does her vegetable shopping. Later in the evening she heard two children talking about her - "look, there is one of the people from the circus" they said pointing at her. She went over and explained about the skit that they had been performing.
That we were hitting the right people was evident both from the numbers - all the tests were entirely voluntary and confidential - and also what they told the counsellors. Many of the young people (mainly men) are sexually active and make no bones about it. Amazingly - not a single person tested HIV positive. It shows how blessed we are to have a relatively low population prevalence of HIV in our country. And how much we want this to stay this way.
In the evening we went as a family to the United Basel Mission Church in Chembur for a choir night. Christmas season is kicking off and we were treated to some awe-inspiring music from various choirs across Mumbai and beyond. I had been asked to speak and found it strangely apt to about Jesus who was born at the very margins of society, was a refugee, was considered a bastard by his peers and the religious authorities - and who calls His children to love as He loved us. To leave the beauties of the church and be church out in the slums and in the brokenness of people's lives.
But we need beauty too. As a family we managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the Nehru Planetarium in Worli and were gob-smacked to see glimpses of the wonders of the Cosmos.
We saw images like this - and were humbled to be reminded of just how small a planet we live in the midst of the innumerable dizzying strands of galaxies...
And in all of this the narrator kept coming back to the miracle that the earth is - bejeweled blue wonder - alive and atmosphere-sheathed due to the immense amount of life we enjoy here. And able in our finiteness to look out and wonder at all that stretches out far beyond what we can really fathom... The only wonder they left out was that so much beauty and structure can be marvelled at without giving credit to the master Artist who lovingly spoke them into being out of nothingness... ah well, its been that way from the very beginning of humanity...
And it was this one who breathed the universe into being who chose to become a totally helpless child, being cleaned and nursed by his mother and foster dad, and to live a life that can only be called a miracle for each one of us. Entirely apt to be remembering Christ on a day when we remember people with HIV - and vice versa - bringing the needs of people with HIV to Christ and his church.
I spoke the next morning at a Marthoma Church in Thane (1.5 hours of Malayalam liturgy - with 20 mins of sermon by me about Jesus and the man with leprosy in the middle of the eucharist celebration) - and then was part of our own house-church commemoration of Mumbai AIDS Sunday. We had one of our church members who is living with HIV share her testimony - and a dear brother from the Indian Air Force talked about perfect love casting out fear. We then had intercessory prayer together, shared our experiences and enjoyed a pot-luck love feast. In the afternoon a smaller group (alas) stayed on for more prayer and then we split up to visit homes. All 5 homes that the small teams went to were people living or having had parents affected by HIV.
In one particular home, a young girl was dying. Her mother who had largely given up caring for her over the past months was at home. Our 3 church folk who had come to the home spent time with the girl. Talking to her. Praying with her. Holding her hand. She was too weak to speak. Her mother went into the tiny kitchen with one of the ladies and cried. What do you say? When the team got back home a phone call came. The girl had left this world. Another person with HIV slipping into eternity.
No easy answers. But how blessed that our people were with this mother and child in those last minutes of her life. How much the heart of Jesus is broken by the hidden suffering in our midst. And how much His heart must be broken by the callous vulgar pursuit of self that is the dominant religion of this age (and has been since a certain twosome broke trust with God in their beautiful garden home so many years ago).
Carry your candle... go light the world