Sunday, 20 January 2013

Asha is 12

Certain numbers have a ring about them.  12 certainly does. 

Our Asha now has the joy of being a dozen years old.  Her twelfth spin around the sun since the day she was born ended on 16th Jan 2013.

Having arrived back the night before from a quick visit to my parents in Mussoorie (they are doing so much better - thanks for the prayers) we started the day's festivities in the traditional way.  We got up at an unearthly hour and prayed with Asha and gave her gifts (with a few for Enoch as well - I was after all bearing gifts from Oma and Opa too!). 

Just like my Dad did for me when I was a kid - I had gotten up at an even more unearthly hour and had hidden the different packages around the room.  When the eager searchers came to the end of their attempts and wanted clues, the traditional 'hot' and 'cold' helped them home in on the treasures.

Each stage in life has its wonderful joys.

We are now at a point where its not only parents giving gifts, but our kids who gift each other.

Enoch had chosen a purple and white necklace for Asha which was approvingly received by his big sister.

A quick breakfast later and it was off to school!

Asha's school day starts at 7 AM and she likes to be there by 6.40 at least.   Left to herself, she would be the first at school - and is thrilled on the odd occasion that we actually end up there at 6.30 and find that the gates have not even been opened.

Since it's her birthday, she has a special concession - she does not have to wear the uniform she normally dons.  Instead, she is allowed to wear whatever she wants.  Today it will be her new dress.

Its a happy Daddy who for the first time takes a 12-year old to school!

When her fellow students see that she is not in uniform, the wishes come thick and fast.

Its the same when I picked her up at 1 PM and we walked home.  Boys and girls would ask her if it was her birth-day and then on hearing the yes - would say things like 'many happy returns of the day!'

The school does not allow the children to bring sweets to school to distribute - partly because it can get out of hand with each class having 50 students.  The 'arms-race' of giving more expensive treats can quickly kick in.  So kids are not supposed to bring a bag of sweets on their birthday to hand out to their friends.  Instead the birthday child is encouraged to donate a book to the school library.  Ever the 'law-abiders' - we chose a book off went Asha to school!

Later that evening - after some of the lady staff from Jeevan Sahara came over to wish Asha - we had Sheba's cousin Agnes over for a meal. 

Agnes was leaving for a month at home in Andhra Pradesh the next day - which means that she should be back in time for the next big birthday - our dear Enoch who turns 10 on the 19th of February!

We usually try to have a small party for our kids on their actual birthday - but this year it didn't work for Asha.  Her school has their 2nd unit tests this week - and being a mid-week night, none of her classmates would be there if we were to celebrate on the 16th itself.

So we just prolonged Asha's birthday celebrations till the weekend.

Today was the big day.

Early up and everything on war-footing.  The kids had been invited and vetted and planned for.  A menu had been made but last minute purchases were needed.  'Return gifts' (small token gifts given to each person who attends the party) were planned and bought and today Asha and Enoch packed the little goody bags.  And then there was the cake to be shaped and iced.  And the wadas and custard to be made.  And the house to be cleaned.  And on top of all of that - I had still not prepared most of the games.

One of the beauties of today was that we were able to do so much - all at once - with such harmony.

I can be quite the Mr. Cranky when the going gets rough - but was blessed with a coolness that can only stem from my sweet Lord Himself.  Looking back on everything that went on today  I can only say: Wow, thank you Jesus!

At 3.30 PM, there were only the 4 of us in the home.  Then a few minutes later the guests started to trickle in.  Since I was feverishly trying to put the last touches to the games I was happy for any delay. 

But after enough of her friends came, Asha dragged me away from my pieces of paper and we plunged into the main programme.

We had chosen 'mystery' to be the theme for the party and so all the games were linked in with one of the five Ws ('who', 'what', 'when', 'where' and 'why' as well as our other old friend 'how').

The party was almost entirely girls. Enoch was the only boy for most of the afternoon - except right near the end when the younger brother of one of the girls showed up.  At the end of the day Sheba and I had a chat and wondered how long this phase will last...

We are so grateful for this amazing daughter of ours who has brought us so much joy over these dozen years since Asha was born.

Birthday celebrations are great because they allow us to celebrate what we so often take for granted.  They offer us some of the few occasions where we can express our affection for a person without it being under a haze of suspicion.   While we hardly are a family that is stingy with affection - another opportunity never hurts!

What a joy it is to give back to the kids what we received when growing up.  I remember the almost feverish (no make that totally feverish) excitement we had in the run up to our birthdays - and the lovely games Dad would organise. 

It's great to be on the other side of the fence now and see the eager faces of Asha and her friends as we played together.

These twelve years of enjoying Asha have been very rich for Sheba and myself.  The Lord has given us the privilege of parenting a very special girl - who we know is already a blessing to many and will continue to be one in the steps ahead.
It seems like just yesterday we gathered around Asha's first b-day cake - a green parrot.

I don't think she understood much on that day.  Other than she was loved by many. 

But here as a 12-year old.  A girl the same age Jesus was when He talked about the temple being His Father's house.  A girl who is shooting up height-wise and for whom our previously used parenting skills are now in for a major revamp.

Welcome to the mystery of life - dear Asha.

We are so proud of you and all that God is doing in and through you.

We are thrilled by glimpses of the future that we see in you - and a bit scared too.

We know that this year is going to be a superb one for you.

You have brought so much joy to us already - we consider 12 years to have already been more than our portion.  But we are excited to see how God will be shaping and moulding your life in this year and the years ahead.

Its a mystery how we can experience the very presence of the divine in us.  But the joy we have is that this mystery is not some figment of imagination.  It's the gospel truth!

Asha flanked by her dear friends Nikita and Jasper!

Dear Asha, now we have a whole wonderful year to live together before we celebrate again on your 13th!

Birthday cakes as performance art

There is nothing like a birthday cake to get the creative juices flowing.

Like any form of art - the b-day cake traverses the gap between the mind of the creator and the actual gestalt of the final art work - and ends up taking a life of its own.

For thine is the Kingdom. 
Between the conception. 
And the creation. 
Between the emotion. 
And the response.  
Falls the Shadow

Looking back on today I see Asha's 12th birthday cake as a kind of peformance art.

With the 3.30 PM of the party starting - the creative juices were not only flowing but positively churning as the 6 AM carving began.  Then over the course of the day the cake took shape.  After getting its final touches - the cake played a brief cameo as candles were lit and the traditional song sung.  Then seconds later the destructive part of the day began as birthday girl had blown out the candles and started carving it up.

At the end of the day, its full glory is only a sweet memory.

Here are the steps this particular artistic performance took:

We had baked the 3 chocolate cakes (using a recipe from the trusty-rusty Landour Cookbook) and had prepared a foil-covered base the night before.  Some pictures for proportion always help too!

Its always a thrill to get the cakes out of their pans and start cutting!  I do the initial shaping on newspaper because they make a lot of crumbs.

At this point the aim of the game is to get the basic shape right - and use as much of the cake as possible.  Its great fun trying to use the odd pieces that you end up with. 

The cake I made this year was 'Cluedo the Cat.'  He was to fit in with the 'mystery' theme for Asha's party and one early idea was to make his tail into a big question mark.

 When the basic shape is ready, you can transfer him to the foil base and make the icing.  I use a simple recipe from the (you guessed it) Landour Cookbook - 1 tbsp butter, 1.5 cups powdered sugar (Enoch helped me grind and sift this) and adding a little hot milk time to time to help in mixing.  Simple food colouring sets up the palette.

When I was a pre-teen and my mother encouraged me to bake I read a simple children's cook-book that told me to ice the sides of the cake before the top.  I religiously follow this advice to this day...

A little milk on a knife can make the rough smooth.  Pity that that doesn't work for all the rough patches of our lives...

Its now a race against time.  Will we be able for finish?  Its almost 2 - guests are due to come at 3.30 and the house is a mess.  But thanks to a handy-dandy pastry injection (for want of not knowing what the contraption is) which our friends John and Nalini gave us earlier - all the final decorations can be but on without too much heart-burn!

And sure enough - the guests start to arrive.  There is some oohing and aahing about the cake and then it is forgotten as the games begin.

But "Cluedo the Cat' has his moment of glory too:

With the strains of 'Happy Birthday dear Asha' still lingering (and the slightly rowdier version which features her being in a zoo and references to certain caged beasts) the candles are blown out and Asha confidently cuts the cake and feeds all and sundry.

The main cake is whisked into the kitchen and cut up and added to a serving of two medu-wadas and a bowl of custard with grapes and banana in it.

At the end of the party - this is what remains.

Cluedo the Cat has not quite disappeared like the Chesire Cat in Alice in Wonderland of whom only his broad smile could finally be seen.

But this piece of art is now being transformed into energy - some of which is being used to keep Asha's friends (and family and herself of course) moving around (or sleeping as it would be) and some is being used to actually physically make them who they are.

How about that for tranformational art?


Friday, 18 January 2013

Lying and redemption

How do you forgive a lie?

How do you forgive a lifetime of lies?

How do you know that the liar - in his / her confession - is not still lying?

Over the last year the noose of truth has been slowly but surely tightening around one of our generation's most revered sportsperson.  Lance Armstrong.  Record-breaking Tour de France winner.  Cancer survivor.  Champion.  Philanthropist.  Motivator.  Brand.

For years the murmur of dissent has been there.  For years he denied it - and built up a formidable army of defenders.  After all, he was never 'caught' with a doping violation....

We face the same in our day to day living.

So many of us slip by life with a variety of untruths.  Some of us become so adept at lying that it becomes our native tongue.  Where we actually trick ourselves into believing that what we are saying is true.  One of the most pitiful sights is seeing people who have lied so much that only they are still being deceived.  When everyone else has long since seen through the facade, and only that person is still carrying on 'as if nothing happened.'

Truth is based on trust.  I has to be earned.  Lying cuts at the core of who we are.  It eats away at our relationships.

We have gone through a season of dealing with lies at our work - from people who we trusted and poured our lives in.  Its devastating to find out that so much of what went on was false.

And its also so hard to rebuild.

For one, you just don't know how much of the 'new' person is really 'new.'  Each statement, each step forward brings back the mental question: "are we back to the lying, or is this trust-worthy?"  Its only after a long painful amount of trust-building - verified, consistent, good-faith words-matching-deeds - that we can resume and rebuilt what the lies have destroyed.

It is no wonder that most don't want to go through this - they prefer to 'run away' and 'start afresh.'  The problem is that most continue to lie in their 'new places.'

For the person who lies - the own self-delusion is usually still so strong that it continues to deceive them.  Most people 'confess' only when they are caught.  And usually only when they are caught so badly that they see no other way out.

Lance Armstrong fits this to a T.

Listen in on a bit of his 'confession' to Oprah (the irony of this lady becoming a minor deity is brilliantly put by my dear friend Sao Tunyi on his blog.

Here is Lance:

"I looked up the definition of a cheat: to gain an advantage. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."

So what he is saying is... I didn't cheat - because I was not trying to get an advantage that was unfair.  Its a chilling picture of the spirit of the age - do whatever seems right to you.  You are the final arbiter of right and wrong.

Lets back up and hear this bit (courtesy of the BBC sports website)  

In a key exchange Winfrey asked: "Did it feel wrong?

Armstrong replied: "No. Scary."

"Did you feel bad?"

"No. Even scarier."

"Did you feel that you were cheating?"

"No. The scariest."

Armstrong continued: "The definition of a cheat is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field. I didn't understand the magnitude of that. The important thing is that I'm beginning to understand it.

"I see the anger in people, betrayal. It's all there. People who believed in me and supported me and they have every right to feel betrayed and it's my fault and I'll spend the rest of my life trying to earn back trust and apologise to people."

One of the people that Lance cheated is Rick Reilly, who spent 14 years defending Lance's lies.  He has given his response: here.

The sad part of it all is that Lance only has said all this because he has run out of options.  Some lines from a fairly light-weight Paul Simon song (You can call me Al) captures Armstrong and the spirit of the age:

I need a photo opportunity
I want a shot at redemption
Don't want to end up a cartoon
In a cartoon graveyard...

As much as all this makes your stomache churn - there is a small silver lining.

And that is that the harsh fall opens at least a glimmer of hope for real redemption.  Judging from Lance's pretty melodramatic episode with Oprah he is more interested in jigging out of a hard spot once again.  Just another chapter in the Livestrong episode.  And that is true for most habitual liars.

But spare a thought for those who are still living the lie 'successfully'.

How blessed it is to be brought on your knees - if that leads to truth and new life.

My prayer for Lance and others (myself included) is that we will not try to wriggle out anymore.  We will not believe in our own fantasies.  We will have Godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  And that we will show forth the fruit of repentance before we slip back into the limelight.

no man is an island, a continent to himself...

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Bits of the Wall

Mum and Dad's place is a museum.  Anything beautiful, old and worthwhile that enters never seems to leave.  The attic is full of papers and various treasures from our childhood (I stumble across a vacation diary I wrote in 1982).  Shanti Kunj's walls are covered with photos, every shelf that is not groaning with books has the odd knick knack that tells a tale.

In the side board are 4 stones.  I recognised them and laid them out.  They are not pretty rocks found on the hillside or from a stream.

Holding the concrete bits in my hand took me back to 1990.

Stefan had just finished high-school at Woodstock and we were travelling in Germany on our way to college in the US.

We went to Berlin and stayed with our Aunt Esther and Uncle Karl.  They were a part of the family from Eastern Germany who were more closely associated with the party that most of our members.  He was at such a level that he was able to travel abroad during the days when foreign travel was strictly prohibited for most of the rank and file.  Of all our East German relatives - he was to only one to see me as a baby - since he visited India to take part in a 'peace conference'  (we don't have too many of those these days after the fall of the Iron Curtain...).

As we sat and discussed the extra-ordinary events of the previous summer - and the collapse of the German Democratic Republic - Uncle Karl expressed a sense of sadness.  He felt that things could have been better if people were given a chance.   A life-time in the party leaves its traces.   They were happy with the change - but I think were a bit bewildered by the suddenness of it all - and were having to rewind their lives and the decisions they had made so far.

But when we asked them for a hammer and a chisel they were more than happy to lend them to us.  They knew why we wanted the tools. We were on a mission.  We had to do something for our mother.

And so when we went to the Potsdammer Platz and wandered around what had been previously one of the most feared places on earth - we actually got to do the unthinkable.

To personally hammer away at the 'Berlin Wall.'

To take some of the chips of concrete away as souvenirs.

As little bits of concrete history.

As a gift to our mother whose life had been so twisted by the sham republic of the GDR and the buying in that so many made to the lies.

And now, the oddly-shaped little bits of concrete lie in a glass case along with what remains of my German grandmother's porcelain dining set.  One of them still with some graffiti paint on it.

As testimony to the power of truth.

A reminder about how even the most 'permanent' barriers can be broken.

Let freedom ring!

Aunt Esther and Uncle Karl O. have both died in the mean time.  Aunt Esther died after a long fight with cancer - and Mum and Dad spent a wonderful time with Uncle Karl in the fall of 2011.  He was delighted to be able to use his English with Dad and they had a deep and meaningful time of prayer together.   We believe that Uncle Karl is tasting the fullness of new life with Jesus at this time - having passed out of this life last year.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

In praise of pills

Mum, Dad and I were having lunch.

I looked over and beside both of their plates were little pill holders.   Dad's looks like a small egg holder (a shot glass?) and Mum's is a small heart shaped box decorated Kashmiri style.

Towards the end of the meal they both took their pills.

Dad's dose is some paracetemol to help with his neck pain - and a pill of garlic.

Mum's is her lithium tabs that she takes faithfully.  1 per day currently.  But some kind of pill everyday for the last 30 plus years.

I still remember Mum, Dad and Premi going away to Lucknow for a two week period when Stefan and I were boys.  They went to have Mum seen by Dr. Marjorie Foyle who was a missionary psychiatrist at Noor Manzil.  This was the early 80s and her diagnosis of bi-polar disorder was well ahead of the curve.  We used to have to get the lithium tabs from the UK.  Our pharma companies have long since produced the tabs here.

So here it is. I am so grateful for these pills that Mum has so faithfully taken.  It has helped her live a normal life - free from the crippling depression that only she (and to a lesser extent Dad) knew about as we were growing up.  Her willingness to stick to the tabs gave us a mother.

How many times over the years since have I met folks who have been diagnosed with various mental illnesses - and prescribed a course of treatment - only to have them stop as soon as they 'felt better.'

There is a tendency to desire a pharmaceutical solution to everything.  Some people seem to thing that there is a 'pill for every problem, a needle for every need.'  But in our family Mum's faithful taking of her meds has made such an immense contribution to all of our lives - and allowed her and Dad to bless so many others over the years.

Friday, 11 January 2013

An unexpected journey

Mussoorie is the last place I would expect myself to be in winter - but this morning I bundled out of the train in the darkness of Dehra Dun, got into a trusty-rusty ambassador taxi - and found myself wending up the roads to the cold, blue-washed-with-morning-sun-gold-crispness of Mussoorie.

And look what greeted me when I got out of the taxi at Sister's bazaar:

The awesome sight of Bandarpoonch - its 20K ft peaks towering majestically under the powder blue sky.

I had to pinch myself as I walked down to Shanti Kunj. The morning sun was shining through the oaks, lighting up the ferns and moss growing on their trunks into green gold.  The stark blackness of their twisted forms against the rising warmth put a song in my heart.

I came to Mussoorie this morning on behalf of our families to spend some time with Dad and Mum as Dad injured his neck 2 weeks ago.  But as I walked down leaf littered path in the stunning beauty of the morning I wished so badly it would not only be me walking down - but that we could hear the happy shouts of Asha and Enoch as Sheba and I walked down together.

That was not possible because of the work at Jeevan Sahara and the children's tests that are starting up next week - and so I was designated to bear their love and prayers and get-well-soon cards to Dad and Mum.

And as I turned the final corner - who should I see but Dad himself!  He had come out to close the front gate and saw my white-wooly-hat bobbing down the path.

I was soon ushered in and with hugs and prayers we started the supremely pleasurable business of delighting in each others company.

Dad was looking so great - the cold means that he has to bundle himself up and the Philadelphia collar he wears is hardly seen under the layers.

I had been able to stop in to see Stefan and Neeru briefly yesterday night on the way to the train station - and so was bearing gifts from both the Thane and Dwarka branches of the Eicher family.

But more that the notes and pictures, it was the love and concern that so many have expressed for Dad.  With so much going on, it has been hard for Mum and she picked up a nasty cold which she is just coming out of.

How God works - a week ago, the thought of my coming here seemed impossible.  But when it became clear that Dad would not need surgery (which we were suggesting be done in Thane if it were needed) the thought came to just pop up for a few days.  A dear friend of ours gave the thrust to this by getting Mumbai-Delhi tickets and almost before I could say 'Raymond Elmore Eicher'  here I am in Mussoorie!

That includes gaping in wonder at the beauties that curates all over the house:

And looking stunned at the pristine sky with the hills fading into smoky blues.  All with the almost ringing sound of sheer silence about me.

I drink lots of tea - but today's haul of endless (and very large) mugs of tea and coffee takes the cake (did I mention that Mum made hot apple pie that came right out of the oven as we finished supper)? 

Yes, I think you can sense that I am a bit confused.  I was supposed to come up here to comfort and help and be of use to Mum and Dad.  Instead, I seem to be lapping up beauty like nobodies business.

Truth be told, Mum and Dad were just thrilled - and so grateful to the whole family (and not only in Thane, but also in Dwarka and Alaska) who are standing by them at this time.  I was the happy sacrificial lamb who gets to be the bearer of love.

We talked a lot today - and not only about happy things.  There are dear ones to us who have made and continue to make such destructive choices for themselves and their families.  We prayed and talked and ate and slept (yes - all 3 of us took afternoon naps) and so the day has come to an end.  I am about to turn in to the electric-blanket heated bed down-stairs.   Everything is cold and dark and quiet here in the woods on the edge of the Himalayan foothills.  Below me twinkle the cold diamonds of Dehra Dun's lights.

And far away in Thane-town, Sheba and Asha and Enoch will be returning home from the Friday night Bible study.  They should be back by 11 PM and will be sleeping under a fan.  Sheba's help in holding down so many responsibilities to enable me to bring their love up here makes the experience all the more poignant for me.

Its a strange world - but one where the love of God compels us to move forward.  None of us would have dreamed on Monday that on Friday night I would be here in Mussoorie.  Thank God!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Rising from the rubble

It may seem like rubble to you - but to us it is the sweet sunlight of opportunity.  

We are (finally) doing some long-hoped for reconstruction at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra.  We are making two 4-bedded wards by removing the walls between two sets of rooms that were used as out-patient consulting rooms in the old Lok Hospital.   We have also had the floor ripped up and will be refurbishing the place.

Another key bit of work that is being done is the turning of the old Lok Hospital X-ray room into a 2-bedded isolation ward for our friends with HIV who also have active TB.   We not only get a number of patients who need care for TB - but also have requests for us to look after people with known multi-drug resistant TB infections.  Having this mini-ward will be a huge help.

All of this takes time to do - and we don't expect it to be done before the end of March.

So in the meantime - we are living in a construction zone.

Besides the hard-ware upgrades, we really, really need a massive soft-ware upgrade too at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

We require 4 dedicated, Jesus-loving, called-to-care-for-people-with-HIV nurses.   Another doctor will also really, really be helpful.

Can we have such a team up and running by the end of March?

Watch this space.  And pray.  And get the word out!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

End it!

I heard an amazing speech last week.  It was crazy late but somehow I was up (childhood insomnia still playing games with me) and I clicked on to the Passion 2013 conference.  They had a live stream going - and not expecting to be able to catch much I tried it out.  The thing actually worked.  I was in Thane sometime after midnight - and the speaker was there in Atlanta - pouring out his heart.

It turns out the man was Gary Haugen - the founder of International Justice Mission.  He was talking about the 27 million people today who are in some form of slavery / bondage around our world - and how IJM and others have been working to bring freedom and restoration.  He gave a challenge to the crowd to end slavery in this generation.

Gary was talking to 60,000 young people.

That's right.  60 K.  All together for 4 days of worship and hard core Bible teaching.  And other things too.

OK - please be warned because here comes Mr. Cynical...

Where there are that many people there is going to have to be hoopla.  And sure enough you have the kind of stage and pyrotechnics that would do a U2 concert proud.

When they say jumbo-screen - they really mean it.  Jumbo-wumbo.  Strangely the crowd seemed all to be wearing clothes of a palate that covered a small spectrum of tea stains.  Its a quarter century since I started college as a freshman in 87 - styles change I guess.

Its easy to be cynical when you hear the conference organiser extolling the virtues of the concert oops I mean conference app and earnestly telling people about the many 'giving stations' where people can swipe their cards and I assume their smart phones to get the cash going in the right direction.  The goal (at least of the appeal that I heard) - to raise US$ 3 million to be able to 'end it now' - to stop slavery world-wide in this generation.

But think of it.  Where else do you get so many young people together with such - well - passion?  Yes you are going to have some loopiness and some razzmatazz to cater to such huge numbers.

And at the end of the day - it wasn't the big names that were bringing all these people together - it was by and large a desire for deeper intimacy with Jesus.  Just because something is large and successful doesn't mean its wrong.

So here I was in the darkness of a post 1 am bedroom in Thane - Gary was speaking half a world away - but with such clarity about the call to justice - and how Christ is our only hope to see justice done - and how individual lives have been shaped by the obedience that Jesus-followers who live their lives for him are doing.

One of the many superb things Gary said was that this generation can end slavery as we know it.  And then he gave the punchline - not because this generation is more clever, more wired, more talented, more rich, more caring, more whatever - but because there is a great God who cares - and who wants to use this generation for His glory.

And then right after Gary's talk the main organiser comes up on stage to announce the 'End it Now' programme and challenges people to give.  And I have to admit to a bit of a thrill when the very first of the partner organisations he named was one I know well - because they are working in Mumbai to rehabilitate women in the sex trade.   My good friend Jim was in Atlanta for the conference on behalf of this organisation - and I immediately shot off an email telling him how excited I was for him.

This is his response: 

Hey brother,

So good to hear from you. I most probability am way off but am more discouraged being here, so much theatrics, so many buzz words and all of these ways does not allow for deeper thinking. I very much doubt that even a few people would be interested in hearing the complexities and labor involved.

Feeling convicted to draw much closer to the Lord this year, look forward to seeing you brother.

Its a long way between the huge high of being with 59,999 other enthusiastic worshippers...

.... to the gritty reality of a daily slog to help women in the sex trade get out.  Really get out.  And stay out.  And start up a new life.  And really be changed.

I had the privilege of spending a week with a church-based organisation that works with who are active in the sex trade in Mumbai.

I came away deeply challenged, and disturbed.

Here is a world I was dimly aware of  - that exists side-by-side, intermingled with the world around it.  A world where women are used and abused and where wrong seems right.  A world which thrives bondages of all kinds - mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, financial.  Where the end effect on the women is such disheartening coarseness that you just want to run away.

And yet my colleagues whose work I was 'evaluating' went into the areas every day.  Making relationships.  Investing themselves into these women and their children.  Treating them with love and respect.  Praying with them.  Offering health teaching and curative options.  Getting them together for times of singing and sharing.  Opening up options for them to leave the trade.  Helping those who take the plunge to start afresh.  Loving, caring, loving, caring...

And yet the 'results' of this amazingly dedicated set of workers seemed to me to be so dishearteningly few.  I was told by one of the workers that she thought 4 women had left the trade during 2012 directly due to their efforts to reach out to them.

The hundreds of hours of work.  The terrible toll on the workers own families.  The faithful and persistent following up of people who can be oh-so-ungrateful at times, whose lives are governed by such different patterns....

But as the chairman - a senior pastor - told me... its not about all the starfish that are washed up on shore - its about the ones that the man tosses back into the sea.  There may be small numbers - but those who do take the plunge and start a new life are building destinies.  The chairman then turned the story around - why are there not more people throwing starfish back into the ocean.

Why indeed?

Part of it - I think - has to do with the inevitable sloth that we have. The need to feel secure.  The need for us to get our own little set of success variables right - and our tendency to 'push-back-for-later' the opportunities that arise to change the lives of others.

The area of slavery - and especially the various shades of bondage that exist in the sex-trade - is something we are just so uncomfortable with - that we would so much rather get out our cheque-books and write out a sum - than for us to have anything to practically do with it.

Sounds suspiciously like almost anything that is really going to stand the test of time - it is hard and often thankless work - which most will give a wide berth - but which can lead to destinies being changed.

I don't know if the prayer that my co-evaluator Dr. Lalita Edwards had with an aging sex worker (a madame?) will really make a huge difference in her life or not.  But I am glad she prayed.  And we must move forward in hope.

One thing we know.  Nothing comes easy.  If there were easy and pain-free options to ending slavery we would have done those long ago.

How much we need sloggers.  People who can, and will, continue to reach out in love.   How much we need clusters of people who work together and encourage each other.   This is what the local church should be.  What it must be.  A community of those-being-repaired who are relentlessly committed to joyful and God-fearing love-in-action.  

We are so glad for the amazing experience that our 60K friends had in Atlanta at Passion 2013.  We want to see at least 60K local church congregations giving of themselves for the long haul.  Being ready to follow Jesus as He radically calls them to, rather than continue to follow in the well-worn grooves of comfortable marry-you-bury-you-have-a-merry-Christmas-and-church-raffle Christendom.  We need people with a generational vision.  And willingness to live for eternity instead of just the present.

Its no surprise that our Lord Jesus had women who used to be prostitutes in his core team of followers.  Here was a man who set these women free. May His Spirit continue to blow through us in power today.

Monday, 7 January 2013


Yesterday was Sunday.  And we talked in our house-fellowship about the challenge of seeing injustice all around us.  About how our hearts bleed when evil seems so dominant and pervasive.  But also about how this has been true across the ages.

The Hebrew prophet Habakkuk writing in the late 7th century BC cries out to God saying:

Why do you make me look at injustice?
    Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    there is strife, and conflict abounds.

Therefore the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
    so that justice is perverted.          [Hab. 1.3-4]

Doesn't that sound like a complete description of India in 2013?  Well it was also true of a pre-industrial small Judaen Kingdom which was being overrun by the first hordes of Babylon.  We still have the very same sorts of people around us.

But the sweep of history does not stop at injustice - it also includes God's call to persevere: the righteous person will live by his faithfulness and a real promise that one day the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Glory of the Lord.

Its this hope that allows Habakkuk to state that though the fig tree does not blossom and all else fails still I will rejoice in the Lord.

Habakkuk is no escapist.  He is a realist who sees the destruction around him - who cries out to God - and who anchors himself in real hope.  In real joy amidst the smashing.

We made a small step ourselves yesterday afternoon.

After having lunch together as a church, some of us stayed on for prayer.  And action.

We split up into small groups and visited different people in their homes.

Sheba, Sunita and I went to meet a woman we will call Laila.   

Laila lives 'on the pipeline.'

I had never been there before.  It is a triple row of slum shacks that are built literally on top of the pipeline that brings water from distant reservouirs into Mumbai city.  One of those 'open spaces' that shantytowns cropped up on.  

Laila was in a 'room' that was 6 ft wide and 15 ft long.  One side was a raw brick wall.  The other side had poles with tin sheets and pieces of packing paper for a wall.  The sound of advertisements from the TV blaring next door poured through the narrow wall.  The 'owner' of the shack obviously subdivided it to earn a bit more.

We had gone to Laila because a lady from another church had brought her and her daughter to us for TB treatment some months prior.  We tested them both for HIV and they are blessedly negative.  But the TB was real and took time to treat.  Lailas early teen daughter Shiney (another pseudonym of course) has a big TB nodal growth on the side of her neck which Shiney covers by keeping her long hair draped over it.

But both have taken their meds and are doing so much better.

Laila asked Sheba to help out with her son.

We came into the shack and saw him on the bed.  

Or rather saw his head.  

A big head, wrapped around with blankets.  Being fed.

Where was the body?  It is there - but small and shrivelled.  As Sheba parted the bed clothes - while talking gently to Harish we saw his twisted legs.  His painfully thin chest.  He is 5 years old and looks like a 2 year old body - other than the big head.

When Harish was 2 years old he had TB meningitis.  A tubercular infection of the brain.  His mother and father didn't know what to do.  

Since then he has been bed-ridden.  His development has virtually halted.  He looks around with vacant eyes.  Cries quietly and is lovingly fed by his mother or his sister Shiney.  There are 2 other children too.  The youngest is a boy of 2 years old.  Laila looks at her youngest son and says that one day Harish was also just like that.  The other girl is out playing.  Laila's husband - whose name is written in English on a name plate on the door is away at work.

We look at the boy.  We look at the narrow little 'home' where 6 people (that we know of) live.  We see the sadness in Laila's eyes.  Harish moans again.  His sister rubs his hair.  The head looks around.  The TV blares from across the paper thin wall.

It all seems so hopeless. So wrong.  So crazy.  

To have a family living like this.  To go through such suffering with no apparent end in sight.

After talking for some time, we open the Bible.  I talk about the man whose son was repeatedly thrown into fire and water by a demonic spirit.  He comes to Jesus and pleads with him for help - if he can.  Jesus replies:  If I can?  All things are possible to him who believes.  The father immediately shouts - "I believe - help my unbelief!"

That was our prayer in that dark little room.

We believe, help our unbelief.  

We know that change is coming.  Help us not to doubt.  Help us to hold strong to what needs to be done.  Help us to speak truth and courage into this noble woman and her dear children.  Help us to step forward - not ignoring the circumstances - but also not being overwhelmed and crushed by the sheer magnitude of suffering.

We talked while walking back across a dusty field where rowdy young men were playing cricket in the setting sun.

Sheba said that when this family had first been met, the boy was lying on the floor, covered with flies and sores.  Harish was being cared for lovingly now by the family.  He wanted food and cried when he did not get it.... a sign that he wants to live and grow.   Laila and Shiney both go for prayers at a lively church.  Change is not complete - far from it - but the first signs are there.   Oh that we will see the fruits of change and love take root in this family.  And that they will be a blessing to others around them.

Weeping may endure for a night,
but joy comes in the morning.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Dad's fall

Mussoorie must be one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Mum and Dad live perched on the hillside in their beautiful nest called Shanti Kunj with views that want to make you cry for sheer beauty.

While we were flying back from Vishakapatnam I had the urge to call up Mum and Dad when our plane touched down in Hyderabad and we had a few minutes of waiting on the tarmac as the Hyderabad-Mumbai passengers got on board.

Normally Dad answers the phone with a cheery 'Happy Christmas' or something to that effect.

This time I found myself talking to Mum.  She was curiously quiet.  Then she told me the news.  Dad had been up on the hillside behind the house, working on the water-tanks which supply the house below.  He was wearing shoes with slick soles - and had slipped and fallen down and hurt himself badly.

He had been bleeding but had not broken any bones - thank God.

They were nursing him at home and planning to have him seen by the doctor at Landour Community Hospital the next day - which was a Sunday.

When they took him to the hospital and did the x-rays they realised that Dad had damaged his neck vertebrae.   Dr. Matthew - the orthopaedic surgeon from Herbertpur hospital was due to come for his weekly visit on Tuesday - so they got Dad an appointment with him - and tried to get a collar to support his head.

Dr. Matthew was concerned when he saw the x-rays and asked Dad to have an MRI done in Dehra Dun.   He said that it was a miracle that Dad had not been injured even more severely.  Becoming a paraplaegic was a clear possibility - and our old enemy death was missed by a whisker too.

Accidents do happen.  But you always expect them to happen to people you don't know.

Here was our dear Dad in a limbo.  We are so glad for the telephone that allows so much to be said over such a distance.  And so glad for communication we have with God in prayer.

We mentally planned the next steps.  Should we go up to Mussoorie?  Would Dad need surgery?  We started looking into the options of having here at Bethany Hospital and looking after him here.   What would the MRI reports show?  What would Dr. Mathew suggest?

We had been expecting Mum and Dad to spend a month with us from mid Jan to mid Feb.  This was obviously not going to happen.  The last time we saw them was in May 2012 when we went up to Mussoorie.

The MRI reports showed that there are some fractures in his 7th Cervical vertaebra.  But that this can be dealt with without having to resort to surgery.  The challenge is for Dad to keep his neck straight in the healing process.

To help him do this - there is a device called a 'Philadelphia collar' which is a kind of cervical collar that provides stability for the C1-C7 vertebrae.   He is currently wearing this faithfully and has already had some steps to improvement - but the prognosis is that it will take some 8 weeks or so for him to regain his normal function.

So we have Dad up in the hills, wearing his Philadelphia collar and being nursed on by Mum and others in the extended Eicher family there.

So we are here in Thane and Mum and Dad are up in Mussoorie.

We know it has not been easy and that after a very busy time of giving of themselves to so many others - they now are in a season of convalesance.

Dad is still at the computer doing his emails - but he has been told to ration it strictly.  Mum and Vikram and others are fielding the phone calls.  Guests are gently but firmly dealt with by the very protective and loving German wife Dad has been blessed with for 45 years of married life.

Prayers are going up.  Blessings are coming down.

Its not easy for Dad at this time - but he remains at his vintage best in his email to us all about his fall:

One thing is sure, MY LIFE-STYLE  HAS NOW CHANGED !  No more lifting literature boxes, no more carrying heavy tract bags, no more running up and down the mountainside……………HELP LORD !!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Truly I need to now REST AND CONCENTRATE ON BEING WHAT HE WANTS ME TO BE !  I had been saying to the family over the past month, “Whatever happens to us, IS IN HIS TOTAL CONTROL…….WE WILL NOT WORRY, BE ANXIOUS, FEAR…….BUT REST, TRUST AND ENJOY!”   So, LORD, OUR EYES ARE ON YOU………….AMEN !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
God bless you Dad.  We are so proud of you and Mum. 

Lead kindly light

We have stepped into 2013 this week.

Its not been an easy few days already.

The papers continue to print the gruesome findings about the assault and rape of the 23 year old woman late last month.

Dad has fallen and injured himself in Mussoorie and we are all so far away.

We face deep disappointment with folks we have poured ourselves into.

Closer in - I see my own short-comings in sharp relief.

And yet we move forward.

Our hope is not based on our circumstances.  We wait in hope on the Lord, He is our strength and shield.

This year is going to be the very best one yet.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

What more can we ask for than being a part of God himself?  What deeper hunger can we have?  What greater hope?