Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Ten days ago...

... we were on Retreat with our JSK Staff.  Life has been pretty much a haze since then, but here is a pic to tide you over till the posts catch up a bit with life lived out large...

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

An SMS from...

My new phone buzzed.

A new phone - because a week ago I managed to lose my trusty rusty handset.  After it did not make a return, I gave in and bought the cheapest possible replacement unit.

Which now was buzzing.

It was an sms.  A scripture portion.

I didn't know who sent it, since all my previous numbers were lost with my missing handset.

So I sent an sms - 'who r u?'

And this is the reply I got:

As far as I know - this was the first time I received an sms from a blind man.

I met Arun at the end of January this year.  Arun is a pastor with the Free Methodist Church - and has a special heart for people who are visually impared.  Like himself.

"I prayed for physical healing" Arun told me "but then God showed me something different."  Arun told me that God showed him Psalm 119 where David says: Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. (Psalm 119.18).  "My spiritual eyes have been opened" said Arun.

He told me about the group of blind people who meet for fellowship with him.  Many of them have been deeply blessed.  But many have some of the same issues that so many of us face... not wanting to trust God, seeking help in the wrong places, dishonesty... the list goes on.

Fanny Crosby, the famous hymn-writer who was blinded by a quack doctor when she was six years old, is said to have stated that "the first face that these blind eyes will ever see is the face of Jesus, my Savior."

I have had the privilege of meeting my own Fanny Cosby right here in Thane - and his name is Arun Chauhan.  Another living legend.  What a privilege to have met such a saint!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Plastic Surgery

What comes to mind when I say "plastic surgery?"

Did you think of 'nose-jobs' and other 'enhancements'?

For most of us, 'plastic surgery' is linked completely to 'cosmetic surgery.'

But add two more words to make it 'plastic and reconstructive surgery' and then you have a totally different kettle of fish.

Last week we were blessed to have Drs. Derick and Vivienne Mendonca visit us with their three lovely kids.   Derick practices P&R Surgery at Bangalore Baptist Hospital - and Vivienne is a dentist - though with three young kids (youngest pushing 8 months now) she has her hands full with non-oral matters.  They write about their adventures here.

Our society is full of hidden people.  People whose features have not formed normally, or who have suffered from a disfiguring illness or accident.  Our society is harsh on anyone who is not 'normal.'  The stares, the pointed rude questions, and the nasty comments mean that many people with visible deformities withdraw - or are purposely hidden by their relatives.

For many begging - the degrading high-lighting of their deformities - is the only way they are able to survive.

But so much can be done.  Especially if it is done early.

Derick showed us some of the work that he is involved with at Bangalore Baptist.  Amazing.   Some of the pics were pretty gruesome - but the outcomes are remarkable.  Reconstruction of limbs and faces which accidents or cancer have so gruesomely marred - and now thanks to a patch of skin from here, some muscle tissue from there, and the skilled hands and mind of the surgeon and team - we now have a restored person.

This little girl, for example has a bi-lateral cleft palate.  She was born without the ability to eat normally, speak normally and our eyes do not see her pretty face because we immediately look at the two gaping holes in her upper lip.

But thanks the community health team from Bangalore Baptist, this little girl was identified early.  After counselling the parents, the surgery was conducted and the result is crystal clear - a little girl who has so much more of a future to look forward to!

Sadly the parents seem to feel that now she is restored that she needs some extra protection from the 'evil eye' and hence they have made a big black splotch on her forehead and cheek.

And what about someone who has lived their whole life with a deformity?

Dr. Derick's team came across a man who was 55 years and had been living with a bilateral cleft lip all his life.  After corrective surgery.  Plastic and reconstructive surgery.  This is what he looks like.

55 years of looking one way.  And now able to be look different.  To be in society without everyone staring at you.  Or pretending not to notice you.  To live a 'normal' life.


But think this too.  With all the wonder that the surgeon's knife has done on this man's face - there are also other things within that need healing.  A life-time of disability - of being disfigured - does not disappear at once.   At Bangalore Baptist they do not only heal the body, they also heal the soul.  Patients are prayed with.  Stories are listened to.  Just like our Lord did.

We are so grateful to be in the business of sculpting lives.  We applaud Derick and the wonderful work of reconstructive surgery that he and the team do.  And though we may not wield the scapel like he does - we are so glad that at Jeevan Sahara we are part and parcel of rebuilding and reconstructing so many lives.  The deformities may not be so gross - but they are there - and need the gentle hands of the Master surgeon working through us to repair and renew.

And yes, we are also helping rehabilitate the daughter of a widow who is living with HIV - through reconstructive surgery for a cleft lip and palate - and speech therapy to help her master the power of talking!

Thanks to Derick and Vivienne for coming by and opening our eyes a bit more.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Delight in small dimensions

Beauty is all around us - but so often the crush of the horrible and the mundane drive it away from our ken.

Take a look at a small gift from a couple with a big heart for us:

Saro Mathai made this sunflower at a miniature scale.  Using paper-quilling.

She and her wonderful husband Martin presented us with this tiny flicker of joy - the result of careful craftsmanship and attention to detail.

And it wasn't the first one we have received.  The tea cups on the banner-head of this blog are from Saro. 

On getting this latest miniature treasure, we had to bring out one of the cups from before - and a key to give perspective....

How much colour and form can bring us joy - even through tiny bursts of light and love!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Blessed wedding

In the blur of the last few weeks (so what's new?) one event does stick out a bit more than others.

The wonderful marriage of two lovely people - Giri and Sushma.   April 5th will remain with us for a long time - a day when these two became one!

We have known Giri for seven years now - as a faithful - often stoic member of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra team.  After doing his Masters of Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai, he worked for a year in Pune and then joined us.

We have watched him grow and develop as a person - and have been praying with him for a life partner.  What a joy to see him find Sushma!

Sushma is a member of a local church who has been very involved in reaching out to people with HIV.  We knew her originally as 'Pinky' - and have seen her come many times with our team as a volunteer.

Its wonderful that these precious people are now one!

On the big day we were at the wedding in full force as a family.

I had been asked to serve as the MC.  It was a first for me and something and a real honour.  And that too in Hindi.

This marriage was a meeting of worlds.  Giri comes from a village in the interior of Odisha.  Sushma's parents are from UP but have been in Thane for many years.  His relatives travelled across the country to be here - hers came down from the north.  The message was translated into Oriya since a number of his relatives only spoke their mother tongue.

Our dear Sam Thomas was also there from Dehra Dun - with a powerful message - and the joy of joining Giri and Sushma through the sacred promises that brought them into union as husband and wife.

Each time we are part of the vows it reminds us of the miracle of our marriage.  What an amazing and impossible challenge it is to live up to the promises we make - and how much grace we receive to see so many of them fleshed out as the years roll by!

We have seen that the work of having and holding - of being united as husband and wife - is a life-long affair.  For me it is particularly sobering to be looking at myself 13 years into our marriage - and gauging where I am with where Mum and Dad were when I was an eleven year old.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  We look forward to stepping deeper into life each day.

But for me, on the 5th of April, it seemed barely a blink of an eye and the new couple was walking down the aisle. 

There they were - Giri and Sushma - making their first steps together as a family.

Their first hike as a couple was a short walk down the aisle at the room at the end of the marriage ceremony - out the front door of the hall - around the side and then back in and onto the stage where the reception was to begin!

Fittingly, there were a set of thrones ready for them.

But as with most marriages in India - they did not do a lot of sitting in their seats of honour.

The marriage reception is a time when everyone who you know is invited to come and meet and bless the couple.

At the end of the ceremony - two lines appear.  One outside in the dining area where the guests line up for being served the food.

And inside the hall, another line emerges - of people who have come to meet the new family.

Each well-wisher gets their photo taken with the happy couple.   There is a lot of smiling going on!

I remember that at the end of my marriage day my cheeks ached from all the smiling - but I would happily keep on smiling - it was such a thrill.

As I saw Giri and Sushma being married it was such a total dream come true.  Here were our dear friends united in love and service to each other.   United in their desire to follow Jesus in their lives.  United though so much of their cultures are totally different from each other.

With Sheba having being born and schooled in Odisha - we were able to communicate with all of Giri's relatives.

What an honour to meet his mother.  We had not met her before.  Here she was, in Thane for the first time in her life.   Tragically, Giri's father had died earlier this year after suffering from a stroke some years ago.

We were able to mingle with others in Giri's clan - two of his three brothers were there with their families.   We could see just how proud they were of the youngest in the family - and how grateful to God that he was marrying such a godly woman.

And then outside to the food line!  What a kaleidoscope of people we saw.  What fun to guess who they were and what their connections with the two families were.

Being Giri's wedding it was wonderful to see that so many of the people there were people who are living with the virus in their body - and are able to live life with purpose and wholeness.

We are so grateful for each person in the crowd - and it was a crowd - no less than 500 people were there - is a testimony of the varied relationships that make up our lives.

Each person a precious reminder of the chords of love the bind us together.  Of the varied relationships that we are blessed with.  Of the value of our marriages and our shared lives.

Every marriage ceremony - especially marriages in our dear land - costs money.  But as I looked that the beauty and simplicity of Giri and Sushma's wedding - and the whole-hearted love with which their whole church pitched in to make this day such a beautiful experience - I have to say that every paisa spent was worth it.

Here's to our wonderful new couple.  As they are currently visiting the relatives and others in Odisha - our prayers are with them as they move forward in God's love.

True to form - marriages are also great times for kids - Enoch was off like a shot, running around and playing with his friends.  He is the one who took the lion's share of the photos in this post - since I was up on stage.  Here is a click of him and his friend Joash just before we had to pry him away from the venue. 

As we got into our 'Papaya' - our trusty almost-one-year-old Nano car - and drove off into the night - our hearts were very very happy on a wonderful day for all of us - and the blessings that Giri and Sushma are to each other - and to so many more!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Two fifth-standard students... many a year ago

Today was the last day of school for Asha and Enoch.  End of sixth standard for Asha - end of fourth for Enoch.   A day and an age ago Sheba and I were 'in between' them - in firth standard.

Sheba was in Rourkela, Orissa at the Mount Carmel Convent School.  I was at the Cathedral and John Connon School in Bombay.

Last week Niby James - who is one of Sheba's classmates linked us up with a picture of her class - with her drawing teacher Ms. Gulshan Gandhi.  Sheba is fourth from the right in the first row.  That same beautiful smile there for all to see!

Amazingly I also have a picture of my 5th standard class.  One the other side of India - this is what I looked like then with our beloved classroom teacher Mrs. Mahableshwarwala.   No prizes for finding out which one of them I am!

Interesting to note that we are both sitting the third position on the right of our teachers!

Who knows where the life-partners of our kids are having their annual school photo taken at this time?

We are glad that Asha and Enoch have had another good year at school.  Now the holidays stretch out before them till mid June.  Books are to be read, friends are to be met, small hikes to get us ready for Mussoorie....  ah the joys of summer are upon us!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Maggie T

To Asha and Enoch - "Maggi" is a quick meal of instant noodles which gets cooked in our home when there is no time for anything else (confession: the big yellow packet of 8 gets purchased rather often by the Eichers).

For us growing up in Mrs. Gandhi's India, long before the consumer revolution, the only 'Maggie' we knew was the formidable woman who bulldozed her way into the global spotlight as the Iron Lady prime minister of the UK (shhh... I almost said... 'England'... just like I used to when I was a kid to the horror of the only Scot I knew then - John Wigglesworth).

Margaret Thatcher died yesterday.  I told the news to Asha and Enoch and they looked at me blankly.  Who was that?

How do you summarize an era in a few words?  I fumbled around a bit, ending up with a cartoon sketch of the Falklands war.  We do after-all have a 10 year-old boy in the home.  But the radical changes in Brit society.  All I could say was something about miners and a strike, and then the conversation drifted to other matters.

How the world turns.  We talked about how I used to stay up at night listening through the squalks and scratches of static - to my beloved East German short-wave radio.  A humble beast, but it got Radio Australia and VOA and BBC.  Radio Moscow came in loud and clear, but that was always quickly moved away from.

Asha and Enoch get their information from the net.  Enoch is a sports statastician.  Always wants to know if there is a cricket match on.  What happened last night in the English Premier League football.   They skim the papers too.  But beyond that its mainly books.

I think we need to talk history more. 

Maggie Thatcher was such an object of hatred by so many.  And such a worshipped figure by others.  Perhaps unsurprisingly - she and Indira Gandhi never hit it off.  Just being the first woman prime minister of your country does not seem to be enough to become chums.  Other than a fierce desire for power - and an otherworldly confidence in themselves - these two did not go far down the road of sisterhood.

Reagan.  Thatcher.  Breznyev and then Gorbachov.  Indira Gandhi.  Zia al Haque.   Lee Kwan Yew.

These were leaders who had character.   The common man and woman on the street 'knew' them to some extent from what we read in the papers.  We weighed in on one side or the other.  But somehow our current set of world leaders seem so identikit.  Now who is 'ruling' in Pakistan again?   Our dear Prime Minister seems a good man - but the struggles of running a coalition within his own party - let alone with the other parties both in and outside his government seem to be keeping him pretty thin.   A look around the world seems to throw up similar greyness - other than perhaps Italy - but then their PMs seem to hold the a Wharholian 15 minutes before they get booted.  And of course North Korea's Kim takes the cake.

But then again, our world is not just shaped by the big people at the top.  We do like 'larger than life' folks - and history tells us that we often have to pay the price.  Its no accident that years of propaganda about the need for 'a strong leader' brought about der Fuehrer - after Germany had been ruled by a rapidly changing set of milquetoasts during the Weimar Republic.  Hmmm, maybe we need discuss this also with Asha and Enoch.

More history to talk about around the table in the Eicher home.  In the mean time.....  Maggie - at least with an 'e' on the end of her name - is not just instant noodles.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

44 redux

Today another one of us has turned 44.   Another mirror age.  And on 4.4 no less!

My darling Sheba.

Born 4th of April 1969 at the Ispat General Hospital in Rourkela, Odisha to Savari Rajan and Krupa Star Rajan.

Somewhere in her first year of life she looked like this:

Amma and Appa met in Rourkela.  Both were worshipping at the Bethany Christian Fellowship.  A marriage made in heaven and arranged on earth by the senior elder Bro John V. Rao.   30 years later the same man would marry Sheba and myself in the same church fellowship!

Appa had up come to the jungles of Orissa (as the state was then called) from his native Tamil Nadu - like many others looking for work at the then brand-new steel plant.   Soon after he arrived, Appa put his faith in Christ.    Amma's parents were from Andhra Pradesh and she also got a job as a stenographer in the new steel plant.   When they were married Appa did not know Telegu, nor did Amma her new husband's native tongue of Tamil.  Hindi and love were the languages that they spoke - and eventually both learned each other's language.  Four children were born in the space of 5 years.   Sheba's home was completed by her beloved grandmother 'Appi'.

Sheba thus grew up in a South Indian home - in North India - and to this day the family speaks Hindi as their 'home language'.   When Sheba was 11 she was attending the Carmel Convent in Rourkela - where Appa had managed to admit both her elder sister Daisy and younger sister Sarah.   Youngest brother Peter was in the neighbour school - St. Paul's.  had come up from Chennai - and Amma

In 1980 Sheba turned 11.   We couldn't find a 11 year old pic of Sheba, so here is one when she was in pre-school.

Rourkela days were both idyllic and hard.  Amma and Appa worked hard and participated whole-heartedly in the local church.   Sheba and her siblings were part of all the meetings - and were also immersing themselves in the world of books.   Most of Sheba's friends were also studious - becoming an engineer was the main hope and goal of parents and students alike.  The leafy streets of the steel company quarters had cycle rickshaws taking small children to school and older children walking and cycling to tuitions.

The 4 Rajan siblings and their beloved Appi were snapped one fine day during these years:

1991 saw Sheba as a 22 year old, well into her medical school at Cuttack.

Appa had decreed medicine instead of engineering - and his obedient daughter Sheba took up the challenge, starting her MBBS at SCB Medical College in Cuttack in 1988. 
During her years at med school, Sheba was exposed to the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India and challenged to work as a missionary doctor in the North.

Acting on good advice she joined the Christian Fellowship Hospital in Oddanchataram, Tamil Nadu for a 5 year stint where she was also able to do a Dip. N.B.E. in Family Medicine.

"ODC' as her hospital is often called opened up a whole new world of relationships and challenges - and Sheba carries precious memories of her time there with her to this day.

Nearing the end of her ODC years she was challenged to join the Emmanuel Hospital Association and went on a recce trip to help out in Utraula and Robertsganj.   In 1999 she joined the Champa Christian Hospital, in what is now Chhatisgarh, heading up the community health and development programme there.

That is where I met her in early May... and the rest is history... or herstory at least.

Like me, Sheba celebrated her 33rd birthday in April 2002 here in Mumbai.   The photo above was from a visit to Vellore in 2001, but the smiles lasted all year!

Fast forward to 2013.  How do we capture the last 11 years?  Lets just say that today Sheba has put in over a decade of love and care to countless families living with HIV.  I am blessed day in and out with Sheba as a kind and loyal friend - a woman with a deep heart and level head.  A fellow-worker in the vineyard and one who provokes me to love and good deeds.  A woman who drinks deep from the Word of God and who prays intensely and privately. A wonderful mother and all round special child of God.

Happy 44th dear!  And may we have many more together!

 Cake decorated by Asha Eicher - the next generation arises!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013


 I turned 44 today.   Another mirror digit age.  Comes about every 11 spins around the sun it does!

Got to thinking about where I was every 11 years of grace.  Come walk with me...

At 00 - I was in Bombay.  Made my grand appearance on the 2nd of April 1969 and was photographed 2 weeks later with my loving Mum.  She and Dad called me this morning to wish me and shared how when I was first shown to her by the nurses at the hospital she just could not believe that I was there - she was so thrilled.

We moved around Bombay a lot in the early years - had a stint in New Delhi - and a year in the US before coming back to Bombay in 1973.

When I started schooling at the Cathedral and John Connon Infant School on Malabar Hill we finally moved down town - first to a tiny appartment opposite JJ hospital - the unfortunately named 'Samson Appartments' - and then to the rambling bungalow at Nana Chowk where I spent over a decade of joy.

Mum and Dad were deep into the heart of their time with Operation Mobilisation - which in those days was a radical Christian mission organisation who lived out their lives very much like a commune.

11 years later takes us to April 1980.  I had just shifted to the German School (Deutsche Schule Bombay) and we were worshipping at Bombay Baptist Church.  Here's a pic from that era with pastor Charlie Lazaro and his wife and son Lloyd, along with my sister Premila, myself, Stefan, Mum and Dad.

Another 11 years and I was almost through with college at Taylor University in the US.   April 1991 had me studying in my 3rd year of college - deep into botany, ecology and environmental studies - along with a healthy dollop of hi-jinks and lots of work keeping cash going - and lots of prayer too.

I had a memorable road trip with Stefan shortly afterward - this shot was taken in Atlanta a year later in 92.
In the shot I am wearing an Earth Day t-shirt from the Taylor dining commons and Stefan is togged out in what I think is a Mu Kappa t-shirt.

The car is a hand-me down that was given to our parents who along with Premi came to the US for 2 years in 92 after I graduated from TU.

Amazingly 8.5 years were spent in the US between Taylor and Yale universities.  And I returned back home in Jan 1996 without a single paisa in debt!  God is so very very faithful and kind.

The next 11 year stop saw me at 33 and a Dad!  I had married the amazing Sheba in the last month of the last millenium.  After serving at the Nav Jeevan Hospital in Jharkhand for 4 years (the last year and a half with Sheba) we were clearly called to work in Mumbai with people with HIV and local churches.  

The shot below was in early 2001 when we took Asha down to CMC Vellore for a memorable trip.

And so my 33rd birthday celebration in April 2002 saw our small family in the far-off Mumbai suburb of Borivali.  Back in my Bombay childhood - Borivali was an exotic place outside the city.  Now it was the start of my daily commute to Grant-road - the very compound where I had grown up!

At the end of the year we shifted over to Thane as the work of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra was picking up steam and we wanted Sheba to be involved more deeply with JSK.   Sheba helped shape the beginnings of Jeevan Sahara while she was carrying the rapidly developing fellow who we named Enoch when he was born in Feb 2003!

And finally to 2013.   The magic 44 has been reached today.

How totally and utterly grateful I am for the past 11 years.  We have been completely immersed in the work of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra as well as with the small group of house-fellowships that we joined when we came to Thane.

The last 11 have seen their share of glum times - but how many, many, many blessed ones.

To see Asha and Enoch grow up and start to apply their sharp minds and warm hearts to the world around them is a special joy for Sheba and myself.

I was reading the book of 2nd Timothy this morning and was struck by Paul's statement about how he knows that his time is almost over - but that he has fought the good fight and run the race and kept the faith. 

Will I get to 55?  66?  anything further?  I don't know - but I do want to be where I am today:  I am so very very very grateful for these past 44 year.   And I am looking forward to however many spins around the sun are left for me... and then on into an eternity that is beyond imagination.

Fresh wind from heaven

We face many challenges each day - many of which are very hard to deal with - some which we really do not have answers to at all.

So where does our help come from?

Sheba has put something into practice which has sustained her through so much - and which is a constant challenge to me.   She spends time in the presence of the Lord.  Quiet time.  Reading eagerly.  Singing.  Praying.  It has proved to be a boon for her - over and over again.

For the last few weeks she has been having her special time with God in a corner of our front room. 

The other day she said that she gets 'fresh wind from heaven.'

We are who we are - living in so much grace - in large part due to Sheba's joyful, earnest, consistent investment in spending time alone with God.

What better can a man hope for than such a life-partner, a fellow pilgrim who has her feet on the solid rock.