Thursday, 3 October 2013


We just finished an intense week of training - where we poured ourselves into 12 folks from across the country who had come to learn about how churches can reach out and transform the lives of families affected by HIV.

Each person who attended was precious.  Some had considerable influence in their churches and organisations.  Others were individuals who were motivated to do something.  One came all the way from Nepal.

And then there was a gentlemen who we will call 'Ravi.'

Ravi introduced himself as a doctor and vaccine research scientist.

He was effusive from the get-go.  His registration sheet was filled with words.  Thoughts.  Well wishes to our cause.

In the sessions that followed, we could always count on Ravi to be peppering us with a stream of questions.

It got my goat.

Then a slow light began to dawn.

Ravi was clearly not what he made himself out to be.  And maybe Ravi himself did not see just how odd he was sounding.

Persistent he certainly was.  I was shown a photocopy of a letter from a central govt. officer instructing the Maharashtra State AIDS Society to give him the post of a scientist.  On it were two interesting and cryptic pieces of information.

The first was a reference to a certain file notation.  Ravi told me that this was to an official note that Dr. Abdul Kalam had made, instructing the govt. to make him a scientist.   If this was true, then Ravi's exuberance had clearly got him places.   If it was not, then he was either a bare-faced liar or delusional.

The second notation was clearer to me.  It was a qualifying statement, written in laconic burearcratese - but basically informing the concerned officer something to the effect that this appointment is dependent on whether it fits into the existing programmes - and hinting that the final decision rests with the officer in charge.

I looked at the date of the letter.  It was from 2008.

"Ravi,"  I thought in my mind "you can kiss this letter good-bye.  There is no chance that you will get a job, they clearly have just written this letter to humour someone."

When I sat down with Ravi and talked to him about the letter, he told me that yes they did not have funds and so they did not take him on.

I asked him what studies he had done to become a doctor.  He told me he was a doctor of homeopathy.  I asked him if he was practicing.  He said no.

I asked him if he had done any research at all.  He admitted he had not.  But was quick to tell me that he had lots of ideas in his mind.  He wanted to find a cure for HIV.  To overcome the p120 protein and make a vaccine.

Talking to Sheba later, she told me he had announced to her that he was 'ranked no. 13 in the world among scientists.'

So what to do with a man who is clearly seeing life from a pretty different perspective?  Where we don't really share the same page.

I must confess I did not have charitable thoughts in my mind at all times during the training.  To have Ravi was irritating at times.  'How did this fellow get here?' was the thought that cropped up not infrequently.  'What about the others?'   Ravi's roommate indicated to me later that sharing a double hotel room with him had not been easy - that a non-stop monologue had taken place most of the time.

But then something changed in me too.  We have been passionately urging our trainees to have empathy and live a life of compassion - and to urge the churches and organisations they come from to do likewise.

Well, here was a person who needs compassion too:  Ravi.

In my last conversation with him, he brought me a set of papers where he had written rambling thoughts about JSK and HIV and vaccines, signing it off with his name - after having given himself the title 'Sir.'   He wanted my signature on it and an official stamp.   I declined.

I gently tried to tell him that until he actually does something, he should not label himself as such.   "I have dreams!" He said.  "I know I can become a scientist with Jesus' help.' I suggested that maybe Jesus did not want him to become a scientist - and that Ravi should listen to what Jesus wanted of him.   In our final evaluation of the course, there was precious little difference in what Ravi wrote and said - from what he wrote and said at the beginning of the training.

Where is Ravi now?  Probably back to his small town in rural Maharashtra.  

Is Ravi a crank, or is he expressing the desires of ambitious small-town guys who never had a crack at the big leagues?  Who did not have the love and care that I received.  Who did not have access to the schools and old-boys (and girls) networks that were rolled out for me?  Hard to say.

How to help people who don't realise they need help?  The limited time that we had available to talk individually during the hustle and bustle of the week of training did not seem to have too much impact on Ravi.

But maybe even those few words will bear seed in good soil.... and the prayers on behalf of Ravi will see a calming of his mind and real steps forward in his life.

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