Appropriately enough we went back to the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission - the place where we had our first staff retreat back in May 2005. Then we hired two Sumo jeeps which were enough to comfortably carry all our staff and volunteers there and back.
This time we had to hire a bus.
3 solid days of so much.
And now we are back to Thane.
Here - in no specific order - are some of the shimmering images that remain in our heads...
Early Sunday morning took us on a walk over the bridge to the Mukti Mission farm - and the graves of Pandita Ramabai and so many of her co-workers who have worked there. Including our dear late Dr. Sheela Gupta...
We had started our time with praise and worship at our Jeevan Sahara Kendra... followed by the first day of spiritual sessions by bro Joe Ahire and Rajesh Gajare and team-building games.
The traditional annual staff and families photo was taken. We have a lot of new faces at Jeevan Sahara Kendra - which is a real blessing for us all.
The ride back in the bus was very long - but we were sped on our way by an almost endless stream of song from the back of the bus - where Asha spent most of her trip with her friends.
Our kids are growing! Enoch used to have to be carried around on previous visits - and now we had him sing a solo at the talent show - which took us by surprise as he had not told us about it before. Asha put on a side-splitting imitation of "Dr. Sheba:" in one of the skits presented that night.
Being back at Mukti was special. This year the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission has completed 125 years since Pandita Ramabai started a school for girls at Wilson College in Mumbai.
After 1922 till 1992 the mission chairman was from the Christian and Missionary Alliance. I knew that my grandfather Elmore Eicher had played a role at Mukti - but was surprised to see for how many years he and his brother Albert Eicher and their dear colleague Gerald Carner had served as chairman of the board. Barring one 2 year slot they served in turn as chairmen between 1949 and 1977.
We had a private visit with Mrs. Lorraine Francis - who is the current Mission Director and prayed with her for some of the children and young single mothers currently at Mukti. Lorraine had tears in her eyes as she prayed for those she cares for - and there are over 1000 residents at Mukti at present!
As we stepped out of the backside of her office we saw the original 'prayer tower' - made of the solid stone that most of Mukti seems to be made of. As I watched a young woman went up into the room to pray.
So it was a thrill to see that a team of 2 dentists have joined the Mukti family to help lead the hospital and that they have just been joined by an MBBS doctor too!
Dr. Pheba Abraham and her husband Dr. Abin Abraham have just completed their dental studies and are following a missionary call to serve at Mukti. They are helping restart the community development project and help the hospital reach out to the local community as well as care for the Mukti family too. Dr. John has just joined and on the day we visited the hospital, they were running a community outreach health camp!
Dr. Pheba had been part of the strong student fellowship in a place called Kharad and she and her newly wed husband have decided to give a commitment to help lead the Mukti health team - an answer to many prayers.
The messages that Bro. Joe Ahire gave us were challenging - all about us being true worshippers of God - but not just singing songs and clapping our hands - to live out lives of complete surrender to His holiness. With all the challenges that Mukti has gone through over the years - it was clear that we were in the right place - a place where a mighty revival based on prayer had been sparked in 1905.
Part of the joy of this retreat was deepening our friendships with our new colleagues Drs. Emmanuel and Mokshaa Isukuru and their lovely son Vo-way, as well as with Sam and Lydia Ganta and the new batch of UBS students too.
Vo-way is such a joy of a boy. He kept being passed around - and I got my turn with him too!
The problem with retreats?
And we have to come back.
But we come back all the richer.
And with a sack-full of joy.
This year's 'Talent Show' was some much needed laughter therapy for us.
The Thane Eichers did their part too with a sketch where repolling was ordered for Jeevan Sahara Kendra - leading to all the main candidates showing up and asking for votes:
Who needs an asli Kejriwal, Sonia or Modi when we have our own versions!