Monday, 29 June 2015

When numbers get serious

A long, long time ago an American songster Paul Simon warbled:

When numbers get serious
They leave a mark on your door 
(from the album Hearts and Bones).

Yohan has some pretty serious numbers.  When we first met him his immunity was very low.  So low that he was sick with lots of other sicknesses.  And very thin.   The magic (and very serious number) was his CD4 count - the summary of his immunity.  It was only 163.  Most people have somewhere between 800 - 1200 or so CD4 cells per cubic mm.  That's what a healthy immune system will look like.  163 is poverty.

Last week I took Yohan for his 6 month follow up.  He has been taking his meds every single day.  Every single time.  On the dot.

As the lab tech took took out that large syringe of blood I could see Yohan's eyes tearing up - but he did not cry like the previous time when we went for the Hep B viral count.   Brave young man.

Over the weekend we got the report.  I could hardly believe it.  Just 6 months later, and Yohan's CD4 count has rocketed up to 624.  Serious numbers.  Joyous numbers.  Numbers nursed up by prayer and love.

There are lots of other numbers that we still have to work through with Yohan.

We have yet to find out whether the meds are working against the Hep B Virus.  We hope so.  We pray so. 

More immediately we have an unpleasant number to consider.  And that is "3."   In the first few months Yohan did not have any seizures.  We wondered if he even really had them - and whether he should continue taking the anti-epileptic meds he had arrived with.   Well, we found out the hard and real way that he did need the tablets.   First he had one fit.  Then a few weeks later, another.  All while on meds.

So we added another med - and sadly this weekend he had his 3rd fit.  It was not a very severe one - but it was a fit.   While on 2 anti-epileptic meds.   And so we go back to the numbers.  Our friends from CMC Vellore have suggested another med to be added - and a plan to taper down the one that he has been on for long. 

The hitch?  Another 3.  I went to three medical stores this evening - and all told me that the drug in question is not available in the dosage prescribed to ramp up this med.  The docs from vellore want us to segue from 150 mg to 200 mg, then up to 250 and finally to stablise him on 300 mg.   The problem is that only 250 mg tabs are available - with 500 mg being the next step up.

So we will have to use a phone number to call up our dear friends down and see what they advise.

In the meantime, we end with some happy numbers.

Both Yohan and Dad have been gaining weight.   Yohan has picked up more than 3 kgs in this half year.   After Dad lost a lot of weight over the past year, he is gradually getting some back.  Currently he is up to 71 kgs after dropping down to 67 or so post operation.

We earnestly thank the Lord for these numbers - both those figures that point us in a direction that we are hoping and praying to move in - and those 'ugly' numbers that serve as challenges and conscience-prickers (and then conscience-kickers).

And so gentle reader, as the white glow of the screen is the only light on in the darkened room - I shall soon be joining Enoch, Yohan, Asha and Sheba in the refreshing (and still very mysterious) pleasure of counting sheep (or zzzzzzzzzzzs).

Bon nuit!  I know I can count on your friendship dear reader!  Thank you for coming along on this journey with us.  Your prayers for Yohan - and for Dad - continue to be cherished.

An Eicher Dozen - celebrating Ashish's 9th!

Eight years ago, we celebrated the first birthday of Asha and Enoch’s first male cousin – our wonderful Ashish Christopher Ion Eicher!
This June 25th we celebrated Ashish’s 9th Birthday anniversary!  And when we say we, it was not just Stefan and Neeru, Ashish, Asha, Enoch and Sheba and myself.
This time we had a whole dozen Eichers!  Oma and Opa (here for Dad’s post-op recovery and chemotherapy), Stefan and Neeru with their lovely three of Ashish, Anjali and Anita – and the Thane Eichers are now 5 too – with Yohan joining Asha and Enoch this year!
What a joy to have Ashish with us.

And what a marvellous young man he is growing into.   Fleet of foot and always adept with bat and ball - or foot and ball - as well as a master of the lego game universe - it is a delight to have Ashish with us and a joy to celebrate 9 sun-spins of grace in his life!

When we look back to the small fellow he was then - and see him now - just at the cusp of adolesence - we are amazed at God's goodness and faithfulness to us all.

Who would have thought 2 sisters would be added to his family?  It is lovely to see how gentle Ashish is with them (most of the time at least).  And with Enoch and Ashish growing up together, we can see two boys with similar interests blossoming as cousin-friends (something that Stefan, Premi and I did not have in our growing up years).  Enoch supervised Oma's purchase of a Chelsea FC football as a gift for Ashish and the two are pretty inseperable - much to our delight of course.

Birthday's demand parties of course!

And being privileged to have hosted Ashish's very first B-day bash - it was a treat to be able to have a small celebration for his 9th!

We are no longer in the days when Ashish can be easily carried by Asha like back in that day!

The cake back then was in the shape of his interest as a one-year-old: Ashish loved to 'join in' with his Daddy when Stefan played guitar - and was actually given a small guitar a bit later which finally fell to bits with Ashish's loving playing of it!

When you have a cake, you have to sing the 'B-day song' too!  We sung it way back in 2007....

And we sung it again in 2015 - with more voices and Opa's specially loooooong rendering of "we're sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo glad God made you"

Back in the day, we were not able to really play any 'games' together.  That has of course all changed - and with 6 cousins, there were enough to make 2 teams!

Here Yohan is trying to get his blind-folded team-mate Asha to identify a potato by smell!   We topped off the games by having a treasure hunt around the house with clues written to the levels appropriate for the kids... and then we were treated to a royal feast put on by the mothers!

This birthday may be the last one that the cousins will be celebrating together for the near future - since Stefan and family are shifting to Indianapolis at the end of July where he will be pursuing a 2 year Masters of Fine Arts programme in painting!

So these days that Stefan and family are spending with us are very precious - and much appreciated.  
Amidst the hustle and bustle of our lives, it is wonderful to have the family with us. 

The house is never silent these days of course - and there is always something going on in some corner of the home - and usually in most places all at once!

It may be a book being read out to the 'little ones' or a game being played - or a book being read while a painting is being carefully done by our youngest artist!

This young maestro has at times brought in a new innovation to painting.  Why be content with using a paint brush to bring life to the picture - why not us one's hair for the sake of art?

There are also various games going on computers and on the floor as Enoch's beloved caps are put to good use for football matches between the male cousins.

We even managed to squeeze in an historic game of Risk, where the Eicher bros and their sons took to conquering the world.  The game was halted with Yohan in the lead - due to a cease-fire called because of supper for the 12 of us.  I wish more wars would end because of dinner-time!

Anita participated as chief dice-thrower for her Daddy, and Anjali arranged the soldiers and horses and cannons with military precision.  A good parade ground drilling for those not on active duty in one of the boys' armies...

Being together for the first time as the 12 of us means that a lot of photos are being taken!

There are clearly some who enjoy having their photo taken more than others!  The oldest two are currently in a no-to-photos stage.  While our newest family member is all for photos - and always ready to put on a special 100 watt smile and a pose!

We have 4 more precious days with our Delhi Eichers - who are soon to be the 'Indianapolis Eichers.'   How best to use these days, these hours, these minutes that are slipping by so fast?  Why does it always seem that the things we look forward too, suddenly crop up and rush by in a blaze of speed, leaving us with only memories to cling on to?

C.S. Lewis talked about this in a positive way in Out of the Silent Planet:  “A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmán, as if pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing.” 

So we have these days to cherish - days that are being lived out in the here-and-now - and we have the future to remember today.

In the mean time - it's time to dive into all that God has for us as families.

Including the amazing sight of our 77 year-old Oma jumping into the pool with her now 9-year-old grandson Ashish!

p.s.  all the good pictures in this post were taken by Stefan!  Thanks for sharing them!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Prayers of illiterate saints

...maculate cities are spared
through the prayers of illiterate saints...

At the very end of WH Auden's poem "In Transit" a phrase appears.

Maculate - i.e. dirty - cities are spared, are saved, are kept from destruction... by the prayers of illiterate saints, by the supplications of the dusty and unknown, those whose names do not grace cathedrals and the lips of the high and mighty - other than perhaps in response to a command.

We have the privilege and the challenge of knowing some of these, up close and personal.

Each Tuesday evening we gather for a small Bible study and prayer time in the home of sister Shanti.
The format is simple.  We are looking at what Jesus said about Himself - as recorded by his beloved disciple John.  We normally meditate on a short passage - with me sharing some thoughts on it, and then Sheba elaborating it a bit more, sometimes with a parable that fits it, other times with some visual pictures.  We then spend time memorising the key portion that we were looking at, and then have a time of prayer together.  We finish off with a simple meal.  The Eichers normally bring the beans or dal - and Sis. Shanti cooks plenty of rice.

It's a small room that we meet in - and so even though our numbers are small, it is usually full.

Last Tuesday, one of the ladies shared that her house had been leaking with the onset of the monsoon. Let's call her 'Nalini.'  Nalini is a widow and is HIV positive.  Her adolescent son has dropped out of school and has been working at a roadside 'Chinese' food stall.  He has some mental short-comings.  Her daughter has been trying to go to school, but seems to be in and out.  Nalini loves the Lord, in a simple way, but overall her actions seem quite childish, bordering on what a mental illness.  It seems her 15 year old daughter is the one who really is leading the household.

Nalini told us that she had been praying about the leaking roof which was causing them misery in heavy monsoon rains.  The week before she had mentioned it in our little meeting and we had all prayed about it.  And then the good news: in the intervening time - someone had decided to put a big plastic sheet over the whole roof - including their section - and now no more water dripping in!  Small mercies.

Shanti told us that she has a neighbour who is clearly mentally ill.   They have to share a common water source - and this has led to friction, as the lady next door keeps shouting that she wants the pipe over on her side early in the morning.  The lady inevitably goes down to the watchman and creates a racket by shouting about the water.  This takes place almost daily and is the cause of discomfort for all the folks living in the building.

Sis. Shanti has been giving accommodation to an orphan boy for the last 2 weeks.  He is on holiday from his hostel in another city, and his grandmother had taken him out of school and had him collecting garbage and drinking her home-brewed alcohol that she sells locally - so we just could not have him go to his 'home' during this holiday time.

This boy saw what was happening about the lady next door.  So he prayed along with Shanti.  Shanti said that she had of course prayed about her neighbour before, but not in the intense way this boy did.

What happened?  Well both the water seems to be coming at a far greater level than it did before - and the neighbour lady seems more quiet and has not been shouting so much.  Small evidences of prayerful requests.

Our Father cares for His children.  Over and over.  Let us pray.

Maculate cities (Thane included) are being spared.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

A monsoon ramble in Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Sheba had an excellent idea today - she sent Enoch and myself up the hill for a hike in the rain.  A bit of father-son time and a step out into the total beauty of creation on a rainy day.

While the rest of Mumbai has been inundated with rain, with trains grinding to a halt and storm sewers backing up in the high tide, we took our beloved 'Papaya' to the Thane entrance of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (just beyond the Tikujiniwadi resort) and having pain our dues, we stepped into beauty.

Enoch and I were well stocked with goodies - and with our umbrellas in hand we started walking up the hill.

Early on we came up to forest department watch tower.  Though wet, we had to climb up for the cloud-scudded view of Thane.  We had to smile when we remembered the last time we had climbed it - for Enoch's birthday in February along with a whole clan of Vargheses!  What fun with the little ones we had.  Today, however, it was only the two of us in the light rain and greenery on all sides.

The path - usually a dry trail through the forest was wreathed in mist...

Soon we were stopping to wonder at the glory of creation - with exquisite small white flowers - raindrop-soaked at our feet.

The monsoons have been with us for 2 weeks now.  And in the last 3 days we have been lashed with rain.  This afternoon Enoch and I were treated with a feast of new colour.  Most of it that beautiful light green of new growth.

Some of the new leaves, however, were an amazing red too...

Being a wildlife sanctuary, we always have a small hope to see some wild beasts.  There is the odd leopard who has taken local dogs in the past - but we have not heard about any big cats being seen for many a moon.

The wildlife we saw was hardly dangerous.

But we were startled to see first a tiny crab - and then a number of lovely specimens... right on top of the ridge!

Take a look at this beauty!

As we walked up the hill we entered the clouds.  The rain came and went, the delicious coolness of the monsoon mixed with the blessed stillness of the place... you would never believe that 500 meters away were high-rise appartment buildings.

One of the big surprises was the tree where we normally have our picnics.  It is on the top of the ridge - a lovely tamarind tree which give a nice shade on a hot summer day when you have worked up a sweat to get to the top.

Today, as we were having our sandwiches, we looked up into the branches and were delighted to see something quite out of the blue - there were beautiful orchids in bloom!

Knowing how much Mum and Dad love orchids, the thought of a climb up the tree to get a few for our home did cross the mind... But we are talking about a National Park here.  While others come in and take things out - (we came across some young men who were foraging what looked like a kind of lily - they told us that it made good subji) - after a short discussion, Enoch and I decided to leave the orchids up where they belonged.

Enoch and I have discovered a series of books that are perfect to read on a small outing like this - and also in other settings like lying in a bed too...  The 'Redwall' series of stories by Brian Jacques - a set of tales of valiant small animals and their adventures.

Sure enough, we had a copy of one of them 'Triss' along with us - and so stopped at various points to have a snack and read one of the chapters.

Here we are at the point which normally is the end of our walk - and a good place to make a cup of tea.  No chance of that today, though, with everything so sopping wet.  So we had to make do with some mountain dew - in honour of the conditions of course!

We eventually walked along the ridge to a place which we had never been to before - probably the highest point locally.  We cannot be totally sure it was the highest, given the mist around us - but it was a dramatic open space with large stones that made good seats - an a ripping wind that came up from the Yeoor valley on the other side.

The rain decided it was time to come down a bit heavier, but we were well set - sitting on respective rocks next to each other under our umbrellas, reading the story and munching on apples (very much like the characters in the books - Jacques enjoys describing the food the eat).

On our way down, it cleared up a bit, given us a dramatic view of the great sprawling city of Thane.   It is amazing how much the building boom continues.  Up and up come the sky-scrapers...

One day, my son, all of this will be yours...

Many eons ago, a young man was taken up to a high place and shown the glories of the world.  He was given a seductive challenge - "you can have all of this, if you worship me" said the tempter.  "Worship God alone" came the steadfast and Father-loving reply.

Some of the same temptation touches our hearts today.  So much is out there up for grabs.  Being in the sheer beauty of the wilderness can help to reset our priorities.   What choices we make today, affects so much of our tomorrows.

Frost summed the outcomes of our choices elegantly at the end of his famous poem:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Going up to the ridge in the rain with my son today was a precious gift Sheba gave me.

My minds eye still has images like this in them:

What a beautiful world!  Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Saying goodbye

It has been a strange and beautiful day.

The rains were torrential outside for most of last night and half of the day - with most of Mumbai flooded it seems.  A call from Delhi started with the concerned question about 'are we safe.'  Well, we certainly are.  A few branches have fallen from trees, but otherwise Thane continues to be wet and firmly 'on dry land' if we can say so.

I dropped off Yohan at his 'school' this morning at 8 and then took Mum and Dad over to Bethany for his latest dose of chemotherapy.

I was soon back at work and had the somewhat hilarious privilege of translating for a local pastor who had me repeating 'Hallelujah' after him repeatedly in an animated way.  For one short time he even lapsed into 'tongues' which I wasn't able to translate.  Peter has been reaching out to local pastors and brought this gentleman to share with our staff for the morning devotions.  Respect for a man who wears his passion on his sleeves.  We are glad that he could see some to the challenges we are working with - and for his words of encouragement to us all.

Mid morning was sobering.  I went to check out on Dad - who had his chemo being done in a bed in the casuality department as every bed in the 125 bedded Bethany Hospital was full - and there was a waiting-list for admissions.   As I drove our 'Papaya' out of JSK in the pouring rain, I saw that we had an ambulance on the campus.   A new patient being brought for admission I thought.   Looking closer, I saw the word 'hearse' on it.  Surely there is some mistake.  But there wasn't.

When I got back, I found out that we had lost one of the three people we have admitted at our JSK centre.  A young man we will call Tapan.  No, he is not a man - he was a boy.  A 17 year old who was trapped in the body of a 13 year old.  He had suffered a stroke a year ago, before JSK met him and had lost his parents to HIV previous to that.  He died of a lack of hope.  Our staff tried to help him, but his body just shut down - since he had basically stopped eating for the past 3 weeks.  You feel so helpless, so horribly helpless in times like this.  Despite our nurses trying so hard, Tapan slipped away from us this morning.

In this context, having Enoch and Asha come home early from school (due to the flooding in parts of Mumbai) seems such a completely different world away - and yet we and Tapan have shared the same space - have talked with each other.  He was alive during the farewell time we had for Agnes last night.  He died early this morning.  How to deal with things like this.

And how to say goodbye to people like Agnes who spent the better part of 5 years serving with us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra?  Well, there is really only one way forward ... to celebrate it as best as we can.   So last night we had the JSK staff and families and folks from our church together for a time of thanksgiving.  And tonight Agnes and Annie came over for a 'last meal' (Annie is staying on of course).

It was a beautiful time.

Sheba cooked up a storm - an amazing chicken curry with pulao rice and dahi-wadas.  Amazing grace for the 9 of us around the table.  Dad's chemo had gone well.  We were so grateful to all be together as Agnes leaves early tomorrow for the train journey back to her village in Andhra Pradesh - and then on to Delhi where she is getting married to Ezra Kannayyan on the 3rd of July.

We shared some laughs too.

And prayers.

But one of the best things about this dinner was just how normal it was.  No big speeches.  No long silences.  Just the normal chatter around the table - like it has been on the many times when we have had Agnes over.

Will will be missing her much at Jeevan Sahara Kendra - and our kids - all three of them will miss their 'Atha' too.   But saying good-bye is very, very much part of the bittersweetness of our lives.

So it was good that after Oma's delicious apple pie (which as the American's say was 'made from scratch' o have a normal family devotion time (with Annie and Agnes with us).  Songs of worship got us going - a dip into Spurgeon's evening thoughts took us to Song of Solomon 5 v. 1-2, and we ended with prayer.

Fare well Agnes.  We have a huge gap in our work with your departure - but are trusting that the Lord Jesus will provide a replacement - no make that 3 replacements for you!

Fare well Agnes.  We trust that your steps of love and devotion in marriage will be a beautiful home - a place where others will be greatly blessed.

Fare well Tapan.  We wish you were still with us - and hope to meet you in paradise.  We pray that we will be able to help other HIV positive adolescents like you (but who are still alive) in special ways.

Fare well Dad.  We know you are still very well with us - but we pray that the chemo medications will do maximum damage to any cancerous cells in you, while doing minimal 'nukshaan' to yourself.

Fare well gentle readers.  A few words before I sleep.  Thank you for coming along with us on this journey.  When will the next post be?  We don't know so many things, but one thing we do know is that our Lord knows the way through the wilderness.  Thank you for reading and praying - for thinking and shaping our lives.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Kabuli walla

Asha read me one of the short stories from her English curriculum this year.  It was Rabindranath Tagore's KabuliwallaA touching story of a Bengali bhodralog gentleman and an unlikely relationship with a Afghani street vendour.

What cut to the core was on one hand the genteel language, one that mirrored the persona of the cultured, upper middle class narrator somewhere around the turn of the century.  Strangely, Tagore' prose somehow brought to mind PG Wodehouse.  Every word assured, a light tone, but as the story unfolds you see into the heart of the narrator - and what you see is the love of a father for a daughter - and the love of a father for a fellow father.  

Asha read to me while I did the dishes - and as she came to the end of the bitter sweet tale, my eyes were moist.  The good sorrow of knowing that in the midst of a hideous swirl of inhumanity, the sparks of love still gleam at times.  

And of course the old link between India and Afghanisthan shows up in the story - even in those days the issue of the 'Great Game' was being discussed. 

I told Asha that her school friend Joanna's Daddy - our very own Vasu Vittal - had spent formative years in Kabul where his father was posted as part of the government of India help to the Afghans in those days.

The 'Kabuli-walla' of the story sells dried fruits.  I remember as a boy when we passed through Kabul going 'overland' that Mum and the others stocked up on nuts and raisins which had been almost unheard of luxuries to us in India.   Kabul to the 8 year old me was a beautiful city with many trees and parks.  What it really was has been lost in the shrouds of forgetfulness - but a few stray images still flicker in my mind.

I feel a stab of guilt - maybe that is too strong a word - let me say regret... that my daughter and sons have still not left this country to explore the world beyond.  One of the lines in Tagore's story says it beautifully:

These were autumn mornings, the very time of year when kings of old went forth to conquest; and I, never stirring from my little corner in Calcutta, would let my mind wander over the whole world. At the very name of another country, my heart would go out to it, and at the sight of a foreigner in the streets, I would fall to weaving a network of dreams, --the mountains, the glens, and the forests of his distant home, with his cottage in its setting, and the free and independent life of far-away wilds. 

When will our kids get some of the wonderful treasures we had as children to travel and see other lands?  It all seems so impossible now that we are sort of 'grown up' - but let us see what the next bend in the road holds for us all...

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

School daze

Grey skies, early morning tumbling out of bed, coaxing by parents to get ready for the day, breakfast eaten somehow, tiffins being made in the kitchen... where is the uniform? are the white shoes clean?  The quiet dread of another day at school, are all the books packed?  Grey skies and rain. 

This was my life some 2 score years ago.  These are the days that our next generation are experiencing now.

Asha and Enoch plunged back into their new semester at BSS in Powai.  Is it possible that Asha is in 9th standard already - and Enoch in 7th?   Sure is.  And each day we get them up at 5.30 AM to brave a new set of challenges at school.

Part of the drill for our older 2 is the journey to and from school.   By car and without traffic it takes between 30-40 minutes.   By bus it is longer.  Much longer.   Especially when they come back from school.  Currently Enoch's classes are over by 2.20 PM and over the first week of school he has been arriving back between 4 and 4.45 PM.    Asha's classes are 45 mins more but she gets back at the same time as E.  We wish they were closer to school, but if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.

Our older two are definitely in an age where photos being shot of them are not very welcome - so it was a fairly stern twosome that looked at Sheba as she snapped this one this morning:

The morning wait for the bus is a bit of an institution of course.  Getting out of the house in a rush - with the inevitable this or that being forgotten - and then finally making it out of the lift and to the main gate... only to find that the bus has not come yet.

Asha and Enoch are the furthest to travel from this bus line - so they are the first in the mini-bus that picks them up. Enoch usually redeems the time by burying himself into the sports section of the still fresh morning paper.  I have to go back in time to a young lad who used to devour the 'Times of India' and the 'Daily' tabloid that arrived at 7 AM at our home in Nana Chowk, all those eons ago. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

This year Asha shifts gear and 'gets serious' about the big 10th standard exam.  She has already been studying '9th standard' material in the end of her last semester of 8th - and tells us that by the end of this semester her teachers will have covered the entire 9th year curriculum.  This is a school that clearly wants its pupils to succeed.  The school website has annouced that all 123 students who appeared for last years' 10th standard exams had passed, and that 43 got more than 90%, and only one was in the 50-60% bracket.  Our kids are certainly with others who are strivers.

The bus finally comes - and in a twinkling our elder two are inside, the bus does a u-turn and they are off for the day!

Which brings us to our little one.  Yohan had a red letter day of his own today.

We have been doing 'home-schooling' for Yohan over these past months.  Sheba has gradually taken more and more of the load, and though we wanted to start with a 1st standard curriculum, we found out that Yohan's basic Hindi and English reading was such that he needed to start from the very, very beginning.  So Sheba has poured herself into helping Yohan learn.

And today Yohan took one step forward.  He started 'school' with Mrs. Priya Sahane.  Priya is a lady who loves children and has been helping coach kids who find school hard - and when we met her about Yohan she readily agreed to take him on.  So this morning we took him over for his first day - with his backpack, a small tiffin and water bottle, his pencil box and a big smile.  Priya has suggested he come every day from 8 AM to 12 PM.  She has another student who she is preparing for his 12th exam using the National Insitute of Open Schooling (NIOS) who comes in at the same time.  She also has other students attending regular school who come in around 10 AM for 2 hours.  Priya is able to focus on the individual students and give them tasks to do.  We are hoping that this will be the next step for Yohan - as he will now be getting individual attention that is focussed on his current abilities as well as having others around him in a learning environment. 

The current plan is to enrol Yohan into the Open Basic Education programme of NIOS.  The OBE level A which we hope to start Yohan with is equivalent of standards 1-3.  The advantage of OBE is that it allows a non-traditional learner to take his or her own time. A blessing if the child is slower than their contemporaries - or vice versa.   The other advantage of the NIOS system is that it is a government programme.  So eventually when (we hope) he appears for his secondary exam (the dreaded '10th standard exam') - it will be accepted on par with the other schools - but with the advantage of being done at Yohan's own pace, and with more flexibility in the choice of subjects.

It's all a learning process for us.  We know that the best education takes place at home - and wish we could consistently give the time and attention that Yohan needs - but having him getting 4 hours of focussed input is a real blessing.   We have seen that his health has improved a lot and he has gained weight too - so now we are taking the first steps to see him step out and up.

Asha and Enoch have mammoth bus rides to work through.  Yohan will be dropped off by the Papaya to start with - with Oma coming along too - and then picked up by his Oma at 12 PM.

Tomorrow is day 2 for Yohan (in this latest step forward at least) - and day many, many, many for Asha and Enoch.  Enoch has been in some kind of schooling since he was 2.5 years old.  We are all learning.  Carpe diem.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Green thumb - and a chance to flower again...

One of my enduring memories growing up at Nana Chowk was Mum's balcony garden.  She had gathered all manner of plants in pots and tin cans - and cared for them like babies.  Needless to say, they flourished - and we had a small green oasis amongst the grime and noise of the big city that ground away outside (we lived at an intersection of at least 6 major roads).
After many years, we find ourselves living with my parents again.  Mum and Dad have joined us here in the city, with cancer being the immediate cause - but many, many blessings flowing from being together.

We also have a small garden in our home - and with Mum taking up residence with us - it got expanded.

Some of the new plants were purchased from a road-side nursery.  Some did not survive (for some reason the marigolds bit the dust).  But some did.  All got tender loving care from Mum.

One of the plants that was added was a small purple plant which had been discarded by someone.  Mum nursed it back to health.

This morning it blossomed.

We have an object lesson in front of us.

That which is discarded can become beautiful.

So many of the people we work with are completely rubbished.   Society sees them as trash.  Family members are tired of looking after them.  Others have burned multiple bridges and have no real hope of reconciliation.  And then the discovery that they have HIV takes place.

Some years ago, a Mumbai pastor got a special insight into a passage of scripture.   A poor barren woman made a song of thanks to God.  Among the words she used in this happy song  were these:

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

He seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.         
(1 Sam. 2 and also Psalm 113)

The pastor shared that God is looking at the poor of our city - and sees men and women who have been thrown out as garbage... but He desires to lift them up - and to make them rulers and princes.

How great the love of God is - which He has lavished upon us - that we are called His children.  What a tremendous hope we have.  One that can take the brokenness of our lives and make something beautiful out of it.  

A hope that can help us to help others for which we may have no 'realistic' hope for - and see some blossom - and others at least have the privilege of being loved before they depart this life for eternity.

Sunday, 14 June 2015


The rains are here.  Finally.

After a few muggy overcast days - with the occassional misting of drops, we had our first deluge yesterday morning.  And have had bits and squiggles of rain throughout today.

Our umbrellas are still under something... maybe we will have to buy a new set.

But this evening the sun shone as it set on the rain.  A beautiful sun shower which had us looking around for a rainbow.  And there she was!

Yohan was thrilled.  He says he has never seen one before.   Asha says this is the second time she has seen one.  We are reminded of God's great promise to us - a covenant of love.

We continue to experience grace and challenge in equal measure.

Dad has not been very well this week.  His chemo on Thursday was ok, but he has had dizzyness before and after.  Yesterday he vomitted for the first time.  It's good to have a doctor in the home - Sheba got some stemitil for him and Dad has been a lot better today.  We wish he would eat more, but we are not the ones who have blessed poison in our bodies.

Mum continues to be a source of strength - and blessed us with lasagne last night.  Tonight we had Sheba's chicken fried rice.  The good food continues in the Thane Eicher household.  With all that is going on - its a blessing to be blessed at the dinner table.

Asha and Enoch have one week of their new school year under their belts.  Asha has jumped head-first into her studies.  Apparently the school aims to finish her 9th standard studies... by the end of this semester.  So that they can do the 10th standard work in the second half of 9th standard.  And then spend more time on preparing for the dreaded 10th standard exams... in 10th standard.   Enoch has started 7th standard - and reminds me very much of how I used to be in 7th standard (hint - those were not the most studious years of my life).  

We are also looking for options for Yohan as our home-schooling does not seem to working with us.  We heard that there was a special school at Holy Cross - but when we got there we were told it was for children whose IQ was less than 70.  Yohan has not had much schooling and so is still functionally illiterate - but we don't think he has a learning impairment as far as we know.  What he needs is patient structured learning - something that we are trying to give (Sheba is taking the brunt on this).  One option is to find a tutor so that Yohan can be 'out of the house' for at least some part of the day.  We will probably link him into the NIOS programme, as it is a govt. recognised open school - and is designed for children (and adults) who have had to drop out of school - or who never had a chance to go...

So our lives continue to be full. 

It is such a privilege and honour to have Mum and Dad living with us these days.

Dad's cancer treatment has given us the opportunity to live together as a 3 generational family.  We are living together far longer than I ever got to live with my grandparents.  Our kids are very blessed.

And so we move into the new week.  We are 8 minutes into it as I type on a silent night - every one else deeply sleeping (though Dad's sleep has been pretty light for the last week).  Our 'small family' of 5 will be going to Bhandup for a special worship time when all our house-fellowships meet together - with Mum and Dad having 'church at home' given that Dad has not been feeling perky this past week.

We live in the beauty of promises fulfilled.  The rainbow this evening reminded us of them.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Telling our stories

We spent today discussing about telling our stories.  We were 25-odd folks together at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.  Half HIV positive. Half negative.  Every one with a story to tell.

We focussed on helping our Positive Friends understand the power of story. The remarkable journey that they are on.  The vital role they have to play in speaking up and speaking out.  The amazing way that God has helped them so far.

But Positive or not, each one has a story to tell. Many stories.   Jesus talking to His disciples said that they would be 'his witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.'   Telling stories is not an option. It is a command.  A prophecy.  A grateful response to outpouring love that we have received.

The key to witness is sharing experienced truth.  

For people living with HIV, their world of challenge is still largely hidden and basically ignored by society at large.   But there are so many who need to hear.  30 years into the epidemic and we still are talking monkey-business simple stuff.   3 decades of progress in so many areas and still the shroud of fear cloaks our friends who are living with HIV.

One way of change is to tell.  To let people see the flesh and blood reality.  To give glimpses of the pain and sorrow, as well as the amazing grace so many have experienced.

We talked about how if we speak up, others will be blessed.  Speaking up is not for ourselves, it's primarily for others.  Primarily a gift.

If others know, then they can start treatment early, or be tested to find out about their status, or do something about their relative who they have heard has HIV.  

If others know the sorrow that 'normal-people-like-you-and-me' face, then some of the stigma that pierces us can be lifted.  Some of the normalcy that we need may seep in.  None of us like cancer.  But when a person gets it, we speak it out.  We tell others.  We pray and weep and comfort and encourage.  But that still is not the case for most people living with HIV.

Speaking up and speaking out can also challenge others to help.  So much can be done by simple, ordinary people who are touched with love.  Who seek to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Sharing our stories also gives God the glory.  So much of the hope in our friend's lives comes from encounters with the Living God.   A God who loves and cares and accepts.  A God whose hands are pierced with love and who listens to our cries.   As our friends tell their stories, they also tell about the One who helps and cares - our wounded Healer.

So when to share and what to share.  Well that is what we talked about today.  We did not come away with any cookie-cutter solutions.  But we did come away with a renewed sense that we need to both push the boundaries - step out of our comfort zones - and at the same time be very sensitive to what God is saying.

Speaking up, and speaking about ourselves can so quickly become a vanity project.  Or a pity party.  Or a long-drawn out attention seeking gig.    But speaking the truth as a witness changes the focus.  Grounds our experience in the bigger picture.  Challenges the listener and viewer to change.

Yes, I used the word viewer.

We did something today.  We did a small video shoot.  Totally in-house of course.  But we wanted to help our Positive Friends think and pray about moving the next step.  

We have over the years had folks share in their families and churches.  We have even had a few public meetings where people living with HIV have stood up and told their stories - identifying themselves as HIV positive.  The results have been uniformly positive.  Often in the feed back to a training we organised, the participants will say that the 'testimony of so-and-so' was the highlight of my day.  But all of these situations have been largely controlled.  Not quite 'preaching to the choir' - but certainly in fairly safe and sheltered environments.

Today we gently tried pushing the boundary back a bit.  We talked about speaking our stories to 'the ends of the earth.'  One of the amazing ways we can do this is through video.  Our friend Sheril Mathew and Pankaj his colleague were with us today.  They took three short videos in the morning and did a quick edit and had them back by mid afternoon.  Wow.  The power of these stories. 

We are some way from making what we saw today public.  But we would like to dig deeper into this.  Having our friends share their stories - and have them in short video forms which can be shared on the net and over mobile phones.   Having stories of truth and hope penetrate areas where we would never dream of being able to go.

Exciting days.  Big thoughts.  Long ways to go.  Carpe diem.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Chemo: Cycle 2, dose 2

Dear Friends,

Dad is back at Bethany for his latest dose of Chemo.  I can now write the name of the drug without having to google it: gemcitabine.  Today's hospital admission had me drop of Mum and Dad at the curb, and me drive over to JSK to start the day's work at 8 AM.

There is a sort of new normal to all of this.

But we don't take anything for granted.

As I was driving over to JSK from Bethany, my mobile beeped.   Bro Devraj Kotian had sent an SMS to say that his "Daddy has gone to be with the Lord."   We had been expecting this - Uncle Kotian has spent the last 2 weeks at JSK.  He is not one of our patients, but was receiving palliative care by his family as he was in a comatose state with no real hope of cure.  It was a privilege to observe this family lovingly care for their father.

Today Uncle Kotian slipped out of this world for the next.  Devraj told me that he sensed last night that his father was more relaxed than before.  He sensed that today may be the day.  And it was.  6.30 this morning was Uncle Kotian's home-going to Jesus.  The funeral will be later this afternoon.

I know one day will come when I have the task of sharing my father's death with others.  But at this point - though Dad has gone through major surgery for pancreatic cancer and is currently doing his chemotherapy in room no. 510 of Bethany Hospital, it all seems some distance in the future.

Dad's blood counts were low after his 1 cycle of chemo.  Dad's oncologist postponed the first dose of chemo cycle 2 by a whole week because the overall counts being down and the low neutrophil percentage.   Dose 1 of cycle 2 was given when his neutrophil percentage was 25% (it had risen from 15% three days earlier) and his overall count was at 4400.   We are glad that when we got his blood checked yesterday, the counts had risen to over 6000 for the blood count - and his neutrophil count is now 54%!

After having such a slow rise in his bloods over the previous 3 weeks (when he was not on chemo), to have the counts rise in the week after getting the next dose is something points to another dollop of grace for Dad.  Earlier this week we sent an email update to all of the folks on Dad's mailing list (write to Dad at Ray.Eicher(at) if you didn't get it - and want to).  We received another small avalanche of replies - most assuring us of their prayers.  One bit of evidence is in the 'bloods'.

So we have Dad getting his chemo as I write this.  God is very good.  We trust that the blessed poison Dad is getting through his chemoport, into his heart, and out into his body will knock out as many malignant cells as possible, while doing as little damage as possible to the healthy part of Dad.

Soli Deo gloria. 

Monday, 8 June 2015

A few words about Dad... and a special visitor

Dad's chemotherapy has been fairly blessedly uneventful so far.

A small episode of diarrhea 3 weeks ago, some low blood counts to delay his second cycle by a week, and some swollen feet, but so far, Dad's experience has been largely without drama.  

This morning, however, Dad complained of dizzyness.  He stayed indoors instead of coming over to church with us.  We are not sure whether this directly linked with the medications - but we know that it is not easy for Dad.  

Dad missed out on an amazing sharing about 'oneness' that Dr. Fredrick Kellerman shared with us in our fellowship meeting.  How much God wants us to be one with Him - and one with each other.  At home, in our work places, in our places of worship.  What sweet fragrance there is when we die to 'I' and kneel in confession and prayer with each other.  We have so much to learn from our sweet Lord Jesus who modelled this for us, and who sends His Holy Spirit to help us live this out as a sweet fragrance.

How I wished that Sheba and Asha and Enoch could have heard this beautiful teaching - but they were on the other coast of India, hearing a Telegu sermon at the fellowship that Amma and Appa attend in Gajuwaka, Andhra Pradesh.  I am counting down the hours till they return on Tuesday evening after seizing this blessed window of opportunity to be with Amma and Appa just before school starts for Asha and Enoch next week.  The visit is especially sweet as Sheba's elder sister Daisy and her husband Ramesh and their kids Frankie and Shofar are also there.

In the afternoon, we Thane Eichers were blessed with a very special visitor - Uncle Alfy Franks - who along with Dad helped lead OM India for many years.

What a joy to see the two old friends and co-labourers talk and pray together.   Dad handed over leadership responsbilities to a new generation in the late 1980s.  Soberingly, he was the age I am today when he heard the Lord telling him that it was time to let younger men take up the responsibilities that had been entrusted to him while he was in his late 20s! 

In the mean-while uncle Alfy continued to serve as a mentor within the movement, and has stayed on as it has gradually transformed itself into a network of many indigenous churches across the country.  As uncle Alfy put it to us this afternoon, given the need to provide structure for the current iteration of this movement, he has taken on episcopal duties in the Good Shepherd Church of India.

Over the last year, Uncle Alfy has been writing down various thoughts and stories of how God has worked in their lives during their OM days.  And Dad has used the last week organising these into a chronological narrative.  What a rich heritage of love these two men have - and how much they have been able to work through.  How many hours of prayer they have experienced together.  What tears they shed, what disappointments they lived through... and what joys they also were able to see.

In the early evening, after uncle Alfy had left, Mum talked to me.  She told about how at a very crucial part of her life, uncle Alfy had told her: "Christa, I know that you do not have any siblings since you are an only child - but I want you to know that I am here for you as your brother."   Mum was deeply touched by those words, and they echo into her life today.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Once upon a time in a hospital...

India is a big country.  Very big.  And for us Eichers in Thane, we can get pretty caught up in the here and now and forget what is going on in the hinterland.

One small way of staying in touch with the challenges and joys of serving in the neglected parts of our land has been our attempts to visit Dr. Chering Tenzing in the various places she has been serving over the past 13 years.

Chering and Sheba did their higher studies out of the Christian Fellowship Hospital in Oddanchataram - Chering in Medicine and Sheba in Family Medicine.  True to the name of that hospital - they have maintained Christian fellowship ever since.

Chering was posted to Nav Jeevan Hospital in Jharkhand just as we were leaving the place and moving to Mumbai to work with local churches reaching out to people living with HIV.  It was our good pleasure to visit her twice at NJH.  Then she was shifted to the Herbertpur  and we managed to catch up with her there at least once.  Then a stint in the UK (we didn't get to see her there) and now for the last 2 years Chering has been serving at the Lakhnadon Christian Hospital in the Seoni District of Madhya Pradesh.

So ever since Chering has been at Lakhnadon, we have been following some of her adventures on her blog: What Gives - but have not been there 'in the flesh.'   Till last month that is.

Summer for us normally means going to somewhere cool.  But with Dad here for chemo and the powers-that-be deciding for us that Mussoorie is unsuitable for young Yohan, we are parked in Thane and have ended up sending out small sorties.

One such was having Asha and her friend Jemima spend a week with Chering.   Sheba took them up to Lakhnadon and left them in Chering's care - and I had the joy of following and picking them up.  Sheba and my book-ending Asha's trip allowed us also to get a glimpse of the world Chering finds herself in.

It's a world far off the beaten track.

A world which takes you through forest lands and onto a large open plain. Like this sight which I got on the bus from Jabalpur to Lakhnadon.

After the exhiliration of passing through the big open, the town of Lakhnadon ends up being a bit of a wimper.  A fairly small stuffy place without much charm other than a bunch of buildings clustering onto a road.  The normal chaos of roadside ugliness in small town India very much on display. 

I had expected the hospital to be in a prominent place in the middle of town, but is seemed to be on a sleepy side road, almost unnoticable among the wires and shacks that litter the side of the street.

My bus had dropped me off on the high way and as I was walking to the hospital, their ambulance driver stopped me on the street (foreign looking guy pulling small black backpack on wheels) and inquired whether I was going to the Mission hospital.  I was, and so I got a ride for the last 700 meters or so.

Lakhnadon is about 2 hours from Jabalpur if you are driving crazy fast in a jeep.  The roads are superb by Maharasthran standards.  Smooth.  The bus conductor chappie told me that things were worse a few years ago.  Jabalpur itself seems from a different era.

At least at 6 AM on a Sunday morning that is.

The wide, empty streets near the railway station seemed to have a fair number of Christian institutions - such as a set of large schools.

And what looks to be something straight out of the 18th century - a red painted building in the middle of town that seems to be the town hall but I understand may currently be a library.

Progress has 'arrived' at Jabbalpur.  The shiny mall-style buildings that our urbanisation has foisted on us showed up in a few places, as my cycle rickshaw swung me through the silent streets of dawn.  Since I was on my way to a Mission hospital in a smallish place, I couldn't help notice what looked like Jabbalpur's answer to Fortis or Max - the Infinity Heart Institute - complete with the slogan ' adding life to lives."  One wonders what may be infinite about this hospital - other than the costs and the ambitions of its founders?

Anyway, the swanky building is further adorned with a "yellow chilli" restaurant in its basement (perhaps to give heart-burn) and the sign with a smiling burger and samosa and chicken drumstick telling that "Khana" will now come "at your doorstep" (for a price we assume).

How different from the India that we see when the bus finally manages to escape the peri-urban sprawl of Jabbalpur.

It is this India that the Lakhnadon Christian Hospital serves.  It is these people who the doctors and nurses have left their home towns for.  As a member of the Emmanuel Hospital Association, the Lakhnadon Christian Hospital seeks to be a fellowship for transformation through caring.  The hospital is an expression of the love of Jesus Christ - and has been doing so through the many challenges that come for living out God's love in a challenging place.

And how is this living out of the love of Jesus doing?

Well, the short answer is that it is a hard slog.

The hospital lies on 4 acres of land and is largely known for its extensive community health and development work - a project that a single funder has been supporting to work in over 200 villages.  But as is the way of projects - the main funder is pulling out and so the programme is being drastically downsized with the intent of restarting in a more modest and more integrated manner.

A cheery groundsman that I met had the task of banging the hospital bell each hour to tell the time.

Each hour the bell tolls the requisite times - getting the team in sync.

For whom do the bells toll?

Well, with such a smiling toller - I would be happy if they told for me.

But let us look at the bigger picture.

What we have at Lakhnadon is an example of love in action.

The hospital itself is has a bed strength of 30 and is running with the sweat and tears of the staff.

Sheba was highly impressed by the competence, care and vision of the nursing superintendent who did amazing job assisting Dr. Chering in the theatre.

How many patients actually come to Lakhandon Christian Hospital?  Not enough in one way.  The hospital is self-supporting and could do with at least 2 times as many.  But the ones that do come are very tough cases.  People whom other hospitals have already seen and are discharged worse off than before ... and who then make their way over to the 'mission hospital.'

I have huge respect to Chering and the team for what they are able to do.

We are in an age where on one hand the medical services are burgeoning - with various folks hanging up their shingles.   Chering told how a neighbouring private nursing home was raided by the government and shut down - since the surgeon was a govt. employee and running the place on the sly.

There is money to be made off the sick. Lots of it.  But the flip side is that doctors (at least flashy ones) are the target of kidnapping rings (in Bihar and Eastern UP at least).  And if a patient passes away, then there is often the threat of violence as the dead person's relatives and other hangers on decide to vent their fury at the treating doctors.  It is it any wonder that EHA finds it so hard to get doctors for their 20 odd hospitals across N. and N.E. India?

So a huge 'hats off' to Dr. Chering (below in yellow) and her colleagues who are serving at Lakhnadon Christian Hospital.  I was there only for 2 days, and despite the place not being crowded - I could see the work that they were putting in.  Folks come in and they are not coming to have a chat - they are sick or bringing the sick.

Chering is currently assisted by Dr. Max - a Delhi man and recent graduate from the CMC Ludhiana - and Dr. Aji who is a dentist from Jabalpur.

It was sobering to see the weight of running the hospital on her.  As with many such places - the challenge of seeing that all the staff get their salaries each month is huge.

The community on the hospital itself is small - and is mirrored in the little church in town.  I arrived halfway through the Sunday service, and found out afterwards that the majority of the members were either current or retired hosptial staff or their family members.  One of the challenges that every church faces (at least all the ones that I have been part of) is to see that it is not just made up of 'one kind of people.'  Birds of a feather do flock together, but we need to be experiencing the love and freedom of Christ and be seeing a bringing together of people who were previously not worshipping in one accord.

It was good that Asha and Jemima had this opportunity.

A chance to see life in a very different place to urban Thane and Mumbai.

A time to make friends with others.

A bit of spreading their wings to help out in what ever way they could.

They certainly left something behind when it was time to go...  a bit of art in the wards - 6 posters that the girls had worked on...  such as this one:

And so it was suddenly time to go.   I had managed to read The Savage: My Kinsman by Elisabeth Elliot on the way in - and was further challenged by a slim book about The Cambridge Seven by John Pollock.  The basic question remains about what is 'mission' about a 'mission hospital' or anything that we do for that matter.  The basic answer is that 'mission' is about living a life in love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ - and doing so intentionally so as to reveal Him in word and deed.

Elizabeth  Elliot finds herself musing at the end of her year of living along with her 2 year old daugther with the tribal people who had killed her husband and 4 others - and realises that she really has very little to offer these people - and that they also seem hardly interested in her.  She writes that she found herself in the position of a servant - largely dependent on her hosts and often humiliated.   How much rather would she be a 'benefactor' - but she really had nothing to give - other than Jesus - one whom both she as a missionary needed just as desperately as the folks she was living out her life with.

We trust that Asha and Jemima will have seen some of this in the life of Chering and the others who are toiling at Lakhnadon Christian Hospital.  In the small group of doctors and nurses who meet at Chering's home for mutual encouragement, Bible study and prayer on Sunday evenings.  In the way church members ministered to the children during the Vacation Bible School.  In the conversations that they had with 'Auntie Chering.'  In the friendships that they made with other children on the campus.

So it was with some reluctance that the girls packed up and headed home.

They had become very much part of Chering's household - going out to the market to buy food, cooking, discussing, observing, making endless glasses of orange squash and of course reading!

Asha and Jemima still had a task to do. They had gone to the market to get some chocolate for their little friends.  They had missed out meeting one of them, and so Chering took them across the campus to meet the tiny tot.

Then it was time to say good bye to the grown-ups.   A quick prayer and some hugs...


And then in a jeep to Jabbalpur.  2.5 hours and on to the train with 25 mins to spare.  Thank God no traffic jams on the way.  But this gift of a sunset as we headed towards Thane...