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.
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.
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.
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...