A week ago. Wednesday afternoon. Asha, Sheba and I bundled into a train from Thane station. It was going North.
The loco first pulled us east out along the Mumbai-Howrah line, up the ghat to Igatpuri and then on to Bhusaval Junction, near where my great-grandfather Christian Eicher helped start a small Marathi-language Bible College 108 years ago.
The train was then click-clacked over to the northern line, and chugged through the night towards Jhansi and its eventual goal of Lucknow - historical seat of the Awadhi nobles and currently the capital of our largest (and some would say unruliest) state of Uttar Pradesh.
But we were not headed for this past and present seat of power. Our stop was a more humble one.
When the train ground to a halt at 10 AM, a fashionable 1.5 hours late, we stepped out onto the platform of the Lalitpur station.
|Truth in advertising - this shot was taken on our way back - not when we arrived. |
The train was a fashionable 2 hours late going back to Thane town!
July 2001, was a prayer journey of discovery for us as a small family. We were seeking whether God wanted us to take a new step away from the Nav Jeevan Hospital. I had worked there for 4 years, the last year and a half of which were in joyful partnership with Sheba (with Asha being born there early that year).
We were on a prayer journey. A time to be on the ground and see what the Lord wanted to tell us. Mumbai was the last place we really wanted to go to, but we had made a decision that 'if someone calls us, we will go and pray.' And my boyhood pastor Viju Abraham called us, so we stopped off in Mumbai too.
On our return from that prayer journey, God spoke to us clearly through Hebrews 13 - and we found ourselves called to the big city of Mumbai - to work with people with HIV and local churches. A big shift. One that defined these past 14 years for us.
This trip was similar. Over the past 6 months we as a family have been praying. And now we sense that the time has come to shift back to North India. God spoke through Psalm 84.5 - blessed are those whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. Pilgrimage means motion. Means moving. Means setting out on a journey with God as our destination.
And so here we are, stepping out in faith. We wanted to take a quick look around and walk the land and pray. We got what we wanted. Since Asha and Enoch had a few days holiday, we managed to get train tickets for a day of prayer up north. Asha came with us, while Enoch manned the fort with Oma and Opa and Yohan in Thane town.
For those who are not familiar with the place - we are not talking about a town in Nepal. Rather, a rather strange part of Uttar Pradesh - an elongated district that sticks out of the South Western side, dangling down into Madhya Pradesh like that little bit of flesh at the back of your throat (yes, yes - the medically inclined called it a uvula).
Lalitpur is a district of 1.2 million souls - with the namesake town serving as the district headquarters and having a neat 10th of the district with 1,33,000 folks residing in the Lalitpur municipal area. The district is largely agricultural and is part of the broad, rolling hills of the Bundelkhand region with Madhya Pradesh bordering the district on 3 sides and Jhansi district is north.
Well, the centre of attraction for us is the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital - a mission hospital started up in 1935 and which the Emmanuel Hospital Association has been running since the mid 70s.
EHA has asked us whether we would be interested in serving out of this campus.
The hospital lies on a campus of 11 acres in the middle of town. 11 acres! The founding mission has a church on the campus and runs a Hindi-medium school for 1000 children on 3 acres - with the rest of the land used by the hospital. This includes some fields where crops are grown. Quite a change from our urban sojourn of the past decade and a half!
|Andi and Sheba on a prayer walk through the campus (most pictures in this post taken by our able photgrapher Asha Eicher)|
Having seen Dad cared for in sparkling environs of Bethany Hospital - it was a bit of a culture shock to be back in the genteel dishevelment of a mission hospital again.
Meeting with Biju and Anu Mathew - who have been running the hospital for the past 8 years was inspirational. They have been through hard times and persevered. As have the main medical team of Dr. Tony and Dr. Asangla Bishwas. This couple have both done their DNB in Family Medicine (like Sheba did) and have been caring for folks for 6 years now after responding to a call to come to the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital.
The hospital is not the only place of ministry of course. The Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital pioneered palliative care in among EHA hospitals, starting up in 2010. Currently HBM is recognised nationally as a palliative care training centre. They have a 5 bedded palliative care ward, but focus mainly on working in the community- and largely in the villages.
Cancer continues to grow in India - and the needs of those in the villages who are past cure is immense. The team has the indomitable Ms. Leela Pradhan (who was away on this trip so we did not meet her this time) serving as a challenge to us all - esp as she herself continues to undergo cancer therapy.
Needless to say, there are folks with HIV among the case list - and we wonder how many of them could have been cared for with ART medicines if the district had such a treatment centre functioning.
The hospital also currently runs two major community health and development programmes - ably being managed by our dear Lukas Prakash who we worked with in the late 1990s at the Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand!
We were blessed to meet the local pastor too - a jovial gentleman called Emmanuel whose daughter also serves at the palliative care unit. It was good to see his enthusiasm and the opportunities for spiritual growth available.
All in all, we came away from the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital having experienced much in a short time.
|notice board at the RE Mission school - a Hindi medium school |
on the campus where we understand 1000 children study
The short visit gave us a chance to take a look at a local school - the convent-style ICSE board school which is the best in town. 60-70 kids per class is what we were told about classroom size. Sadly the Father who serves as the principal was out of town so we were unable to meet him.
Would the Hindi-medium school be willing to take Yohan? Is there some access to open schooling in the small district head-quarters of Lalitpur?
We have lots of questions and are just beginning to see some answers emerge.
Being back in Thane has again thrown up the immensity of any change that we step out on.
What will happen to the work of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra?
Are we going to see the adoption process come through any time soon?
What and how much should the kids shift and change as we look into schooling options?
One of the words that keeps coming back to us is 'find out what pleases God.' Do that which brings Him maximum joy.
Our time is short. With both Sheba and I just into the second part of our 40s, we want to make sure that our lives count. Right here and right now. We also want to be able to grow together as a family - especially with Yohan on board now with all that he means to us.
We are very, very ready to stay on in Thane, and keep serving at Jeevan Sahara Kendra. But we need a fresh mandate from the Lord, a fresh word to keep working. And we did not get that.
Instead, we are hearing that it is time for us to pack up and move. Strange, scary stuff in some ways. Especially when there seem to be so many loose ends. But then life is never neat this side of the Holy City.
Will our pilgrimage include us serving out of Lalitpur for some time? We just do not know for sure at this point - but we are praying about it and have much to digest and further guide our prayers after our short trip North!