Friday, 30 October 2015

A testing time in a village

Most of our work at Jeevan Sahara is urban.  But every now and then (make it more like every 'then') we do reach out to the countryside.

Thane is a big district.  A very big one.  In the 2011 census it had over 11 million inhabitants. That is just less than the population of Cuba today - and just more than Tunisia.  If Thane were a country, it would be the 79th largest in the world by population.

Just over a year ago Thane was split into two with a new district called Palghar being formed out of the northern portions - and thus we have lost 3 million or so folks.  Our remaining 8 million odd souls live largely in urban areas (77% of the population were in urban areas of undivided Thane) which include the largely railway-station-clustered sprawls of Thane city, Kalyan-Dombivili, Mira-Bhayender, Ulhasnagar and others including the 1.2 million folks in Bhiwandi.

Any way there are lots of small villages around - and even though the bulk of folks live in the big and getting-big urban areas - Thane still has a population that lives on the land and is linked in with the cities.

Last week Jeevan Sahara Kendra was invited to do a one day Family Life Seminar and HIV Testing Camp at a church in a village well beyond Kalyan.   We jumped at the opportunity.  It was going to be a testing time in the village - and in more ways than one!

We got to the village after a delightful early morning drive down a wonderfully smooth highway - and met our host outside the nearest railway station. Our trusty Papaya was carrying the equipment and the Eichers - Sheba, Enoch, Yohan and myself that is (Asha had a day off on her own).  We had a cup of tea in the local tea shop.  When they said 'full cup' I thought it would be a tiny serving as usual - and so was surprised when the brought out two huge glasses with enough tea for 4 people each.

The rest of the team arrived by train shortly afterward, but our host had already put a local gent into our car and off we went off the main road and onto a tiny - but well paved - single track off into the bush.

The sheer delight of seeing forests and fields and small villages after so much noise and glitz and concrete (even the decked up kind) was just tonic.

As we came close to our destination village, our guide pointed out ladies that we passed:  'they are believers who are coming to the meeting he said.'   And then we finally came to the church a simple building, on the outskirts of the village, with a beautiful ridge of hills behind.  

Our team arrived in a jeep shortly afterwards and we had already started to set up.   Sheba was sitting with village women - talking with them using another lady who translated into Marathi. 

Folks were trickling in when we got the first inklings of trouble.  Everyone went to one door of the hall and I could see a man carrying a child in his arms and people around him.

An accident.  In the first confusion we didn't know what happened.  I thought one of the jeeps that was hired had hit a local child.  It was actually the opposite.  A local man, drunk and riding his bike, had hit one of the children who were coming to the meeting.  The child was bleeding profusely from his nose, and he and his grandfather were whisked off to the nearest town.

But the problem did not settle down.  The biker got a group of local folks together.  And they were angry.  Before we knew it a group of men and women had entered the area.  I saw a man with a big log of wood, trying to swing it.  Folks were asking him to stop.  Many prayers were said.  People were talking loudly in Marathi.  Stochastic actions here and there.  Folks coming into the hall.  Dust and movement outside.  Then a settling down.

Who was who was not clear to me as other than our JSK team I was seeing almost all for the first time.  But things settled down and the folks in the hall - mainly women - settled down and the singing began.   The young leaders sang out in Marathi and the assembled village women, with a sprinkling of men and children sang along too.  A harmonium and drum added melody to the earnest joyful singing.  We were taken into glory land.  Outside things were still unclear.  But in the hall the beautiful village faces were singing.

And then we had our first possession of the day.  One of the ladies fell on the floor and writhed around.  The young man leading the singing came close to her and prayed.  Other ladies were praying too and singing.  After a few minutes the lady settled down, a little while later she sat up.  And soon she was singing again.  All in a days work it seems.  The songs continued.  The morning light poured in.

It was then time for me to speak. We were here for a special Family Day.  I had the privilege of sharing the first message about God's plan for our families.   What to share in such a short time.  How to relate to folks with such different experiences to me.  How good, though, to know that God cares so much for our families - and that the Bible is all about relationships and the transforming love of Jesus.  As I looked out at these dear ladies - dressed in bright clean sarees, many of them with weather-beaten faces - and the men who were on the right hand side - I saw my sisters and brothers in the faith.

What a privilege to share about how God desires all our marriages - and families to be united.  The reason a man leaves his parents and cleaves to his wife is for union.   How much everything around us seeks to split us up - especially our own selfish natures.    The second huge desire of God for us is to be holy.  Our Lord says 'be holy, for I am holy' - and purity seems the last thing possible in a world that celebrates sensuality.  But how gracious and helpful God is to keep us growing and being cleansed.  Finally, we talked about God wanting every marriage and every family to be one of service.  We are not here for ourselves, but to seek the good of others.  Our Lord Jesus laid aside His heavenly majesty, stripped Himself down to the clothing of the slaves of the day, and washed His followers feet.  How much each of our families should be serving in various ways of grateful obedience to God.

It was the first time I had talked in Hindi and been translated into Marathi - and soon after this my translator - our own Daniel Kautikkar - had the floor to himself.   Daniel took a session on HIV prevention.  We had our LCD projector - and the hall had electricity.  Thankfully for the entire period of the presentation!   Using simple Marathi, Daniel walked the 70 or so adults and 20 odd kids through the basics of HIV.  At the end of his talk, Daniel shared that we had come to do HIV testing on whoever wanted it.  He explained that we would counsel them before hand and then take a small blood test and give the results 2 days later.

It was now time for lunch.  Our JSK team of Peter, Nissi and Kamal had already eaten and were ready to start the HIV counselling and testing camp.   Amazingly, the folks started lining up.  Daniel ate a quick lunch while Kamal started counselling after the candidates had been registered by Peter.   Enoch helped out by taking folks to Daniel's counselling room and then bringing people to Nissi who took the blood samples.  As the numbers started to take off, Sheba also was pressed into service as a pre-test counsellor.

Then it was time to start again.  The threat from outside also started up.  We heard that a group of folks with sticks were assembling.  The coordinator of the programme went out.  Most of us stayed and prayed.  Later he said that one of the participants was a lady village pradhan (chief).  She had come with him and gave him a running set of instructions on what to do.  When to engage the others, when to pull back.  God had sent and angel, a calm young woman who brought dignity and savy to a tense situation.  And the prayers of those within continued to keep the peace.

After another session of lively singing - and another set of dealing with women affected by spirits - done with grace and confidence - it was time for another blessing. We had a very special person with us.  Shobha.  Shobha has HIV and shared her story.  Openly speaking in Marathi.  Giving her new friends a picture of her life.  Shobha also has only one arm.  She lost one of her arms as a child.  Her husband had died.  She raised up her 3 children by making papad with her one arm.  And then she started falling sick and came in touch with us at Jeevan Sahara.  In between, Shobha had also met the Lord Jesus.  As she stood in front of her brothers and sisters from the village, her face was lit up with joy.  What a privilege to see this amazing lady tell her story.

The counselling and testing continued and it was now time for our final session of the day.  The counsellors had their steady stream of folks and all roads led to Nissi who took the blood samples.  In one end of the hall Sheba and Shobha met with the women and discussed the challenges they faced.  I had the men with me, talking about how we should behave as men.   We looked at what roles we play normally, and asked ourselves how Jesus wants us to be.  Good stuff.  Time ran by too quickly.

And then the day was over.  There were still folks being counselled and tested.  We ended up doing a whopping 53 blood tests among the 70 odd adults!  Thankfully not a single one came back HIV positive!

It was still not clear whether all was clear in the village, but the first jeeps started back.  We got the phone call that there had been no trouble.  The sun was setting behind the forested hills.  Sheba, Shobha and the boys went for a walk down to the village hand pump. 

Then the final packing up and thanks giving all around.  A special prayer for having taken us through a testing time.

What a privilege to be with such dear people.  The genuine smiles of our new friends will linger on in our minds.

As will the scenery.

As I type these words a week later, its 9 PM.  We are back in our urban home with 24 hour water, linked up with the wide world through our internet connection, with Sheba working with Asha and Enoch on their homework and Yohan taking his bath.  Mum and Dad have gone for a 2 day outing.  So many blessings we have - and yet the greatest joy is that we were able to worship along with our new sisters and brothers, and we know a time will come when people from every tribe and tongue will be around the throne of glory.  We have had a small taste of glory under the woody slopes an hour and half, and a world away from us.  But a world that we are linked with through the love of He who loved us first.

1 comment:

  1. Simple folks , complex lives. It was a blessing to read this story (i almost missed my stop on my subway commute)