Friday, 25 December 2015

Songs in the night

We have been carol-singing for the past 3 nights.

One or two years into our time in Thane, we were awoken from our beauty sleep at some ghastly hour between 11 PM and midnight by a large group of carolers from a local church.  We had not been 'warned' that they were coming, and I stumbled out to meet the 30 odd folks embarrassed and confused what to do with them.  Call them in?  Send them away?  I don't remember what we finally did - probably just grinned a bit and said good-bye to the dear-hearted Christmas revellers.  No hot chocolate was served by the Eicher household that night.

Our small church has less folks in our whole 'congregation' than that group of carolers.  So our own forays in the early parts of Thane's ever-so-slightly chilly nights have been far more modest.

We have our little band of faithfuls (with the 5 Eichers forming a big proportion of the celebrants) who visit 2-3 homes per night.  Three songs.  A small sharing about the joy of Jesus.  A prayer for the family.  Handing over a small gift of a 2016 bible calendar, a Dayasagar vcd and a plum cake (eggless of course). On our way into the night again.

Three nights and yet such very different homes - reflecting the fractured reality of our city of Thane - and the cheek-by-jowl but oh-so-very-very-apart lives of the rich and the poor.

And so we sang songs of the Messiah who came into the world to save us from our sins in the beautiful homes of our neighbours as well as in some of the less lovely homes where our slum-dwelling friends live.

There was a particularly horrid hut yesterday night which summed up all which is so wrong in this world.  We are no strangers to this place.  The couple who used to live there were a decade younger to us.  Today they are dead.  They died from HIV.  Our team tried hard, very hard to help this family.  The darkness in their lives did not relent.  The current inhabitants are a small 7 year old orphan boy and one of his grandmothers.  I forget which one is which - the one who sells liquor and got his older brother to stop school and start ragpicking, or the marginally better grandmother who showed up unannounced at the hostel we had sent the children to last year to try and get them a new start and caused havoc there with her lies.

We had passed a knot of men gambling at the entry-way off the street, walking through small dark gullies till we came to the tiny asbestos covered shack.   This 10 ft by 10 ft 'home' has been cut in half and another family lives on the other side - no doubt paying a small rent that one of the grandmothers uses to keep things going.

I was sitting on the floor with the others crammed into the tiny space and looked up at the bags of clothes tied up, and the soot encrusted walls.  A shabby TV with a pay-set-top-box showed that cash is used for for some entertainment of sorts.

In the din of the slum - with other TVs on in other places and the hustle and bustle of life behind walls our songs swelled up for a short period of time.  What hope is there in a family who has made so many sad choices?

But it was for just such a seeming hope-less home that our Lord became enfleshed.  One of our number was little Ashish - barely 4 months old - but brought along by his parents on this night of carols.  How helpless our Lord was in that night in far away Bethlehem.  How humiliating for the King of glory to be cleaned of the wastes that his little body ejected.  And how familiar our Lord is to the horrors of poverty, the life-time grind of not having options.

We sang songs of hope in a pretty hope-forsaken place.  I am back in the comforts of my home and that broken family continues to squat on that little bit of land.  But a prayer has been said. And well after the songs have faded, there is still hope for change.

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