Sunday, 2 April 2017

4 dozen sun-spins

Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?

Today I turned 48.  Four dozen years. Three quarters of the way to 64.

48 sun-spins since I entered the breathing world at St. Elizabeth's Nursing Home on Malabar Hill in old Bombay in 1969.  Before humanity stepped on the moon.  While Indira Gandhi was in her first term as Prime Minister.  In the days when the Indian cricket team would work hard to grind out draws in test cricket...

Before, before...

Well lets just look back on this last year with wonder.

Just after birthday anniversary No. 47, we moved lock stock and barrel to Lalitpur after 13 years in Thane.

Saying goodbye to our work at Jeevan Sahara Kendra was hard, as was stepping away from our house church and the many dear ones whose lives were intertwined with ours.

But the most gut-wrenching was not being allowed to bring our foster son Yohan with us.  We were gutted when our request to be given long-term foster-care was refused, and we were served with a police notice stating that we were not to 'take the boy out of the jurisdiction of the child welfare committee' until his case was settled.

We had to leave, and so we parted ways with Yohan, holding on to the hope that the ration would be only a few weeks.  I shuttled between Lalitpur and Thane as we worked our way up the appeals chain - but we gradually saw all the doors shut.   We are still working through the hurt of all of this.

But we are very, very, very grateful that Yohan is in a safe place, where he is being loved and cared for.

He called up today to wish me happy birthday (as did Asha and Enoch) and said that he is taking his medicines exactly on time.  He also talked about his maths test on Tuesday.  A wonderfully normal conversation to have.   We are so grateful to the dear loving folks at BTC who are caring for Yohan with Christian love and commitment as part of the restorative community they are.

We couldn't think of a better school for Yohan too.  We are currently considering our options, but the default one seems to wait till he becomes a legal adult (another 3+ years) for the next big step.  Lots of prayer is in order of course.

Parallel to Yohan's situation we had two other events that meant this year was a challenge.

On arriving at Lalitpur, the convent school which had assured us that Asha's 10th standard admission would be a breeze, balked.  The issue being that they did not offer the optional course of Art which Asha had chosen for her 10th standard ICSE board exam.  We had given all the details to the school earlier, but they obviously did not look at it carefully.   Upshot of this?  We were in Lalitpur but no admission for Asha as the authorities from her Mumbai school took their creaky sweet time to do what was to be done ages before, and the folks here were unable to get the board to make an exception on her part.

But miracles do happen.  God opened the door for Asha to attend Wynberg Allen in Mussoorie - and that too mid-year in class 10...   We were thrilled at this, but suddenly had our dear daughter whisked off into boarding school - something that we did not expect at all.

As the year went on, it became clear that Enoch would probably need to join Asha at Wynberg as well.  We understand that many of the local students need 'Hindi' teaching even though the school is supposed to be an English-medium school.  But what took the cake is teachers using the local dialect of Bundhella ... which even I find hard to understand.

So amazingly we saw Enoch join the boarding ranks in the first week of February, and now Sheba and I are here in Lalitpur with a beautiful but empty home.

And as most of you dear and gentle readers know, this year was the year that Dad was translated to glory.  I am typing this just outside the room he died in, wearing a set of his trousers, knowing that we were deeply privileged to be part of his final months and weeks.

Dad died here on August 13th 2016.  We were privileged to thank the Lord and bury his body at the Landour Christian Cemetery on Independence Dady - August 15th...  He certainly is free now and is clearly rejoicing as he had predicted he would.

Mum is doing superbly in Mussoorie - and we had the joy of hosting her for a month and a half here in Lalitpur too!

As a family, we also were blessed to have Amma and Appa be with us for 2 months last year.  Their full-on involvement in the hospital family and local churches was wonderful - something that we had wanted to experience for many years, and which moving to HBM hospital here made possible.

This year was a momentous year for them too - as they completed the amazing 50 years of marriage together on the 24th of January 2016.  We gathered for a small family get-together on the actual day with Sarah and Peter's families to pray with Amma and Appa (with the idea that we would celebrate in the church when Daisy and family come this summer).

And then there were also the challenges of adapting to a whole new world of work and service.  After years in an urban setting, we are very much in a rural place.  The HBM Hospital is a small mission hospital which is part of the EHA family, with big dreams about being an agent for transformation in the Lalitpur District.

Most of my work this year was focussed on a watershed management and nutritional intervention in 15 villages of the Baar Block of Lalitpur (about 25 kms from the hospital), while Sheba dove into the clinical work at HBM Hospital.  At the same time, we have plunged ourselves into the hospital community, and have been trying to work with our colleagues to develop this place to fulfill our vision of seeking to see people comforted and healed, families flourishing, communities renewed, and nature restored through the love of Jesus Christ in the Lalitpur District and beyond.

We have a long way to go, and this year has taught me much, as well as helping me know that I need to grow so much closer to God and experience His goodness in ever deeper ways.

As we have just finished off our 3rd year of the project cycle, it was encouraging to see that our work has been making impact in the communities we serve.  Farmers who previously had to migrate each year for some months to make ends meet are now able to stay in the village all year round.  Village level groups have started to work together.  There is still so much work to be done, but we are seeing some encouraging steps.

Steps such as made by the farmers' group in Gadiya who are receiving a special drum from us in order for them to start a seed bank.  Last year we had given them 10 kg of wheat seeds and helped them sow it in an innovative way.  Some of the farmers got yields of 400 to 500 kgs from this!  We are asking each farmer who received seeds last year to contribute at least 15 kgs of seeds this harvest so that the group can help even more people next year.

And then there was also the National Prayer Summit for Health, and the Community Lay Health Leaders Training we started, and travels for EHA meetings in Rampur and Chinchpada and, and, and...

Geo-politically I don't recognise this world anymore:  Trump, Putin, Brexit, Note-bandi, Saffron wave...  I have been tempted to fear, but these last few weeks have been precious to me as I realise again and again that God is in total control - no matter who weird things seem to be getting - and He loves us very, very much.

And so this day sees me finish 48 sun-spins and step into a new year.  I am so grateful for my dear Sheba's love for me.  Her patience and hard work in so many areas of our life together, combined with her deep disciplines of prayer and digging deep into God's Word each day have made all the difference.  So many others have come along with us on the journey.  Have been generous in love through prayer, word and practical helps.  Your names are written in the scroll of remembrance in heaven (Mal. 3.16).

Sheba and I spent today fairly quietly together.  A blessed Sunday.  A day of rest and prayer.  I am so grateful for all the blessings this past year has been, and look forward to what is in store.

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable friend
Whose love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end

Tis Jesus the first and the last
Whose Spirit will guide us safe home
We'll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that's to come.

Garden to plate

A long time ago, when we lived in a big metropolis, we would occasionally dream of the simple life.  About living on the ground floor and having a garden.  But that seemed all so far away and impossible.  How would we ever get away from Thane and from all the work that we were entrusted with...

How quickly things changed.

We are now living in a 'city' of 1,30,000 odd folks.  But can we even call it a city?  A town, perhaps...  Lalitpur is the district head-quarters of the district of the same name.  We are a railway station on the main Bhopal - New Delhi line (though many fast trains rush through without stopping at our humble station).  We do have our set of shops and bazaars, and our tallest buildings will be a whole 4 floors high (as far as I can recall).

Our calling here took place at the end of 2015, and today we are in a place where local vegetables are dirt cheap.  Tomatoes were selling for only 5 rupees per kg last month.  Sure, they weren't the big perfect red ones - but they have come from the local farms around us.  And buy them we did.

To make tomato jam for one!

It did not last for long.

But living on the campus of the HBM Hospital in our beautiful Bethel Villa home is literally that Thane dream come true.  We are on the ground floor.  And we have a garden.

And the garden actually produces food.

Not a lot, mind you, but for the first time, we are eating what we have grown.  Our beans have already been made into subji and consumed.  Now it is the turn of the humble brinjal (or eggplant as some call the aubergine).

We have a whole two rows of these beauties right when you enter the gate to our home.

With the sudden onset of summer (almost like a light switch being turned on) we have lots of gardening to do.

Sheba manages to multitask with a phone call from Asha (at boarding school in Mussoorie) and the watering of the plants both being done with aplomb.

 Being a city boy, I am still amazed at the very basic miracle of seeds sprouting, plants growing, and then us being able to actually eat that which has come out of the ground.  What an amazing bit of engineering our Lord has put at our disposal.

So here we have the first fruits of our brinjal crop.  What beauties.

 But those fellows are not meant as ornamental show pieces.  They are destined for the plate.  That batch went off as a gift to a special friend of ours... and another batch ended up like this - part of a wonderful meal with spinach dal and brinjal - potato fry. Yum!