Monday, 31 August 2020

501.1

This morning at 5.42 AM I crossed a barrier.

There was no fanfare, just a small set of numbers slipping into new territory: 501.1

500 kms done.

I started jogging regularly 7 months ago in preparation for the Asha Kiran 10 K Run which we were organising then.  And started keeping track on my mobile.

It's now become a part of me.  This strange tug to get downstairs and start stretching my calves as the sky starts to fade into colour.  The almost animal tug to get going, with my mind and part of my body asking 'why?' as the first set of paces begin.

Push forward.  Praise music on.  Out the back gate of the hospital campus.  Onto the blessed stretch of lonely road.  Early morning coolness welcomes the trod, trod, trod.  Today a blessed mist.  Yesterday patches of light rain splattered me.  

Up the early incline.  Get to the top.  Loosen the pace.  Thoughts go towards Asha who jogged with me almost every morning for the 4 months she was with us.  Usually on this bit.  A prayer or two on her behalf.  The thoughts of the days work start showing up.  Deep breaths.  Look at my pace.  Just over 6 mins per km.   Can I get that down?  Open stride as I come to the top of the gentle hill.

The vista opens up.  Rolling hills.  Patch-work forests.  Some bedraggled cashew-plantations.  Rows of eucalyptus rifle by as I push down the hill.  And now the short-cut.  Quick-right onto mud-path.  Head down.  Look down for loose-stones.  Careful, don't want to slip.  Brush-through occasional wet-web.  And then the slight climb.  Hill No. 2.  Got to get through without a fall.  Can I keep the pace under 6 mins?   Scramble up last 10 meters and back onto black-top.

5.47 per km.  Time to kick forward.  Bit of huffing-puffing, deep breaths.  The sun has started to make the rain-cloud-skies shimmer with silver.  I love this place.  A lone motor-cycle passes me.  Driver wearing a cloth face-mask, but no helmet.

Almost at the bottom of the hill.  2 kms gone.  Start up the final gentle climb.  Push, push.  Praise music on again after silly spotify ad.   How great is our God.  Push, push.  Deep breaths.  Final hill.  After the gentle top is gently down.  Can I move the pace down to 5.30?   Come to the mini crest at 5.38.  

500 m left.  Shirt sweat-stained, ye olde legs a-pumpin.  Just a bit more.  Don't run fast, keep jogging at pace.  Glance at mobile, its down to 5.32.  We are coming in fine.  200 meters more.  The sun is glinting off the ginger plants to my right.  The little smudge of a rock-pile near the back gate is looming closer.

Keep going.  Almost there.  Last metres to go.  I'm here.  Legs slow down to walk and blessed sweat-stained relief.  Touch the screen.  The run is over. 3.18 kms in 17.21 mins.  I have reached my goal of doing it in under 5.30 mins per km.

Oh the joy of stopping.  Stretch.  Loosen.  Music still soaring.  What a relief to walk down the bamboo-framed path.  The lark is on the limb.  All is well.  

Quick look into the dew-spangled plot of a kitchen garden we have.  And then up the stairs to the bath and the new day.  Its 6 AM and a beautiful day has begun.

-------------------------------

So here is the strange thing.

I have never jogged like this in my life.  At 51 sun-spins, something new has woken up.  And today I crossed the 500 km barrier.  Am really, really surprised.   I remember Dad reading us "A Father, A Son and a Three-mile Run" where the boy gets up every morning to run cross country and charts out his miles on a map across the US.  He crosses it and comes half-way back.  Just did not seem possible.  Well, today I have managed to accumulate a Delhi to Dehra Dun and almost all the way back set of kms jogged.

A few learnings along the way.

First.  

Habits take time to form.  And start from diverse roots.  This one started last year while we were on our mini-sabbatical.  The long rambling visit in the US gave lots of time for early morning wanderings.  And the first little stretches of jogging were experimented there.  Mostly about 500 meters or so.   From the tiny acorn grows...

Second.  

Goals help.  Big time.  Knowing that we were organising a 10 K run made me want to run it.  To see if I could.  It seemed impossible in Feb.  But by adding another 500 metres every 3-4 days, I slowly worked up to doing 7-8 kms every morning.  Totally at my pace.  Shuffling along.  Walk up briskly up hills.  Jog down.  Keep the old ankles from twisting.

Third.

Small targets are exciting.  For me knowing how much I have jogged really, really helps.  Why should it?  Shouldn't just the beauty of everything out there be enough?  Yeah.  I am sure there are others for whom that is enough.  But I like to keep track.  I do.  I like to finish off a round figure.  Can I complete 5 kms?  Can I nudge my time to a new level?  Hearing that Asha's school minimum mark for girls' inter-house cross country was 6 mins per km was a good spur for me.  Surely I can do that!  And yes, with huffing and puffing it was achieved.  But for me I am doing 3 kms at present, not under 6 min pace for the 5 kms that Wynberg Allen girl students run for.  Humbling.

Fourth.

Applause lifts you up.  OK, I don't get applause at this point.  But when we did a trial run of the Asha Kiran 10 K run in early March, I found the clapping and encouragement of our friends who were manning different parts of the trail to be a huge tonic.   Sadly the COVID-19 craziness has put our beloved Asha Kiran 10 K Run into cold storage...  But by-standers clearly help.  The world's greatest long-distance runner Eliud Kipchoge insisted on running before spectators when he ran his amazing feat of completing a marathon - all 42 kms of it - in under 2 hours (2.85 blistering minutes per km!). 

Fifth.

Jogging changes you.  I am 10% less than I used to be.  A year ago I weighed in at 92-93 kgs.  Today I have dipped to around 80 or so.  Someone I met last month asked whether I was ill.   Could jogging be pathological?

Sixth.

The subtle bit.  What is the right balance?  Am I addicted to this early-morning silliness?  How much of the sly slippery pride has entered?  Do I see the same drive, the same hunger in other parts of my life?  Much to ponder on of course.  Will have to mull over that a bit on tomorrow's jog...  I hope it doesn't rain when the clock slips past 5 AM...

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The Good Book says: For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 1 Timothy 4.8

So much yet to learn.   Much to push forward for.   501.1 kms are over.   On, on!

Thursday, 23 July 2020

On Baking Chocolate Cake from the Landour Cook Book

Many moons ago, a century shall we say, Mussoorie saw an influx of missionary families every 'hot season.'  Mothers would arrive first, trundling up the ghat to Kincraig in Mussoorie and on up to Landour.   The ladies would take their children out of boarding from Woodstock School and then a month or two later the fathers would join them for a few weeks of R&R.

In the late 1920's the "Reading Club" requested Rev. Parker, the then principal of Woodstock School to build a Community Centre, The building was erected in 1928 catered to the lively summer community, complete with a library and meeting rooms.

The Reading Club of Landour Community Center held weekly meetings there and created a Cook Book, sharing favorite recipes and also giving guidance on substitutions for foods and flavorings not available in Landour, and for cooking at high altitudes.  (From: The Landour Community Centre Cookbooks: From the 1920s to the 1960s and the present)

That Landour Cookbook lives on.  The Eichers in Lamtaput have a well-worn copy which has travelled with us over the past 2 decades from Jharkhand to Thane to Lalitpur and is now being used in S. Odisha.   We used our copy this evening to bake a chocolate cake.  Two actually!

Needless to say, our copy has seen better days.  The cake section (used the most) is rather rich with stuff having spilled on it from eons of open book, measure stuff, whisk it around, splatter...

I am rather fond of the Chocolate Cake recipe by Alfie Campbell.  1 1/2 cups of cold water!  I always wanted to know why we are asked to mix in cold water... and why not milk for this recipe? Anyway, I follow the instructions, and have to say that this recipe has done us well over the years.  This evening a doubling of the ingredients by yours truly resulted in two lovely cakes which are cooling now.

The cover of our Landour Cookbook is special to me, because on one of my parents visits to us (probably when we lived in Thane) my Dad noticed that it was in a poor condition, and he took it on himself to repair it.   And so using some cardboard that he recycled from a file, Dad patched it the veteran copy we have, and wrote "Landour Cookbook" on it with permanent marker.  Almost everytime I see his handwriting I remember him.

Everything fades.  Time slips away.  But we are blessed to live in the now / eternity.

As the needle has now ticked past 12 am, another round of late night baking is over.  A week from tonight we will be preparing for our Asha leaving in the morn for her flight to Mumbai and then Chicago ("so Gott will und wir leben").  This cake one of the many small things we do to prepare for another shift in life.


Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside
Great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed, thy hand has provided,
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

Our humble cookbook has helped stitch another thread in the vast tapestry of meaning.  S.D.g.

Monday, 27 April 2020

For such a time as this

Unless you have been hiding under a rock for the last 2 months, or woken up like Rip Van Winkle after a 20 year sleep, you will be (probably painfully) aware of the word COVID-19.

Our world has changed drastically to put it lightly.  Who would have imagined no flights at all between the US and Europe, of oil being so cheap that it for a short time companies were paying others to store it for them (negative price!), of 1.3 billion people in 'lock-down' with all that it is meaning to our beloved country of India.  Strange days to be sure.

Sheba and I have just completed 6 blessed months at the Asha Kiran Society in Lamtaput, Odisha.  It is a joy to be part of this amazing team of doctors and nurses and community educators and farmer-friendly motivators and, and, and...  We are based at a hospital with a big heart - with a group of amazing people who are living out their call - warts and all of course - with long-lasting fruit stemming from Asha Kiran 30 odd years of devoted work.



And the scenery... drop-dead gorgeous.  A feast to the eye, and the ear too as the stillness is broken not with the ear-splitting sounds of the latest marriage DJ procession which was our Lalitpur staple,  but with a medley of bird-song, and the rustle of the wind in bamboo outside our house.

Far, far away from everything we are, nestled on the South-western corner of Odisha, up in the tribal highlands.  Surely, COVID-19 will not perturb us here?

Well, to put it lightly, we are all connected.  Even in the remote villages where we have work with people who belong to the Bonda (a particularly vulnerable tribal group) we find that they have members who have gone to Kerala and Mumbai for work.  The remotest corner of the world is linked through labour and remittances with the swirling maelstorm of modernity.

As the Odisha state government took the lead in announcing various levels of COVID-19 control measures, we realised that it was no longer 'business as usual.'  All our village multilingual education centres were shut when the local schools were closed - but we are grateful that we had just managed to finish the first term evaluations.  Reading the writing on the wall, our team sent out staff and volunteers to the 157 village hamlets that Asha Kiran has some work in with basic COVID-19 prevention messages.


The training for this was held out of door with physical distancing in place - and allowed us to cover all these villages before the Central Government announced the nation-wide lockdown from midnight 23rd of March!

At the same time, our Asha Kiran Hospital worked hard to develop a separate COVID-19 referral centre in the Asha Kiran Training Centre buildings.  Amazingly, it was up and running within a week of the first planning session.  Kudos to the team who developed systems, fenced off the area, set up a 25 bedded inpatient care centre and a cough OPD where patients with cough symptoms are first triaged to from the main hospital gate.

The agony of deciding who will be on duty was deferred as the doctors and nurses took turns to see potentially COVID-19 patients.  But these 3 weeks have seen hardly any cases - maybe 4-5 cough cases coming to the cough OPD and for the past 2 weeks no one was admitted over night.

Personal protective equipment (PPEs)?  Not available in local shops (we have 3).  Not available by Amazon (no deliveries here during lock-down).  Not available even in the big cities... and so our team started making our own.  And masks too.  Lots of them.

And in the mean-time our community people have put in their second round of visits - this time to a smaller group of villages to deliver medications for people with long-term illnesses who were unable to come to Asha Kiran Hospital due to the Lock-down nixing all public transportation.   And also to find out what the food stocks people had at home (4.5 months on average we found - which is why this is post-harvest time is normally the festival and marriage season).

And yet, as time went on, we still did not have a single patient diagnosed with COVID-19 in our district.   Yes, the numbers of people tested has been small, but surely with such a big disease taking place all over the world...

I found myself remembering Nevil Shute's melancholy book On the Beach which I had read in my teens.  The book has people living in Australia in a post-nuclear-war-world in which everyone in the Northern Hemisphere has died.  The characters are waiting for the radiation sickness to spread down to them and as the book proceeds you hear that more and more cities and town are 'out.'  Needless to say the book does not have a happy ending.

And so I took to checking up on the covid19India site.  Almost every night.  Sometimes multiple times a day.  Watching the numbers start to swell.  Seeing Odisha get its first cases.  But each time new cases were added to Odisha (there are 103 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state to date), I would check to see if they were from our district of Koraput.  Each time they were from somewhere else.

But today that changed. 

This afternoon the following whatsapp text arrived in my phone. 

And in Sheba's phone too.

We have our first local case.  A young nurse who has come back to Koraput from Kolkota. 

Needless to say, health workers are at the forefront of caring - and also getting the disease.

This is of course precisely why we are here.  To work with our communities to address their challenges.  Be they the old-hat ones of poverty, malnutrition, TB etc., or the slightly newer ones of helping people with terminal illnesses and mental challenges, or the brand-new COVID-19 pandora's box of fear and loathing (combined with a very infectious disease which kills the most vulnerable).

The little red "+1" below marks Koraput's entry in the COVID-19 saga.



How many more people in our communities will get COVID-19?  Will we be swamped with cases at the Asha Kiran Hospital?  Will our on-going community outreaches see a slow trickle of suspect cases build up?  What will happen to the particularly vulnerable tribal groups we serve?

We really, really don't know.  We have tried to prepare for the worst... and are hoping and (literally) praying for the best.  I would be the happiest person in the world if this first case in Koraput is the last one too.

But given that Prince Charles and Boris Johnson and various other high-profile folks were unable to stop themselves from getting the disease, I think that most probably a goodly number of other people will get it in our district as well.

And so we have the opportunity to care for them and share love and hope.  To do to them as we would like others to do to us... and being health-care workers this possibility is real.



We don't know the future, but we know who holds the future.  The COVID-19 situation all around the world has brought much suffering and confusion, but we also realise that it offers opportunities to live our lives the way they should be. 

Can we be firmly in the present with our eyes fixed on an eternal future?  Taking each day with gratitude and love and seeing all our tasks big and small (or small and smaller) as having value.  Loving God and loving our neighbours (esp. our dear family members who we are seeing more of that we have in years!).  Taking a deep breath and allowing Jesus to hold our hands when we are afraid. 

Over the next few weeks our community teams aim to cover the 157 villages we have some work in with basic case detections of recent cough cases - and provide them with a mask and basic medications, prevention education and a follow up to see that they are not worsening.   We hope to eventually provide masks for every vulnerable person (elderly, or living with disabilities, or having long-term sicknesses like stroke, sickle-cell disease, cancer, heart problems) in all our villages.  And to monitor what the food security is.  And to provide compassionate care at Asha Kiran Hospital, and, and, and...

Do say a prayer for us as we seek to live out a life of love.  For Sheba and myself and all our amazing colleagues in the Asha Kiran Society and others in the villages.  For such a time as this.

Friday, 3 April 2020

51










A year can be an era...

Looking back over this last sun-spin I have to say that it has been a dizzying ride since my last April 2nd - but I am so very glad to be in resting in His goodness.

Birthdays are decent road markers.  As mile-stones, they can mark time into fairly discrete chunks (though things get hazy as the years pile up). 

So here, gentle reader, are 7 key markers of this year that has just spun by:



1.  A year of renewal

Turning 50 was special.  It fit into the Biblical year of Jubilee - a super Sabbath year when things are set aright.  God told His people that in the 50th year slaves were to be set free, land was to be returned to the original owners.  In short, a big and good reset button was pushed.

And for Sheba and myself our 50th was really something of the sort.

We started it out with a time of prayer and seeking God's guidance (see next section) and came across the classic "Calvary Road" which we used as part of our guided prayer for renewal.  

For years we had wanted a kind of sabbatical year.  This year we got it.  

A year of travel and blessing.  A year where we dug deeper.  A year with a number of black notebooks filled with thoughts and prayers.  More guided reading took us through the amazing "We Would See Jesus" (also by Roy and Revel Hession).  

And we received a Sabbatical within our Sabbatical - a special 10 days in a beautiful home out on a farm in a late Indiana summer.  Sheba and me alone in beauty.  What wondrous love is this?





I very much needed personal renewal and inner refreshing.  

At the beginning of this year I was struggling with deep anger which bordered on hatred towards a set of individuals.  I knew I needed to change, but got a canary-in-the-cage warning was when my anger boiled over on trip up to Mussoorie in mid Feb 19.  By God's grace, and thanks to the prayers of Sheba, I was ministered to in this area by a senior couple who visited us a week later.  The upshot is that I have been substantially healed inside.   

Being a kind of anger addict, I cannot say that I will ever be completely sober of this vice before I finally meet my Lord, but I can testify that by His grace I end the year a far different person than I was then.   Praise be to Jesus for His gentleness and patience with me.  Your prayers in this area are continued to be coveted by me.


2.  A year of pilgrimage

We started this year in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh.  A year later we are well entrenched in Lamtaput, Odisha.  And in the mean-time we have wandered far.

As we waited on the Lord in March 2019, God spoke to us.  The short parable of the man who found a treasure in a field (Mat. 13.44), who then in his joy goes and sells all he has and buys that field came to us very clearly.  

We knew that we needed to uproot ourselves and step out.  And so we did.  We gave in our papers and packed up.  And on May 31st we left Lalitpur (after storing our oodles of boxes with a friend) with literally no idea where we would end up serving next.  

But we did have a path to follow.  Friends had called us to serve with them, and so we used this opportunity to look and see what God is doing across our land. 

What amazing folks we had the privilege of observing up close.  And what destiny shaping work is happening quietly across our dear land of India.   This blog has told some of our adventures in this process (though some things will have to wait for you to come personally and visit us to drink chai and talk into the night).

Suffice it to say, our key verse came true.  After 3 years of being on the market, and at least 4 abortive approaches by different people, our apartment in Thane sold - to some of the most wonderful people we know.  And that too just 2 weeks after we made the decision to 'sell all we have and buy the field.'   

Hot on the heels of this was the miraculous opening up for finance streams for Asha to be able to attend Taylor University in the fall - something that I never dreamed would be possible since Sheba and I were officially unemployed for the six months when Asha's visa process was taking place.  Truly our Lord has been very, very kind to us.

And yes, we did find our treasure.

Each and every place where we were called was a treasure in itself.  The dedication and amazing investment that our friends are doing are just jaw-dropping.  Only eternity will tell what all will bubble up from these lives lived to the fullest.

But our particular treasure field was in the place where I for one never imagined we would be - the state of Odisha!

We actually came to Asha Kiran Hospital for a holiday during our pilgrim journey.  We wanted to spend time with Enoch during his small summer break and thought it would be lovely to meet up with Victor, Sarah and their daughter Joanna.  Asha had gone ahead of Sheba and I and so we came through the gates of Asha Kiran little knowing that this would be where we ended up.


After spending a beautiful 10 days here, we were asked to prayerfully consider joining the Asha Kiran Society team.   Initially did not seem likely at all, but joy gradually seeped into our thinking and prayers.   And so a month later our prayers shifted from asking God to show us whether we should join - to asking Him to say why we shouldn't. 

Our pilgrim journey's most recent halt began when we shifted our myriad boxes over to Asha Kiran in mid September.  The past 6 months have been a plunging into a totally new world of the Asha Kiran family - one that I hardly knew existed at this time last year - but with which we are now swirled around and indelibly marked by. 



3.  A year of travel

As I write, the whole world seems to be in multiple lock-down situations, and the very idea of travel seems faint and distant.

But did we ever travel this year!  My birthday last year had Asha and Enoch off in Thailand.  The run up to our leaving Lalitpur had me visit Mumbai a number of times and scoot over to the Nepal border.  Then Sheba and I took our extended India tour covering UP, Bihar, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, MP, Maharashtra and Delhi...  


And then we winged off to the US!

A year ago I would have hardly imagined it possible, but there we were flying across Scandinavia on our direct flight from New Delhi to Chicago!

Our US sojourn was an amazing 2.5 months of blessing as Asha, Sheba and myself were finally able to visit Daisy and family in Arizona, as well as dear friends in Colorado, a quick recce of Atlanta with the Hicks family and then an extended time in Indiana with relatives and friends as Asha started up at Taylor University.


Suffice it to say, the US is a big country.  And we were loved to bits by such an amazing set of very different people who we are blessed to call our friends and family.


We will never be able to give back to all who shared their hearts and lives with us in so many different ways.   Some were folks who barely knew us at all - and yet were just so generous and kind.  

The only way is to 'give forward' - to continue to bless others with what we have, and to be generous in 'entertaining strangers' - living out hospitality as a way of life.

There is no doubt that the US is a beautiful country.

One of my joys was to get up early in the mornings and go for extended walks.  I even managed to get the odd day hike in too like going up in the Rockies with my old friend Greg Jackson!



The stated purpose of our trip was to see Asha ease into her first year of college at Taylor University - where I had spent Rockies some happy years in the late 1980s.

It was lovely to find much of the old - and lots that was new too.  And to see the marvellous young women who are Asha's friends from all over the world.  We are so grateful that Asha gets to plunge into a first-rate education where faith and learning are integrated.  I would so gladly start taking university classes again!





4.  A year of new beginnings and opportunities

We are now living in the highlands of Odisha.  We straddle the North / South border of India as we are at the very base of Odisha (whose state language Odiya is a Sanskritik language), just above Andhra Pradesh (where the Dravidian languages begin). 

Our Asha Kiran catchment area is part of the storied tribal areas where anthropolgists like Verrier Elwin and Christoph Von Fuerer-Haimdorff did pioneering field ethnographies of different tribal groups.

I am in a learning phase - and am trying to learn Odiya (the state language) before I can crack the others.  Sheba was born and brought up in northern Odisha and so is able to focus her attention on learning the Bonda language.  It is good humility medicine for me to fumble around, trying to speak Odiya.  

We are plunging into our work too.  I help coordinate the Community Engagement parts of Asha Kiran Society.  Our teams serve at least 150 village hamlets - many of them quite remote.  Our teams are involved with helping farmers do permaculture with multiple cropping, working with tribal children and helping them learn in their mother-tongue and gradually bridging them into Odiya medium schools as well as our health outreaches which include working with Particularly Vulnerable Tribal groups, youth mental health and home--based palliative care.


Sheba is splits her time between the Asha Kiran Hospital and the community health work. We are happy that she is able to use her varied trainings - and her language skills too.  She does C-sections and ultrasounds (putting into practice the training she got this year) as well as using her diabetes management fellowship and all the basic work that a Family Medicine physician does.  

We are new-comers into a closely knit group here at Asha Kiran, and are gradually learning about deepening out love for each other.



5.  A year of family

Bonus No. 1 of being at Asha Kiran is that Victor and Sarah are our next door neighbours.



For our immediate family, this was going to be our year of separation, especially with Asha starting a 4 year college course in the US.  But actually it ended up that we have been more with the children than for the past 4 years!

After spending her 2 month long winter holidays with us in February 2019, Asha finished high school in March - and was then with us till end of August.  Our parting was when Sheba and I came back to India while she stayed on to dive into her first year at Taylor.

And then everything changed last month.

With COVID-19 making its way through the world, the government of India shut down all the schools in the second part of March this year.  We suddenly found out that Enoch's boarding school in Mussoorie was closed - and since we did not know how long transportation would last, we flew him over to Visakapatnam the next day and I took the 5 hour jeep drive to pick him up.

A few days later, we were praying about Asha.  Her university had announced that after spring break all classes would be on-line for the next 2 weeks at least.  As we tried to think what to do, we spent time praying and asked our loved ones to do the same.  Oma called us and said she sensed God was telling us to be together during this COVID-19 time, no matter what happens.  Sheba came across a beautiful promise in Jeremiah 32 that He would bring his people back from distant lands.

As we were about to book a ticket for her, the Indian government announced that it was shutting its airspace to all international flights.  And that two in 3 days.  We tried and tried to get a ticket for Asha and her friend Joanna, but every time the travel agent booked, the tickets were not confirmed.

The night before the deadline, I told Sheba that it looks like the Lord wants Asha to stay there for some time.  Amazingly, the next morning our dear Reneta was able to find 2 tickets on what was the last direct flight from the US East Coast to Mumbai.  

We had to wake Asha up (it was 11.30 PM) and tell her to pack because she was being taken to the airport at 7 AM.   She did so and we found out later in the day that the University went into a lock-down just a few hours after Asha and Joanna had left.  


More adventures were in store as it took long what seemed forever (only 4 hours) for Asha to come out at Mumbai airport, plus the flight we had booked from Mumbai to Vizag was cancelled and it was the first day when all of India ground to a halt when I did the jeep drive to pick up Asha.  By God's grace she made it and we are now back together as a 4-some, with our young adults doing distance learning with Wynberg Allen and Taylor.

We are so very, very, very glad that we are all together at this time.


6.  A year of world-change

Who would have thought that all flights between US and Europe and India are cancelled indefinitely?  Who would have thought that Donald Trump would speak about possible deaths in the US being between 100,000 and 200,000?  Who would ever imagine the government of India imposing a 21 day lock-down on the whole country.

Needless to say, all has changed for us at this point.  

We as a hospital expect a surge of cases and have set up an isolation ward especially for this which is already functioning (though so far we have had only a handful of suspect cases there)




Our community engagement teams are building up a COVID-19 surviellance and village damage mitigation strategy.  We were able to conduct a 'pulse outreach' programme where our people covered 157 village hamlets in just 3 days before the lock-down started.   Now we want to identify, isolate and treat patients in their own villages, with only the most sick being referred to Asha Kiran Hospital or other government set ups.

At the same time, we also are trying to understand the food security issues which the drastic change in things may bring about.  Poor and landless people who are daily wage earners through hiring themselves out for money are especially vulnerable.  Please pray for us as we try to understand the realities of the situations in our coverage area.  We face the challenge of moving around during a lock-down time, but are very grateful that we were able to get transit passes for many of our staff.

This is a disease that started just 3 months ago and has turned the world upside down. 



We are very far from the centres of power and influence and power - but have seen that the strongest countries in the world are humbled by this virus. 

And so we wait and prepare the best we can - and seeking to obey Christ's constant command for us not to fear.  Because whatever happens, we are in His loving arms.  True love drives out fear.


7.  A year of personal change.... and need for more

I have shrunk a bit this year .... around my mid-riff since I started to jog in the mornings to get ready for our Asha Kiran 10 K run.   We had to postpone the run to Oct. 24 but I got bitten by the jogging bug.  It is such a joy to jog in the early morning darkness and see the sky change colours and the sun arise.  To push yourself just a little bit more each time.  To listen to amazing praise music on my mobile.  To drink deep of the cool air and be grateful, thanking God for giving me another day.

I saw the milky way this morning.  In the dark sky on my birthday at just before 5 AM, these wispy tendrils of millions of stars, so very far away.  What is man, that you are mindful of him?

I realise that for all the steps forward that God helped me to take this year, there is still so much more for me to go.  A number of family relationships need to be deeply mended.  My old adversary of anger shows up occasionally.  I have to learn new aspects of parenting as our children grow into young adults.  Prayer is an area where I must dig down deeper.  Knowing how to prioritise.  Spending enough time in doing things that charge me - as well as serving with all my heart.  Being the husband that Sheba needs.

The list goes on.  So much to yet to grow.  But also so thankful for what has happened too.

This last year has been amazing.  God-willing this next year will be too.

Thanks for coming along on the journey!





Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Running

It's dark, faintest bit of dawn streaking the sky. I'm outside our home on the Asha Kiran Hospital campus.  

Complete silence other than a faint rustle of leaves.  The air crisp and cool.  Stretch.  Deep breaths.  Stretch again.  Old legs.

Enter today's distance into the mobile app.  Let's add another 500 m today and bump it up to 5.5 kms.  Praise music on.

3, 2, 1.,,  and I am off.  

Slow jog through the leafy avenues of Asha Kiran, tall sliver oaks standing like silent sentries.  A short-cut out back and I am on the quiet road towards Kantigoda village.  Eucalyptus groves shrouded with mist.  The sky is getting rosy now.

Pass the Asha Kiran Academy, more eucalyptus groves, and then off on a path across the fields.

"2 kms" I am panting, but able to push forward.  The beauty of the morning is unfolding in 360 degree splendour.  "Open the eyes of my heart Lord... I want to see you"

Having crossed the fields it's time to enter another stand of eucalpts.



Down-hill, thank goodness.

And then out to the primordial beauty of the Kolab Reservoir just before dawn.  

It's the first time I have made it out this far before I turn around.  Today I slowly jog down to the mushy edge.  The mist skimming the watery surface.  The odd loon ducks below the water and disappears.

Time to turn back.  I decided to walk a 50 meters up a slightly steepish slope.  Old bones.  But then on-on again.  Music propelling me forward, beauty sucked in hungrily.

Back across the fields.  The village of Kantigoda sprawled out before me as I skirt it to get back onto the road.

The sun has risen behind my back.  As I turn back onto the road I take a look at its yellow orb.

Panting.  Sweat now drenches my neon green shirt.  I am wearing Enoch's goal-keeping jersey that he left when he went back into boarding earlier this month.

Will I make my goal?  I stop for another quick pic of the misty road ahead of me.  

Push on.  You can do it.  Brief stop to say hello to one of our Asha Kiran community staff who is on his morning walk through shrouded-dawn beauty.  

A final 800 meters takes me back into Asha Kiran campus.  After a short cool-down walk around our 'chukkar', some stretches again.  And up the steps for my morning shower.


So what gives?

Well, for one there is more of me than there once was.  I spent about a decade before marriage just under 70 kgs.  The last 2 decades have been generous in many ways.  And last week was the first time when a fasting blood test notched up an unwelcome value.

But the real spur for these last 8 odd days of jogging (running is not really the word yet), is the upcoming Asha Kiran 10 K run!


On Saturday the 28th of March 2020 we are hosting the inaugural Asha Kiran 10 K Run!

I very, very much would like to hit 10 kms well before next month and be able to actually run.

But whether these old bones run or not, I am super excited about the run itself.

The Asha Kiran 10 K Run is a fun run.  But it is a run with a cause.  We want to celebrate the beauty of creation around us.  We want to have people run for the joy of exercise.  And we want to see prayer, interest and funds raised to help the Asha Kiran Society.

We are hoping to see 100 runners line up at 7 AM on the 28th of March.  We hope that a number of these will be sponsored by friends and family.

That's just over 5 weeks away from today!

Do you want to join us?  Please spread the word.  Here is a small video to get your blood pumping...

And here is our current Facebook Event Page for the Asha Kiran 10 K Run.  

Will you pray?  Will you come?  Will you spread the news to folks who you think would like to run in the coolness of the Odisha Highlands (we are at 1000 m over sea-level)?

Please write to us at contact@AshaKiranSociety.org for more details.  We have put together a 5 page write up which gives the ins and out of the Asha Kiran 10 K Run and ways that you can be involved.

So in the meantime, the trails beckon...


all photos taken this morning (18th Feb 2020)

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Hello, hello...


Hello, Hello?

Is there anyone out there?

This blog has not had any posts for many a moon....

Thank you gentle reader for checking in.

Will work on getting something up and running soon (note the word before 'soon').

Stay tuned...


Monday, 16 September 2019

Peace Places

Friedhof is the German word for cemetery. Simply translated it means ‘Peace Place”.

For some people cemeteries are creepy places. They shouldn’t be. My morning walks during the 7 weeks we spent in the US explored local neighbourhoods in Phoenix, Chicago, Colorado, and Indiana. Some of my wanderings took me into such “Peace Places”.

Come walk with me…. 
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Cemeteries are centrally places of memory.

Each person who is remembered by a stone or a cross or any emblem that is still visible had a name.  For many, that is all that remains.  The name.

Each one was alive at one point in time.  A breathing, thinking person.  Very precious.

Named.    


I remember some of the names that I saw:  Friedrich, John, Sarah, Ann, Barsheba.  Most I don’t.  At least at this point in time.  

But standing in front of their graves I could read who they were called.  What their ears would have heard many a time across the span of their lives.  The moniker that would have turned their heads when it was called.

Of course, some may have only be held by their mother’s arms for a few brief hours.


This stone tells us of a girl named Myrtle Lucille by her parents.  It also tells us that she died on the day of her birth.   June 26, 1938.

What story lies behind this brief summary of a brief life? We have no way of knowing. But we can imagine the terrible sorrow of a mother bringing her child into this world, only to lose her on her birth-day.

Thoughts wander to the many other children in other places who do not survive their infancy.

In my mind’s eye I remember a hot mid-day in Jharkhand over twenty years ago.  In the silence of the early afternoon sun, I see one of our hospital orderlies walking with his wife who worked as ward-aide.  In his arms he is carrying a small cardboard box that I knew contained the body of their still-born child.  I doubt any stone remembers their grief.  Perhaps they did not give a name.



We are invited to remember. 

Because our lives are not just meaningless random particles bumping around in Brownian motion.

Because each one’s person sends ripples across eternity.

And though we live a span there is also an after.

“Peace Places” help us look back, and look ahead too.

———————————-


This grave was unmarked.

But someone has come and placed emblems of memory.

Looking to a nearby grave stone - polished and sleek - I realise that though it has a  name engraved on it, both the named and the unnamed one are strangers to me.  I don’t know them from Adam.  Or Eve for that matter.

And I may yet meet either of them in eternity.  Or neither.

Will the people who are remembering the person buried here - the people who have put the plastic flowers on the mound, those who placed that candle there, will they eventually buy an expensive rock and have their loved one’s name engraved on it?

… or will they just allow the grass to grow over the grave and leave the name written in the cemetery records for those who choose to read it?

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Is it macabre to think ahead of where you want to be buried?

My younger self would have said “yes!”.  Why bother at all with burial in the first place?  After you die its all over isn’t it?

But I am not so sure now.  The thought of having a place ready for you - especially if you are married does not seem so odd anymore.

Perhaps having crossed 2 score and 10 allows a different take on things?

Take this grave in a rural cemetery near Ossian, Indiana…

Thomas Hall, prepared a place for his wife and himself. They were born on two September days in 1953 and 1954, with his wife Elaine being the earlier delivery.  They married in 1975 and judging by the filled-in grave on his side of the stone, Tom must have died this August.   

When will Elaine be called by her Maker?   How much grief did she suffer when her life-partner of 44 years was taken away?  We certainly don’t know.   We do know that he is gone at the age of 65.  And that she will go some day too.

And so will me and you.  Many years ago the poet John Donne wrote about hearing the church bells of his day tolling, telling people that someone had died from the plague.   When the peals sounded, people would ask each other who had died.  Early social networking.  

And then the poet speaks to his readers (and to all of us all these centuries later):

Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bells tolls 

It tolls for you.

 -----------------------

My father lies in a simple grave, nestled among the deodar trees, far down on the lower side of the  Christian Cemetery in Landour.





Does he really lie there?  

Well, his mortal remains were interred at that spot - and we await the resurrection for sure. 

Going to his graveside is a way of remembering him.  Not the only way of course - those memories come flooding back when we see photos, or when someone tells about how Dad touched his life or encouraged him at a crucial time.  

But going to the place where his body was laid has a special feel to it.   We are not machines.  We treasure the flesh and blood.  And we believe that  flesh and blood will come back to life again.

Job says:  I know that my redeemer lives, and that I will see Him with these eyes… and not the eyes of another.

We are not fussed about the mechanics of resurrection. 

But we look forward to the day when:

The trumpet shall sound, 
and the dead shall be raised, 
and we shall be changed.





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Graves take us to the past.

Here is a man who shares my name:  Andreas. 

This grave lies in Bluffton county, Indiana and seems to have a number of graves of anabaptists.  

A nearby grave is of Rev. David Baumgartner who was born in 1765 in Switzerland.  A plaque states that in 1839 at the age of 74 he settled this area, and in the same year became the first pastor of the first Mennonite church in Indiana.

Rev. Baumgartner’s grave was written in German.

So is this one.

This Andreas was born on the 24th of March 1811 in a village in the German kingdom of Wurtenberg.  He died on the 19th of August 1876, with his exact age written - 65 years, 6 months and 27 days.

I have not crossed that age yet.

But this Andreas did.  And he lived well beyond the average life expectancy of that time.

What was the world of his day?

It certainly was one where sickness was more feared than we do in an era flooded with pharmaceuticals.

A few graves away I found two sets of double graves.

Of children.

Who died at the end of 1874 and early 1875. 

Here is one of the pairs. 

The graves tell us that one child died 2 years old in October 1874.  Another was 10 years old and died in December 1874.

The neighbouring graves had siblings who died late 1874 and early 1875 deaths.

Was there a strong influenza outbreak that year in this area?

The graves give the dates but not much more.

But the German language and the year suggests that two sets of parents may be burying their children far from their own birth places.

—————————————-

And then there are graves which become memorials of battles carried on into the present day.

A morning walk in rural Georgia brought me to this grave.


The stone memorialises Corporal Daniel S. Lee of the 30th Georgia Infantry unit of the Confederate States of America.

No date is visible on the grave.  Did he die in battle, or later?  Do his remains lie here or is this a home-town remembrance of a man who died in the field?

A silent reminder of the Civil War during which estimated 620,000 soldiers like Corp Daniel S Lee died.

But beside the grave stone is something more modern.  A brand new Confederate battle flag.

I am very, very much an outsider to the reasons for people keeping these flags on the graves of Confederate soldiers.  But clearly there are some who want to keep these memories alive today, a century and a half later.   I suspect that the hands that put up the flag do not belong to a direct descendent of Corp. Lee, but to people who value a certain cluster of identities since I saw similar flags - also brand-new - planted next to other graves in that ‘Peace Place.’  

Or maybe not-so-peace-place.

———————————

Memories of the lost are not confined to cemeteries of course.  In our driving along high-ways and country roads we saw a number of crosses by the roadsides. Usually with some plastic flowers and a name and date not them.  

I suspect the crosses marked the spot where a loved one had died in a motor accident.

And then on one morning walk I saw this cross inside a private property.


A wooden cross, complete with what looks like a wreath - similar to a crown of thorns - at the top.

A knitted shawl draped on one of the arms.

An a large model aeroplane at the base.

A memorial of some sort.  Maybe to a beloved senior aviator of world war 2 vintage?  Or a young man who died early?

Without asking the owner of the property the morning-walker-by will never fully know.  

But someone has put this up to tell a story.  A lovely maintained memorial, most likely to remember and celebrate a person they loved.

————————————-

Friedhofen.   Places of peace.

Voices that speak to us from the past.  Reminding us that our days are numbered.  But also that there is more to life than just the here-and-now, eat-drink-and-be-merry days.

One day our day will come too.  And beyond as well.