Friday, 28 September 2007

Not at home

Home visits to people with HIV are not always easy. Almost never.

And then there are people who are not 'at home' when you get there.

And then there are so many whose 'homes' beggar the imagination.

When Dr. Manoj visited us recently, we had him accompany our staff on a home visit.

They went to meet Mr. Lambu. But he was not at home.

Normally I would be upset - our staff having gone all the way - and not meeting him - but not this time.

He was not there, because Mr. Lambu had started working again - driving an auto-rickshaw.

His wife still picks garbage in the morning. His house is still just a piece of plastic over the foot-path, but he has started working. A miracle. A real miracle.

Lets rewind to some months ago:

A member of Rahul Mohite's church was passing by Mr. Lambu's place - and for some reason needed to wash his hands. Take a look at this photo - its hard to believe, but this man asked Mr. Lambu's wife for water and she helped him wash up.

picture by Dr. Manoj Jacob - Sept. 2007

While washing he saw Mr. Lambu lying down - feverish and gaunt. The church member told Mr. Lambu to come to their church in Ambewadi. Mr. and Mrs. Lambu did. They were referred to us at JSK by the pastor. We found them to be HIV positive.

In a series of minor miracles, we were able to start Mr. Lambu on TB treatment - and Mrs. Lambu on treatment for Hansens disease (a.k.a. leprosy - still around 2000 years after Jesus).

We knew Mr. Lambu was getting better. He had gained weight. Started to move around. We helped him get his auto-rickshaw driving licence again.

And then when we went to his home. He was not there.

Mr. Lambu was out driving his rickshaw. A miracle in progress.


Please keep praying for Mr. Lambu and his family. Pray that they will leave their pavement dwelling and start living in a more regular house like the used to before their slide into destitution. Pray for ongoing growth in faith and understanding of God. Pray for the challenges of raising 4 children in a chaotic situation. Pray for wisdom and tact and joy for our JSK staff as they come along side Mr. and Mrs. Lambu and others with HIV.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007


(c) Philip B - 2007

Many of the recent postings on this blog have been perhaps a bit on the moody and grim side.

Many more will come.

We live in a fallen and broken world.

At the same time, we have daily reminders of hope.

One is a girl named Hope - our Asha.

Another is a little boy named Dedicated - our Enoch.

Yet another is their cousing Blessing - Stef and Neeru's son Ashish.

Our dear friend Philip B just sent us these shots - the above of Ashish and below Andi with the kids.

The world is in good hands - despite all the brokeness we still see.

Take a good look at tomorrow.

Its already growing up amongst us!

(c) Philip B - 2007

From the ashes

It is still raining in Thane. The drains continue to overflow.

I recently saw a horrible sight.

An elderly man, stripped down, going down into the drain. Similar to the picture of the man on the right.

This old man was pulling out the blackest filth - stuff that had been clogging up the storm sewers.

He was totally caked with the filth that had accumulated there. Manually pulling out the tar-black pieces of garbage that had clogged up what was a large sewer. Right at the main gate of the housing complex we live in.

Who he was I do not know.

But he is part of what continues to be an inescapable part of our society - people who will do things no one else will - because there is some money to be earned in it.
This is being written on a day when the victorious T20 World-Cup-winning Indian cricket team was rapturously welcomed in Mumbai. An open top bus parade. All the notables and quotables in the city were there. Money flowed. A luxury house for each member. Crores of Rupees as prizes. The endorsements to come are unimaginable.
This is being written on a day when the Mumbai stock market's Sensex has crossed the 17,000 barrier. Higher than ever before. More than ever imaginable in the bad old Indira Gandhi 'socialist' days of my youth.
And here in Thane (and many other parts of our great and sad country) we have elderly men making little piles of filth which they have fished out from deep in the gutter.
The Bible has a totally awe-inspiring take on this.

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
He seats them with princes,

with the princes of their people.
- Psalm 113:7-8

Do we dare believe this?

That in God's economy a man covered with filth may actually end up ruling the nations?

That the simplest believer in our Lord Jesus will be seated on the throne of glory with God Himself - through out the ages - and will be reigning with Christ?

Its hard to imagine. No, its basically impossible to imagine. We are too earth-bound in our thoughts.

But that's what scripture tells us.

Oh that we would live our life trully believing this. How different our interactions with each other will be.

Lets do it!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007


Slavery exists today.
It is all around us but we do not want to admit it.
(c) 2007 Gregg Helvey
(c) 2007 Gregg Helvey

(c) 2007 Gregg Helvey

Someone has said there are more slaves alive today than there ever were at any one time in history.

A friend of ours - Gregg Helvey - who is a film director doing studies from USC is making a film about bonded labour.

Take a look at or click: here.
Please pray that this film will really capture the reality of the situation - and also bring hope.
Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, "But we knew nothing about this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according
to what he has done?
- Proverbs 24.11-12


6 PM in Chattrapati Shivaji Terminus in down-town Mumbai. A sea of humanity as the office folk head resolutely for the waiting trains. Pyn (one of our UBS interns at JSK) and I wade through the in-coming tide of faces as we move out towards the street.
We are on a mission - a rendevous with culture. The opening of a solo show at Jehangir Art Gallery.
The show is by Yashpal Chandrakar - the amazing person who married Sheba's childhood friend Sucharita an amazing person who we amazingly got back in touch with over the internet in August (see Contact).

And what a show it was. A collection of master prints - etchings and lithographs in subtle and muted colours, some water-colours and abstract oils and the artist himself - living and breathing among the frames.
Running through the pictures were writing-like scrawls. Which language where they? Some seemed vaguely indic, others like blurred cursive writing, some seemed like the engravings on a kitchenware given at weddings. Could it be a picture of what writing looks like when you are illterate? Could it be the writings of antiquity - the ancient engravings that make our cultures who they are?

Then there were the figures. Heads and profiles. Some gently shaded, others starkly and jaggedly etched in. Scrawls and subtley sharing a frame, sometimes overlapping and intruding. Which one is the base, which ones were added later? The more you peer into the engravings, the more thoughts come to mind - a visual conversation.

The Monarch and his realm - I (c) 2002 Yashpal Chandrakar

Besides the pictures on the walls there was also unfolding human drama in the gallery. An unlit lamp waited the celebrity guest. An assortment of pony-tailed artists. The odd bearded geezer in the mix. A sloppily dressed group of foreign tourists comes in briefly.

The ghazal singer Talat Aziz made an appearance - his lanky frame looking sparkling in a crisp white kurta pyjama - the lamp was lit - the hors d'oevres appeared.

A dapper man shows up. S.M. Mansoor - artist, lecturer, practitioner of modern minatures, descendent of the ancient Afghani artists who attatched themselves to the Mughal courts, proud and witty Pakistani. We chat while - almost surreally - Mansoor has his caricature sketched by one of the elderly men in the room.

Have we ever been to Pakistan? We must come. Art is the language that crosses barriers. The art scene is more lively, more cultured on that side of the border. Lahore? The cultural capital. The gentleman holds forth with wit and verve. A one-man ambassador - unofficial of course - of all things Pakistani - full of honour and verve. His contrast between the suave cosmopolitan minituarist and my slightly rumpled self (both sporting goatees) may not have been greater.

We made the pilgrimage to Jehangir not only to see the pictures but also to meet the artist himself. Yashpal moved quickly between the groups - talking to people here - taking someone to meet someone else there.

It was our first time to meet in the flesh. Yashpal is a handsome and intense man - with quick eyes and a generous smile.

The toil of putting the show together - the hard work in setting everything right - showed a bit in his quietness. Asha's school getting out at 6.30 PM meant that we Eichers were not able to all go down together. We will have to wait till this Saturday when we hope to go as a family to meet him.

Yashpal took Pyn and myself to meet one of Sucharita's uncles. Sucharita was not able to come to Mumbai because her son and daughter are studying in 9th and 10th standard. But their pictures were very present. Yashpal has incorporated his family into the body of his work.

And so back through the rainy streets and into the yawning belly of the waiting train. Fast local for Badlapur. Four stops to Thane. Seated but packed. The snippets of the India-Pakistan T20 world cup cricket match filters in. Mobile phones are used. India managed on 157. A few wickets fell from Pakistan. As we come to Thane we see crowds in the rain outside TV showrooms - watching the action. 6 wickets had fallen by the time we got an autorickshaw home. I walked in the Lok Hospital male nurse flat to pick up the JSK keys from Giri. The final over of the match. Pakistan 9 wickets down - 6 balls to go and 13 runs to make. First ball wide. 12 left. Next ball missed. Then a huge 6 by the Pakistani batsman. 4 balls left, 6 runs to go. The batsman takes a huge scoop at the next ball - its up in the air - and caught by Shree Santh. A roar goes up. India have won the T20 cricket world cup!

And so back home - where our artist daughter Asha created this piece on the computer:

untitled (c) 2007 Asha Esther Alice Eicher

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Role plays

Daniel (JSK staff on right) acts as if he has pneumonia as two training participants try to help him out

How do you teach people to look after people with HIV/AIDS?

Its esp. hard because we cannot take groups to homes where people are sick - for the simple fact that any visitors inevitably raise questions in the neighbours' minds - and HIV continues to be a disease that does not dare speak its name.

One way is through role plays.

We just finished our second session of the current Church Partner training in HIV/AIDS care.
Topics covered today included - HIV testing and counselling, general counselling skills, keeping people's immune system up as long as possible, and recognising and treating opportunistic infections in people with HIV.

We had an open book exam at the end.

Each participant in the training 'visited' a home where a person was sick with HIV. Along with another participant they tried to understand what the immediate problem was and then tried to apply what they learned today - in a real time setting.

Our JSK staff acted out various scenarios - a person with bacillary dysentry, a new TB case, a person with meningitis, a person suffering with herpes zoster, person sick with pneumonia and a person with a giardiasis. All situations our staff have dealt with - and whom church members ministering to people with HIV/AIDS will be forced to deal with sooner or later.

It was a wonderful experience to work through the situations and see what steps were well done and which can be improved.

Sanjeev, one of our staff who had acted the case of menigitis said that he felt so nice that we was being cared for.

Role playing will we trust lead to playing real roles.


Friday, 21 September 2007

A hand-full of rice

How can a church help people with HIV/AIDS?

There are many ways, and here is one of them.

A number of our families are so impoverished at this point that they are not able to adequate feed themselves.

A number of them choose between food and medicine. Some don't even have the choice.

One of the ways that Jeevan Sahara Kendra seeks to help build links between churches and families affected with HIV is through the "Handfull of Rice" kits.

In North-East India many churches encourage their members to put at least a handfull of rice aside for God's work every time they cook. This is then collected and given to the church.

We would like to mirror that here.

The idea is simple.

A family prays and decides to commit themselves to a 6-month period of helping out with 'A Handful of Rice".

The family receives a parcel which includes 6 monthly sets of 3 differently-sized paper bags. On each paper bag is a different verse from scripture - reminding us of God's heart for the poor. Along with the bag is a brochure telling about the programme, a book mark, and a drawing by and HIV positive person. Perhaps most importantly, we include a small prayer request folder with the situations described of the HIV affected families who need nutritional support.

For each meal prepared at home, a hand full of food - rice, wheat flower, dal, whatever - is placed in one of the bags. As the family member does this - we urge them to pray for the family that will be blessed through this gift. The result is that not only is food collected - but prayers are give to the Lord on behalf of these dear ones.

At the end of the month the food is collected - we encourage the families to add some fresh vegetables and oil too - and given to the families in need.

This giving can be done personally by the families - which we prefer! Or it can be through the church youth group or through the JSK staff.

The bottom line is that food from our tables is being shared with others. Prayers from our homes are touching others. God's love is being shown in practice.

Pray for us as we get underway with this.

A handfull of rice can go a long way.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Sion or Zion?

Mr. Hittite is in the hospital.

Not our Jeevan Sahara Kendra - but Lokmanya Tilak General Hospital - commonly known as Sion Hospital. This large teaching hospital is the closest govt. Anti-Retroviral Therapy centre - and this was where Mr. Hittite was getting his ART meds from.

Mr. Hittite is very sick.

Our team has been noticing on their regular home visits that he has not been responding well. On Monday we got a call from his wife saying he was quite unwell. Sheba and two staff went to see him and found him severely aneamic - and in need of urgent hospitalisation and blood transfusion. Probably a severe side-effect of the Zidovudine based combination therapy Mr. Hittite is on.

Our staff went back and took Mr. Hittite to the government teaching college hospital in Thane.

They were ready to admit him but said that he would have to arrange for 3 units of packed blood - each at Rs. 2000. They suggested taking him to Sion.

The relatives thought about it and returned home.

Mr. Hittite was incontinent and very weak.

Yesterday we took Mr. Hittite to Sion. A vehicle from the OASIS trust was taking their kids for their regular visit to the paediatric ART unit at Sion - so we bundled Mr. Hittite in along with Daniel - our JSK staffer. Mrs. Hittite and Giri - another of our staff took the train to Sion.

It took almost all day to get Mr. Hittite admitted. He was first given a place on the ground to lie on. Then, because he was so sick, he was put in a 'good place' - he was given his own hospital bed.

Our staff talked to the hospital doctors and the social workers about the fact that Mr. Hittite is impoverished. His father's brother has just had an accident and is being treated at a private hospital in Thane. Most of the family have been helping out with that man. When troubles come they come in legions.

Mr. Hittite has diarrhoea. His wife did not bring more changes of clothes. The indiginity of the poor.

A CT scan has been called for. Further tests. The treatment was not yet started at the end of the long day when Daniel and Giri headed home. We trust that some thing has been done.

Please pray for Mr. Hittite. This might be his last day.

Will he come out of Sion alive? Will he be transported to Zion? Will he face a bleak eternity?

Your prayers can make the difference.

In all the misery we believe, we have to believe, that our Lord holds out His hands. He knew what it was like to be poor. To be humiliated. To be beaten.

He suffered the indignity of watching his executioners steal his own clothes, and gamble for his undergarments. While hanging naked, nailed to the rough pieces of wood that was the Roman way of humiliating and torturing people to death.

He lives that we may live. And that Mr. Hittite may live too. Really. Forever.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007


Late last year our balcony was joined by 2 visitors.

Pigeons who made a nest in an empty flower pot.

A few days later we had a brace of eggs.

Then the marathon of looking after them. The parents took turns to cover and warm the eggs.

Finally we had two faintly ugly looking chicks.

How carefully the parents looked after them - day and night they warmed them in the winter cold - fed them - protected them from crows (and Eichers).

Asha and Enoch (and their parents) watched with wonder as the chicks grew into fledglings - soon too big to fit under their parent but demanding pigeon-tender-loving-care anyway.

We did our bit - running out to scare away marauding crows - but not the 24/7 care of the parents.

Kind of like our heavenly Father - who has the mother-like quality of brooding over us - He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart (Psalm 91.4).

The poet said it like this:

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs

— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins (God's Grandeur)

Monday, 17 September 2007


In 1991 a small group of doctors and nurses went to one of the most underserved parts of our country to work among the tribals of the Lamptaput district, Orissa.

Seen in the picture (from left): a young Dr. Varghese Philip, Bobby (an engineer), Deen Dayal (who later became community health coordinator), Shaji (now the construction supervisor), Dr. Nirmala Philip & 2 nurses - and the daughters of Drs. VP and Nirmala
[Drs. Manoj and Manju were at CMC Ludhiana for their PG studies]
This week we had the unique privilege of hosting one of the original band - Dr. Manoj Jacob.
Initially working out of an old rice godown, they literally started from scratch. Many hardships, many experiences of trusting God, many tears but also many amazing experiences later we now have the Asha Kiran Hospital - a centre of a thriving wholeistic community health and development.

A group of trained community health volunteers from tribal villages
Working with women and men from local tribal groups - the folks at Asha Kiran have been able to reduce infant and maternal mortality, build up educational networks, do native-language translations and partner with tribal communities to make real changes in their lives.
The main hospital campus has been designed by the architect Laurie Baker to mimic as much as possible the clusters of homes found in surrounding tribal villages.
In 1992 some of the doctors from this nascent hospital attended the Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India annual conference in Orissa. Among the medical students was a young Bethsheba Rajan.
She was deeply moved by meeting Dr. Manoj and his wife Dr. Manju - and the relationship helped open up her horizons to the opportunities and needs of medical mission work in the North of our country.
15 years later Sheba has already been working for a decade, with work done in Uttar Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand and now Maharasthra.
What a joy to meet Dr. Manoj again. As he works on understanding Missional Healthcare during a sabbatical from Asha Kiran, our prayer is that he and Manju will continue to be lead by the Spirit into work of lasting value.
True pioneers.

An older, and wiser, Dr. Manoj Jacob shares the Asha Kiran vision at Jeevan Sahara Kendra, Thane 14th Sept. 2007

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Leonine Ecclesiology

Bed-time, a few days ago.

We were talking about the Church. About her being the bride of Christ.

I asked if the kids knew what that meant.

Enoch said: "Yes, a pride is a group of lions!"

--------- o ---------- o -----------

On reflection - he could be right.

We know that Jesus is called the Lion of Judah.

We know that we are called from darkness into light and are called to be a royal priesthood and a holy nation.

The lion has always been a royal beast (shades of Aslan come to mind).

Perhaps it would be good to think of the Church as 'a group of lions'!

Saturday, 15 September 2007

7 Cousins

One of the great blessings in life are cousins!

Asha and Enoch are blessed with a whole passel of them!

They are certainly wonders - perhaps on par with the 7 modern wonders.

We decided to call them the 7 bhandars of the world.

Here they are - in birth order - and by current residence:
1. Frankie - Phoenix, Arizona, USA
2. Asha - Thane, India
3. Joanna - New Delhi, India
4. Enoch - Thane, India
5. Anmol - Nairobi, Kenya
6. Ashish - New Delhi, India
7. Tammana - Varanasi, India

The photo above was taken this May when Asha and Enoch spent an unforgettable 2 weeks with Joanna in Delhi.

We now have the added joy of having Ashish move into the same neighbourhood - Gautam Nagar - where Joanna lives (and their respective parents of course too!).

The one problem with the 7 bhandars is that they do not see each other as much as we would like.

Man at the ticket counter

Where are people with HIV?


We went as a family to the Planaterium today. All the way down to Worli - an autorickshaw, train to Dadar Stn., train to Mahalaxmi Stn., taxi to the site. It was closed. The attendant said it was always closed on Monday. I pointed out that it was Saturday. He said it was closed because of the Ganesh festival. Anyway. The Nehru Science centre had to do for us Eichers.

But what about people with HIV?

At Thane station I went to buy a booklet of coupons for the trip. I looked into the small ticket window and saw him.

One of our HIV positive patients.

Selling railway tickets to urban communters.

A man who was deeply depressed and under psychiatric treatment at one point.

Selling tickets.

Head down he was dispensing tickets right and left. Every day 500,000 communters pass through Thane railway station.

I asked him whether he knew me.

"No" he said - not looking up.

I repeated the question and asked him to take a look.

A huge smile erupted on his face.

"Please come into my office through the back door", he said. "I have started my ART drugs!"

And then, when I said that I wasn't able to, he actually fished out his bottle of Lazid-N and showed it to me with a big smile.

Who says people are afraid to take their meds.

I was so pleased to see our friend that I promptly forgot to punch the coupons - I had to tell Sehba about it - and had to go back later to punch them to be valid for our train trip.

Where are people with HIV?


Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The story of the man with the swollen head

Our daily staff reviews of people with HIV who have been visited in their homes is a mixture of the grim and joyous (with the former usually predominating the mix).

Today we talked about Mr. Indramani (name changed of course).

Indramani had come to us some months ago with a huge swelling on the side of his face. He needed urgent hospitalisation and drainage of the pus to have any hope of survival. On that very day a veteran surgeon from South India was visiting us. He stripped down to his undershirt and did the operation on the spot! Mr. Indramani went home with a far smaller face and a new life.

Sadly the old life that was on the inside of this dear man has not changed.

Today we reviewed his condition. He is sick. Coughing. No appetite. Lost weight. Feverish.

TB if there ever was such a thing.

Problem is that he has few options right now. He is estranged from his wife - though she still comes and brings him food. He has run away from the govt. hospital at least once before, so they will not care for him. He has relied on his sister to care for him - which she has done in the past - but she is sick too.

Life with HIV is not only about the virus. It is also about the varied detritus that makes up our lives.

His comment today? "I don't want to take any tablets. Give me medicines that I can take in syrups."

So many times our staff have faithfully gone to meet him. So many inputs and sharings with him. It seems horrible to see this man who has had so much done for him slipping away. But unless he turns his own rudder in the direction of life, he will continue to drift to destruction.

As much as we feel helpless in this situation (and many like it) we have to just continue doing the steps that we can. Meet. Talk. Listen. Pray.

Only eternity will tell the outcome of Mr. Indramani's life - and our lives with him.


The historian Tim Jeal ends his 384 page book about David Livingstone with this quote:

"Undoubtably Livingstone's greatest sorrow would have been that Africa never became a Christian continent." Livingstone, p. 384.

Perhaps in 1971 that may have seemed the case.

Well in 2007 we see a continent far more Christian than the place where men like Livingstone came from.

The picture above is of Peter and Yashmeet - our folks in Kenya (and S. Africa) with a church fellowship in a rural part of Kenya.

The thought of Indian followers of Jesus fellowshipping with Kenyans around the Lord's supper is sure to make the flawless Master of the very flawed Livingstone very happy.

Monday, 10 September 2007


Early this morning two of our JSK staff went with a boy and his mother to school.

It was exam time, but Ramu (name changed) has not been to school for 3 weeks. Ever since his father died 3 months ago the boy's life has been torn apart. A 13 year old - he started 'working' - helping out a local mechanic - with the promise of Rs. 10 per day.

Late last week our staff visited the family on one of the regular visits with Ramu's HIV positive mother.

She told them about how she had tried to get him to go back to school - but Ramu would not listen - 'just like his father' said Ramu's mother and disolved into tears.

The boy then came in and our staff talked with him and his mother.

He agreed to go back to school - but was afraid that he would be scolded and beaten. Our staff told him that they would come with him and talk to the teachers.

And so at 6.30 AM the little group came to the school. Exams were on. The staff met with the teachers. Ramu was allowed to start school again. He sat down and was allowed to take the test with the other children.

A small step for a small boy.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
- Proverbs 31.8 (NIV)


(c) Eric Gran 2005 -

We cannot do everything. And there is a sense of liberation in realising that this enables us to do something and to do it very well. It may be incomplete but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are the workers not the master builders, we are the ministers not messiahs, we are the prophets of a future not our own.

- Bishop Oscar Romero quoted by Philip Clarke in "A Heart of Compassion"

Friday, 7 September 2007

Church Training: Loving your Neighbour... with AIDS

We start another set of training in HIV care for church partners tomorrow.

Since Jeevan Sahara Kendra was started half a decade ago - we have always been convinced that the local church offers perhaps the most potent chance to change people affected by HIV.


HIV affects the whole person. Body, soul, mind, spirit.

HIV affects the whole family. Relationships, money, trust, hope, dreams.

HIV affects our whole society. Kids without education. Parents not at work. The hidden costs continue to mount as the silent epidemic digs deep.

The trauma of HIV demands a response that is bigger than it

Strangely enough - the answer may be as small as a mustard-seed.

One way of looking at the local church is to see a group of sinful people, each broken in their own way, but in the process of healing and renewal - who are joined together in a common fellowship in worshipping Jesus and living out His life in theirs.

The beauty of the church is that it does not have all the answers.

How can it?

Each person in the church has so many limitations. But we are joined together to be something bigger than what we are alone. God wants to use the church to show the world the fullness of His wisdom (Eph. 3.10) - and He delights to see us stretch to meet the challenge - and enables us to do it.

Which is why we conduct the Church Partner Trainings.

To equip small groups of ordinary people to love their neighbours - in word, prayer and deed.

Our course is simple - but we try to put into it what we learned over these 5 years.

Over the 4 sessions (held on alternate Saturdays) we will explore the basics of HIV, TB detection and treatment, counselling, staying healthy, treating opportunistic infections, behaviour change, care for children with HIV, HIV in pregnancy, Anti Retroviral Therapy, preparing for dying, and planning church-based responses.

Nothing magical. Just sharing simple lessons learned. Along with testimonies by people with HIV. And discussion. And prayer. Sort of what church is supposed to be in the first place.

We need to be viral in order to defeat the virus. Simple thoughts and actions - replicated across a large expanse - making impacts in individuals and their families - triggering off further blessings.

The good news is that God has always favoured the weak. His huge plans are put into action by some of the most flawed folks. Its our turn now.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007


Dad turns 66 today.

66 years after he was born at Wanless Hospital in Miraj, southern Maharasthra.
From a fatherless child to the father of many.
What a journey it has been.
That September his mother gave him up for adoption - and Alice Eicher took him from Miraj to the Bible College at Bodwad where her husband Elmore Eicher and she were serving.
They slept through the short early-morning stop at Nargaon leaving a puzzled Elmore waiting at the platform for his wife and new child.
A few hours later - and short trip back on the next train - Dad was home. He was given the name Raymond Elmore Eicher - shortened to Raymee Baba on the compound - and Ray Eicher later in life.
It is my privilege to write a few words about Dad.
I talked with the JSK team this morning about Eph. 5.1 Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. The person who kept coming to my mind was my own father.
I have experienced what it is like to be a dearly loved child because of the unconditional father-love I received from Dad.
How do I count the ways he loved us? Here are a few (I have used the past tense - he continues to do these things even today of course):
1. Dad was very affectionate. He spoke out his love to us - and hugged and kissed us tons. Dad's arms were often around me. We wrestled (at least till I beat him!) and I continue to cherish his warm embrace.
2. Dad respected us. I remember the joy of being taken along on trips with him as a boy - including a memorable one to Sweden. He included me in his work, explaining things to me and taking me into confidence at an appropriate level. Dad was open about his thoughts - both as to family and work and faith.
3. Dad took time out for us. Though we always had guests at our table, we knew that we were special. Every evening we had a special time of reading from different storybooks and from the Bible. Every Sunday afternoon there were games. Every year at least one holiday together as a family. It is only now that I realise how difficult this was for Mum and Dad. And then the adventures - by bicycle to Alibaug, hiking up to Khandala in Summer - the forts of Shivaji...
4. Dad modeled kindness. To every person he met - Dad would show some kindness - a cheerful word, a loving touch, a tract in their language telling them about Jesus - and this was to strangers. We saw close up what a compassionate heart looks like - on the outside - Dad's deeds were an outworking of a heart moved with compassion. Dad was willing to be taken for a ride at times - rather than miss out on an opportunity to be generous.
5. Dad opened up his heart to us. He explained things. He took time to discipline us - but always with an explanation. I usually felt the talk was more painful than the spank. On one memorable occasion - when I was about 5 years old - he disciplined me in anger - and I still remember him asking me forgiveness.
6. Dad encouraged us. Optimistic to a fault - Dad's hope was always grounded in his faith in God. There never was heard, a discouraging word like the old cowboy song says - Dad lived it out in our lives. Dad's enthusiasm borders at times on a caricature. But looking back over the years I can say it is the genuine article. In a world of the luke-warm and mundane, Dad's optimism shines.
7. Dad lived out a love for Jesus. Jesus was number one for Dad. Out of his love for Jesus streamed his love for Mum and for us. We had the security of knowing that Dad was totally sold out to his Lord. He has not stopped growing - even if it means humbling himself time and time again as a learner and a seeker. His latest twist in this relationship is tied into healing and deliverance - his enthusiasm and joy at discovering a fresh side of Jesus knows no bounds.
I could go on - and hope that our lives will be the testimony to the father-love we received from Dad. Dad was not perfect - and still is not - but he shows the way.
Thanks Dad, I want to be more like you - and your Lord.

Mob violence

We seem as a country - as a culture - to be increasingly veering towards overt violence to settle issues.

With the legal system placing the burden of evidence on the accuser (helpful in eras where the police round up people on their whims) there is a low prosecution rate. Instead 'justice' is meted out through beatings. Today's paper had a story about a mob that lynched a man suspected with murdering a girl in his neighbourhood. It seems he had served time in jail on child abuse charges already. By the time he was taken to the police station he had been so badly beaten that he died.
I don't want to be grim, but there are clear patterns emerging beneath the gloss of 'India Shining'. Even as our comerades get into air-conditioned Volvo busses to gather in Vizag to protest against the US navy participating in a 5 nation naval exercise - we see that for many, many local communities violence is the only way to be heard.
A person is run over? Burn tires, block the road, set a police van on fire. Someone elopes with a person from a different community/jati/religion (choose your favorite here)? Blacken their face, parade them naked, while your at it, give them a few juicy hits. Someone has done something wrong - and is in a position of authority? Get together a group, call the local journalists, go into their office and ransack it - and give a good thrashing to the chap in question while you are at it.
While parts of India are shopping in air-conditioned comfort - helped by smiling - odour-free shop assistants - the vast not-so-invisible majority is itching for a fight. The trigger can be something small or big.
Its a miracle - an absolute miracle - that we are still able to conduct our lives with a modicum of normality.
... but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Deut 5.10

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

- Last stanza of In Memory of WB Yeats by WH Auden

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Silent hunger

We met her for the first time yesterday. We have met her so many times before - and though she had different names the story was the same.

Her husband is poisoning himself to death. The slow and heady poison purchased at the local liquor shop.

He beats her. When drunk and when not drunk.

Work? A memory.

He has told her that if there is any night without food she will pay for it.

And so there are nights when the kids look at their mother. No words are exchanged - just a look.

She has no words to answer and they understand. They pull the covers over their heads and try to sleep.

- o - o - o - o - o - o - o -
She has come because he is sick. Sick for months now. Can we help. Maybe if he gets better things will get better.
Some have said - it would be better for her that he not get better.
Sheba talks with her about repenting and forgiveness. The ladies eyes latch on. A small light has opened. Maybe he will get a bit better - to understand his real situation. To repent and set things right.

- o - o - o - o - o - o - o -

Meanwhile the air is full of the dull bass thumping of massive loudspeakers. The current festival is underway. Huge hoardings of the local political party dot every intersection. Massive sheds have been constructed to house the local worthies as liquor fuels the groups of revellers - teams of enthusiasts who make human pyramids recreating a mythic deed - and get the ever bloating sums of money given as prizes.
Where does that money come from? Not from the heavens. From the pockets of local people who are forced to fork up or else.
The children under the blankets at night are no where in sight.

Monday, 3 September 2007


Where is your haven? Where is your hide-away?
Three years ago we found one.
A lovely prayer and retreat centre run by the Sisters at Prayer House in Khandala. We have had two memorable weekends there.
The challenge is to actually make the trip up there - how to remain faithful to the different responsibilities and at the same time to 'take time to be away'?
And what about our colleagues who are not able to 'retreat'?
May we learn to rest in the day to day - as well as to plan out times when we as a family are able to immerse in God's goodness. And may you find this balance too!

Confessions of a puzzle addict

I have to be honest. I have a secret vice. Something that draws me like a magnet. Something that I find it hard to do without.

Its that maddening and exhilarating puzzle - sudoku - 9 boxes of 9 squares - the numbers 1 to 9 found in each box and in each row - only one solution to the whole puzzle.

I have spent hours, literally hours, on getting the little boxes filled.

A true addict - I don't get my fix at 'low' levels - the dose has to keep getting higher - currently nothing less than medium will be touched by yours truly.

Before you start praying for deliverance let me state that I have more or less curbed most of my time-wasting on this particular vice.

But, here is what drives me and gives me pleasure in solving it.

You start knowing so little - but then you find a number that 'has to be there' - a small but absolute truth.

Then you use that truth to find out the next one.

It gets better.

Sometimes you know may not know that a number is in only one box - but that it is in a particular area of the puzzle - and you can use that knowledge to solve a different part of the puzzle - which may in turn lead you to solve the exact location of the first number.

Kind of like life in general.

How do we make sense of the many, many things that come our way?

So often it seems just a blank blur. But here and there we know, we know, that something has to be, totally and absolutely.

Treasure those truths - they are your anchors to move forward.


Sudoku is infectious in the Eicher household. As I write this, Asha is working on a 'very easy' puzzle from the Indian Express. She has only 12 squares left to fill. There would be no way that I could do that when I was 6 years old...