Monday, 30 June 2008

Another life

This morning Mr. Washim came to see Sheba.

Mr. Washim is one of our friends with HIV whom we are on long-standing. He and his wife have been through so many ups and downs. They have 3 children - and we just found out last month that the little 2 year old is not HIV positive: a major answer to prayer since they had tried to abort her when they found out about the pregnancy in the first place.

Last year Mrs. Washim got her tubes tied.

Yesterday night she was taken to a local doctor because she had severe abdominal pain. She was given a simple pain killer and charged a hefty sum and sent to another hospital for admission.

The doctor told Mr. Washim this morning that she is pregnant - the family planning operation she had last year seems to have failed.

We don't know the details yet - but this would be a text-book case for an abortion. Two HIV positive parents. Unstable job. Past debts. A child who has HIV already and has delayed milestones. Two younger children. And now another one on the way.

Though we do not know whether this really is a pregnancy - we do know something. As crazy as the situation seems - this child deserves a life.

I know what I am talking about because in 1941 when abortion on demand was not available, a woman living in South India, who had had an affair with an army officer went to a mission hospital to give birth to her child. She left the hospital without the baby - having given him for adoption - and went on to live her life.

Today that baby has grown up to be my father. I thank God that Ray Eicher was not aborted in 1941.

Sunday, 29 June 2008


One of Dad's endearing (and at times exhasperating) habits is to pick up matchboxes from the ground. As kids we just loved finding different kinds of labels, and soon we got a pretty big collection going. Dad continues to keep an eye open for new and interesting labels.

Match box collecting (a.k.a. Phillumeny) offers an amazing look into cultures by way of those little rectangles packed with bright pictures and text. Indian matchboxes display a huge range of images, ranging from the patriotic to the cute to the slightly bizarre. As kids we loved the series of trains and wild animals that Wimco (Western Indian Match Company) made.
A special joy is to see the way that matchbox makers subtly try to copy each other - with often hilarious results (see the picture for example).
When we were small - the 'Ship' brand was the market leader in Bombay. This position led to numerous knock-offs with names like 'Shape' and 'Sheep' etc.
While in Mussoorie Dad gave us a lovely book called "Matchbook" by Shahid Dantawalla. It is a beautiful and at times rib-tickling collection of matchboxes the author has collected. The book itself is made to look like a matchbox - complete with the book itself sliding out of a matchbox-like cover. Makes me wish I had thought of a project like this myself!
I am really, really tempted to start collecting again.

Twilight years

We often think about HIV as a disease of the young. And it by and large is. Young adults between 30-35 years old are the main people we work with here in Thane.

But there are also others.

Last week three young men came to the clinic with their mother. Sheba assumed one of them had HIV and had come to talk about it. It wasn't that at all. They had come to show their mother to Sheba.

Last year their father died. Then over the last 6 months their mother was hospitalised. Thrice. The most recent admission included an HIV test. She is positive.

It was - and continues to be - a total shock to these men. To speak nothing of the elderly lady herself.

At a meeting yesterday with leaders from our local churches we talked briefly about how so many are afraid of old age. How much we need to bless and help our elderly experience a glorious sunset - and hope into the next and most glorious stage of their lives.

Spare a prayer for elderly people with HIV. May their twilight be glorious.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Ambition: starting early

When does the rat race actually start? Pretty early it seems.

We got a call today after Asha came home from school. It was from a girl in her class who lives in our housing complex. She said that by mistake Asha's school diary had got into her bag, and she and her mother were coming over to give it.

When the lady brought her daughter to the door with the diary - it was clear that they were not just going to hand over the book and leave. A barrage of questions were fired out: how does Asha study? is she good in her studies? does she go to tuitions? what books does she use? what does Sheba do? who teaches Asha? and on and on.

Here is the rub. Its quite possible that this lady told her child to put Asha's diary in her bag on purpose - in order to open the door.

No proof of course - only the mother's overwhelming presence and pushy nature - but not at all outside the realm of possibility.

Welcome to the world of success - is it any surprise that people follow the dictum of "you got to step on a lot of heads to get to the top!"

How different from: Godliness with contentment is great gain!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


May 4th 2008 seems a long way away now - maybe a different century? But there we are - both sets of parents with and the kids (and Victor and Sarah's daughter Joanna to boot) on the terrace of Shanti Kunj in Mussoorie.
We are amazingly blessed with two sets of parents who pray for us every day - and that too many times. Who have sacrificed much for us. Somehow the conversation with Asha and Enoch turned to how we could pay back our parents for all they did for us - the fact is - we can't. Never. Perhaps the only step forward to this is to be the best parents we can to our kids. Love is not rent.
Our heart aches to be away from our loved ones so long. Right now we have a total diaspora going on:
(1) Mum and Dad in Mussoorie,
(2) Amma and Appa just outside Vishakapatnam,
(3) Victor, Sarah and Joanna in Delhi,
(4) Stefan, Neeru and Ashish in Delhi (its Ashish's 2nd birthday anniversary today!),
(5) Premi in the UK - but due to arrive in India first week of July,
(6) Peter, Yashmeet and Anmol in Kenya,
(7) Ramesh, Daisy and Frankie in the US
(8) Rudy, Aneng, Kimi, Timmy and Renata in the US (but spread out from Hawaii to Virginia)
(9) and of course so many others who are part of the extended Shanti Kunj family....
How to get everyone together? What a paradox to have so many we love so far away. Its part of the existential sorrow we have - but one that we must work through - and which perhaps helps us to cherish the opportunities that we do have to meet up all the more.
Our aches point us in the right direction though - we are not meant to be alone - apart. If we did not ache something would be wrong. We look foward to a time when we will all be together. Its not a pie in the sky thought either, but a reality worth living towards.

Another death

Mr. Carl died last Sunday.

No happy end to the tale - or so it seems.

Mrs. Carl was crying uncontrollably.

How do we bring hope into what seemed a hopeless situation? We don't want to be false and glib - at the same time, we know that the love of God is more powerful than any circumstances we know.

Weep with those who weep...

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Orange tears

Early this morning 4 Eichers dressed in various orange articles of clothing (and an old orange clown nose on the pater familias) made their way on the Black Beauty - our Honda scooter - through the deserted roads of Thane. What were we doing out at 12 AM? Off to see a football match of course! Holland vs. Russia. Euro 08 quarterfinal action - on a Saturday night - an experience for Enoch and Asha to see a full football match for the first time. So where better than the home of Thane's football fan No 1 - Joshua Jayakar and his sister Juanita.

What is it about football that stirs such a deep passion in people? It has to be more than just 22 players and an air-filled sphere. I think part of it is the deep desire to be part of a struggle. We are created to relish excellence - and have a deep appreciation for that which is superb. To have the very best of the best playing it out in a hard-fought exciting contest allows us to taste a piece of beauty that our hearts yearn for.

The other part of it is a desire to belong to something bigger than we are. We crave to belong. We are not meant to be alone - and in a time of deep distrust in most institutions (including for many the church) sporting teams offer an identity which binds people together. The Dutch players played the game with a black band - to express solidarity with one of their defenders who lost a prematurely born girl 3 days before. The fans decided to sing 'you'll never walk alone' before the game to express their feelings to this man and his family. Where do you find this in the atomised world that most inhabit. Football (replace this with almost any other large-scale sporting event) offers more than athleticism and excellence - in a strange way it offers the hope of family.
So down to the match. Ah the heartbreak. Our dear Dutch heroes have done what they excel in once again: play the beautiful game in an exciting and dominating fashion in the first part of a competition - only the be booted out in the quarter or semi-finals. Early this morning (for us here in Thane) it was Russia's turn to shine. And for orange tears to fall around the stadium (and also for some Thane supporters as you can see from the shot of Juanita and Asha).
There is something sublime to seeing men run at top speeds, controlling the ball as if it was stuck to their feet, sharing it between themselves in total contest against another group of talented and detremined players. This morning belonged to the beautiful feet of Andrei Arshavin. The speed of the man. Amazing. With all the skills the Dutch have between them - it was the Russians who were making the difference. Only Edwin Vande Saar's brilliance kept the score within sight. Just as it looked the Russians were close to a famous victory with their 1 goal lead - the old orange workhorse of Ruud Van Nistelrooy managed to put his head in and score a beautiful goal 4 minutes from full time. We were given another 1/2 hour of paisa vasool action as Holland and Russia ran the ball to each other's goal - with Russia coming up trumps - twice! The final one deservedly coming of Andrei Arshavin's boot.
If only our dear Indian footballers could be one 10th as skillful as these two teams! We left Joshua and Juanita's home having shed a few silent orange tears - but fully satisfied with a feast of football - and took the Black Beauty back home through the 3 AM streets of Thane!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Blessed to be a blessing...

Mr. Carl decided to end it all early last week. He stepped out in front of an oncoming truck.

The vehicle hit him – giving Mr. Carl a head injury. He was taken to the Civil Hospital.

We have known Mr. Carl for years now. He and his wife have HIV. Their child was sickly for a long time – and we were sure he also had IV. When we finally persuaded Mr and Mrs. Carl to test the boy we were thrilled to find that he was HIV negative.

It was one of the few bright spots in the life of this family.

Mr. Carl has made many sad decisions in his life. Alcohol fuels many of them. His wife has gone back to her parents a number of times because of his cruelty and indifference to her. Mr. Carl spends most of his time running a gambling club – which apparently pays the police about Rs. 40,000/- each month in bribes to keep operating. His normal approach to our staff was one of avoidance or a surly silence.

The last few years have been punctuated with a series of illnesses. When he is sick with TB he took help from JSK to get medications from the government health centre. His overall compliance was poor – other than when Mr. Carl was incapable to looking after himself. The bottle followed the same pattern: He was sober when desperately sick – and drinking at most of the other times.

Behind this slow-motion tragedy are Mrs. Carl – with her love for her husband – and Mrs. Carl’s mother – whose devotion and care for her surly son continues.

But despite the love Mr. Carl received – and advice from every side – Mr. Carl has continued his sad choices. As for many men alcohol provided an escape – as did the club. Mr Carl spent most of his days in the gambling den – arriving home at odd hours to catch some sleep before going out again. For all the cash that passed through his hands – precious little was seen in the home.

An unlovely man – Mr. Carl is loved. But though the maker of the universe cares for him with an unthinkable love – and his own family has poured themselves into him – on the morning early last week he decided he could not handle any more of life.

He allowed himself to be hit by the truck. The step was taken – but the truck did not kill him. Mr. Carl is still alive.

To cap it all, Mr. Carl ran away from the Civil Hospital. He told the nurse that he was going to the toilet. Instead he walked out of the building – his IV lines still in – and took an auto-rickshaw home. Our staff had gone to the hospital to meet him only to be told that he had run away.

Later in the evening the JSK staff went to meet him – and take out the IV cannulae.

Mr. Umale went to meet him along with our staff. They knew each other tangentially before – but now the tables were very different. Mr. Umale told Mr. Carl that he also was HIV positive. He told him about the days when he was so sick that all he could do was vomit. He told him about how it was only him and his wife – that no other family members were there with them. Mr. Umale went on to say that he had put his faith fully and solely in Jesus – and that Jesus had helped him through the dark days – and that God is helping him even now.

Talking to me afterwards Mr. Umale said that a lot of work needs to take place in Mr. Carl’s life. He needs to be visited more.

We are thrilled to see people with HIV helping each other. One of the themes that is emerging for us is that we are all being changed – and healed – and helped … so that we can help others. Our blessings set us up to bless others. Our stories of redemption and change seed other stories in turn. God wants to use each one of us to see more blessings and changes take place in his people.

Could this be the time for Mr. Carl to be transformed – and to be a blessing to others too?

Thursday, 19 June 2008


Our newspapers are having a field day with what seem to be an unending stream of gruesome murders.

A recent one includes dismemberment and disposal of the body of a show-biz personality by a film starlet and her man who serves in our armed forces.

How much of what we read is 100% true is of course debatable. But here is one aspect that sticks out for me: we are dealing with absolute, un-abashed naked ambition.

Our dear Indian Express (she who seems blushingly modest compared to the skin-shows other Mumbai papers exhibit each day) quoted police officials saying that the only remorse that the two apparent perpetrators seemed to show is that their promising careers are now ruined.

Come to think of it, why should this surprise us?

We are today swirling in what can only be a see of ambition.

It doesn't matter what it takes - you must make it to the top.

Parents are notorious for desiring that their little ones (and big ones who are still treated as kids) get first in class etc.

The church does not seem immune to it.

Even in our relatively laid-back house-fellowships, I don't recall the last time any parent got up in church and said - please pray that my son will be wise and compassionate and loving. We have had plenty of prayers for exam successes.

Nothing wrong with striving for excellence, but the question is at what cost? When does the quest for excellence become and end in itself - and then when does it become more than that?

The ancients had a word for this: idolatry.

A wise Bible teacher tweaked St. Paul when he said: "A man cannot serve two masters, you cannot love God and Education". By replacing the Biblical word "money" with the respectable word "education" the teacher shows what really drives most of us. We don't want to admit it, but the for most of us this is all that education has been reduced to - a means of making the biggest packet.

The key is to ask the question: is my ambition selfish - or Godly? Most of us find ourselves in the former most of the time - and will try all manner of ways to cloak this with respectability (for which success does wonders).

I have to remember an EMFI students camp in the Pachalur hills in Tamil Nadu. On the wall of the centre was a collage of pictures of the then recently killed bro Graham Staines and his two boys. Next to it someone had pasted this simple poem:
Only one life to live.
Twill soon be past
Only what's done for Jesus will last.

Paper bag

Mr. and Mrs. Tamarind came to see Sheba at the clinic this morning.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since we first met this couple. He was semi-conscious and she was stoic. We were told by the small crowd of relatives and friends who were admitting him to not tell her that Mr. Tamarind had HIV. The strain will be too much – she doesn’t know anything about it. Sheba thought otherwise and politely asked Mrs. Tamarind what her husband was suffering from. Mrs. Tamarind slowly and clearly said: “He has AIDS”.

That was almost 3 years ago now. Mr. Tamarind came out of his brain-infection that he was admitted for. He was started on anti-retroviral medications – he went through various ups and downs – but was able to start his own business – complete with a Rs. 500,000/- loan from a local bank.

The last few months have had him losing weight. The anti-retroviral drugs do not seem to be doing their job. He is haggard and looks visibly ill again. We thought that they had primarily come to have him checked up.

Mrs. Tamarind found out in those early days that she also had the disease. It was a bitter pill, but she took it well – and continued to lovingly care for her husband over these months and years. When Sheba asked her whether she had any problems, she mentioned that she had some difficulty breathing.

‘How long has this been?’ asked Sheba. Mrs. Tamarind said it had been happening for 15 years. Occasionally gets an attack and then they take her to a hospital. At the hospital the doctors give her an injection – and then she is more or less back to normal.

With that the consultation was basically at an end – and after praying with the couple, they got up to go.

Then the fun started.

Mrs. Tamarind suddenly started gasping – deep, anguished gasps for air. It was a panic attack, one of the many that she had had over the years – and now it was happening at our centre.

In most circumstances this is treatable with a drug called diazepam. An IV line is inserted drug and drug given. After sometime the patient then is calmed – and is discharged none-the-worse. This is what numerous local practitioners must have done for this couple – and pocketed a goodly sum for their trouble.

Sheba called Dr. Marise who was also there that morning and asked her advice. Dr. Marise asked for a paper bag.

Our nurse aide Sunita found a newspaper and made simple bag out of it. This was then put over Mrs. Tamarind’s mouth who breathed into it for some time. A few minutes of the carbon dioxide rich air was enough to bring her came back to normal.

Sheba had to go to do a dressing on Mr. Nandu’s leg – so Dr. Marise sat down with Mr. Tamarind again to explain how to manage the panic attacks in the future. Why they come we are not sure, but we know that prayer changes things.

We also know that a paper bag can save thousands of rupess in fees for in-patient admissions.

Knowledge is power – especially when wedded with love and compassion.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008


One of the great joys we have is to see our children developing.

Enoch has taken to running. We are reading about Eric Liddell as a family and saw Chariots of Fire in Mussoorie – and he is inspired. He runs with his head back and chest out. Its great style though how fast? Asha has mastered a slightly wobbly but growingly confident straight line on her bicycle. Turning and braking are still challenges, but that’s what learning is about!

The big news this month for Asha, however, is her violin.

Mum and Dad had brought a ¼ sized violin for Asha 3 years ago after Dr. Joseph Samuel suggested we start Asha out early on the violin. We then discovered a wonderful teacher living close to us: Elaine, who ministers to children at the Jeevan Asha centre and is the wife of Pastor Benny from Covenant Blessings Church. She felt that Asha was a bit too small – and there were some health problems too so we waited.

The wait was sure worth it.

This month Asha started classes with Elaine. What a joy to learn from a person who loves – really loves – music. By accompanying Asha, Sheba has also attended the classes and now supervises the daily practice. It’s a complete package – learning music in its fullness – rather than just scraping the fiddle. Asha is thrilled and loves everything about it. Having seen the Woodstock School orchestra in full swing these past holidays helped stoke her appetite.

We are in for a long and wonderful exploration of music.

Small miracle

We are in the business of miracles

And we heard of a small one yesterday.

Mrs. Candy is very sick. She has drug-resistant TB. She lives in a tiny shack.

Among her many sorrows is her son Tarun. Tarun is a 10 year old who has grown up on the streets. Mrs. Candy has been begging or picking through garbage all of his growing up years. He is virtually uncontrollable. His hands never stop moving.

Last year we were able after a lot of prayer get him admitted at Jeevan Asha – a nearby preschool run by the Covenant Blessings Church. The first few months were especially rough. Tarun’s behaviour was so inconsistent that we had to make a choice. Should we withdraw him since he had been beating up other children? We asked our colleagues at Jeevan Asha for some time and prayed. A small but real change was seen – and Tarun has been blessed with a whole year of love from the caring teachers at Jeevan Asha.

At the same time his mother Mrs. Candy was driven out of her house – because the slum she was living in was demolished.

Over the summer holidays we saw him wandering around – shoeless and disheveled.

Mrs. Candy we have seen more often as she has faithfully come for her TB meds. The drugs do not seem to have had much effect till now. She is very weak and knows that death may be soon.

And so to yesterday.

Mrs Candy was sleeping in the morning – along with her older daughter. Suddenly she realized that her son Tarun was up. Mrs. Candy was tired and sick and so wasn’t sure what was happening, but it seemed that he was taking a bath, pouring the cold water over him. He then dressed himself and put oil on his head and combed his hair.

Surprised and still dazed Mrs. Candy asked Tarun what he was doing. I am going to my school he said and left.

Mrs. Candy fell back into her uneasy sleep. Waking later she found Tarun gone. In her confused state she remembered something about school – but she was not sure. Afraid that something may have happened to him, she told her daughter to go and look and see if she could find him.

The girl came back with the news that she had peeked into Jeevan Asha – and there was Tarun sitting quietly and staring intensely at the teacher.

In the midst of so much destruction we see small miracles take place. Knowing Tarun the thought of him taking these steps on his own is nothing short of divine intervention. Small miracles – but real.


Two weeks ago she was thrown out of her home.

Her husband had taken the children and gone to the village - disgusted that she kept falling sick. His own HIV status did not seem to matter. She had then gone to stay with her mother and father.

The scene did not improve much. Her brother and sister-in-law were so upset with her and afraid that she would infect their small children that they moved out. Her father was enraged and kicked her and her mother out of the home. He is a notorious drunkard.

The mother and sick daughter spent the night with neighbours. The rains had just started pouring in buckets. She kept getting diarrhoea.

When they came the next day to us it all seemed so hopeless.

We pondered finding a shelter. Looking for a church to put her up. We talked with her and her mother about the options. They decided that her mother would look for a roomfor them both to stay in for some months and try to be reconciled with the family.

We prayed with them.

Flash forward to today.

She is still sick. Yesterday night we admitted her at the JSK centre for in-patient care.

But things have changed at home. Her father is looking after her with love - she says.

How is it possible for the human heart to change? How are forgiveness and reconcilliation still alive in such harsh times?

We will find a full and complete cure for HIV one of these days. It is just a matter of time. There will be a set of medications to fully and completely treat the virus.

But for the broken heart? The greatest miracle is when a crooked hateful heart is changed. When a person forgives. When a wrong is righted. Not possible alone, but oh-so-possible with help from our loving Father.

We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the ground,
But it is God who waters, by His almighty hand...

Loving your neighbour with AIDS....

We have just started another series of trainings for church members in HIV care. We call it Loving your Neighbour - with AIDS. The course is done in 4 sessions which we spread over 1.5 months, since we conduct the sessions on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays.

We prayed a lot for this batch. There was no electricity in the centre for a whole week before the first session on the 14th as the underground cable supplying the centre was burned out. Further, the monsoon had hit Thane in force - the wettest start in a decade. But on the 14th we had minimal rain - and the electricity had been restored the afternoon before. Looking at the 30 odd participants one thing was clear - that God had called each one of them - and that none were there by chance.

It was a delight to share what we have learned over the past 6 years of working with people with HIV - and a delight to see in the participants not only churcch people who wanted to serve people with HIV - but people with HIV themselves who are now part of the church themselves - and are exploring how to serve others!

Sheba did an excellent job teaching the basics of HIV and about how to treat people who are suffering from Tuberculosis. The discussions were good - the questions lively - the food great.

But the highlight for most of us was when James told us his story at the end of the day. I have heard it a number of times before in different occassions, but the power is still there - and each time there is a different twist. How vital it is for our hard hearts to be softened - and what power when a person gives his or her own story about what happened in their life with HIV - and what God has been able to do.

James told us that last month he had been visiting different pastors to encourage them to send young people to the YAA clubs training. One senior leader he met told him point-blank: "You people at JSK are wasting your time. Why work with people who are anyway going to die? Why not invest your time and money in people who will live - you will get far better returns from that."

James shared that he just listened to this man and did not reply immediately. Then finally James told him quietly: "I am grateful that a man spent 3 years encouraging me about Jesus - and that he did not give up. I am today who I am because this man did not consider it a waste of time to invest in me."

There were more than a few tears in our eyes. But the kicker is this - James went back to the same leader a few weeks later - and was warmly welcomed by him.

How much our hearts need to change. And what potential there is in each person. And how much God yearns to love the world more through his Church!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Church Youth

We are encouraged by some of the steps the young people at our churches are taking. As a church we are now meeting in 3 different homes on Sunday mornings for worship - but meet during the week for a Bible study on Friday nights (rotating in different homes) and the young guns meet up at our place on Saturday evenings.

The youth have decided to divide themselves up into 3 mini-teams. Each team will have 3-4 core people running it and will be doing a 3 month project.
One team will be doing a Bible study in the home of a family of 3 young people whose parents have passed away and who are on-and-off participants in one of our Sunday worship times. The idea is to build up this family and reach out to friends in the neighbourhood.
The second team is planning a 'Discipleship Training School' where they will be taking Saturday afternoon sessions with 4 pre-teen girls from our Thane fellowships. The young people see this as a way of developing the faith of these girls and also as serving as an entry for them into the Youth group.
The third team is planning to meet regularly with one of the HIV positive families we are in touch with at JSK. It is going to be a real challenge for them, since the family they are planning to reach out to is one where father, mother and one child have the disease. They live close by to one of our fellowships and have even attended worship a few times - but their situation is grim as both are repeatedly ill and just do not seem to be getting much better despite being on medications. Excellent opportunities for our youngsters to come face-to-face with what it means to trust God.
Our Saturday evening meetings are thus being retooled to being a support time for these teams - a time to reflect on what has happened and pray for each other - spurring each other on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10.24). To get things rolling the young people have started conducting our Saturday fellowship in Hindi - something that urban youngsters usually feel very shy about - but something absolutely vital to reach out to people for whom English is not a natural lingo (read: most of our dear country).
Hats off to these youngsters! We have so wanted this generation to step forward and make bold moves - and go into opportunities to learn what it means to trust God. We need a blanket of prayer over every positive step we take forward for our loving Lord!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Youth Against AIDS Clubs

We are losing too many people to HIV/AIDS.
At Jeevan Sahara Kendra we are committed to helping people with HIV and their families - at whatever stage of the disease they are in - just found out - or well into the sickness - or at the end of life. We are here to help and to see people living with HIV/AIDS and their families receive hope, health and eternal life.
But after 6 years of working and over 130 of our friends passing away - we also want to see people not get HIV in the first place.
One small set of steps we are taking towards this is youth-focussed and run HIV prevention programme that we have been trying to nurture called Youth Against AIDS.
At the end of last month we had an amazing training which Ken Mcrae from the Dehradun Youth Centre facilitated. We had gathered to learn how to run Youth Against AIDS clubs (YAA clubs for short). A small group of us gathered at the Bible Centre in Pune for an intense time of learning.
And intense it was.
Ken started out by telling us how he became involved with young people in Dehra Dun. In the space of a year, he found out that 4 young people had committed suicide in a small neighbourhood of 800 odd middle class families. Two of these were from families who attended church. Ken waited for some time and then met with the pastors to find out what they had done since the tragedy had taken place. One pastor said that everyone was sad and determined to do something - but what? The other pastor said that the boy in question was a ruffian anyway.
Spurred on by a desire to see real change for young people, Ken and his team did a survey among local schools and found that young people overwhelmingly wanted to have a place where they could drop in and talk. They wanted people to come to their schools and speak straight with them about sex, relationships, drugs, changes. Ken and the DYC team took up the challenge. Today there is a network of relationships among the young people - with youth reaching out to youth and bringing hope.
We were the blessed to have Ken walk us through a series of sessions aimed at helping us reach out to young people. Ken hammered home a simple message. We have to love each person - and let them know that they are loved and accepted - no matter how rotten and mixed up they may feel (and may be).
Each person, each thought, each confidence is precious.
We have to do a lot of listening - and put our judgements on hold - to build a level of trust where a young person is able to tell from the heart what he or she is going through. Clubs offer a unique opportunity to break out of the straight-jacket of fear that stops youth from speaking the truth of their lives to figures in authority. This silence can be deadly - as the 4 suicides that started Ken on this path show. Clubs are wonderful at building friendships - and affirming the value of each person - as well as that of the group. We learned again and again that even more than the content of what we talk / discuss / teach during the club sessions - it is how we do it that will shape the lives of our friends.
The Barthe Kadam curriculum which we used as the basis for the YAA clubs is a powerful tool to this end. It is open-ended and user-friendly - specially designed to include everyone in meaningful and fun activities that lead to discussing things that matter. Dr. Jameela George and her colleagues at EHA have used this programme across north India with adolescent groups - especially in the rural areas they serve. The principles are the same for the urban setting - every young person has dreams - and yet so few attain even a fraction of them. The changes that take place during puberty and early adulthood are often so poorly understood that before the young person knows it, they have made choices that bring only sadness. Our experience with so many end-of-life experiences with people who are in their early thirties and dying of AIDS only serves as a sad back-drop to this.
At the same time, Ken helped remind us that the process of change, of maturing and experimenting with life that young people go through is full of such wonderful potential as well. Parents find it threatening to see their children make decisions of their own - and of course some of these end up with harmful results - but the very fact that youth are choosing things points to their taking their destiny into their hands. What a tremendous set of ideas and energy young people bring to the table - and how sad that the older generation usually loses out on the many chances to channel the energy and potential of youth because they elders are too afraid to trust young people. What marvellous opportunities for new partnerships we see!
As with all good things - this camp came to an end too. Ken had to go back to Dehra Dun (and then on to China where his daughter and her husband are working - in the very area the earthquake took place). We had to return to our colleagues in Thane and all the other work JSK is doing. The youth leaders and pastors who attended had congregations to return too as well. Our hope is that every participant would be able to start a YAA club through their local youth fellowships. Lets see what happens when we all get back 'home'!
At a last evening bonfire we reflected on what we had experienced over the 3 days till then. Each person was deeply moved and changed by the experience. It was exhillerating to be with Ken and get deep insights from the people he and his colleagues have worked with. There was a deep bonding and fellowship among all the participants and we left the camp as friends. The exercises were engaging, the food was superb, the worship was great. Each one of us was deeply challenged to work with young people with a new urgency - and a new friendliness and respect. Each one of us was challenged to be more honest and transparent in how we work through tough issues ourselves - and to be a friend and helper to this upcoming generation. We are once again aware of the power of God to change lives and shape destinies!
Please pray for the YAA clubs this year. Though each person who came was a blessing - we were sad that so many others missed out on such an amazing time. The YAA club concept, using the Barthe Kadam materials is moving forward though. Just this evening I heard from bro. Joshi that his team had recently used the materials among the girls at Mukti Mission - and met with a tremendous response from them!
May we see many young lives changed - for the long term good! Its time we stopped AIDS - and the only way is through changed lives. Impossible in the eyes of the world - but with the help of the Holy Spirit?

Grey Rain

300 mm in 4 days. Welcome to the wettest start of the Mumbai monsoon in 7 years.

Its as if someone emptied a huge celestial bucket on us. Last week we were sweltering. This week drenched. No subtle transition. No lingering thunder in the horizon. Just a straight drench. The buildings already their monsoonal grey. All roads sprouting their muddy potholes - I saw a man suddently sink down to his calves in one - thinking it was just a shallow puddle.

Though we crib about our leaky walls - in our 7 year old appartment building - there is real unadulterated misery in the vast sprawl of shanties/substandard tentements where the bulk of our people live. The water just doesn't stop - there is no place to dry anything - all turns to damp - and mould. And then there is the matter of walking about outside. Liquid filth swirls. No way but through it - pants rolled up as much as possible...

The thing I noticed this year - in the very first week of our dear monsoon is the lack of light. We are so used to the sun - to not see it all day - to be overcast with grey brings a sombreness to everything. It makes me remember the grey days of school in 3rd standard - the weak tube-lights in the cavernous rooms and the vague menace of the school books.

And all of this for me who has an almost God-like freedom to go where I want - whenever. On Monday I was whizzing around on our scooter, doing some odd jobs, and passed a man in the rain. He was using an orthodpaedic walking frame to move forward, his leg was in some kind of a cast/bandage. It was sheathed in plastic. He had a black plastic bag he used as a hood. Where was he going? Why did he need to walk so far in such a pathetic state? Who looks after him? What was he doing out there - soaked?

And what of the man who can't even leave his bed. The steady drip and dampness his only companion. Or Mrs. Mimosa whose roof (if you can dignify it with that name) is riddled with holes? Her alcoholic son off to work for 12 hours a day. The little girl she has to help her showing up occasionally as she was beaten by the son. A small alarm clock tells her when she has to take her ART medications at 9 AM and 9 PM - but she rarely gets to eat food - let alone be cared for in comfort in her leaking shack.

There may be green on the hillsides. But it is looking pretty grey in the great city of ours.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008


A small tribute to the king of fruits. The amazing mango.

Where can you get such a combination of sweetness and tang - of the goodness of juice just running down your hands - and yet you want more?

Each mango is so totally different. You never know till the first bite - will it be tart? or sweet as all the gulab jamuns in the world?

I am a 1/4 though one as I write this in the middle of a mercifully quiet night. The slightly acid taste of the current mango puckers up my lips - and makes me want more.

Another few bites separated the last para and these lines. The cheeks are almost done. Now what all that is left the to suck and gnaw at the seed. The proverbial gutli. Please excuse me while my hands get gloriously yellow!


As I swept the floor this morning, out from under a couch rolled a single orange bead.

It was a cheap plastic number but it set my mind back.

The bead was one of the sack-full of beads which were in Mr. Zacheus' 'store-front' home. A tiny room right on the main road of a neighbouring slum, where the door was a metal shutter that opened up or shut the street to the room and vice-versa. Mr Zacheus, wasting away on his bed, was looked after by his illiterate wife while his four children played around him.

The beads were a small way of making some money. The mother and kids would sit on the floor and string them. Cheap orange things. For each 'necklace' they would earn a few paisa. A day's work did not get them much. But it did get them something. And it meant they could do it in their little room - and when they wanted to. Paid by the piece.

On one of our last visited to this home, Mrs. Zacheus had given a few beads to Asha. The one that rolled out from underneath the cot must be one of the last survivors.

Where are you Mrs. Zacheus? You left in sorrow after your husband died. You went off to the village in far-off Uttar Pradesh saying you would return. But other after a few calls we have not heard from you. We pray for you - occasionally - and know that you will need medication for your own HIV disease - which will continue to eat away your health.

And what of the kids? How big they must be by now? Are you able to nurture them? What do they remember of their father? What do they remember of their early years in urban Thane? Who do they call themselves now?

Mr. Zacheus has gone to a better place. No platitudes here. Facts.

Mrs. Zacheus? Where has she gone? Is she still alive? Does anyone know?

Monday, 9 June 2008


How precious friends are. And how few we all seem to have when it gets down to the nitty-gritty. Being real. Being part of our lives. Being there.

John and Nalini Gabriel fit the bill. When we came to Mumbai 6+ years ago they were part of the local Hebron assembly we attended – and lived just round the corner from us. With a daughter Asha’s age – and then adding another to complement our Enoch’s arrival – we were blessed to have such a loving couple who took us in and were there for us.

Enoch, Jasper, Asha and Nikita get ready to dig into some rice and prawn curry!

We are a good 5 years on since moving over to Thane – and our friendship still holds. The years have seen some difficult times in the lives of both families – but it has been a privilege to keep growing with each other.

This past week Asha and Enoch spend 3 days with their dear friends Nikita and Jasper. Being the last week of their summer holidays the kids had a ball.

The Eicher and Gabriel kids dig into all natural ice-creams - Asha's bear Gloria and Nikita's Twixie are also on hand.

As parents we were able to meet and participate in a prayer meeting at John and Nalini’s place when we went to drop off the kids. Though mid-week, we were able to spend the night with our friends (including a trip to a natural ice-cream parlour at 10.30 PM) before an early-morning bus took us back to Thane.

Asha had had appendicitis the week before. John and Nalini’s prayers were among the first and most fervent. We are so glad Asha recovered so fast (and without surgery – though it seems we may have to go for it later). Seeing her tuck into Auntie Nalini’s prawn curry, you would never have imagined that this was the same girl in such pain just a week prior!

We know that God does not bring us randomnly into people's lives - and vice versa.

Thanks John and Nalini - for being friends. We are so grateful to God for you!

Being used

While we were on holiday with our parents in Mussoorie last month we had an unexpected visitor: Mrs. Gladys Staines.

Mum and Dad knew Gladys from her days with OM in the early 80s – before she met and married bro Graham Staines and settled down to serve in Orissa.

Sister Gladys had some work in Dehra Dun and took the opportunity to come up the hill and meet Mum and Dad for some fellowship and prayer.

Sheba and I and the kids were privileged to meet this humble servant of God in such an unexpected setting – while drinking coffee on the terrace of Shanti Kunj, with the evening air taking on its first crispness as the sun painted the oak forests golden.

One of the things that struck me from our chat was this: Sister Gladys talking about how glad she was to be able to teach scripture in Australian public schools. She shared that since she is living with her daughter who is studying medicine, she found out that the Australian state still teaches Scripture as a subject in schools – but that there is always a shortage of willing teachers.

Sister Gladys and another lady decided to take on the challenge for a local school and found it to be so meaningful. There as such a joy in seeing young lives interact with God’s word and changes taking place. Sister Gladys also shared that though she did not start the teaching with this in mind, it did allow her to be with young boys of an age her younger son was when he died. Looking at Enoch she mentioned that he had died when he was still at home with her.

Looking back on the conversation, what strikes me about Sister Gladys is her willingness to serve. Though she is known the world over now – and has many speaking invitations – she retains the essential willingness to serve – to be used in whatever way possible. I wonder how many of those little boys realized who their tall lady Scripture teacher was –and what her life has already seen.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies....

Another ending

Mr. Langru died on Friday.

We were in our afternoon staff meeting and had discussed his case. He was unconscious and his wife refused to visit him in the government hospital. We had suggested she bring him to the Jeevan Sahara Kendra facility so that at least some dignity could be experienced by Mr. Langru.

She refused.

She was afraid that in her absence their things would be stolen from her pavement hovel.

Rahul and Shanti had gone to visit Mr. Langru’s brother to try and persuade him to do something. Though he had previously refused – saying he would only come after Mr. Langru died to do the last rites – he actually paid a short visit, but nothing else.

In reviewing Mr. Langru’s condition, one of the staff pointed out that he had said a simple prayer to Jesus before he had slipped into the comatose state he was in.

We talked and prayed about the situation. I told our staff that we had done what we could. It was heartbreaking, but this is the reality that so many face. Mr. Langru had been spared from death – but his return to health and work only lead to a bitter slipping back into alcohol. His bridges were burned. Other than our staff who visited him in the hospital he had no one.

As we finished the meeting some time later – a call came for Sheba. It was Mr. Langru’s wife. He had died. She wanted our staff Rahul to come and help.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Beloved kids

With Adam and Jo just about to get into the airplane and fly off to the UK on Monday, Enoch and Asha are about to lose two beloved friends: Freya and Alistair. The frolicsome twosome came over this week to spend time with our kids - and everyone enjoyed themselves thoroughly.

Asha the teacher supervised Freya's drawing (for under 10 minutes - since Freya then wanted to do something else). Duplo blocks were brought out. Colouring books coloured. Stories read. A small tea-party held. General roughhousing. House-house. The list goes on... it is marvellous what the imagination of children holds.

After a small lunch there was a time of practical cleaning with Freya and Asha in full swing. Not only did the dishes get cleaned - the floor did too (and I think the washers were also a shade cleaner by the end of it)!

Asha ended off the time with a story by Enid Blighton - Noddy - none of her hearers went to sleep - despite looking intensely comfortable!

We will all be missing Alistair and Freya (who was born here in Thane). When will our kids see them next? In their tweens? As adults? We hope much earlier.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

God be w’ye

Three years have gone by. Only a moment. Only a lifetime.

Adam and Jo Black joined Jeevan Sahara Kendra in September 2005. A general practice physician from Scotland – Adam joined the JSK team whole-heartedly. This week we had a small time of thanksgiving to God for what He did through this family. A short retrospective through some of the lives of the patients that Adam touched directly (and Jo touched through her support for Adam) brought tears to the eyes.

Just one example: Sachin was a 10 year old boy who had HIV and was dying with a cancerous leg. Adam met with him when he was admitted at JSK, when he was at home in the shack his mother shared with her new husband. Adam carried Sachin in his arms and joked with him, talked and prayed with him, treated and played with him. In his final days Adam visited Sachin’s home. On asking what message Sachin had for the JSK team – the final words that Adam heard from Sachin was: “Praise the Lord.”

A few months before Sachin died his uncle brought a sapling to JSK. The tree that the municipality had planted in front of the centre had died and so we had Sachin plant this sapling in its place. It continues to grow and remind us of this brave little boy – it will also continue to remind us of Dr. Adam and his investment in the lives of many of our Positive Friends here in Thane.

Here is a picture from the tree that we gave to Adam and Jo as a small memento of their time here.

And so we have the bitter sweet task of saying good bye!

As Adam and Jo move we send them with all God’s blessings. Having come from Scotland, the family is now shifting to England where Adam will be starting up in a group practice. Jo is likely to take up more work with speech therapy. Alistair is due to start school and Freya – who was born here at Lok Hospital – will continue to grow from the cherubic child she is into what God has for her as a young lady.

Though Adam will be returning to general practice we expect that he will continue to be involved with some of the issues that he worked with here. For one the area he will be serving has a large ethnic population from South Asia and so his Hindusthani will be much appreciated there. Furthermore, his practice partners are giving him the liberty of working two days of the week for charities, and it is quite likely that he will be involved with training different organisations in Eastern Europe and Africe (and we expect in South Asia as well), especially in issues of HIV care.

There were many a moist eye during our small farewell for the Black family. We know that we will never forget them - and Adam told us that we will always be in their hearts too.

Only eternity knows the final value of what our lives are.

God be with ye dear friends! Go with joy and strength in the Lord – to new frontiers and ever more joy in Him!

Our JSK “mass choir” gave a rousing send off with their rendition of “Sambhal Prabhuji”

Spare a prayer

Spare a prayer for Mr. Langru.

He is currently lying in a hospital cot in the Thane Civil Hospital. Next to the latrine. With another man with him in his bed.

There is no one to look after him. The nurses have given up. They say that since no one is there with Mr. Langru there is nothing they can do.

Our staff visited Mr. Langru. They found that both the men were struggling with each other. The other man is semi-comatose and has pus from open wounds. They help pull them apart and looked after Mr. Langru. Gave him a massage. Talked to him. Sat him up.

What Mr. Langru has most is a poverty of relationships. His financial poverty is there - and his poverty of health means that he is not likely to last the month. But these are but the bitter fruit of multiple destructive decisions and situations he and others around him have made.

Is there a way out? For all intents and purposes it seems unlikely. But we must keep trying. We have seen Mr. Langru make decisions totally against what we have advised - and are not surprised to see the horrible situation he is in - but that should not - must not stop our love - in whatever way possible.

Our staff are trying to get Mr. Langru's brother to visit him and care for him. We are working with his wife - who has suffered much abuse and denigration from him. We are talking to God.

Spare a prayer for Mr. Langru.