Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Digging into the past

A picture from when Premi was just a few months old - probably late 1974.

The amazing thing for me is that I am now 7 years older than my father was when this picture was taken. And still feel like a little kid - though we have two bouncy ones of our own - and are praying about when God wants us to open up our home to one or two more...

One thing is for sure - my respect for what Mum and Dad did for us kids - and what Amma and Appa did for Sheba and her siblings - is sky high.

We always knew that parenting was an impossible task - and are finding that to be true - but thanks be to God for grace - and that too in very large doses!

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change. - Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Orb's Ordeal

We sorely wish we were in Delhi for this one. If you are in the NCR region - make sure you do not miss the opening on Wednesday night!

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Mobile faces

The wonders of the mobile phone never seem to cease.

We talked to people all across our country today.

Ranging from just next door - to the far reaches of the country. From morning to a late night call for prayer from a friend who is sick at Vellore.

Note how different we look when we talk. Its a pity Sheba's beautiful smile is not broadcast across the airwaves. Tis a mercy that my grimace is not!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

The poor will always be among you

I am reading through a number of applications for a fellowship. Its heady stuff. Amazing folks who show so much promise. I find myself enriched by being able to glance into so many lives - and amazed at the diversity of Kingdom-builders in our wonderful land. The reading has covered quantum computing to the colonial use of road-building to subdue the north-eastern frontier... Do I detect a trace of jealously in me? Perhaps there is just the tinge of desire to plunge back into the world of books...

At the same time one thing that I missed was anyone who seriously dealt with poverty. There were a few who had volunteered with social groups - and one advertising student who was deeply touched by having taken in a beggar-girl on a train once - but none who saw their calling to bring about real change in our nation by addressing poverty as a subject.

Its a big subject, of course, but one that we actually don't like to mention. Sort of like the proverbial 'elephant in the room.' At the same time it keeps riling us to hear others point it out. Like this evening's piece on BBC website:

For all of India's impressive progress the number of Indians living in extreme poverty is roughly equal to the current population of the United States.

Unless India commits itself to greater social spending and intervention, there is growing recognition here that it cannot hope to reduce poverty and those living on the margins of its society will continue to be left behind.

Ah yes - we need to spend more. Then it will all disappear. It is easy to describe our poverty - all it takes is an open eye - and an ear to listen to the horrible stories of what people live through.

But to actually say anything that remotely makes sense about changing things? Well that's a different stories. Though we have seen more people move out of the extreme poverty line (basically the most bare subsistence measure) that the government uses to define who is really poor - we also see that most of what goes as 'assistance' never even reaches the 'beneficiaries' and when it does it is so diluted that you just want to despair.

I came back armed with my double degree from the US a dozen years ago. My basic idea had shifted from 'poor people are poor because they are stupid' (phrased more elegantly of course in the language of illiteracy etc.) to 'people are poor because they do not have access to resources' (hence get more stuff out there and things will change).

The last 6 years of working with the poor in Thane has shown that we have a lot of other reasons too. Perhaps the most disturbing and disheartening being a horrible blindness to change and a spiritual bondage that we see in so many lives.

We tell Asha and Enoch that India is a rich country with a lot of people who are poor. We want to love our neighbours. Really. The only way forward is to do so one family at a time. One set of ideas at a time. One community at a time. One group of Christ-followers living out their love for each other and those around them at a time. No simple solutions - but lots of simple people being used together in following their master. No solution without the cross - without picking up the rude symbol of shame and moving forward in humble service to our Lord and to each other.

I'm going to live forever

Risk perception is an interesting thing.

We all (esp. when we are on the younger side of the dial) think that we are going to live forever.


Who of us woke up this morning with the memento mori thought in our mind?

Every day at least 3 people die in accidental deaths related to the suburban railways in Mumbai. Every day. Either in crossing the lines or in falling off the trains (see above pic for the crush hour local from Virar).

Who among the daily three will have thought that this was going to be their last day?

At the same time, lotteries thrive on the flip side of this. We all believe that bad things happen to other people - and good things happen to us.

When we first came to Mumbai 6 years ago the Playwin Lottery (just look at the name itself!) had a series of before-after advertisements: Morning - cycle / Evening - motorcycle! , Morning Public Phone / Evening Mobile!, the classic one was this: Morning - "Ramu" / Evening "Mr. Ramu" (visual of the new 'Mr. Ramu' in a snazzy suit, while before he was wearing a shabby shirt).

Forever young, I wanna be forever young (said a slightly disreputable and massively marketed musical poet). The risk perception of most of us bears this out. 'I am going to survive' is what we seem wired to say (which is also why HIV continues to linger even in 'advanced societies') and to hell with the bearers of bad news. Why be a spoil-sport?

God loves kids - through us

Sheba just attended an excellent consultation on fostering organised by OASIS India. The gentleman who came (Michael Pease of SFAC) talked about the crucial need for families to open up their homes to children who are unable to live in homes. How many times have we read the scriptures about God's care for the fatherless and the orphan - and assumed that this is for others.

Fact: we are God's answer to the world.

Fact: God wants the abandoned, unloved children around us to be in families.

Fact: if we do not foster - who will?

When it comes to taking someone in - we always think of the 'inconvenience'. So much like everyone else.

The OASIS folks said something. Mumbai has at least 1000 churches. What if each church takes in one widow-headed family - and at least one family in each church takes in a child.

Lets get on our knees. We are as a couple - and really ask God to show us when - not even whether. The Lord places the lonely into families (Ps. 68.6) but does not say that these will be 'ideal children' (see pic above for one way of understanding the ideal child). We know this - God loves children - and his heart aches for the unloved - and abandonned.

We must obey - no matter how tough it may be.

Bits of art

One of the amazing things about art is the whole bit of the sale. An artist creates it. Then someone buys it. Then the image is placed somewhere. Either displayed or stored. I have always wondered what an artist feels about that. Is there a sense of loss when the piece is packed up and taken away?

Here is a short write-up of a visitor's take on the Reflection Art gallery that Stefan and the merry folk of Artnet and others in Delhi are doing. Click here to read the report, and here to see what this gentleman's son has to say.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Killing Christians is wrong

Mukul Kesavan is one of our better writers. He teachers social history at Jamia Islamia in Delhi and wrote a superb book Looking Through Glass in the early 1990s. Very well worth the read. Here is a recent article by Mukul. See also the excellent (though slightly wordy) article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in yesterday's Indian Express by clicking: here.

Over to Mukul:

From the Telegraph, Kolkata, September 18, 2008 http://www.telegraphindia.com/archives/archive.html

Killing Christians is wrong. Following the news in contemporary India, it appears this is a dogmatic position, not an uncontroversial moral statement. Before you can say killing Christians is wrong (or that attacking churches, or raping Christian women is wrong) you need to distinguish between killing Christians unprovoked (which is regrettable) and killing or attacking Christians involved in converting Hindus (which is understandable).

An articulate sangh parivar ideologue made the point at some length in a television discussion. Foreign churches had plans to convert Asia, the one continent where Christians were a tiny minority of the general population. Missionaries distributed pamphlets offensive to Hindus, they channelled funds to Christian Trojan horses in India, they preyed on ignorant tribals and the poor, and slyly induced them into Christianity. This was monstrous because it took advantage of Hinduism's tolerance, its non-missionary nature. Why did Christian missionaries not try to convert Muslims? Because they knew that Muslims would resist violently. So the recent attacks on Christians in Karnataka ought to be understood not as gratuitous violence, but as an instance of the worm turning, the hitherto supine Hindu saying enough. The Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson concluded by saying that he deplored all violence, and clinched the matter by telling us he was vegetarian. Yes, that follows. Hitler must be the exception that proves this rule.

A letter in my mailbox amplified this line of argument. It detailed the unspeakable things a missionary pamphlet had written about Hindu gods and goddesses. Provoked by this, Hindus attacked not churches, but illegal prayer halls in three districts in Karnataka. In fact, the violence in Karnataka, according to this sangh parivar sympathizer, wasn't communal at all. Most of the violent incidents were best seen as clashes between Christian gangs and the police. "Since the past two days, it is not Hindu-Christian clashes that are taking place. In fact, it is more appropriate to call it 'Christian-Police' clashes since the Christians holed up in Churches have engaged themselves in pelting of stones and disruption of traffic. The Police were forced to enter the Church to clear the mob and they found arms inside the Church."

So by the time the Hindutva account of the attacks on Christians is done, it turns out that it wasn't Christians who were attacked by Hindus but the State that was attacked by Christians. And any violence done by Hindus was aimed not at Christians or churches but was provoked by missionaries and their 'unauthorized' prayer halls, their 'illicit' conversions and their blasphemous pamphlets.

This isn't the position of a few talking heads on television or some whacko on the web. This is, broadly, the position of the government of Karnataka and of its spokespersons who have consistently tried to frame the clashes in terms of missionary aggression and have systematically downplayed the violence Christians have suffered. The BJP leader, Murli Manohar Joshi, defended the inaction of the BJP government in Karnataka and insisted that blaming one side (read Hindus) was wrong because conversion was violence done to the Hindu community. There's also a public constituency for this argument. I heard a Sikh friend based in Karnataka say "But, it's true you know, they were converting." I've noticed in recent times a tendency (even amongst liberal and otherwise pluralist people) to be understanding of this kind of plaintive prejudice. A defence of minority rights is often prefaced by a qualified disclaimer, with the nuanced liberal declaring that he himself finds the idea of conversion distasteful, but...

The fact is that our liberal's opinion, and the opinion of others who object to missionary work and conversion, ought to be of no public interest because it contravenes the fundamental law of the land. The Constitution of India guarantees everyone's right to practise and propagate his or her faith. So if the Arya Samaj wants to purge Muslims or Christians of their 'alien' beliefs through shuddhi and claim them for Hinduism, it ought to be welcome to do so. If some evangelical fundamentalist has decided that the lower latitudes in Asia don't have enough Christians, good luck to him. If the Indian electorate is agreed that foreign missionary funds are a bad thing, it can press the government to ban such funds: it would, of course, have to stop the funding of all religious groups, not just Christians. Similarly, if Hindus are offended by missionary religious literature and feel that it constitutes an incitement to hatred or violence, they should prosecute the culprits under the sections of the law that make such incitement illegal.

The continuous use of synonyms like illicit, illegal and unauthorized seeks to criminalize religious minorities and their institutions. Over the years, this effort has achieved a measure of official sanction. Many states like Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have adopted the Freedom of Religion Act, which is intended to restrict conversion on the presumption that most people are made to change their faith through inducement or coercion. These acts were challenged in the Supreme Court, which, under the leadership of Justice A.N. Ray, upheld them after studying the constitutional term 'propagate' and discovering that it didn't mean a person's right to spread his religion by converting others to it.

The result is that the freedom to voluntarily change your religion (which the Constitution guarantees) is now policed by the junior functionaries of the State. A police inspector, authorized by a district magistrate, can investigate pending conversions, for which notice has to be given to the district authorities. The DM has to maintain a register of religious organizations involved in missionary activity and has to send the government, by the 10th of every month, a report about any proposed conversions.

The germ of this law, namely the suspicion that conversion is fraudulent unless proven otherwise, is contrary to the basis of any civilized system of law, the presumption of innocence. In the matter of religious choice, if you're an adult in Orissa and happen to be classed as SC or ST, you are infantilized and treated as a ward of the state, incapable of making an informed choice in matters of faith without supervision and tutelage. It also allows governments like the government of Karnataka to duck their basic obligation to protect the lives and property of their citizens by ignoring actual violence against individuals and deflecting attention towards some nebulous conspiracy to aggressively convert Hindus.

But worst of all, this bid to criminalize proselytization in the present impugns, by implication, the historical origins of Christians and Muslims and Buddhists in India. If legitimate conversion can only be guaranteed by a 'Freedom of Religion' law, it follows, does it not, that earlier conversion, unsupervised by this present-day Daniel, the police inspector, was likely to have been illicit, illegal and unauthorized? So are we to believe that Vijay Hazare, Chandu Borde, Pandita Ramabai, Mary Roy, P.C. Alexander, B.G. Verghese, Dom Moraes, V. Kurien, Sushil Kumar Rudra and the hundreds of thousands of Christians born before the first Freedom of Religion Act was passed in 1967, owe their identity to coercion, inducement, fraud or some other form of bad faith?

If we don't believe that, we should insist that state governments in Orissa and Karnataka and their police forces spend their time protecting their citizens against violent and criminal assault instead of policing their consciences. We should shame them into accepting, without qualification, this simple truth: killing Christians, like killing any human being, is wrong.


Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Experiencing God's Presence

Its evening. 9.25 PM to be precise.

Asha has gone to sleep. She wants to sleep at 8 PM nowdays (she finally got in at 8.30+) so that she can get up early and read her Bible and practice violin before breakfast. She recently was able to do a passable (delightful from a parent's eyes) take on 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star".

Sheba is reading Heidi to Enoch. They are lying on the diwan in the front room as I bang away at the keyboard. Enoch has been having a low-grade fever for a few days. The fever is especially noticable - and the cough especially loud - just before it is time to go to school. Yesterday he was at home. Today we gave him a paracetemol and packed him off to school. He survived the day well and is now happily making a puzzle on the floor.

Life is very good. Sheba read to me a couple of chapters from the Release of the Spirit by Watchman Nee. We got the good book via the internet - bro Thampi sent it from Houston of all places. Nee talks about the need to have the outer man broken in order to be constantly in the presence of God - and not have to 'retreat from the world'.

Its what we want in the middle of all that we are doing and all that is going on around us. To be aware of us being nestled in God's hands. To be in His presence fully - no matter what we are doing.

As we look at Mum and Dad we see some of that abiding in God's presence. Their presence is such a fresh breeze. We had them with us for some time the week before last along with Premi (which was a great privilege) and I continue to be amazed their willingness to keep learning, keep being used, keep enjoying God in new ways.

Dad stopped by over this last weekend after wrapping up a healing retreat in Lonavala (Mum and Premi had headed back to Mussoorie). He spoke at 2 places on Sunday and ended up with an excellent lecture on "Forgiveness: The Key to Total Healing" in Mulund.

As we were being brought home - Dad got a chest pain. Though his train was leaving in 2 hours - Sheba and I thought it worthwhile to take Dad to Lok for an ECG. It was normal. Thank God. But it did mean seeing Dad on a table with stuff stuck all over him - lying quietly. We got him off to the train by the skin of his teeth. He has just finished 2 days of sharing with the students a the Maharashtra Bible College (which my great-grandfather helped establish a century ago).

Dad once said that as young people the OMers had a motto - I will burn out before I rust out.

The good thing is that Dad and Mum are certainly not rusting - but rather they are taking a deep breath and waiting to hear what Father has next for them. Their adventures in being in the presence of God continues.

P.s. As I write this Mum has started out on a high-altitude trek somewhere near Gangotri with the lads and lassies from EMI. Not bad for a 70 plus lady! Experiencing the presence of God...

Sunday, 21 September 2008


Thanks to National Geographic!

Al Gore once said: Denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

Very true.

In our work with people with HIV its our biggest enemy. The silent, invisible foe which makes dealing with the disease and living real positive lives so much harder.

And its not just people with HIV who have the finger of denial on their shoulder. An honest look at most of our lives shows denial robbing us of so much.

So often we don't own up to the truth - to reality - to what is actually going on. Jeremiah talks about the heart being deceptive above all else. The biggest recipients are ourselves. If we don't like something, more often than not it gets air-brushed out of our lives, posted for another day, swept under the carpet.

For a person with HIV this can be - and sadly often is - deadly.

If I am sick I tend to try and get help. Somehow.

But if I feel well, then to go to the doctor.... to have to think about my condition... to keep answering questions... Far easier to say that I am 'well'. I don't think I even had the disease. I'm OK.

One man put it brilliantly: "No mention, no tension!"

Lock away my status. Ignore it. I am healthy. I will look after myself. It will go away. I think. I forget.

Sadly the virus does not forget. It keeps multiplying and fighting the daily struggle with the body's immune system. Millions of viral particles formed each day - being countered by millions of anti-HIV anti-bodies. Months and years of this leading to the immune system going slowly down the tubes.

A sad sub-set of denial are folks who say that they have been divinely healed. I dread this conversation - because I fully believe God has the power to 'completely heal' (i.e. rid the body of every single HIV virus including those in the reservoir sites) a person. The problem is that we have yet to meet a person who has had this take place.

Inevitably, those who demand another HIV test find that they are still 'HIV positive' (though the test just looks at the presence of HIV antibodies - which would be expected to continue in a person even if God decided to 'take away' all the HIV viruses from a person).

A few have been brought to different meetings and told that they are healed - but then later fall sick. Often the statement made is 'they stopped being a follower of Christ and went back to their old ways..."

Lord give us the grace to see your life and your fullness in this age of AIDS.

But back to denial.

There is a remedy. A bitter one at first - but one that like old-fashioned medicine - does the trick.

Its called truth.

Jesus tells his disciples in John 8.32 that if they follow his teachings they will "know the truth, and the truth will set you free".

This is true for a person with HIV. Or a person like me with a more dangerous disease - the sinful rebellious heart.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Say YAA to Truth

Three months is a pretty short time.

Less than a 100 days.

We are in the count-down to the the Youth Against Festival 2008.

Say YAA to Truth is our slogan this year.

Its about speaking truth when there are a lot of lies around - regarding our relationships - and what it means to be pure and true to a lifetime of commitment.

Its about giving young people a voice and an opportunity to sing - speak - run a tremendous show.

Its about tapping into the fun as well as the deep through a college-style fun-fair and a series of seminars on things that really matter.

Its about challenging the prevailing orthodoxy - that says its ok to sleep around and use others - as long as you cover up your own tail. And saying that there are alternatives - ways to live true.

Its about humbly standing in the face of a living and loving God who loves terribly and cares immensely about seeing us experiencing the most vivid and amazing path through life.

We are hoping to see about 600-800 young guns on December 6th 2008. The venue has just materialised - the GN Khalsa College in Matunga.

We are less than 100 days away. About a day per every 7 we expect to see come.

There seems to be an almost insurmountable set of challenges ahead. But all of these offer opportunities for us to be stretched - to trust and to experience God's power in new ways!

Will we see your hands too on the 6th of December at the YAA Fest 08?

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Leroy's birthday - and a sudden power-cut - gave us an opportunity for a candle-light dinner yesterday with our three interns from Union Biblical Seminary - Leroy Varghese, Akshaydeep Kakade and Silvanus.

We are glad for the opportunity to share our lives with men who are going to be leading the church in the coming years. Hats off to TEARfund UK for challenging their sponsored students and others to be involved with groups that work with the poor. We at Jeevan Sahara have been enriched over the years with the interns - and know that their experiences with us will form a rich fund of wisdom that they will take with them to the places where God will have them minister. Jesus said that we will always have the poor amongst us - reminding us and spurring us on to practice love for God and love for neighbour as a normal, day-to-day act. God uses common people and his uncommon love to make real (though often only faintly visible - at present) changes.


Its been a great privilege to have Premi and Mum and Dad with us last week.

We had been looking forward to this for a very long time and were very grateful that Premi and our parents were able to make it.

Asha and Enoch really enjoyed meeting their Auntie and we all were treated to some excellent food cooked by the multiple talents we have in the Eicher home.

Most of us were in tears watching Tare Zameen Par. Every child is special. We know that and have ample opportunities to live this out with each one of us in the immediate and extended Eicher family.

Almost as soon as the house was full, it is now 'empty' again (if you can count having 2 rambunctious kids 'empty'). We miss our loved ones very much. The curse of modernity seems to be having to live our lives physically apart for most of the time. We know, however, that there will come a time, when we will be together. Forever. No pie in the sky tale this. Real hope. Depend on it! We do.


No one wants to live in a refugee camp. Especially in your own country and state. But this is where many of our fellow citizens are now living - away from the glare of the press. Wondering whether they can ever return home to their burned homes across Orissa.

For on-going coverage please look at the excellent Orissa Remembers site or click: here.

Meanwhile things are hot down South too. The last week has seen unprecedented attacks against churches and pastors. It is said that 22 pastors in Bangalore were attacked. At once. If this isn't terror, I don't know what is. For a short summary by the BBC click: here.

A walking miracle

Mr. Nandi walked into the centre yesterday.

That's right. He walked.

Nothing unusual for most of us. Nothing out of the ordinary for many, many, many around the world.

But for him it was a triumph.

Seven months ago Mr. Nandi was on the point of death. His infected leg was full of pus. He was dying from the septicemia. Only his mother held out any hope. We had had him admitted at the Civil Hospital - he was there for a month without any treatment. Because he was HIV positive. And did not have clout. They sent him away on the point of death telling him to take anti-retroviral drugs - and that he would get better.

We were finally able to get him to Sion hospital where they did surgery and drained a huge amount of pus. But then they had to cut his leg open from the knee to the thigh. How was that going to heal? How would he not get infected again? It seemed impossible.

We had no option but to have him come home. We promised we would try all we could. Our nurses started going 3 times a week to dress the wound. One of the visits that Sheba made can be read about by clicking: here.

A dear friend of ours, Sam Thomas who lives and serves in Dehra Dun came to visit Mr. Nandi. He was horrified by the wound, but prayed with him. The prayer was this: Lord, I know my own faith is small and I am not fully sure that I believe what I am praying, but Lord I pray that this man will walk again.

Over the months since then, Mr. Nandi's wound has been slowly becoming smaller. Slowly.

In the last month, the nurses have switched to 2 visits a week to change the dressings. Mr. Nandi has started getting up a bit in the tiny room he and his mother live in.

When he came yesterday, his mother was in tears. Sheba had told her what a good mother she was and how proud we were of her looking after her son like she did. "He is all I have" said the woman "my husband and my other 2 sons have died too."

A neighbour of Mr. Nandi who is also HIV positive - and who brought him to us in the first place has this to say: "Jesus has healed him."

Mr. Nandi is a walking miracle. A slow-motion one to be sure. He is still very weak and it will take more time for him to progress further. But a bonafide miracle.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The last supper

The Last Supper - by Stefan Eicher (oil on canvas)

How many bombs have gone off now this year in our major cities? 40? 50? We have lost count - but are now at a point when we start calling up to find out what has happened if an incident occurs. This weekend it was in Delhi. How many more will happen? Who knows.

What is happening in the jungles of Orissa? We hear reports of armed groups going in and giving the frightened refugees who have fled when their homes were torched. We hear that these groups are giving ultimatums: (1) 'reconvert' to the Hindu faith and the refugees can return and they will be helped to rebuild their houses etc. (2) be killed on the spot. We are given to understand that some people are trickling back into their villages on these terms.

We do know that humans cruelty and blindness of hate continues to fester - and that people are willing to take the most brutal ways of killing each other.

Here is something that Stefan wrote some time ago as a reflection to his painting of "The Last Supper:"

When considering religious violence a central question is: “How do we go about achieving what we set out to achieve?” History shows that among all the religions, Christianity included, violence has at some point become a means towards achieving our end. Christ’s life, and the demands he makes on life itself, are however all-together different. His is the way of death, one’s own death, to bring about life. As in the ‘The Last Supper’ he is the willing hostage held ransom for Creation. So often it is us, those meant to be his disciples, who are the terrorists and betray our Lord and his way. The task of the redeeming all things, and the carrying out of the call to truth, love, and justice, has at its center this strategy.

Friday, 12 September 2008

September 11th. 2008.

The end of another life.

Civil hospital.



This is the brief story of a prodigal son. He ran away from home in his teens. Lived in the city. Had a woman and children. Got HIV. Gave HIV to his wife. Left his wife and went back to the village. Was welcomed and sent back here. Was left by his wife. Lived in destitution but unwilling to take positive steps. Was too sick to look after himself. Wife returned but sick herself and unwilling to do anything more for him. Left him at the Civil Hospital. Alone. Ripped out the IV lines the nurses put in. That was the last of medical care for him. Died last night.


Its hard to know what to say. The world continues to turn. Our fan continues to send a cool breeze down on us. Another life is gone. Another family has a permanent hole to solidify the many holes that were already there.


At the end of the day - his wife sent him off to the hospital to die. We tried to persuade her to be with him or bring him home in the last part. "No. Let whatever happens, happen at the civil hospital." Translation: let him die there.


It was our staff who went to meet him this morning who were told he had died. They then went to his wife and told her. Today the last rites were held.


I remember meeting him when he first came to JSK. There was some hope in his eyes. Those eyes are shut now.


Two times in the last week I have heard people say: "I couldn't do what you are doing" "You are specially prepared for this work". I appreciate what they are trying to say. Words of encouragement. Keep going and all that. Just one thing. I can't do what we are doing either. This is not what I would choose to do if I had a choice. This is about obedience to what the Master is calling. If I am involved with this - well than anyone can be. Anyone.


And so to the end of another day. We spent some time in prayer this afternoon. Thanking God for what He has done. Praying for the quiet carnage that continues in Orissa. Seeking truth and purity in our lives. Bringing the seemingly impossible needs to our Lord.


Sweet sleep. ... for he grants sleep to those he loves. (Ps. 127.2b)

Mrs Mahableshwarwalla

5th standard. Cathedral and John Connon School. Fort, Bombay.

Yours trully on the front right, first row.

Three away from one of the most remarkable teachers I have ever had. Mrs. Mahableshwarwalla.

Every morning the 30 odd of us would stand up, put our chairs under the table, and in unison give the sing-song: "goood mor-ning Missus Ma-ha-blesh-war-walla" (last syllable on the up).

But what a teacher she was. Her strict ways and her ringing the bell to keep us quiet were part of her zeal to make something out of us.

Like getting her husband to splice together a recording (in those days of tape recorders and LPs) of the Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture for that class assembly presentation on the American Revolution. Cannons going off! Drama! Us all in uniforms - Nalin (2nd row - extreme right) acting the part of George Washington. (which American school will be doing a play about India's road to freedom....).

Like the special effort she took to held the boy with the problems at home - who was not doing well. She was kind to him, and spent time with him after school and made a diagram of a racing car to get him motivated to concentrate.

Like the interest she showed in me. Me with the horrible hand-writing. If my memory serves me correctly, I think she made up the grade of "E" especially for me, so that she did not have to fail me for my hand-writing grade that year.

I have forgotten most of what she said - but I remember her eager face - her kind eyes - her love for teaching - her love for us.

Hats off to you Mrs. Mahableshwarwalla. Wherever you are. All of us owe you a lot.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Road map

The next 3 months see us involved in 5 major events which intersect with the daily work of caring for people with HIV. Buckle up and lets hit the road!

1. The EMFI National Conference (2-5 Oct). The Evangelical Medical Fellowship of India holds a big conference every 2 years. This time it will be in Gurgaon. We are sharing about our experiences here in Thane and challenging young (and hopefully old too) medicos to serve people with HIV. Would be great to have a couple join us too! What a joy! Thanks to the generosity of Bethany Trust we will be able to participate in the conference - and be back in time for Asha's first day of her final exams of the term on the 6th of October!

2. A regional training for churches in HIV care (9-12th of October D.v.). Our first venture out of the city - to Bhusaval in rural Maharashtra. I will be going with 4 others from the JSK team to do this 4 day training for church leaders which is being hosted by the Christian and Missionary Alliance. We are hoping to share our experience with quite a wide range of folk in that area and from beyond. So many churches have people with HIV and end up just sending them away because they do not know what to do with them.

3. Philip Yancey meeting in Mumbai (Nov. 27th). Philip will be speaking on injustice and reconcilliation - something very, very timely with the Orissa pogrom still going on. We are arranging for a one-night meeting at St. Andrews Hall in Bandra.

4. Mumbai AIDS Sunday. We have been involved with CORINTH (the network of Jesus focussed NGOs and churches working on AIDS in greater Mumbai) and want to see more and more churches focus action/prayer in ministering with people with HIV as part of their obedience to God. Mumbai AIDS Sunday - held on the Sunday closest to World AIDS Day (this time it is the 30th of November) - is one such avenue.

5. The Youth Against AIDS festival: YAA Fest 08. Working with the slogan of Say YAA to Truth! we have the daunting task of putting together a full-fledged festival on Dec. 6th in Central Mumbai. We have less than 3 months to go before the throngs of young people start pouring in!

Needless to say - we feel tired just thinking of all of this - but we know that we serve a Lord who helps us in our weaknesses and limitations. TGBTG (To God be the glory)!


Click on the image of the cicada to see something amazing!

How these creatures live underground for 17 years and then come up for a few weeks of overground life!

For me, my boyhood memories of summers in Kodaikanal are: deliciously cool air, the smell of eucalyptus oil, and the drone of cicadas.

What is our life like? Are we moulting or staying trapped in our shells?

A quiet house

Aren't you going to bed?

Dad speaking. Amazingly Dad is 30 cms away from me. Lying down in the darkness of our front room as I tap away at the keyboard.

Its night. Just past 11 pm. The house is quiet. And full.

After many years we almost all the nuclear Eichers are together. Only Stefan and family are missing. In this humble Thane house we have Mum and Dad (Oma and Opa as they are now know), Premila, Sheba and myself and Asha and Enoch making the full crew. Amazing.

Its quiet. There is a small strip of light from under the door in the room Premi is sleeping in. Dada and I are sleeping out in the front while Mum/Oma and Sheba and the kids are in the other room.

How many years have we waited for this day. A day when Premi came over with Sheba to JSK and spent the morning with us. When Asha practiced violin in her Oma's presence. When Enoch explored the world of 'small lego' with his Opa. When Mum and Sheba went out in the afternoon to visit and pray for a lady and her adopted child. When Premi cooked a delicious chicken curry. When we all had supper together and then played pictionary - had our devotions and crashed (most of us that is - yours trully being the last man standing).

Many prayers have gone into this day. And the day before. And the day to come.

Our life is a journey. Lets think of flow from stream to stream, gathering speed at times, slowing down at others. Perhaps a blockage diverts the path another way. We rejoin later - loving Father makes sure our direction is steady.

One thing we know. There is a lot, a lot of work to be done in each of us. The Lord has brought our flawed family together - and His patience is doing His work in us. Lets keep allowing Him to do so by being humble but active partners in His redeeming work.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I Thes. 5.23

What an absolute miracle for us all to be here. Lets keep the miracles flowing!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Job interview

Its taken a long time - a very long time to put together the Jeevan Sahara Team.

We are by no stretch of the imagination perfect (plenty of brokeness all around). But what a great set of co-workers to have. As with any family we have certain tensions - some which are resolved - others which continue to bubble up every now and then.

How do you join this crew?

Last week we had a potential staff member come for an interview. He had requested to be met by us about 'a possible vacancy' with JSK.

We don't have any 'vacancies' with us - everyone is full (we hope) - and there is always a mountain of things that need to be done.

But we sat and talked to this young man. He has done a Master's of Social work in his home state down south. He worked for a year as a medical social worker doing public relations in a charitable hospital.

Why do you want to work here? To serve humanity. (long pause).... And also to earn an income.

Who is your influence? Mother Theresa.

We shared about the issue of a call. About the challenge of working with people who have HIV. About visiting people in their homes. About sharing God's love and the hope of Jesus with the poor and broken. About the toll on each of us - and how important it is to know that God has been calling us to this work in the first place.

I told him to come on Monday and we he can visit with the team to get a first hand picture about what it is like to work at JSK. We parted ways. Later Sheba told me that he had wanted to go abroad.
He didn't show up on Monday. Or on Tuesday.

Another "vacancy" unfilled?

The harvest is plenty but the labourers are few...

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


Mrs Oomen has made a decision to live with a man. Its not surprising - the lot of young widows is not high in our society. The amount that she was earning was clearly not enough to support her and her two children. Mrs Oomen had a mobile phone. She talked on it a lot. It was clearly given to her by someone. She is now living with someone else.

We have been talking to Mrs. Oomen. For a number of years now.

She recently brought up the issue of marriage. Till now she had been denying any relationships. Tightly. The matter of her mobile was something that we could not get around with her.

Truth telling has always been an issue with Mrs. Oomen. It also makes it hard to trust and work with her. The losers are her two lovely children - and herself of course. Lies are corrosive.

Being HIV positive she said that the 'boy' had been told that she had a 'big disease'. She claimed that he was fine with that and that he had told her that 'he loved her and not her body.'

Being a parent of 2 kids - she said that her man will look after them well.

When the young man was asked to come for counselling - she said he would definitely come. He didn't. Said he couldn't be bothered.

End of story for now? We want to reach out to our friends with HIV. But many times the virus is not the only thing - or even close to the most important thing - that is holding them back.

Many, many unhelpful and harming decisions are made. Every day. The mobile in the hand of Mrs. Oomen was always a sign of what has happened. Men don't give phones just to chat. They want more. They want bodies. Women do not just say sweet things on the phone. They want stability. And security. And both men and women want mixtures of the two.

As we strive to help our Positive Friends make a new life - with choices that are based not on the conventional wisdom - but on a radical change of heart and mind - we still find so many falling back on the old. Our Lord went out of his way to meet a woman at a well. A Samaritan woman - an outcaste and infidel for the religious Jews of the day - and a woman who had had 5 husbands in a row and was living-in with another man.

There is hope for Mrs. Oomen. There is hope for each one of us in the various broken situations we find ourselves in. But hope delivered needs lives that make decisions to change - and ones that open themselves up for God to do just that which they cannot do on their own.

Monday, 8 September 2008


Sheba's parents told us on the phone - they have over 200 coconuts outside their house in the small village of Tungalam, outside Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh.

To think of so many of this king of fruit hanging in clusters from just two trees - and those too one in the front of the house and one in the tiny space at the back.

So many that Amma and Appa just do not know what to do with them. How many coconuts can they eat? I personally love coconut chicken curry - but how many times can that be eaten - esp. by our parents who need to keep an eye on their cholesterol.

The coconut can be used in so many ways: the flesh is used for cakes and curries, chutneys and all manner of food down south. The oil is used in cooking and hair. The husk and the bark for making coir. The wood has it uses too.

But what about drinking tender coconuts? As something for sick people and something for quenching a thirst on a hot day, what can beat a freshly opened tender coconut?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Day of prayer and fasting

Union Church, Muniguda, Orissa

September 7th is a day when churches across India will be praying and fasting on behalf of those who are being hounded out of their homes, burnt alive and forced into unspeakable acts in Orissa.

A summary list of some of the many acts of violence over the past 2 weeks can be found at the EFI news site or by clicking here

Lets keep praying.

A burnt doll is seen outside a Christian home at Suleswar village in Orissa August 31, 2008. (Picture: Reuters)


Mrs. Maninder is coming home. But to what?

Two years ago, Mrs. Maninder was living in a lean-to next to a garbage dump. She was at the end of herself - HIV positive - with a newborn baby - her husband having squandered his money and been sacked from a govt job (if that is even possible) - her older child with a huge cleft-palate... It looked totally hopeless.

Today, thanks to many prayers, Mrs. Maninder has been looked after by a rehabilitation home during which time her daughter (who is HIV negative - thanks to the cleft palate preventing breast-feeds) having had most of the basic reconstructive surgeries done. Mrs. Maninder has put on weight and wants to start working as a seamstress again.

But where is home?

And at what level is she going to live? She has been blessed with a beautiful stay at a home where all the amenities were modern, good nutritious food given free of cost, many social workers and volunteers who loved her and cared for her every need.

Now she is to be 're-integrated'. She wasn't even integrated when she left.

In the process of trying to find solutions, we explored having Mrs. Maninder staying with a nearby organisation for some time. The accommodation was a single large room that serves as a dormitory for the ladies being helped. Mrs. Maninder was shocked to see that there were no cupboards and minimal fans. Our colleagues at the place where she currently is, spent today trying to help her get ready for what is most likely to be a drastic change of lifestyle from the last 2 years.

Tomorrow we are going to make a pitch in our local church. To see whether our fellowships are ready to take the plunge. Not just to say "we will pray for you" but to really put our time / money / effort into this small family. Finding a place to stay. Supporting nutritionally. Visiting and encouraging. Helping Mrs. Maninder with her child-care and child-raising. Welcoming her into a home fellowship. Being there. Love in action. Love in practice.

The costs are huge. The immediate outcomes uncertain. Mrs. Maninder is not the most pleasant person to be with. But she is a child of God. She is a person we have been given a divine appointment with. She and her two children are those to whom we must, we absolutely must look after. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 1.27).

It is not only this widow and her two orphans that need re-integration. Each one of us does. To get out of our 'comfort' zone and to be really stretched - and blessed. God help us (even if it be by a mighty kick in the seat of our pants).

Friday, 5 September 2008

Toothy issues

We've had some pretty grim posts recently (nothing strange about that - we live in some pretty grim times after all), but here is something on the lighter note.

Enoch discovered something while brushing his teeth tonight.

"I think one of my teeth is loose" he said.

No way I thought. Exaggeration.

But there it is - a lower front incisor - wiggling away to glory.

Enoch is 5 now. The picture above was taken when he was 3 and Asha 5. We are so blessed with these wonderful little ones (who are growing at a healthy clip).

The other day they enjoyed a day with Kea, the daughter of Nathan and Dr. Marise who helps at JSK. As Asha and Enoch grow, pray that they will continue to develop wonderful friendships and experience the joy of growing up knowing they are loved.

I could describe something I saw today, but I won't - its too painful. Suffice it to say, that we are very, very blessed. Looking back over the pictures that we have of the family over these years all we can say is that there is a lot of joy on our faces over the years.

Wiggling teeth or not - we have much to smile about!

River of sorrow

Sorry things are a bit glum on this on-line diary these days.

But that's the way the world we live in is.

Up North, in the fabled state of Bihar (or at least the rump that is left after Jharkhand got its own statehood a few years ago) we have the yearly tragedy of the floods.

The Kosi river is known as a river of sorrow as it floods almost every year. But this year is different. It has flooded in a totally new set of places, and the misery is immense.

EHA runs a brave hospital in the town of Madhepura where some of the worst flooding has taken place. The hospital has had to stop functioning for some time because everything is under water.

Who to help? How to help?

The politics of flood-relief is huge.

There is a whole vulture-class of contractors and politicians who divide up the spoils - huge funds sent from the centre end up lining the pockets of the rich patrons.

The human spirit makes can make mockery of the beauty of this earth.

Bihar - with its thousands of years of culture and learning - has little to show that dazzles today. Known as the basket-case state of our country - we find hard-working Biharis all over the land - looking for a better future than what is available in their native soil.

While not everyone has the privilege of being airlifted out by helicopter like the man on the right - we do pray that the various efforts - by the government, armed forces, parts of civil society will save the many who are on the brink of death.

As many others return to their sodden homes, our prayers go out for them.

Would that we would hear good news from Bihar, that the wonderful folks would be able to live up to their rich heritage and their spunk and joy of life.

Our flamboyant railway minister - Sri Lalu Prasad Yadav - was ironically elected from the Madhepura constituency (as well as another one) to current Parliament. He remains charismatic in his appeal - carefully keeping a rustic sheen to all his actions - while at the same time being a shrewd operator and holding on to the railway ministry.

We look forward to a new Bihar. One with rivers of joy rather than sorrow. Can you hear the mountains tremble...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

A new word for shame

We have a new word for shame: its name is Orissa.

Here we are in the comforts of urban Mumbai - shopping for veggies in super-markets, sleeping in soft beds without a care in the world - and on the other side of our country we have the darkest pillaging going on.

Our papers? A few comments here and there. The BBC - not a word on its website today (plenty about a certain American lady's daughter's pregnancy...). CNN? Forget it.

We are in a culture of violence. Make no mistake. If you want to be heard today - you need to block the main road for some weeks. You need to break some heads - and taunt the police by throwing stones and burning their vehicles. Then they will open fire on you and you have your media-ready martyrs. The politicians will soon swarm around and announce a Rs. 5 lakh ex-gratia payment to the nearest and dearest.

Even the sign boards in Mumbai have suddenly sprouted Marathi (or at least Devanagri script). It didn't happen because a certain political party went on a massive tree planting expedition. It happened because our dear local goons love tearing things down. A few well aimed stones and that's that.

Take a look at what is happening in the wet greeness of Orissa. Last Christmas there was the dress rehearsal. Homes of Christians were specifically targetted and burned. Churches looted. People killed. Who knows how many. Its a jungle out there. The fact is that our country remained quiet. A few appeals for peace. No prosecutions. Nothing. The villagers fled into the forest. Some have still to return. Ethnic - or at least 'religious' cleansing. Fait accompli.

Now its out and out war. Only there is only one group that is moving forward with the killing. The VHP / Bajrang Dal and other such groups are clearly putting their swords where their mouths are.

What to say? Its so unbelievable - to have people being killed in our dear country. To live in a time such as this where violence is so horribly prevalent - and our leadership so terribly timid.

We have seen the likes before. 1984 with the Sikhs. 2006 with Gujarat. We have had exposes on TV where the Gujarat killers gleefully tell of what they did. Ripping pregnant women up. And yet did we see a tide of revulsion? No. The story died its natural death - between advertisements for underwear and washing powder and life insurance policies.

Jim Scott talks about "weapons of the weak" as everyday acts of resistance. He did fieldwork in Indonesia and saw how the peasants were able to carryout a steady attrition of powers to the patron - and yet still remained in their subordinate status.

Do we have some such weapons for our brothers and sisters in Orissa-land? The blinding irony of it all is that I have received about 15 emails today with different details about what is going on - and yet my day has continued on it its course pretty-much unscathed.

One of the few weapons that we have is to talk to God. This seems the most ludicrous and escapist / head in the sand one of all. But I am serious. Really talk. Pour out our hearts. We have an opportunity on Sunday when a national day of prayer and fasting has been called by the Indian Missions Association.

But what I mean is something even more elemental. A weeping before God for the horrible things that are happening in our beloved country. A groaning on behalf of those who groan - confused and disturbed and wounded.

A prayer for those who wield the tridents. That like the Lord said - Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing. Our prayer must be that those who are doing the most killing will also be the ones who have a total change of heart- and become missionaries themselves. It has happened before - look at Saul's change to Paul and all that happened in the early church through him.

Do pray and agonise over what is happening. Pray for healing. Pray for justice. Pray for relief. Pray for mercy to those who are oppressing.

A few sites you might be interested in checking out:

1. Orissa burning

2. a candle in the dark

3. orissa burning take a look at the 30 comments - most of whom blame the missionaries and say good riddance

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

An entry into glory

Little Satish is no more.

He breathed his last a week ago. His little body stopped working as the hepatitis he got in the last days shut down the already weakened frame. This brave little 3 year old slipped into the hands of God.

We mourn the passing of a brave little boy. Our tears are real.

At the small funeral service on the grounds of the municipal crematorium, where his body was laid to rest in a small unmarked plot, Auntie Chinnamma sang a beautiful song in Malayalam.

The pain and the hope of glory were very much there.

Little Satish is no more with us, but he is!

We await the day when he will welcome us. Though very small, and though his life was short - and full of suffering - Satish is in the arms of Jesus.

We are grateful for all the prayers, all the love that this little boy received.

The world is not worthy...