Saturday, 31 January 2009

6 ways to change the world

I had an amazing experience this afternoon.

We conducted the second session of the current batch of Training in HIV care for church members. This batch is a particularly youthful one with at least 15 young people from a single church making up half of the group.

Sanjeev - one of our staff - made a suggestion before our first session. Lets make each person make a commitment card - on which they will write one thing that they plan to do over the next 2 weeks to help people with HIV. One half will remain with the discussion group leader - and one the participant will keep as a reminder. We took up the idea - and asked the group leaders to call up their members after a week to see how they were getting on.

I sat in on Sanjeev's discussion group this afternoon and was astounded.

There were 5 ladies and a young man.

This is what they did over the past 2 weeks:

1. The first lady to speak is a long term contact of ours. Her daughter and son-in-law have HIV, whose sister has HIV and who looked after her sister's boy before he died. The other group members do not know these things of course. This lady shared that she has been praying for a small village near where she lives. She has noticed that many of the young men their are 'slim' and are being treated for TB. She is convinced that a number of them have AIDS. This week she talked to her pastor about starting something there. The pastor was very open and went to the local municipal corporator and asked about getting some place where the church could start some kind of a clinic or counselling spot. Amazing!

2. The next lady shared how she and another church member had attended a monthly support group meeting for positive friends at the Free Methodist Church in Andheri. It was a deeply moving experience for her to hear the suffering that many have gone through and be able to talk and pray with some of these sisters with HIV.

3. The third lady said that she had told two of her neighbours all about HIV/AIDS, based on what she had learned in the first session. She was particularly concerned because she did not know whether their husbands were being faithful to them - and told them that it was very important for them to find out.

4. The next young lady had gone to a person in her neighbourhood who was very sick with cancer. They had gone there to pray and found out that her husband had been ill-treating her and was drinking a lot. They spent time with the lady and prayed with her. Early this week that lady died.

5. The fifth lady is working with a sister organisation of ours which does a lot of work welcoming women who are on the margins. We know that she is HIV positive herself, though I am not sure how much she had shared about her own status to the other group members. This lady had gone to the JJ Hospital in south Mumbai as part of her work she does with women who are in prostitution. While there she saw a woman with a child. The woman was crying hysterically. This sister went to find out what was the matter. She was HIV positive and was being harrassed at home and did not get the medications she had hoped for. "Please give me some medicine so I can give it to my child and kill him and then I will kill myself" The woman kept crying and shouting. Our friend talked with her. She tried to reason with her and tell her that they would try and help. Finally she persuaded one of the social workers there to come with her and the lady home. When they got to the door the mother-in-law refused to let them in. "Who have you brought? We don't want you" she told the lady. After some cajolling (and many silent prayers from our friend) the mother-in-law let them all in. Further conversation and helping her understand cooled the situation more. The lady wanted our friend to wait till her husband returned as she was afraid he would beat her like he normally did. Our friend assured her that God would help and left her mobile number. Later that evening the phone rang - the lady calling to say her husband had returned and for the first time was calm and decent with her. How much God can use his children!

6. The final person to share was a young man. He said that he had a relative who had stopped coming to their church. He had heard that this relative had HIV. He went to visit him. The visit was not easy, but his relative was very touched - and promised to start coming back to church again. The first step has been taken. A new level of relationship established.

Six people. Six promises made. Six solid attempts to come through. Six ways that God has used his people to set the world a little more right-way-up.


Thursday, 29 January 2009

Are we all connected?

When I went to college in the US I did not see my parents for 2.5 years. Neither did I talk with them. The costs were astronomical - and the sound was something like having a 747 taking off in the background.

In an age of skype (insert your favourite social networking site or technology here) all that seems almost quaint. But wait - there is more:
The human race is crossing a line. There is now one cellphone for every two humans on Earth.

From essentially zero, we've passed a watershed of more than 3.3 billion active cellphones on a planet of some 6.6 billion humans in about 26 years. This is the fastest global diffusion of any technology in human history -- faster even than the polio vaccine.

The article in the Washington Post (click here to see it) argues that cell phones are shaping our humanity. It is fascinating to see the death of distance in some ways. The kids from the miller next door to our office and their fruit-selling uncle talking to a relative in the village. Unheard and un-thought-of a decade ago.

But however wired we become (or unwired as it may be - but still teleconnected) all it takes is a single argument for us to shut down all comunications.

The greater miracle than harnessing the airwaves is the fundamental one of how a thought in me - is expressed through my body - and travels to another person - and they detect and filter out the meaning - and then respond back. The marvel of any form of information exchange is so beautiful.

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God. (John 1.1)
Now if only our family mobile would start working again. 3 days is a long time!

Knowing what's in store

We all want to know the future.

This lady outside Allahabad certainly does (thanks BBC for the pic). She is listening to the 'computer robot' who clearly knows what's in store for the dear one.

What a blessing we don't know much about what our lives will be like. Imagine knowing ahead of time the sufferings that you will go through - the disappointments and defeats that we each face! What fear would stalk our every moment. What bliss not to know.

And conversely, imagine knowing with precision exactly every good thing which you will experience. How hollow many of these joy-filled moments will be once we reach them.

Some things, we do know - and want to forget.

Our deaths, for example. Anyone who has hung on the outside of a Mumbai train - or ridden on the top - or even crossed the tracks - clearly believes in their own immortality.

The shadow-opposite of winning the lottery. I will never die - its just some other poor sod who will not get home tonight.

I think the other thing that we are masters of denying is the basic set of facts that we know. That which our consciences say is right will eventually win out. And yet everything within us is attracted to that which we know to be wrong. We can weasel our way about, and try to control our destiny with any manner of hopeful monsters, but at the end of the day there will be a reckoning.

I have found nothing to be bring more clarity to this than the horrible tragedy of the terror attacks late last year. We all know that such a horrible act demands a judgment. Everyone I have talked to, even folks from faith-backgrounds which don't have any explicit day of judgment are in full agreement. God will make sure those men get their desserts.

This is where the Christian scriptures - taken at their simplest and most direct understanding - are so profound. Abram - gets a promise that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Childless at 75+ he believes. He is then given a prophecy that his descendants will be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years. All this takes place after Joseph brings Abraham's grandson Jacob - himself an old man by then to the land of the Nile. Just one example - which we read as a family tonight - of God revealing some things to his people.

But this is hardly the stuff of fortune telling - we are dealing with God showing his own eternal presence - and his mercies in giving humanity an insight into what is to come. It also strengthens the case for using the Bible as a guide for life. There is much in scripture about the future. The most exciting part is the promise of being part of an eternal Kingdom centered around the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

The big picture is there. The stage is set. Now the day to day joy (and some sorrows) of living the future in the present. One minute at a time.


Faith is taking God at his word.

Mrs. Laila told this story at the recent Positive Friends meeting.

She is illiterate. Has lost her husband to AIDS. Is HIV positive herself.

She sells dried fish. She is a child of God.

Mrs. Laila has 2 sons. One lives with her. One is married and lives in the village. He has given her much grief - especially since he has drunk a lot in the past.

Last month she got a call from her daughter-in-law. Their child had a bad boil on the face and it was not getting better. She told Mrs. Laila that they were going to go to do some rituals to rid the boil from the child.

Mrs. Laila demanded to talk to her son. In no uncertain terms she told her son that she was a follower of Jesus and would not see any other rituals being done. "The boil will go away by Christmas" she told her son "do not do anything - I will pray".

And pray she did. For 8 days. Fasting and praying to her God.

The day before Christmas, the boil burst on its own. The pus drained out.

On Christmas day the child was perfectly normal.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Anyone who thinks that the fight that people with HIV face is over thanks to medical advances is sadly wrong.

We are not dealing with a disease which has become as common-place as a head-ache - take two crocins (insert your local brand-name analgesic here) and feel better.

We still face a disease whose very name means horror.

Today two new contacts met Sheba.

The first was a young man of 25 years. Married, with a child. His treating physician told him that: "you are finished." A death sentence. He was amazed to hear Sheba talk positively about what can be done. Very grateful to hear about something hopeful. Very willing to be met at home and followed up by our team.

The second man came with partial paralysis. His brother accompanied him - an austere man with a large red tilak on his forehead. But as Sheba started talking and showing what physiotherapy can be done to help the affected brother regain his movement - the coldness dissappeared.

How horribly our dear friends are treated. How important to show kindness and hope. How possible this is through our knowledge that our Lord Jesus really loves us. We have all messed up. So badly. So consistently. And yet we are a hug away from our Lord.

And our Lord wants to use our arms to give His hug to others.

The truth about AIDS is that it brings the truth to the surface. The truth of our past. The truth of what our relatives and friends really feel about us. The truth of our own mortality (and at least portions of our morality). The truth of how much we need to be touched - and loved - and accepted. And how much we need something more than ourselves.

This last month has showed us again how flawed we are in our team, in our church. How much we bicker and fight. How closed our minds and hearts are.

But the hope we have is that God's love can overwhelm our feeble flickers. His heart can speak even through our limited tongues. His touch can warm even through our cold fingers.

If we have to be perfect to help others... then we might as well wait for the next ice-age.

Love is a necessity. HIV/AIDS forces us to see this. It shoves it into our face - whether we like it or not. There are only two options. Act or ignore.



All in less than 2 seconds.

A pack of dogs were tearing into an outsider. The fight spilled out on the road. A passing auto-rickshaw slammed its brakes and tried to avoid the dogs - hitting one in the process. With a sickening thud it turned turtle.

We rushed out of our office. A deep sickening feeling as we grabbed the vehicle to set it right. Below the chassis was the driver. Was he moving? Yes, he started to move. Passengers - at least one - holding his leg in pain. A few seconds more and the driver started taking control. Miraculously - though the auto had rolled on him - he seemed just bruised. His passenger was worse off. The leg was at least bruised if not fractured.

The assembled men dusted off the driver and the passenger took his seat again. This time clearly in pain. The driver tried the engine. The sturdy Bajaj motor spluttered to life. The little green vehicle stuttered forward and soon puttered away towards a hospital.

Spectators and helpers, who had rushed out now melted back. The green leafy street outside our office returned to the hot mid-day quietness. A few small pieces of debris all that showed from the accident. And the 9 stray dogs - with one still holding his tail firmly between his legs - took up their strategic positions on their road again.


"Daddy, what is Republic Day?" asked our son Enoch (almost 6). I explained how we as a nation had achieved Independence from the British in 1947 and how over the next 2 years a constitution was framed under the guidance of Dr. Balasaheb Ambedkar. On Jan 26th 1950, the sovereign Republic of India came into being, with its own guiding laws in its constitution and a President as the (symbolic) head of state, with the prime minister as the elected leader of the country.

Today the big parade in New Delhi is mainly a military parade.

all pix from the BBC website

It gives us a chance to see the pagentry of different military units - as well as showing off some of the latest hardware - including an Indo-Russian joint project of a cruise missle called Brahmos. For all its expense and expertise - the first test firing by our military under semi-real test conditions was a failure - or so the newspapers tell us.

Are we a patriotic people? Its hard to say. Many were not even aware of the day. For most it was a day off work. A few gathered in the morning to raise the flag at their housing complexes or neighbourhood flagpost.

While we are fighting a number of armed struggles as a nation - most of these are low-intensity conflicts carried out by para-military forces like the Central Reserve Police Force and the Border Security Force. It is rare for our army to be deployed - though obviously the many years that the army is being used in Kashmir and in some of the North Eastern states is no fluke.

Our neighbours seem to be in even worse shape.

The Pakistani army is apparently fighting with the Taliban in their border areas. How vigorous this is - and much covert support is coming from within the military establishment for the enemy is anyone's guess. What is clear is that the Americans do not buy into what the Pakistani establishment says - and has been regularly sending in drones and guided missiles to kill suspected Taliban on Pakistani soil. This is obviously something that enrages the Pakistanis - you can imagine what it would be like if Russia or France started killing people in our country with sophisticated weapons.

In beautiful Sri Lanka - the very ugly war continues. The SL army claims today to have captured the last Tamil Tiger held city - after an agressive campaign which seems to be on the verge of removing the overt control that the Tigers had in their areas. As you can see below - it is a very messy war - and the rains don't help.

Over the pond to Africa - and we have the various militias and military men involved in all kinds of power games. It is a great blessing that our military forces seem to be largely apolical. The exception that proves the rule is the sensational arrest this month of an army officer who is alleged to have helped a female sadhavi (religious leader) make bombs to place in Muslim places and spread few.

Our soldiers are paid on time. Not like those in Zimbabwe - or come to think of it pretty much everyone in Zimbabwe. The primary school teachers across the country have gone on strike - in order to press for their receiving at least a minimum wage worth of a salary.

Its a cruel world. A world where many things don't make much sense - and a place where the dreadful reality of a professional military force is sadly needed. While I respect the discipline, dignity and sacrifice of our own armed forces - I wish they would be out of a job - because everything in our land would be so peaceful and secure that they would have to beat their gun barrels into golf clubs, and their grenades into toy turtles etc.

A dream world? Yes, when we use our current cynical 'common sense'. The good news is that the Bible talks about a day when "they will beat their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isa. 4.2). That day can only take place because Jesus is due back - as our master and Lord. We hope and pray for this day.

In the meantime we put up with the armed forces - for at least a little longer.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

House painting

What does it feel like to be a refugee in your own home? Simply do a painting job while trying to live life as normally as possible.

We started a long over-due painting of our flat thanks to a genrous gift from a friend. The results are already wonderful. No conservative off-white for us this time. Colour it is and each room a new and striking one no less.

As a sample, look at the shade of our main living / dining room wall:

The cross-stitch is a gift from Dr. and Mrs. Colin Binks on the occasion of us dedicating Asha to the Lord Jesus in January 2001. The picture has followed us to each of our homes - and now Asha and Enoch are able to sing all the verses of the song at the drop of a hat!

It is sobering to see how much effort and money goes into the process of painting. The sweat and grime that goes into sanding off and rubbing down. The various layers of plaster, primer and final coats which are put on. The cleaning up afterward of paint splatterd floors and dust in all nooks and crevasses.

Would that we would see something like this in who we are at our core. Too often we keep waiting and procrastinating - while the once beautiful and functional starts to chip away and decay.

What Africa needs

Photo by Margaret Bourke-White - 1950 in a S. African mine

In a provocative piece - a British journalist proposes something that we have not heard for a long, long time.

Take a look at this link by clicking: here.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


It's Oscar season somewhere far away - and our papers are in a tizzy because for the first time an 'Indian film' is in the running for best pic etc. The flick is an adaptation of a book called Q&A - about a young kid from the slums of Mumbai who makes it big by bashing through life with all its seamy ugliness and violence and finally reaching out to his lady love through the TV game show Kaun Banega Crorepati (the desi version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire).

The inevitable discussion is up and running again. Should we be proud of this? Are we once again displaying our poverty? What is the role of cinema - to instruct or entertain or both or neither?

I remember a dear friend of mine who with a pained expression told our fellow students at graduate school - "You see, India is not a poor country. I know. I grew up there. We did have people who were working for us who were less well off, but they were well taken care of and happy."

In the countless interviews that the film's director Danny Boyle is giving as part of the marketing of the flick, Boyle says that he was gripped by the vitality, the energy and the fun that characterises the people living in the slums. He is clear that he did not want to show passive, victim folks - but rather people of intelligence, living with purpose.

So far so good.

We all want to feel happy, and having a flick with a happy ending where the guy gets the girl, and lots of money, and the bad guys are eliminated is at the end of the day what we are wired to desire.

Why? Because deep in us we know that this shoddy mess of a life has to have more meaning, more resolution than it does right now. Because we know that history is moving towards a denoument - a consumation of all our dreams.

Its called the Kingdom - and it is what we all yearn for.

The challenge is how to be realistically hopeful.

Slumdog uses the term to refer to the cunning dogs who hang around, eyes half open in their snooze, carefully weighing out the threats and moving in when something to eat may appear.

That's a nice metaphor if you are a Brit film maker doing a recce on a film location - to take in some of the local flavour - find out that it isn't only despair - but then to repair back to your hotel room for the night (and 2 weeks later to jet back of to Blighty).

Its different if you see the slumdogs every day. Howling at night. Getting crushed by vehicles. Vigourously copulating during their heat. Raising litters of emaciated pups who inevitably see attrition from cars, disease and malnutrition.

Here's a picture of one. Cute right? It was crushed by a motor-vehicle 2 minutes after this pic was taken.

Is there any hope in the slums? Sure. That's why we are here.

But the hope isn't in the escapism of Bollywood / Hollywood / Tollywood etc. We see cycle after cycle of young girls who go into their mid-teens and exit their teens having followed the 'Filmi' dream and eloping with a young man from the neighbourhood. Almost inevitably his drunkeness and violence means they are either back home with their mother or locked into the next cycle of misery with their husband.

True hope lies in far quieter ways.

It lies in the untold sacrifices mothers make to get their kids into the local "English medium" school - and the inevitable after-school coaching classes. It lies in simple folks gathering for prayer in small rooms. The ragged songs that focus so much on how Jesus will heal and help, but offer real steps in a relationship with their maker. In people praying for each other in their homes. In the life of a man who is finally able to give up the bottle. Or the lady who is able to forgive her husband and his relatives.

Jesus talked about the kingdom being hidden. It still is to a large extent. We yearn for things to be better. We want the big cataclysmic changes to take place. But our Lord is seeing the many hidden things that are taking place, the many people who are 'coming as a child'.

Amidst the muck of the present - and that includes the often hollow lives of our moneyed classes - the almost daily deposit of empty whisky bottles next door to us is evidence enough of this - amidst the often crushing gloom - we have a 'Kingdom-shaped' vaccum in our hearts. We know that our crazy, topsy-turvey world is calling out for a setting right. And that the setting right is taking place - though as usual it is unlikely to be in a way, time-span or fashion that we desire.

Films offer us a brief linear chance to see messes get cleaned up. Lets not knock them for that - the basic flow is the right one - in its own refracted way the 'happy-ending' that we so enjoy in a flick mirrors/shadows the Christ-centered view of history that says we are moving from chaos to consummation.

We deeply desire the resolution of narrative tension - and so our stories weave in and out of the great master-story - which is the Master's story.


I was talking to 2 friends at a marriage reception last night. Both of them are finding the pressures of work almost unbearable. Sheba and I are in a different position - our work is not the same as our friends - but I have been chronically tired now for at least a year - falling asleep while sitting down - sometimes even when praying (surprise!).

But what about Daniel. How was he able to govern a massive, complex empire with 127 provinces - and yet worship God at (a minimum of) 3 times each day. His enemies could find no corruption and no sloth in him. The King later says refers to "the God whom you serve with all your heart". The King had no cause for complaint with Daniel's work - in fact, seeing the quality of his work - he steadily promoted him - ending up with a situation where this man who had been brought as a prisoner to Babylon was not the second in command of the whole empire.

Would that this would be true of me. If I had enemies and if they came snooping into what I am doing and who I am - they will find many instances that are wrong and that I would be ashamed of showing.

Daniel is a light and an example - but just a shadow the amazing attributes that we so fully see in the person of Jesus.

Our challenge is to see His lordship in every part of our lives. We can become like Daniel. Its possible - because the same God who listened to Daniel and helped Daniel and others to act decisively is the God who is alive today - and very alive to our issues too.

May the Lord bless you in all you do!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

The future is another country

One of the blessed things about our experience of time is the sheer connectedness of it.

I am linked with who I was in the past - with the sum of the experiences that I remember as well as in many ways with things that I may not fully recall.

At the same time, we have the ability to think forward. To plan. To anticipate and expect. And then the hoped for time or day actually arrives.

For me the two 'big' years that never seemed possible were 1997 - for some reason I could not imagine the British giving up Hong Kong - and 1999 - the thought of a millenial change-over was just boggling to me.

Those years are now dusty history.

As we look into this year - we are amazed at what it holds - and what is in store. But do we ever stop to be thankful for the sheer miracle of actually 'being there' on the days as they tick along off the calendar?

At Jeevan Sahara Kendra we have the opportunity of shifting our operations into the current Lok Hospital. This may take place at the end of 2009. Perhaps early 2010.

It certainly is a mind-boggling thought. But here we are - with the opportunity to put plans into action. To set up different tasks to do - and then as the days slip by - to be amazed to see many of those 'thought-experiments' which were in our minds actually materialize.

In the mean-time, we need to get cracking. To be actively listening to what God is saying about our plans to see Jeevan Sahara Kendra become what He wants us to be. To allow him to shape our lives as His hands and feet. To be good stewards of the tremendous trust and opportunities we have in the lives that we are already involved with - and be sensitive to what He wants us to do next too.

The future is another country. But it starts today.

Challenges to Faith

Challenges to faith.

Faith is taking God at his word.

The Bible is so full of promises that express God's outer power and inner nature. We have so many promises for us.

And we have plenty of challenges that allow us to put this into practice;

1. Tomorrow brother Ravindranath - from GMI Church - will be having a skin graft operation on his leg. He had his foot run over by a truck some months ago and has been in great pain as they surgeons have had to amputate part of his foot after infection set in - and now are trying to save the rest. This man has been used in such amazing ways to reach out to people in prison.

2. Tomorrow Mrs. Candy will be shifted from Sion Hospital to JSK for a night - and then will be taken the next day by MSF staff to the HIV care centre in Panchgani. We would have loved to look after her here - but do not have the nursing staff. She has undergone severe physchiatric side-effects from a 2nd line TB medication she has been taking through MSF.

3. Tomorrow a desititute widow will be taken to be reunited with her child and then taken to Mukti Mission in Kedgaon for long-term rehabilitation and care. Mrs. "Tina" is not HIV positive, but has been driven away from her home by her in-laws and her brother and so has been living on the street for the past 2 years. She was highly pregnant when our staff met her - and was able to give birth to a child in the Thane Civil Hospital thanks to JSK staff. Though she does not fit into our core calling, we became invovled and were just about to take her and the baby to Mukti when a well-meaning had her whisked off to the government Child Care committee - who then took the child from the mother and sent Mrs. Tina home - so that she has become mentally imbalanced, mourning the loss of her child. Despite the inputs of our staff, we will be sending a very broken mother and child to Mukti.

Each situation seems hopeless and desperate. Each one is an opportunity for God's love and care to be seen in a broken and cruel world. Each a chance for us to hold on to what we know - and grow in confidence and awe of He who is past change.

Faith is taking God at his word - and acting out what we know He wants (and we know a lot more than we may want to admit).

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


One of our resolutions for the new year is to have at least one experience each month with the kids that contributes to building great memories.

Looking back on my parents - it is something that they did amazingly well. We marvel now at how they were able to spend so much time with us - and in such wonderful ways on such a limited budget.

This month we managed to squeeze in a visit to the planetarium.

What a place it is. To be in that big room and see the stars and galaxies. To actually 'go' to the surface of the sun and see the massive plumes of fire spouting out into space. To see a bird's eye view of the Chandrayan 1 moon-rocket that India has made - and then be part of its lift-off. Amazing stuff.

Humbling too - and not just to think of the absolutely tiny area of the vast cosmos that our beautiful blue planet occupies - Asha seemed more excited about the street-market outside Dadar station than the mysteries of space.

The day was capped off with Asha attending her violin class at 4, Andi taking part in a marriage-planning meeting at 6, us hosting the young people from church at 7.30 and then the highlight of the day:
Asha and Enoch's best friends Nikita and Jasper came by - and we managed to persuade their parents (and our dear friends) John and Nalini to stay for the night!

Memories. Wonderful ones - made regularly to order in the Eicher household!

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

HIV in the church - where it should be!

Of the many blessings that we saw at special service of blessing and the marriage reception for Anil as he married Sandhya was this: there were so many people in the group who had HIV.

God's family is very big - and the right place for people with HIV is in the church. What a blessing to see people living with HIV participating in the communion. To see people living with HIV blessing the bride and groom. To know that people living with HIV were helping out with the many arrangements that went into this marriage.

Of course, one factor for so many being there is that the bride is their beloved Sandhya, who is a nurse who is serving people who have HIV. But beyond that, I think it marks for me a turning point. A time when we are seeing the doors of the church start to open and welcome people.

We have a long way to go, of course, but looking back on this weekend, we can only thank God for what He has done.

In our country today, every church should have members who have HIV. Not because we want new people to get the disease. But because it is the business of the church, the very reason for its being, to be the body of Jesus Christ. This body must include those who have HIV.

There is no shortage of people with HIV in our country. If we do not have a single known person with HIV in our church it can only mean two things:

1. We are basically comatose. We are not out with the good news. We are not changing lives. We are not seeing Jesus touch others through us - and seeing people come into a life-giving relationship with Him - and become brothers and sisters of the sinners-saved-by-grace who we are.

2. We are bound by fear. People may be coming to the Lord, but we are too afraid to open up and tell about their needs. How much we need to be real with each other - to really experience what it means to be brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

Both reasons are all too common.

But the good news is the both can be changed. We serve a God who specializes in turning grumbling bumbling folks into people who have changed the world. Same folks. Same God. Lots of hope!

The new US prez

We are all connected in some way.

As Barak Obama formally swears the oath of office of the US president - putting his hand on the Bible that Abraham Lincoln had used - we have a message of possibility broadcast far and wide.

In our part of the world, where so much of political power still depends largely on being born into the right family and/or scraping your nose on the floor till you get some power, to see a man being chosen by the people - a man who so many said would never be chosen because of his race - is inspiring.

When asked by the BBC about a 1964 prediction that the late Robert Kennedy made that America would have a black president in 40 years, Dr. Martin Luther King's reaction was that he thought it would be possible within 25. The fact that it took a bit longer than 'predicted' points to the challenges involved - but also the the possibilities present in a society where the Bible has had a significant role to play (even if in often truncated and splintered ways). You can see a clip of what Dr. King had to say by clicking: here

Would that we could see something similar here in our country. The emergence of people who speak with clarity and candour - who actually inspire instead of fill with dismay.

There are a lot of people cheering on this side of the pond as the president of a far off (but still very powerful) nation takes office.

No ordinary day

January 16th is no ordinary day!

Eight years ago our lives as a family were permanently changed - for the better! - by the birth of our first-born daughter Asha.

What a privilege it is to think back on those years. Each one so full of

2001 saw Asha born in Jan, and us shift to Mumbai in October and her cousin Joanna's birth in December
2002 saw us move over to Thane and become involved with Jeevan Sahara Kendra
2003 witnessed the birth of Asha's brother Enoch in Feb and Asha started pre-school and her cousin Anmol was born in October
2004 was when Asha start pre-school
2005 saw us shift over to our Happy Valley appartment and Enoch began pre-school
2006 was when their cousin Ashish was born
2007 saw Asha begin primary school
2008 was when Asha began her violin lessons
2009 is when Ashish's brother or sister is to be born...

In each year, and in each day we have been blessed with so much joy. Sheba and I chose the name "Asha" for our lovely child because we knew that we would be seeing many dark things - but that we have hope in Jesus.

What we knew would happen, did! We have seen many sad and dark things - but through it all we have a well-spring of hope in our Lord. Asha fits her name!

January 16th 2009 was a very special day for another reason too:

After many years of prayer we were thrilled to see our dear Anil Sainani and Sandhya Aind become Shri and Shrimati Sainani - joining their lives together in holy matrimony in our house church! What a joy to see the answers to so many prayers being lived out as these two beautiful people promised their lives to each others.

Asha was thrilled that the wedding was on her birthday. It was a perfect day.

We Eichers are sticklers for tradition, and so the yearly Bday party was a must. This year's edition for Asha was a small event on the 17th - since Anil and Sandhya's wedding was on the 16th and their reception was on the 18th.

Asha's birthday made its appearance early on the 17th morning (the same day as we had a big church training too).

In the evening we had the children from three of our dear families come over for a small party.

A splendid time was had by all including a treasure hunt and Asha feeding all and sundry with her cake!

These are days to remember. Days of grace and the affirmation that whatever happens around us - we have a sure hope - a loving hope in our wonderful Lord.

The sensitive, vibrant girl that she is. The remarkable, mysterious person she is becoming. The amazing, lovely, and still far-from-fully-known child of God is will be.
All a gift to us. We cherish this remarkable part of our family.

Thank God for hope.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Bringing us back to God

Life continues to be a blender of sorts. Lots of experiences. As I tap on the keyboard a real-life blender is being used by Sheba to make some delicious coconut-peanut chutney for the hot wadas she has just made for a small party we are having to celebrate Asha's 8 years!

The 'real birthday' was yesterday - but that was also Anil and Sandhya's wedding! Tomorrow is their blessing service and reception. And in the middle of all of this we held our first HIV Care training of the year.

It was very encouraging to see the 40 odd people who came for the "Love your Neighbour... with AIDS" training today. Encouraging because so many were young! Encouraging because you could really see on their faces that they were digging deep into the subject - and being challenged by the needs of people with HIV - and also by God's heart to work through His people the church!

It was also encouraging because we had at least 7 people with HIV present in the training itself.

As we mapped out the different areas where HIV affects people with HIV, one of our HIV positive participants made this comment: "HIV does not always lead to all of these things (i.e. depression, suicidal thoughts, rejection etc.) - many times it can be used to bring us back to reality - to be praying to God."

Wednesday, 14 January 2009



That's what they ordered. The carts are to be crushed and left there.

Last night men from the Thane Municipal Corporation came and did just that to the hand-carts of the hawkers who line the street outside our housing complex.

Some of these men have been hawking vegetables and fruit for years at these locations. Rain and shine. They are there with their wares.

Not today.

"Someone in one of the housing societies said that they should not just take the carts away, but destroy them and leave them there" said the hawkers "in the past we would get our carts back after they were confiscated. Now this."

That someone must be pretty powerful to have the TMC staff do what they say.

The poor live in a web of legal illegality.

I asked one of the vendours about the 'daily tax' that the TMC collects.

"They take Rs. 15 from us every day" he said, showing me the stub of the receipt for the payment he made yesterday.

And yet the same municipal government which collects taxes from the vendours also authorises the destruction of their carts.

Ditto houses in the slum pockets.

Ditto small businesses.

Its a cruel world.

The irony is that India's big retail bubble is just about to burst.

The massive fraud at Satyam computer services - where a company kept sending its stock higher every year by posting fictitious profit figures (more than 10 times their actual profits) - and thus 'creating value' that never was - shows the absolute corruption of our system.

The trickle down will be felt later this week when a big retail super-market - which opened to much fanfare 2 years ago - will be shutting down.

The writing has been on the wall for our neighbourhood "Foodland" store for some months now. Each time we go in, there is less inventory, and less people. The contrast with their local competitor "D-mart" is stark. Foodland has become a gleaming and largely empty shell - while its competitor seems bursting at the seem with robust buyers waving their debit cards.

The irony is this - Foodland had enough clout and savvy to work through the various regulations governing its running. They didn't have the TMC come and destroy their operations. Their demise has to do strictly with the cold issue of cash - not enough coming in to justify them running the join.

The street vendours will be back. But in what form? And what does this do to the inner person? To the child of God who is sitting, staring numbly at the pile of twisted metal and splintered wood that was his hand-cart, his livelihood?


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

View from a train window

First there were two.

Boys that is. One with a sickly, peeling face. His index finger cocked back full-stretch as he aimed the marble. The other boy watching vaguely.

The station platform they were on was framed by the window of the slow-local to Karjat. From the inside I saw the first boy ping his marble at the target and then slouch-scamper to retrieve it. He held something in his pocket and put it to his mouth. Then picked up the marble and had another shot.

The second boy, whose clothes were not so tattered and who did not have the burnt out look of the first looked on.

Another shot - this time the marble riccocheted off the bench the second was sitting on and fell of the platform onto the tracks. The first boy stood for some time and again put his hand to his mouth, cupping something inside it.

The watching boy did the same.

What was in their hands? It looked like a cloth, a hankerchief of some sort. As the first boy retrieved his marble from what must be excrement stained tracks (this was out of the frame of the window I looked out of) I found myself rooted by these two vagrants. Off to the left a lady folded a cloth and lay down in the dust. Her pitiful body surrounded by a thin cloth. The boys continued sitting, watching, and repeatedly bringing their cloth-clutching hands to their mouths.

Now more boys joined them. First one. Clearly younger. Then another. Then two more. Six in all. Some pushing and shoving. Coming in and out of the frame. All of them holding the cloths and putting them to their mouths.

I called up Nitin on the mobile to ask him what was going on. Is it glue? Are they sniffing some paint distiller or something. As we talked the answer played itself infront of my eyes. The window framed one boy taking a small bottle out of his pocket.

The others gathered around. "Maybe somekind of white-out remover" said Nitin. As he was talking on the cell, the boy with the minute bottle seemed to pour out something on each other boy's cloths. They quickly put them back to their mouths. Some drifted away.

With a long-overdue lurch, the slow-local to Karjat started moving. The boys left the window-frame. Staying behind with their hand-to-mouth-motion-cloths on the platform of Kalyan station. Their images printed in my minds eye.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Blast from the past

2009 is a week old - and already we have had a number of hard knocks.

As we step forward in 2009, its good to remember some of God's goodness to us.

Our good friend Philip Tusing sent us these treasures from his visit to us in early 2004. Asha turns 8 this month and Enoch 6. What a long and wonderful trip its been - and what hope for this year too!