Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Election weariness (and wierdness)

Here we are in the midst of a gargantuan election, where even some of the parties' symbols are elephantine - and actually very few people care.

"What's the point voting" says the elderly Tamil gent I meet in the lift early in the morning, him clutching a bag of milk and I holding a loaf of bread "they are all the same - they only look after themselves and get rich."

Our political class is flying around the country but the streets seem strangely listless and drab. The buzz of previous Lok Sabha elections just doesn't seem present. We have facebook groups, though none of the folks that I am in touch with have posted a single comment to do with the elections (contrast that with the steady chatter my American friends had in the pre- and post-Obama days). Advani wants to do an Obama and has been buying oodles of eyeball space on various sites (its funny to see him show up on Christian sites that have advertising), but I don't think it will cut much ice. The Americans love to do their part - and Obama's folks kept up a steady stream of amazingly engaging emails urging various ways of participation (including the small donations...). I somehow got on the list and was amazed to see how slick - and how down-to-earth many of the communications were. We have a long way to go yet to duplicate that kind of merchandising of a candidate.

The heat, the naxalites have and will play a role in the relatively low turn out and the fairly listless movement. But probably the real challenge rests on two issues.

One issue is that we seem to be surrounded by leaders who just are not able to generate any excitement at all. What does the Congress talk about? Pani, sadak, bijli. Where were you folks the last 5 years? What is the BJP's latest? Foreign bank accounts! Help! Where was all of this before last week?

The second is the more ominous one. We are unlikely to have any one party who will 'win'. That means that we are in for the worst kind of horse trading you can think of. Everyone has ditched each other and is ready to enter into any kind of liason - as long as it leads to power.

Surely this is not what an election is meant to be? It reminds me of the Weimar Republic with its many small parties going into monstorous and short-lived coalitions.

The current German constitution has an interesting clause - no party that does not tally more than 5% of the total national vote gets to sit in parliament - even if they have candidates who have won from local constituencies. The Greens have been in and out of the parliament because of this.

It would be my small suggestion to the good folks who frame our countries laws (sadly these are the very chaps who thrive on the current system, but here goes anyway): how about something like this in our wonderful land. Let those who seek to represent our local constituencies be part of a party that has at least 5% of the popular vote in our country. This will make parties more than just a platform for folks who just want to get ahead.

For me, the most bizarre example of this was the man who 5 years ago threatened to kill himself if Sonia Gandhi was not made prime minister. Pictures of him with a pistol to his head were splashed all over. At the time there was plenty of tut-tutting about how subservient the Congress rank and file were. Well, today the same man thinks nothing of fighting this election with a different party. As with many, he has found a home with the Elephant of the BSP. Asked about his actions then, he just shrugs.

And so it goes. Our amazingly adaptable political class continues to astonish. The value of having a 5% rule, however, would force those who seek to rule the country - to have a trully national presence - rather than ruling their regional fiefdoms and then showing up to tilt the balance of power (in return for disproportionate say in national governance - let alone the issue of disproporionate assets).

On to April 30th then (when our fifth of the country votes) and then the next 2 weeks before the ballots start to be counted on the 16th of May - and we all find out who our new rulers are.

Monday, 27 April 2009


We arranged a meeting for our partner churches who are caring for people with HIV. The idea was to encourage them. We ended up being encouraged too - and how!

After rousing worship, Bro Cecil Clements touched hearts with the message that God is there to care for the care-givers. "Do you love me" is the key question each one of us has to answer, before we do any 'work for God'. Its a personal and intimate question - but how we answer is vital to how we reach out to others. Our vertical relationship is the one from which we can give love, help and care to others. But if we do not love Him...

We then spent time looking at the blessings that different churches experienced while reaching out to people with HIV - and the challenges that fellowships face. What an amazing time to hear story after story of God using ordinary people to make a huge impact on families with HIV.

So much is happening - though most of it small in the eyes of those around - and often largely hidden because of the fear that people have of HIV. It was amazing to hear what some of the churches have been able to do - and iron sharpened iron as different groups were challenged by how other fellowships are being used by God to bless people with HIV/AIDS.

Just under 4 years ago two pastors came to us and said that they had had 4 members of their congregation die of AIDS. "We cast out the demons, but they died of TB" was what they said at that time - "what can we do for others with HIV?" they asked.

These pastors and their church members came regularly for the 4 session training course we arranged. And the pastors have continued touching people with HIV. One of them has now been involved with over 100 people with HIV over these subsequent years. The impact of one leader, of one fellowship that really takes ownership is immense.

After thanking God and praising Him for what He has done through these local fellowships, we also had a time when we heard about some of the challenges that many of the folks face: indifference from church members, fear of HIV, heart-breaks after pouring so much into a family, the loss that is felt when a person dies... These are real issues, and ones that show how hard - and even at times bitter - the road is to reaching out with the love of Christ in a broken world. Surprisingly most of the barriers were actually still within the church - a coldness of heart, a lack of time, an indifference that is so different from the caring heart of Christ. The good news is that all of these areas can be changed. And as we broke up into pairs to pray about these things, we know that God is already changing the hearts of His people.

Sheba shared about Biblical Health Care - drawing on some of the things she was recently exposed to in Delhi - and shared how different things are when we do things the way God wants us to reach out to broken people. Sheba stressed that all care has to be Christ-centered. Without Him there is no point moving forward. She also showed how human beings are 'imagers' of God - we show who God is through who we are - and are also very precious since we carry His very likeness all over us. This means that no matter how broken a person is - she or he is very special - and worthy of care and redemption and help. Health care from a Biblical perspective is all about Shalom - peace in the fullest sense of the word with right-relationships-all-around. Our job - in HIV care or health care in general is to bring this Shalom into being. This can only be done through Agape love - the love that does not ask in return. Sheba showed that all of this can only through God's love working in us.

Before we knew it, the time was up. Over a fellowship lunch all of us - JSK staff and church leaders and partners alike were unanimous in this - we had been encouraged by each other - and are so grateful to what God has done - and is doing!

Stay posted!


10 samples. 2 ml of blood each. Each one taken from a different person, with a different history. Each one about to be tested for HIV.

Saturday marked the most people we have tested so far for HIV. Ten. Its not a huge number considering all the people who have HIV (and don't know it) and all the people who may have HIV (and don't want to know). But it is a start.

Each sample is an example of a person who is willing to confront the truth. The truth about whether they have HIV or not. Whether the risks in the past means that virus is present in their bodies. Or not.

In either case, these test results are no ordinary pieces of information. They are vital parts of a person's life. The knowledge of having HIV can be devastating to a person. But it can also be liberating - and help a man or woman face up to reality.

Here to shepherd people through the testing process are Daniel and James, who are our main counsellors.

Its not easy. For the person getting tested - as for the counsellor. But we are convinced that this knowlege offers real opportunities for people to change. For those who are infected - to start the healing process. For those who are not - to make a difference in their behaviour - and to help others to change too.

Have you been tested yet? It's worth knowing.

This morning we will know the results of each of these samples - and start the process of communicating the result in meaningful ways to the dear people from which these small vials of blood were taken.

The blood tells the story. And the blood can mark the change.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


Truth is a coin that is often in short supply.

Sadly the consequences of lying are deep and lasting.

We had a dear but very misguided friend visit the clinic today.

During the conversation we talked with her about how she had been living with other men before and how that had led to such damage in her and for her children. Our staff had recently been to this sister's home and found a man lying draped only with a light cloth - and touching the pre-teen daughter of the woman who sat in the cubicle.

When asked about this man she grew angry and asked whether it was a crime to have a relative stay with them. Is he still there? We asked. No, he is gone.

The session did not end on a good note. But worse was to come.

After the lady had left, Sheba came out of the doctor's cabin a short while later. She saw an unknown man coming out of the lab area and leave the centre.

"Who was he?" Sheba asked our counsellor Daniel.

"The man living with the lady who came in," said Daniel.

The blindness of deceit ends up blinding totally.

Here was this lady hotly denying any man was around - when she had come with a man to have him tested for HIV. In the course of his counselling he clearly talked about having sexual relations with the lady who is HIV positive.

Once truth is gone - it takes a long time to find it again. Lies accumulate like flies. And are just about impossible to get rid of on your own strength.


Please join with us in prayer for this broken lady and her broken family. There is still hope... but how long? She has lost 5 kgs recently.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A rose is....

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" (Romeo and Juliet).

Smell sweet perhaps, but look as lovely?

We are thrilled to see pictures of our own Rose - namely Anjali-Rose Eden Eicher - who was born to Stefan and Neeru on Feb 5th this year - and her proud and loving brother Ashish!

Anjali lives with her Mummy and Daddy and big bro in Delhi. Only Sheba has seen her in the flesh so far - but we are hoping to make up for it as a family at the end of May at the latest.

Though we haven't asked the happy parents - I think the Rose is a reflection of Roesli - our Mother's middle and her Mother's first name. Roesli being a German dimunitive of 'Rose'. With our Asha having our Father's mother's name Alice as one of her 4 names - we now have both of our wonderful praying "Omas" (German for Grandmother) remembered in the lives and liveliness of our kids.


In a land far away from us - a train has been hijacked. The whole train taken hostage by Maoist fighters.

That land is where we were working for 4 years. The station the Naxalites boarded the train was Barwadih - just 10 minutes from Daltonganj where we used to alight and take a 45 minute jeep ride to the Nav Jivan Hospital in Tumbagarah.

Once again, the contradictions of our large and confusing land raises its head. On one hand we are able to produce the cheapest car in the world, even shifting the manufacturing plant at the drop of a hat when political issues get in the way. On the other hand our medical corporates manage to be seen as world-beating entrepreneurs. And yet vast swathes of our nation are places people are fleeing from - places where the most archaic colonial style governance takes place - as the elites and plebians alike consider them basket-cases.

How will the current train hijack end? Will the Maoists melt away into the forests as they have done so far. Will the small communities that live in the rain-fed uplands of Jharkhand continue to grudgingly give them shelter? Quite likely - at least in the forseeable future. Why? Sometimes it is the point of a gun - sometimes out of admiration for people who stand up against other powers - and other times of the choosing a lesser evil.

Many will flee this India and go for a different world of the cities and a few will break out and go abroad. But the vast majority are still tied to place. Here in Mall-town India we forget this. The day to day illusions of commerce and trade and services at the click of a mouse cloud our vision. The sweat and toil of those who live in 12 hour power cuts - or where the copper wires have been stolen so that the 'electrified villages' do not get any power at all - are far from our urban minds.

Until the rumblings of a train hijack take us there reluctantly.

But what was I saying ... the IPL Cricket tournament is on! This news-smooze is just a time-pass yaar - change the channel to something more lively... Lets watch Yuvi hit some sixes and see the cheer leaders and...

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Jesus took his disciples away for some time. To be with Him. To rest. To be recharged.

As the mercury soars – we very much need the same.

And so we went.

Sunita and Lata enjoy some very sweet chickoos on the train to Kedgaon.

We went as a team to the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission in Kedgaon. 5 hours by train from Thane. In the heat. A dry and interior place.

But also a place of truth and light. A place where for 120 years people have been blessed.

We chose “walking in the light” as our theme.

The main speaker was the Holy Spirit Himself. And the Word. We were amazed by the depth to which we were able to go. By the relevance and insight each session had to who we were and what we are doing.

Life is short. We want to live in the light. We realize again and again that what Jesus said is truth – He is the light of the world – and so are we. Reflecting His light through who we are, and what we do, and how we do it.

We were only at Mukti for 2 days - but what days they were.

Times for prayer. Below an extended early morning prayer time complete with a symbolic seven-fold march around the chapel as we prayed for the local churches in Thane.

Time for fellowship and reflection. Time for worship and inputs from the Word.

Time for fun and frolicking together. How about a water balloon toss anyone? Its amazing how quickly a bucket full of water balloons can be popped when you are tossing them and catching using dupattas - esp. when 3 or 4 balloons are in the fray at the same time...

Time to hone skills that are often dormant in the work-serve-work world we are in while serving with JSK in Thane. A Christiano Ronaldo in the making?

Time to show each other that we love each other. We finished off the far-too-short and yet wonderfully-blessed-and-much-to-be-remembered time at Mukti by washing each others feet and then celebrating the bread and wine together.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 1 John 1.7

Surreal Part 2

The elections continue to bubble away. Already millions have cast their votes in the Naxalite affected parts of our country. At least 30 paramilitary / police have been killed in violence so far – including some very close to where we used to work at Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand.

But here in Mumbai / Thane-land the sheer inanity continues. On a hot and sweaty afternoon, I spotted this vehicle with its engine on – air-conditioner going – and the driver sleeping inside. Perhaps waiting for the evening campaigning. One the front of the vehicle there is a prominent “PRAISE THE LORD” emblazoned across the top of the windscreen. On the back the cheery greeting seen in the picture above.

On top of this chariot we see the beatific face of Ms. Mayawati – a cunning and hard-bitten politician who is riding the caste-based wave to power – and has never hid her ambition to become the first Dalit prime minister – and doing whatever it takes to get there.

Her local candidate looks like he has been just let out on parole. The Marxists across the country want to prop up Mayawati as an alternative to the Congress and BJP blocks - but are in a real pickle since many of these gents who are candidates of the ‘Elephant’ have declared assets in the tune of crores.

Our nation does require justice. Caste and class discrimination is rife. There are many ceilings – forget glass – for most the ceilings are concrete and brick and mud. But the track-record of most of those who don the mantle of social justice to get things done through politics is just as murky as those who they are replacing.

Mukti Mission

The poor will always be among you.

And so will the destitute – at least until our Lord returns.

Thank God for places like the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission – which is in its 120th year of caring and rehabilitating the destitute. People like Mrs. Tamin – who was living outside on the pavement at Happy Valley, where we live. Mrs. Tamin’s brother and in-laws live nearby – but she was abandoned after her husband’s death last year. This Marathi lady who was highly pregnant when our staff first noticed her – and who gave birth to a beautiful little girl which our staff helped name as “Esther.”

Giri, Lata and Sunita at Pandita Ramabai's modest gravesite

After repeated efforts to get Mrs. Tamin’s brother to take her in, we found ourselves looking for places where this abandoned woman could go – only Mukti Mission seemed a real option. Just as we were about to send her, however, a local social worker took Mrs. Tamin to the police station – and had her give up the child to a remand home. Mrs. Tamin thought that they were both being looked after – but found out to her horror that her 2 week old baby was taken away from her. She was literally driven away. Again.

It was enough to send her around the bend. And it did. Somehow she had a tract on which Lata, one of our JSK staff had written her phone number. Mrs. Tamin called Lata up and was guided back to Thane. But now she was in a worse condition than before. Clearly mentally disturbed she sat on the pavement in front of Happy Valley in the cold, gesticulating, mad.

After much spadework and advocacy we were finally able to get the child back to Mrs. Tamin – and both admitted at Mukti Mission.

The next 2 months were a deep struggle for our friends at Mukti as they grappled with Mrs. Tamin’s mental unbalance – but the child has thrived and with the loving and firm care – and much prayer and love by the dear people at Mukti - Mrs. Tamin too has slowly returned to her right mind.

The story is not yet over. But just one of the many miracles that keep taking place at Mukti Mission. Pandita Ramabai started Mukti with prayer – and saw many miracles over her years of leadership. Times when there was no food and when it arrived miraculously at the gate. The current administrator – Mr. Jagdish Solanki shared that he has seen the miracles continue. On one Christmas there was a severe cash shortage. It looked like it would not be possible to do anything for the almost 2000 who make up the Mukti Community. But then amazingly a man came and decided to give Rs. 1,25,000 in cash! Enough for all the girls to get dresses and for all to have a Christmas dinner.

Daniel with Nivedan - Rahul and Varsha's son at the main entrance to Mukti Mission

So this was the place that we as the JSK team were destined to go to for our Staff retreat for 2009. And what a time we had…

Thursday, 16 April 2009

A mirage?

The power goes off at 4 PM every afternoon now.

With the delight of April's sun burning its way across the sky - our little office with its silent fans suddenly becomes a sweatbox.

This afternoon I was talking with a potential staff member - and we abandonned the office to sit out by the side of the road.

Deep in conversation, we were suddenly interrupted by a big Toyota Qualis with a huge saffron flag on the front.

A rousing "hallelujah" came from within - and there - as large a life were a bunch of pastors riding in a Shiv Sena vehicle.

"Praise the Lord" one said loudly to me - "we were looking for you."

I doubt they were. But anyway, up I get.

The surreality only got worse. I am told that the driver has had an attack by Satan. "Please pray for him." I am about to - and am then urged to go around the other side to the driver himself. As I come to him I can see the pamphlets for the local Shiv Sena candidate prominently displayed on the front wind-screen. These chaps are clearly in bed with the Sena.

I pray. What else to do?

The merry padres then tell the driver to head off.

Writing all of this seems too bizarre to be true. But its the absolute veracity. A bunch of pastors is driving around in Shiv Sena vehicle, promoting the cause of the Sena for the upcoming elections - and telling all and sundry that they are doing it to protect and build up the Christian minority community.

Politics makes for some pretty strange sights...

Stay tuned as we plunge into a month of elections - with the outcome being anyone's guess.

Lord help us. Keep us from mocking our leaders. Let us genuinely plead with You for justice and truth and sanity to roll like a river across our dear land.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

on top of a hill

We went up the hill yesterday.

Its a ridge that always seemed huge when we first moved to our flat at Happy Valley 5 years ago. Then 2 years ago we got to the top for the first time with our church youth.

With the kids having grown stronger (no more carrying them) and our awe of the distance dissappearing - we now are able to go up on a whim.

Like yesterday afternoon.

There we were at 5.30 PM at the bottom of the hill. And then just before 6 on the top. To our right, Thane was splayed out in sun-drenched splendour. The profusion of tall buildings catching the setting sun light - the air clear and cool - we were able to see well beyond the creek to Bhiwandi. Was that Kalyan in the distance?

But it was to the left that the magic really lies.

You cross over the gap and come... to a different world. Not a highrise - or lowrise (i.e. slum) in sight. Just hills. A few small neat shelters that the local villagers use seasonally. 2 small huts off to the side nestled in trees with smooth courtyards. And most of all - silence. Just the breeze and the rustle of leaves.

As we were sitting enjoying the evening we saw a small girl and a man in the distance. She went back and squatted down. He stayed on the path and then was joined by 3 of 4 others. One of these was a spirited girl in her early teens. She had a ball and was engaging a man who had a stick in an impromtu cricket game. She threw the ball. He swung wildly. They switched with no better results. The ball was never hit in flight. They were too far for us to hear what they were saying, but the delight and sheer fun communicated across the small valley. Backlit by the setting sun, the small puffs of dust made by happy feet still remain in my mind's eye.

We played the "thankfulness game" each one of us telling 2 things we were thankful for. Rishav and Urvashi were with us and it was wonderful to be thankful under the high bank of clouds that shimmered the sky ceiling vaunted far above us.

Being the oldest I was last.

Here is one of the things I was grateful for: The colour green. That single tree showing her pale green leaves in the slanting sun. Down there against the blacks and greys of burnt fields. Magical.

The colour green - because without cholorphyl we would be toast. How amazing that something so hard-working, efficient and versatile - would be so soothingly beautiful. Once again the whole bit of truth and beauty making itself known!

We did not want to come back down to the city. But here we are - back in Gotham!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Thane ART Centre

Some sobering thoughts.

With the roll-out of anti-retroviral therapy we now have over 4500 people signed up at the ART centre at the Thane Civil Hospital.

I visited the centre to meet with the District Programme Officer of the newly set up District AIDS Prevention and Control Unit - which is part of the Government's National AIDS Control Organisation.

I passed a long snaking line of people - all HIV positive - holding their cards and standing in line to pick up their monthly medications.

This is a programme - which though there are short-comings - is working. Each one of those in the line has the disease that is working to reduce their immunity - but the meds that they are coming faithfully for is making a difference. They are alive. Without the meds most of them would be dead. Its as simple as that.

Having said the basic truth - there is so much room for increasing access. We need not only one centre for the district (for which we are of course grateful - esp. since 2 years ago the number of ART centres in Thane was zero). We need multiple centres. We need places where people can come without fear. We need access to care that can bring the thousands of lives who do not have ART meds into the land of the living.

Yesterday we heard some exciting news. The government is planning to set up "Link ART Centres" where they are willing to have private players start providing ART medications. We are obviously very interested. Keep us in your prayers as we consider the ins and outs of what we had been hoping for all along.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Booted out!

Today's Indian Express carries the masterful cartoon of Jagdish Tytler - old style Congress politician - and accused of spurring on the anti-Sikh riots in 1984.

Look closely and you will see that the trade-mark goatee of Mr. Tytler is replaced with a boot print. The reference is to a shoe that was thrown at our home-minister a few days ago by a Sikh journalist, who was protesting at the 'clean chit' given to Mr. Tytler by the Central Board of Investigation - just in time for the general elections this month.

The Congress party has done an about turn after trumpeting Mr. Tytler's 'innocence' in the light of the CBI report. Yesterday it unceremoniously dropped Mr. Tytler and another veteran politician as their candidates from prestigious parts of Delhi.

I think that the shoe throwing epidemic has gotten clearly out of hand. The Bible teaches us to respect those in authority - even ones whom we are pretty sure are not adhering to the Shalom life. Daniel serving under the often brutal Kings of Babylon / Persia comes to mind. Paul speaks pretty clearly on this.

But what is more interesting to me is how shame seems to be the weapon of choice - and seems to catalyse some form of action - even if only temporary. We have had committee after committee examine the various atrocities / riots / communal clashes etc. and very, very rarely does anyone get convicted.

A single shoe - thrown at the Home Minister - not even at Mr. Tytler - has cascaded into Mr. Tytler being policitically too hot for Congress to handle. They are not admitting guilt in any way, but they want to distance themselves from a potential embarassment. Shame at work.

Someone said that in our society the concept of sin is not being found out. Not causing disgrace to your family / clan / jati / group. This certainly seems to be bourne out in the way that many cases are handled. We keep hearing the canards that 'our boys are good boys - they would never do something like that' etc.

But lets look east. In Cambodia an amazing trial is taking place:
The Khmer Rouge’s former chief executioner asked for Christian forgiveness this week on the witness stand. Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, is charged with overseeing the radical regime’s S-21 torture prison, where more than 12,000 Cambodians lost their lives.
A man who is credited with overseeing the torture and killing of so many is now asking for forgiveness. Can such a man be forgiven? He is the only one from his generation and seniority who is doing so. The difference between Duch and his colleagues who were active in the killing fields is that Duch has professed a conversion to following Jesus Christ. Press reports vary widely in their take on this - with some stating that Duch claims he was just following orders - to others (such as the one quoted above) talking about Duch asking forgiveness for his actions and taking responsibility for them.

I have yet to hear a single person - a single one - big or small - ask forgiveness for what they did against another religious community here in our beloved land of Bharat.

There is an emotional scene in the movie Gandhi which comes to mind: where the leaders of the various bands of rioters come into the room and throw their weapons down at the feet of the hunger-fasting Gandhi. Sadly, that seems to only happen in the movies.

We are a country poor in forgiveness - both the asking of it - and the giving of it.

Till true repentence comes - till real forgiveness happens - we will continue to have shoes hurled. And worse.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Last day of (pre)school

Enoch is already an educational veteran.

Having just turned 6 years old - he already has 4 years of school behind him!

He started out at Vasant Vihar Playmate Preschool in the Nursery section the year we moved to our Happy Valley flat - 2005. He was 2 years and 5 months old then. He then went on to junior Kindergarten next year. Near the end of that year we decided that he really wasn't ready for the next step - and encouraged by the wise words of Susan from our church - we talked to the school and asked them to let Enoch 'repeat' his Junior KG.

The school management was surprised (normally people ask the other way - can my son / daughter be moved up a year) but agreed. And so Enoch had a 'Second Jr. KG'.

This year he was in Senior Kindergarten - and has been enjoying it for the most part. The school is run by a Jain Trust (complete with a statue of Saraswati - the goddess of learning) in the main entrance foyer) and is quite forward thinking at the pre-school level. No tests. No telling in advance what the students are going to learn in order for their parents to mug up on it.

We have prayed every day with Enoch before he goes to school. He now has come to the last day of pre-school. This June he starts Standard 1. Hooray for education! Another 12 years of study stretch out ahead of this little man!

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Bombay House

Far from the maddening crowd - on the first shoulder of the hill top that is Khandala at the top of the Western Ghats lies the town of Khandala. A small place - where the Hindi author Prem Chand once lived - it is usually just passed in a moment by folks moving towards Pune or the more well-known 'hill station' of Lonavala.

For the Eichers, Khandala has been a small gem over the years. Early in our growing up one of Dad's missionary friends allowed us to use a house they had there for the occassional family weekend. We would walk up to the place from the small railway station and spend a weekend in the rain, reading Readers Digests and enjoying the quiet.

Then there was the famous (infamous) Easter weekend hike undertaken by the Mumbai Eichers. We set out to walk up to Khandala from Karjat. It was a 2 day hike for us (I was about 13 at the time) and we seriously underestimated how little water there would be in April on the way. We were badly dehydrated by the time we got to the missionary's bungalow.

Finally, since we came to Thane, we discovered the Convent of Jesus and Mary. This beautiful place - called "Prayer House" hosted us for two memorable weekends early in our time in Thane.

What better place to go for our joint 40th B-day weekend - especially as Sheba's birthday was on the Saturday?

The only hitch was that the sisters in Prayer House were having their own retreat that weekend. So they helpfully suggested that we request the neighbouring sisters in Bombay House to accomodate us.

This they did. Bombay house is over 200 years old it seems. Built as a missionary convent it felt like we stepped back in time.

Which we had, of course. The ancient wooden timbers, and the palatially high ceilings, the crumbling glory of the large empty place brought to mind both Enid Blighton stories of castles and skulduggery - as well as the more austere thoughts of the early nuns and their life out in the jungle areas.

Jungle was exactly what we wanted. The place is situated in a lovely strip of forest that is part of the diocesian land, and the bamboo thickets and second growth trees make for a beautiful strip of birds and quiet. Just how jungly it is was reinforced by the nuns telling us on our welcome that one had gone to take one of their dogs to the vet - because an animal had attacked it and damaged its throat. Monkeys don't do that - but leopards do.

Asha and Enoch enjoyed the trees and rocks.

As did their happy parents.

We did have a few small mishaps: it turned out much hotter than we imagined - and we were much more tired than we thought - hence slept a lot - and Asha managed to step on a thorn which went clear through her shoe sole into her foot. Asha's foot hurt her for most of the time - but we managed to overcome these with a smile and prayer - and enjoyed a most wonderful time together.

There is nothing like having a family Sunday worship in the shade of a large clump of bamboo - overlooking the view down the Ghats.

It was entirely appropriate to remember Palm Sunday - when the pitifully small crowd welcomed the Prince of Peace - riding on a donkey into the dusty city of Jerusalem. The four of us worshipped this once and coming King through song and prayer and word out on the hillock overlooking His creation.

As Asha and Enoch grow up - one of our goals as a family is to give them a wealth of wonderful memories. Through the generosity of our friends, and through the grace of God operating in real-time, we experienced some of that this weekend.

It seemed barely possible that we were already heading back to the station after saying good bye to the dear Nuns of Bombay House. When shall we meet Sister Serena, Sister Jude and Sister Anthony? Hopefully soon!


OK, many years after rock-climbing yours trully couldn't resist a bit of bouldering.

The face is approached!

And up we go - this is fun - and easy it seems!

Nice warm, solid, blasted rock from an old quarry face.

Aha! Near the top the problem starts.

How to get up the last bit.

Just before the top I come to a slight overhang. Legs start to wobble. Am I losing my grip?

Meanwhile below me the young ones are trying out their own moves.

To cap it all - our mobile starts ringing in my pocket - I am starting to get nervous and my leg is starting to shake. The shoes are also quite loose and slippering - definitely not suited for rock-climbing. Really wish I had a rope from above at this point.

But, ah! A solid hand hold. An old root which had worked its way into the rock. I tested it and found it to be absolutely solid.

With this beauty of a hold I was able to take control of things. Mobile. Switch it off - and put it up on the top. Now to take off that shoe - up it goes too. One foot barefoot, one foot shoed - I now look for another handhold.

Found one. A mantle shelf manuever and up I go.

It all looked very easy afterward. But there were moments of panic (and prayer by Sheba who took these shots).

The next day we have the turn of the younger generation.

Not the same face, but still wonderful to climb up with them a bit.

Onward, higher!

A sober note

Amidst all the blessings we have received as a family - this note:

Last night we admitted a woman who the government hospital would not take.

Her leg was gangrenous. She was bloated. They said she did not need admission.

We nursed her through the night.

This morning she died.

Another person with HIV who has left this world. Leaving behind a teenaged son, a daughter who recently eloped and an early twenties son.

There are many strands to this story, but we have lost another friend. Her neighbours - two HIV positive ladies who help in cleaning the JSK - saw it all. We need lots of healing as we live through these deaths.

No newspapers will carry her death. It will be a quiet cremation. One of the many taking place as the disease continues

Monday, 6 April 2009

80 year celebration

We were blessed to have 80 plus folks gather on the evening of the 2nd of April to join us in thanking God for 40 years of Andi and 40 years of Sheba!

Meeting on the terrace of our building, just above our flat, on a warm summer evening we were able to review the amazing 4 decades we have lived through. Charting our lives over the years in a presentation peppered with priceless shots from our kiddie and not-so-kiddie days (thanks Mum and Amma for sending the pics!) we were amazed to see just how good God has been to us over the years.

Over and over again we came up to this simple but vital reality: we are blessed. Blessed with wonderful, sacrificial parents. Blessed with the knowledge that we are loved and accepted for who we are. Blessed with amazing siblings. Blessed with tremendous educational opportunities, wonderful teachers, loyal friends. Blessed to know Jesus from an early age. Blessed with parents and grand-parents who prayed for us. Daily. Blessed with superb opportunities to put our training into action, to work with some of the most challenging people around. Blessed with colleagues and church-members who are broken and brittle like us - but who are being moulded into the image of our Lord.

This God-drenched sharing was followed up by a short and stirring meditation on the Bible by Stanley Nelson. He looked into one of the many overlooked couples in the Bible: Jehosheba and Jehoiada. Princess and Priest. Married to each other. She took the initiative to hide the only true heir to the throne and both nurtured and prepared the boy king Joash for his eventual rule (2 Chronicles 22:10-12). The key that Stanley brought out was this couple's willingness to put down their own opportunities in favour of what God wanted. She being a princess could have legitimately staked her claim to the crown - or her children's claims - he being an astute and popular leader could have put himself foward too. The end result was a kingship that flourished under their guidance - and Jehoaida being buried with the kings. Would that we will be faithful and not use our positions to pursue our own selfish gain (Isaiah 32.8). On the other hand -what opportunities their are - big and small - to see the wonders of the Kingdom lived out in our midst, in our time!

After the talking there was time to eat! Chicken biryani makes anyones day in our opinion!

Towards the end of this time of celebration I noticed something. My upper cheeks were hurting. Then I realised why - I had been smiling so much that the smiling muscles hurt. The last time they had hurt like that was at our wedding at the end of 99! Hopefully it will not be another 10 or 40 years before that happens again!

We are so grateful for all our dear friends who turned out in force - and the many friends and family members who have been praying, sending greetings and loving us from a far. What a rich inheritance we have!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Milestones Part II

Just could not resist posting this picture of Sheba as a baby. Who would have known then the paths that she has travelled - and the many, many lives whom she has touched.

How much potential there is in each child, in each life!

We are so grateful for all that we have received - and want to be good stewards of the days that we are given.