Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Psalms Red in Tooth and Claw

We like our religion tame. Most of us do that is.

When they were with us 10 days ago (or was it 100 years ago?) Alistair and Merryn Appleby left us with a lovely gift - a CD called Shelter by the Sons of Korah.

The opening track really gripped me.

A dark throbbing set of sounds, with various indic instruments blended in reminded me almost instantly of the opening to Apocalypse Now when Jim Morrison crooned 'This is the end, my friend' as the green jungles erupted in flames from the US choppers.

'Contend with those
who contend against me,
fight against those
who fight against me'

starts the vocals - almost at a whisper. You hardly believe what you are hearing.

'Take up the shield and the buckler'

'Brandish the spear and the javelin, against those who pursue me'

Not your normal Sunday school stuff. Not the whole wishy-washy world of 'worship' muzak which seems to be the normal fare for most evanjellyfish.

This is a heart-stopping, pulse grinding cry for justice - and for help - by a man who was on the run.


His cry for a javelin to be brandished comes after he himself had a spear thrown at his head.


I found myself immersed in the music. The unfamiliar strains of a call for true vengeance forcing me to think and rethink. Surely you can't be singing something like that? I mean - its not done isn't it?

And yet there it is in scripture. Psalm 35. Black on white.

The psalmist knows with the crystal clarity that terror evokes - he knows that evil is real. He knows that he is being hounded. He knows that those pursuing him are not people who want to give him flowers. He knows that evil is very, very real.

A quick look around us today tells us that the odd millenia has not changed to human heart too much. Last week's paper tells about a young rag picker who was forced by a policeman to pick up a severed human head from the tracks of a Mumbai train accident. The young boy seems to have lost his mind. There are hundreds upon hundreds of untold stories of rape and sexual abuse that swirl untold around us.

David's voice cries out for vengeance - for the forceful saving of those being hounded - and for the correct repayment to those who are pursuing with the scent of blood driving them on.

This is the stuff of every boy's fantasy. Taking on the bad guys. Blasting them to oblivion. And that is what it would seem at the first listen to David's cry.

But here is the catch. David is not asking God for a glock in his hand. He is not crying out for the opportunity to personally inflict retributional violence on his enemies.

David is asking God to do the work of vengeance. This is one area that humans have no right to encroach on. "Vengeance is mine" says the Lord.

And as I read through the accounts of David's fleeing from Saul, I see that David put his verses into action.

When given the opportunity to kill Saul, he doesn't.


The man who sings 'Brandish the spear and the javelin, against those who pursue me' chooses not to kill when he has Saul at his mercy.

Not to kill when his followers urge him on using religious words "The Lord has given him into your hands" they tell David - urging him to make a swift sword stroke to end Saul. Offering to do the job for him if David does not want to.

David gives Saul a fearful symmetry of grace. Two times David does not let the sword hand slip - for the two spear shots (missed) that Saul had aimed at his own head.

But David's act is just a shadow of the supreme act of vengeance held back.

As the nails were being driven through Jesus' hands - he could have called on the legions of angels to avenge and repay the terrible injustice done to him.

Instead Jesus calls out to Father God saying 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.'

As a boy Jesus would have sung Psalm 35, and with his other Jewish friends, they may have dreamed of a land free of the iron shod boots of the Romans, and of the terrible oppression by the Quislings who ran Judea at the time for Rome.

But as an adult Jesus said: "you have heard it said, 'love your neighbours and hate your enemies' - but I tell you love your enemies and do good to those you oppress you."

Harder words have seldom been said. But like David - and even more than him - Jesus puts what He says into action.


Back to the Sons of Korah's version of Psalm 35.

After the initial throbbing lyrics the music soars. "Say to my soul, I am your salvation"

The man on the run is still desperate, he is still on the run, and he is clinging on to hope, and he is desperate to have the courage and faith to cling to that belief.

... you know I'm still running

Monday, 26 September 2011


We sent a man for surgery at one of the main goverment hospitals. He was HIV positive and had a blood clot - and needed emergency surgery.

Our staff went to check up the next day to see how it went.

It didn't.

The man - we will call him Michael - was not operated on.

Not because of his HIV status. That we have experienced before.

But this time it was because the municipal workers were on strike. And since the hospital is staff largely by the municipality... no work was done. The reason for the strike? Wages.

Only a week earlier, there had been another strike. This was by the interns - medical students who had finished their studies and were now on their 1 year internship. The reason for the strike? Violence against doctors. That week a mob of people had barged in after a sudden death of a patient - and began smashing up the hospital and beating the doctor who had handled the case.

And this does not only happen in government hospitals.

Last week a mob beat up all the doctors and a number of senior nurses at the Mission Hospital in Chhatarpur. A lady had been admitted and then passed away suddenly. The relatives and others let mayhem loose. The hospital shut down for a day and senior administrators rushed in from Delhi to meet with the police and others.

And the story goes on. Adversarial relationships in health care. What used to be a sacred trust is hardly that at all.

My mind goes back to a mob that smashed some glass in the hospital where I was working in Jharkhand. A doctor friend of ours was just behind the glass and miraculously did not get hurt from all the splinters. It is not surprising that she does not practice in a mission hospital in the North anymore. While this incident is not the only reason - it did leave a very sour taste - esp. when 'relatives' of the deceased filed a case in the consumer courts that dragged on for years. And was especially nasty since the mother was illiterate - and whoever was behind the case was clearly hoping for some kind of an under the table pay off by the 'rich doctors' who had come to work in their area.

What is taking place in medicine is a sad microcosm of what is taking place across our land. We have an electoral process - but too many groups resort to muscle power. An exhibition of holy books that doesn't meet your standards? Barge in and smash. An alleged insult to a particular community in a film? Rip down posters and burn. Not enough jobs in the police for a certain tribe? Block roads and burn trucks. An artist who has insulted a particular group? Break up his exhibitions wherever they are and force him to go to the gulf for his dear life. The list goes on and on.

I think that besides a genuine hunger to be rid of the all-pervasive corruption that helped propel last month's Anna-Hazare-led popular movement onto all - there is also another angle. I think the desire to see something happen without violence - tapped into the heart of a new generation.

Yes - a lot of it was far more premeditated than it looked - esp. the flags waving about and the TV teams swooping in to interview and record 'people's anger' etc.

But for a brief moment there was something that people felt they could belong to. A reason to go out and demand something. A cause to be proud of.

The candles may be cliched. The slogans and the white 'Anna Topis' (the traditional Maharashtran hat that no-one other than elderly villagers wear these days) with their snappy slogans 'I am Anna' - already seem sepia-toned (until the next fast fof course - but how many can the good man do?).

But here is the rub - how much better all of that than what is now the norm - bullies who barge in to beat up. 'Political Activists' who force people to shut down shops and stay off the roads for some vague demand or other. 'Guardians of morality' whose own actions speak of gross cruelty. And whose 'services' can be purchased by the highest bidder too...

May a thousand candles burn. Always better than the tyranny of the few in the name of the many.

And that goes for the Anna-brigade too!

Thursday, 22 September 2011


A decade!


Sometime in 2002 the Jeevan Sahara Kendra began.

Was it when Dr. Stephen Alfred attended the "Prescription for Hope" conference in the US and came back convinced that something more should be done for people with HIV in the Mumbai area?

Was it when local churches and NGOs were called together to think and pray and see whether a new step could be taken?

Was it when the name "Jeevan Sahara Kendra" was coined by our friends Basil Desouza and Jairaj at Covenant Blessings Church?

Was it when Ashley and Robert - our first field staff started visiting homes under the guidance of Naomi Nathan in August 2002?

Was it when Sheba and I felt that she should use her clinical and community health skills to directly care for people with HIV - and so we as a family of 3 (with Enoch well on the way) moved to Thane in November 2002?

Was it our first church training that we started in the December 2002?

The fact is that sometime during this year of 2002 what is now the Jeevan Sahara Kendra family got under way. We started our baby steps of looking after people who had HIV in Thane. We began working with local churches to help them love people with AIDS. We began our own (often painful) process of growth and caring and living with our friends who have HIV.

Its been a journey and continues to be one!

Tonight we are expecting about 200 odd friends, partners, well-wishers, pray-ers - members of our extended JSK family to join us in celebrating Jeevan Sahara Kendra's 10th year of service.

For those of you who are not able to be with us 'in the flesh' - we want to say a heartfelt "THANK YOU!" for walking along with us on this journey!

Thus far has the Lord helped us - we know He is walking with us as we move into this 10th year - and beyond!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

guests from a far-off land...

In the beginning was an email.

Alistair is taking a sabbatical ... and we are plotting and planning where we will go... our flight goes through Mumbai... a couple of days with you guys?

In the interim, the sabbatical has become a full-fledged tour - with a cricket hook. Our friends Alistair and Merryn Appleby - with their lovely lads Sam and Luke - are touring the world with a plastic cricket bat! They intend to wield the willow in at least 4 continents (the Americas are spared this time it seems) and are writing about their travels too: Around the World in 80 Wickets!

We had been looking forward to their visit for months - and as the day approached Enoch was wondering - what would the boys be like? He even had instructions for Asha to scope them out before he got back from his school and tell if they were 'nice' or 'bullies'.

The former. Very much so.

The four kids got together like a house on fire.

pic courtesy M. Appleby

From morning till night there were various games going - starting with the world-uniting Uno and then progressing to various other ones. The prince of games was an elaborate role-playing Lego world that the four created and sustained throughout the weekend the lads were with us!

We adults managed to squeeze in cups of tea and conversations. It is really amazing to see how Alistair and Merryn have structured their lives in the highlands of Scotland. Alistair serves as a GP doctor and also oversees the training and continuous medical education of junior doctors across the highlands. Merryn is a writer and teacher and organiser of the 7 month odessy that the family is on.

They asked us what we did to relax - and we looked blankly at each other.

But one thing we were able to do - have a little walk in the countryside. Once you step into the Sanjay Gandhi National Park - its like you are in a diferent country.

At the top you see this on one side:

And this on the other side:

If you were a butterfly fluttering by you would also have seen this scene: The Appleby and Eicher families enjoying a snack on the top!

It was like a mixture of Enid Blyton (the food and the appetites) and CS Lewis (the door to another world).

The slight drizzle added just the right zest (and delighted the younger lot who refused to wear their rain gear).

And made the going down all the more exciting!

But wait a minute - our friends were here for a cricket match weren't they?

Well - we found no flat spot on the top - and whatever land available was all overgrown with dense foliage - so we had to make do with a small clearing near the forest gate.

Need wickets? Improvise!

pic courtesy M. Appleby

Our guests were clearly seasoned cricketers - but we all made a lusty go at it - before the whistles of the park guards chased us (and the couples who frequent the park) out!

pic courtesy A. Appleby

Dinner was a treat by the Applebies - with dairy products being tested for their tensile properties!

The next day we worshipped at the home of Jolly and Suma Thomas - it was a goodbye to our dear friend Arvind Singh who is being posted in another city - and a kind of farewell to Thomas who is leaving batchelorhood this Saturday! A potluck lunch was dug into by one and all.

And then - oh too soon - we were saying good-bye to Alistair, Merryn, Sam and Luke!

Enoch was very blue the next day - saying that he 'wants more friends who have good imaginations'!

They left him with something to smile about though - a thrilling new lego set!

Farewell dear Applebys! May the wickets fall with joy wherever your feet tread on this journey!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

77 not out

This Saturday we ran an HIV testing and counselling camp with a local church in Navi Mumbai.

Its a church that is made up of people who live in shanty-towns. This outreach was an opportunity for the members to bring in friends and families and educate them about the risks of HIV. But more than just talk about HIV - those who came were encouraged to get themselves tested and remove any doubts they may have about their HIV status.

Testing is where the educational rubber hits the road. Its easy to hear a presentation about HIV. But when it comes to actually giving some blood and getting a concrete result - that's when the sweat breaks out. But that's also exactly where we want to be in helping people avoid contracting HIV in the first place.

Our team of 6 JSK staff arrived at 9 AM. In the set-up our LCD projector fell down and was not working. Prayers were said. It worked again. Mysterious ways.

The church folks did their work well. The went to the gullies and by-lanes and brought people. Daniel talked about HIV in Marathi to the crowd which had gathered at the school building being used for the camp.

Then the counselling and blood collection begain. Our 3 trained counsellors spent the afternoon talking - and were supported by the nurse who drew the samples and our other 2 staff who registered the participants and directed the traffic.

At the end of the day 77 people were tested.

77 adults, almost all of whom had some possible exposure to HIV - either through a personal exposure or through faithfulness to a partner who may have exposed themselves.

The good news: 77 non-reactive reports!

77 people who can take a deep breath and know that they are *not* HIV positive.

We are always thrilled when a person tests 'non-reactive.'

There is of course a small chance that they may have still contracted HIV if there has been less then 6 months from their last potential risk exposure - but we have yet to find someone who has tested 'positive' after an initial 'negative' test.

HIV is a terrific problem. Our team meets families every day who are groaning under the various levels of shame and pain that their HIV status brings with them. But here is a cohort of 77 people who are not HIV positive. They have so much to live for - and a big part of the post-test counselling was to help them maintain their negative status!

It also reflects the govt. estimates that in India we are not dealing with an HIV burden similar to some of the sub-Saharan countries. The Gov. of India estimates we have a 0.4% HIV positivity rate in the population - less than the 0.6% for the US.

These 77 people are not a pat on the back though - they are a challenge to not only maintain the 0.4% level - but make sure that new infections become less and less - and that people who already have HIV live longer and longer!

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Sunday call

He called me up during Sunday prayers.

The mobile was on silent so I sent him an SMS saying that I would call him later.

Then, while we as a house-fellowship were tucking into a sumptious spread of many different dishes I remembered that I had received a call from an unknown number. I dialed it and found myself speaking to Kanak (all names changed).

Kanak's sister-in-law Farah is dying. She is in a comatose state in the intensive care unit of a reputed hospital.

Farah is HIV positive. The hospital says they have done all they can. The money has drained out of Kanak's family.

Kanak checked the internet. Our name came up.

I asked Kanak to bring his sister-in-law's medical papers to show Sheba and get advice from her.

He brought a stack of papers. They said that Farah was suffering from retroviral disease (code for HIV). They detailed the steps that had been taken. She is on a ventilator right now.

Sheba talked with Kanak about what the family wanted. He said they were drained and without hope. The doctors have given Farah no chance of surviving off the ventilators - but the money has run out and the hospital will not continue to give the treatment without the cash.

We talked about a first step. The family will ask the doctors to take Farah off the ventilator and put her in a step-down ward. If she passes away - the family will take her for her last rites. If she stabilises, we will then bring her here to the JSK centre for further palliative care.

Though there is little hope of cure - we still pray with expectation. We asked Kanak if we could pray with him. He was happy for us to do so. We committed Farah and the whole family into the loving hands of Jesus.

Kanak told us about the sorrow he faced with his brother's death. "No one cared. No one is there to help." He cried. We told him he was welcome to cry if he wanted to.

"I can't cry in front of my mother" Kanak said. "She is a heart patient. It is only here that I can do this."

Kanak has left us for the posh environs of the reputed hospital. I don't think he will take much of the plushness in at this point. His sorrow and the grief that the family have gone through is deep - and hidden. HIV still does not dare speak its name.

We had no quick fixes for Kanak. But we did have a listening ear. A hand to touch him and hold him. A voice to tell him that it is alright to cry. A set of lips to pray together with him for help and peace for Farah and the whole family.

Kanak was so grateful. "I feel like a weight has been lifted from me. There was no one who understood so far."

Friday, 16 September 2011

Farewell Princess

Its not often that we are on the same email list as Tina Ambani and the National Museum for Modern Art.

But every now and then we get a delightful email from S.M. Mansoor - an artist from Pakistan and modern practitioner of the ancient art of the miniature. I had met this fascinating gentleman 4 years ago on one of my very infrequent visits to the Jehangir Art Gallery.

His latest artistic salvo is called "Goodbye Shahzadi."

Wikipedia tells me that shahzadi can refer to a princess - but beyond that I was clueless - so I decided to write to S.M. Mansoor himself.

He responded immediately:

dear andi eicher,

this conceptual portrait belongs to mrs. benazir bhutto ex-prime minister of pakistan.

she was assassinated four years back during public address by suicide bomber in Rawalpindi.

so, you can observe the hardships & coming dangers ( angry black cloud on her head ) in her life.

which, i have mentioned earlier through this portrait on her first day to enter in pakistan after eight years self claimed asylum.

so, this is a sad & brief story behind the portrait.

dear, still. i remember you. because, we met in jahangir art gallery in bombay & you showed deep interest towards visual art.

might be with the reference of your sister.

i would like to invite you in lahore-pakistan hub of cultural activities like new delhi.


prof.s.m.mansoor artist/author/art educationist. lahore-pakistan
Art knows no boundaries. Or better said - Art can cross boundaries. Though it is not always easy.

However one may feel about Benazir Bhutto - the sadness of the face and the formal twist of the neck speak volumes.

Hearing from Mansoor that his painting was about Benazir resonated with me. As a 5th standard school-boy in 1979 I had stood up for a minute of silence. Our school had heard the news that her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (an 'old-boy' of my then school - Cathedral and John Connon) had been hanged by Gen. Zia.

A picture - even a very small picture - can pack a punch.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Cat's eyes

The great lumbering twin challenges of finding an effective cure for HIV infection and a stable efficient vaccine continue to lurch forward.

Every now and then we have sparks of hope. Last year the proof of cure for HIV infection was shown in the now famous 'Berlin Patient.' The actual treatment he went through (bone marrow grafting for leukeamia which an additional bonus of using stem cells from a donor who had an HIV-inhibiting mutation) almost killed the patient. He underwent the treatment because he was dying of Leukaemia. Ridding his body of HIV was a big bonus. This particular treatment is unlikely to be replicated much. But it shows that cure is possible. A 'proof-of-concept.'

Vaccine development has been much slower. Every now and then an announcement is made - only for hopes to dim again. Researchers have just not been able to get effective inhibiting agents introduced into human cells.

Enter the glowing kitties!

Recent research on preventing the Feline Immuno-defiency Virus - and HIV like virus found in cats - shows some promise. The idea is to introduce an inhibiting factor found in monkeys to cat egg cells - and see if they were resistant to future infections from FIV.

It seems to have worked. The monkey gene prevented the cats from being infected. And their progeny too.

And the glow-in-the-dark bit? That is a marker (from a jelly fish) added to help researchers know that the gene was actually transmitted.

This is not even close to being a vaccine - but offers hope as a model that is closer to humans. One where the dynamics of protective strategies can be worked out more effectively.

We know that the twin goals of cure and vaccination are possible. There is still a pretty long road ahead. But we are hopeful.

I remember being in a seminar room in New Haven in 1995 when the news came about a 'revolutionary' 3 drug treatment study in treating HIV. We were stunned by the good news of very positive outcomes - compared to the then common single-drug regime where patients quickly developed resistance to the drugs.

Today these drugs are mass produced in India and free for people with HIV. Our challenge now is to help people be stable and take the meds. We have a young man who just does not want to take the medications. He has seen his father die of the disease and prefers to cope with his own infection by denying that he needs medicines.

Whatever scientific advances are made - the actual implementation of any improvement takes place one life at a time. We are privileged to be part of that process. We look to the future and live in the here-and-now, knowing that every day is precious, every life is valuable, every action has meaning.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Take me home

We had a time of reflection with our staff today.

One questions we asked was: in the last month - what experience made you ask "Why God?"

In two separate groups (our interns whom I met with this morning - and our male staff whom I met this afternoon) the same answer was given:

An elderly woman, lying on a cot in the government hospital, begging for someone to take her home.

This woman had been dumped in the hospital. The people who brought her were gone. She was crying and asking someone, anyone to take her home.

Our staff had visited to govt. hospital to meet with people who are HIV positive. They came across this lady in her wretched state. She could hardly hear - and so they had to talk loudly to try and comunicate with her.

They felt totally powerless and angry.

We talked about this. We talked about the inhumanity we see around us. We talked about the broken state of the world and the need for healing. For justice. For forgiveness. We prayed.

There will come a time -we know - and there really will be a place where there will be no more tears. Part of the outrage that we feel in our hearts points towards this place that we have not yet experienced - but that we innately long for. A true home.

Take me home.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Kavita met me as I was leaving the centre.

We talked briefly. She said that her son was having eye problems and that his wheelchair had broken. We smiled and parted.

I went on. She went up.

When Kavita met Sheba, however, the story was a different one.

A surge, a tide of bitterness broke out. Kavita was so angry.

"You all have spoiled my life. I was fine, I was earning, I was ok before you interfered" and on and on.

Kavita included our work with that of a number of others who have been helping out her family over these years.

"You live in your big appartments and we have to keep coming and bowing to you. We have to keep saying we are sorry"

"I have not been helped at all. It has all been a waste of time."

Sheba listened.

After some time she spoke. She opened Kavita's medical files. Showed her where she had been deathly sick and it was only the intervention by JSK staff that brought her back to life.

Kavita was unmoved. She remained angry and upset.

Over the past years a number of different people have helped Kavita and her three sons. The help has been consistent and caring. The help has come through weak and normal people - who are certainly not perfect. In the last few years the help has been through a local faith community which does have certain standards - ones that Kavita did not want to follow.

She left them over two years ago, but is still angry.

When Sheba told me later about the time with Kavita, my mind went back to the very beginning of our work in Thane. We looked after Kavita's husband as he was dying. In his last days he asked forgiveness from her. I thought back on those early days - to the time when Kavita had tried to commit suicide by consuming poison - while her crippled son prayed to Jesus to save her. Neighbours had broken in and rushed her to the hospital where her stomache was pumped and she was saved. I remember her courageously talking about the incident in our small HIV positive friends support group. She was at peace with it and thanked God for saving her.

The trajectories of our lives take us on some hard paths. We are saddened by the choices Kavita has taken over the past 5 years. Ones that have included moving in with men who are married. It has not been easy to try and help her make good choices - and we can never force a person to make steps on the path to life. We have always tried to reach out to her. Her crippled son is now in his late teens and her other two boys are living with relatives and working in odd jobs. But reaching out is a two-way street.

Kavita walked out of Sheba's consulting room a very sad and defeated woman.

We have no magic remedy. No happy pill that can be popped to make everything better. Each person has real choices. But at least Kavita is still alive. We know of at least 3 times when she was at the edge of death over the last decade. She still stands. And we still have hope for a better life than the bitter one she holds onto now.

Monday, 12 September 2011

A new picture

After years of using an image that I randomnly filched off the net it is finally time to actually post an original picture for the Chai Chats with the Eichers masthead.

Many thanks to the anonymous person whose image of a tea cup we have been using till now.

It is time to change. Besides the issue of originality, there is the question of authenticity. Though none of our gentle readers ever pointed it out - the tea in the tea cup was definitely not chai!

Take a look at the dark coloured liquid in the picture. It maybe black tea - or black coffee for that matter - but our boiled-to-carmel-milky-cardomon-flavoured chai it certainly is not!

Enter the joy of the new.

This weekend we had a lovely visit by Martin and Saro Abraham. One of the gifts that they brought were two miniature tea cups which Saro had made from paper.

Now the hard part.

Which image to use.

These cups were really, really small.

They are hand-made by Saro using strips of paper and glue.

And lots of care and attention to detail.

How many 'cups' were made and discarded in the process of crafting these two little jewels? Saro - with the humility that comes from a true craftsman - said that making them was quite simple...

Take a look at them next to a 1 rupee coin!

The tiny coin looks as if it were a dinner plate!

We were just smitten with the tiny whisp of steam coming out of the cups.

The tiny twosome have been stored safely out of harms' way - but after the mandatory photo session.

What really tickles me is that they were made especially with the Chai Chats blog in mind.

Martin and Saro have been reading Chai Chats from the very beginning (Saro I think only since she married Martin - but that is also a number of years ago now!). Their gentle words of encouragement have been greatly appreciated over the years.

And though we live in the same great sprawl of greater Mumbai - when do we actually get time to talk over chai?

This weekend was one of those precious moments we did.

What a joy to see grace and happiness pour out of our friends. As we talked while drinking our cuppas Martin and Saro were just radiant. Two people full of the glow of a life-well-lived.

Its friends like these who keep us going. People who have been quietly helping us out over the years in myriad ways. Far from the lime-light and the applause of the big stage.

These two small cups are a reminder of their love.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


Over the past month we have been admitting patients with HIV to the JSK Community Care Centre.

With each person that we serve we are reminded of the immensity of need - and our own finiteness in caring.

Mrs. Pinky was met by our staff in the civil hospital.  She was discharged with no hope left.  She came here.  Pinky was in a pitiful state.  We tried hard to revive her.

When she first came to JSK she could not talk.  After some hours she began to speak.  But we knew from the onset that it was going to be touch and go with her.

Our nurses cared for her.  Pinky's father and mother did so too.  Ageing parents looking after a dying daughter.

We did what we could.  On my Dad's 70th birthday Pinky began to slip.  In the afternoon Sheba told me that she thought Pinky was dying.  We prayed.  A few minutes later she had revived.  She was able to talk again for some time.  Sheba and Sashmita talked and prayed with Pinky.  She was able to express her readyness to be with Jesus. 

Later that evening - just as we were sitting down for a celebration dinner - the phone rang.  It was from the JSK centre.  Pinky had stopped breathing.  Sheba left the table and went over.  I held the fort.  An ambulance was arranged to take the body - Sheba talked with the family and signed the death certificates.

30 years into the HIV epidemic and we are still dealing with death.  Still dealing with gaunt cases of neglect.  Still trying to pry people back from the edge.  Still working to somehow provide love and care for those who are at the cusp of eternity.

For the last few years we have focussed on community-based home care for people with HIV.  We have seen death rates fall and so many of our friends stable and moving forward.  There are of course real challenges in each life - but we are not dealing with death day in and day out.

That has changed since we moved into the care centre.  The people who we now meet here are ones who have had virtually no care - whose HIV has been basically untreated and now they are at the end of their tether.  The word that comes to my mind is 'salvage.'  A desperate attempt to try and pull people back. 

This is taking its toll on us.  We are a small group.  We have 1 nurse on duty at a time.  3 nurses to work.  For one to take a day off means the other two need to do 12 hour shifts.  And the outcomes are largely ones where the patient dies at the end.  We want to save lives - not be a hospice.  But that is where we are right now.  For every patient who we discharge better, we seem to be writing a death certificate for the next.  That is not quite true if you look at the statistics - but it is true that we have lost 3 of our friends in the last month - and had looked after 8 patients through intensive care over this time.

Pray for Sheba as the pressure to 'perform' and utilise the premises that we have is very high.  We have a beautiful facility - but need so many more hands to care for people in such desperate situations.  

Pray for our nurses as they work with the very sick.  We are proud of the care that they are giving and know that eternity is the richer for the loving care for our very broken friends with HIV.  

Pray that we would experience some more 'happy cases' too.  We need to be encouraged to see people get better and back to life as it were! 

The other day one came back.  I noticed a man in the hall who looked familiar.  When I came close to him and saw his wife as well.  We will call her Mariam.  Mariam had a huge smile on her face and it came back to me - she was one of the first people we had admitted at the new centre.

Now here she was with her husband and a beaming pre-teen daugther, waiting for a followup with Sheba.  We know that we were able to help Mariam come back to life.  We know that she still has challenges - esp. since her husband continues to teeter through life with the ravages of the bottle taking their toll on him.  But we see hope in Mariam's eyes.

Would that we did not have to do salvage work.  But as long as HIV continues to work through our society - it looks like we are here to stay.  Sheba and I came to Mumbai 10 years ago in answer to a call.  To work through caring with people with HIV.  And to work with and through local churches.  The call came unexpectedly while we were serving at a mission hospital in Jharkand.  It was clear as a bell and we had to obey.  On the 2nd of October we will complete a decade of obedience to this call.  Though there are many times (even now) when we want to throw in the towel - we know that we must persevere.

Thanks for being along with us on this journey.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

70 years young

A special day slipped by the day before yesterday.

Our country celebrated Sept. 5th as 'Teachers Day.' Many sent SMSs to their teachers. Yesterdays newspapers splashed photos of cute kids 'teaching' others in front of black-boards festooned with A,B,Cs.

One of my greatest teachers was born 70 years ago on that day.

My wonderful father - Ray Eicher.

How do I count the ways that Dad has built me up? I can't.

But here are some snapshots.

Dad taking me along. Travelling in a car with him on a Scandinavian summer. Dad took me along as he went to visit friends in Sweden and Finland and talk about the work he was doing in India. I was all of 9 years old. In Sweden I was so taken by a family that we stayed with (who had a boy my age and were living out in a forest wonderland) that I persuaded Dad to carry on to Finland without me and pick me up on the way back. Over the years Dad included me into his work of leading a mission organisation. He explained so much of what he was doing - treating me with huge respect. His words were always helpful, even when he shared about the struggles that he was going through.

Dad leading the way on our family hikes in his beloved Kodaikanal. We were grumblers - but he moved us forward with stories. About how he and his friends would go down the Shola forests with their butterfly nets (we even took up collecting butterflies ourselves for a brief season) and bird books. On our hikes he would try and help us identify birds using the trust Salim Ali book - and would tell us about the 'whistling school-boy' - a bird whose call sounds just like the aimless whistling of a little lad on holiday. We were thrilled when we heard the uncanny notes ourselves.

Dad greeting all and sundry - wherever he goes. Our father seems to have a one-point agenda - to love everyone he meets. As a result anywhere we go with Dad he is constantly smiling, namasteing, shaking hands, saying a smattering of whatever local language is being spoken, giving out gospel portions, entering into conversations with his big smile. Truth be told - I have not always appreciated this constant barrage of good-humour from Dad which he broadcasts 360 degrees wherever he may be. My own pettyness and frank irritation often got (and still get) in the way. But looking back over the years - I will anytime say that I prefer Dad as the lover-of-every-soul rather than an aloof, self-contained person.

Dad excited by one of the 'big ideas.' Growing up the son of a preacher - I heard Dad many, many times. He speaks passionately. He speaks with the joy of sharing something that has really blessed him - and that is the current 'big idea.'

As a kid I remember hearing often about us being 'destined for the Throne.' Dad passionately shared about how each follower of Jesus is being prepared to live and rule together with Jesus for eternity - and not just sit around strumming harps - but actually administer the whole universe!

These last few years Dad tells about inner healing and forgiveness. He loves to pour his heart into helping people understand how they can forgive others - and see the amazing changes in their own broken lives through prayer, confession and deliverance.

Dad putting us first. We grew up in an open family. There were always visitors at the table. Years later when it was only the 5 of us in Mussoorie there were times when we seemed at a loss for things to talk with each other. Dad and Mum had many, many responsibilities with others - which they poured themselves into. But they worked hard to treasure us kids. Evening times were for us. Reading a book and the Bible were key. Sunday afternoons were for games. A month's holiday was taken each year. Cycle trips and other adventures peppered our times too. Looking back I just wonder how Dad was able to do it all. But am I ever grateful.

As with any man Dad made his share of mistakes. But whenever they are pointed out Dad apologises. Immediately. Sometimes he apologises so profusely that you are embarrassed even to have brought it up. Dad values openness and has modeled a life of seeking forgiveness and restoration as long as I can remember.

There is so much more that can be said.

But lets end with this.

We did not have any spectacular celebration for Dad's birthday. And I think that is what he prefers. He spent the day like he does everyday. Praying. Greeting. Blessing others. Listening. Talking. Emailing. Being.

We are very, very thankful and proud of Dad - and amazed at the 7 decades that passed since he was born at the Wanless Hospital in Miraj, Maharashtra.

at the end of the new generation of Eichers first 'overnight hike'
- Flag Hill Mussoorie, May 2011