Monday, 26 November 2012

A long walk

In the run up to World AIDS Day 2012, the UNAIDS has put out a global report on the HIV epidemic.  Called 'Results', the report is upbeat as it tells of massive reductions in new HIV infections over the last decade (700,000 less in 2011 than in 2001), huge increases in the numbers of people taking ART (8 million world wide now - over half of those eligible to take it) and big reductions in the death rates (500,000 fewer people died of HIV in 2011 than in 2006).

We celebrate this and are thrilled to see some big-picture changes!  We have seen some of these shifts first-hand in our own work.

When we started out in 2002, Jeevan Sahara Kendra was basically caring for the dying, Today our team provides a continuum of care which starts with encouraging people for testing, talking through what the results mean, helping those with HIV assess the progress of the disease, working out a treatment plan and starting on the appropriate ways of treating including in-patient admission if needed... all the way to end of life care when we see the meds just not kicking in any more and what the person and their family primarily needs is comfort care.   All along we are committed to whole-person care through listening, caring, praying, helping care-givers and linking up with people from local churches.

At the level of our friends who are living with HIV, things are still very far from being rosy.  We do see people living so much longer - but the challenges remain.  Daily.

Last Friday we reviewed the weeks work at JSK  - and these are notes about four of the priority patients that one of our home-based care team has.

a.  Mrs. Tamarian (all names changed of course) continues to suffer from long-term bleeding.  The govt. hospital has refused a hysterectomy a number of times.  Her son needs to have his viral load done, but Mrs. Tamarian is avoiding the team.  She is depressed and wants financial help, but does not take positive steps to meet regularly with the people from the local church.  Our team is frustrated by the passivity in Mrs. Tamarian - esp. with the various options that she has.

b. Mrs. Langru is living in an abusive relationship.  The man she has her child with has left his wife and is living with her, but is beating her regularly.  The team is at wits end about how to help Mrs. Langru and her small infant child.  Mrs. Langru's behaviour in the past has been erratic.  Her current choices continue this path.

c. Mrs. Nandu and her two daughters are just not taking their ART well.  Each week at least one of them will forget to take their doses.  The team has made charts, followed up repeatedly, talked and prayed with this young widow and her adolescent daughters, but real change just does not seem to take place.

d. Mrs. Bani has been taking her TB medicines from a private doctor.  She is irregular on them and needs to be shifted to free meds from the government.  The team is also trying to get her into the free treatment stream for her ART meds as she is spending a lot at this time.  Mrs. Bani seems disinterested in her treatment at present.

Four lives. Each very complicated.  Each enmeshed in various levels of relationships (or lack of relationships) with their extended family and people around them.  Our team tries to visit them regularly - to meet and understand - to encourage and to pray - to help make positive steps forward.

Its a long walk

On reading Tom Sawyer

One of the great joys of parenting is the opportunity to revisit books that you vaguely remember.  Or think you remember.  But now you get the chance to read them again.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer fall into this category.   One of Asha and Enoch's 'aunties' gave them a generous gift to buy books with - and books we did buy.  Tom Sawyer was one of the bounty and we have just finished reading through it.

I actually found myself strangely ambivalent about Tom.  Two or three chapters into the book I wondered if I even wanted to continue reading.  Tom seemed so over-the-top, so venial.

But by then Samuel Clemens had me hooked.  The rawness of the language, the wicked sarcasm of anything upright, and the sheer plunge of the story got the better of me.

This is the 'Midnight's Children' of American literature.  Instead of trying to gentrify the experience of living in still newly colonized Missourie, Mark Twain gives us a raw, guts hanging out picture of a small stuffy village at the edge of the frontier.  His Tom is an outlaw and misfit - but one who craves the fame and glory and notoriety of being the village's favourite son - on his own terms.  But Twain's genius is to give us the broken schoolboy / ruffian slang that runs like a song throughout the book.  The man obviously had an ear for what was spoken.  Like Rushdie, Twain is unapologetic about his chutnified English (American as many would call it) - allowing the cut and thrust of words of Tom and Huck Finn's conversations to pull you along deliciously.

And then there is the sheer glory of the story.  From comic set-pieces, to an out-and-out adventure (all the while poking gentle fun at the story-book romances that Tom has), to biting satire of a small-minded place, Twain has it all.  The man does tell his tales well.  The book may not be polished - but we polished it off with gusto.

Despite disclaimers that he was up to nothing serious with the story (also similar to Rushdie), it is clear that Twain has a number of axes to grind.  The first and foremost being with anything to do with religious faith.  The second is with authority in general.  Reading this in an age where sincere faith is often ridiculed a priori, it seems like Twain lived in a different era.  And so he did.  He was railing against a time when holding to a faith was considered normal if not normative, though various forms were busily competing with each other.  Similarly, his take on authority has him lampooning all forms of with the same brush.  He offers a romantic rebel as an alternative - but stops short of going all the way.  His Tom is too domesticated to live the life of Huck Finn.  Its always easier to poke fun at ordered nature of things, and then come home to a good solid meal, and the security of home.

So at the end of reading the book with Enoch (Asha had already read it on her own and sat in for some of the chapters - especially towards the end), what did I take away?

One a sheer marvel at the freshness of Twain's language.  Here is a master listener at work.  One who hears the rhythms of speech and brings the conversations alive with zest.

Secondly, I take away the picture of a society that was far from perfect, but did have various levels of social bonding.  Twain not only paints a picture of Tom and the other principal characters - but we get a picture of the whole village - complete with their religion in the church, their swarming behaviour in times of trouble, the vignettes of what life in mid 1800s America was like.  Books are such efficient time-travelling-machines.  What bliss to be transported back in time.

My third take-home is a that strangely, I also felt a shade of sadness.  Under the frivolity and gaiety Twain makes out, there is a core of humanity and dare I say it, a spiritual longing that I don't see fulfilled in the book.  Tom's bravado leaves you hungry for something deeper.

Sunday, 25 November 2012


Dear Mum,

Its already been two weeks since your birthday on the 11.11.12.   You turned 75 a fortnight ago - having seen - by God's grace - 75 spins around our nearest star.

Many have risen and called you blessed.  I would like to add my voice to the chorus.

Let me start by a conversation we had this week with a young couple from church.  They are facing the joys and challenges of raising 2 small kids.  They wanted to know what our experience was like with Asha and Enoch.  I found myself going back again and again to the structures and love and prayers that you and Dad had for the 3 of us growing up.  Who we are is because of the love that you poured into us.  Its only now as parents that we even begin to get a glimpse of all that you were for us as kids.

I think back to the journey that you have taken across this 3/4 century.  The early years in the collapse of the 3rd Reich - with you being separated from your parents for 2 years as a 6 year old - as the allied bombs rained down on German cities - including of course Leipzig.

I marvel at how you stayed sane in the post-war-rubble years where the grey German sky was mirrored in the lie-puppet-republic that was the 'German Democratic (sic) Republic.'  You kept your head - and headed out as soon as you could to freedom.

I am amazed at how you found yourself as a young German woman in Britain so soon after the war.  Learning English.  Cleaning houses.  And then over to France for more of the same.  Then Spain.

I thank God for the amazing experience you had - the awakening of the joy of Jesus - that swept over you as you came across the statement in Mark's Gospel - 'what does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul?'  You took Jesus at His word then - and have continued to do so 51 years later!  How blessed we are that you gave yourself fully to your loving Lord.  Trully - (s)he who loses his life for my sake will gain it.  You are living proof of that!

As you joined the bunch of earnest, merry, all-or-nothing folks that STL/OM were in those days - your paths took you through northern Italy, over to Turkey and then by mini-van over to India in 1964.

Thank you for coming here and being the most amazing wife to dear Dad.  You two are so very very different - and yet your love for each other and the hard lessons you have learned form the bedrock for our identity.

What can I say about all the people that we have seen you pour yourself into?  Wherever we go we bump into folks who remember your love.  Whose lives have been shaped by who you were to them.

We are now at an age that you were at the height of your activities at Nana Chowk.  Its hard not to compare - and we try not to - but when we do slip into looking at what you were doing at our ages... all we can say is 'thank you Lord!'

Your life has hardly been easy.  Many areas of blood, sweat and tears (as Dad promised you when you proposed to each other).  Many places where you have seen the dark night of the soul.  And yet through it all you have retained an inherent wonder at things.  Your child-like joy is infectious -  how we enjoy your joy at the blue flash of a bird flitting by, the latest orange cactus bloom in your garden, the raucous toot of a 7th grader who has just joined jazz-band...  You are fan No. 1 for so many - out of a genuine wonder and delight in all things bright and beautiful.

Over these past (almost 13) years of Sheba and my life together you have been such an amazing blessing to us.  We remember you and Dad being with us at Asha's birth - with Sis. Kachhap calling out 'Dadi, dadi' to tell you that you were now a grand-mother.  And over the years your prayers and visits and weekly phone-calls have helped us pull through.  Our one wish is that we were not 1.703.6 kms apart!

On our annual pilgrimages to Shanti Kunj over the last few years - we have seen you go into a whirlwind of hospitality - guarding us like a mother bear from unwanted outsiders - at pains that we get as much sleep and leisure as possible.  Its come at the cost of us listening to you.  Hearing what is in your heart.  Will we ever really be able to say all that needs to be said?  Time seems so strangely bendable.  Words seem to slip away just when you need them most.  Perhaps distance is the best place for appreciation as we still live in a time where we only see through the mirror darkly?

But let us state this and underline it.  We are so grateful for you.  For who you are.  For whom you have become.  For the largish bits and pieces of us that have been shaped and formed by your hands and heart over the years.  Words will never do justice - perhaps only our following in the paths that you have trodden before us - and us moving forward in the directions you shot us out into - and seeing that our next gen goes even further - perhaps that may be one way of expressing our thanks to God for you.

Pandita Ramabai said that 'A life totally committed to God has nothing to fear, nothing to lose, nothing to regret.'  Mum - we see so much of that in your life.  And that too we have seen it up very very close.  How much we want our lives to echo this too.

There is so much more to say.  But beyond the words there is so much more to live.

We love you very much,

Andi and Sheba, Asha and Enoch

Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Did you hear the mountains tremble?

We spent 3 days in Khandala over Diwali at our church Family Bible Camp.

What an experience it was.
Juanita with some of the girls - including Annette in her dragon costume

People came from near and far.  Ages ranged from 8 months to over 80 years.  Over 250 souls streamed in - about half of us from the 6 house-fellowships we are part of - and the others from a wonderful variety of different groups - including a group from Gujarat and folks from Hyderabad too. The traveller who came the furthest was our dear Arbind Singh who made the 3 day journey from his airforce posting at Shillong.

The theme for the camp was 'after God's own heart.'  This rich vein of truth was mined throughout our time together as we explored what being shaped into God's own character is like - and what it means in our daily lives.  David was a man after God's own heart.  Though far from perfect, he yearned for God, seeking to be transformed, and living a life that challenges us to follow God in every way.

The true man after God's own heart was the Lord Jesus Himself - He who emptied Himself of all but love and lived among us so that we could see God.

What a joy to have Philip B teach from the Bible in the mornings.  His slow, thoughtful, irenic exploration of the glorious truths in scripture was a delight to hear.  I found myself drinking deep.  After a tea-break Phil took the same passage in Hindi.  While one of the groups was getting their fill of Phil - the other group was split into small groups for discussions.  I facilitated a group of 'purity and purpose' and was amazed to see how much of what we discussed resonating through the camp.

When we talk about being after God's own heart  we just cannot get around His utter holiness. Stanley Nelson - who shared in one of the evening meetings - brought this out in a fascinating way.  He suggested that when the apostle John sees God surrounded by the elders and angels he also hears them proclaiming God's praises.  What must it be like to gaze in awe on the beauty of God Himself?  Surely only eternity will tell.  But what John hears the heavenly host proclaim over and over again is the word 'Holy, Holy, Holy'.  This aspect of God's character fills the host with awe and they give sacrifices of praise to the Lord of Hosts!

Its no wonder that God says 'be holy for I am holy.'  No wonder because of His character.  But a great wonder to consider that we can be included in this.  Phil took us through the sad early history of our race and showed how Adam and Eve choose to doubt God's goodness and disobey His revealed commands.  Phil feels that covetousness - the last on the list of the 10 commandments given to Moses - may be the root of most sin.  An unholy dissatisfaction with what we have, a jealous grasping desire for something outside of God's provisions, leading us to replace God in our lives and follow our own 'wisdom.'

Can you find Andi and Sheba?..... (hint - look for a very pink face!)
In the other two days Phil explored the dysfunctional church in Corinth, showing God's concern for them through the apostle Paul.  We could easily see our own fellowships in this harsh but loving light.  Paul urgently desires that the church live up to what it could be - but knows that it cannot change in its own strength - but only through the grace of God revealed through the cross.

Amazingly Paul is able to challenge the Corinthian followers of Christ imitate him - Paul himself.  Could you and I honestly urge that of others?  Are our lives lived out as open books where people can see that we are ordinary people who are following the extra-ordinary, amazing God of Gods?  Paul follows it up with a statement that 'the Kingdom of God is not a matter of words but of power' (1 Cor. 4.20).  What does that say about us?  We are not talking power in the conventional sense of the word.  Power to shut down a city (we saw that recently - and that was based on fear).  Power to make my will subjugate someone else (history is full of that).  But power where we see lives changed.  Radically rebooted to where the reality of a risen Christ is unmistakable.  The Corinthian church had started well, but lost the plot and were bitterly squabbling, while quite proud of how 'spiritual' they were.  Does that sound familiar?

It does - all to sadly we see so much of the Corinthian church in us.  But the good news is that Paul wrote the book to help that particular church - and other Christ followers like our group of house-churches today - to change.

We saw some of this change in the lives of the people who attended the camp.  We were a motley crew - a total mixture with some having followed Christ for years - and others having just made the choice.  We had people who were very senior management execs and auto-rickshaw drivers who by attending the camp were missing 3 days of income.  All slept in the same simple dormitory accommodations in the cavernous halls of the school.  The picture is still far from perfect, but the we are seeing a mosaic made up of lives being transformed to be after God's own heart.  This was especially evident in those who poignantly shared about how their lives are changing as they experience the love and power of Jesus in them.

our good friend Veronica with Sheba
What else went on in the camp?  Lots of conversations over tea and food.  The kids had a separate programme and this year the young people came a day early for a mini-camp of their own (thanks Aaboo Varghese).   Asha helped out with the worship team - playing her violin.  The kids had a whale of a time with so many others their own age.  It was a joy to see them tearing around with others and by the end of the day when it was time for family prayers they were well and trully bushed.  We tried to fly a German 'tube kite' early one morning but only managed to get it tangled in a tree (we rescued it).  Lots of conversations and prayers with different folks.  Amazingly, the youth from various Marathi speaking Brethren churches were also holding a camp in the same site and they had asked me to speak to them, so one evening I popped up to the hall they were using and spoke on Biblical Sexuality which was well received.  And there was also some down-time too - not much but at least a bit to catch a nap in the afternoons.

Time had it seemed had both stopped and also was running at full speed.  Before we knew it, we were packing up and getting ready to disperse in the 4 buses that we had hired to take the campers back home.

Did you feel the darkness tremble?
When all the saints join in one song
And all the streams flow in one river
To wash away our brokenness

And we can see that God you're moving
A time of Jubilee is coming
When young and old will turn to Jesus
Fling wide your heavenly gates
Prepare the way of the risen Lord

Worth a thousand words...

Many years ago a young lad growing up in Bombay town drew detailed cartoons of the crumbling home he was growing up in.  Later at college in the US he pursued parallel studies in studio art and physics.  While serving in a community development programme at a hospital in Uganda he painted murals in the children's ward.  Returning to India he taught about art as a vital part of living out a following of Jesus in every sphere - and sparked an annual conclave of people doing art in community.  For the past few years this has grown to a movement - the Art for Change Foundation - which includes studios and courses - internships and exhibitions - and of course the on-going sharing of beauty and truth shaping life.

At the core of everything, however, are the images.  The ability to poetically capture truth and share visions.

Here is the latest one which he painted along with Nirarkar Chowdhury:

This is what Stefan says:

Art and Modern Slavery: International Justice Mission (IJM) commissioned us to make a painting as centerpiece for a national campaign launched on the issue of bonded labour—a system that keeps millions of Indians in literal modern-day slavery. Working with my colleague we created a large 4'x4' painting capturing the idea that truth sets us free. How thrilling to see art play a small role in ‘discipling a nation’ – disseminating truth and influencing the influencers: A former Chief Justice of India, a member of parliament, several district magistrates, the press, and many activists were present at the launch. For a closer view of the painting click here.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Aradhna means worship

In the total haze that these last weeks have been a blessed evening of music descended.  Being one of the organisers for the Aradhna concert had its own set of 'joys' - but finally November 16 arrived - and there we were - at 6.45 PM with the first strains of music wrapping around us in the auditorium.

And then it rained down.

An aural experience.  A visual treat.  A swirling whirlwind of sound.  All four of them bathed in light and playing their hearts out.

I was enthralled.  The sheer beauty of it almost wanted to make me cry.  (Perhaps the fatigue of organising was also creeping in too).

Aradhna have come a long long way since Chris and Pete played in the Woodstock dining room for Sheba and my Mussoorie wedding reception - way back on Dec. 23rd 1999.

They have spent the last 12 years almost continuously touring - developing their sound - growing a devoted band of fans around the world - continuing their quests for beauty and devotion - and taking various loops and turns as the walk the steps behind their blessed Yeshu Raja.

Over the years I had received the albums - and we had Chris do a mini satsang concert half a decade ago.

But this was so totally different.  A colossal wall of sound.  Beauty layered on so heavily you could almost cut it.  An experience of awe at the weaving in and out of their voices and instruments.  An ethereal experience.  One that made me want to pinch myself and ask if it was really happening.

But it was.  And ultimately oh-so-short.

Chris was cueing us that we were nearing the end of the concert.

Pete told us about travelling across the country with the then OLIO band and stopping in road-side dhabas and almost immediately having a cluster of truckers and others forming a lusty impromptu chorus as Chris and he went into the bhajans while sitting on charpais as the evening descended.  Just how different this instant community of song was from his own experience growing up in the US.

And then on stage Aradhna launched into Biniti sunele, Yeshu pyare.

Instant heaven.  Yearning for more.  But the show had to end.

And end it did with lots of smiles.  Many of them tired.  The band has been on a break-neck India tour.  Our show was the second-last night.  They left early this morning for Bangalore.

A lot of us were tired too.

Tired since nothing stops in Mumbai town.  And organising a concert for a 1400 seater venue is quite the challenge.

Tired because all week rumours swirled that Bal Thackeray had died.  And that everything would shut down.  Wondering if this would include our beloved concert.

Instead, his death was announced late this afternoon - a day after Aradhna had brought their beauty to our city.  But sadly the attendance was sparser than we hoped for - we think largely because of the fears that people had of getting stranded should the death be announced and Mumbai shut shop (which it promptly did today when the news came out).

Tired because on the morning of the event our decorator said that he would not be providing the set that he had promised.  And so out of nowhere we had to come up with something.  Philip B had shared in the morning prayers about being calm in the middle of the storm - and allowing our trust to be in Jesus.  That was put into action over the course of the day - and in the end we had a stage that was simply beautiful.  And adorned with 4 sarees from the love of my life.

Young fans - Jasper, Asha and Nikita
Given the vortex of things to try and do before and after the show - the actual concert was the only still part of the day.

I could see so many familiar faces in the crowd.  People who came support the cause - we were running the Aradhna event as a benefit for Freedom Firm.  Our volunteers with their bright yellow shirts.   Out of the corner of my eye the figure of David Trivbhuvan - the man whose enthusiasm and big heart had challenged us to have the concert at Kalidas hall!  Sadly there was just the very minimum time to meet and greet - with the concert over we were rushing to get Aradhna back to their accommodation (2 in our place and 3 with Dr. Alfred).  It was a short night and the band left our place for the airport at 4.30 AM this morning.

Its been an epic event.

Made bitter-sweet by the announcement Aradhna gave last month that they will stop touring at the end of 2012 like they have been for the past 12 years.  This may be the last tour.  Period.  Pete and Fiona have 2 amazing little girls.  Travis Mcafee - who I met for the first time - has 4 kids.  Chris and Miranda have each other.  The band has been touring 100 days a year.  Mostly weekends.  Its time to shift gears.

For this tour Aradhna were also joined by the gifted Udhay Kumar on tabla and my old pal Mike Williams as the sound engineer.  Mike was part of the fabled OLIO tour of Manipur when I was working with Shalom in Churachandpur.

Having these amazing friends 'close up' was a little bit of heaven.  "When will we meet next?" always surfaces after another short and sharp encounter takes place.

It will take some time to digest the past 24 hours.

In the meantime I prefer to slip back to that magical 1.5 hours at Kalidas hall - the stage aglow with soft light and the immense sound of four musicians pouring themselves into worship washing over me.

Namaste Sate.

thanks to John Gabriel and David Tribhuvan for the pictures!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


I got a call from a friend of mine who attends one of our churches in the city.  He is a large man who has lived for the past 20 years near a slum in Bhandup.  He said that there was a sick lady who had been to some hospitals and could Sheba look at her and give her advice.

I said yes and asked them to come before 3 PM.

They came just after.  The man, the lady, her late-teens son, and another young man.   They had hired a taxi to bring her.  She was not only sick, she was very sick.  Lying on the trolley, she looked like a small collection of rags.

The son was semi-coherent when we asked about the situation.  He said she was weak and had been bed ridden for the past 3 months.   A meager paper trail of a brace of govt. hospitals showed that she had been sent from place to place - each place stating that she was SOS for admission - and each one referring on to the other institution without the doctor even stating what their impression was.

We were puzzled about what to do and tried to call a doctor we knew in the emergency dept of the larger of these govt. hospitals.  While I spent the second half of the evening getting in touch with him (we works at another place and constantly is getting calls), Sheba admitted the lady and asked for tests to be done at Bethany.   We will call her 'Leena.' Sheba then asked Agnes to give Leena a bath.  Leena's hair was teeming with lice so it was cut.  A hospital gown replaced the filthy rags.  Even after the haircut the sheets started showing lice so the nurses got licol to treat her hair.

Hats off to our nurses.  We currently have Agnes holding the fort as our trained nurse - with Sunita and Dipali (the latter on a try-out with us) helping as nurse aides.  But what has made it possible for us to even take Leena in for an afternoon - let alone a whole night - are our two volunteer nurses from the US - Alissa and Amy.  

Not only do we have Leena at JSK tonight - we also have Mr. Natu - a long-term patient of ours admitted at JSK for respite care.  And that too with us having vacated the 3 rooms and the nursing station room in order to make way for rennovation work to be done.  We have set up a temporary ward in the old (and future) minor OT room.

When Sheba came for her night round at 9.15 PM, she found that Vinod, our part-time lab tech had come and processed the blood for the HIV test that we had taken from Leena.

It was HIV positive.

In hind-sight, I don't know why I am so surprised.   Here is a woman who is clearly on the margins.  Her son's reticence about her condition may be down the the stigma of the disease - or to the crushing poverty of their lives.  In either case we have a woman on the edge of death - but who has been brought to the right place by the persistence of a church member.

Will Leena survive?  Hard to say at this point.  Other than the HIV test we don't have any other results back yet.  But to see her loved and in a clean place and prayed for is already a huge step forward.

I am so proud of Sheba and the team who are working in sub-optimal conditions - but are making an eternal impact.