Tuesday, 29 April 2014

There and Back again

The last 3 days have been packed with our 10th annual JSK staff retreat.

Appropriately enough we went back to the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission - the place where we had our first staff retreat back in May 2005.  Then we hired two Sumo jeeps which were enough to comfortably carry all our staff and volunteers there and back.

This time we had to hire a bus.

3 solid days of so much.

And now we are back to Thane.

Here - in no specific order - are some of the shimmering images that remain in our heads...

Early Sunday morning took us on a walk over the bridge to the Mukti Mission farm - and the graves of Pandita Ramabai and so many of her co-workers who have worked there.  Including our dear late Dr. Sheela Gupta...

 We had started our time with praise and worship at our Jeevan Sahara Kendra... followed by the first day of spiritual sessions by bro Joe Ahire and Rajesh Gajare and team-building games.

The traditional annual staff and families photo was taken.  We have a lot of new faces at Jeevan Sahara Kendra - which is a real blessing for us all.

This year the retreat was great for the kids because they both had friends who were in their general age-groups.  

Asha had Anna Peter and Alisha Edwards to be together with and they all got on like a house on fire.  It was good to have these 3 young ladies in the front row in all our meetings - participating both in the worship and the word - and also having a wonderful time together.

The ride back in the bus was very long - but we were sped on our way by an almost endless stream of song from the back of the bus - where Asha spent most of her trip with her friends.
Enoch had Gopal Das and Aaron Peter to hang out with. 

Our kids are growing!  Enoch used to have to be carried around on previous visits - and now we had him sing a solo at the talent show - which took us by surprise as he had not told us about it before.  Asha put on a side-splitting imitation of "Dr. Sheba:" in one of the skits presented that night.

Being back at Mukti was special.  This year the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission has completed 125 years since Pandita Ramabai started a school for girls at Wilson College in Mumbai.

After 1922 till 1992 the mission chairman was from the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  I knew that my grandfather Elmore Eicher had played a role at Mukti - but was surprised to see for how many years he and his brother Albert Eicher and their dear colleague Gerald Carner had served as chairman of the board.  Barring one 2 year slot they served in turn as chairmen between 1949 and 1977. 

We had a private visit with Mrs. Lorraine Francis - who is the current Mission Director and prayed with her for some of the children and young single mothers currently at Mukti.  Lorraine had tears in her eyes as she prayed for those she cares for - and there are over 1000 residents at Mukti at present!

As we stepped out of the backside of her office we saw the original 'prayer tower' - made of the solid stone that most of Mukti seems to be made of.  As I watched a young woman went up into the room to pray.

Dr. Sheela Gupta had always wanted us to serve a medical help at Mukti - but we did not hear a call from the Lord to leave what He told us to do - so far at least.

So it was a thrill to see that a team of 2 dentists have joined the Mukti family to help lead the hospital and that they have just been joined by an MBBS doctor too!

Dr. Pheba Abraham and her husband Dr. Abin Abraham have just completed their dental studies and are following a missionary call to serve at Mukti.  They are helping restart the community development project and help the hospital reach out to the local community as well as care for the Mukti family too.  Dr. John has just joined and on the day we visited the hospital, they were running a community outreach health camp!

Dr. Pheba had been part of the strong student fellowship in a place called Kharad and she and her newly wed husband have decided to give a commitment to help lead the Mukti health team - an answer to many prayers.

The messages that Bro. Joe Ahire gave us were challenging - all about us being true worshippers of God - but not just singing songs and clapping our hands - to live out lives of complete surrender to His holiness.   With all the challenges that Mukti has gone through over the years - it was clear that we were in the right place - a place where a mighty revival based on prayer had been sparked in 1905.

Part of the joy of this retreat was deepening our friendships with our new colleagues Drs. Emmanuel and Mokshaa Isukuru and their lovely son Vo-way, as well as with Sam and Lydia Ganta and the new batch of UBS students too.

Vo-way is such a joy of a boy.  He kept being passed around - and I got my turn with him too!

The problem with retreats?

They end.

And we have to come back.

But we come back all the richer.

And with a sack-full of joy.

This year's 'Talent Show' was some much needed laughter therapy for us. 

The Thane Eichers did their part too with a sketch where repolling was ordered for Jeevan Sahara Kendra - leading to all the main candidates showing up and asking for votes:

Who needs an asli Kejriwal, Sonia or Modi when we have our own versions! 

Friday, 25 April 2014


We are in retreat.

Not retreating - but spending time together and with the Lord - to be refreshed and renewed.

Last night we had our first Jeevan Sahara Kendra staff awards night.  It was a time of much laughter and joy (I got the coveted "stuck to the computer with fevicol" award).  Nathan and Marise hosted us all at their home (we had 27 awards for staff and interns - so you can see that we are really growing!).
Anil Edwards giving Peter Chettiar one of the coveted awards amidst much laughter

Today we are at the JSK centre for the day with bro. Joe Ahire who is ministering to us on the theme of 'Behold I make all things new.'  Then this evening we all clamber into a bus and drive off to the Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission where we will continue our retreat tomorrow and on into Sunday.

We finish off by driving over to Daund (30 mins away we are told) where our long-serving staff member Daniel Kautikkar is getting married to Yerusha.  We are looking forward to the new couple joining us at JSK next month.  Yerusha is a nurse - and we have been praying for nurses for years!

Looks like we will have at least 28 awards to give next year!
Nothing like a good chicken biryani to get the conversational juices flowing!  Agnes, Shanti, Lydia and Sheba talk things over
Marise gives a beautiful mini concert for those who lingered on till the end...

Monday, 21 April 2014

Plunging: In

Between this year's Good Friday and Easter Sunday we had the joy of seeing Asha testify to her faith in Jesus by being baptised.

Our original plan was for 5 others to take this step with her as well, but as the 19th of April drew closer the other candidates dropped out (we hope they will take the step soon though).

So on a sun-drenched Saturday evening we gathered at the small baptismal chapel at Holy Trinity School in Thane to witness this step of joyful obedience to our Lord.

After a time of praising God in song (with Enoch on the keyboard and his dad accompanying with the guitar and loud singing) we were blessed with a wonderful word by bro Jolly.

Jolly talked about how he and his wife had been convicted by God's word that they needed to take baptism - and how that had been later in life - but how faithful the Lord Jesus has been to them since they took that step of loving obedience.

Jolly challenged us all to keep following the Lord - something that we have seen him and his wife Suma do faithfully over the past 11 years...

Then Asha stood up to testify about what God has done in her life and why she was being baptised.  It was a happy dream for us as parents to see our daughter stepping out like this.

And it got better!

Immediately after Asha's testimony, went into the water (surprisingly cold - a whole tanker load which had filled up the previously empty tank just minutes before we started the service).

Here I asked Asha whether Jesus Christ was her saviour and Lord.

She replied 'yes'!

And so Jolly and I had the privilege of dunking her after I said the following words:

"Then in obedience to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and upon your profession of faith, I baptize you Asha, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

It was over so quickly, a quick splash down in the water and up she came!

After she came out I said:

"Buried in the likeness of His death and raised in the likeness of His resurrection."

And we all broke into an acapella version of "I have decided, to follow Jesus." 

And so our Asha steps into a new phase of her life.

13 years have gone by in a flash.

The Asha of the past - the little girl that I carry in my heart - has morphed into the next part of her life.  We now have a confident young woman in our house now - who is making her steps of faith and understanding... forward!

It was such a privilege to be part of this public statement of hers that she has died to this world - and is alive in her Lord Jesus.

Sheba and I are very grateful for this joy-filled day.

We think back on our own choices that we made in our youth - my baptism was when I was about 8 - and Sheba's when she was 14.  

And now this generation is stepping forward.

In 2 weeks Asha and her best friend Nikita will have an adventure with Dr. Mary and Dr. Catherine who serve with Love the One in Behrampur Odisha.

Nikita has been praying regularly to be a missionary peadiatrician - and so we thought what better place for them than to actually see first hand what two amazing friends of ours are doing - along with the whole Love the One team!

The Thane Eichers after the baptism - father and daughter wearing a change of dry clothes!

The 19th of April also marks another small but important step in Asha's life.

She is starting to wear specs!

Last week we found out that she has virtually no far-sight in her left eye.  Her right eye - which sees perfectly was doing double duty whenever she looked far.

That was quite a surprise for us - but Asha took it gamely and now we have a very smart looking young lady in our midst!

After the baptism was over we repaired back to the Eicher flat for a big supper - with the household bursting with the John Gabriel family,  Emmanuel and Mokshaa and Wo-way as well as Agnes and Annie - and us 4 Eichers.

Emmanuel prayed for the feast - and then it was open season for food and conversation.  A perfect end to a wonderful day!

Four flowers - times two!

Asha and Enoch have been on a small origami craze recently - sourcing new designs from the internet.  The flowers they made are part of a small but growing collection of origami art that is being manufactured during their just-begun summer hols!

But of course the real flowers in this picture are our 3 girls - and little Wo-way!

Saturday, 19 April 2014


This evening Asha will be plunged in water.

In the presence of our church and friends, Asha will bear witness that she is a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ - and that He has forgiven her of all her rebellion against Him and made her His daughter by His once-and-for-all-time sacrifice on the cross.

Asha will tell about what Jesus has done in her life and how she has decided to obey Him in the command to be baptised with water.  This act is an outward sign of the inward renewal God has done and is doing in her through Jesus her Lord.

Needless to say it is any father's dream to see his daughter take steps of faith.  And it is an even greater joy to be the one who is actually baptising her.

Our cup runs over with joy ...

Monday, 7 April 2014

Building a monument of love

How do you build a monument of love?

Well, you start with a single brick...  after you have sorted out all the 5922 odd bricks that are said to be in the Lego Taj Mahal set that is!

We were given this set last month - and we started building on the 19th of March Anno Domini 2014.

Enoch put in the first bit on that day - and since then we have tried to grab little bits of time to work steadily through the three books of instructions to make our masterpiece.

Our dear friends Kumar and Shanti Vedanayagam and their 5 kids Jeevan, Anand, Karuna, Kirti and Nitya gave us this massive gift.  And now just under a month later the master-piece is finished!

There were of course a huge number of white pieces.  Which we first stored in a large plastic tub and kept pouring out on our blue dhurrie to get enough contrast to find the little pieces needed for a particular part of the building.

In my growing up years lego was by far my favourite toy (hmm... it still is ... am I grown up yet?).

But the sets we got were very much on the small size (due of course to the monstrous costs the good folks at the lego company have always charged for their products).

So to have this flood of pieces - and to be building this one big building was phenomenal.  It really was a three dimensional puzzle.  The same joy of seeing piece fit with piece and make something beautiful, the same delight in seeing the jumbled chaos of random bits at the beginning slowing whittle itself down to nothing - and instead form a complete whole.

Enoch was in his element (as was his dad too).   As the days went by we managed to squeeze in the odd building session - and were always thrilled to see another big step forward.

 The ingenuity of the plans were a source of marvel.  On one hand the ability to render curves of domes through layers of small white pieces.

On the other hand the way that certain pieces were marshalled into ways that I had never thought of.

And all along the gradual development of the familiar lines of the Taj Mahal.

As we came nearer to the end we started running out of some of the pieces.  Not many - considering the huge number in the set - but enough to be seen 'from the outside.'

This brought us to dip into the lego hoard that we have built up over the years.

Some pieces were found - exactly like the missing ones.  Others were the same but a slightly different colour.

And in a few cases we had to engineer a slightly different way forward.

 And then we came to today.

The main structure was ready yesterday - we just needed to rejig the little cupolas on the top.

Dig, dig, dig... can you find me a flat 2x4 white piece?   Dig, dig, dig.  The sound of lego pieces tumbling over each other.

And finally it was finished.  We had summitted.  There were clear skies and views all around us!

Many a person has taken a picture with the Taj in the back-ground - acting like they are picking up the Taj by their fingers.  Well - how about a shot of a giant of a boy actually touching the top of this august building!

The building is just a thrill to look at.

Hats off to the lego designers who have so elegantly minituarised this beautiful structure - and given it such a royal look!

And being lego - you don't just build something, you play with it.

Lunch break was over for me - and I had to go back to work - so Enoch took over.

Apparently some tourists showed up with their cameras.

Pictures have to be taken of course - I mean - what's the use of going to someplace if you can't have a shot of yourself their to prove that you have been there and been seen!

We just got over with the building and had to clean up stuff - but I am pretty sure that there will be a whole gang of 'good guys' and 'robbers' that will probably be living out their chases and other exciting events in and around the Taj in the coming days.

We have started talking about seeing if we can recreate the famous gardens and ponds in front of the Taj too.

Let's see... but till then, we savour the outcome of 3 weeks of building (albeit in a quantum way).

The Taj is finished!

And since my darling bride and I actually went to Agra for part of our honey-moon (the other part at Ranthambhore National Park), I think that we need to have one more shot.

Not a full moon-light picture, but here is the Taj at night!

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Exciting days

A few posts ago we said that we had some exciting news... well here it is:

After years of praying, and praying, and praying for more medical staff to join Sheba ... we have not one doctor joining us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra... but two!  And they are married to each other!  And the most lovely folks too!

And after years of praying for more nurses to join our faithful Agnes... we are getting a nurse next week with Natasha Chopra due to join on Monday, and then Jerusha - the soon to be bride of our dear Daniel - is expected to join us in early May.  And in addition we have had Lydia - an amazing volunteer nurse who comes 4 days a week with a 1.5 hour bus ride each way!

So... after almost two years of renovation at the Lok Hospital building we have a sparkling 10 bedded hospital ready to care for people with HIV who are very sick... but over the past 2 months we had the painful process of having to tell people who were really ill that we could not admit them - because we did not have the nursing staff to care for them.

But this month we hope to have turned the corner.  With the team in place we have the opportunities not only to care for multiple sick people and their families at once at our JSK Centre... but to even think of expanding and reaching out to other parts of the city (tomorrow morning Sheba and I will be going over to Virar to see whether we should start a weekly clinic there)....

And the spark to all of this has been the amazing meeting up with Dr. Emmanuel Isukuru and his lovely wife Dr. Mokshaa Mohan and their lively son 'Wo-way!'

Three weeks ago we got a call from a 'Dr. Emmanuel' saying that a local pastor had told him and his wife about us.  Could they meet us?  Sure we said.  The next day they spent the day with us at JSK.

Things clicked beautifully ever since.

Emmanuel is from Nigeria.  Mokshaa is from Chennai.  They met as medical students at St. Petersburg in Russia.   They have been married for two years now and had moved to Nigeria after their marriage.  But then their local church in Nigeria challenged them to come to India.  And so they did.

When we met them we were just bowled over by their sincerity and joy in the Lord.

We had been able to introduce them to Dr. Stephen Alfred, and two days later an SMS came from him - telling that a flat was available for rent and would our friends be interested in it?  Would they ever! 

In what seemed like a dream - just over under two weeks later they had moved into their new digs.  Emmanuel and Mokshaa have been on the bad end of a number of ugly racialist behaviour by members of our so-called cosmopolitan city of Mumbai - especially when they tried to rent a place.  But here they are - within walking distance of us and the Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

Emmanuel had told me that he secretly hoped he could move out of the difficult place that they were in before Mokshaa's birthday.  Well, her birthday was today (we celebrated at JSK as a trio by the JSK staff this afternoon as my birthday was yesterday and Sheba's is tomorrow).   They moved their things in on Saturday night - and after staying the night with us - and having a posse of angels from our church clean up the place after the land-lord had done a quick and blessed paint job too - they moved into their home on Sunday night.

God is good.

These are exciting days for us - we need to pinch ourselves a bit and ask is it actually happening...

And now the joy of moving forward together.

Emmanuel and Mokshaa are already part of our family.  They have committed themselves to working with us for the next two years.  Sheba has started teaching them and getting them into the harness for caring for people with HIV the way we do it here.  We are hoping to enroll them in the Masters in Family Medicine course from Vellore.   Emmanuel is jumping into Hindi studies.  They have a lovely jumpy baby - and great expectations for another bundle of joy too...

Big gulp of air.  Be brave.  Trust and don't doubt.  Change has come - let's move forward and embrace the amazing possibilities all around us!