Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Among the Angels

"We have a young woman in our church who is sick" said the voice on the phone "can you help?"

That's how we met Nandita (name changed of course).

Nandita's parents are dead.  Both died of HIV.  She is now 24.

The voice was brother George - an elder in a group of house churches that meet in central Mumbai.  Nandita has been part of his fellowship for some time.  She was sick.  Very sick.  The church just did not know what to do.  That day some church members had taken Nandita for admission to the Sewri Hospital.

Nandita has TB.  She is painfully thin.  A private doctor had been treating her and said that Sewri hosptial was the only place for her to go.  And so the church folks took her there.

In many ways, Sewri is a kind of hell.  The only TB hospital in Mumbai that actively admits people with TB, it is overflowing with the very sick.  One hospital for 18 million people.  Needless to say many who come to Sewri leave as corpses.  Painfully lightweight corpses.  Most of the folks who we know who have gone there speak of seeing people die next to them.

Images of Sewri crossed my mind.  Juxtaposed with the beautiful place we are working out of here at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

"Please bring her to JSK tomorrow" I told the church member "Let's see what we can do."

The next morning Nandita was here.  A slim lady, wearing a green salwar kameez, she was immediately given a mask to wear - which is our normal protocol now for everyone who is a known TB case or is coughing.   Nandita was accompanied by a Nepali lady from her church - and her aging grandfather.  Sheba and the other medical staff examined Nandita and admitted her for care in what is our TB ward - a 4 bedded room with big windows to keep maximum ventilation.

On Sunday evening I shared in the gospel meeting we hold from 6-7 every week.   As I was speaking, I could see a young man wearing our JSK hospital gown and sporting a mask sitting in the back row.

After the meeting I met this young man in the hospital corridor.  It wasn't a young man after all - it was our Nandita.  When I asked her how she was doing, she said:  "I am among angels."

We are glad that Nandita is HIV negative.  A recent test has ruled that out.  But even though she did not get the disease that killed her parents - she is still very much at risk from dying of TB.  We want Nandita to pull through - and to live a life of worth.

We are thankful for Nandita We are very proud of our medical and nursing team who are working hard to care for people who are sick with HIV and TB.  They are putting themselves on the line every single day.   Last night 6 patients were being cared for at JSK.  Our angels are putting themselves on the line - and we are seeing the results!

Soli Deo gloria!

Monday, 16 June 2014

Wedding tears

All eyes turned to the back of the church.

There stood the bride.  Beautiful in her white gown.  Her two flower girls walking before her.

And I cried.

More than the beauty of Sandra Francis - who was being married to Virgil Nadar.  More that the music around us.  More than the beautiful and simple way the grand old Bombay Baptist Church had been decorated for this marriage.

My tears were triggered by the sight of the man whose arm the bride was holding as she walked down the aisle.

This man was not Sandra's physical father.  Francis had died of cancer when Sandra was a small girl.

He was her spiritual father, pastor Joe Joemon, who was going to marry her as well.

And Joe’s handsome face was beaming as he led his spiritual daughter to the front of the church to be wed.

Even now the memory of that beautiful, proud and loving smile on Joe's face, the dignity and joy that his tall figure symoblised as he walked forward down the aisle moved forward with her, brings tears to my eyes.

I am so proud of Joe and Sunita who have poured themselves into so many - and whose love for Sandra has seen her blossom into a woman of substance.


As a family we have watched Sandra for the past 10 years as her mother Shanti works with us at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.   We have seen her mother care for her as a widow and seen Sandra work dilligently through college - ending up with a masters in psychology.  We have watched her start working and supporting her mother.  We have noted how every single week she made the long trip down to Colaba to be part of the Bombay Baptist Church there.

We knew that Sandra was an active member of BBC.  We knew that she was building others up - what we didn't realise was how much she and her husband to be were part of the ministry among street children.   As Sandra and Virgil start out a new life together in Panvel, serving with the GMI church branch there, our hearts are so glad.  

Sandra and Virgil, we are so proud of your maturity and poise.  We are so grateful for your willingness to wait for your elders.  We are so blessed by your willingness and desire to script a life together for a purpose.  Our prayers go with you as you step out into this new adventure together.  As one!

Happy tears all around!

Sunday, 15 June 2014


This week marks a big change in our family.   Asha and Enoch start out at a new school on Thursday the 19th of June: the Powai Branch of Bombay Scottish School.

This set of Eicher siblings have already had 19 years of schooling between them - and they are just starting in on Standard 8 and Standard 6!

We are excited by the new school.  It's much smaller 3 sections of 45 students as opposed to the current one which had 11 sections with 50 students in each class (7000 plus students in the school).  The curicullum is a step up - Bombay Scottish uses the ICSE which is what Sheba studied in her school days (and obviously did pretty well) - instead of the State Board.  The school books look gorgeous compared to what the kids have been using so far.  Being an ICSE board - Marathi is the third language instead of the second.   It has been hard for us to help Asha and Enoch in a language that we really do not know.

This marks the first time our children will be studying in a 'Christian' school.  The parent school in Mahim was founded by Scottish Missionaries in 1847 and it will be interesting for us to see how the school chooses to express (if at all) it's heritage of following Christ. 

Most of all, we are at this school because of a very special family.   John and Nalini Gabriel's two daughters have completed a year at Bombay Scottish and the family has moved to a building right next to the school.  Their encouragement as a family made us take the first steps of applying for admission - and they have helped us out in uncountable ways.

The next big question for us as a family is the distance.

The school is 23 kms from where we live.  The school busses come to a point in Thane 2 kms from our home.

As the reality of it all is settling in, we are embarking on a very big step.   We are actively consdering moving to Mumbai to have the kids closer to school - with Sheba and myself commuting to Thane.

It is an impossible task since living in Powai is steep to say the least.  And so we are giving ourselves 2 weeks.  If we find a 'miracle place' (like the flat we are living in right now in Thane) then we shift.  A flat that is close to the school, that is accessible by bus to Thane, and that is ridiculously below the market rates that homes go for rent in that tony part of town.

It's been done before.  So we are praying and looking and praying.

We are thrilled that Asha and Enoch are starting up as students at Bombay Scottish this week.  It's another wonderful adventure for us as a family.


Sunday, 8 June 2014

The game before the game

A father talks to his son.

Images of Brazil float by.  The magic waves.  The favellas climbing the hills.  Christ the redeemer.

The son gets ready for the game.

So does the world.  Other players.  Other prayers.  Focus.  Ritual.  The game is about to start.

The game.

Yes, it's Neymar Sr. speaking to Neymar Jr.  The latter's name is on the backs of millions of yellow Brazil football jerseys.  

And yes it's all about a 90 minute game where a round bladder is booted up and down a grassy field.

And yes, it's an ad for a pair of costly head-phones (that the Apple company snapped up recently).

But at the gripping core of the story is the intense pressure, the hopes and dreams that go into futbol, the brutal intersect between the huge expectations of the masses and masses - and the private world of a single elite athelete who is about to walk down the tunnel and into the game.

The worlds of fierce desire and multiple people at multiple levels hoping praying frenzied.  And in the midst of it - the players them selves steeling their thoughts.  In their private silences.  Going through the rituals of getting every muscle honed.  Of controlling every thought and focussing on the game to come.

The video ends with Neymar Jr. striding to the white door of the game.   You hear his father's final words ringing in his ears:

"Put God's army in front of you.

Wear God's armour

From the helmet to the sandals

Go with God.

God bless you.

I love you."

Neymar Jr. closes his eyes.  And as the sound of the crowd roars, opens them.

And your imagination takes him the next step into the arena.  Ready for action.


Needless to say - this video has been playing in my mind over the last two days.   Its deeply visceral.  It captures the rapturous anticipation of the world cup futbol craziness.   And also that strange disconnect that elite athletes have - where they are able to tune out all the extraneous - and be totally focused on their game.

But what of this:  I am living a far more important life that a football tournament.   And yet how casually I take most of it.

Neymar Sr. is actually quoting the apostle Paul who urges the followers of Jesus in the city of Ephesus to put on the full armour of God.

How much do I do so in the day in and day out of my life?

How much do I devote to shambolic leisure and time-waste - instead of focusing things that matter?

How much do I allow myself to be taken along by the currents and tides - rather than swimming resolutely in the direction of my Master?

How much do I realise that my whole life may be seen in the brevity of a 90 minute game.  You can't believe how fast it is spinning by.

Having reached 45 this would be a half-time if I were to reach the grand old age of ninety.  Chances are I will be substituted off the field somewhere in the mid-seventies.

And what of the real prize?  Not a gold cup.  But the vast stretch of eternity.  All dependent on the game that is going on right now.

Focus.  Eyes closed.  Open them.  Step into the white door.  Eternity.

won't you, follow me, into the jungle...

Friday, 6 June 2014

Deolsari Dreams

As the Eicher clan keeps growing - one thing young and old love to do is go camping! The crowning glory of the Mussoorie trip for young and old is to be outdoors for at least a night.  This year it was time to explore Deolsari.

The next ridge of the mighty Himalaya after the one Mussoorie is on is crowned by Nag Tibba (3,022 m).  For those who want to climb the highest point in the lower Himalaya in the state of Uttarkhand there are two main routes going up - one is the direct way via Mangalori village - and the other is to go out via the forest rest house at Deolsari.   We were not going to climb Nag Tibba (in a few years perhaps?).  Our intention was to get to Deolsari - and enjoy the forest around it.

And was that intention ever met!

 Step 1:  Young (2 years) and old (76 years) got into a jeep up at Sisters bazaar for the drive out to the closest village to Deolsari.  All 10 of us (we missed Neeru this time - and keep missing Premi every year) clambered in.

Most did not enjoy the ride.  Our jeep took us to Suakholi, then down to Tathur and then over the Aglar 'river' (just a trickle in early June) and back up to the village of ? (oops forgot the name).  We should have gone to Bangsil - but our driver decided to go up the other side of the brook.   Why did most of us not enjoy the ride - it wasn't the scenery which was gorgeous.  It was the feeling of travel sickness that almost all of the younger generation had - which was not helped by eating momos while waiting for the middle-agers to get some medication from the Landour Community Hospital on the way.   Much vomitting and many stops along the way... and then finally we got to the village where the road ended and we could unload.

Ahead of us was the open sky and the hills leading up!

After unloading what seemed an expedition worth of luggage we engaged two young men to help us carry and set off with a crowd of spectators around us - feeling very much like a group of folks heading off to Everest!

We soon had left villages and fields behind and came to the edge of the Deodar forest. 

As our path took us into the trees, we felt as if we were walking through a green cathedral.

Silent stems surrounded us on every side.

Greens of oh so many hues and shades - with the straight lines of the Deodars directing your gaze up and up and up again... 

Are Eichers born hikers?

Judging by Anita's performance on this walk - there may be some truth there!  Our two-year old was bubbling with enthusiasm.

 Our youngest member had us all enthralled as she welcomed us into her world.

"Ita's" own language of special words ('kok' is chocolate, 'dudu cok' is milk with bournvita in it, 'Ekok' is "Ita's" name for Enoch charmed us all.

And her joy at seeing things new - like the butterfly she is gazing at here helped us to look at things in a wonderful way.

Hooray for young eyes to help all of us see more beauty - especially at the smaller scales of creation!
Being Eichers, there were also books in our packs.

One member of the younger generation decided to whip out one of them on a short break while walking up the hill.

Another member looked over his shoulder. 

After a quick breather it was onwards and upwards again.

The 10 of us spread out as our two intrepid young men carrying the tents moved ahead with Opa Eicher and Asha keeping up with them - and all the rest moving through the green beauty in little clusters.

 The only people we met in the forest were two boys who tried to sell us a small bag of Kaphal fruits.

Since we had already bought from other kids along the way (on one of our vomit stops) we left these young lads with a conversation - and their bag of Kaphal still in their hands.

Both boys were school goers - and they walk all the way to Tathur each day to attend.  But these days were holidays - and what better place to be than in the forest!

That's what we felt too!

Especially when at the end of the trek we came to this beautiful Forest Department bungalow!

After showing our letter to the local staff, we plonked ourselves onto the grassy lawn next to the bungalow and tore into Vicky's prathas and alu sabji.

Nothing like having a good lunch at 3 PM and being bathed in to golden sun filtered through the deodars!

A quick nap for most of us - and then the fun of putting up tents began!

Thanks to Edwin Singh and the Blank family we had some wonderful 'tambus' to put up.

 What can be more magical than building your own house?

And once the tents are up - you need to play in them properly too!

There was much merriment in the camp!

Camping is more than just sleeping of course.

Food is huge.  And since we are in the forest we need fuel for the fire.

We had some wonderful helpers who combed the forest floor for twigs...  As the German children's song goes: wer will fleissige Handwerker sehen?

We made it a point to pick up twigs whenever we went for walks - and so a small pile of wood was always ready.

And over the next two days our fire was the centre of the camp.  Many a cup of tea and coffee was brewed.  Many a fire-maker huffed and puffed and saw the miracle of flames dancing and coals glowing.  And sweet aromas of Deodar being burned, the pungent smoke drifting through and the small cloud of ash that periodically covered us with fine grey all added to the special flavour of being outdoors.

As dusk fell, the large pot of noodles was simmering.

And in the darkness under the star speckled sky, we slurped the hot noodles and listened to the hilarious (mis)adventures of William by Richmal Crompton.

Songs and marshmallows roasted on sticks and a psalm rounded off the night.  And happy campers fell asleep in their tents (and in the bungalow too!).

And then there is the next day!

The denizens are up bright and early...  Some unfolding like a flower.
 Others with more comedy...

It's a new day!

Time to brew up a cuppa and start the adventures!  A chorus of 'when are we going to the stream' punctuated the morning hours.

And finally it is time!  Stefan has his team all ready.

The stream beckons!

The explorers and would be bathers are ready!

Now all that needs to be done is bring kids and water together!

And that is done quite simply, because just a few minutes walk through the forest and we come to this wonderland of water and rocks and more water and more rocks!

A place to explore... and over the two days that we were there much exploring was done.

 Plenty of ice-cold water to swim in!

And for various games to be played in the unending stream of goodness.

For boys who live in concrete jungles, this is straight out of Tom Sawyer.

 Needless to say, it was hard to get the kids back up to camp.  And easy to get them back down to the water at a moment's notice!
And along with the younger ones, we 'big kids' also enjoyed.

Though we did not all plunge in at every available opportunity (something our little ones did with gusto) - the joy of being in beauty - to see and hear the water gurgle over rock and pass through pools.

And to watch our loved ones enter a different world.

Something that we read about in story-books - and now are actually living out ourselves!

To see the little tadpoles swimming in the crystal clear water.  Something Bombay-boys and Delhi-lads don't see much in their day to day experience.

And finally to warm ourselves on a hot rock after the various levels of plunges taken... all added to the delight!

Most of all - our time at Deolsari was the joy of being together.   And to be together in so much beauty.

We are so grateful to God for these magical days.  And for the opportunity to be together.  Alone and cut off from the huffing and puffing of what makes up so much of 'normal life'

And being in a place of re-creation.

A place of quiet and joy and discovery.

A place where the stunning beauty around us was mirrored in the delight of experiencing it with each other.

We are so grateful for 'Oma' for her insight in getting us up the mountain to this place of bliss.

We are so grateful to God for His generous provision of allowing us to live out these beautiful days which will remain etched in our memories.

It was so ideal to have a place where we could camp and congregate - and also wander off for stream exploring and prayer walks and time reading.

Our mind's eye is already thinking about the next time we can make our way up the hills to this wonderful place.

And as the walking capacity of our family increases, who is to say that we cannot go further?  Maybe one day we will summit on Nag Tibba itself! 

 But in the mean-time the sweet memories of our time at Deolsari will linger on.

Will we sleep with the rest of angels like we did with the sound of the brook in the back-ground and the whisper of wind through the deodars?

Maybe not, given the un-angelic sounds that surround most of us.

But just as Anita sleeps in her father's arms.

So we too can rest in the arms of our loving Heavenly Father.

One who gave us a glimpse of heaven through these beautiful days in Deolsari.

I am personally so grateful that my back did not give out like it did 2 years ago when we were camping on Flag Hill.  The prayers of the sinners-turned-saints on my behalf are so appreciated!

At the end of our time there we had to shoulder straps again and walk down to the village where the jeep was to pick us up.

Stefan took the kids on a final river ramble, we bundled all the bags together, cleaned up the camp place and left the location in pristine condition - so that the next group of campers will be just as delighted as we were!

And so the trek back began.  Till next time!  And may next time come soon!

Most of the pictures in this post were taken by Stefan Eicher - including the one just above!  Thanks Stefan for documenting our time together!