Saturday, 13 December 2014


Each year we give thanks.

For another year.

For another set of miracles (some seen and many unnoticed).

For being alive.

When we do this with people who are HIV positive it has a special spin to it.  A number of the folks who were here last year are no more.

Some have moved away.  Others have died.

But so many are still around.

And then some show up again.  Like young Samir (name changed) who had run away from an orphanage, and whose widowed mother had moved away with the man she was living with.  But just last week we got a call from Samir.  And here he was today.  All of 15.  'Grown up' almost feral.

But the bulk of folks who came tonight of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra annual Positive Friends Thanksgiving time - were folks who are moving deeper.  Deeper into stability.  Deeper into relationships.   Deeper into health.  Deeper into making sense of the challenges they face.

Not everyone has everything figured out.  But what a privilege to be along with the our friends for the journey.  And how humbling to see so many come tonight.

We prepared for weeks.  With over 100 volunteers of various kinds.  There was just so much to do.

Our staff and volunteers met for prayer and preparation for weeks before.   They invited families.  Planned the refreshments.  Ordered and purchased.  Gave generously. Made last minute orders when our cake-suppliers backed out at the last minute.  Made a large display out of over a hundred slips which our Positive Friends filled out - expressing their gratitude for what they have experienced in 2014.   Purchased gifts for each family.  Packed and wrapped.  Decorated the campus.  Registered and welcomed our guests.  Sang and did skits.  Served refreshmenst and gave gifts.  Spent time with families.  What a blessing to have folks from so many different churches all serving together.  A seamless stream of people helping out in so many ways.  Living answers to prayers.
And suddenly - today is the day.  After a thunderstorm woke me up at 2 AM - and caused a mild flutter of worry, we were off and running at 3 PM in the golden afternoon sun of a Mumbai 'winter'  (short sleeves of course).

Our dear friend Danny got us off to a great start and ably guided the programme through - a 3.5 hour programme that smoothly and beautifully unfolded as lives were shared - songs were sung with joy - and we enjoyed looking back with gratitude and ahead with anticipation.

What do you do when you are happy?

Why you sing of course!

And when you have Dr. Emmanuel Isukuru tickling the keys - well, then you sing all the more.  We were blessed to sing together - as one big family.  And to have folks from the Living Water Community Church and the UBM Thane Sunday School sing for us.  A poignant skit from the Thane Marthoma Church youth rounded off the first part of the programme - and that was after we heard the heart-warming story of Titing - a young Burmese theological student who is volunteering with us for a week.  She told of how she had stepped on a land-mine and lost her leg - but how later she found the joy of Jesus - and what a difference it is to her.  Despite the pain of her prosthesis, Titing keeps wanted to go out with our home-based care staff to meet our Positive Friends in their homes - and what a blessing to hear her share her story.

Further blessings in store...

Dr. Stephen Alfred teamed up with bro Devraj, his translator (always fun to hear a message twice when you know both languages) to let us rejoice in the wonderful news of God who has become one of us.  Has made himself knowable.  Has taken flesh.  Who cares.  Who cries with us.  Who comforts and changes us.  And who has triumphed over sickness and sin and death.

All through the evening we heard stories of people's lives being changed.  Shaped anew.  Blessed and touched by our dear Lord Jesus.

Some were able to stand up and say that they have been living with HIV for 15 years.  Others told about how they just found out they had the disease.  Some spoke eloquently. Others simply.  Some with tears.  All shared what God has done.  As the sky went dark around us, we came to the end of our time of thanksgiving.  Grateful.  Glad.

And so another amazing time had come to an end.  We had prepared 550 food packets.  All were gone at the end of the night. What a blessing to be alive.  And to be able to tell the tale.


Friday, 12 December 2014

A gift, a read, a treat

Each year for the past number of years we get Christmas gifts from the Applebys in Scotland.  Merryn and I were classmates many moons ago at Woodstock - and the whole Appleby clan - Merryn's husband Alistair and their lovely sons Sam and Luke stopped through Thane a few seasons ago.

The gifts are always a treat.  Arriving well before Christmas (you can tell Merryn grew up as a 'missionary kid' in a postally-structured era), the package will have Merryn's distinctive hand-writing on the cover.  Each year we get a cheery note on a colourful social-cause-supporting-card.

Previous gifts are still very much in circulation.  Excellent children's books (read by both generations of Eichers).  A CD of TS Elliot's "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats" (read by Sir John Gielgud!). The list goes on.

Sadly, we have not been sending stuff from Thane to Scotland.  And yet true friends don't give up. They keep giving!

And look what arrived this year.

It's a book.

Yes, a book.

But not any old book.

This is Merryn's first novel.

Oh frabjous day! Callooh callay!

I can peek through the hand made rice paper and know for sure that it is "A House Called Askival" - Merryn's debut novel which talks of Mussoorie, and missionaries, and empire, and lives lost and regained, and everything in between.

Merryn has been writing for years - publishing short stories and having radio readings and plays. Now she joins the big league with her agent getting her published with Freight Books.

Take a look at what people are saying about Askival by clicking: here

Expect my own take in a few weeks.

I can't wait.

And I still use the Landour Cookbook - almost every other week.

Talking in a local train

Two men got in a local train.  For Mumbai standards it was ‘empty’ – which means that people could actually sit down.  One sat opposite our friend Arbind.  The other sat next to Arbind.

And then they started talking.

“How that fellow died!” said the man in front of Arbind.

“Listen” chimed in the man beside him “he died of HIV!  His wife also had HIV.  They both had it.  Within one month of each other both were dead!”

“That fellow used to go to the bars and over there he had a girl.  He had a relationship with her and spread it to his family.”

“Looks like his kids will have it too.  They were with him the whole time – they also sleep in his bed”

After hearing this much of the conversation Arbind could not remain silent anymore. 

He chimed in: “Listen, HIV does not spread this way.   We do things that are not right – and then we find out that we are trapped. 

But kids don’t contact HIV that way.   A mother who is pregnant may pass it on to her unborn child.  That’s how some kids get HIV.  But even then, if the mother gets the treatment at the right time, her child will not be born with the disease.”

Both men were quiet and listening attentively as the local train continued to rumble ahead.

“People say that do whatever you want, just use a condom and you are safe.  That’s hardly the truth.  God has given each one of us a wife.  We must be faithful to her.  That’s what gives us security.”

Arbind then hugged the man next to him.

“Look – HIV does not spread this way” he said “It is not a disease that spreads by casual contact.  We can eat with a person with HIV, use their clothes, sleep in beds they have used, do all the daily acts of life without fear.  HIV will not infect us.”

“But if we step outside that patterns of healthy relationships that God has set for us” Arbind continued “then we are putting ourselves at risk.”

“God has given each one of us a wife – why not be faithful to her?”

“Look – all of us who are sitting in this train.  None of us is worthy to even sit here and be alive.  But God loves us and that is why He helps us.”

The men looked at Arbind.  One of them said: “Sir, where are you from?”

Arbind answered: “I am from Bihar.”

“Yes sir” said the man “that is what I thought, I am also from Bihar.”

“Look” said Arbind “if any of us has done something that puts us at risk for HIV – we need to get tested.  Go to an Integrated Testing and Counselling Centre for an HIV test to find out the truth.”

“If you find out that you or your loved one has the disease, then there is free medicine available which you can take and live a healthy life!”

“If you need any help for anything related with HIV, you can approach the Jeevan Sahara Kendra which is at the Old Lok Hospital building in Thane.  They will help you and your loved ones for sure!”

One of the men got up as his station had come and respectfully left.   A few stops later Arbind and the other man got up as they had reached the station they were travelling too.

Our words can bring death... or life.


Arbind serves in one of the Indian armed forces and has taken leave to come and spend time helping out with Jeevan Sahara for these past two weeks.  He is a blessing to us all – and speaks truth with love in various settings.  Yesterday he was travelling by train for some personal work when the above conversation took place. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A mother's love

Sheba came to the Jeevan Sahara Care Centre late in the night to do a night round with the man admitted there.

He was brought to us in a terrible condition.  Extensive tuberculosis damage to his lungs.  A long history of schizophrenia.  Semi-conscious.  All-round sick.

When Sheba entered his room this is what she saw:

The sick man's aged mother was lying in his bed.  Sleeping with him.  Her head close to his often coughing face. Her hand on his shoulder.

When Sheba asked her why she did that, her response was that her son was scared.

What love this mother has.

Undeserved and unreserved love.  Love in action.  Love in deed.

Love given to a son who has lived such a shambles of a life.  To whom life itself is an open question.

We are deeply privileged to be able to facilitate this man's recovery.  Our hope is that he will be healed in body, mind and spirit - and be able to thank his dear mother for the love she has poured into him.  And for him to be a blessing to others too.

In the mean time, he fights for life - and his mother loves him.