Wednesday, 30 December 2015

On a hill, far away... and down here in the valley.

Way up in the mountains of Mussoorie, this is the view you get.

Our dear Gindy Miley is visiting Mum and Dad over Christmas and snapped this shot, looking out of one of the windows. You can feel the crisp coldness as the first rays of the rising sun caress the landscape.

Here in Thane with the fans clanking and the traffic growling outside at 11 PM at night, and our house in a whirl-wind of flotsam and jetsam as we are about to dive into one of the busier days of our lives:

Guests? Yes - American family due to show up at 5.30 AM at our doorstep. Looks like they will be around all day. We plan to give them breakfast and then transition them to one of the rooms at Jeevan Sahara Kendra where they can camp out.

Eventful day? Yes - our last day of work at Jeevan Sahara Kendra. We received our joining letters from the Emmanuel Hospital Association today. A big step forward. I will be serving as the director for Community Health and Development while Sheba is set to be a medical consultant at the hospital and beyond.

Many unfinished things? Check - things to write, documents to get from the bank, various levels of craziness ... and also our last JSK prayer letter to write too.

Tearful goodbyes? Of course. We had a few of them this afternoon at our 'last' Positive Friends support group meeting. We have had them in our clinic. Dear, dear friends who we have been part of for so many years... and now we are 'heading out.' Painful. Bitter sweet.

 Last staff meeting? Definitely.  Difficult things to talk about? Yes. Time of prayer to be had with dear colleagues? Affirmative.

Packing left to do? Ji han! But we are too tired and so the suitcases are still hungry... we leave this home in 30 hours from now for our 28 hour train trip to Vishakapatnam. Jai ho!

Big church meeting being held at our home tomorrow night? Yes, my friend. We are Eichers are we not. The 'watch-night' service where we look back on the year with joy and look ahead with wonder. Sheba, Annie and Asha have been working on making beautiful 'promise cards' over the last 3 days. We are so glad to be part of this wonderful group of broken-people-being-made-whole-by-our-wonderful-saviour. God is so good. How beautiful are these days we have together.

Ready for our holiday? Oh yes. Lord of the Rings packed. Unopened board games packed (never mind clothes and stuff like that...). Chips and eggs purchased for the train trip.

We are raring to go - but have a few things to do before we can get off! Your prayers most gladly accepted.

See you next year! I have some packing to do while the Eicher household sleeps peacefully!

48 hours left

A brace of days.  48 hours.  That's all that's left of 2015.

It's also all that is left of the 13+ years that we have been working at Jeevan Sahara Kendra here in Thane.

The last day of this year is also our last day 'at work' - officially serving with JSK which we helped birth in mid 2002.

I spent part of this morning putting together a basic work plan for the next three months along with our wonderful successor - bro Jolly - and Giri and Annie.   The next phase of JSK will see it pretty lean.   We will have 12 staff operational and will be focussing on home-based care for people with HIV (esp. looking at helping maintain high ART adherence rates), running our Positive Friends support groups and also doing HIV counselling and testing.

A few weeks ago I had a visitor and told him that we were shifting North.  "Oh, you have finished your work here" he said cheerfully.

"No we have not finished the work here" I replied. 

There is plenty of work still to be done.  In our last week here we are still getting calls from new contacts.  "My sister has HIV.  She is sick.  Can I bring her over?"   We still see the challenges that people with HIV face on a daily basis.  We still have families that are torn apart by alcoholism.  We still have vast areas where women are in various levels of sexual slavery - and are visited by thousands and thousands of men seeking paid gratification.   The ART medications have done wonders in allowing people with HIV to live what most people expect to live - but the govt. system is creaking with the increasing numbers taking the medications, and a new generation of young people living with HIV often switch off hope after some time.

Our churches?  A mixed bag.  A sterling few have poured themselves into caring for people with HIV.  We are so glad to have been a part in some of them making these steps.   But the large majority are indifferent at best.   AIDS?  Hmmm.... is the regular response.   A manager of a small Christian bookstore pointed out to a copy of "AIDS and You" in Malayalam that he had in his store.  "No one has ever touched that book" he told me.  Needless to say, other volumes of spiritual books have been purchased all around it...

The problem with our churches is not so much a hatred of people with HIV... far from it.  It actually is deeper - most churches are just ho-hum places to be.  Spiritual clubs for folks to get married in and buried by, with some feel-good Christmas tunes bunged in.   The fire of the Spirit and the love for the Word of God?  Not present in most places on a Sunday morning.   But for those who do have it, the future is a lot brighter.... and the chances that they are welcoming folks with HIV into their faith family a lot higher.

We leave with very mixed emotions.  Very happy to have had the opportunities to work with so many.

Amazed at what was achieved over these years.

Thankful for the lives that have been touched, and for a generation of folks in various places who we have knit our hearts with.

Sad to be saying good-bye (or God be w' ye) to so many.

Excited about the next steps.

Jan 1st we take an early morning train for a quick trip to see Amma and Appa in Vishakapatnam... and then back on early morning Jan 7th for Asha and Enoch's school to begin (with exams for Asha - poor thing).

And then on Jan 18th I take the train to Lalitpur for the first 2 weeks of work there.  I plan to do this for the first 3 months of 2016 - and prepare the way for the family to shift to Lalitpur in early April.

But before then we have 48 hours to pack in an eternity and a day.

Tomorrow afternoon is our Positive Friends thanksgiving time in the afternoon.   In the evening we have our church prayer meetings at our home.

On Thursday morning (early) we have some guests stopping through on their way from Goa.  And then a final staff meeting in the afternoon.  And after we clock out at 6 PM, we will be hosting our church 'watch-night service' from 9 PM to 12.30 AM in the new year.

A few hours of sleep and then off to the train station.

It's a wonderful life.

We need to see many miracles take place - esp. with Yohan's adoption continuing to hang fire.

But God is taking us by the hand.  And we know that we are safe in His arms as we step forward.  Better yet, as a dear friend of ours said who is currently doing missionary doctor work on the Thai-Myanmar border...   When you were a kid, one of the greatest games was having your Dad tell you to jump and then have him stretch out his big strong arms to catch you.

We are right there right now.  Our heavenly Father is telling us to jump.  We are at the edge looking down with fear and joy.


Sunday, 27 December 2015

A land of hope

Early this month I visited Manna Prayer House.  A group of amazing folks who are deep in the red-light area of Turbhe, helping women who are in prostitution by caring for their kids during the day, but being a friend to them as much as possible, by praying with them and in general being a hopeful sign that change is possible.

Yesterday the Eicher boys had the privilege to spending an afternoon with Jim and Leena Varghese and their crew.   Poor Leena was outnumbered 7 to 1 in the gender stakes, but made a good fist of it anyway.  The 5 lads enjoyed themselves to the max with Enoch and Yohan having a joyful afternoon and emerging on various skateboards, roller blades, driving remote cars while in the back ground a steady staccato of an almost continuous air-hockey game could be heard.

Jim and Leena and I had a long post-lunch talk which wandered over many a dale and where we reviewed a lot of what we as families have been walking through - and where we hope to go too!

You spend an afternoon like this and you kick yourself for not having done so earlier, more regularly... rather than just before you are about to up-stakes and out!

As the winter sun started moving down, I asked them if they would show me part of their work - which over all these years I had never seen.

They did.  We tumbled into their vehicle - all 5 lads and Leena taking the middle seat - while the two bald guys had the front of the jeep to themselves.   Jim drove us out of the jam-shakle set of shops and politician birthday posters crammed in between housing complexes with names like Solitaire Plaza that 'down-town Ambernath' is and out over the dry hills to Badlapur.

At the end of our 20 min drive we came up against three sparkling new buildings hugging the base of a hill.

We had arrived at the Bombay Teen Challenge Academy - the main classroom building along with its hostels.

We had entered a different world.  Our 5 young men rushed off to the playing field to do their thing with the american football that Jim had brought along - while Leena and Jim showed me around where Leena has been helping change destinies.

We met a few of the girls.  Small knots of them talking with each other.  Brightening up when Leena came by.

All of these girls come from the red-light area.  Each one's mother has or still is in the trade.  They are here to start a new future.  Leena has been serving at the principal of this academy for the past year or so.

We walk into a huge hall with a kaleidoscope of colour above - a whole mess of umbrellas - each a brilliant hue has been hung upside down from the ceiling.  The walls of the sparkling hall are covered with various art works.  More girls are sitting around one of the many dining tables talking with each other.   The hall is the main meeting and eating hall.

Leena takes Jim and I to the adjoining learning space.   A smaller hall with movable partitions - the classrooms can be adjusted to fit the numbers of the learners.

It is the Christmas holidays so no students are there - but their art works - their word projects - their exhibitions of learning and talent are every where to be seen.  Words.  Images.  The fruit of ideas and joy have been pasted on almost every available bit of space.   Leena believes in learning by immersion.  Her teachers have caught on and shared this joy with their students.

I catch my breath a bit.  Wow.  Wouldn't I love my kids to be part of this school.  Roll back the years - wouldn't I like to be there myself.

The BTC Academy has 80 students.  Grades 1 - 7 and the special learning section as well as the 'star class' where students who are not able to be fit into classes are engaged until they master a basic set of skills and are then added to a class.

Wow.  Many schools in Thane will have 80 students in a single section.

The love of learning and the love for each one of these precious children is immense.  And you can see it on the walls - and hear it in Leena's voice and see it in her animated face as she lights up thinking about her students and her teaching team.

To think that each one of these children would otherwise be there in the red-light area - and with most of the girls being groomed for a life of selling themselves... and instead they are here where they are loved.  Where there is a future.  Where they see the love of God in action and are blessed by the Lord Jesus' hands and feet who are caring for them day in and day out.

We go over to the beautiful library.   Light pouring in.  Places to curl up and read.  Beautiful books on beautiful shelves.  Leena tells me that not many of the older girls read much, but that the younger ones are moving forward.   We meet a young lady who serves as the librarian.  Her eyes light up as we talk about books.  She has dreams of serving others too and is currently reading a missionary biography.

At the back of my mind I can't help thinking... what will all this cost?  Where do the funds come from?  But here I am with my friends enjoying the sheer miracle of a place devoted to caring for those whom no-one cares for.  Rejoicing to see girls who are now going to local colleges and who have dreams of living a different lives from where they come from.

It's Saturday, and Jim tells me that a number of the children have gone to church.

Church is back down in the red-light area.  The children have gone to the prayer meeting that BTC holds in the middle of the brothels.  Many of the women come to sing and pray.  Most return to their business.  The children have gone with the hope of seeing their mothers.

One of the poignant statements was written on one of the walls of the school.  A child and printed out some things about herself.  One of which was "I am sad when my mother does not come to church."   Sad because her mother continues in the trade and has chosen not to come and meet her daughter.

Prostitution is a long ugly complex set of relationships and various levels of bondages.  I for one understand very very little about it and am so grateful for Jim and Leena and others like them who are pouring their lives into giving these women a shot at redemption, opening at least a small window in their minds that change is possible and that God loves them so much that He can help break the various kinds of chains that hold them down.

There is a land of hope.  It is a messy one.  Jim and Leena used that word many a time over the afternoon.  But as my mind goes back to the warrens of Turbhe and the women decked up to sell themselves, waiting outside the cloth-veiled doorway for men to come by - I am so very very grateful for those like Jim and Leena and their teams who with Jesus' hope are working to help at least some see a new tomorrow.

Onwards messy and beautiful ones.


Saturday, 26 December 2015



Expressing our gratitude.

For another amazing year gone by.

It was a bitter-sweet time for us as we gathered on the 19th of December at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

Our dear Positive Friends came.  And their families.  And our friends from local churches.  And our staff and their families too.

How many came?  Well, the 450 food packets we prepared were all gone at the end - and a number of our staff 'went home hungry' (including a certain family with 5 who have a well-stocked fridge).

Once a year we pull out the stops.  To stop and say thanks.

Thanks to God - and thanks to each other.

Looking back and looking forward.

For us this marks our last annual thanksgiving time.  We have had at least 12 of them so far.  Usually on the second last Saturday of December.  A time for our HIV Positive Friends to look back and thank God for the year... and that they are still alive.  And look forward to what God has in store for them next.

This year's programme started with a lively worship set by bro Selvam Nadar and his crew.

Our limited budget - and the fact we are in a silent zone - meant that we could not have the full scale sound that Selvam wanted.  And he also came with a stripped-down team.  But the trio got us all off our feet and praising the Lord.  The man has a big heart and it what a joy to have him lead us in worship.

Next up was a skit by the local church youth group - and then a full scale set of dramas by the Living Hope team.

Minimal voices.

Maximum moves.

Mime to sound.

The team expressed the existential dilemmas that we face well.  And the hope that God through our Lord Jesus offers freely.

The 10 person team had us enthralled for half an hour - and the echo of their moves resonate in our minds.  Theatre has the ability to capture the very essence of something and take you deep into the heart of the matter.   Living hope lives up to its name!

As a team, the Jeevan Sahara Kendra loves to sing.

So we finally got a chance to put our voices to action - and gave a lusty rendition of the Urdu Christmas song "ho shadaman, saara jahan..."

The sun was now going down in the sky and we split up into three groups.   The adults stayed outside in the area behind the Lok Hospital building, framed by the coconut trees above (thankfully none fell down) and the garden on the side.

Tea was served by our eager volunteer teams.

Kids went off to the back of the campus where a team from the Childrens' Bible Ministry had a special programme for them.

And the young people were blessed by a team from the Borvali Hebron Fellowship who had a super session for them.

Each one is so precious - young and old.

It has been a privilege of working with the different families over these years - and seeing God shape lives in different ways.

We are so glad that none of the children born to HIV positive mothers under our care over the last 13 years have been born with HIV.  God's grace, lived out through the hard work of our staff and the love and generosity of church volunteers.

When we look into the faces of these dear young ones we see the future.  And it looks a lot brighter than the past from which many are emerging from... for which we are so grateful!

In a time of so much seeming hopelessness we are grateful for the Word of God who has revealed Himself in His word.

It was fitting to have John Gabriel share with us.

John has been with us as a family since our days in Borivali way back in 2001.

And over these years he and Nalini and their daughters have stuck to us.  Encouraging us. Praying for and with us.

As a family they have also supported the work with our Positive Friends - joining a number of Positive Friends retreats - and helping as a church to stabilise and support families in the locality.

One of the Positive couples from their church is today down South living an amazing life as an auto-rickshaw driver and pastor - with a son who is studying engineering.

Even as I am writing this a phone call has come from John - asking help for a contact of his down South who needs HIV counselling.

John shared from his heart about how our Lord forgives all our sins... and heals all our diseases.

We then had his words put into practice.  Our Positive Friends came forward to share what God has been doing in their lives.

What a joy to men and women stand up and publicly share their journey.  Some are far along the road to wholeness, others are just starting.  Each life is a miracle of grace.   We are obviously not showing their photos on this blog - but in our minds we see their faces and their words are still fresh in our hearts.  What a privilege for all of us to be part of this journey.

Sheba and I took the stage to say thank you - and to tell our friends that we are moving on.  Looking out at the various faces in the crowd was deeply moving.  Each one represents a life that we and the JSK team have partnered with at some point.

Sheba and I have been blessed to see so many of our dear friends pull through.

And we also know that many did not make it.

Even this year we lost a number of our Positive Frieneds.   The young boy Kim comes to mind as a particularly tragic case.   There were a number of folks at last years meeting who were not here this time.  But by God's grace, the medications are working and they are doing wonders.

We have folks who have been with us for years.  Some come back especially for this meeting each year.

We were able to thank God for His goodness in helping us this far - and share with our friends how we see our Lord leading us forward to move to the North again after the 13 years of work in Thane.

After the meeting a number of our dear friends cried with us.  We cannot imagine you not being here was something we kept hearing from our Positive Friends.

It was my real joy, to introduce my dear friend and our successor as leader at Jeevan Sahara: Thomas Phillips - known to one and all as 'Jolly.'

Earlier in the day I had gone back to our old centre for a very specific task:  to pluck a leaf.

This was no ordinary leaf.  It was the leaf of what is now a large tree growing on the street outside the old JSK office near Happy Valley.

About 8 years ago, it was a small sapling that an 8 year old boy called Sachin had planted there with his uncle.  Sachin died a few months after that.

But Sachin's mother was here with us at the meeting.  And his sister too.  And the once small sapling is now a mighty tree outside our old office building.

I handed the leaf over to Jolly as a symbolic passing on of the baton.

We are not worthy to be part of the lives that God has linked us up with.  Our model is the Lord Jesus who said that unless a grain of wheat dies, it will not bear fruit.   The lives that we see transformed in front of us are so often the result of our staff 'dying' to self - putting in the many hours of care and work that most do not see.

Jolly shared how deeply moved he was to be with everyone - and how much he looked forward to serving come February.  He then called the JSK staff forward for prayer.

It was now time for a snack and a gift.

We asked all those who had come to sit with their family members while our volunteers scurried about serving packets of vegetable biryani and hot tea in the slightly cool night air.

At the same time, we had our guests from local churches line up for joy of gift-giving.  Our JSK staff would take a church volunteer and steer them gift-in-hand to a family and introduce them.  The volunteer then gave the gift and spent some time talking and praying with the family before reporting back to our gift centre to be deployed to the next family.

It was a happy mayhem.

It was not possible to meet each person in the crowd, but Sheba and I did shake a lot of hands as we mingled with our dear friends.

Looking back, it is a perfect end to our time here.

A time to give thanks to God for His goodness in giving life to so many who would otherwise slip away from this earth largely unnoticed.

A time to rejoice in the wonderful way our team put the programme together, working as a seamless unit to get the 101 things done needed for a programme of this magnitude.

A time to make a clear statement that our time with Jeevan Sahara is now at an end... and the joy of being able to introduce our dear friend and brother Jolly to our Positive Friends.

And so we gathered as a JSK team with some of our family folks after the programme for a photo.   What an amazing bunch.  We are proud of each one of our JSK family and are already mourning our upcoming going of different ways.

But oh how thankful we are.

p.s. a big thanks to Sharon Joseph for the superb photos - a few of which we were able to show here - but most of whom because of confidentiality and privacy issues will not be posted on the blog! 

Friday, 25 December 2015

Songs in the night

We have been carol-singing for the past 3 nights.

One or two years into our time in Thane, we were awoken from our beauty sleep at some ghastly hour between 11 PM and midnight by a large group of carolers from a local church.  We had not been 'warned' that they were coming, and I stumbled out to meet the 30 odd folks embarrassed and confused what to do with them.  Call them in?  Send them away?  I don't remember what we finally did - probably just grinned a bit and said good-bye to the dear-hearted Christmas revellers.  No hot chocolate was served by the Eicher household that night.

Our small church has less folks in our whole 'congregation' than that group of carolers.  So our own forays in the early parts of Thane's ever-so-slightly chilly nights have been far more modest.

We have our little band of faithfuls (with the 5 Eichers forming a big proportion of the celebrants) who visit 2-3 homes per night.  Three songs.  A small sharing about the joy of Jesus.  A prayer for the family.  Handing over a small gift of a 2016 bible calendar, a Dayasagar vcd and a plum cake (eggless of course). On our way into the night again.

Three nights and yet such very different homes - reflecting the fractured reality of our city of Thane - and the cheek-by-jowl but oh-so-very-very-apart lives of the rich and the poor.

And so we sang songs of the Messiah who came into the world to save us from our sins in the beautiful homes of our neighbours as well as in some of the less lovely homes where our slum-dwelling friends live.

There was a particularly horrid hut yesterday night which summed up all which is so wrong in this world.  We are no strangers to this place.  The couple who used to live there were a decade younger to us.  Today they are dead.  They died from HIV.  Our team tried hard, very hard to help this family.  The darkness in their lives did not relent.  The current inhabitants are a small 7 year old orphan boy and one of his grandmothers.  I forget which one is which - the one who sells liquor and got his older brother to stop school and start ragpicking, or the marginally better grandmother who showed up unannounced at the hostel we had sent the children to last year to try and get them a new start and caused havoc there with her lies.

We had passed a knot of men gambling at the entry-way off the street, walking through small dark gullies till we came to the tiny asbestos covered shack.   This 10 ft by 10 ft 'home' has been cut in half and another family lives on the other side - no doubt paying a small rent that one of the grandmothers uses to keep things going.

I was sitting on the floor with the others crammed into the tiny space and looked up at the bags of clothes tied up, and the soot encrusted walls.  A shabby TV with a pay-set-top-box showed that cash is used for for some entertainment of sorts.

In the din of the slum - with other TVs on in other places and the hustle and bustle of life behind walls our songs swelled up for a short period of time.  What hope is there in a family who has made so many sad choices?

But it was for just such a seeming hope-less home that our Lord became enfleshed.  One of our number was little Ashish - barely 4 months old - but brought along by his parents on this night of carols.  How helpless our Lord was in that night in far away Bethlehem.  How humiliating for the King of glory to be cleaned of the wastes that his little body ejected.  And how familiar our Lord is to the horrors of poverty, the life-time grind of not having options.

We sang songs of hope in a pretty hope-forsaken place.  I am back in the comforts of my home and that broken family continues to squat on that little bit of land.  But a prayer has been said. And well after the songs have faded, there is still hope for change.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Coming home

We have been blessed to have Andi's parents with us for most of this year - and on the 1st of Jan we head off to Vizag for a quick visit to Sheba's parents.

So many parents, however are yearning for their children to come home...

This is an advertisement for a German shopping chain.   Sometimes truth is spoken from strange places...

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Yohan's first birthday... with us

Its early AM on the 13th of December 2015.

Today is the day we have decided to start celebrating Yohan's birth on.  We just don't know which day he was born on (1 in 365 chance that it was the 13th of December of course).  All we know is that he was born in 2003 - just like Enoch.

Enoch's birthday on the 19th of February is shared with the great Maharashtrian warrior king Shivaji.

Yohan's birthday celebrations will from now on be shared with our dear Amma - whose immediate and warm welcome of the news that we desired to bring Yohan into the family was so important to us.

Since tomorrow is Sunday and our house fellowships are all gathering for a 'common worship' time in the morning - and as there is a big concert in the evening that we are running a stall at - we decided that our first party for Yohan would be today instead of the 13th.

And what a lovely party it was.  Yohan had been counting down the days - and today finally arrived. He woke up with his normal big smile - and it was hard to keep him calm through out the day.  The news that little Abhishek had got up at 5 AM with an announcement that today was 'Yohan bhaiya's Birthday Party' brought a smile to all of us.

A last minute dash to get everything in order - with everyone pitching in and a more than a few trips to local shops - and we were good with 6 PM rolling around and the first guests there!

Yohan was joined by Divya and her brother Harsh-vardhan from the building.  Harsh-vardhan plays football with Enoch and Yohan.  Anil and Sandhya and little Abhishek and even littler Ashish were the first in the door.  We also had the JSK lady staff as well as Jayprakash and his sister Gita.  Two more couples with kids - Daniel and Yerusha with their Abiel and Rajesh and Shweta and little Stuti too rounded off the evening's crew.

A full house, some fun games, and then a time of reflecting on God's word.  We have the example of our Lord Jesus when He was 12 years old Himself - that He grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men (Luke 2.52).  Daniel uncle prayed for Yohan.  And then it was time for cake and candles....

Mummy and Daddy were hungry from all the 'work' of getting the party together... so young Yohan was quick to feed them...
Who would have ever imagined this day on the 12th of December 2014.  Yohan had been admitted at JSK as a sick small boy at that time - but to think of him as a family member....  Amazing what God has done!  
We still have a long way to go, and ask for urgent prayers so that we will be able to turn our foster care of Yohan into a proper adoption.  But we are so thankful for everything that has happened so far.

Here are our two boys - both born in 2003 - and both celebrating their 12th this year.  Enoch is already looking forward to his 13th in Feb, and before that we have Asha's 15th to celebrate in Jan 2016!

The festive season is truly underway!

And just for the public record - here are before and after shots of Yohan's first cake as an Eicher....

Friends from other eras - still fresh!

It's not often that you get a phone call from Auntie Hazel Raine - and its even a greater joy to know that she is briefly in town and choses to come and meet you as a family!

But that is what happened on Thursday evening.  We had the joy of having a real saint - another of our living legends - come by and spend some precious time with us as a family.  Lloyd and Hazel Raine came to Bombay as missionaries in 1959.  They helped set up the Berean Bible College in Chembur and lived many a place across Bombay town and poured their lives into others.

Asha took this photo and so is not in the happy throng...
Uncle Lloyd and Auntie Hazel knew Mum and Dad from when they were young bright-eyed OMers in the mid 1960s.  One of Hazel's first memories of Dad is him showing up with 30 young men one day Lloyd and Hazel's place and expecting to be housed and fed - which they were.  And when it was pointed out to him that their dear cook was being worked to the bone, he swung into action and got the young guys pulling their weight too.

Uncle Lloyd went to be with the Lord just over a year ago.  This is the first time that Auntie Hazel has come back to India 'alone.'  But, of course she has family everywhere she goes.  People that she and her dear husband poured themselves into - and who are living lives of purpose and value... all across the country.

I remember them vaguely as they were just finishing their stint at Bombay Baptist Church and then heading out to Calcutta where they spent another 13 years of service.

Auntie told us about how the pollution of Calcutta basically finished Uncle's lungs and forced them to return to Canada to save his life... but how shortly afterwards they were convinced that they needed to come back to India.  And they did.  Without even knowing which of the 4 options they were considering they would eventually take.

And so they ended up in Hyderabad for the last stint of their service in India.  The air was better than Cal or Bom - and they faithfully lived out their love for Jesus.

Which is what brings Auntie back again for a 3 month trip over this winter.   We are so touched to be given the slice of her life she blessed us with!  Her visit was over all to quickly and she was off again to be with folks in Colaba...


What ho!  A message on FB saying that Noel DeSouza is in town and that he would like to come over and visit us.

I can't even remember the last time we met.  Decades ago.

Noel's mother Theresa was a dear friend of Mum.  She died when Noel and his two brothers Nigel and Nathan were very very small.

Fast forward to today.  Noel is married to Pearl and has two daughters - the older one who is Asha's age.  Nathan is with him in Dubai and Nigel back in Goa.  Uncle Joeseph died a few years ago.

The three lads have survived so much.  And here is Noel - large as life with us on a Saturday morning in Thane.          

We looked back with so much thankfulness to the love and care that Mum and Dad gave at various times and in various ways.

Noel has done really well.  What a blessing to see him thrive.  While showing us photos of his wife Pearl and their daughters, we saw lots of shots of computer servers - and a picture or two of a cricket stadium.

He casually told us that he is looking after IT for the ICC.  Yes, that's the International Cricket Council - which is based in Dubai.

Enoch's eyes grew round when I told him this after Noel had left.

But his eyes - and Yohan's too - had already goggled.  Uncle Noel had come bearing gifts - and one of them was a massive box of Lego.  A huge Star Wars battle creature called an 'AT-AT' - the arrival of which meant an end to Enoch and Yohan's Saturday morning classes with Mummy - and the beginning of some serious building:

Noel and I talked about how much this toy was a blessing to us - he remembered Stefan and my collection - which I was happy to tell him is still being used by Enoch and Yohan (and their Daddy too once in a blue moon).  Those strong plastic bricks - still being used to build dreams - and play out fantasy adventures 30 years later.

Noel's visit was also over far too quickly - but he had others to meet and so we bade a regretful good-bye after a time of prayer together.  

May we meet again - and not after decades...

We may be friends from other eras - our kids may need major back-filling explanations for folks who are strangers to them - but amazingly, our relationships can still be fresh!

Friday, 11 December 2015

Future colleagues... coming right up!

"And te tide and te time ├żat tu iboren were, schal beon iblescet."

Got that?  It's English.  Only 800 years ago.  St. Mahrer is said to have written this in 1225 which rendered into more prosaic Victorian sounding English goes as follows: "the tide abides for, tarrieth for no man, stays no man, tide nor time tarrieth no man" (all this gyan fresh off 'the internet' of course).

Today we say "Time and tide wait for no man."

Time certainly seems slipping away.  This day is minutes from being over.  December is rushing by like a Mumbai fast local train.  2016 is peeping around the corner.

And so what looks like our immediate future.

Take a look at some of our colleagues from the next lap of life for the Eichers.

This shot was taken 10 days ago at the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital in Lalitpur.  It was on the occasion of the Regional Advisory Committee meeting so the Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA's) North and Central Regions.  Near the centre, wearing a white shirt is Dr. Sunil Gokavi who serves as the Executive Director of EHA, next to him in the olive green shirt is Dr. Ashok Chacko who was my first 'boss' in EHA many moons ago as he was in Coordinator for Community Health when I served at the Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand.

Sprinkled among the good folks in this picture are dear friends.  Vikram Tirkey, Dipak Singh, Johnson, our own dear Victor Emmanuel.  And there are folks that we don't know, but look forward to working along with.

This picture was posted by Biju Mathew who is the administrator and head of the HBM Hospital which hosted the meetings.

At present we are planning for me to start up at Lalitpur on the 19th of January (5 weeks from now!) with me going up to Lalitpur for 2 week spans during Jan, Feb and March.  After the school year ends for Asha and Enoch, we then hope to shift as a family in early April.

Lots to look forward to.  Onwards!

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Mumbai as you have never seen her before

Mumbai is an amazing city. 

She calls the masses from near and far.  Those who were privileged enough to be born in her (ahem, ahem) swear by her.  Others swear at her.  But they still come.  Grudging pilgrims to money.  Village dreams drowned in the go, go, go that keeps the city pulsing.

Here is a picture of Nana Chowk today.  You can see "Elim" our childhood home just behind the lighted steps coming down from the skywalk in the lower right hand of the picture.

This clip is a shot from a beautiful short film of time-lapse photography made by Aswhin Nagpal.  Its quiet hypnotic sound track drives the images forward. 

The night shots wash away a lot of the grime - but perhaps that's what we need every now again.  To see some beauty as well as the ugliness of this great sprawl.


Mumbai - A short time lapse film from ashwin on Vimeo.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

A different world...

I stopped near the Turbhe station and called Abhay.  "I am here" I said, "how do I come?"

"OK" he answered "Come close to the station and take a left into the gully opposite the main gate.  I will send David to meet you."

I hung up and drove the Papaya forward another 50 meters or so.  There was the main entrance to the Turbhe local railway station on my right.  So I took a left into a tiny crowded road that entered what could be any of Mumbai's slum settlements.

Shops on both sides, some selling mobile phones, others rice and other dry goods, small hole in the wall eateries.  The narrow road made narrower by a market on both sides, hand carts laden with oranges (in season right now) and vegetables.   People and motorcycles moving this way and that.  My car moved slowly and my horn was used a number of times.

The road started to climb a hill.  I was scanning the pedestrians for David.  I saw him just as a large car coming the other way forced me over into an awkward spot.  David clambered in, I reversed out and started climbing again. Slowly.

And then I noticed that I was not in Kansas anymore.

The shops had disappeared.  There were small huts on either side.  And there were girls sitting on the stoops.  Lots of girls.  Looking out in the warm afternoon sun.  Lounging on plastic chairs.

At some undefined point we had entered into Turbhe's red-light area.

David guided me ahead.  "Take this lane.  Right here.  Straight ahead.  Left here."   We finally stopped in front of a shuttered ware house.  A small lane led to more ware house doors, men were lifting things.  I parked and we got out.

David Gurung is a part of the Manna Prayer House, an amazing ministry to women engaged in the sex trade and their children, rooted in the heart of the Turbhe red light area.

David took me down two tiny alleys and we were there.  A small door with chappals outside, the sound of singing coming from inside.  We ducked in and were in a small room with some 20 kids and a number of women, in front was an old friend of mine - Asaram K - playing the bongos and singing.

Abhay Sharma - who along with his wife Hoinu helped set up the Manna Prayer House - welcomed me with a hug.  I had been asked to share from God's word, and after some more singing, I was up. 

I shared about the disciples being in the boat, rowing in the darkness of the night, with the wind and waves against them.   What was the experience of these ladies?  I could tell some were Nepali.  One or two of the songs had been in Bengali, so I assumed that a number of them were from Bangladesh or West Bengal.  A madonna-like woman - clearly from Nepal - had a small child in her lap.   I later learned that she was HIV positive and had been started on ART. 

Sitting in the small room - with bright posters on the wall and the kids in front of me being normal kids - squirming and singing and poking each other and sleeping - what would I know of the troubles that these ladies go through?   Abhay told me afterwards that many of the mothers want the children to be at the Manna Prayer House because otherwise the kids are with them in their 'rooms' (curtain-separated cubicles) often under the mothers' beds while they service their clients.

We talked about how the disciples felt that they were alone, far from Jesus.  But that He had been on the mountain praying for them - and went out to meet them... walking on the water.   When those hardy fishermen saw Him the cried out with fear.  All they could think about was that He was a ghost.  But Jesus immediately calls out to them:  "Take courage.  It is I.  Don't be afraid."

And that's what Jesus is telling each one of us.  Be it a woman far from her home in Nepal - in the grime of a distant city selling herself and cradling her child in her lap - or a mixed up chappie with multiple blessings who has just come by for a few hours and will soon be back in the comforts of a flat with a family and love and prayers.  But the awesome truth is that we are both made by a loving Master's hands - and all of us have the amazing opportunity to be loved by the One who left heavenly glory to be born in flesh and blood.

True to their name, there was prayer.  At the end of the meeting, we prayed for a number of the ladies.  Three of them were HIV positive and are being cared for by the staff of the centre.

The picture on the right is from the Manna Prayer House website. One of the things each of us needs is to have a hand put on us and be prayed for.

After the meeting we shared a meal together.  And then Abhay took me over to the original place that the Manna Prayer House started in.  A 10 by 20 ft room, with two beds in it, a small office and big pictures on the wall of Nepal adorned with Bible verses.   This had been a brothel - and they were able to purchase it some years ago.  Today it serves as an early half-way home.  A place where ladies can take the first steps of getting out of the system. Women can come and stay there.  And some do.  For months.  Abhay told about one woman who they were able to reunite back with her family in Nepal.

It is also a place where the sick stay.  Manna Prayer House is looking after a number of women who have HIV - taking them to the govt. hospital for their ART treatment.  Jeevan Sahara Kendra ran a testing camp with them last year - a way of helping the women in the area know whether they have HIV or not.  A small step to try and help them see the value of stepping out of the trade.

Abhay opened a drawer and pulled out a plastic bag and pulled out a bunch of wooden bead bracelets and earrings.  "We welcome women to come and do something" he said "while they make these we talk with them, make friendships, pray with them."  He asked me to chose some for Asha - I took two.

In the empty room we prayed together.  I am so grateful for Abhay and his wife and the amazing single-minded love they have for the ladies around them. 

He told me that there were about 15,000 women in the trade in area.  Each room goes for about Rs. 15,000 rent per month - and the owners ask for a Rs. 5 lakh deposit.  Flesh sells.

The room they are renting for the children's centre is being given to them at Rs. 8 K per month.  No deposit.  The owner has a soft heart for them.  They are using the place to the maximum.

Walking through the lanes with Abhay was surreal.  Here he is making a friendly comment to almost all the women sitting in front of their doors.  The ladies are in a line, sitting on plastic chairs, combing and oiling their hair, basking in the late afternoon sun, listening to songs and playing with mobiles, chatting or playing cards, looking languidly through a peddlers wares of small children's clothes.  I was struck again with just how massively strange it is to have this area so completely different from where we live.  Almost a parallel universe.  A place which I don't want to even believe exists - but is just a 45 minute drive away from our home.

It was getting to late afternoon when I headed out.  The first costumers were arriving.  A young man walks by - a woman with a neon bright shirt takes him away.  Another group of women are chatting when a man walks up.   I look away. 

Many many years ago, a wise man wrote this about a similar situation:

I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men,
    a youth who had no sense.
He was going down the street near her corner,
    walking along in the direction of her house
at twilight, as the day was fading,
    as the dark of night set in.

Then out came a woman to meet him...  (Prov. 7.7-10)

Today a number of churches across Mumbai held a "Mumbai AIDS Sunday."  Different congregations prayed and asked God to touch people suffering from HIV, challenged each other to reach out and care for those in need, prayed that the spread of HIV would slow down even more, asked Jesus to break our hearts by the things that break His....

Abhay and Hoinu and their colleagues at Manna Prayer House are living out these prayers.  We are so, so thankful to God for them.   Eternity will see the impact of their lives.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Fits and starts

Epilepsy is a mystery.

What actually happens inside the mind of a person having an epileptic seizure.  We are told that the seizures come from "excessive and abnormal cortical nerve cell activity in the brain."

The cells seem to be firing at will, but how does it get there - and how does it resolve?

This evening Yohan was reciting a poem he is memorising.  Then he stopped.  He looked side-ways.  Enoch thought he was trying to remember something.  Maybe he was.

But Sheba knew better.  Earlier in the day during a shopping outing Yohan had shown what looked like the onset of a fit.  So Sheba just took Yohan, who was frozen and looking sideways, and lay him down on the couch.

I was just finishing a conversation with Appa on the phone.

"He is having a fit" Sheba told me, and we sat with Yohan and put our hands on him and prayed to our Lord Jesus for help.  Calm prayers.  We have been here before.

And after barely 2 minutes of his slightly stiff, slightly askew manner, Yohan relaxed.  He opened his eyes a bit.  We reassured him that we were there with him.  Asha and Enoch joined us and we each prayed for Yohan and then let him sleep for some time.


Scroll back to the day before yesterday.  Our weekly Bible study, a small group of us crammed into an even smaller room.  We had wound up the study and were about to have our meal together.  We ask for testimonies and prayer requests.  Manpreet (all names changed of course) - a widowed lady - told about how she was so grateful that she was going to get an 'adhaar' card - and that her 'papers' are now almost all in order.  Then Hira, a young woman, told with tears in her eyes how she has been taking medicines but still gets fits.  She had actually fallen down on the street while walking to our time together.  What could we offer, but prayers and Sheba hugging this dear lady, herself an orphan.

In a day and age when we expect everything to be perfect, when medicine is supposed to deliver health - if not instantly, then at least after a little bit and after enough bells and whistles have sounded - and cash has changed hands.  For Hira, we have seen years of taking medicines and what seems very little improvement.

Should we change the therapy?  Or are we at the very limits of what can be done?

One thing is sure.  We are humbled to know that we don't have everything at our fingertips, that we just don't know everything there is to know (though my actions often seem to walk in that direction).

Every day we must trust.   Our meds help.  That's why we give them.  But cure comes from the Lord.  Each day is another opportunity to hold onto His hand more closely.

It's been more than 2 months since Yohan had his last fit, before this evening.  We are praying that the next one will come well after that... and would be thrilled if this was the last one ever.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

A death in the family

James Tusing.  Died 2nd December 2015.

I count myself as an honorary member of the Tusing family after they opened their generous hearts to me while hosting in their home in Churachandpur, Manipur for some months in 1996.

Two years ago we as a family made a visit to Manipur, 17 years after I had last been there.  We were once again hosted by uncle Lalzakung Tusing.  Living on the ground floor were James and Kim.

I have just found out that James died last night.  A deep well of sadness has opened up again.

There are things that we just wish were different, if only a different road were taken.  There are prayers that parents made late at night for their children and we wonder what happened.  There are sorrows that defy easy answers, that gnaw deep within.

Far away in Australia, Jame's brother Philip has just shared this photo of him and his kid brother.

How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

How do we process grief when so far away, when so apparently helpless?

One thing is sure, one thing is clear.

We serve One for whom tears were not strangers.  A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.

His tears mingle with ours, and with those of dear Uncle and Auntie in the wordlessness of the regret we share.  With his brothers Philip and Jacob and their families.  With those who loved James and prayed for him.

We know, that One day will come.  Will come.

When sorrow and grief are no more.  When He will wipe away the salty-bitter stains off our faces.

This day we walk through the valley.

Holding His hand.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

World AIDS Day 2015

I just did a search for 'World AIDS Day' on this blog ... and surprise surprise, a good many posts of 'Chai Chats with the Eichers' have had those words.

Well.  Here is another one.  And it is being written with a difference - it is the last one that I will be writing while still serving with Jeevan Sahara Kendra.

World AIDS Day comes on the 1st of December each year.  And for us in India we are now drawing to a close for this World AIDS Day - while folks on the other side of the earth-ball are waking up to Dec. 1st 2015.

This 1st of December marks an amazing anniversary for us.

A year ago today (of all days) Yohan came into our lives.  We had been told in the last week of November 2014 about a sick orphan boy whose parents had died of HIV and who needed to be stabilised and then sent to an orphanage.  We told the concerned folks to bring him over to the JSK centre.  We were not sure what we could do, but we wanted to try.  As I recall they were supposed to come on the 30th of Nov.  Instead, they came on the 1st of Dec. 

Who would have imagined that a year later he would be part of our family.  This evening we told him that we would be celebrating his birthday on the 13th of December - and have a party for him on the 12th!  He is thrilled.  We had hoped to have the legal adoption papers by now, but the year is slipping by and so we prayerfully made the choice to step forward with this.

This 1st of December is also pretty melancholy in some ways.  It marks the beginning of our last month with Jeevan Sahara.  We gave a letter to Bethany Trust in early October saying that we would be handing back the leadership of JSK back to them on the 31st of December.   Amidst the hustle and bustle of this year's World AIDS Day and Mumbai AIDS Sunday work, we have a small voice saying... this may be the last time you do this, and hmmm wonder if that will happen again...

But having said all of that, here was our day!

We started bright and early with Sheba and I having our cuppa and spending time with the Lord on our own.   A recent Family Camp has challenged me to see this as my 'most important meeting' and really look forward to it - and I am reaping some of the benefit of this.

Sheba made the tiffins for the kids while I showered and then revved up our Papaya for our school-car-pooling run.  We were down-stairs by 7.25 and had picked up the other two kids 5 mins later and were whizzing off to BSS in Powai before you can say Jack Robinson.

After I dropped off our treasures, I hared it back to Thane to attend the monthly Pastors Fellowship breakfast which we have each first Tuesday of the month.   I was able to share with my dear friends about the upcoming Mumbai AIDS Sunday - we are hoping that many church fellowships will have a special time focussing on the needs of people with HIV on Dec. 6th - the first Sunday after World AIDS Day.   We had special time of prayer this morning as well.

The Jeevan Sahara Kendra team had headed out early for a special day-long HIV counselling and testing camp in Kalwa along with the Sahwas organisation.   It was a grand success with 126 people being tested in a very underserved slum community.  Our whole team pitched in and the church volunteers were great.  We will find out tomorrow if any of the tests came back positive - but we are very grateful for everyone who chipped in.

After the Pastor's meeting I picked up some boxes of books that we are hoping to give as gifts at the upcoming Positive Friends Annual Thanksgiving time (Dec. 19th - mark your calendars and call us at 9321112065 if you want to participate or help out in any way).

Then to pick up Yohan - who had been given early morning home-schooling by Sheba and then had 2 hours with Mrs. Priya Sane - his tutor.   We then had a quick lunch together and read from one of the Ladybird books which has survived my childhood.

A quick lay down (my back has been acting up again this week) and then I hit the computer to finish off the Monthly Prayer Calendar (sent off just after 1 PM) and then I needed to find out how to get to Govandi west.

Sheba came back from the clinic so that I could head back out again for an HIV awareness programme that Vision Rescue had asked me to do.  I thought I was getting late - and had not been to Shivaji Nagar before so our humble Papaya started acting like she was an F1 racer (not really, but I did go a shade faster than normal).

Shivaji Nagar is a massive slum settlement on the edge of the city.  Literally.  The place where the Vision Rescue folks have a small community centre is right at the edge of this sprawling settlement.  Beyond you see some open ground, then a large land-fill with hundreds of plastic bags flying in the sky - behind which are the mangrove swamps of Mumbai... and then the dirty sea that laps around the city.   The slum is just off the main air corridor, so we saw plane after plane fly by on their way to land at one of the Mumbai airports.

I was brought up to a tiny room with sewing machines lining the walls.  There were posters of sewing implements and clothes.  This place is used to train local women in tailoring skills.  A number of the young women were there - most dressed in hijab - and on the other side of the room their mothers.  We had a good time going over the basics of HIV and how to prevent its spread - and what can be done if we have it.  Knowledge is power - and being able to talk about things openly really helps.  One middle aged lady said that she is so relieved now - since she had been in fear of people with HIV - but knowing that it does not spread in routine daily contact really took a load off her.

We then went out to a near-by cross-roads for a street play which was put on by the NSS group from a Mumbai college.  The play was of course about HIV, but was a bit of a disappointment.  Earnest young folks who had clearly practiced for it - but too many words, too confusing, all in Marathi (when most of the local population in this slum only knows Hindi)... A goodly crowd which gathered did not really what they really needed to see.  But commendable that the group had come out all the way to share what they could...

I had another session to take.  This time with men.  Well, make that 2 men, 8 adolescents and a smattering of boys.  It was good fun to go through the same presentation with the other gender.   The boys seemed to have shorter attention spans - but I think I was able to get through to some of them.

Then it was back in the Papaya and into the gradually rising traffic flows back to Thane.

Tuesday nights are Bible study nights for the Eichers.  We have been meeting in the home of Sister Shanti for the past 3 years now.  Tonight's topic was not about HIV - but almost all those present have some experience with the disease.  Either living with the virus, or the children of someone who does... or did.  A small group - but one with very special needs.  One dear young woman had a mild epileptic fit during our time together.  She expressed at the prayer time how sad she is to be taking medication and still be getting these dizzy spells.    A widow lady thanked God that she was getting an adhaar card soon.  Just 3 months previous she had had virtually no identification proof.  Now slowing the JSK team has been helping her build a set of documents which will help her and her children in the future.

We then all had supper together.  All that is except Yohan.  He had had his meal at 7 PM since he needs to take his 9 PM meds on an empty stomache.   His cheerful presence was with us, however, in the small room as we dug into our rice and rajma.  Our little Bible study is made up of very imperfect people - but the simple and profound truths we uncover need a life-time to implement.  We left with the assurance of the amazing love of King Jesus - and I could see it in the hug that Sheba gave our dear friend who has been suffering from Epilepsy.

So we come to the end of another World AIDS Day.  So much more to be done.  But so very much to be thankful for.


Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Ode to a cuppa

Sweet brown liquid you
All seasonal steaming stimulant
Flavoured ginger or elaichi
But never never red
Unless in some distant village
Or Manipuri home

I met you in my boyhood
Slurped out of saucers after church
Or taken innocently from our neighbours
Contrary to my German mother’s wish

We met repeatedly o'er time n space
In pots from melted snow while going up mountains,
Served in crusty glasses along midnight tube-lit roadside bus-halts,
Huge milky mugs in Shanti Kunj
The first sing-song call in the morning in a foetid train
The last gulp before the day’s work ends

You were in our hands as we heard sad stories of broken lives
You offered a set of small comforting welcomes to strangers
Who wanted to tell my wife and I the things that did not come easily to tongue

Is it a wonder that you help shift my night-owlness
Into early-birdnality, as your steaming ginger-flavoured presence
Graces the side of my Bible in morning prayer

Sweet, sugar-laden liquid you
(Miracle: I am still not diabetic at 46)
You reminded me of Bharat when I was in the spic-and-span ‘States’
A stranger, I looked up an Indian cookbook to recreate your spices
And served chai-tea from henceforth
Winning a few converts and making the odd chai-evangelist

As today’s sun has dipped
And twilight is punctuated by crow-cries and hammer blows and traffic rumble
Of our dear urbanity
Another cuppa has disappeared into me (a big one)
Slipping lightly over tongue and soothing slightly sore throat
While fingers tapped keys

Evoking tea

Tuesday, 24 November 2015


I was at home this afternoon when the doorbell rang, talking on the phone, contacting folks about our Thanksgiving time this weekend where we will be sharing a new tool that we have developed: a small flipchart to help people with HIV take their ART medications better.

I asked the gent that I was speaking to whether I could call him back, because I thought it was a courier.  Since yesterday my old slipped disk problem has flared up again, and so I was pretty horizontal most of today. One of the advantages of phoning is that you can be supine while talking!

So over to the front door I go - and there is our local postman, with a speed post delivery.

It's Sheba's passport.  Freshly printed.  Delivered to the door.

We are on a Tuesday afternoon at 1.15 PM.    Am I dreaming?

The previous Thursday I had uploaded Sheba's passport reissue application.  Her passport had expired last year (sadly - not used abroad yet....).  I was astounded to get an appointment for the next day.  So on Friday at 10.30 I dropped her off at the passport seva kendra in town.   She was back at JSK by 1 PM that day - with her old passport duly cancelled and an SMS informing her that her passport is being processed.  Over the weekend we got other SMSes - stating that her passport had been sent for printing, had been printed, and then on Monday night we heard that it had been dispatched.

100 hours is all it took (and that too with a weekend in between) from Sheba walking in for her appointment and having the passport delivered at our door.

A normal passport.  Nothing special, no special fee.

When I think about the nightmares I have gone through with my precious Indian passport...

The nadir was my camping out at the Bareilly office in 1997 - trying to get it reissued so that I could go to Uganda.  Numerous times saying no to the various touts who lurked around, and numerous visits to the nightmare place - and that too after 'knowing' one of the officers there who was an acquaintance of Dad (but not in the good books of his colleagues since he was openly Christian and a strict no-bribe-man).  And having finally the blessed document delivered only to find out that they had made 4 mistakes - including wrongly writing the actual number of the passport!  The number that had been punched into every page and the number written on the first page differed!  The long bus journey back to Bareilly, the further meetings with the officials and finally having hand written remarks in it correcting the mistakes.  Real life Kafka.

And here we have the document in hand, a century of hours later.

What our government can do.  With a little partnership with others.  The passport seva kendras are manned by govt. staff - but only at the decision making level.  The other functions are farmed out to a private company who does all the basic work.  And does it ever work.

How many other functions could be farmed out this way?

My parents did not have a phone for 8 years because they did not pay the bribes the telecom wallahs were waiting for in those days.  Those days are long gone with the plethora of competition from mobile companies.

But so many areas of stick-in-the-mud intransigence remain.  Basic things like getting a ration card are virtualy impossible.  I went 4 times to get a voter registration - and finally got it for myself, but Sheba's application is still rejected because we honestly included her old voter card from her teenaged days in Odisha.  Even though the form has a place to declare that you are giving it up, the officials insisted that we get a no-objection-certificate from the officials in Odisha so that she can be registered here.

Aber Freunde, nicht diese toene, sondern angenehmere!

Just to say - so much is possible in our dear country of ours.  Including getting new passports in what is basically the blink of an eye.   Lets see this happen in other sectors too.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

a few words about Yohan's adoption process - and a goodly amount of silence too (for now at least)

We are coming up on a year since Yohan first came into our lives.

At this time last year we had no idea that he was present in the world.

His mother had just died.  He and his younger step brother were taken in by a good samaritan lady who found them crying on the street outside the govt. hospital where their mother was dying.  Being a single woman of modest means, she sent the boys to her mother in the village - a formidable woman who took them in.

But Yohan was also sick.  The family was just not able to care for him and so appealed to a Christ-following doctor they knew to have him cared for.   He called us.  Could we admit him at Jeevan Sahara Kendra, stabilise him, and then have him looked after in an orphanage...

Yohan was admitted at JSK on the 1st of December.  A small sick boy.  Not much hope.  

How much has changed in this year.  For Yohan.  For all of us.

Yohan did so well at JSK.  He gained weight.  We started him on the ART meds.  He was loved by many.  He not only survived, he began to thrive.  And then the question of where he would go started to crop up.   

As we prayed for options, we saw many doors shut.  We earnestly wanted him to be taken in by a family.  And slowly the voice of our Lord started speaking to Sheba and myself - that we should be that family.

On the 24th of January Yohan joined us.   It's been an amazing 10 months so far.   So much to be thankful for.  So much more work to do.  So many areas we all need to grow.  Individually. Together.  As a family.  

We got foster care rights after 6 trips to the authorities.   That was in April.  Then in August we asked to have Yohan declared free for adoption.   

I have purposely not written much about what we have been going through since we don't want to affect the 'due process' but let it be known that it has not been a very joyous experience.   One day, when the dust has settled, we will tell all.  

Till then here is a small teaser, a small glimpse into this unfolding part of our lives, a simple request for prayers on our behalf....

Yesterday Sheba went to another set of authorities in another part of the district.   The official who met her told her that the adoption guidelines have totally changed since there was so much abuse of the previous set up.  Kids being sold.  So the new process is all about being open.  All kids are to be on a website.  All prospective adoptive parents (unflatteringly abbreviated as PAPs) are to be registered on the website and then matched to their 'choices.' But the new guidelines have been dropped in without any training for all the govt. stakeholders.   

But he struck a note of hope for us, by saying that he would be uploading Yohan's details this weekend.  And then informing us so that we should do the same.  And then he said he would tell the adoption authorities that we should be given Yohan - and that he would write an order to the folks whom we have been going to so far (I am purposely not writing their title, name, place here so as not to show up on some random search engine) - and here is the kicker: he says that his order will be to those folks to declare Yohan 'free for adoption.'

If we get that ruling then it should be a matter of less than a month of going to the court and getting the adoption order as Yohan is a special needs child in a number of ways.

A lot is going on these days...

Your prayers are most welcome into the mix!  

One of these days we will be able to give you some really good news - and also be able to spill the beans on what has been going on behind the scenes (and what has not).  

Till then, stay tuned, and keep prayin'!

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Hot temper and cold pizza

Last night we decided to order something that was unthinkable for me growing up in south Mumbai in the socialist 70s.  We called on the phone and asked for pizza.

Rephrase.  Sheba had the super idea to augment supper with a bit of pizazz - and so I checked things out and gave the magic call. 

The folks in the Bangalore call centre took the order, reminded me of the price that I would be forking out, thanked me for choosing their company (hint: two words and the last one is German for 'hat'), and told me that it would be there by 10 PM. 

So when I got a call at 9.50 that the delivery man was down-stairs, I went out so that he would not ring the bell and disturb Yohan who was trying to get to sleep. 

And then I realised that he had made some kind of mistake.  He was in a wrong building.  No lift was moving up to bring pizza to us.

At 10 PM I called the Bangalore wallahs to inform that our pizza had not arrived yet.  They told me to call the local shop.  I was not in a happy mood by now.

Then I saw the lift light go on.  The pizza was coming up.  The delivery man soon was opening the door with his burden.  A mistake in the address - one that had been done on an earlier order (A4 sounds like 84).  

When I mentioned that we were outside the 30 min guarantee delivery, and that we would be having a free pizza now, he baulked.   A call to his boss.  Boss said that the delivery man had arrived at the base of the building in time.  I told him that the phone-wallahs had said it would come by 10 PM.

The volume of our conversation was now getting louder.  The joy of the order was draining fast.   

I should not have even started into the argument.  If a company doesn't keep its word, well, then it doesn't.  My spleen won't help.

20 mins later.  A few more fruitless calls to the store.  Stale mate.  Dug in.  Got out the cash.  Gave it to the man.

A nice cold pizza was waiting.   We microwaved the thing.

Sadly, my temper was the only thing hot for a while.  Even when I looked back with regret at my loose tongue and bright red face, I found myself walking in my mind along silly streets. "How about giving the Bangalore wallahs a call and telling them that I would write about all of this on the blog?  What if it went viral and they have to send some corporate types to mollify me?"  Astoundingly, I even wondered about how much they would be willing to pay me...  A kind of internal black-mail being played out in my mind.

Where do such thoughts come from?  How fragile is our goodness, how quick the old nature emerges - cloaked in self-pity and parody of 'justice.'

And so 24 hours later, and a number of prayers later, here is my mea culpa:  there is still much anger that my Lord Jesus must tame.  

We learned at the church camp that we are to rejoice in suffering, because suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope (check out Romans 5 - dynamite).   Our amazing speaker David Rendall shared that we can see the very character of Jesus being lived out in us through this process.  That we are being transformed from the inside-out...

Failing once again - with the family as spectators - doesn't make for much character showing of Christ in me.  But oh, the depths of His love and forgiveness.  Even for silly-balding-middle-aged-men who are loved by Him despite their tempers.   Work in progress.  Blessed Savior.

Monday, 9 November 2015


For years we have wanted to live with 'Oma and Opa' as a family.  This year our wish came true - though the circumstances of Dad's cancerous tumour, the major surgery and the subsequent 6 months of chemotherapy are not quite what we had expected.

As expected, a goodly portion of the writing this year on 'Chai Chats' walked with Dad and Mum through their valley of treatment and prayer.  And earlier this month we had the wonderful news that after 6 months of chemo, Dad's results were all clear.

One of the nice things about being an eicher Oma is that you have an awesome super awesome!!!

Editor's note... do you notice anything about the previous line?  

So this evening our house is full again.  John and Nalini, Nikita and Jasper are here to celebrate with us 7 Eichers.  To celebrate 8 months of healing and blessing to Dad... and also to celebrate Mum's 78th birthday!

The birthday part is a surprise - we hope - since Mum's birthday is on the 11th of November. 

So here is to Mum!

Hip, hip, hooray!

We are so very grateful to God for the joy of having Oma with us for these months.

Mum is a doer.  She literally cannot sit still.  After a few minutes she is restless and has to stand up.  She made sure that she pulled far more than her weight in the household chores - and had to be shooed out of the kitchen many a time - and then just went back to the kitchen while Sheba and I were not there.  Currently the fridge has apple pie, cheese cake and a mousse that Mum has prepard for us all.   She has also lovingly taken Yohan for his classes and picked him up each day.  Service, service, service would be her motto - and that is service with love, not for any glory of her own.   The way that she patiently has cared for Dad over these years is another huge topic!

Mum pours herself into people.  Our Tuesday night Bible study always ends with Mum hugging the ladies who attend.  She talks and prays with the dear ones that she meets.  Hers is no superficial 'hello, how are you' kind of relationship - she expresses her appreciation for the very essence of each person that she loves.

As always, Mum continues to rejoice in beauty.  I remember how as a kid we would sometimes attend conferences where the living conditions were quite spartan - but Mum would bring a table cloth and a few candles and turn a bare room into some thing homely.

She still does that.  Here is a small example.  Mum and Dad were expecting two dear friends to spend some time with them.  Mum had bought some orchids to give to them.  These very close friends were unable to come at the last moment, which was a huge disappointment for Mum and Dad.  But Mum made the best out of the situation by remembering the friends through the flowers.  And by taking the picture above.


Well, as I was typing the above, John and Nalini and the girls came in and so we were plunged into the suprise party. 

I am now writing with all the family asleep and the click of keys and the whirring of fans and the odd dog barking outside being the only sounds in the night.

Our time this evening was wonderful! The time was a wonderful surprise: John and Nalini themselves did not know that we would be celebrating Mum's birthday together.  As I mentioned earlier, they were mainly here for fellowship and to thank God for these months of grace that we have seen in Dad's life.

We started with Enoch walking in, climbing on a chair, and unrolling the Birthday Banner for our beloved Oma.

The table had already been laid by then and we were basically getting ready to eat when we shifted focus to celebrate Mum and God's grace in giving us this wonderful daughter of His.

Yohan then came in with a big boquet of flowers, followed up by Asha carrying in the cake.

Mum loves surprises, and this time we got her 100%.   She had been thinking of other things are we were able to draw a delightful smile from her when things unfolded and it became clear that she was the centre of attention for the evening.

78 years is a long time.  Mum was born in a Germany that was ruled by the National Socialists (Nazis) under Hitler.  She was separated from her parents for a 3 year period as a young girl to protect her from the allied bombs raining down on Leipzig.   Then the communists took over and declared the "German Democratic Republic (which was certainly not democratic by any yardstick).  As a young woman she left her country as a refugee and moved around in different countries - working and learning languages.  Then she had a life-changing experience with Jesus while in Spain - and decided with live out a life for Him.   And thanks be to God, He guided her to come out to India in 1964 - and we stand in the awe of over 50 years of service to our country that Mum has done.

Cakes are meant to be cut... and eaten.  I am snacking on an absolute chocolate bomb of a cake as I write this to you.  Dad helped Mum do the honours while the songs were sung and then John prayed for Mum.

There was of course a lovely spread to celebrate with.   And lovely people to have heart-to-hearts with as well!

John and Nalini have been such amazing friends to us over the years.

Asha and Enoch have grown up with Nikita and Jasper - and amazingly are attending the same school at present.   We are so grateful that they can have such lovely friends to grow up with.

Nalini and Sheba are like peas in a pod - though they are very different to each other.  Yet, whenever the get together it is magical.  I have appreciated John so much over the years - his savvy and his deep love for God are part and parcel of the same John who has given me many delightful conversations over the years!

What is especially lovely for us is to see Mum and Dad become so deeply linked with John and Nalini as well.  God is good and blesses us over the generations of his grace!

 So here is to you Mum!

We know that your real birthday is only on the 11th of November, but wanted to take this time to thank God for you.  There is so much to say, but let us make this small step forward: "Thank you for your love which you continously poured out for us!"

We also would like you experience year as you enjoy the presence of the most high in you life, your family and your community- as well as the rest of us here in our nation.

May your feet be firm as you continue to serve others in the name and spirit of God's love, and may the twinkle in your eye become ever more infectious!