Tuesday, 27 January 2015

His name is ... Yohan!

An aged man was in the middle of a long-sought-after honour.  To be in God's holy temple in Jerusalem, presenting the insence to the Lord, laying out the bread, worshipping God Himself on behalf of all the worshippers outside in the massive temple courts.

To be the sole priest to go into the actual sanctum sanctorum was something every priest in Israel wanted to do.  So going in was governed by casting lots.  It was Zecheriah's turn.

And then things went strange.

Instead of being alone with the unseen presence of God in that holy place - a rude shock.  An angelic being there beside the inscence altar - and he is addressing Zechariah: "do not be afraid, your prayers are heard, your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will call him John."  The angel goes on to say marvellous things about the boy to come: that he will "be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth" and that he will "to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

What a prophecy to get about a coming son!  The only problem was for Zachariah, it sounded too good to be true.  Especially as he and his wife were childless and into their old age. 

The old man was afraid.  And the answer was a stumbling one. "How can this be? My wife and I are old..."

Well, this passage resonated with Sheba and myself.   Ever since we married 15 years ago, we have talked and prayed about adoption, but I had a lot of fear.  And fear meant putting things off.  Last year God helped me overcome that fear.  And so suddenly last week, our prayers for a home for little Valmik reached a tipping point.   We had been praying that someone else would adopt him - and we gradually began to realise that Jesus was telling us that we were the answers to our prayers. We realised that God was showing us in multiple ways that we were to take him home.   We shifted from praying 'God show us if you want us to adopt Valmik' to 'God show us if for some reason you do not want us to... and do so very clearly!'

And so we are suddenly parents again!  How strange and unexpected.  With deep butterflies about the next steps - and also wonderful rays of joy. 

On Saturday Valmik came home to us.  On Sunday we dedicated him to the Lord Jesus in our house fellowship.  We all came to the conclusion - including Valmik - that we wanted to start our son with a special name.  What better name than the passage which spoke to us:  His name shall be John! 

We wanted an Indian version for this and quickly settled on "Yohan."  Yohan is Syriac for John and means 'God is merciful.'   And indeed He is.  We are recieving wave after wave of mercy and grace these days.

So it was with great joy that on the 25th of January we first used Yohan.  And Yohan first started calling us Mummy and Daddy.  What sheer joy to hear our son address us as parents.  To come home to another set of hugs and have another little one to tuck into bed and pray for at night... How much our heavenly Father too must rejoice when our faltering lips first call Him 'Daddy' too.
What a joy to have 'Oma' and 'Opa' with us this month.

We asked them to extend their stay with us after Asha's birthday because we thought I would be visiting Rwanda during this time period.  Little did we know that we were actually setting the ground for them to be with us as Yohan became part of the family. 

Their love and prayers and encouragement have been such a blessing and help for us in these days of grace.  We are deeply touched by the affirmative words and prayers from Amma and Appa from far away outside Vishakapatnam.  We are eagerly waiting for Yohan to meet them too!

So we are now in a new world.

A world where we are exploring with a new family member.  Introducing our dear ones to Yohan - and having Yohan experience an ever widening set of relationships.   And also for us to take the intial steps of experiencing who Yohan is and who he is becoming!

One of the scriptures which spoke to us was 'children are gift (some versions say 'reward') from the Lord (Psalm 127).  What a gift we are experiencing. 

Yohan was prayed for at church.  And has been covered with prayer in so many ways.  We know that we do not have the capacity, energy or wisdom to care for another child - but God does.  And He has graciously encouraged us to take this step which we are still rubbing our eyes about... did we really do this?  

We earnestly need more prayers as we work through the next steps.

Getting the paper work done.  We are in uncharted territory here.

Understanding Yohan's learning needs.  He is 11 but has hardly seen the inside of a school.

Seeing healing and wholeness take root in our son.

Building a common language - we have suddenly become a bi-lingual household, with even Enoch switching to Hindi when he speaks with Yohan.

Rescheduling our time - especially in these early months - so that we are able to spend as much time with our 'new' child - and also keep moulding Asha and Enoch too.

All a tall order - but as before - nothing is too difficult for the Lord!   We feel like the man who said to Jesus: "Lord I believe, help my unbelief!"

And it helps that Yohan has a king-sized smile.  That he is just soaking up the love.

Tonight at our Bible study at Shanti Francis' home, we asked people to share their prayer needs.  Yohan was one of the first to speak - and he said that he is thankful to Jesus that he was sick but is now better.

There were a number of moist eyes in that small room when Yohan said that - especially those belonging to the two new parents.

We have been overwhelmed by the love that people have poured out to us - a cascade of greetings from all corners of the globe thanks to facebook - calls from loved ones and hearty hugs by so many of our local friends.

We know that Yohan has been brought into our little family for a purpose and are excited about the steps ahead.

Some of them have already begun!

Asha is showing herself to be an indefatigueable teacher - and has pounced on her at times a shade reluctant but nearly always smiling (so far at least) student.

Here she drills Yohan through the 3 times table...

 And then there is self study too!

Today we found Yohan in a box - looking through Calvin and Hobbes!  Perhaps he was trying transmogrification?

But most of all, we are all learning the new contours of our family.   We are on a new track of our life-long journey.  One which if you had told us about in November 2014 we would have patted you on the back and encouraged you to take up writing science fiction.  But which has moved very rapidly from an outside chance fantasy to real life 'fact'ion. 

For unto us a son is born, unto us a son is given...

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Valmik Eicher

This morning we welcomed Valmik into our family!

For the last month and a half we have been praying for a home for this lovely 11 year old orphan boy.

Over the past week we took the step of faith - from our scripture readings over the past weeks we see over and over again that God cares for the fatherless and the orphans.  We have gradually, incrementally come to the conclusion that God is answering our prayers - and that He has chosen our family to be the answer to our desire for Valmik to have a home.

So Sheba and I have a new son - and Asha and Enoch a new brother.

What a blessing to have Oma and Opa with us at this amazing time.

By mid-week we made our decision - Saturday morning we will bring Valmik home.  

This morning Sheba went over to JSK at 9 AM - her usual time.  But she came home with a new son.  Valmik brought his tiger "Karan" along with him as well.

So this is what the Thane Eichers look like as of 24.1.2015

As soon as we welcomed Valmik into the home - he went with Enoch bhaiya to play.  Out came the duplos and the two builders got to work.

 Half an hour later - the house was brought out for our inspection.

Who would have imagined at the end of 2014 that we would start 2015 with a new son.  But here he is - a living miracle and a blessing to us already.

In the coming months we will be built up as a family.  Like the bright duplo bricks - we have different sizes and colours  and functions, but we are being built together by our Master-builder Jesus Himself into being a dwelling place for Him.

We solicit your prayers as we embark on this new chapter to the Eicher adventure.

The next few weeks will see us work through the paper work and rework our schedules to be able to look after Valmik.  We are going to be immersing ourselves in non-traditional education as we help Valmik read and write.  We are going to be exploring ourselves as we find out who we are in a new way.  It's a wonderful journey - and a terrifying one as well - but we know who holds our hand.
With Oma and Opa with us for another week - we have a beautiful opportunity to dedicate Valmik to the Lord tomorrow morning at the house church which meets in Jolly and Suma's home.  We wish all of you could be with us on this happy day - but know that many of you who read this will be rejoicing with us in spirit and that your prayers are going to be carrying us forward!

We look forward to all of you getting to know the newest Eicher a lot better over the coming weeks and months.  This morning Valmik has come home.  

Vizag Village Days - Post-cards from another land

We have been back in the big city of Thane for 3 weeks already - and were caught up in a swirl of activities with Stefan and family being with us the first week, getting ready for Mum and Dad's surprise thanksgiving time in the middle of the second and topping it off with a visit by 14 folks from the US who wanted to learn more about our centre and work on the weekend.
But before all of this, we had an amazing 2 weeks in Andhra Pradesh.

So let’s travel back in time - to mid December 2014.

We were exhausted.  So what's new

The ring of events we organised around World AIDS Day and Mumbai AIDS Sunday through Jeevan Sahara Kendra ended with the climax of a massive annual Thanksgiving Evening for our HIV Positive Friends were some 500 odd people living with HIV, their family members and kids, church volunteers and JSK staff got together to celebrate another year of God's favour on the 13th of December.   Four days later we were in Powai at night for Asha and Enoch's annual school concert - and then early the next morning we were on the train for Andhra Pradesh.  Absolutely exausted.  Ready for the bliss of being with Amma and Appa.

And bliss it was.

Our train deposited us on the other side of the country.  We were welcomed at Vishakapatnam station by Appa's big smile and got into the big autorickshaw that he had hired for us from Tungalam village where Amma and Appa stay on the Vizag-Gajuwaka road.  

As we passed out of the town we could still see the destruction that cyclone Hudhud had wreaked.  No large spreading trees remained.  None.  Every one of them was blown over, many already cut up into logs - but some still spreading their bare branches plainatively to the sky.  A few had fallen on huts. The walls had ruts where trees had fallen.  But all things considered there was less damage than we expected from a storm of such intensity.  Any building with a slanted roof had damage.  But the squat concrete blocks which is the general way of building ‘pukka dwellings’ in our dear Bharat.  This combined with the fervent prayers of many saints meant that mercifully few people died considering the massive numbers of people in the huge swath of area that the hurricane affected.

But what a joy to get to Amma and Appa’s home.  The sheer goodness of their solid love.  Delicious meals.  Long lazy conversations.  Books.  Badminton in the front yard.  More food.  Sleep.  More food.  The joy of not having to rush around.  The actual lovely smallness of this village.  Driving with the scooter over to Gajuaka.  Unwinding.

hot channa-wada and payasam! yum!
One of the great things about Amma and Appa's place is its sheer remoteness from anything that would grab the attention.  It is in a little village and there is really not much to 'do' other than just enjoy life as it slowly washes over you!  

 The village itself has been growing more prosperous as the years go by - with a number of plush 'Singapore houses' being built on remittance money from folks who have gone abroad.  But at its core it remains a village. Clusters of homes where folks live and talk and gossip and where various farm fowl wander about happily while the children go to their tuition classes.

Cups of tea were of course sprinkled through out the day. 

I think our family has been sponsoring at least 2 tea gardens and supporting all their workers through the amount of this stimulating beverage that we consume!

The one 'task' I had was to get cracking on Mum and Dad's memory book.  Imagine my surprise when I find out that Amma and Appa's computer is on the blink - and so they do not have an internet connection... So my visits to the local cybercafe begin!

And the editing starts and stops between games of badminton and general family hilarity.

It was humbling to see what different people wrote about their experiences with Mum and Dad over the years.  We finally finished it back here in Thane - and now have a book of 265 pages of memories and stories of God's faithfulness through Mum and Dad.  Do write to us at andisheba@yahoo.co.in if you would like a copy and we will whiz it through the internet to you!

Sunday saw us attending the local Hebron fellowship in Gajuwaka. I was put on a double bill – preaching both the worship and the table message – with a competent translation into Telegu.  And a delicious meal of sambhar and chicken curry (!) afterwards.

It is fascinating to see how this church has grown - in numbers and in size and in structure - with a new building coming up after much prayer and giving.  But also touching to see some of the faithful folks who we have now been meeting for a number of years on our winter visits.   The church is so much more than bricks and mortar - the Bible tells us that we are 'living stones.'  With all our imperfections and abilities to irritate and get each other's goats - it is still the people who make up any local congregation - and it is our privilege to see people grow over the years.

Besides the pleasant rounds of food and reading and badminton at Amma and Appa's home, we also planned a two day outing to Amma's ancestral village.  We had never been to see Sheba’s aunt and cousins in the their remote village - and so chose the 24-25th of December for this.  We thus 'pre-poned' our family Christmas celebration for the Sunday evening - on the 21st of December. 

The festivities as a family this year included a detailed quiz...

A quiz you say?  Yes, and in excruciating detail too!

We had fun when it came time to share what we had written down.

It is so good to laugh.  (Memo to self: Laugh more, response from self: how?)

We also sang and thanked God for the miracle of His incarnation - which continues to today - though our Lord now has a resurrected and glorified body - but He remains amazingly 'flesh and blood' and will always be so since that remarkable event 2K years ago.

And then there was a treasure hunt which lead to the stash of gifts that we had got for each other.  Good times!

The next day dawned with the lovely normality of a Tungalam village day.  After a time of prayer and reading the Bible, Appa was out in front of the house with his beloved paper.

The minute examination of every scrap of information on a printed page that appears early in the morning is a habit (an urge, an addiction?) found almost exclusively in those of us in the family who carry an XY chromosomal pair.

Enoch has taken to the papers with gusto - especially pouring over the sports results and being able to confidently hold forth on the mysteries of the English Permier League football and other allied esoteric subjects.

On the Monday evening we had a very special outing.  

We were invited to the home of bro Nagesh and sister Vasundhara and their lovely daughter Ruth Netanya.  

Nagesh and Vasundhara had arranged for a special gospel meeting to take place in their home and wanted all their friends to come.  We were invited too.

A brother Stephen - from the Hebron fellowship in Vishakapatnam came and spoke.  Mercifully, he spoke in English and was translated into Telegu.  We have attended several meetings where the preaching is only in Telegu - with the rare word in English being thrown out with the (pretty vain) hope that we will get the gist of what is being said.  Not so this time - the speaker crisply and coherently shared the reason to be joyful and Christmas - and all year round.  And then we had another lovely meal.

I couldn't help taking a shot of the back of their synthesizer.

I didn't realise that there was a biblical foundation for using loud-speakers!

What would David have done if he had had access to the technology that is available today?  However he would have adapted his psalms to the instruments that we use today, there is one thing David certainly would not do.  He would never dilute the fervour in his soul, nor dim the longing for and delight in the Lord which comes out so strongly in so many of the songs David wrote.

Ruth?  Well, she is growing into a beautiful little girl.  And is being loved to bits by her wonderful adoptive parents and their whole extended family.

Needless to say she had us absolutely charmed.

We are just so happy that this beautiful girl has been given such lovely and wonderful parents. And vice versa!  What answers to prayers we experienced last year.  We went back to Amma and Appa's place that night with a song in our heart.  We had just seen a living breathing miracle - a wonder called Ruth who will continue to bring joy to so many hearts in the coming months and years...

And so after another day of rest (and me trying to get some more progress on 'the memory book') we were finally ready to go to the village.

Our first leg was by auto-rickshaw from Amma and Appa's home to Duvada railway station.  As the sun was coming up we could not help notice that the asbestos roof sheets of the platform were missing.  Another evidence of the fury of hurricane Hudhud. 

The 2 hour train journey to Samalkot was surprisingly crowded...  and the folks were surprisingly unhelpful in making place for our aged parents and our young ones.  To each his (or as it was overwhelmingly her) own I guess...

We were met at Samalkot station by Sheba's cousin Augustine.   He got the family into a big autorickshaw and then asked if I wanted to go with him on his motorbike.  Did I ever.  And then when we left the town, he asked me if I wanted to drive it.  Well, it has been sometime since I rode a bike - but my old Jharkhand days came back to me and I just couldn't say now.  So here I was driving in the middle of Andhra Pradesh and seeing scenery like this:

Drop-dead beautiful.

When we got to a point where we had to leave the main road, Augustine gently asked me if he could do the driving again.

I am glad he did - because we were soon engulfed in a sea of water buffalo - and the quality of the basically dirt road was Mars-mission-training grade.  It's always good to have locals take us through the by-ways which lurk just off the high-ways. 

Our first destination was the village of Ellapatty, where a new prayer hall was being dedicated. Nine months earlier, someone had burned down the previous prayer hall, which had a highly flammable thatched roof.  The new building was constructed in just 2 months - with various local Hebron fellowships chipping in with labour and money.  Augustine's mother had come regularly to help out - and Augustine who works as an electrician - had done much of the wiring.

It was humbling to see the simple, dear folks who came.  People who clearly love the Lord. Others who clearly are curious onlookers - and pretty much everyone in between. 

After the meeting - it was time to celebrate with a big communal meal.

One which had several sittings so that everyone would eat and be satisified.

Everything done by local people, using local resources.  Very humbling to see the zeal and love for the Lord Jesus that our Telegu brothers and sisters have.

We were then bundled into another autorickshaw and started our almost 1 hour trip to Amma's native village (it has an almost unpronouncable name - I will write it down and update this lapse of memory a.s.a.p.).

And so, as the dusk was beginning to take the first hues of night, we came to the home of Devenamma - Augustine's mother and widow of Isaac Uncle - who is the brother of Sheba's mother.  She lives there with Augustine and her daugther Anbo.  An elder daughter is married and in other place and an elder son died.  

The tragedies don't end there - her daughter Anbo was doing her nursing studies when she fell of the motorbike of a friend and dislocated her vertebrae - which meant she was bed ridden for 4 years and only by God's grace has she started to walk again.  Slowly, not sure of herself - but with much courage and God's grace.

We were deeply moved to see the simple and childlike faith that Auntie has.
 Village life certainly has its charms.  And this village was even more cut off from the world than Tungalam (where Amma and Appa stay outside Vizag).

Sheba tried to do some old fashioned grinding of spices and other veggies with the grinder and was reminded just how difficult it is do do so!

Auntie Devenamma also kept hens and chicks and so we had some fowls wandering around.

She makes idlis every morning and sells them to others in the village - but had told her regular customers that she would be having company (us) and so we did not get to see her idly production skills.

What we did get was food that had been bathed in love.  And the amazing story of how God has touched Aunties's life, after she had been rebelling against God while her husband was still alive (uncle died 8 years ago of a sudden heart attack).  She is now so full of the joy of Jesus!

Do you like to eat guavas?

We had our fill - on guavas - and also took a dozen odd home.   All this thanks to the tree (which is in their back yard) and the enthusiastic help that Augustine gave.

The final product was scrumptious!  Enough reason for us to go back to the village again?

On a more sobering note, we wished we had visited when Uncle Isaac was still alive.  It was so good to hear about him - and how he sacrificially gave for the church - the evidence of which is clear in two ways:

1) there is a simple but beautiful building here they meet on Sundays for worship.  Uncle gave the land - and gave his heart to bless others through this church.

Something like 40-50 folks meet each Sunday to worship in this structure.

2) There are people whose lives are changed.

As we went over to the church early in the morning, two little boys followed us in, listening to everything we said.  I took it that these were some random kids who had come to see what was happening.

Turns out they are very much part of the Sunday school and could even sing some songs in 'English.'

All too soon it was time to go.

We had just begun getting a glimpse of what life is like to be living in the village - when we needed to 'up stakes' and start the journey back to Vizag.

By God's grace, we were not using transportation methods like what we saw on the byways of Andhra Pradesh

We also are in an interesting era, where technology is making headway into a variety of fields - including priests who answer calls while riding a motorcycle (note the large - and probably illegal flex boards - Christmas meetings being advertised).

Time for one last bike ride.

Augustine and I went to Anaparti station to buy the tickets for the return journey.

 A last drive through the verdant green countryside. Feasting my eyes on acres of clorophyll.   In our urban jungle of Thane, it is hard to imagine a place like this - but God has made it and what a joy to be immersed in nature's beauty - even if only for a few minutes while riding a bike. 

Good byes are always hard to say - but we know that we are linked in prayer.

Our final leg was over to the Anaparti railway station to take us home to Duvada - the station closest to Amma and Appa's place.

The train this time was 'empty' - meaning, people are sitting in almost all the place but they were not crushing each other.

Sheba found a small friend too!

We were all so happy as we came to the door of Amma and Appa's home in the darkness of the night.

A wonderfully good mini-trip - and many prayers answered - and many challenging things to see happen as we pray with deeper understanding for our loved ones.

And so we came to the end of our time in Vizag.

Dreams come true.
They really do.
We have come back to tell this to you.

We miss Amma and Appa very much - and really wish and pray that we do not have to wait too long before we can meet them again and rejoice together.  In the meantime, these precious memories are still bright in our hearts.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Then and now - Fab 4

With the age of the digital camera - we have a plethora of images.  And a thousand ways to lose them too.   How many shots have perished due to hard disk crashes, or the mundane fact that we have forgotten them on some lonely disc somewhere?

Yesterday I came across a shot taken in May 2005.  It was of the fabulous 4 - Asha and Enoch with their super duper friends Nikita and Jasper.  The shot was - of all places - in the "JSK Positive Friends Confidential folder."  But there is was - the four wonderful friends who had already then become so close.  And it instantly reminded me of a shot from this weekend at Asha's B-day party.  

So here are the two shots together - with 4.5 years separating them:

The scary bit is how little Enoch seems to have changed - same haircut - same grimaces - down to wearing a yellow t-shirt (the same one now well bleached with age?).

When I went to retrieve the picture from the office computer today - I came across this portrait of Enoch and Nikita:

 - and was again reminded of a shot of the two of them that we took this Saturday near the oven while the pizza was being made.  Now we can see some differences:

What a huge privilege to have friends like Nikita and Jasper - who are literally growing up with you.   We are so grateful to John and Nalini Gabriel for sharing our lives over all these years - and for their lovely daughters who mean so much to our kids.

As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another is what we read in our Bible time tonight.  How sharp our fabulous 4 are after 13 years of friendship (with Enoch and Jasper's birth being well into our friendship as families).

Here is to many more years of friendship ahead!