Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The curious case of the missing church

A few weeks ago we got a call from Bethany hospital.  One of the staff there said that her church was interested in helping out at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.  Could we organise something?

Yes we could!

We told the lady that we would be happy to take church members along with us, and asked her to convey this to her priest.

A few days later we were told that they wanted to do a programme with us on the 2nd of October.

Oooh.  We are running a week-long training for folks from North India (and 1 person from China too!), so that really is not a good day...  but the church wanted this day because it is Gandhi's birthday and that means a number of people can come.

OK.  Eager church.  Wants to help.  Let's bend a bit.  Seize the day.

Right - we tell them that we will have our field staff at their disposal on the 2nd even though the training is going on.  All hands available will be at the disposal of the church.  We will meet with them at the JSK centre to orient them in the morning. Our home-based care staff will then take the church folks in mini-groups of two each to spend time with our HIV Positive Friends.

The church had asked if they can help financially - we suggested that each mini-team brings a hamper of daily necessity things - food etc.

So far, so good.  The priest is happy.  The lady at Bethany is happy.  We have another opportunity to expose folks to the challenges that people living with HIV face.

Oh, and one more detail. We will be spending lunch time with the family.  Please bring about 200 Rs. with you so that you can buy some food and cook together with the family while you are there and then share the meal.

A few days later I got a call.  The priest wants to meet me.  Sure.  No problem.

We meet.

He tells me that some on 'the committee' are concerned.  How can we eat with the Positive People.

I explain to the priest that there is no risk at all.   He is young.  He knows.  But he is also new.  And the committee folks call the shots.

"Could we just visit and give a gift" the priest suggests.  "Then on the second or third visit we could have a meal with them?"

Nothing doing.  I tell the man that we do not have blanket distributions with photos - stuff to make people feel that they are 'doing something good.'   We invite churches to experience life and dip into the reality of what God's love means.

I tell the priest that we will be happy to even take 2 people from their church along with our staff.

He promises to speak with the committee and get back to us on Monday.  We pray and part with smiles and hand-shakes.

Monday came and almost completely went.  No call from the church.   Towards the end of the day I asked Peter to call and find out.   He finally got through to the priest and had this to say:

The church won't be coming on the 2nd.  Most of the members are not getting a holiday on that day.

Hmmmm.  Wasn't that the day that was specifically asked for at the beginning?  The day when most of the people could come?

Sad that the folks won't be coming.

But sadder since the reason given is highly unlikely to be true.  And shouldn't followers of Jesus - who is the truth - not be fudging and covering up - but rather making a clean breast of whatever actually is going on?

Though I would not be happy about it, I would have so appreciated it if the priest were able to sit down and talk to me about the real reason for the turn-about.  It think there could be healing in praying with a sad priest whose idea has been shot down by some folks on the committee.  

Are we surprised that so many of our churches are so flaccid?  That righteousness and justice and love and truth are in such short supply... and yet so much could be done.

And by God's grace somethings are being done.  This church has missed the boat.  At least this time (hopefully they will come by again, thought it looks unlikely).  But there are others who are reaching out in love.  Each in a different way, but there are folks who are quietly doing things - much of which is not seen here, but which our heavenly Father sees very clearly.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Who would have thought?

We are almost 3/4 the way through 2015.

It's proving to be quite a hing year for our family.

Who would have thought on Jan 1st this year that...

... we would be welcoming Yohan into the family on Jan 24th - and that Asha and Enoch would get a 11 year old brother with all the joys and challenges that Yohan brings

... that we would be rushing Dad down to Thane for emergency cancer surgery - and then go through multiple challenges to get him 'stable enough' for the surgery...

... and that the surgery would be done, and that too so successfully, and that Dad's post-op recovery would be so good...

And who would have imagined at the beginning of this year....

... that we would have 'Oma and Opa' living with us for most of the year so far?

... that Dad' would be undergoing 6 months of chemotherapy and that we would already have completed 5 months of this course with no side-effects to speak of...

... the people near and far would be praying for Dad and we would be riding an avalanche prayer and love by so many, many, many dear ones...

Yes, would we have believed someone who would tell us on New Year's Day that....

... Stefan, Neeru, Ashish, Anjali would be in Indianapolis as a family - with Stefan starting a 2 year Master of Fine Arts in painting programme...

... that the authorities in Bhiwandi would refuse our request for us to take Yohan with us on a family vacation to Mussoorie, thus effectively squashing the summer break plans that we had...

... but that Sheba, Asha and Enoch would be able to make a quick trip to Vishakapatnam and meet Daisy Aunty and Ramesh Uncle and their cousins the lovely Frankie and robust master Shofar at Amma and Appa's home...

And would we have imagined that by this time this year...

... our dear Agnes would be married to Ezra Kannayan and move to Delhi after 3 years of faithful service here at Jeevan Sahara Kendra...

... that we would hear God telling us that our time at Jeevan Sahara Kendra is up and that He would like us to take steps of faith and look into moving back North and seriously explore serving with EHA out of one of their hospital units...

... that we would be earnestly praying and looking for folks to hand over our leadership roles to at Jeevan Sahara Kendra, with the very real possibility of the work being dramatically down-sized if we do not find a person who can be trusted by the Trust...

... that we would be able to trust that God *will* provide and look after our staff in whatever the next dispensation Jeevan Sahara Kendra will take...

It's been quite the year so far for us Thane-based (at least at present) Eichers, and as we come to the end of the 9th month we can only wonder what the next 3 will hold for us all as a family.

Oma actually told us early this year that she thought a lot of changes would take place.  Well, she certainly seems to be right on the dot with that!

Sometimes I wonder whether everything that is going on is not some kind of a dream which we may awaken from any minute...

One thing is for sure.  Our times are in the hands of our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a lovely hymn that Sheba and I will occasionally sing together which captures where we stand today:

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful, dependable friend
Whose love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end.

'Tis Jesus the first and the last
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home
We'll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that's to come

And so we have the privilege of trusting Him more and more as we step out in faith.  Stepping into situations where we don't have all the answers by a long shot, and where we probably will see very few things perfectly falling into place.  But where we have the privilege of knowing that we can trust our Lord to take us through the way He would like us to go.


Friday, 25 September 2015

We love Salman Khan


Salman Khan is a popular man in the Eicher home.  His name is on our lips every day.  We religiously turn on the computer almost daily to get our fill of the man.

We are talking of course about "Sal" Khan - the guy on the left!  This Salman Khan is an American educator of Bengali origin (Dad from Bangla, Mom from old Kolkotta) whose amazing "Khan Academy" is a treasure trove of knowlege made accessible by the magic of the internet.

We are not talking about Mr. Muscle on the right hand side.  Heart throb of millions. Cine star.  Known colloquially as "Bhai" (brother).  Whose picture is found in many a magazine, on many a phone, in many a barber shop (and whose hair has gone through a varied set of appearances over the years).   This SK is a complex person and we will do well to skip his shenanigans (with women and the law and other sundry controversy).

Our true Khan is 'Sal.'   Born in the USA of fine Bengali parents.  Studied at MIT among other places - and who has set up the amazing Khan Academy.

A free online set of courses where Sal and his pals share mini-lectures on a mind-boggling set of mathematical and scientific concepts - all marshalled into a lovely set of learning plans which are non-threatening but really get you down into the actual foundational concepts.

For example, one of the other open tabs on this browser at this very moment looks like this:


We are just amazed at us getting access to this remarkable set of tools at just the right time.  Asha and Enoch transitioned from a school that was using the state board for their curriculum to BSS which is under the ICSCE board.   The level of science was a quantum leap ahead - with Asha never having had chemistry, biology and physics as separate subjects - she had a steep learning curve to catch up to.   Enter Sal with his mini-lectures.... and also hats off to Sheba for her patient coaxing and measured teaching of Asha in all these subjects.

Yours truly shows up mainly when it is time to revise history or geography.  And to give ideas for projects.

And yes, you can't just turn on good old Sal Khan on the comp, and then do something else, hoping that his vast body of knowledge will arrive in your head via osmosis....  You have to jolly well crack down and take notes and help facilitate the problems.  But the beauty is that it is all so 'jolly well done.'  With each mini-lecture / demonstration, a little more is understood, and a little bit more of science- or maths-phobia is removed.

Our kids swear by Sal Khan - and we don't mean Mr-take-off-my-shirt-aren't-I-a-star.   The adult Eichers do too.  And so we can honestly say that we love Salman Khan!

P.S.  There is another Salman Khan too - or make that many other Salman Khans - the poor large goats who enterprising goat sellers have christened 'Salman Khan' after Mr. Beefcake and his other big film-star rival Shah Rukh Khan.  Do you have between 10,000 to 1 lakh rupees?  You can then buy yourself a goat and have it slaughtered for the Id fesival tomorrow.  Stranger things have happended.

One of the goats that will most likely meet his end tomorrow as the Bakri-Eid festival is being celebrated in specific localities across our city.

We love Salmon Khan (both of them - though we do not idolise the filmi-walla).  And we hope that you will rope in the Khan Academy for your benefit - and that to benefit others too. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

A Short Trip North

A week ago. Wednesday afternoon.  Asha, Sheba and I bundled into a train from Thane station.  It was going North.  

The loco first pulled us east out along the Mumbai-Howrah line, up the ghat to Igatpuri and then on to Bhusaval Junction, near where my great-grandfather Christian Eicher helped start a small Marathi-language Bible College 108 years ago.

The train was then click-clacked over to the northern line, and chugged through the night towards Jhansi and its eventual goal of Lucknow - historical seat of the Awadhi nobles and currently the capital of our largest (and some would say unruliest) state of Uttar Pradesh.

But we were not headed for this past and present seat of power.  Our stop was  a more humble one.

When the train ground to a halt at 10 AM, a fashionable 1.5 hours late, we stepped out onto the platform of the Lalitpur station.

Truth in advertising - this shot was taken on our way back - not when we arrived.
The train was a fashionable 2 hours late going back to Thane town!
The three of us were in a way recreating a journey that we had conducted 14 years previously.  At that time, our then 6 month old Asha was carried by us as we took the train to Barharwa in eastern Jharkhand, and then over to Igatpuri and finally on to Mumbai before swinging back through Delhi to Jharkhand again.

July 2001, was a prayer journey of discovery for us as a small family.  We were seeking whether God wanted us to take a new step away from the Nav Jeevan Hospital.  I had worked there for 4 years, the last year and a half of which were in joyful partnership with Sheba (with Asha being born there early that year).

We were on a prayer journey.  A time to be on the ground and see what the Lord wanted to tell us.  Mumbai was the last place we really wanted to go to, but we had made a decision that 'if someone calls us, we will go and pray.'  And my boyhood pastor Viju Abraham called us, so we stopped off in Mumbai too.

On our return from that prayer journey, God spoke to us clearly through Hebrews 13 - and we found ourselves called to the big city of Mumbai - to work with people with HIV and local churches.  A big shift.  One that defined these past 14 years for us.

This trip was similar.  Over the past 6 months we as a family have been praying.  And now we sense that the time has come to shift back to North India.  God spoke through Psalm 84.5 - blessed are those whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.  Pilgrimage means motion.  Means moving.  Means setting out on a journey with God as our destination.

And so here we are, stepping out in faith.  We wanted to take a quick look around and walk the land and pray.  We got what we wanted.  Since Asha and Enoch had a few days holiday, we managed to get train tickets for a day of prayer up north.  Asha came with us, while Enoch manned the fort with Oma and Opa and Yohan in Thane town.

Why Lalitpur?

For those who are not familiar with the place - we are not talking about a town in Nepal.  Rather, a rather strange part of Uttar Pradesh - an elongated district that sticks out of the South Western side, dangling down into Madhya Pradesh like that little bit of flesh at the back of your throat (yes, yes - the medically inclined called it a uvula).

Lalitpur is a district of 1.2 million souls - with the namesake town serving as the district headquarters and having a neat 10th of the district with 1,33,000 folks residing in the Lalitpur municipal area.  The district is largely agricultural and is part of the broad, rolling hills of the Bundelkhand region with Madhya Pradesh bordering the district on 3 sides and Jhansi district is north.

Well, the centre of attraction for us is the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital - a mission hospital started up in 1935 and which the Emmanuel Hospital Association has been running since the mid 70s.
EHA has asked us whether we would be interested in serving out of this campus.

The hospital lies on a campus of 11 acres in the middle of town.  11 acres!  The founding mission has a church on the campus and runs a Hindi-medium school for 1000 children on 3 acres - with the rest of the land used by the hospital.  This includes some fields where crops are grown.  Quite a change from our urban sojourn of the past decade and a half!

Andi and Sheba on a prayer walk through the campus (most pictures in this post taken by our able photgrapher Asha Eicher)
The hospital has 40 beds and deals with a variety of different cases - with maternity being an important component and also an innovating palliative care unit having pioneered palliative care for the past 5 years.

Having seen Dad cared for in sparkling environs of Bethany Hospital - it was a bit of a culture shock to be back in the genteel dishevelment of a mission hospital again.

Meeting with Biju and Anu Mathew - who have been running the hospital for the past 8 years was inspirational.  They have been through hard times and persevered.  As have the main medical team of Dr. Tony and Dr. Asangla Bishwas.  This couple have both done their DNB in Family Medicine (like Sheba did) and have been caring for folks for 6 years now after responding to a call to come to the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital.

The hospital is not the only place of ministry of course.  The Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital pioneered palliative care in among EHA hospitals, starting up in 2010.  Currently HBM is recognised nationally as a palliative care training centre.  They have a 5 bedded palliative care ward, but focus mainly on working in the community- and largely in the villages.

Cancer continues to grow in India - and the needs of those in the villages who are past cure is immense.  The team has the indomitable Ms. Leela Pradhan (who was away on this trip so we did not meet her this time) serving as a challenge to us all - esp as she herself continues to undergo cancer therapy.

Needless to say, there are folks with HIV among the case list - and we wonder how many of them could have been cared for with ART medicines if the district had such a treatment centre functioning.

The hospital also currently runs two major community health and development programmes - ably being managed by our dear Lukas Prakash who we worked with in the late 1990s at the Nav Jivan Hospital in Jharkhand!

I had visited HBM for a community health conference around 1998 or so when they had a large watershed management programme being run by Mr. Antony Samy.  Today they have a Reproductive and Child Health programe as well as a smaller but still significant watershed management programme.

We were blessed to meet the local pastor too - a jovial gentleman called Emmanuel whose daughter also serves at the palliative care unit.   It was good to see his enthusiasm and the opportunities for spiritual growth available.

All in all, we came away from the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital having experienced much in a short time.

notice board at the RE Mission school - a Hindi medium school
on the campus where we understand 1000 children study
We had gone to pray - and pray we did.  In the end we were in Lalitpur less than 24 hours - arriving at 10 am and on the station platform at 8.30 the next morning.

The short visit gave us a chance to take a look at a local school - the convent-style ICSE board school which is the best in town.  60-70 kids per class is what we were told about classroom size. Sadly the Father who serves as the principal was out of town so we were unable to meet him.

Would the Hindi-medium school be willing to take Yohan?  Is there some access to open schooling in the small district head-quarters of Lalitpur?

We have lots of questions and are just beginning to see some answers emerge.

Being back in Thane has again thrown up the immensity of any change that we step out on.

What will happen to the work of the Jeevan Sahara Kendra?

Are we going to see the adoption process come through any time soon?

What and how much should the kids shift and change as we look into schooling options?

One of the words that keeps coming back to us is 'find out what pleases God.'   Do that which brings Him maximum joy.

Our time is short.  With both Sheba and I just into the second part of our 40s, we want to make sure that our lives count.  Right here and right now.  We also want to be able to grow together as a family - especially with Yohan on board now with all that he means to us.

We are very, very ready to stay on in Thane, and keep serving at Jeevan Sahara Kendra.  But we need a fresh mandate from the Lord, a fresh word to keep working.  And we did not get that.

Instead, we are hearing that it is time for us to pack up and move.  Strange, scary stuff in some ways. Especially when there seem to be so many loose ends.  But then life is never neat this side of the Holy City.

Will our pilgrimage include us serving out of Lalitpur for some time?  We just do not know for sure at this point - but we are praying about it and have much to digest and further guide our prayers after our short trip North!

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Living Legends: Ron and Lilo Penny

One of the great things of having Mum and Dad with us for this extended period of time as we work through Dad's chemo-therapy (5 months down - 1 to go now) is the joy of meeting their friends.

After the initial onslaught of emails and calls when Dad was going through the deep waters of the impending surgery and all that that entailed, we have gradually (and thankfully) segued into a blessedly normal life together.  And while the numbers of visitors is on the wane, we are thrilled to have the opportunities to drink deep of those who do wend their way here.   Earlier this month we hosted Uncle Augustine and Aunty Oomana Koshy for a day.

And over the past weekend we had none other than Ron and Lilo Penny.  

Wow.  Just the names themselves almost send shivers of delight down my spine.  This is a couple who are legend.  The stories both of vintage days as well as the latest escapades keep flowing - as does the laugther - and the occasional bouts of prayer as well.

Ron and Lilo were in town as one of the young men from their assembly in Bengaluru was getting married to a lovely lady from the Fort Assembly in Mumbai.  And instead of hurrying up and then bustling back down South, this goodly couple tarried for a bit with us.  What a blessing too!

The weekend was packed.  We arrived back from a super quick trip to Lalitpur (more on that later...).  Ron and Lilo had the wedding to attend.  Dad had his dose of chemo to take at Bethany.  We had a training for church volunteers on Saturday.  And then there was our Sunday morning worship in our house fellowship where Ron shared and our evening gospel meeting.  In the midst of all of this were the different strands of conversation that were spun and shuttled in and out of the weft of our time together - often around the succession of meals we enjoyed together.

Where do we even start with Ron and Lilo - their lives have intersected and paralleled Mum and Dad's lives so much.  Lilo and Mum are German and come to India to serve with Operation Mobilsation in the mid 60s.  The two couples married a week apart and have 3 children - two boys and a girl each.  And most of all - both of these amazing partnerships have stuck it out - serving for more than 50 years in India each (200 plus years of missionary life between them).

It was a delight to see our parents enjoying these dear friends of theirs - and a joy for Sheba and myself and the younger gang to also get a dose of stories.  Ron's memories of serving with Bro Bhakht Singh in Hyderabad.  Their life in Ranchi (then Bihar).  The Bangalore years.  The places and situations their kids and grandkids are living through (with the number of the latter into the double digits now!). 

Seeing the four interact with such love and sheer delight in being together, observing their laughing and talking and praying, knowing that they were also talking about the pains that they are going through - all of this was tonic to our soul.  There are friends who stick closer than brothers...

We had a string of great meals together too - and Oma's apple pies made their appearance too!  And then our dear guests insisted that we were to go out - so off to the fan-favourite Pizza Hut it was for all 9 of us!
It was all over so quickly.  We still feel some of the laughter in the home - but things are pretty quiet in the Eicher household with only 7 of us left (though the youngest can be pretty lively as you can see in the picture!).

However, don't count out the power of German enthusiasm.  Both of the Omas decided that they would like to have a day out - and see a bit of Mumbai since Aunty Lilo has not been here for many a moon.  So on the last day we packed them off on a State Transport bus that starts locally and goes all the way to the Mantralaya near Nariman point - almost as South Mumbai as you can get.

The original plan had them going to the Gateway of India and then going down to Marine Drive to Mani Bhavan in Girgaum (the house where Mahatma Gandhi used to stay which has been turned into a lovely museum) and up to Malabar hill if time permitted.

Time was short - so after the gateway and a quick nip into the Taj Mahal hotel, our ladies had a leisurely brunch at Cafe Mondegar - an amazing Irani cafe decorated with the late Mario Miranda's cartoons of Bombay types.  Not only that, the proprietor himself, a garrulous Irani filled them in on the history of the place (just next door to the other iconic Mumbai restaurant - Cafe Leopold which was attacked by the terrorists in 2008).

And so the pilgrims progress was a bit slower than planned.  The Dynamic Omas made it to Nana Chowk and decided to take a look at the Elim building where we had grown up.  They were delighted that uncle Sumitra Gaikwad was at home (he is recuperating from a stroke) and were graciously welcomed by Timothy and Sonali Gaikwad as well.  Here is a final look at 'Mondi's' as the SoBo types call it.

"This is the part I never like" said uncle Ron, an hour and a half after our intrepid German ladies had returned and it was time to say good-bye and bundle off our dear Uncle Ron and Auntie Lilo into their cab.

We shared a time of prayer and then off the taxi went - taking our dear ones away on the first leg of their trip back to Bengaluru, Uncle Ron waving through the window until the vehicle swung out of sight once out of the gate.

When will we meet next?  Our heart both aches for the next meeting - and is at the same time so full of gratitude for these days of joy that we had together.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Another Blessing

September 19th was a red-letter day for the Sainani family.

Sheba, Asha and I arrived back home to Thane at 6 AM - tired and groggy from what ended up being almost a day-long train journey from far-away Lalitpur in Uttar Pradesh (watch this spot for more details on that trip).  After our baths and chai and unpacking and Bible reading, it was over to the hospital for Sheba and myself at just after 7 AM.

Not to the Jeevan Sahara Kendra - rather we went over to Bethany Hospital to see Sandhya Sainani who we knew was due for a caesarian section that morning.

When we went up to her room on the 5th floor of Bethany, we found she was not there! The nurses on duty told us that she had gone down to the operating theatre! 

Well, you can imagine that we hared it down to the third floor - and there standing outside the OT doors were Sandhya (very great with child and clad in the hospital gown) and Prajitmol (who had spent the night with Sandhya).

It was wonderful that we could make it before the delivery.  We have been praying with Anil and Sandhya for their second child for many, many months now - and were so thrilled that we did not miss the big day!

Abhishek - Anil and Sandhya's son had been telling everyone how he was going to have a baby soon. 

This was the day that we had been looking forward to.

And where was the father?  I sent Anil an SMS telling him that we were waiting for the obstetrician to come - and then it would be all systems go!

The nurse on duty called Sandhya to step in through the operating theatre doors - and just then Rachael Joseph from church also came by.  It was time to pray.

I have been on this side of the Bethany Hospital OT doors a number of times this year.  Most memorably, of course was Dad's surgery in March.  And now another opportunity to pray.  We committed Sandhya and the new child into the loving hands of Jesus and Sheba and Sandhya walked through the doors.

A minute or two later Anil arrived - and was quickly escorted through the doors into the little conference room where his soon-to-deliver wife was waiting for him.  Sheba snapped this shot just before Sandhya went through the actual OT doors.

And then it was time for Sheba to go back up to Room No. 508 and wait.

The waiting did not take long.

I was in our JSK training session just after 9.30 when I got a call from Sheba....

.... and the news was that Anil and Sandhya had been blessed with a baby boy!

Sheba got a shot of little Ashish (which of course means blessing in Hindi) when he was put into his happy father's hands for the first time!

Wow - are we every happy.

It has been such a joy for us to walk along with Anil and Sandhya - through their engagement and wedding - and then the delight of their first son Abhishek and now their second - little Ashish (who clocked in with a respectable 3 kg birth-weight).

Later in the day it was time to meet the happy mother again!

If you look closely at the above pic - you will see another cot in the right hand corner.

In that corner is this little angel - Ashish Sainani:

Long may you live Ashish - and may you be a real blessing to many, many, many people as you grow and develop and bring great joy to your parents and older brother and all of us.

The Lord has done it, and it is marvellous in our eyes!  (Psalm 118.23)

Kim is at the edge

These are grim days for Kim.

Kim set out from here for Bangalore 2 months ago with so much hope.  It was a miracle that he had survived and we were looking for a place where he could grow and thrive.   It was a miracle that the ACCEPT society said he could come and live there.  It was a series of miracles that brought around Kim’s uncle to allow him to go – and to accompany Kim down to Bangalore for his admission to a long-term care facility and children's home.

A series of miracles.

But the dark clouds have been gathering for some days now.  

We got a call from Bro Raju 2 weeks ago, telling us that Kim is not taking his medicines.  Asking us to call him up and talk to him.  Raju had assigned a Marathi-speaking staff member to help Kim.  We talked to Kim.  And we knew that Kamal - one of our staff was due to attend an inner-healing training in Bangalore and were encouraged that she was planning to meet Kim.

On Saturday Kamal called up Sheba from Bangalore and asked for prayers.  Kim is not doing well at all.   

Kamal is back on duty as for this morning.  And her report to us is grim.  Kim has been refusing help.  The food is excellent, the care given by the staff there is superb, but this 14 year old boy has retreated into a shell.  He will not take his medications, and will not eat.  And so is wasting away before us.
Kim when he was last admitted at JSK - earlier this year...
This morning bro Raju called up to break the news that Kim seems to be slipping into a critical state.  "What shall we do?" he asked.  I looked out the window, holding my phone, silent.  What words to say?  They have been working so hard.  And to hear this.  Tragic.

"We will pray, brother" I finally said.  "And we will inform Kim's uncle."

The end may be very near for Kim.  He has walked this path before, and has been brought back by love at least twice in the past.  But today he seems to be wasting away despite the love being given to him by our dear friends in Bangalore.

Kamal said that he is sullen and withdrawn, and refuses to come out of his shell.  

What can get through to him?  How can love warm Kim's heart again, and penetrate the barriers of despair he has put up?  We are once again so aware of just how weak and frail everything we do is. How little our education and resources and past experience can do...  Heart-breaking.  Tears in the eyes.  That deep emptiness within.  The dreadful thought of, what if...

We humbly come back to our Lord Jesus, the wounded healer.  The one who would have been called a bastard in the claustrophobic growing up in a small town in Galilee where everyone knew that his mother was pregnant when she married Joseph.  The one who had his closest friends desert him.  The man whose family considered him mad and came to take him into their custody.  The man whose body bore sufferings untold.  A man of sorrows, acquainted with griefs.

We bring Kim back to our Lord.  "Touch Kim's heart" we earnestly and humbly ask of Jesus. "Hold Kim's hand."

The next few days, maybe even hours, will tell the outcome.  Will this young orphan boy with HIV live to see another set of challenges?  Or is the curtain going down on another life that we have been involved with.   

Your prayers and tears are welcome to mingle with ours.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The next steps for Yohan

Gentle readers with some interest in the Eicher family will perhaps have noticed a relative silence about our newest son Yohan.

It's not because we do not have much to write about the lad - there is lots to share.

It's more to do with the hectic swirls of our lives as they are unfolding at present - with Mum and Dad being with us and Dad's cancer treatment, Stefan and Neeru and family's shift to the US for 2 years, the ups and downs at JSK, the bang-bang-bang of exams (esp. for Asha) and two parents who are turned into coaches (esp. Sheba - I end us filling in a bit but she does the bulk), our on-going listening to the Lord for the next steps, church, car-pooling kids, tuesday nite Bible studies at Shanti's home, phone calls, and the story goes on.   Many blessings of course, but life is quite full at the moment - and we are very grateful for this too.

With Yohan, we have been blessed in so many ways.  Despite the sorrow of his life before us - the lad has just the biggest smile.  And never, ever complains when it is time for his meds.  And is gaining weight (7 kgs since we first met him late last year).  And is starting to speak English at home - some times at least.  

We are glad that we have found a good teacher for Yohan - Priya Sahane is very kindly giving him 2.5 hours of teaching a day.  Oma drops him off and picks him up at noon.  They usually walk back home together.  What a joy to have Oma with us.

The big unfinished business is the matter of Yohan's adoption.  After a number of visits by us (and goodly amounts of prayer) the authorities in Bhiwandi finally ordered an adoption agency in Navi Mumbai to help us process the legalities.  But then we had the challenge of even being allowed to meet them.  The agency for reasons unknown to us then informed the authorities that they cannot help us.  Period.

The next step was a phone call by what turns out to be child protection officers from the State Adoption Regulatory Agency.  They wanted to find out the number of Yohan's closest relative (his step-fathers, brother's wife) and ended up going and meeting her. Then they came over to meet us.  It was a very positive time - the ladies were warm and friendly and have clearly taken an interest in our case.  They normally monitor orphanages, but seem to be going out of their way to help us.  A breath of fresh air after what has been a rather trying time for us over the past 6 months...

We recently had a second visit by our intrepid duo.  They tell us that they are trying to move forward with the uncooperative agency after all.  We need to be ready to run here and there a bit, but everything will work out ok they assure us.  We believe... in their sincerity, and in the power of our Loving Father who has already adopted us into His family of grace and forgiveness - and who loves our Yohan so much.

So what is next?  We have had the official home visit.  We have given copies of our vital documents.  We await the intimation of the next steps...  for those gentle readers who do pray, will you please cover this situation again.  

Friday, 11 September 2015

A wonderful life

So many years ago, TV images were dominated by towers falling in smoke and rubble in the far-away land of New York.

Today on the 11th of September the sun has already set and the low-cloud sky is a dull yellow.  Caws of crows and the grinding traffic sounds, interspersed with honking of various notes drift in through the open windows.  A occasional trill of parrots and the banging of the 'pav-bhaji' stalls from the roadside pepper the soundscape.

Dad is up at Bethany Hospital again.  Dose 2 of Round 5.  His neutrophils were down a bit, but the oncologist gave the go-ahead, so Dad went down and found that there was no room in the inn hospital.   Bethany is bursting at the seams - he had 'booked' a room last week, but his doctor came late and it has been taken for another admission by the time he made it down to the reception.

It's a good problem to have for a hospital - maximum occupancy.

Dad went back home with the assurance that he would get a room at 2 PM.  When he went back it took a few hourse, but he is now hooked up and getting his chemo dose now as I type these words in the gloaming.

Sheba is knitting in the other room - while Asha is preparing for her Hindi exam on Monday.  Enoch and Yohan are playing downstairs - heavily swathed with odomos to keep away the ever present mosquitoes as they play cricket with their pals.

We have an hour before we go out to our staff member Giri's home for supper.  We can expect a good meal made by his wife Sushma and a jolly time playing with his daugther Nissi.

This is the new normal for us.  A life lived with hope today, and in the swirls of all that is going on around us.  We very much feel and experience the prayers of many.  It's a wonderful life.

14 years ago we heard the world crack when we were serving at the Nav Jeevan Hospital in Jharkhand.  Our TV had died due to a lightning strike the previous monsoon, but we went over to Dr. Pradhan's home that evening to see the terrible sights of the towers collapsing.

Who would have imaged then the meltdown we see across Syria and northern Iraq today.

Le plus c'est change...

Kingdoms have risen and fallen in the past too of course.  Mum tells us how in the dying days of the WW2 things were so uncertain that rumours spread about how the world would end on so and so a date.  And with their world having collapsed under the allied bombs and the final surrender of the Reich - those statements carried a weight of plausibility.

How to reconcile the wide arch of history with the day to day business of living?  How to deal with the questions of the end of time and the rhythms of washing dishes and eating together?  How amazing that we can even consider these eon-spanning thoughts while at the same time humming a tune in our heads and walking through the events of the day in our minds.

It's a good thing we live in an open universe and that we have a Father who cares amidst the dizzying vastness of space and the mind-numbing banality that so much of humanity (confession - myself) has latched onto.

Sheba is preparing soup for Dad to eat when he returns from the hospital.   We are likely to be given chicken curry at Giri and Sushma's place.  Our lives weave in and out like dancers in a line.  Thank you for being part of our journey into grace.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Horn OK Please ... no more

I drive to Powai and back every week day now.  We are car-pooling with a lovely Bengali family who live near us here and Thane and whose 2 daughters are in 9th and 6th standard at BSS.

The first part of this school year was an exercise in extra stress that we just did not need as a family when it came to the bus service Asha and Enoch were using.  With this year both having different times - the bus started delivering them an hour and a half and even 2 hours after their school was up.  At times Enoch would arrive in the same bus as Asha, even though he left 50 minutes before her.  It was not a good scene and after some attempts to fix things, our dear fellow sufferers and us decided to opt out.

So now I either drop the kids off at school, leaving here at 7.15 and seeing them in school just before 8 and back here comfortably in time for our 9 AM morning prayers at JSK.   Or I go by after a quick bite of lunch at home, picking the kids up at 3.05 and being back just before 4 PM.

Either way, the Eicher Papaya is seen speeding its way along the Eastern Express Highway over to Powai each day.  Every day I slip through traffic and navigate the odd pothole, negotiate various speed breakers and see iconic sights like the salt pans and mangrove swamps, as well as the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (the dream of many an aspiring techie) and the Powai lake.

Yesterday, as I was in traffic, I looked at the back of a truck and saw an interesting sight.  On the back were two strips of brown tape.   I looked at the back of another truck near-by and saw the same.
I felt like laughing. All my life I have seen the backs of lorries in our dear nation of Bharat sport the gnomic statement seen on the truck below (image cheerfully harvested off the internet - though the truck is registered in Thane judging by the MH 04 license plate):

Well, what had me in stitches was that the trucks had all done this:  Horn OK Please.   The OK was still there - usually in the middle of course, but the 'horn' and the 'please' were efficiently taped over.

I thought it was only one crazy trucker, but then I started looking.  Almost every truck had done it.  Some had even painted over the offending words.

Offending you say?  Yes sir!

Earlier this year, the august folks who run our state decided that the roads were too noisy.  Too much honking.  Yes siree.  This has to stop.  But how?  Then a lightning bolt struck someone some where. Why not deal with the root cause?

Drivers honk in India because they are told to!  Every time they see the back of a truck - there is that terrible phrase "Horn OK Please" - the poor driver can't help himself (or herself in this modern day), s/he just has to honk.  The sight of the phrase triggers an instant reaction.  More noise.  Terrible.

So the same brilliant mind came up with a super-duper solution.  Ban the phrase!  Yes! Away with it.  Make it illegal.  No more to be seen.  Banished to the dark ages. And now peace and quiet will descend on the roads of Maharashtra.

You think I kid you, do you not?

Alas, I wish I did.  But the Maharashtra government passed an order banning this offending phrase in May this year.  That's right.  Along with eating beef, you better not write "Horn OK Please" on the back of your truck.  And if that horrible statement was there from time immemorial?  Well, you had better remove it.

I have seen a few cases where the offending words were painted over, but in most cases good cheap brown tape does the trick.  Two or three strips, cover the words and all is well in the world.

When I first read about this inanity I just thought no one would bother, and forgot about it myself.

But driving 30-45 mins each way, each day I see something very, very often.  It is a uniformed man waving to a truck or a van and having them pull over.  Or a uniformed man talking imperiously to two or three men beside a parked vehicle.   And I see hands giving gifts.  And I see the hands of the uniformed men going into their pockets and closing their note books.

If there is a 'law', then it will be 'implemented.'  Why should the truck driver have to give another Rs.100 in bribes because they still have 'Horn OK Please' on the back of their vehicle?   Much better to get some tape and begone with the 'bribe bait.'

And that, alas, is the story of our land.  Hundreds of laws that are selectively implemented.

We know wearing helmets save lives - so why do we see so many drive around without helmets in Thane / Mumbai?  Is it because I don't recall the last time I have seen a policeman wearing a helmet when he is driving a motorbike?

Strangely enough, the tape doesn't really seem to do the trick.  Maybe people are still reading through the tape - and the message poorly hidden is still triggering raucous, subliminal honking in the average Indian motorist?

I think we need a case control study - where we measure ambient horn-volume in Mumbai, with say another metro like Bengaluru which does not have such draconian law on the books.

In the mean time - happy motoring to all my fellow travellers - esp. along the Eastern Express highway.  The driver of the Papaya salutes you - and may give a friendly toot of the horn every now and then!  Please do not take offence....

Sunday, 6 September 2015

This pilgrim life

It was Dad's birthday yesterday.  74 years since the day he was born at Wanless Hospital in Miraj, southern Maharashtra.  We knew that Dad did not want something fancy - at most a small intimate time with a friend or two.

Well, the problem is... which close friends to invite, there are so many of them.  So we took the easy (only?) way out.  We invited a goodly portion of them for a small intimate time to thank the Lord for His mercy and grace in Dad's life... over the 74 years since he was born (and obvioiusly before he was born too) as well as the special grace over the past 6 months since his cancer was detected.

Our intimate time had 40 plus folks, with Asha and Enoch leading the worship on violin and keyboard in the JSK hall.  We had after all had invited all the JSK team and our church folks to come along!  But Dad and Mum graciously put up with us all, and wonderfully shared their stories of thanksgiving.

Dad looked back on his life and saw so many times when he had been spared from death, from the forces of evil - by what can only be God's divine intervention and grace.  Time and time again.  The winds of the spirit and the waves of this material world that thrash around us are not by chance. God's divine interventions and loving care are more than evident if we see them with the eyes of faith.

Dad had a whole list of them.  He started with the miracle of his not being aborted as an out-of-wedlock child in 1941 and his adoption by Elmore and Alice Eicher.  He ended with these amazing events of his cancer surgery and then his post-op care at Bethany Hospital and past 4 months of chemotherapy with all the love that has been shown to him and Mum. Dad had us spell-bound with his story of God's love to him.

We then had Stanley Nelson share from Scripture.  Are we surprised when God's word speaks? Should we be?  Surely not...

Stanley chose to dwell on Psalm 84.  I exchanged glances with Sheba when he chose the fifth verse as his anchor for the evening:  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgimage.  Stanley talked about our journey in life - and contrasted the goals and desires that a person who is travelling on business will have as compared to another one who is going to a place as a tourist, and finally the completely different set of experiences a pilgrim is expected to have.

For the Israelites, there was a command that three times a year every male (at least - families were in no way excluded) was to assemble before the Lord in Jerusalem.  There was obviously a lot of holy going to and from the Temple city.  Pilgrimages were common and many of the psalms were sung while walking up to mount Zion.

But the bigger picture is that the true pilgrim is not looking for holy real estate.  They are only happy when they meet the object of their journey - God Himself.

Dad has passed through many a path over the years of his pilgrimage.  He has been joined with Mum for the last 48 years of walking together.

For Sheba and myself, we are likely to make some new steps in our own pilgrimage in the next few months.  During a process of seeking God's will I read through all 150 psalms recently.  One verse stood out to me very clearly in this reading...

It was Psalm 84.5...    Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgimage. 

Friday, 4 September 2015

Chemo round 5

What - we are in September already?

As I write Dad is up in room no. 607 of the Bethany Hospital starting his 5th round of chemotherapy.
Dad met his oncologist this morning after his 2 week break since the last dose of the last round - and his blood counts were good.  The WBCs at 7200 and 57% of those being neutrophils so it is all systems go for the 3 doses which will be part of chemo round no. 5.

I checked in on Dad at about 11.30, after he had had his consultation and found him waiting in the outpatient waiting room, reading the morning paper.  During the monsoons Bethany can be packed.  Earlier this week, our staff member Anil Edward's wife Mavis (who works at Bethany in the accounts dept) suffered a kidney stone - and the place was so full that she was in casualty all day waiting for a bed to open up.  Eventually her condition stabilised a bit and she was discharged home.

So I was ready to go with Dad into casualty to have his chemo (he has done that twice before) - but then we were told that a bed had opened up on the 6th floor - so up we went!  Dad was in his element - greeting Bethany staff left right and centre, using his Marathi skills with fellow patients and their care givers, generally bringing a smile to the faces of folks around him.

And so Dad ends his last day of being '73.'  Dad being Dad, he has his own unique way of expressing his age - and always includes his 9 months of gestation into the calculation - but for the rest of us, he will be officially having his 74th birthday anniversary tomorrow - and beginning his 75th year.

With this round of chemo slated to take us till the end of Sept - and the 6th and final one for this course coming up for October... can we start thinking about Mum and Dad going 'back to Mussoorie' in November?   We are learning to take things one day at a time.  Dad is slowly regaining weight - and still does not have much energy.  And we really do not know what the next outcomes will be like.  At the end of the 6th round, the oncologist would like a whole body CT scan... will it lead to further treatment?  We will see.

Tomorrow is another country.  We are glad for today and all the blessings we are living through.

A hard night

It has been a hard night.

The sun is shining now.  But there is deep sadness in our bones.

While we were having supper last night, Sheba got the call from JSK that Timothy was gasping.  We knew it was near the end.  She went over to be with him in his last moments.

A 16 year old boy.  Weighing just over 17 kgs.  His stopping medications a year and a half ago because he did not want to be identified as having HIV proved fatal.  Our team tried hard.  We cared and prayed and used the available medicines, but his liver was too damaged, his lungs were too scarred, his little body was just too weak to bounce back.   Over the last 4 days Timothy had started shutting down.  Confined to his bed, he was weaker and weaker.  Tired just to talk.  His big head nodding off with fatigue.  Heart-breaking.

Timothy slipped into eternity at around 10 PM - surrounded by his mother and many from his local church.  They took his little body to the mortuary soon afterwards.

Then at 2.14 AM the phone rang again.

Our nurse had called about Rani.   Rani had been brought here 4 days ago from Ahmednagar.  Kamal, one of our staff had gone there and came in contact with her family.  Rani's parents had died some years ago. The family had stripped their assets and paid Rs. 4 lakh in medical bills to try and keep her father alive, but to no avail.  Rani was a college going girl of 17.  Her CD4 was disaterously low - but had been attending college just 2 weeks ago before she fell ill.

Rani was delirious when she arrived after the long bus ride from Ahmednager - thrashing around. Her uncle and grandmother had come to care for her, along with Kamal.  We did a lumbar puncture and diagnosed her with cryptoccocal meningitis.  Rani had slipped into unconsiousness.  Her moaning echoed through the corridor.  We started the treatment 2 days ago and hoped that Rani would respond.

The nurse called Sheba to say that Rani's breathing was laboured.  She had been put on oxygen.  I dropped Sheba at the gate of JSK.

Half an hour later, when I came back to pick up Sheba, I went up to the room to pray for Rani.  Her uncle was silent as was her grandmother.  They knew what was likely to happen.  But we hoped against hoped and asked earnestly for help.

At 6 this morning the nurse called again.  Rani had died.

Sheba went over again to sign the death certificate.  Rani's body had been cleaned and she was dressed in a beautiful kurta.  Her eyes were closed and for the first time since she came she looked at peace.   The uncle and grandmother had arranged for an ambulance to take the body at 7 AM.

Two lives lost in one night.   Both tragically young.  I had been looking forward for them to meet when they got a bit better.  But in this life that was not to be.

Our team worked hard.  Very hard to save and heal.  We did not get the healing we were hoping for at this point.  There will come a day when sickness will be no more, where death's sting will be forgotten and the tears will be wiped away.

All of this was hard for us - but it was made all the harder because two young nurses, on whom our current set of medical interventions are being built left without a warning 3 days ago.  We are devastated as they were key to running our centre - and we were left with 1 ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) and 2 nursing assistants on staff.  By God's grace, Yerusha Kautikkar, an excellent trained nurse who has been on maternity leave agreed to come on board immediately to help out.  And so with our doctors working as nurses we have pulled through.

I don't think that having the 2 nurses stay on would have necessarily saved these two young lives. The HIV had had too long a free run in them - and we knew that we were running a desperate salvage operation from the day Timothy was brought in and the time when Rani was wheeled in on a stretcher.   But the agony of caring for so sick with so little has been very hard.

At the end of the day, we are reminded again of our own great weaknesses.  Our own deep inadequacies. The grave nature of this disease that takes away so many, so silently.  And our complete and only dependence on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And so today is a new day.  As I finish these words I can hear the first worship song being sung my our staff for the morning devotions.  At 10.30 Dad has his appointment with the oncologist and is likely to start round 5 of his chemotherapy later today.

Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.  Psalm 30.5

We step forward in faith.  Our joy may still be stained by tears, but we hold onto hope.  Onwards.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

5 dear lives

We have five very sick people admitted at Jeevan Sahara Kendra tonight.

That is right.  5.

Each person struggling for life and hope in different ways.

A man who celebrated his 58th birthday yesterday. Who is basically alone.  One of his daughters visited him.  His immunity is very low and he has tuberculosis and long term diarrhoea.  He wants to eat but feels nauseous.  He was living in a working man's hostel, but was too sick to carry on.  Somehow he got in touch with us.  We are looking after him - we can't send him away.

A woman has a catastrophically low CD4 count of only 10.  She has been taking a sub-optimal dose of medications for many years.  She has not told her husband about her illness - as her children have 'secretly' tested him and found him to be HIV negative.  She does not want to live.  Her grown children are supporting her - but the family is in total chaos.  "I am afraid of the new medicine" this lady told me this evening "I don't want to have bad dreams."  The medication that she is starting on does have some hallucinatory effects.  I told her that it is good medicine.  "We give it to our son every day" I told her.  She started a bit and I explained about how we are in the process of adopting Yohan and how much the meds have helped him. 

An old woman whose name means 'diamond' is paralysed and lying in another bed.  Her HIV positive daughter who has just had a miraculous healing from over a month of bleeding is looking after her.  Having her at our centre is a huge help for this brave woman. 

A young boy of 16 who only weighs 17 kgs is our latest young person badly scarred with HIV.  He has studied in a good school and knows English well.  His widowed mother is suffering from TB.  The boy was taking medicines till a year and a half ago when he recognised someone at the hospital and did not want them to know that he is HIV positive.  He stopped going from then on - and today is skin and bones - barely able to talk.  A sight from the terrible famine shots of Ethiopia a generation ago.   But there is still hope - our team is working hard to help him eat and live life. 

This morning these four had another person with HIV added to their number.  A young 17 year old woman that Kamal, one of our staff, brought all the way from Ahmednagar by bus.  She came is a terrible state - shrieking and thrashing.  It looks like she has a meningitis.  Her parents have both died - and her grand mother and an uncle have come.  They are straight from the village and look helplessly around.

Sheba has been back and forth to and fro from the Jeevan Sahara Kendra to home and back a number of times today.  The most recent time was at 8.30 PM when she went over for her night rounds and to encourage our nurses.

For months we have been praying for nurses.  We got 2 now.

For weeks we have been praying that our centre will be utilised.  We had 10 beautiful empty beds for too long now.  Well - tonight all the beds are being used by very, very sick patients and their attendants. 

We are facing folks who have come in hope - but have every chance of dying.  We want to be a place of healing - and have seen in the past how such terrible situations can be turned around for good.   And have also seen dear friends slip away despite our best efforts.

What will tomorrow bring?

What will happen to the 5 dear lives who are at JSK tonight?  Will we even see our friends again in the morning - or will there be a phone call at 3.30 AM to Sheba and a hearse parked outside by 7.30?  Will their be the trace of a smile on their faces?  One thing is for sure - folks don't come to be admitted at Jeevan Sahara Kendra because they are on a holiday.  And so the weight of figuring out their treatment and jockeying our still fairly thread-bare nursing corps goes straight onto Sheba with help by Dr. Emmanuel.   And of course a huge, huge amount of help and sustaining grace from our Lord Jesus...