Sunday, 20 March 2016

Morning and evening prayers - to start something new!

This morning was special.

We ducked into a small doorway off the main bus-stop at Mulund Colony.  There were about 18 of us, crammed into red plastic chairs in a freshly green painted room.  We were there to pray and dedicate the new centre of the Jeevan Jal Seva.

It was a special joy for me - as it marks the beginning of a new chapter.  Our dear Anil Edwards and Sister Chinnamma Mathew and a wonderful set of folks have banded together to start a JSK spin-off and minister to people living with HIV in the Mulund and Bhandup areas. 

What a thrill so see so many dear ones who we have worked with in Jeevan Sahara Kendra stepping by faith into a new territory of faith.  At the end of last year we challenged Anil to take up the challenge of continuing his reaching out to people living with HIV under a new umbrella.  At the end of November that seemed a distant dream.  But Jeevan Jal Seva was born out of that desire to see living water touch thirsty lives.

We met each month - and were joined by Sam TD, Samir S, Thomas R, Chinnamma and Mathew, Emmanuel I, and Mavis - and each time we met the dream became more of a reality.  Each set of prayers and decisions brought more structure and life to bare bones of Anil's reaching out to the folks he had contacted during his JSK days.

A huge plus was having Ashirvaad Kanti come on board and take the fledgling Jeevan Jal Seva as a project.  This made things legit and brought structure and a financial accountability mechanism.

And so we fast forward to this morning, where we met to celebrate and dedicate the new centre.  Taken on rent.  Taken in faith.  Hope in action.  Future present.  

There is still a long way to go - and if you want to help out by volunteering, giving or praying - please contact Anil at

After the programme was over Anil told me that a few years ago he had had a prayer session with Dad.  Clear as day Anil remembers Dad had prayed for an HIV care centre at every train stop on the Mumbai local line.  Anil saw today's opening of the JJS centre as a direct answer to that prayer.

Some prayers are answered tout de suite.  Others take a life-time to see fulfillment.  Still others generations.


We had another prayer time this evening.  At our home.

This one is for the steps of faith we are taking as a family.  For Lalitpur and all things to do with the HBM Hospital and associated ministries.

We had 25 odd dear friends and fellow travelers with us.

We looked at the lives of people in Lalitpur.  Swathi and Ram, Mohan and Sujatha and Karan and Shyam (all names changed of course).   A girl who was married at 13 but is back in school.  A boy who fell from a tree and broke his back.  A woman who is now getting palliative care for breast cancer after believing a local Baba who said his oil will cure her... 'guaranteed.'   A man doing manual labour through the HBM's community based watershed management work so that he does not have to migrate for work in this time of drought.  A young boy getting nourishment at a mid-day 'feeding club.' A young Bible college graduate looking for his first steps of ministry.   A woman who has made steps of faith after listening to the radio in her remote village.  

We 'met' each one of these folks from Lalitpur via the pictures that I brought back from my second stint there... and then prayed for them and others like them.  

And we prayed for the HBM hospital.  My three visits have convinced me of one thing.  It's made up of some very ordinary folks, who have every potential of doing amazing things, but trip up on some of the very basics.  And that's just me looking in the mirror.

The difference we have is that God is in the mix.  We are not just talking about dedicated folks doing stuff for humanity.  We are talking about the Creator of everything made being personally involved - through us - in an at times shambolic set of situations, and at other times things that border on the rapturous.  

So it is good to pray.  Together.  For the big new start we are on the verge of making as a family.

This time next month we should all be in Lalitpur. 

But many prayers need to be answered before that: Yohan's papers, our move, issues at HBM... the list goes on.

Good thing that our dear Lord not only hears, but answers and walks with us along this journey path.


Monday, 14 March 2016

Hap.pi Pi Day!

Our American friends will be writing the date today as 3.14.16

That's pretty close to the value of p.

The magical value that you get when you divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter.

Yes, 22 divided by 7 gets you close to p,  but 3.14285714286 etc. is not

3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510582097494459230781640628620899862803482534211706798214808651328230664709384460955058223172535940812848111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196442881097566593344612847564823378678316527120190914564856692346034861045432664821339360726024914127372458700660631558817488152092096282925409171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194151160943305727036575959195309218611738193261179310511854807446237996274956735188575272489122793818301194912983367336244065664308602139494639522473719070217986094370277053921717629317675238467481846766940513200056812714526356082778577134275778960917  and so on and so forth ad infinitum   (you can get a million digits of by clicking: here).

BBC (yes that trusted muse) has a lovely little take on Pi-day, complete with what are called "Piems" - poems written in "Pilish" - an attempt to write using words which have the same number of letters as the digits in the numerical sequence that p starts with...  Glory be, there is even a 10,000 word novel called Not a Wake written in chaste Pilish!

But here on the humble Chai Chats with the Eichers blogge, we present for our dear readers the following attempt at a piem:
Aha, a door!
A swift twinkling  
of digits dance 
See codes swirling 
Designer's delight 
Happy Pi-day to one and all (or to 3 and 14159 etc.)!


Punny Post-script:  How do our friends in Chennai celebrate Pi-day?  No, not by eating apple-pi... rather they are trully mathematical in their celebratory dessert: p-sum!

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Slow train through central India…

Burhanpur.  A small town with a railway station.  Out train – the venerable Tulsi Express from Allahabad is just pulling out.   A sign informs us to ‘alight here for Dargah al Hakami’ – people sit in small clusters on the platform in the shade of the awning.

As the train moves out into the town we see the sadly normal shanty huts clustered around.  What looks like a new mosque towers over the huts.  Then we pass the pylons of an under-constuction over bridge, the Y-shapes looming up, hands outstretched to accept the coming burden of an elevated road.  Below it an orange dome and a fluttering saffron flag announce a Hindu shrine.  A few men are crossing the track, white Gandhi-topis are the vogue in Burhanpur it seems.  A red tractor rumbles in the same direction our train is slipping along – pulling two concrete railway ties.

The noon-day sun outside pours down on fields and country roads.   Burhanpur is not big.  The land surrounding seems fertile and well-watered.  Standing crops of wheat are being harvested – or have just been, their bare prickled stalked fields testifying to happy farmers having gathered in the sheaves.  Here are green blocks of banana plantations.  There are what seems to be maize – but looks more like jowar.

Black soil – mainly cultivated - flits by.  Are we still in Madhya Pradesh or are we in Maharashtra yet?

My phone beeps and I see that the good folks of Vodaphone are welcoming us to Maharashtra.  “Samosa garam” calls the man walking down the isles.  The smell of hot samosas trails behind him as he finds no takers in our train.  We are a subdued lot in this 3rd AC coupe.  Most adults are slumped over in sleep or near-slumber.  It’s the toddlers who are keeping decibel levels up – especially one little girl whose voice box is stuck on loud and temper trantrums…

Mr. Samosa is back.  Should I or should I not.  Decision to stick to my tried-and-true biscuits which I have brought along.  Sadly, knowing personal friends who have been drugged by apparently hospitable strangers has elicited a promise from me to Sheba that I will not eat food or drink what others offer ‘no matter how nice they are.’   The loss of innocence due to the rapacious cruelty of the few.

The train clatters on.  We are being shunted across the country in muffled luxury.

Seen in the blood - adolescent steps forward

Our jeep stopped in front of a quiet building.  No one in sight – but Pushpa, our ANM nurse led the way forward through a weathered looking archway through a quiet passage.  Where is everyone – oh – there is a person, and there another.

We then ducked into a doorway and found ourselves greeted by 15 cheery adolescent girls and their facilitator – Mrs. Kiran - our Community Coordinator for the area.   We were late... our visit to the previous village took longer than we thought - and the drive here seemed to take a small eternity - and Kiran told us that a few of the girls have left because they had to study (a good reason I think!).

We were here to experience an adolescent girls group that our community health programme runs. 

We being my dear friends and colleagues from Mumbai-town - Vasu and Dr. Prashant - who were here to learn and explore partnership possibilities.   And our programme being the community outreach programme of the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital in Lalitpur.

We were seated up on a bed while the girls sat on the ground.  Its actually less awkward than it looks. The reason being that the girls were quite confident about themselves and super quick to answer questions.

We had told Pushpa - our CHDP nurse - that we wanted to be 'flies on the wall' as much as possible in the circumstances.  So we requested Kiran and her to conduct their meeting as they would have done without our being there.

After our initial introduction and a few questions from our part Pushpa went into topic of the day - a follow up teaching and discussion of nutrition.

It was a girls' group, but there were also a few curious eyes of the other gender too:

These young women-in-the-making were crisp and confident when asked questions.  They knew their stuff well and were happy the speak up, with almost all of them almost tripping over each other in offering answers.

We were talking about how poor nutrition leads to anaemia - a major problem for women in the area (most of them are anaemic) and girls as well (many are).

Pushpa said that most of the adolescents had done a haemoglobin test.  I was curious to know whether they knew their results and were able to remember them.

So I asked one of the young-ones.  She blew me away be telling me that her haemoglobin was 8.4.   The last thing I expected was hearing a lab value being given to the decimal point!

We then talked with the girls and found out that none of them had an Hb value of higher than 10.  All of them were 10 or below.  Some had had counts as low as 6.

What needs to be done to prevent anaemia?   Eat green vegetables was the universal answer.

And do you do that?  Yes - they said.  How much?  The answers were mixed.  Though some grow the vegetables in their gardens and fields, others have to buy them.

"Now we will test their Hb" Pushpa told us.

I thought we were going to see a bunch of youngsters lining up to have blood samples taken - and shipped back to the laboratory at HBM hospital.

Instead the girls came forward, and had their fingers pricked:

  A few needed to have their fingers pushed a bit to get the blood drop up and ready for the test...

But then came my surprise... the drop was put on a small test strip and the reading was done instantly using a digital hand-held apparatus!

And the very first sample broke the bank - she had a Hb of 13!

As the others came forward for their tests it was encouraging to see that almost all of them had recorded increases in their Hb levels.  When before none were over 10, we now had 4 or 5 crossing 11 and above.

We still have some anaemic girls - but they are less than there were before!  We are seeing it in the blood - small but real steps of progress!

Speaking of progress, I noticed that one of the girls had a red streak on the parting of her hair - the sign of a married woman.   She was.  And another girl too.  The second girl had been married at 13 and dropped out of school.  Child marriage still exists.  And we had two young married women in this adolescent group.

But the good news is that both the girls were encouraged to go back to school - which they did. Thanks to the hard work and advocacy of the local community coordinator Kiran and our nurse Pushpa these girls are making steps forward.

And some of the results are showing up in their blood.  In the factor of having a higher Hb level, which both shows what can be done through these groups... and also the on-going challenges that so many other young women are going through - women and girls not blessed to have a group like this.

It was time to go.  A quick cup of tea and we were on our way... accompanied back to the jeep by our smiling team.

We left Pratapur wishing very much we could have been with the girls longer - and very grateful for the Masoom project staff who are investing in these precious lives - and into a hopeful future.

And so back to base!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Living out "Fellowship" - the HBM team visit to Lakhnadon Christian Hospital

The Emmanuel Hospital Association - which Sheba and I are rejoining after a 13 year stint in Thane-town - has a motto:

"Fellowship for Transformation through Caring"

We want to be agents of change by being a community who live out our lives through care for others... and for each other.  We know that all of this is possible only through the Lord Jesus Christ - and want to make Him known in word and deed.  But the key is that change has to start with us.  And that too not each one alone in their corner, but together.

Enter the idea - and the practice - of fellowship.

A few months ago our hospital - the HBM hospital here in Lalitpur - hosted the regional board meetings.  At this time our Hospital Director Biju Mathew and Dr. Cherring from Lakhnadon Christian Hospital got into a conversation.  "Why not live out our 'fellowship' by visiting each other - as hospitals - and seeing how we can encourage and improve on each other?"

And so last month we did that.  A team of four from the HBM Hospital here in Lalitpur drove down the 320 kms to Lakhnadon which is in the Seoni district of Madhya Pradesh.  I had been stranded in Thane thanks to the Jat agitation - and so joined the team on their second day after catching a train up to Jabalpur and spending a day with our CH team who was also doing an exposure visit in the area.

Lakhnadon Christian Hospital faces many challenges.  Many.

  • A large campus with crumbling infrastructure.
  • A reduced patient load as key medical leaders have come and gone 
  • Pressures to comply with regulations such as the clinical establishment act which favour large hospitals working in urban areas
  • Staff who are working hard - but then sometimes with low patient loads seem to be hardly working
  • Staff turn-over given the lack of educational facilities for children in such a remote place
  • and on an on.

However, through all of this, we have an amazing set of folks who have stuck on through thick and thin.

The leader of the hospital is our very dear friend Dr. Chering Tenzing - and she and the management team have been strengthened by Dr. Divya who is a community medicine specialist and who joined a few months ago.

Dr. Chering did her Medicine studies out of the Christian Fellowship Hospital in Oddanchataram in Tamil Nadu when Sheba was there and their friendship has stood the test of time.  It has been our privilege to go and visit her in her various postings over these past 15 years as a missionary doctor.  The first few visits were back to our 'old hospital' at the Nav Jeevan Hospital in Jharkhand, then on to the Herbertpur Christian Hospital in Uttarkhand and finally at the Lakhnadon Christian Hospital in MP.

The campus of the Lakhnadon Christian Hospital maintains its quirky charm.  As you come in the gates the first sight you see is the entrance to the out-patient department:

Behind the main hospital buildings stretches the large campus - which is generously endowed with staff quarters and boasts a lovely field where future cricketers from staff and their families practice in the early evenings:

After so many years in the congestion of Mumbai - to see open spaces is a breath of fresh air... literally.   Seoni district may have many draw-backs, but outdoor air pollution is not one of them.

So what did the team from HBM hospital do to live out our fellowship with the Lakhandon Christian Hospital team?

Well, we listened, and talked, and listened some more, and prayed and listened and talked.

Our colleagues are working hard.  And need to be appreciated.  Which is one of the small things that we were able to do with them.

Here Biju is talking with an off duty nurse who used to be with us a the HBM hospital in Lalitpur.

We also fanned out and spent time with individual units.  Biju sat with the administrator and worked through some of the systems and looked at pricing issues.   Leela was with the fledgling palliative care team.  Pastor Emmanuel shared in the morning devotions and spent time with the support staff - listening to them and encouraging them.  Sharon met with the HR manager and held a youth meeting for young staff.  I was with the community health folks and in and out of other groups too.

One evening we brought all the staff together for a get-together.  We split up into four groups and each group discuss a different key area: what they are thankful to the Lord for, which areas of their work they see the Kingdom being established most, what the challenges facing the hospital are, and finally what their dreams for the hospital are.

The discussions were lively and had to be cut short so that we could all hear the key findings with the larger group.  And then we used these findings to fuel our prayers.

Here one of the teams shares their 'dreams' for the hospital.

For me the highlight  was a day-long visit to a remote village where the LCH conducted a medical clinic together with a couple who have been serving the people of that community.

The drive took us into the hinterland - including a drive down and up one of the famous ravines that the area is known for.

When we first arrived at our site, we found it a bare room - a community hall on the road side which had been built a year before.

Our local facilitator was there - as were a few volunteers - but no one else.  But our hosts assured us that people would come.

And they did.

Sister Leela first give a general talk about cancer and palliative care, and then the clinic commenced with the facilitator doing the registration - he knew most of the folks by name, they then had their BP checked and then met Dr. Divya for a consultation.  A few were examined on a cot behind a curtain of blankets that had been strung up to provide some privacy.

After the consulation, those who needed medication took their prescription and bought their meds from the team.  That's right, they bought the meds.  So many 'chartiable' programmes give medicines away - and then wonder why people don't use them well.  The folks here get a consultations free, but buy the needed meds because the know the value of the medical advice they are getting.  And the clinic is backed up by community level work done by the local facilitators.

Sister Leela Pradhan is a living legend.  She is a cancer survivor herself and was really not feeling too well on this trip - but is committed to setting up palliative care units in other places too.  She took two more sessions on basic cancer issues.  One was for women which she did indoors.  And then a group discussion with a group of local men outside one of the local homes.

Like in our part of Bundelkhand, the local homes are often brightly coloured, with startling blues (most popular colour) and odd pink or yellow showing up.   A number of the houses in the Seoni district had a duo-tone strip with the primary colour on top and a white band below.  How do these designs originate and spread?

On the drive back we stopped to inquire about a large cork-screw like apparatus we saw outside one home on the drive in.  Turns out it is a gravity fed grain and chaff separator!

The lady of the home, who was separating her channa harvest by hand, said that it was used for wheat.  

Too soon we were in our last session with the Lakhnadon Christian Hospital leadership team.

It was good to reflect back on the three days which we had spent with them.

We could see that they really appreciated the small inputs that we were able to give them.  And we came away enriched by seeing what God is doing in their lives - and what we can do further over here!

Long live the fellowship!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Shaadi nights

India loves its weddings.  The bigger, the grander, the better.

Our campus is an ocean of tranquility.  11 acres shared between the Harriet Benson Memorial Hospital and the RE Mission school.  Trees, birds, the odd mongoose.  A small Eden.  Most of the days we have a steady back ground of birdsong.

And then night falls.

It's wedding season in Lalitpur.  And that means plenty of SOUND.

The big day needs to be celebrated in a big way.

Your party of dancers may be 40 odd folks gyrating to the latest Bollywood tunes (but then again I seem to be hearing that horrid chestnut of 'bollo ta-ra-ra' all too often).  But the sound needs to be boss.

And to help you with this, the local wedding bands offer you (for a hefty price of course - but hey - you only get your darling beta married once) the complete package:  a royal chariot (either a real carriage with horse, or a jeep with a fantasy chassis for the groom to ride in, a long line of lights - carried by folks (mostly on the skinnier and smaller body stature side), and a huge bank of speakers which the DJ on hire uses as a sonic assault machine - here usually arrayed on another jeep.  And of course a portable diesel generator set to produce the healthy amount of electricity needed to illuminate and amplify the procession far and wide.

Here is what it looks like (you will have to imagine the sound effects of course):

The darkness of the Lalitpur night (yes you can see stars here) gives way to light as the procession nears...

Note the diesel generator on the hood of the jeep.  It's completely silent (because of the wall of sound produced by the LOUD speakers are more than sufficient to hide the chugging gen-set).

As the procession inches forward, traffic flows by as well.   We are very much a 'two-wheeler' town here - and so motorbikes and scooters ooze past the dancers and two rows of mobile-light-carriers.

The cynosure of all eyes is of course - the bride groom himself.

Sometimes he rides a horse on his special day.  This group had a carriage for him - with the modern twist of strip lighting to highlight his chariot.

He also seems to have three cousins along for the ride - at leas for part of it.

We are told in the village that there are elaborate 'dramas' when the 'girl' is brought to the wedding site.  There are groups of people who 'demand money' and 'argue' that they will not give their daughter for any price - and then the sides act out various honour dramas to have the girl brought into the family.

But that is for another day.  We have had the groomal procession (a.k.a. baraat) pass by in all its splendour and generosity of sound and light.

Off they go into the night.  The ladies carrying the lights are silent walking sentinels of dignity in an ocean of sound.  Poverty and opportunity are strange bedfellows.

Needless to say - we get our earful each evening.  And not only because of the processions passing along on the road outside.  Behind the HBM Hospital campus is the Rim-Jhim marriage garden. They too are generous with their music.  And an unknown marriage centre is somewhere off in the darkness on the other side of the campus.

Good thing the birds are asleep when darkness falls.

Happy marriage season to all and sundry!

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

A creation care conversation in a tea shop

We were sitting in a tea shop in a bazar of a little town (biggish village) deep in the rural heart of Lalitpur district.

My colleagues had gotten up and walked out, and I was about to do the same when two men sat down opposite me.

Who are you and what are you doing here?

I introduced myself.  They did too.  I told them I was with HBM hospital.

"Oh, you are with an NGO?  Give us jobs.  We can work for you."

The tone was hard.  The eyes probing.  One of the two was bordering on the unfriendly.

What to say?

I asked them what they did.  They told me that they were private teachers.  Then they talked about a government school.  I asked them if they took tutions to help children after school.  No, they said.  They were teachers.  Normal teachers.

I finally figured it out.  They do teach at a government school.  But they are not government employees.  The govt. has too few teachers in local high school, so the "Parent Teacher Association" has hired some more.  They take fees to support the extra hands.   Lukash later told me that these are called 'guest teachers.'

By then Lukash had come back.  He slid in beside me and took over the conversation.

"We believe that God has made everything.  The trees, the animals, the water, us humans.  He has made everything and it is very good.

And of all the creation, what do you think is the crown, the very best?" Lukash asked the two opposite us.

"Humanity" said one of them.  The other started an elaborate ritual of taking out his tobacco and preparing in his hand for his oral fix.  He clearly was not interested anymore, but was sitting on the inside and could not escape.

"Correct" said Lukash. "Humanity has been made by God to look after the rest of the creation.  But we have done a pretty bad job at it.  We spoil things by overusing them selfishly.  We are at loggerheads with the rest of creation.  We fight with each other.

So what we are doing as an organisation is to help people look after their natural resources.  To work together in teams.  To solve problems and look after creation as God has asked us to do in the first place."

He then went on to briefly talk about the community based organisations we help set up and work through.  Village watershed management committees.  Women's savings groups.  Farmers clubs.  Adolescent groups.  All of these can help communities grow strong and live out the peace that God wants us to.  All of which can help us manage the creation God has given us.

Sweet words to my ears.  Not so sweet to Mr. Interrogator No. 1.  He wanted out.  The other guy - a bit younger had a flicker of interest on his face.  His expression was not as hard.

Lukash then asked them about themselves.  They opened up a bit.  Turns out they are already involved with a local NGO.

"Give us a job" they repeated to Lukash.  He turned it around: "you give us a job!" he said.   We are a small organisation - but you are here locally and already involved with some work.  Tell us what we can do to help you?

Mr. Initiator had had enough.  The chat was over and they got up and headed out.  We followed at our own speed.

These are the men who are educating the next generation(s).

Its a hard land which produces a certain hardness in some of the folks we meet.  Or is it vice versa?

Lukash shared later as we bounced along through the dirt roads that lead to the village we are working in - that he believes everyone should be talked to.  Even folks who are hostile.

Lukash reminded me of a notorious character from our Nav Jeevan Hospital days in the late 1990s.   A certain fellow from a village 8 kms away who made life miserable for the hospital with his antics and hostility.   But it seems that later Lukash continued to meet him - and saw a total change in his actions.

Love covers.  Love can chip away hard hearts.  Most important ingredient for me right here, right now is love.  And that means even loving hard men.

Look again: A different kind of beautiful

Different Kind of Beautiful from avasquez on Vimeo.

The good folks at the Art for Change Foundation are moving forward - and deeper into life and beauty and people...  take a look!