Thursday, July 26, 2007
Last weekend the staff of Jeevan Sahara Kendra and myself took a journey to Mukti Mission for a retreat. The theme of the weekend was "God Meant it for Good" -- Telling His Story and Our Story! This proved to be a very blessed time. We took the bus ride up -- which ended up being a bit of an adventure in itself -- We had to drive slower than normal because there was something wrong with the gear box -- so a 4 1/2 ride took 7 hours. I found it a bit of a challenge as my back started acting up -- but yet again, I had another opportunity to go with the flow. Speaking of flow -- there was plenty of that -- as this bus driver never shut the door -- so the air just blew right through the bus during the whole trip -- which really helped cool things down. However, there were additional things that managed to blow in -- but I will spare you the details.
Mukti was started by an incredible woman, Pandita Ramabai who was very small in stature (about 5' tall) but very large in faith. She lived over a hundered years ago and was quite the pioneer for christian womens education and for establishing a very solid christian work in this little town. When I toured the grounds of the mission and saw the way things were laid out, I imagined all this inside of someones mind so long ago -- it really brought new meaning to the word visionary. There are great stories of faith where she prayed and perservered despite great setbacks and even the scoffing of some -- especialy with regards to digging the well for water. They dug and dug and never hit water -- when the crew announced that they were quitting, she told them "tomorrow the water will come" -- they thought she was crazy -- she prayed through the night -- the next day the water came -- still is coming today. All the stones that were dug up out of the well have constructed a cathedral that rivals most churches in Europe -- unbelievable! You can learn more about Pandita Ramabai and the mission see:
The group that came - had such a varied background. Some individuals who had made a big step to participate -- families, where the husband and wife were infected, as a team -- wanting to move forward in their lives. There was a gentleman who was illiterate, who was a laborer who worked extremely hard -- and had told when he found out he was positive in the hospital -- the nurses wouldn't touch him --confirming his fears that because of HIV -- he was unlovable - a throw-away He, in desperation, attempted to climb to the roof of the hospital and throw himself off -- God spared him -- he didn't succeed. Only later to have an accident on the job where half of his skull was cracked open -- you can see the stitching of his skin down his face. His face beamed during the times of worship and as he heard the stories of others living with a similar disease and the sense of new found community that he had not know before - he had found a new family-- what a privilege to see the change. There was another young man -- who was a worship leader in his church -- who did not want to talk about his status at first. By the time the weekend was done -- he was feeling that perhaps God gave him that position to influence others -- transfored before our eyes. For me -- I am floored at the suffering that people go through -- I received far more than I have given.
FINDING OUR STORY
As we settled into our humble accmodations, we attempted to begn the process of leading those who attend the retreat to a place of discovery. The Retreat was designed for those who were living with HIV/AIDS to take a look at thier lives and to get a different perspective on their disease and God's plan. I spoke on the topic "Diagnosis to Discipleship" and shared my journey from a place of denial and shame to a place of freedom and purpose in Christ. Andi shared with the group of the life of Joseph from the bible. We saw how Joseph had a dream when he was young and his brothers sought to destory him. Even in this, God established his will for Joseph and the fulfillment of his vision. Joseph, as the story tells us, endured many difficult things in his life, wrongly accused, etc., but God still brought him to the place of his destiny. Being HIV positive isn't the end of our life but in fact can be a new beginning.
WHAT TIME IS IT?
We had one session where we asked the participants to make a time line from birth to present -- and to list the most signifant events in their lives. It was really powerful to see people work this process -- liberating for some, challenging for others. Some of it was a journey back to things that were painful -- for others it was a reminder of things to be thankful for. When the details were set -- we were asked to creatively express the events with pictures or drawings -- it was really cool to see what people came up with. I admit -- when doing my own -- it was hard to look somethings that I am not proud of in the face -- or be reminded of painful experiences. However, "God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love -- He doesn't treat us as our sins deserve" -- Reminded of this, we find a place of peace. Once we were finished with the timeline -- we dedicated them to the Lord -- the good and the bad and everything that goes with it.
TELLING OUR STORY
One of the highlights for me was to coach the participants in telling their story. I gave them some basic techniques about speaking in public and it was a joy for me to watch them move through their fears and for some to really soar in their attempt to express what God has done for them. I knew they had understood when you could feel the group as a whole -- observe when someone spoke to early out of nerves and didn't fix themselves behind the pulpit first -- you could feel the collective 'no no -- that was too early" and then releax when the person tried again and got it right. One of the most amazing things was -- they spoke in their native tongue and I didn't understand one word of what they said - -but the Lord gave me the ability to see how they were communicating overall and to make adjustments their. Andi, worked with me on addressing the content. It is wonderful to know that for those who would like to share about living wit HIV -- to help bring awareness - -to encourage other christians to get involved in the work in their churches -- or people in their community -- they have a few tools that can move them in that direction.
TELLING HIS STORY
I am reminded when I see people at the stage where I was when I first agreed to look HIV in the face and to take responsility before God for my life and actions -- to see that it was actually an opportunity for me to Surrender from the illusion that I could run my life anyway. I think back to how in that place of brokeness that God so graciously lifted my head up. Only in His loving hands can a life that is presented with great trial and brokeness be transformed into the beauty of its original design.
"Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who wait on the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
“Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”
(Philippians 2:14-16; NIV)
On the ceiling in Jeevan Sahara Kendra – the ministry to those infected and affected by HIV in Thane, India, you will find an array of gold stars. They start from just above center and are surrounded by a couple ceiling fans. The material that the stars are made out of is a foil material so there is a shimmer about them. As you gaze at them, you will find that there is some writing on each one of the stars. I am told there are more than 80 (eighty) of them at this point. They placed the first star on the ceiling in the latter part of 2003.
As you look closer you can see that the writing is actually a name. Each one of these stars represents one of the friends (clients) of Jeevan Sahara Kendra who has lost their battle with HIV and has died. It could average out to about two people per month since the first one – quite a bit actually if you think about it. It is odd, coming from the west at this point in history where most people are still living with HIV/AIDS – quite long for that matter. And yet at this point in time in the history of HIV in India the majority don’t live that long. They are just getting into the meds and beginning to see things turn – but it will take time. I think Jeevan Sahara Kendra has nearly 50 people who have started ART (Anti-Retroviral Therapy).
One of the stars I saw had the name Ratna. I met Ratna in December of 2005 when we did the first Retreat for Positive Believers. A 3-day retreat for those living with HIV to learn about how we can still grow in our faith even with HIV. She was encouraged at the time but was so thin and struggling physically. I remember praying with her and also taking a photograph with her on the last day – the last words she spoke to me were, “Please pray for me John.”
LOOK UP HIGHER
As I think about her words I am reminded that perhaps it is us who need the prayer. Those of us who are healthy and strong, able to access resources, to give of our time. For those who are believers in Jesus, who have obtained the ultimate gift of forgiveness of sins and the ability to love in His name – in many areas of need are we His hands and His feet? Perhaps it is us who need prayer, to be reminded of the frailty of life – that the time that appears to be on our side could be removed at any point – and if we would have a chance to do things differently, to love more, to give more, to pray more – to reach out to the least of those in His name – Would we? Could we?
Monday, July 16, 2007
SUNDAY -- A day of rest and reflection for some. I got to start the day with a time of fellowship with my brothers and sisters at a small congregation which meets at the home of Jolly & Suma. They open up their home each Sunday for a service that is really wonderful. Andi & Sheba Eicher and their kids Enoch & Asha (who love to laugh! -- and I seem to bring this out in them.....) make this their home fellowship. Andi is one of the Elders. I loved the simplicity of the worship and praise and also the way each person had a chance to bring a word or suggest a song. Andi brought us to the Lord's table and I was able to bring a short message about the Disciples and Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. We ended by singing "How Great Is Our God." It was simply a time to reflect on our lives and the life of Jesus!
CURRY IN A HURRY
Suma prepared a really nice meal for us and we enjoyed a time of fellowship -- We had to head back to Dr. Stephens place so I could take care of some things before I met with my friends ASTRAVIDH. So Jolly graciously drove us back to Dr. Stephens place and I was able to take a short rest and then my friend Santosh picked me up on his motorcyle.
Now I know when I write this - people are going to be thinking that I am testing the Grace of God -- but I rode over on the back of Santosh's motorcyle to meet the rest of my friends in the band ASTRAVIDH. I met this group of guys about a year and a half ago. I was asked to share my story in an outdoor setting that was kind of evangelistic - -and they had sung a couple songs before hand. They were just starting out and I had a great time of talking with them and the Lord just knit our hearts together. Sunny who is the lead singer and I had a chance to hang out a bit and as a group they had been asked to participate in a concert on Christmas Day -- they were going to sing and do this skit/drama. The concert was fun -- there were a couple thousand people and I got to sing a couple songs and share about Jesus -- since it was His birthday and all! I really felt that first and foremost these guys had great hearts and wanted to say something in their music. I encouraged them and they have been going at it ever since. They have grown musically and continue to strive for a greater level of excellence -- in their country they are moving into new territory. I love to encourage those who walk that path.
Anyway -- I was invited to a rehersal with them. Santosh (Bass Player) picked me up on his motorcyle and we rode through town to the otherside where they lived and rehearsed. The Rehersal place is an apartment that is used by Santosh's dad as an office during the day and a rehersal place at night. The guys in the band, Sunny (right in photo) (Guitar - Lead Vocals), Santosh In back (Bass), Ben (left in photo) (Drums), James (center w/guitar) (Electric Guitar) -- all welcomed me and I got a chance to hear how things have been going. Typical of artists starting out -- struggling between working the job that pays the rent and then getting time to rehearse, get equipment, write material -- figure out ways to record it -- etc., the story is the same around the world. This is actually encouraging in one way -- because it is another way that I can encourage people in another sector of life. I heard their plans, listened to some of their new material -- like it -- they have still a ways to go but hope to have the rest of their songs written and ready to record by February of next year. They told me that I was evidently instrumental in them making a commitment as a group and moving to the next place in their musical aspirations -- a great place of honor in the lives of young people.
We had great talks, had some tea and got to sing together -- I met the rest of Santosh's family as we prepared to leave and then it was a ride on the motorcyle again -- only this time it was 9:30pm at night and the ride on the roads are way more exciting at this time -- but I will spare you the details. It is now the next day so you know I survived!
Preparing for some business meetings, a 3 1/2 days retreat this weekend which is going to be really exciting and more to come..........stay tuned!
Saturday, July 14, 2007
Small Business Ideas are booming in India. I had the opportunity of spending the first of a few days of this trip in exploring some small business opportunities. The day started with meeting up with my friend James D'Costa who is someone who is living with HIV in India. James has been very active in awareness and education and has grown significantly in the Lord in the last couple years. He volunteers with JSK (Jeevan Sahara Kendra) once a week and also with his Church. I have had the privilege of being in James life since our Positive Retreat almost a year and a half ago.
I am looking into opening an Internet Cafe to generate income for ministry in the country in addition to employing some who are HIV positive. In addition to providing a service to those in the community, it will be a place where we can break down stigma and provide opportunities for those who might not get the chance. Internet Cafe's are popping up all over the place. When looking at some potential office space for rent, James was invaluable in translation and also in discerning when prices were increasing because I am from the West!
WE JUMPED INTO AN AUTO RICSHAW -- which is a very fun little motorcar that scoots along quite nicely. The only thing is I will probably need a week with a Chiropractor because I cannot sit up straight in any of them -- so my neck is always bent. We went to a couple of different locations and the first place we looked at was all sold out. It was a new retail development along with condominiums. In a place nearby I had looked at a year and a half ago -- the prices have increased by 50% in 18 months. I am told the real estate market in the Mumbai/Thane Area is some of the most expensive real estate in India and for Mumbai -- in the world.
The Second place we looked at when the guy heard what I wanted to do along with my suggestions about outside space near the door -- using it as a cafe -- he all of a sudden made a call and then told me he had told me the wrong price. The new price was TRIPLE. We left thereafter!
I find it a very interesting way to be exposed to a different part of the population while looking into business opportunities. You pass through so many areas of great poverty and yet there is a thriving economy here. I will be grateful to the Lord to continue to guide through all of these circumstance and if it is His will for this to work then so be it!
I also had a chance to pick up a few items for the house I am working on in Connecticut and have them shipped back -- it was a productive day. Tomorrow I will meet with an IT gentleman and then prepare for Sunday where I will be bringing the message.