I've struggled to find the words to write about my experience this time around because none of them seem sufficient. I had been praying for an opportunity to learn and see more in the slum communities of India. I knew that I needed to better understand the complexities that lead to human trafficking, but I wasn't prepared for what I would see, and most importantly, feel. There's a time in our lives when head knowledge has to become heart knowledge and that happened to me as I absorbed the pain and poverty surrounding me.
Every time I've been to India I've seen the severe poverty from the car. But to be up close and personal, peeking into people's homes, hearing their stories, and seeing the magnitude of the need with my own eyes was a completely different experience. The children were hard to for me to take in. So many of them were dirty, hungry, and expressionless. However, those that were joyful and smiling provided such a contrast to their surroundings that it comforted my weary heart. To see people living so exposed and vulnerable without protection was unreal. And to think about the lack of safety and security, in all areas of life, broke my heart. We take so much for granted.
There was one thing that caught my attention on the very first day; it felt like I was being slammed by a Mack truck every time I saw it. That thing was child marriage.
It's recognized as a form of human trafficking so I've studied it over the years. And when I saw a very young girl picking up her little one from preschool, I knew. The passion within my heart automatically deepened. Sharp pains swept across my chest that afternoon as I watched girl after girl pick up her young child, some pregnant with a second. Needless to say, I went back to the hotel and had a good cry.
It's something I heard about. It's something I knew the facts about. But to come face to face with it broke the deepest, most impassioned part of my heart. Here's why: they're in this for life. In a place like India, the likelihood of a marriage ending is slim. Divorce is shameful and death, while inevitable, is more than likely a long time away. When a girl is married off at 13, 14, 15 years old, she's been stripped of her right to choose. Her life has been planned out for her, whether she wants it or not.
At the root of so many of these marriages is poverty which means that under different financial circumstances, this probably wouldn't be her reality.
Throughout the week, I met several young girls living in extreme poverty along with their husbands. One was married at 13, pregnant at 14, and had a 9 month old on her hip at 15. There was a beautiful 15 year old who was married to an 18 year old a few weeks ago. Their future is grim as he doesn't have a job and they plan to move into a shack across the busy road from their parents.
I think the thing that bothered me the most is WHY? What's the point? Sure, it alleviates some of the financial pressure from the parents. And maybe religious reasons contribute to it, but what's the point in stripping away a child's future and setting her up for a life of poverty and suffering?
These children start having children of their own, they struggle to feed and educate their babies, and the cycle continues on.
It seems hopeless but there is always hope. The contributing factors can be addressed holistically and future generations can be set free from the struggles my eyes have seen. More than that, healing can happen. Lies can be undone, pain can be reconciled, and lives can be restored. It's this hope and endless possibility that keeps me running this race that Jesus has called me to.
Friends, I'm in a new season. It's the start of a new chapter and I cannot wait to reveal what's being birthed from this deeply burdened and passionate heart of mine. I am determined to be part of the solution and together, we WILL be!
Stay tuned for more.