THE EVER-DEEPENING PASSION OF MY HEART

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. 

SANAM'S STORY

I had the pleasure of talking to Sanam on one of my recent visits to India. He is the epitome of joy and fully committed to his daughters, which he serves wholeheartedly. I wish there were more Sanam's in the world. Here's his story:

 

When hired in 2011 as a part-time tuition teacher, Sanam had no idea the ways God would use him in this ministry. In 2013, he was promoted to full-time academic coordinator and father figure in the home. Over time, his name has changed too – from Sanam Sir to Dad. 

When I talked with Sanam about his role as a father figure, his face lit up. He said, “I only come for the girls.” There is no other motivating factor beyond his love and the heart he has for the girls and this ministry. He said he doesn’t feel like an academic coordinator. Instead, his main role is being “dad” to a house full of girls. 

From taking care of school payments, attending parent-teacher meetings, ensuring uniforms and supplies are maintained, to combing hair, Sanam has been fully integrated into the family. He loves the girls the same way he loves his own son, who affectionately refers to the girls as his “didis” or older sisters. 

For Sanam, this isn’t just a job. He has brought his own family into the ministry with him. His wife and son are part of the family too. They love the girls, visit them frequently, and pray for them daily. It’s their support that allows Sanam to be so devoted to his large family. 

One indicator of how deep his relationship with the girls has grown over the years is the fact they call him “daddy” outside the home. When they see him at school, it’s the name they call him and the teachers and staff know which girls belong to him. He advocates on their behalf, ensuring their educational needs are met and keeps them engaged with daily activities to aid in their development. 

He contributes his parenting success to the ongoing education and support that is provided, which teaches him and the rest of the staff about parenting and child development. He has successfully incorporated the things he has learned into the home where the girls reside and at home with his own son as well. For Sanam, being a good parent to his children is of upmost importance to him. 

In his words, “I praise God for the ways He is working marvelously here.” Just like any proud father, his heart swells with affection and a smile fills his face as he talks about his daughters. He wants what’s best for them and he wants to be prepared for the years to come. He jokingly asked, “Do you have any extra guidance on parenting teenagers?” 

A house full of teenage daughters is on the horizon, but Sanam is joyfully up for the challenge because after all, he is their dad. And a great one at that!

JESUS IN A BROTHEL

You can imagine my surprise as I stood there staring at Him.

This was the third and final brothel we visited that morning. They were such dark places with no sign of hope except for the occasional smile made by one of the women. 

And yet, in this moment my hope had been restored and promise filled the air. 

I was staring one of my sisters in the face. Above her room were pictures of Jesus, and I stood there in awe of the fact that we found Him here. She asked for prayer so we did just that. 

Her dark sari was draped over her head. Her hands out wide. Surrendered. 

I always say that Jesus knows each one of these women by name. He knows her story. He knows her pain. On this day, He let me see for myself how true that really is. He is the Shepherd, we are His sheep. There is nothing that can stop Him from going after one of His sheep. Not even the evil of human trafficking. 

In going to India, I really wanted to visit a red light district. I didn’t want to go to be a spectator, but to take my understanding of human trafficking in India to a deeper level. If God is calling us to do this work full time, I want to learn as much as I possibly can. By God’s grace, He made a way for us to have that experience. 

The day came and we drove over to the district. We got out of the car and began our journey down the small lane. It was as if we smashed into a wall of darkness - the landscape changed, the air was different - we were walking into hell on earth. 

We went into the first brothel where one of the women gave us a brief tour. Her room had two beds with curtains that could be pulled down for privacy. Two women lived and worked in this small room simultaneously. Across from the beds was a small faucet with a bucket - their bathroom. 

After saying our goodbyes, we walked down the lane to the second brothel. This one was very different from the first and at this one we met with a woman who held a “higher rank” within the brothel. She worked there, but also managed some of the other women. She had worked her way up into a room with windows. The light was beaming in, creating quite the contrast from the rest of the building. We briefly sat down and I tried to soak it all in. There were smaller rooms off to the side, a man making food on the floor, and a woman who had endured years of abuse and torture standing in front of me. After a few minutes we left, but the realization of sunlight being such a privilege in this place is something I couldn’t forget. 

The third brothel we entered was a little further down the lane. We climbed up two stories on a steep ladder into the attic. The “kitchen” was the first thing we saw. It was just a bunch of pots and pans on the floor. We couldn’t stand up straight in this part of the attic. It was hot and very humid, but apparently mild compared to what it normally is. We took a peek into a room across the kitchen, then turned into another room that had two tiny “stalls.” These tiny little rooms were only big enough to house the bed itself. There was one with a mattress and a bed frame, the other with only a mattress on the floor. 

My heart broke for what I heard next: In the little room with the mattress and frame, it cost $2.50 for service. In the room with the mattress on the floor, $1.50. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the fact that a human life could be worth so little. 

After that, we stepped into the back room and we were introduced to a woman who, we would soon find out, had recently became a Christian. When I initially saw the pictures on her wall, I wasn’t sure what it meant. It’s common in Hinduism to add Jesus into the mix, but they clarified right away that she had denounced all other gods and accepted Jesus as her one and only Savior.

I couldn’t help but see her as God sees her - the dark sari removed and a bridal gown of bright and shining linen put on. 

He is enthralled with the beauty of His daughter. He knows her name, her story, and her pain. He has taken her from death to life and given her a crown to signify the great riches of His grace. She is no longer defined by current circumstances, but by her Father’s love for her. She is being renewed, transformed, made whole. 

The beauty of the Gospel was found in the most evil place I’ve ever been exposed to. And that made it all the more radiant and glorious. It made me stand in awe of The Shepherd. He intimately and intentionally cares for each of us if we let Him. 

As for her, she is getting older and her time in the brothel is running out. The customers aren’t coming around like they used to. She will soon be told that she is taking up valuable space and will be forced to leave the only thing she’s ever known.

When she’s out of the brothel, she wants to be baptized. She understands the significance of the decision she’s made and wants to be able to reflect that with her life, which she currently cannot do. In the coming days, she will experience physical freedom, but she will also get to show the world the spiritual freedom she’s already found. Someone, somewhere in India will baptize her. They will lower her dark sari into the water and when she stands, her radiant wedding gown will be on display for all to see. Oh, how I wish I could experience this with her! What a life changing moment it will be. 

Finding my Beloved in the brothel was my favorite moment of the trip. He taught me so much in those brief moments with her. He reminded me that His love is relentless and never-ending. He pursues us and He draws us near to Him no matter what our current condition or circumstances might be. Only He can restore and redeem us. Only He can give us the peace that surpasses understanding. Only He can heal the deep, gaping wounds of our heart and soul. 

We need Him more than the air we breathe. 

He’s the only hope we have of surviving the brokenness our world is saturated with. That’s why fighting human trafficking without Him makes no sense.