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Her Eyes Are On Jesus

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She lives in the heart of one of Kolkata’s Muslim areas just steps from a large mosque where thousands of men pray 5 times a day. The Imam can be heard over the loud speaker.

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Nieces who greet us at the gate to bring us to Auntie Anita

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Daily the families gather water from this corner of the compound

We entered the gate to a small compound of 5-6 one room flats. There is one water source shared by all that is turned on by the city twice a day. Residents must daily gather enough water to cook, bathe and do laundry . There is one small bathroom for all of the families to share.  Colorful laundry is hanging out to dry. Teenage cousins greet us at the gate and they are excited to bring us to Auntie Anita.anita 2

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The brightly colored one room flat

Anita Anwar lives with her husband, Shafique, in a one room flat with a turquoise door. Her belongings are carefully stored and everything is in its place. A bright purple armoire sits against turquoise walls. A bible is placed carefully on a small shelf just above the bed. The cleanliness and order didn’t surprise us at all, knowing our Anita. We sat down on the bed which doubles as a seating area for guests as well as a kitchen table. Today we were three women, sisters in Christ, who gathered for lunch and conversation.  Sitting in her home we feel so at peace and so welcomed. Anita is the perfect example of fierce gentleness. She has a boldness that would rival any great evangelist but a gentleness about her that can warm even the hardest of hearts. We recalled that just days before Anita had shared her life story with our group.

Oh soul are you weary and troubled?  No light in the darkness you see?

Shafique and Anita are nestled right in the middle of this compound filled with their family who are all Muslims. Their light here is unmistakable. But it wasn’t always that way.

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Family members who stopped by to say hello

Before they knew Jesus their lives were filled with struggle and heartbreak. Shafique was full of anger and drank to excess. Anita was fearful of him. His violent temper, a far cry from the man we know today. They had two sons and one daughter during those pain-ridden years and there were times that Anita was ready to end her life.  The abuse and sadness overwhelmed her. One day she closed the children in a room and intended to pour oil on herself to catch fire.  Many times she walked in front of a bus in the busy streets in order to end it all. But God had other plans for Anita.

There’s light from a look at the Savior with life more abundant and free.

Her son, Zeeshan. seemed to be chronically sick and one day he grew gravely ill. They found themselves at a nearby Catholic hospital. The doctor wanted him admitted. With little money and a very sick child she didn’t know what to do. His illness had never been this bad. She felt alone and scared for her son.  As she sat in the hallway of the hospital short on answers and hope she buried her head in her hands and cried.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face.

With weeping eyes Anita looked up from her hands and her eyes met the eyes of a painting of Jesus that hung in that Catholic hospital and in that moment this Muslim mother cried out loud, “Jesus, heal my son.”

Zeeshan began to show signs of improvement. Anita took him home and watched as her son quickly lost all the symptoms. He was healed and no longer in danger. She knew it was Jesus. She said, “Where can I get this Jesus? I want Jesus no matter what”

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

Anita’s faith grew strong over the next few months but she wasn’t out of danger. Shafique was still drinking, angry and abusive. He heard her praying one day and told her to get out. It was either Jesus or him.  Even her in-laws said that whatever happened to her, she deserved and they were encouraged to ridicule and shame her.  She took the children and  moved to another flat where she held a house Bible study on Tuesdays. This was the day of the week that Shafique had off of work. “He’s going to come one day” was her hope and prayer.  Every day she would go to Shafique’s while he was at work and clean the house and make food, leaving before he arrived home. One day he came home early. Terrified, she began praying quietly without knowing what was to happen to her next. Shafique came around to face her with tears in his eyes and begged her to forgive him. Her consistent faithfulness and kindness had brought him to a place of repentance. He attended his first house church service the next Tuesday. Over time he was able to accept the forgiveness of Jesus and place his trust in Him.

Through death into life everlasting He passed and we follow Him there; Over us sin no more hath dominion for more than conquerors we are

 Today Shafique and Anita pour their lives out to the community around them. Their priority is to share Jesus with others. Anita meets with Muslim women weekly and teaches them practical things along with stories and truths from the Bible. The transformation in each of their lives is a witness to those that knew them before. Their lives are not easy but they are filled with a joyful peace. In humility they share whatever they have without a longing for material gain. Their eyes are fixed on Jesus.DSC_0564

Our teams in Kolkata would not be complete without Anita, Shafique and their daughter, Zeenat.  But even more, our lives would not be as rich without their friendship. To know them is to see Jesus.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Our Heart

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 “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” – Anne Frank

Our team is made up of people with differing personalities, giftings, and backgrounds. Put together we make up a strong team. Today I want you to hear the heart of each of them.

We served today with a ministry who provides a way for women to make a wage that enables them to leave the sex trade. They told stories of changed lives and the hope of “the stories for which we wait.” I come to India with a desire of sharing God’s love and encouragement for those whose salvation and rescue story should not have to wait. – Barbara Brennan

Words can’t describe what it means to be able to spend time here in India. So much about it is so special to me. Being around women who I consider my hero is definitely on the top of the list! -Stephanie Blyth

It has been a challenge to travel with a group that is amazing and unknown to me. I felt God wanted me to come and two beautiful Indian ladies have touched me with their love of God and their husbands. Each lives a life dedicated to changing lives for Jesus. I loved meeting Anita and Mita. -Ellen Gant

IMG_0187We spent the afternoon with a group of ladies that are still working in the sex trade and living in darkness. To sit at the feet of these women and tell them that there is a God that says they are His beloved? There are no words to describe this honor. I love this country and these people. I want to be so poured out in India that they have to carry me on to that plane. -Brenda Debor

I am so thankful to be able to come back to this amazing country. A piece of my heart belongs to India. I love being able to come back and continue friendships I’ve made and make new friendships that’ll last. I love seeing what God has in store each time we come. -Danae Patterson

There’s something about the people here that won’t let me stay home. How can I stay in my comfort when the need is so great? There are times I feel rewarded and times I don’t but it’s not about that. It’s about saying, “yes” because He has already said, “go.” To be allowed in the presence of women whose lives are riddled with hardship and even danger is one of the greatest privileges I’ve known.- Kay Smith

This trip to India has been an amazing experience. The children are so precious and the ladies are so sweet. There are so many needs and I will continue to pray for the people I’ve met. -Sherry Contreras

We are on our last ministry day here. We intend to leave every drop of love, energy, emotion and strength with the people of this city. our hearts are forever changed.

Remember You Are Loved

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img_2509-1There are people that make an indelible mark on your life. When you spend time with them they not only change your perspective but they fill your heart with joy. The last two days our team had the rare and unique opportunity to spend uninterrupted hours with women who face insurmountable poverty and have found their livelihood in a small red light area outside the city. In tiny one-room flats no bigger than many of your restrooms they raise children and earn a living with no more than a piece of fabric for privacy.

Destiny is an NGO that works to educate and teach these women that they were made for more. It is no simple task and the work can be exhausting and unrewarding for long periods of time.

Remember you are loved, He says to them through smiles of acceptance and words of encouragement.

With much chatter and big smiles the ladies experienced so many firsts. The looks of awe and giggles of relaxed, peaceful joy was music to our souls. None of them had ever stayed in a hotel much less a resort. Think having a bathtub is just a regular thing? How about having never seen one? They even wondered why they were given rooms to share with only one other person, the floor in a big room would have been fine. There were buffets of fancy foods and more outdoor games than they could even get to. These days were a just a moment to breathe and be away from the demands that are placed on them in the life of a sex worker. In these precious moments the noise of stress quiets so they might hear,

Child, remember you are loved. Just like I loved Rahab, I love you. You are brave, you are courageous, you need only to rest in Me. I am big enough for all of your struggles. I am.

Our team went to work caring not only for the women but for their children as well. From crafts to custom perfume to exercise to jewelry making to s’mores at a bonfire, all of it worked together to help them feel His love. They heard about Rahab and the God of Abraham and how He found value in her life and used her to change history. They listened with great emotion as they heard a testimony from one of our team of how God carried her through the darkest time in her life. It was hard for them to understand how she could be so open and we explained that it is God’s story lived out in us that compels us to share it.

Daughter, remember you are loved. I have sent My Son to show you. The love you see in my followers is real and it is for you.

The impact of their questions was heavy. “Our gods require so much from us. We have to do so many things to show our devotion. But your God, He sends you here to show us love, how is that?” “This story about Rahab is over 2000 years old, how is it that we have not heard this before?” Everything we shared, every touch, hug and laugh was an opportunity for them to experience the His love.

Remember you are loved.

As I write this the work in the red-light areas is beginning. My prayer tonight is that each of the women and children with us for the last two days will remember the words of God that they are perfectly loved.  Never stop praying for hope to arrive at their curtained doors. Pray that the seeds planted this weekend will come back to them in the dark places.  Pray that the efforts of heroic NGO’s like Destiny will continue and that the strength that can only come from the God above all gods will carry these heroes.

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Ellen Gant with a baby who is loved by the community. She was born to a mom in the trade who left her and moved away. The community of women are raising this baby together.

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500 Feet and Counting…

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The nature of the work and some of the areas we work in prohibit us from taking many pictures

*Names have been changed

Eight years ago God laid “500 feet” on my heart. I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time but set out with my daughter to begin washing the feet of the beautiful daughters of God that had been lied to and abused by people who only wanted to please their basest desires. The Kingsland pedicure procession began. Our teams have become known for these pampering sessions where we just sit at the feet of ladies and share the love of Christ just as He did with His friends. Many are the stories of how God has used those moments spent cherishing those He loves.  I am not sure how many feet we’ve gotten to but I know that 500 has probably been surpassed.

Our team set out for a busy red-light district in the city. We wandered through the catacomb-like walkways where small flats were tucked away in every possible corner. We were on our way to see some beautiful women that we have come to love over the last several years. They are women who have found Jesus and are changing that brothel district by learning to love their neighbors and care about their spiritual condition.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,

On the rooftop we met our friends who had brought their friends. Lives that had been broken by the demand for prostitution were now sitting with us. All still living in the brothel area, some with new jobs and some still struggling and hoping not to return to the life that had held them captive for so long.

Among the beautiful feet on this rooftop in the middle of the high traffic red-light area were two friends who were bonded together by common life stories of living as sex workers. *Pria found out she had cancer and as she recovered from surgery, missionaries from Russia found her and walked with her through her complete healing of cancer and as a result she gave her life to Jesus, the ultimate healer. Over time she shared with her son and three months ago they were both baptized as believers in Jesus. *Pria shared with her friend, *Puja who then also accepted Jesus a little over a year ago and now holds a church service in her home. Last week *Puja’s sister accepted Christ.  I asked *Pria what was different now that she knows Jesus. She said that her whole life had changed and that He makes her think differently and live differently. She understands what Jesus has done for her and doesn’t want to keep it for herself.

Sitting next to these friends was *Neha. When it came time to choose the color for her toes she said that she was a widow and wasn’t allowed any color. There is a practice among many hindu and village women that dictates that when a woman is widowed (at any age) she may no longer wear color or jewelry or anything of beauty – she is to wear white (the color of mourning) for the rest of her life following her husbands death.  Neha was tricked into moving here by a promise of domestic work. Once she arrived she was forced into the brothels. She determined then that no one would ever make her work as a sex slave and took on the life of a crazed woman. She said she made her hair crazy and let people think she was insane so that she would not have to sell her body.  She takes in laundry and dishes to clean for the nearby women as a means to earn a living.  Today she experienced the love of Jesus and heard about the living water that he offered to a woman that may have been a lot like her, the woman at the well.

It was dusk as we walked back out to the main road. Women were just beginning to line the alleyways and the streets. Each will be working tonight even as I write this blog. We spotted two friends as we made our way out and stopped to share our love. One has returned to the life of prostitution. It’s hard to understand the harsh reality that demand and extreme poverty can easily pull someone back into this work. But sprinkled in between brothel rooms are champions of Jesus who are carrying His light. They have found the perfect hope of Jesus and they are reaching into the darkness and saying, “no more.”

God of the Universe

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There are times in Kolkata that you feel like you could get lost and never be found. So many unmarked tiny side streets and alleyways that lead to more crowded tiny streets can leave you overwhelmed. The villages on the outskirts of town are no different.  We traveled to one of those villages today to teach school at New Hope School.img_2248-1

We are studying the universe at school this week and that there is a God who holds it in His hands.  Today we noticed three brand new children who arrived together, a 10 year old big sister with her twin 5 year old siblings.img_2284-2As we began to color paper suns and moons it was clear that they hadn’t even held a crayon before. Mita, the school’s director. told us that the children, before starting school, were left to themselves all day long while their mother worked outside the village as a domestic helper. The father had left years before. It is hard to imagine a 10 year old caring for two busy 5 year olds 6-9 hours a day, feeding them lunch and watching them as they play in the streets that meander off from the main road. But today they sat in school. Today they learned. Today they heard about a big God that is the King of the Universe.

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The main path into the village is dotted with shines to gods of varying degrees and purposes. Morning offerings of fruit, flowers and incense lay before them in hopes of some kind of blessing. But in the midst is New Hope who, year after year, continue to share about the God above all gods. The challenge shows on Mita’s face, but so does the crazy peace of God that she continually displays to the villagers.

In the afternoon we went back into the city to visit an aftercare home that cares for minors who have been rescued from sex trafficking, some very young. The home is nestled into a neighborhood of narrow streets that could swallow you up if not for someone to guide you. Much can be hidden there, including a young teen who was recently rescued from an apartment operating a brothel. One of our team members shared her own story of how God transformed her from hopeless to hopeful.  A lot of what she said could probably be inserted into many of their own stories. God was glorified as she she told His story through the grace shown in her life.img_0171

There are a lot of ways to get lost in this beautiful city and there are even those that would take advantage of that. But the God of the universe sees each and every one. He has appointed strong believers at strategic places to carry the message of His hope and freedom by living in hard spaces and addressing difficult, tangible needs.  Tomorrow we will continue to walk alongside these heroes and offer encouragement and a reminder that they, too, are never out of God’s sight.

 

Thanks Kingsland

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Our team has arrived.  For many of us there has been about 2-3 hours sleep in the last 36 hours.  Being 12 hours ahead of our inner clocks, we arrived on a Kolkata Tuesday morning. In an effort to reset those clocks we headed out to New Market for a couple of hours shopping and lunch at what has become a Kingsland “welcome to the city” meal at Nazaams.

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Nazaam’s – our favorite first day lunch place where we feasted on naan and Kathi rolls (like a fajita – only indian and even better!)

 

The excitement and readiness to join God in His work here is evident on each face in the sweet attitudes.

“As I was getting ready to go it seemed overwhelming and I couldn’t picture it or make it seem normal. I realized I am working on a team with God. That changed it for me.”

“The privilege of carrying the gospel weighty and I don’t want to take it lightly.”

It’s 5:22 PM and the team has just met to finalize tomorrow’s plan, check supplies and get our heads around the mission ahead.

IMG_2239As our families and friends back home are waking up and getting ready for Tuesday in America we are going to say goodbye to it and crawl in bed for the first reclined position we’ve had since Sunday.  Thanks Kingsland, for sending us. We count you as part of the team as we need your prayer covering in order to accomplish all that God has sent us here to do.

 

The Value of a Team

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“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”  -Helen Keller

A team like ours is a funny thing to think that we can put together ourselves. God knew exactly what He was doing.

Brenda– our strong and mighty leader. You took on the mantle of leadership of this team for the first time and and it is evident why you are the one God had lined up for this. Your passion for the people of Kolkata and your tender heart for those who have been abused and misused are packaged with your crazy organizational skills and love of a good spreadsheet. You have worked so hard for months on every detail. Brenda, well done! 

Barbara– your servant heart is the only thing that can outshine your beautiful, compassionate laughing eyes that draw children, and women alike, to you. Your love of preparation showed people that they were worth the time and effort. Your never-stop-give-until-it-hurts example inspired us all. 
Shirley– your wit and humor are your trademarks (along with the buzzard song). But you took those things and brought joy and laughter into every situation. People leave your presence feeling lighter. But your tender heart is not masked by this- it shines as bright as your smile. 

Kelly/Emerson– I have put you together because as a mother/daughter team you are unstoppable. Emerson, your laughter, willingness to help and sweet disposition were a blessing, not only to the ladies of Kolkata, but to your team. Kelly, your willingness to jump in and help with whatever was needed was a blessing. And together you helped inspire the mothers we worked with. They will always remember you together and will look forward to your return. 

Heather– your beautiful perfect hair in the midst of hot sweaty conditions was a wonder. But your tender heart is the most beautiful thing about you. You listen and hear a need. You don’t just let it break your heart – you do something about it. And you do much that no one ever knows about. You are truly invested into the lives of Kolkata. You’re the real deal, Heather O’laughlin. 

Ashley– anyone that will wake up to workout and choose to sweat for one hour BEFORE we start our 10 hour sweat day is a beast. And your mad jump roping skills- just too much! Your ability to sit and relate to the girls you met came from a big heart. A heart so big that when others’ strength was waining you kept going inspiring the rest of us to carry on. Your laughter and joy spilled over and blessed all who were near.

Sterling– a heart of mercy like yours is easily broken and you could choose to say, “no more, I’ve seen enough.” But you continue to say “yes, Lord.” You pour your love on everyone you meet and you are bold to share the love of Jesus. Your willingness to share the broken things that God has restored not only told of His goodness but showed the girls and the women that they, too, can be bold enough to share their stories.
Ryley– a girl like you can go anywhere and do anything. Your talents are endless. Seeing you own and take on the persona of the woman with the alabaster box was an anointed moment each and every time you shared it. Your story and the visual representation is etched into the hearts of the women with whom you shared it. You are beautiful, Ryley Rush, and watching you serve magnified that beauty even more.
It has been my joy and privilege to see all the Kingsland teams that God has allowed me to serve. Each one with a different make-up of specific giftings needed for that mission. Why God would allow a girl with no super impressive skill or education such a privilege I will never know but I will be forever greatful. India, I am not done with you. You are family and I’ll see you again. Kolkata, we love you. 

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