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Day Four: Retreat Day

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My name is Rachael Soroski, now Smith! I am your guest blog writer for GoBeyond Kolkata today. I have been coming to Kolkata with Kingsland for 8 years. I came with my mom when I was only 13 years old and my heart was captured for the people, the fight for freedom and justice, and the city of joy. I come to give and pour myself out and love on the people but somehow always come back with the fullest heart and spirit. Kolkata truly changed my life.

Today we had the privilage of hosting a “retreat”, a day of self care, for a network of women who are all freedom fighters against human trafficking, women who are true heroes. This group of ladies comes from a variety of non-profits and organizations from all over the city of Kolkata who are relentlessly fighting for freedom everyday.  We connected with old and dear friends as well as met new ones. Our Kingsland team is only here for two weeks and it is admittedly hard and exhausting at times, but these ladies are here everyday pouring themselves out advocating for these women and children who are trapped in poverty and trafficking situations. They are hope bringers, light in the darkness, speaking truth and life into all those they encounter. They are from all over the world, some even learning new languages and cultures, doing whatever it takes to bring freedom. It was an honor to be in their presence today.

Brenda Debor, our team leader, led an AMAZING time of teaching and reflection. She spoke about lies the enemy speaks into our lives but how spending time with God and listening to the truths of who He says we are combats those lies, fills us, and when we’re full of truth there is no room for the lies anymore. It was so powerful and meaningful. We had chai together, ate together, sang together, made beautiful jewelry together, and laughed together. It was a day just for them, to leave their work and burdens at the door, spend time encouraging one another and take a deep breath. It was a time to simply rest.

We have a tiny but mighty team and I am so thankful to be working alongside these beautiful Kingsland women! Continue to pray for rest (our next door neighbors like to party..loudly…all hours of the night!), discernment, unity, and effectiveness. We hope that through us the women and children  we visit we love on feel the love of their Father which is deeper and stronger than any love we could show.

 

Day 3: What does hope look like?

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Today we finished our second of two days at New Hope School and then headed over to a longtime ministry partner to spend the afternoon there.

While we were walking through the village on our way to New Hope, I saw Mou, a young girl that I had met five years prior at the school.  She is no longer attending school.  I wasn’t able to find out the reason as I only had a few minutes before school started and I didn’t have a translator. Thank goodness for Google Translate, we were able to communicate pretty well through the app.

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Mou and Lauren Debor, 2014

 

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Mou, 2019

Stories like Mou’s are WHY we return to Kolkata.  Look in the backgrounds of the two photographs taken from almost the same spot, five years apart. In the first photo, the homes are all huts and the “road” is rocky, bumpy, muddy terrain.  In the second photo you can see that many of the homes are now made from brick or at least tin, and the lane has been paved.This village has been forever changed by New Hope School and the impact that the gospel has had on its students and their families. Hope.

Girls like Mou have an uncertain future, especially without education.  I pray that Mou will be able to return to school somewhere, hopefully New Hope School.

Today’s science lesson at school was ANIMALS!  We studied the different types of animals; their habitats, food, etc.  Then we dissected owl pellets!

“Auntie, Auntie!”  They were so excited every time they would find a bone!

New Hope School is really the only part of the trip that we can photograph.  Everything else we do cannot be documented due to the sensitive nature of the visits.  So we describe the ministry as best as we can, but it’s hard to put it into words.

Our afternoon appointment was at a ministry partner in Sonagachi, said to be one of the largest and oldest red-light districts in the world.

Kolkata is home to one of the largest and oldest red-light districts in the world. Some estimate up to 6,000 women work in Sonagachi, a cramped maze of narrow alleys and crumbling buildings that could fit in one city block.
Traffickers prey on young women without a support network, selling them to brothels or private networks where they are exploited in the commercial sex industry. Sex trafficking is a violent crime: IJM has met survivors who were beaten, starved or forced to use drugs and alcohol. Some have shared that they were raped more than a dozen times in a day.

There are many ministries and NGO’s doing work in this red-light area. Sadly, the business seems to be moving out to private homes, where the girls are harder to track and find.

But on this day, we focused on the ladies at our ministry partner (name removed for security).  We spent the afternoon doing music therapy, crafts, and worship with 40 survivors.  They have been trained in the art of beautiful sewing, and we had the chance to purchase a few items hand made by the women.Many of these women have placed their faith in Jesus and have stable jobs. Hope.

When we leave the red light area around 7:15 pm, it is dark and the lanes and main line is beginning to bustle with the evening’s activities.  Street vendors sell local food, tea shops boil chai, and women of all ages begin to line the street.  We keep our eyes straight ahead and do not make eye contact with anyone.  It goes against our nature but we know that for our safety we must move quickly and with purpose through the lanes.  We pray, we walk, we process. Although we have just left a place filled with light and hopefulness, we are mindful of the life that these women led before their rescue. “But greater things are yet to come, greater things are still to be done in this city.” Hope.

“So the poor have hope, and injustice shuts her mouth.”

‭‭Job‬ ‭5:16‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Day 2: New Hope And New Freedom

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It was a chilly 62 degrees when we left BMS to head to New Hope School.  We were greeted on the main road by the twin boys of Rudra and Mita Singh, the founders of New Hope.  They helped us pull our supplies to the school as it’s quite a trek.  It has been fun to watch these boys grow from shy boys into funny, outgoing, strong young men.  They had a school holiday today and were able to join us at New Hope School.

Mita basically gives us free reign of her school while we are there.  We plan everything from the theme, lessons, science experiments, chapel time, craft, etc.  Stephanie Blyth has done an amazing job of planning everything for school this trip.

In 2012 Jill Fields started the “Tutti Ta” tradition and we were not about to let that fall by the wayside.  If you don’t know the “Tutti Ta”, please Google it.  It’s the best nonsensical thing you’ll ever love.  We started our day with this funny song and it was definitely a highlight!

Stephanie’s lesson plans were about plants. The kids learned about the parts of a plant, different types of fruits, plants, seeds, etc and even built a drip irrigation system. I can’t wait to learn more tomorrow see what tomorrow’s lesson is about!

Mita she told me, “These children don’t see science experiments like this, that’s why they are staring at her like that!”

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Stephanie making a drip irrigation system with the kids.  They were fascinated!

After the morning school session, the kids learn about hygiene and health.  They brush their teeth, wash their hands, and then get a healthy snack from the school.  It always amazes me that these kids never complain about anything they’ve been given.  You can give them a purple crayon and they don’t say, “I wanted orange!”.  Today’s snack was a piece of bread with some jam and a hard boiled egg.  They receive it in a little plastic container and then THEY ALL SIT DOWN AND EAT IT, CRUST AND ALL AND YOLKS AND ALL.  You never once hear, “I don’t like hard boiled eggs” or “Can you cut the crusts off of mine?”

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Sweet girls from New Hope pumped water so the kids could wash their hands and brush their teeth.  They are being chased by one of the 300 stray dogs in the village.

We left New Hope, escorted by a gaggle of kids.  Then we stopped by for some lunch at KFC and SORRY AMERICA YOUR CHICKEN IS NOT AS GOOD AS INDIAN CHICKEN.  KFC never fails to disappoint.

Our afternoon appointment was with a new ministry called The Loyal Workshop.  You HAVE to go look at their website!  Their products are amazing and they are all made by artisans who have left the sex trade for a brighter future.  They were started by a company in Australia and they all have adorable accents.  We taught them some Texas slang and cleaned out their “seconds shop”.  If you are looking for a gift for me, I wear size Advocacy Pack (seriously, check out their website for details…it is amazing)!

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The Loyal Workshop

Here we go!

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It is 6:15 pm Wednesday night.  The team is pushing to stay awake until 8 pm so we can acclimate to our new time zone.

We landed around 8 am this morning.  After customs, an abnormally long wait for bags, and a money exchange, we exited the airport to meet up with our longtime partners, Shafique and Anita.  They have welcomed Kingsland teams for a decade.  If you haven’t read Kay’s post about Anita from last year, you should!

We made a quick stop to pick up a few supplies and then headed to the BMS.  Our rooms were already ready so we were able to drop our luggage and then head out for a bit of shopping and lunch. This picture is taken at Sunshine’s, our favorite shopping “hidden gem”.

sunshinesFrom L-R: Brenda, Anita, Stephanie, Zeenat,Camilla, Amy, Ahmed, Rachael

We met tonight to organize supplies by day. We are ready for eight full days of ministry!  We start tomorrow with New Hope School and a new justice ministry, A Loyal Workshop.  Check out their products; they have beautiful leather goods.

Goodnight from the City of Joy!

Go Beyond Kolkata Countdown….

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It’s mid-January, one of my favorite times of the year.  Yes, I love spring and the cooler temperatures, and the lazy days of summer, and the “newness” that back to school brings, and who doesn’t love pumpkin pie?  But January means pulling out “Big Bertha” (my faithful suitcase) and my passport and following God on an adventure that He set my heart on eight years ago in the City of Joy.

I have traveled quite a bit in my life and have lived in numerous cities, states, and countries.  Kolkata is a city like none other with stark contradictions and an affinity for noise.  Opulence shares a street with generational poverty.  It’s difficult to navigate the “whys” of this juxtaposition.  God sees them all, and calls us to do the same.

On Monday afternoon, our team of four women will board the plane for an insanely long flight, 15 hours there, 16 hours back…don’t ask me how that works.  I block the flight from my memory until I’m in the air, kinda like childbirth.  Then when I’m in the air I think, “Oh, right….this part.”  We have a six hour layover in Dubai and then board another plane for a four hour flight to Kolkata.

When we land on Wednesday morning, our team will check into the BMS, our Indian “home away from home”.  Kingsland teams have stayed there for dozens of trips and it definitely feels like home to us.  We will pull off of AJC Bose Road (yes, the speaker people), the gates of the BMS will swing wide open, and we will pull in to the sweetest garden courtyard.  The rooms at the BMS are modest but clean.  The mattresses are the thickness of a spiral notebook.  But at the end of the day you collapse into bed and really don’t notice it very much.

We will spend Wednesday unpacking and organizing our bags for each day of ministry, purchasing supplies, meeting with our translators and driver, and preparing for a full ten days on the ground.

Our prayer request today is for logistics, our families and jobs that we leave behind, traveling mercies, luggage, etc.

Our team: Stephanie Blyth, Brenda Debor, Amy Redhair, and Rachael Soroski-Smith

 

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 another 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.

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