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Day 6: Coffee Shop

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There is a new light shining in the darkness of Sonagachi, the largest red light district in Asia (many say the world).  One of our ministry partners just opened the MOST ADORABLE COFFEE SHOP.  This is a very exclusive coffee shop, it is only open to sex workers from Sonagachi; no men, not even women from the community are allowed to enter.  There are comfy couches, AIR CONDITIONING (a commodity in this area), even a napping area up in a loft.

 

Read more about First Cup here:

Freeset: First Cup

Most of these women would never be able to afford coffee or tea from a shop, they would only normally purchase from a tea walla (street vendor).  But this shop’s prices are “suggested donations”, and the women pay what they can.  They have sandwiches, coffee, smoothies, etc on the menu.  But more importantly than the seating or food is my good friend Soma that runs the coffee shop.  I first met Soma at another NGO many years ago.  She and her husband have run a Sunday School class for children that live in Sonagachi.  When the kids in the area see her, they run to her and she freely gives hugs and love to so many.  Running the coffee shop is such a perfect fit for her.  She sits with the women and talks to them about their problems and she offers advice.  Of course leaving the trade is not an option for most of these women right now, so she loves them right where she’s at.

St. Francis of Assisi said “Preach the gospel.  Use words if necessary.”  This coffee shop is the gospel without words.  Soma uses her faithful listening ear and loving attention that she gives to every woman that enters the shop.

There were two parts of our day: the first was with a group of women from the area that have left the trade and are working with our ministry partner.  The second was with the coffee shop ladies.

We began our day with devotions and worship with the ladies.  Then we toured the facility and saw some of the products that they were making.  Of course there were many questions from both sides along the way.  The ladies were so intrigued by Amy’s “gold” hair and they wanted us to teach them a few English words and understand where Texas was.  Is it hot there?  Do you have children?  What is your food like?  We asked them what their favorite part about working there was and many of them said, “happy place”.  It truly is a happy place.  Sidenote: KBC ladies that were at womens retreat last year, this is where your “Abide” bags came from!

Then we had lunch with the team from KBC and our ministry partner at the yummiest hole in the wall Indian restaurant.  Tandoori chicken was shared by all as well as rice and a yummy sauce that I dared not question the ingredients.

We spent the rest of the day in the coffee shop.  We brought several craft projects to do with the ladies.  They come and go throughout the day but as they returned to work they would tell their friends and show them the crafts they had made and then suddenly a new crowd would arrive.  Soma kept the tea hot and we sat with the ladies coloring, making necklaces, and painting hundreds of fingernails.

When the ladies first arrived you could tell they were a bit apprehensive with us.  Those walls were broken down pretty quickly.  Our translators sat with us while we talked, heads down, painting nails and making crafts.  It’s amazing what kinds of stories women will share when their hands are busy and you can’t see their eyes.  It was such a beautiful afternoon.  As the ladies left they asked if we could come back the next day.  Love really is the best bridge.

Day 5: Ten Thousand Reasons

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The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes

When we were here last year we had an unexpected break in our schedule.  Our translator and friend, Anita, asked if we could visit a small orphanage on the outskirts of the city.  She had found out about the orphanage when the daughter of a woman from her church had run away and ended up at this orphanage.  She said that they had never had visitors so the children would enjoy the company.  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  We didn’t know much about the orphanage or what to prepare for.  Come to find out, there was no way to prepare us.

When we arrived at the orphanage the director insisted we meet in her office so we could hear more about the program.  As we met, we could hear the children’s voices coming from the top of the concrete, open-air staircase.  Within a few minutes, we could then hear feet quietly coming down the stairs.  No longer able to contain their excitement, we saw a few faces peering into the office.  Grinning, the director said, “I think the children cannot wait any longer.  Let’s go upstairs.”  We entered a room that was probably 15 X 15 feet with 32 children lined up sitting neatly in tight rows, boys on one side, girls on the other.  As we entered the room they all stood up in unison and chanted, “Good afternoon Auntie!”

We spent the next two hours reading bible stories and working on some craft projects we had brought.  Kay decided to sing a few songs.  To our amazement they knew every worship song we sang.

One boy asked, “Do you know ‘Ten Thousand Reasons'”?

“Ummm, sure…but how do you know it?”

“Ma’am taught us!” (referring to the director)

We spent the next two hours singing song after song.  These kids not only knew a ton of worship songs but they knew all of the bible stories we could spring on them!  They LOVED music but more importantly, were being taught about Jesus!

As we left, we all agreed we HAD to come back here and do some music activities with these kids.  So when we were planning this trip we charged Amy and Rachael with planning drum circle (thanks Mallory!) and worship activities that we would do in most of the places we visited.  We all looked forward to meeting up with these kids again and having a music day with them!

Funny story/sidebar: On the way to the orphanage, we stopped by KFC for lunch.  The girls ordered chicken sandwiches.  When they bit into the sandwiches there was definitely something not right.  They were not fully cooked and the meat was pink/purple.  Rachael took the sandwiches back up to the counter but was told, “It’s okay, these sandwiches are just made with baby birds so that is what it should look like.”  Oh, India.

So we arrived at the orphanage excited for an afternoon/evening full of music with the sweetest kids ever.  I have no words to describe how amazing our time with them was.  We played Minute to Win It games, read bible stories, sang so many songs, had a drum circle/music therapy time, and the girls performed a dance for us.  At the end of our time together the older boys presented us with a beautiful drawing they had made of the orphanage and said, “Since last year’s time we had with you all we have been waiting and waiting for you to return.  You said you were coming but we were thinking that maybe you would not.  But today Ma’am told us you were coming and we were so excited!”  I, of course, burst into tears.  When I prayed over the kids as we left I thanked God for His annointing on this place and the sweet, sweet spirit.

It truly is a special place.

Bless the Lord

Oh my soul

Oh my soul

Worship His Holy name

Sing like never before

Oh my soul

I’ll worship Your Holy name

 

 

Day 4: 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

 

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