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The Power of Creativity

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Kidderpore is a small red light district in Kolkata. It is a very poor area and the women who must work the trade here may only earn 300 rupees ($5) for a night with a client. Depending upon how desperate their situation on any given night they may have one we entered the bright spot in this area – Destiny. This is where strong, educated and caring professional women have devoted their lives to offering education and training as a way for women who work the trade to be able to escape this life.

Our purpose here for the rest of the week is to offer activities in the form of art, music and storytelling as a way to help the women, who are most of the time very private, open up about their lives.

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As a way of helping us all identify with each other and be the same, we chose to dress alike and bring the same clothing for the women. They sat in their saris and kurtas as we told them about the t-shirts that we had brought for them in the “color of the day.” This produced smiles but when we told them we had brought them each a pair of matching pants (poofy pants, as we like to call them) they SQUEALED!  They were so happy. The staff thought that perhaps they would be too shy to change into these outfits – so not the case today – something brought their walls down and they changed and modeled for us.

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We explained that our Bible teaches us that God is a creative God and that we are made in His image. So if that is the case then He has given us all our own kind of creativity. We asked them to put aside their fears and just try expressing themselves through art. Our activities are always focused with a “talking point” or something that gives them the opportunity to open up and share about their lives. The two staff that were with us said they wanted to cry as they saw the women they work with on a regular basis share so openly.

We’re excited to return tomorrow. attachment (38)attachment (42)attachment (43)

 

 

 

Hope

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He was there today!  The boy that had our hearts broken just three days ago was there at New Hope School! He met us at our bus and walked to school with us. He had a new haircut. He had that smile that I remembered. And today he didn’t stand on the outside looking in – he came into school and helped with the little ones – the he stayed for his class.

This was isolated today, but Mita, the principal teacher, had gone to talk with his grandmother and he was allowed to come today. I think God has new things in store for him and he will be returning to school more often. This is the kind of thing that encourages you!

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After a great day at the school we said goodbye to all the cuteness and headed for Destiny. Destiny employs girls that have been rescued from the brothels.

Between art, drumming, jewelry making and silly vocal exercises we saw small polite laughter turn into roaring belly laughs. It was so good to sit and laugh with these girls.

Rachael shared a story about the woman at the well and the girls said they liked this story because in Kolkata good people don’t speak to bad people and it was nice that Jesus spoke to the woman.  Kelsey shared her testimony and one of the girls said that she didn’t feel like Jesus loved her “or He would have done a lot of things for me already.” This is the hard part.  How to you make it make sense?  This is where God’s overwhelming love and grace comes in to work – we can’t make it make sense – evil is evil but God is always good. But it is easy to say from this side. When a girl has experienced the kind of pain and probably terror that most of these  have been through – it is something that only God’s Spirit can do.

We poured silver charms out onto the floor and asked them to pick one that represented something from their lives. Just one more way to help them open up and be brave. One chose an angel, “angels protect me , I think.” One chose a clock, ” it reminds me of how time is going from my life.”Another chose a horse, “because it make me think can run with speed through life.” “I chose a butterfly becaue when it starts it doesn’t look good but it turns out beautiful. This must be how I am in God’s eyes.” “I chose a key. My mom used to lock me in the house and I was always afraid.” The last girl chose  heart. “This heart reminds me of a friend in the trade. I don’t know where she is today and this reminds me of her. I think of her a lot.”

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Tomorrow we head to a red light area where women are still working in the trade. We will do a three day art and music workshop with them. The staff of Destiny is doing a wonderful work here to educated the women and help them find that they can possibly have a future outside of the sex trade. The next three days will be just a little icing on the cake. Our work isn’t what changes lives – the work that is already being done here along with God’s power will do that – we just add a little support and encouragement.

Kingsland – the team you have sent is doing great!  What varied talents ad abilities. It is so great to watch how God uses each person. attachment (32)

 

 

 

Gyatri’s House

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We arrived in Kalighat, a large red light area in Kolkata. People filled the streets and were lined up by the hundreds to give alms to Kali. Gyatri met us on the corner – we recognized her by her bright sari and peaceful smile – it was in stark contrast to the frantic faces of the others on the crowded streets. She had a different look on her face than the scores of others who lived there.

We followed her through the busy streets and through the tiny alley. We stepped over the two foot high threshold that keeps the regular flood waters at bay. She welcomed us into her 10 foot by 10 foot square house. Her bed sat high off the ground and she invited us to sit. It was such an honor to be asked into her home, a home that she has dedicated to the Lord and uses for weekly house church amidst the brothels. We sat and waited for the women to arrive.

Meanwhile, expecting to have about 30 children, a room was rented to have a children’s service while the women had church. Brenda, Barbara, Stephanie and Kelsey piled into an even smaller room with all of the children. They made crafts and music shakers. Apparently this was the first time they have ever done a craft during church. It didn’t matter that there was no air, no slick pictures for the children to see and not an inch of room to move around – they sat intently listening to Mrs. Barbara tell about Jonah being swallowed by the big fish. The highlight for our team was to hear them sing “Telephone to Jesus.”attachment (14)attachment (17)attachment (18)
Back at Gyatri’s house the women piled onto the floor. As Rachael led in worship songs the women lifted their voices and sang. There is not a better sound than to hear worship to the One True God amidst the brothels of Kolkata. Can you imagine twenty one women whose lives have been affected by the brokenness of poverty and the sex trade singing “there is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain?” Then the testimonies came – oh the testimonies.  One shared that a family member who practiced black magic had put a curse on her husband. She said she had learned about Jesus and began to pray. She said that she had seen the power of Jesus break the chains of darkness in her home. Another told of being abused by her husband. Her mother-in-law threw her into the streets with her baby who eventually died from exposure to the elements. When that wasn’t enough she was sold twice into the brothels. She came to know of Jesus because of those represented in Gyatri’s houe. She now knows freedom and healing and because of that she has forgiven her mother-in-law who now calls her on a regular basis.

Gyatri’s house is small and simple. It has five shelves and one small cabinet. The shelves were empty except for a few prized possessions, a bottle of shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste. On the wall hung her “life board” that we made together this summer at our worship arts camp. It was made with trash and depicted a life that God had taken “from trash to treasure.” There wasn’t much in the way of material things but Gyatri has taken her little and offered it to God so that women can come and learn of the hope that she has found in Jesus.  attachment (16)

Gyatri’s life is one that stands out as a trophy of grace for me. She has taken all that she has and given it back to the Lord withholding nothing. Pray for more women to find the peace of Jesus by coming to Gyatri’s house.  

When It Gets Discouraging:

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New Hope School sits at the end of a rocky lane filled with lean-to homes and men sitting outside gambling. In the mornings as we arrive there are children with no clothes and goats with dresses. There are moms washing their breakfast dishes and lots of people outside brushing their teeth and bathing in the communal water pumps.

The windows at New Hope stay open and provide much of the light we use for school. Children that are not in school stare into the windows and watch everything that we do.  Inside the school are happy children who are eager to learn and, it would seem, have a hope for escaping the dark life of the slum.

Today one of those children at the window was a fourteen year old young man that we recognized as one of our favorite kids at New Hope – but today he was on the outside. He no longer looked like the freshly bathed smiling young child that used to come to school. He looked hard and like a boy that had grown up too fast – there was no innocent grin on his face anymore.attachment (20)

The reality of life in the slums  – he lives with a grandmother who forced him to quit school – after much abuse – so that he could work in a local hotel cleaning up fish parts for the restaurant to make about 100 rupees a day (that’s less than $2).   I remember his dream of wanting to be a police officer – I asked him if he still had that dream. He said yes – but the reality is that he may never be able to come back to school.

Reality is hard and discouraging. We learned of a precious little girl that we had high hopes for a few years ago. She had been sold by her parents to work in someone’s home. Mita, the teacher, begged the parents to let her come back to school – they listened and let her come back. But today, two years later we found out that she is now 12 years old and married to a man in his 30’s. The reality of life in the slums….

I asked Mita about the darkness of this reality and how she deals with the discouragement. She said, “I look at <her> face” referring to a 16 year old girl that she and her family rescued from a life of sexual abuse by her father. She lives with them and is thriving. Mita said, “If I can just save one out of one hundred it is  worth continuing.”

This is reality but God is still in the business of rescuing. Psalm 12:5 says, “Into the hovels of the poor, into the dark streets where the homeless groan, God speaks: “I’ve had enough; I’m on my way to heal the ache in the heart of the wretched.”  Heroes like Mita are following God’s call to be His hands, feet and heart to these people.

 

 

 

Day One in the City of Joy

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attachment (11)Today started off with our precious little ones at New Hope school.  We are teaching SCIENCE to them! We gave them all tiny little lab coats to wear so they could look like scientists. Today they learned about their bodies and they even made a model “costume” of some of their major organs. The kids loved blowing up their lungs.

Our afternoon was spent at Pastor Rudra and Mita Singh’s home for a homemade lunch of RFC (Rudra Fried Chicken). Hearing their huge vision for the poorest of the poor was very inspiring.

We headed to Sari Bari for our annual “Spa Day.” These wonderful women who have come out of a life in the brothels are so warm and loving. It is definitely a highlight to be able sit at their feet and minister to them. We had some fun with photo booth props and one said she felt like the “Queen of Nepal.”

One of our team members, Danae, shared her very personal story. This was definitely one of the God moments that we are looking for. The ladies sat in complete silence as she shared. When she was done they had so many questions and said that they were so impressed that she would share such a personal story. They said that too many times they are filled with too much shame to share their lives with others. We talked about how God uses their lives and His redemption in them to tell the world about Himself. I think Danae helped them see that they could be  less afraid of sharing what God has done through our pain.

Our wifi situation here is not super great so our updates will come when they can. Thank you for continuing to pray.

 

 

We’re Off!

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In route to southeast Asia…

Our team members are nestled into our “cozy” seats for the next 14 hours (or 17, or 18…ask Brenda, each time she speaks of it the time grows longer). Today is a day that we have looked forward to and worked for. We have plans and hope for things we want to accomplish and we know that God was in the planning. But now it’s all in His hands. We are ready to lay down our plans and move as He leads us.

An important thing that Pastor Omar has taught us when on mission is to go a step beyond being flexible – be fluid. Don’t hold onto the plans and miss the God moments.

So that’s what we are going to do. We will keep our hearts and our eyes open for moments that only God can orchestrate.

Preachy side note – to me:  Watching out for God moments…what a precious concept! Not one that is reserved for a “mission trip.”  I think stepping out of our world and having a committed time to “be on mission” is a blessing. But imagine if we saw people differently as we go about our daily lives….if we looked beyond their faces and asked God to show us the deepest needs of their hearts. Yeah…we’d live a little differently.

Pray for us as we go to work with our heroic partners in Kolkata. Pray that we will be an encouragement to them. Pray for God moments in our conversations as we tell of the one true God Who, unlike any other god, pursues us and sent His own Son to lay down His life for us. Pray that, as we wash feet, create music and art, teach science and tell stories that He will shine through it all. 

Thanks for being “on mission” with us through your prayer covering and the many financial blessings that you have given to make the work possible. It is a true honor and blessing to represent the wonderful people of Kingsland to the beautiful people of Kolkata.

Reflections

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So what is it that we can say of our time here? It is always hard to tell about our time when we come on such a mission. Like trying to describe the color blue or the idea of soft. There just aren’t adequate words to describe the beauty of the people here and the bright light that God is shining in the midst of darkness. It takes more than words. We can actually feel God working and moving among the people here. We can also feel the darkness that exists in much of the city.

Monday we traveled to the slum village of Udayan Pally and had the greatest musical day with the children of New Hope School. Pastor Rudra and Mita were, as always, so inspiring to hear as they spoke about their passion for reaching the people of this village. They not only want to bring spiritual light to the darkness but they are meeting real felt needs. They are trying to provide every family with a clean water filtration system to protect from the high arsenic content found in the already polluted water. They provide healthy milk or protein once a day for the children that may not have another meal each day. The children came to school with their toothbrushes in their pockets. When I asked Pastir Rudra about this he said that the children were not brushing their teeth at home so it is part of their school curriculum that once a day they brush their teeth during school with the hope that they are building healthy habits with the children. These are but a few of the things they are doing to meet physical needs as they also share the answer to this village’s deepest need for the true light of Jesus.

Tuesday we celebrated the 8th birthday of Destiny with our friends, Smarita, Runa, Nandini and Shayoni. How do you have a celebration worthy of the heroic efforts of such a group? It just can’t be done… so we had cake, danced and played music instead! We prayed healing over sweet Smarita who is suffering from severe DVT. We asked that the healing hand of the powerful God above all gods would touch her and give her complete healing and rest.

Wednesday morning we finished our time here with lots of laughing through tears as we listened to the beautiful ladies of Jewels In A Crown. It was humbling and profound to hear their thoughts from our week of worship arts “camp.” We shared with them that there are more than a thousand people at Kingsland and beyond that had sent us to share this love of Jesus with them and that people they have never met are praying for them and that any blessing they felt had come for the Father who loves them and we were just the hands that were allowed to bring it.

Some of thoughts shared by the ladies of Jewels In A Crown”:

I loved this week and felt so relaxed. I don’t know what it was that drew me back every day but I couldn’t wait to come back. There was so much joy and positivity. I felt so happy having art and music back in my life.”

“When you came to our home (Kalighat area) and worshipped God with the loud speaker it brough us much joy, our neighbors were so happy to hear this. Thank you for coming to where we live.”

So many things you have taught us. We didn’t have a way to write things about God and now we have a way to express these things about God.”

“We felt so happy.”

“We have learned that Even trash can be made into something beautiful and so God can do something beautiful with us too.”

“I have learned that God sees the inside of me and that is what is important. It doesn’t matter what the world says is perfect. God has made me as I am and that is good.”

“You taught us to have no fear and to let God use us.”

From Monique and Nirupa (the lead staff of Jewels in A Crown)

“This has been such a Spirit led time and has produced much fruit. It has been an abundance of refreshment for our team. It has been above what we thought could happen in just a few days time. We have been blessed ‘bonkers-ly”

“To have Bobby here was such a blessing. Most of these women do not have husbands that treat them kindly and to see him be such a quiet servant and be so kind was a beyond what we could have asked for.”

And these words from our team:

“This has been so rewarding”

“There is so much value in encouraging those on the ground. Even though we are short timers this whole mission has been about encouragement.”

“Unhindered worship. Such sweet authentic fellowship. The people here go all in with their fellowship.”

“I have a new conviction about helping others. The women here go so far above and beyond to serve and help one another and be good friends and neighbors.”

“Such a blessed team…effortless to share time with the others on our team.”

God is working here. He has champions working daily caring for these people and earning a right to speak into their lives. The servants here have worked years to develop this. They care so very much.”

“The colors and the joy here remind me that happiness is not found in our circumstance but in the people we love and have near us. It is found in having a purpose and caring for others. True joy comes from the Father and can be experienced despite hardships.”

“Our lives should be about caring for others.”

When we rely on the Holy Spirit to direct us and work through us HE can accomplish great things and we are allowed to be a part. What a blessing.”

Our time here has come to an end but our hearts will forever be changed by the beauty that we have seen and the joy that God has brought to the hearts of the women here. God is resting on this city through the women here and the “hope bringers” that are willing to go into the desperate conditions day after day for many years. May we never stop praying for them and following God’s promptings to support them. Our privileges and blessing are not ours to keep, they come from God. Let us never close our hands around those blessings and hold them tightly as if they are our own.

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