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Hope of Life – February 9, 2020

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One of Kingsland’s long time partners is Hope of Life, a ministry in Kolkata run by Nabin and his wife Matilda.  One day about eleven years ago, Nabin noticed that there were children left unattended at the railroad station.  He was concerned for the children, and he began visiting there every day to speak with them.  After a few weeks of visiting them, the walls started to come down, and they started to open up to Nabin.  He quickly came to a shocking conclusion.  The children were not just unattended, they lived at the railroad station….alone.  They had been abandoned by their parents.

There are several trash piles near the railroad area, and many of the children were known as “trash pickers”.  (For more information about this, I strongly encourage you to watch the Netflix documentary called “Tales By Light”, episodes “Children In Need” – Part 1 and 2.  Although the footage is not from Kolkata, the situation is nearly identical.)

Today our team met up with the kids from Hope of Life, many whom we had met back in 2012.  We gathered with them at a food court at a local mall.  I asked Nabin if they came to this mall often since their home was so close.  He said, “We have not taken the children to a restaurant in five years.”  This was a huge treat for them, and it was fun to watch them devour fried rice, chicken, Pepsi, and ice cream cones!

We were able to recreate a few pictures that we had taken the first time we met.  They are all grown up now, but many new ones have joined Nabin and Matilda.  We heard a few success stories, and some that have had heartbreaking endings as well.  Through it all, this family has remained faithful to their calling to save as many children from the dangerous life of trash picking and on the railroad tracks.

One great example of a life changed FOREVER is Soma. She has been with Hope of Life since 2011.  Lord willing, Soma will attend nursing school beginning in June.  I took the first picture below just days after she arrived at Hope of Life.  She and Pinky are both wearing head scarves.  Their scalps were so infested with lice that the staff had to completely shave their heads.  The second picture below was taken tonight, with those exact 4 girls, 9 years later.  I know it’s hard to tell from their faces, but they really were so excited to recreate this photo for me!

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Please keep Hope of Life in your prayers.  The work they are doing is so important, but entirely unseen.  Their staff could really use some encouragement, as the work is tireless.

God Appointments – February 8, 2020

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Have you ever had a schedule that didn’t go as you had planned?  One of the lessons I learned early on in planning foreign mission trips is to be as “flexible as a pipe cleaner” (thank you Kay Foos!).  Two years ago in Kolkata, the team learned this very lesson.  One of our ministry partners had to cancel our plans with them at the last minute because of major road blocks due to a political rally that made traveling around the city nearly impossible.  We obviously did not want to forgo an afternoon of ministry, but we really didn’t know what to do.  We asked Anita (our longtime translator) if she knew of anyone that we could see that wouldn’t mind a last-minute appointment.  She said that yes, she knew of an orphanage that, as far as she knew, no other church or organization had ever visited.

We arrived at this small orphanage without a real plan other than to hang out with some kids for the evening.  Our team always has a “little something extra” up our sleeves, and we whipped together a craft project and a few bible stories.

When we arrived at Pranjal that fateful day in 2018, little did we know that we would be forever changed by the kids there.  We started our time with them by exchanging names and playing an icebreaker game.  We all noticed how sweet the kids were right away, but we also noticed that they spoke enough English that we could easily engage and get to know them.  As the team hung out with the kids, I spoke with the director to hear a little bit of their story.  She said she had never really intended to start an orphanage, but God certainly had other plans.  She and her husband were both psychiatrists and were running a drug rehabilitation facility in the northern part of the city.  They realized that sometimes parents weren’t coming for much needed treatment because there was nowhere for their children to go while they were there.  They began started taking care of a few children for that reason.  Then they heard about a few girls that were in high risk situation; their moms were working in the red light district.  It is very common that mothers that work in the sex trade will also have their daughters working there eventually, usally around age 12.  They began gathering children from situations like this, and eventually they realized that they had started an orphanage.

Pranjal has a very small staff, but they are all so gifted in working with the children from these situations.  At one point during the afternoon, one of the kids asked if we knew any praise songs.  We told them to choose one, and if we knew it, we would also sing along.  What happened next was the closest thing to heaven that I have ever experienced.  The children all closed their eyes, lifted their faces to the heavens, and sang, “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.  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.”  From there we sang several worship songs.  By the end of our “worship service”, there was not a dry eye in the room.  The Holy Spirit was on the move in this place, and the joy we all felt from singing praises to our King was exhilarating.

Last year we visted Pranjal again.  This time we knew we had to plan something musical with these kids, and thankfully we had a musical team.  We had so much fun with the kids!

This year as we were planning our time in Kolkata, we knew we had to visit Pranjal again.  We started the afternoon by picking them up in a bus, which they thought was really cool.  Then we went to Eco Park to see replicas of the Seven Wonders of the World.  As we walked around and saw the Taj Mahal, Great Wall, etc, the staff member told me that the reason why they chose Eco Park was because he knew these children would never otherwise see these types of places.  To top off the night, we took them to Kentucky Fried Chicken.  American kids should take note of how these kids eat chicken.  They clean every bit off that bone!

We climbed back on the bus to head back to the location to drop them off.  As we were driving, the Lord clearly spoke to me that I was to speak a blessing over them.  I asked the kids if they knew what the fruit of the Spirit was, and they were able to tell me.  I told them that the FRUIT was evident in their lives.  It was very obvious that they received so much LOVE from the staff, and that they loved each other so well.  We could also tell that they were PATIENT and GENTLE with each other.  The staff have a unique policy to pair each child with a “big brother/sister”.  That means that a 14 year old boy may be responsible for a 6 year old boy.  They hold hands when they walk through the park, they sit together on the bus, they make sure they are served food.  You could also see them taking pictures as a pair, helping them up a slide, and generally looking out for their safety and well being.  I also encouraged them to continue showing JOY!  They really are some of the happiest kids I have ever met.

After I spoke with them, several of the older kids also wanted the opportunity to speak.  They each stood up in that bumpy, loud bus, and shared what they were feeling.  They all said how much they had looked forward to this day every year when their Kingsland friends would come, how much they talked about our times together, and how appreciative they are that strangers from around the world would come and spend time with them.  We reiterated that everything we did was for Jesus, and His great love for us has spilled out of us.
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And just like that first time we met two years ago, our time ended with singing.  “Here I am to worship, here I am to bow down.  Here I am to say that you’re my King.  You’re all together worthy, all together lovely, all together wonderful to me.”

Our bus could not make it down the narrow alleyways to the orphanage, so they had a little bit of a walk until they reached their home, and we had a long bus ride back to the BMS.  I’m pretty sure we were all thinking the same thing….God appointments are the best.

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 rare 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 teach 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 they’re at.

I love the quote, “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

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