Saturday, May 1, 2010
(First day in Kolkata, India)
Oh, Jesus… now I know why you love the poor so much. I know why you brought me here. Father… bring your Spirit into this land I pray. Give unto this land your mercy and grace. Please Father, touch and heal. Restore a right Spirit unto this land. Dispel the demons here, I pray. Send them out of this land. Take away the idols and give unto India the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My heart is so full of the sights and sounds. We have just landed in Kolkata, formerly Calcutta. Getting off the plane, there were several men who just walked ahead of us instead of letting us get out of our seats into the aisle of the plane. There is such male dominance here, and we have already seen it. Men here are the exact opposite of men in America. I think of Rick who would never stay seated while a woman was standing. He would always give up his seat for her. Men here would make a woman sitting get up to give him her seat. When we left Mumbai this morning on the other side of India where we had stayed the night, all we saw were men along the streets going to work and such. There were men everywhere. But, then just now when we landed, we walked into the airport and saw a sweet family who wanted to take their picture with us because we are so different. We wanted our picture with them, too. One of them told Kristi as she touched her arm, “You are so sweet.” It seems our hearts are already mending together with the women and children of India. I looked around in the airport in Mumbai and saw beautiful Indian children smiling and laughing and playing. But, as soon as we walked out of the airport in Kolkata, the scene completely changed. We walked quickly to the cars that had been arranged to take us to the Baptist Missionary Camp, and as we walked young men, maybe teenagers, walked alongside us, probably looking to pick-pocket. We were surrounded for a moment until they realized that we were on to them.
But then… my eyes looked down for a moment and met the eyes of a little girl who had walked up to me. She was holding out her hand and saying “Please.” We had been told this would happen, but I guess I wasn’t expecting it so soon. Everything had been an adventure until then, a layover in Amsterdam, Indian food on the plane from Mumbai to Kolkata, the nine of us deciding on buying saris to wear while we’re here, but everything stopped when I looked into the face of this beautiful child with dark skin and dark eyes saying to me, “Please, ma’am. Please.” We had been told not to give handouts, so my heart just broke in two for a moment. I looked at our team leader with tears in my eyes and just said, “Kristi.” I wanted to know again why we shouldn’t/couldn’t give to them. I already knew why, that we had come here not to give anyone a temporary fix or a handout but to change lives, but I needed to hear it again that we don’t want to encourage begging. That should not be a viable life-style. I know in my heart that Jesus can and will lift some of these street beggars up out of the pit they are in unto Himself, but those big brown eyes and that sweet voice… I just wanted to pick her up and take her away with me forever.
She stood at our van window while our bags were being loaded, and “Fish” talked with her so sweetly and played with her for a few minutes. Fish had some chocolate in her purse from the plane, and I had some raisins I had brought from home. We waited until Kristi got finished talking to our contact here in Kolkata and asked could we give her those, and she said that we could. So, as we were driving away, we handed the little girl raisins and chocolate out the window. That seemed to satisfy her. But, my heart was broken. Then, as we drove through the streets to the mission camp where we would be staying, the sights were completely unbelievable. It’s hot here, very hot and dirty and exotic in that it’s completely and utterly different from anything I’ve ever seen or imagined. I’m not sure I can adequately describe to you what we saw. There were women washing their clothes in water that bubbled up from some sort of faucet in the streets, their children splashing in it. There was trash piled up along the road with little hut like shacks where people were selling things, and the people… We saw naked children standing on the sidewalks bellies extended, maybe from malnutrition. Jennifer said, “Did you see that naked man?” Thankfully, I did not. She also had seen someone urinating on the street as we zoomed by. I thankfully didn’t see that either. Our driver took us through a little alleyway “shortcut” and what we saw was just unbelievable. I looked over at “Fish,” and she was crying. She had been here before a long time ago, and when she saw a woman holding the hand of a little girl, memories started flooding back in. She said, “My friend I told you about… I got to leave, but she had to stay.” Everything is so old, run-down, and dirty, but these people are some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. I kept thinking about Mogli from Jungle Book.
We’re at the mission camp right now where it is clean and cool, but right outside our windows lies a slum, a slum filled with not only an earthly poverty that is almost indescribable but also a spiritual poverty. Jesus is not known unto these people. There are only about 2% of Indians who are Christian. We want that to change. We are praying for Jesus to lift these people out of this pit of poverty, idolatry, and sexual immorality, for we know there is nothing impossible for the Lord, absolutely nothing.
I noticed in my travel book some very old sculptures that are extremely erotic. There’s a naked woman with her legs wrapped around a standing, almost squatting, man, others in provocative embraces and poses, and a woman with one hand covering her private area and one hand covering her mouth almost in a coy way. The travel book says they date back to the 10th century and hails them for their “immense outpouring of creativity, devotion, and sensuality.” We have come here to work with women who had formerly been trapped in the sex industry. There are about 35,000 sex slaves here in this city. They stand along one particular street almost shoulder to shoulder there are so many of them. Some of them are mere girls sold into this by their own families. We are going to go on that street to see them and hopefully talk with them. But, from my perspective so far, there seems to be an ongoing thread here from the seductive saris the women still wear to the erotic sculptures to the huge red light district. There seems to be a long-standing demonic stronghold upon this land that is sexual in nature. I pray in the name of the Lord Jesus to take away that stronghold, and I ask that you pray along with me for that.
I need to rest now. There will be so much more to say as this week unfolds I am sure. We don’t know what to expect, but we have come here as willing vessels to do or go whatever or wherever the Holy Spirit leads us. We are clay and pray that Jesus will mold us into whatever he needs us to be. We have asked for malleable spirits and know that Jesus will lead us all the way.
…after resting a while we went to dinner and rode a little motorized vehicle to get there, but we could not get one for the ride back. So, we walked, and again the sights upon those streets were strange and sad and severe. There were goats and little dogs along the sidewalks and people lying asleep right in the middle of the sidewalk, garbage heaps, sewage running down the sidewalk in places, dirt, piled up bricks, and old, dirty, and dilapidated buildings. The nine of us women walked in a very purposeful way back to the Baptist Mission through those dark, dirty streets. We were power walking in a single file line trying not to make eye contact with anyone. It was so hot and humid that all of us were soaking wet with sweat by the time we got back, but, you know, it was kind of fun. Our meal was good, and we got a kick out of this woman sitting next two us with another woman and two men, two couples out for dinner. She was the first woman we had seen that seemed completely confident in herself. She would tell the waiters what to do and laughed and talked with the others at her table. We saw nice families eating together. All are not impoverished. Some Indians seem to have a fairly nice life despite having to walk around in filth. This has to be THE nastiest, dirtiest, stinkiest place any of us have ever seen. Even the poor places I’ve been in the Western Hemisphere like Jamaica are nothing compared to the conditions here. Their poor are nothing, nothing like this. If you want to get an idea of what it’s like here, watch the movie Slum Dog Millionaire. In it, children are maimed and blinded in order for them to get more money while begging. That is what really happens here. I think that has to be one of the most evil things anyone could do, gouge out a child’s eyes just to get more money. I would rather starve to death. Nothing could be worth doing something so horrific. There is such a weird mindset here. They worship everything and anything, and they want to make sure they don’t get one of their “gods” upset. If a child is exceptionally beautiful, they might maim or cut his or her face so the “gods” won’t think they are more beautiful than they are and get jealous and hurt them. So, they go ahead and hurt them first? What can they think they are accomplishing by doing that? These lost and spiritually blind people need the truth so desparately. They need to be set free, and that is exactly what the missionaries we will be working with are doing, trying to set these people free, free from the demon gods they worship, from the poverty they have lived with all their lives, and bondage to sexual slavery they have been in for so long. Only Jesus can do all of that, and we are His hands and feet in this world. I pray for my own hands and feet to be those of Jesus this week. Will you pray that along with me as well?
Sunday, May 2, 2010
We went to church this morning, and it was just wonderful. We went to the William Carey Baptist Church founded by the first Baptist Missionary to India. It was so wonderful to see Indian people worshiping God and singing praises unto Jesus. We ate the Lord’s Supper with them and celebrated a couple’s 50th wedding anniversary. The sermon was rock solid preaching that I enjoyed and praised God for. Interestingly the pastor had been born in India but his ancestry is Chinese, and he had spent the last 20 years in Canada. I love the Chinese. There’s something really wonderful going on in that land. I hear of person after person in China coming to know the Lord. You don’t hear of that here. There is no revival going on in India, but there are a few Christians who are working in this dark place. My prayer today is that the William Carey Baptist Church can spread its light beyond its church walls. The church itself has a cross steeple on top with the words “Jesus Saves” in big, bold lettering just under it. The grounds are fenced and gated, but the gate was wide open on this Sunday morning in Kolkata. And, as soon as you walk into that place painted in crisp white, you feel peace and joy and love and excitement. After the service, we stood around outside talking and meeting new people and taking pictures. I walked to the roadside to take a few of the people outside the walls, and as soon as I passed over the threshold of that place into the street, everything changed. My light heart dropped a million miles. The men on the streets looked at us with hatred in their eyes knowing what we were. You could feel the change from light to dark so quickly, and my happiness and elation from the worship service turned to sadness almost immediately.
We walked those streest to a Kentucky Fried Chicken of all places for lunch, and after lunch the missionary women who make their home here in Kolkata took us shopping for some Indian clothes and for coffee in a place comparable to Starbucks. Its is utterly amazing that you can be in a nice bistro one minute and walk outside and see street people lying around everywhere right outside the doors and immediately be hit with the stench of garbage and sewage. Being jet-lagged, the shopping wasn’t good for me, and after trying on a few things and going into the bathroom of a department store in the nicest part of Kolkata where the smell was even worse than the smells on the street, I became dizzy and light-headed. But, our team leader had no sympathy for me. I told her I was going to start calling her the sleep nazi, because she would not let me go to sleep. But she was right. I held up until about 9 p.m. and went to sleep and had the best sleep I’ve had since we we’ve been here.
Now, it’s Monday morning, and we’re about to go to our first real work. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Monday, May 3
Today was our first day at Freeset, and it was such a blessing. We participated in their devotion time in the morning. We didn't understand a word of it because it was all in Bengali but we clapped along when they sang. We were able to meet and talk with the women throughout the morning. They were so happy to see us. They loved shaking our hands and trying to learn our names. One hugged me for a very long time. They were playful and happy for the most part. They have been taught a skill and have value and worth for the first time in their lives. There are about 150 women who work there sewing handbags and t-shirts that are very well made. We watched them sew, and they really do a great job. They can't speak English, and we can't speak Bengali, the common language of India, so there was a lot of hand motioning going on. But, love is a language that can be spoken in smiles and through the eyes and through touch.
The women who work at Freeset are all former prostitutes, but not by choice usually. They may have been sold by their families or taken, but most of them belong to someone else and have no way of breaking free. But, Freeset is doing that. We are just amazed at the vision of these wonderful families who have devoted their lives to helping break the cycle of prostitution here in Kolkata. Getting to know them has been a real treat. The boys wanted to teach me to play cricket, Aaron and Adam, boys about Brooks and Brody's age that I got a huge blessing out of being with and talking with today. They told me all about cricket at lunch but when we were just about to go out for a game, our team had to leave in order to go sign up to work at the Mother Teresa Center for the Dying tomorrow. I have been told that this is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have.