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Archive for the ‘INDIA!’ Category

Red-light districts around the world beckon “shoppers” from all walks of life. Locals, business people, young, and old lustfully approach their marketplace. They evaluate their “merchandise” — young, old, attractive, homely, “new”, “used” — and make their offer. It makes me want to gag.

What has happened to our world?! How have people somehow become commodities? It happens along streets in the U.S., in strip bars, at interstate rest stops, and in cities and towns around the world. Pornography and virtual reality seem to twist together in the dark world of prostitution. Perhaps people seek pleasure, relief from stress, or adventure, who knows? But the COST is immense. People who buy sex are stripping girls, and boys, of more than just their clothes.

Forgive me. Perhaps I could more tastefully write about this, but you must realize that this is not a tasteful topic.

It is, to my great dismay though, a very real one. And it is a terribly complex animal. I recently took a graduate-level course dedicated to the topic of global sex trafficking. I’ve noticed a great deal of interest in my blog associated with my posts related to this issue… I am hoping you all are wanting to learn how to stop this phenomenon, not participate in it. I am hoping that as you dare to dig into the pain of those who are entrenched in it, that you will not lose hope. Yes, the world in which we live is consumed by greed, corruption, lust, and love of self. That does not make it right. It is not the way the world was meant to be.

The sale of sex is not a simplistic topic, and it is often — though not always — linked to human trafficking. Unfortunately trafficking, like prostitution, is a multi-faceted and complicated animal. A complete examination of either is beyond the scope of this blog. People are targeted and trafficked into the sex trade, agricultural work, domestic servitude, and manual and industrial labor situations. Those interested in more information on these may want to check out Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, written by Kevin Bales (University of California Press, 2004). It’s excellent. He examines sexual slavery in Thailand, chattel slavery in Mauritania, charcoal makers in Brazil, brick makers in Pakistan, and farmers in India. It is a shuttering wake-up call regarding the lives of many who share our planet.

This past summer I had the unique opportunity to spend a month in India with some incredible women — women who happened to have come from one of the world’s most notorious red-light districts. How precious are their lives and stories, what a testimony to the healing power of the Lord! Though words struggle to truly express the emotions and experiences of that time, you are welcome to explore my earlier blogs on India. May you see, in the midst of the harsh reality of these issues, the humanity that suffers and the hope that remains.  In preparation for the trip, I wrote my term paper for the trafficking class on the situation in Mumbai. I wanted to understand why sex trafficking is so prevalent in the city of Mumbai, India (formerly Bombay).

Before continuing let me say this: India is a strikingly beautiful country. It is full of beautiful people, vibrant color, aromatic food, and stunning architecture. Its history stretches back before the time of Christ, and many cultures exist within its current borders. It is not my intention to disparagingly treat the people of India here. I hope to, rather, share some of my thoughts on the issues of trafficking and prostitution with those of you who seem to be searching for information in cyberspace. What conclusions you draw are up to you. I invite you to respond to this or any other entry, and I kindly remind you that trafficking and prostitution exist in many countries (including the U.S.).

…Here is an introduction to the world of trafficking. Ruchira Gupta directed the documentary The Selling of Innocents (Malofilm Communications, 1996). (It is not pornographic.)

photo credits:

http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1084/1166171435_dc8968501c.jpg?v=0

http://www.wisebread.com/files/fruganomics/imagecache/250w/files/fruganomics/blog-images/foreign-currency-and-coins_1.jpg

http://shanesthoughts.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/taj-mahal.jpg

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…away from the CHAOS…

plumeria

PLUMERIA blossoms in the courtyard... beautiful.

 …the texture of an orchid… the scent of something heavenly… the beautiful creation of God… simply LOVELY.

The girls made me a bracelet of plumeria flowers, it was perhaps the sweetest and most beautiful bracelet I’ve ever worn. My new favorite flower. : ) 

 

 My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, o people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” -Psalm 62:8

 

banana trees

..big and small BANANA trees...

CITY SNAPSHOT: Mumbai has a greater population density than New York City. People are piled on top of more people: business people, movie stars, tourists, migrant workers… from billionaire mansions to the maze of slums, India’s commercial capital (and largest city) is a place where extreme wealth lives side by side to desperate poverty, yet they are worlds apart. We were not in the chaotic city…  

 

rice paddy

RICE paddies... not in the city anymore

The countryside was filled with rice paddies– and people working in them. Wading through the flooded fields, hunched over to plant the grains… guiding cows through empty plots of dirt, preparing… ocassionally looking up to see the a land rover, with a bright white face in the window, drive along the bumpy road. : ) 

Kela Bible

Bible of one of the "aunties"... written in her home language!!

India has OODLES of languages. An estimated 2,000 ethnic groups live within the country’s borders… perhaps part of the reason for more than a dozen official languages (two of which are Hindi and English). The girls were from all over India, or from Nepal. They knew their home language, but not necessarily Hindi… let alone English. Needless to say, communicating was a hefty challenge at times, but they were SO gracious with us as we taught English and attempted to learn Hindi. Hand motions, smiles, and hugs were simply INVALUABLE!! : )

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” -Revelation 7:9  

 

beads
…pieces for jewelry…

…ah, the ladies in beads!! …each girl, in addition to school classes,  learns a vocational trade: tailoring, jewelry making, or leather working… the trade helps support their livelihood and their products are beautiful! The girls had such patience… carefully choosing each bead and stone, creating a design, and then stringing them by hand… we used to visit the girls during vocational time and jewelry making was especially fun. We’d practice new phrases, ask questions, sing songs, laugh, or just sit and listen to the ladies talk amongst themselves as they made bracelets, earrings, and necklaces for the outside world. 

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…pieces of BROKEN…

..HOME for someone...

..HOME for someone... perhaps the child on the "roof"...

 

 …tarps, garbage bags, tin scraps, wooden sticks… sometimes slabs of concrete with a door… if my heart had the capacity to leave its body it would’ve done so… i couldn’t bring myself to take many photos here… it was like capturing such images was robbing these people of their dignity and privacy — and they had so little already. Walking by i turned, and saw inside such a HOME: two people sat against opposite walls, facing one another… their knees were nearly touching for lack of space. Kids ran around in tattered, dirty clothes and garbage lay on the streets collecting dust…

 

 

 

 

...so many slums in mumbai...

...so many slums in mumbai...

*sigh* …People live day after day in each one of those homes… I’m not trying to depress you, but I hope that these snapshots of life stretch you as they have me.  An excerpt from an  Indian newspaper (The Hindu, “The Ironies of Kamathipura”, 2001) paints a vivid picture of India’s largest red-light area, Kamathipura:  

 

 

 Today, Kamathipura is bursting at the seams with women and garbage. Every inch of space has been occupied… The tiny lanes which slice the area into ribbons are packed with people and their belongings. While food is being prepared on a stove, a child defecates next to it. Somebody is having a bath a few feet away and yet somebody else is fornicating close by. In the midst of all this are hawkers, card sessions, goats on a tether, pimps on the prowl, customers looking for a bargain, tourists and countless sex workers. The air is thick with pollutants and decibel levels can rupture an uninitiated ear drum with ease.” 

 

...near the red-light area in Mumbai...

...Mumbai, near a red-light area...

…I remember following quickly in the footsteps of the man who was taking us to a shelter for kids from the nearby red-light area… the nauseating smells assaulted my nose as i feebly attempted to hold my breath — to block out the overpowering smell of warm garbage and wet dog. It took all my strength not to vomit on the pavement. A few times we walked by someone cooking curry over an open fire or burning incense — my nose was ever so thankful! I had become accustomed to nice smells… to fresh rain and hints of plumeria… to spice-laden curries and sweet tea in the canteen… to coconut oil (conditioner) after showers… and, of course, sweat and bug spray (inevitable in the humidity and monsoon season, LOL).    

 

 

I didn’t personally walk through the red-light districts in Mumbai. Perhaps that was a merciful gesture on behalf of our Indian friends. They are places full of brokenness and evil. Broken homes, dreams, lives, bodies, and spirits.

 

.Copy of DSC03866

… windows covered by bars… bars strung with hanging clothes… buildings that have surrendered to the mildew that clings to their walls… with little space in the red-light district, many kids were forced to sleep under the bed while their mom serviced clients… what a horrific reality! We visited a shelter for kids from the red-light areas… it was a safe haven, a place for them to study, sleep, socialize, and eat — a place to LIVE… At the shelter, the kids were adorable… I made paper airplanes with elementary-aged boys — gotta love the universal nature of singing and being silly! : ) 

 

…And yet, DESPITE the chaos, injustice, brokenness, and pain that surrounds life in and on the cusp of the red-light areas of Mumbai… none of that disqualifies people from the love and healing power that comes from God…

 

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39

DSC03864

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So… India is BEAUTIFUL. Like the States, it is a country that does not yield well to a hasty explanation. India is big. It has mountains, plains, deserts, and tropical beaches. It is diverse. Full of people with different features, skin tones, languages, and beliefs. I experienced only a snippet… but I can share about that. : )

So… (dedicated to all of you who have asked, as you’re more than welcome to, about the everyday aspects of life in India)… food, entertainment, housing, transportation, clothing, landscape, animals, etc…

..FOOD..

i LOVED tea time… favorite “meal” of the day, hands down. Honestly, what could be better than sitting in a beautiful, open air dining area in the middle of the Indian jungle, watching the monsoon rains pour down outside and sipping piping hot sweet chai tea with friends? *sigh* That was tea time.

 …Most of the food we ate would be recognizable here in the States. You could walk through the marketplace and buy carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, green beans, etc. A typical lunch/dinner might have: rice, dahl (a mixture of lentils and spices), water (filtered), and a vegetable dish or curry. Sometimes a CHIPATI (similiar to a whole wheat flour tortilla)… mmmm!!  Breakfast was similar: tea, sometimes bread to dip in the tea, sometimes spicy noodles, sometimes fried egg, sometimes food like lunch/dinner. But always tea!! (And hot milk for girls taking medicines.)

The food was delicious, and the chefs were friendly. A more hospitable place would be extremely difficult to find. They cooked on gas burners (no ovens) with lots of oils and spices. The food was flavorful, but not too [hot] spicy. Some of the girls would mix in skinny, little green chilis for an extra kick — those were SPICY HOT! …And most girls, women, and staff ate with their hands. It’s tricky… make a cup with your palm and push the food into your mouth with your thumb. If you thought chop sticks were tricky, here’s a new challenge for you. : )

…the custard apple… 

These are fun little fruits. About the size of a small apple, they are an adverturesome feat to eat. The actual fruit surrounds individual black seeds, so you pull out each seed and eat the fruit “off” thecustard_apple seed. …and then you (gracefully?) spit out the seeds. My favorite custard apple memory HAD to be sitting on the bus on the way to the Jubilee homes with Devon. ..How do you eat a custard apple (without paper towels/napkins) on the bus? What do you do with all the seeds that inevitably result from such a quest? …Well, you laugh, and throw seed by seed out the moving bus window… without hitting Devon (who was sitting next to me, by the window), or anyone else who happened to be walking or driving on the road next to the bus. There were a couple close calls! : )  (rest assured… the seeds are biodegradable and native to the area, just in case you were wondering…) 

..ENTERTAINMENT..

Bollywood! Bollywood is a mega-movie industry; it is India’s version of Hollywood (Bombay + Hollywood = Bollywood). They are famous for bright colors, and lots of singing and dancing. They’re in Hindi, but in the States (you can rent some at movie stores here) they probably have subtitles. : )

…movie night(s) with the girls…

At Ashagram we only watched TV/movies on the weekends… we’d all gather around the television downstairs (with pillows) and watch something. Often Bollywood, but kung-fu was popular too. When commercials came on, the girls would flip to a different channel, so we’d really watch a couple different movies at the same time. When the electricity went out, which it did relatively often at certain times of the day, the fans would die, and the girls would groan. They’d head to the courtyard to hang out until it came back on (which was met with cheers of joy) or stay in the dark tickling each other and laughing. If you don’t like to be hugged, tickled, poked and such… then you would definitely not like hanging out with these girls. And I would feel sad for you, because they’re cool. : )

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Passion is a funny thing isn’t it? It’s ingrained in our society. We not only desire it, but are encouraged at every turn to seek it and claim it. We want to be beautiful, to elicit, give, and be worthy of passionate lives. Let me pause for a moment: I’m not writing about sex. True, American society has over-sexed everything… my goodness it seems that even office supplies are advertised in a seductive way these days. That’s a conversation all its own. Love can be (and should be!) passionate, but we’re passionate about other things in life too.

Some people are passionate about animals. Others are passionate about the arts, about dance, about music, about photography. Some are passionate about food, about travel, about cars or electronics. Some people are passionate about fashion, about looking good, about the environment. We are PASSIONATE about many things.

For me… I LOVE traveling. If I won the lottery (which is highly unlikely due to the fact that I don’t purchase lotto tickets..), I would buy an around-the-world plane ticket in a heart-beat! I love reading about places around the world, meeting people from around the world, looking at pictures, planning trips and the like. (Let me interject here that pure “travel” was not the reason for going to India this summer, please peruse my other entries to learn about the amazing ministries of BTC in Mumbai.) My point is simply that we enjoy spending time immersed in what we are passionate about.

So my question, and what I’ve been thinking about… is where has all the passion for God gone? We are passionate about so many things here — even celebrities, TV, and sports. But are we actually PASSIONATE about God? Where is the energy and the delight that comes from passion?!?

In the Bible, John writes to the church in Laodicea about their lack of passion. He calls them lukewarm. “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm — neither hot nor cold — I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” -Revelation 3:15-17.

I thought about this in India, and so much since getting back. About PASSION for God, not just a lukewarm pitiful kind of faith. Why are we so apathetic and lazy toward God at times when we are so passionate about ourselves.

The words of Timothy ring in my ears… “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God — having a form of godliness but denying its power…” -2 Timothy 3:2-5.

This is my appeal for PASSION to return to our hearts, to our lives, and to our souls. The women in India at Ashagram were passionate for God. I want to be more like that.

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… giving GRACE…

did I ever mention that my photos got deleted in India? ..they did. We left India on a Saturday night. The Tuesday before (5 days) I discovered — to my GREAT dismay — that there were no longer any photos on my camera, except for ones that had been taken that day.

I remember that bus ride. We were coming back from a day at Jubilee 1 and 2, homes for young and teenage girls (a ministry of Bombay Teen Challenge). We’d spent a little time there before (this was where I taught my famous clean-but-non-lame-hip-hop class… the first dance class I’ve ever taught). I’d given a group of girls the camera to take pictures of and with friends around the building. They’d done this on a previous visit, and the result was AMAZING. Their photos were EXCELLENT — full of life and variety, posed and candid shots. They’d loved taking pictures and video of friends and scenery, and I was excited to end up with so many DELIGHTFUL photos that the girls had taken themselves. …but this time something went wrong.

I still don’t know what happened, but as I thumbed through photos of the day on that bus I felt a sinking in my stomach… more than three weeks of photos from India were gone. More than simply photos of people and scenery… they were snapshots of MEMORIES. Moments frozen in time, captured somehow on a piece of paper. I knew it would be hard in the States to try and communicate “India” to the people I know and love here… it’s so different. Without pictures, I knew it’d be even more difficult… The people, the culture, the background, the ministry, even the weather, plants, clothes, food, roads, and smells… it’s not like the States.

As I sat on the bus that afternoon, bumping along the one-lane road back to Ashagram, I started thinking about grace and about loss. Yes, I had lost something. Something that couldn’t be replaced, retrieved, or restored in the same way. It was gone. And yet… I humbly realized that these girls, these women we were in India ministering to had lost so much MORE than a couple hundred digital photos. They had lost family, friends, pieces of themselves… many have experienced suffering and loss exponentially greater than mine. And I was whining.

I know that it’s not the same… but that half-hour bus ride is one I won’t quickly forget. The sinking feeling of empty-like nausea that sets in when you realize that whatever is lost is not coming back. The stories the girls had shared starting to swirl in my brain. I knew it was an accident. And I thought about God… about how much He has forgiven (and forgotten) the things that I’ve done that have hurt Him… things that aren’t even always accidents. He has shown me GREAT grace. Surely, surely on a bus in the middle of India I could extend a little grace to these girls who had, accidentally, erased my photos. God is good.

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… i LOVE my sister! …

My sister’s pretty much the coolest person ever. : ) It’s true. It’s been true for a very long time, but I was just recently reminded of her wonderful-ness. When I was in India, she kept a journal of prayers and Scripture verses… and she just mailed it to me! Yes, a day-by-day type log of what she was thinking and praying about. When I read through it, her sweetness and dedication brought tears to my eyes…  

I wanted to share some of the verses she included here, just because they are good… I think the Bible has many things to say that are worth taking note of. It is full of words of encouragement, hope, truth, wisdom, history, and beauty. I write in hopes that this small sampling will be refreshing to you, like it was to me! : )

“When my anxious thoughts multniply within me, your consolations delight my soul.” -Psalm 94:19

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to HIm; speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name. Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually.”

“Let them give thanks to the LORD for his lovingkindness and for His wonders to the sons of men! For He satisfied the thristy soul and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.” -Psalm 107:8-9

“Because He has inclined His ear to me, therfore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.” -Psalm 116:2

“She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” -Matthew 1:21

“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” -Amos 5:24

“O clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy!” -Psalm 47:1

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