Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jishu Naam Ki Jai

Jesus's Name is Victory....

     This is one of my favorite songs I have learned while in Kolkata. It's just a simple phrase, repeated over and over, but oh, the power behind that statement.

     I've said good bye to Kolkata, my internship time drawing to a close. Yesterday (Monday), we boarded a plane to Dehli where we will be until Friday when we leave India (for now).

     This has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life so far. Mom asked me once if I felt like it was worth it. At the time, I was still adjusting and unable to give a good answer. However, I can now confidantly reply, "Absolutely". So there you go Mom.

     I have met some amazing people since I have been here... some white and some Indian... who are battling on the front lines for the souls of the people here. They are counting the cost and believing in God for big things and big miracles. Having the wisdom of men and women like Beth, who has served her entire life in various parts of Southeast Asia, A. an Indian woman who is devoting her life to the people of the red light district, and Pastor I., one of the most godly men I have ever met, has been incredible. I feel like a sponge because I want to soak up everything they say.

     Before I came, human trafficking was an abstract concept to me. I knew that it was a problem, men and women were suffering, and it needed to be stopped. Yet, up until this point it was just a passion... it wasn't personal.

     And now it is. Now, I have seen the faces. I have watched as men negotiated prices for women. I have been inside their homes. I know a little girl whose mother is dying of an incurable disease because of her years spent inside the district. It's no longer just human trafficking.... Now, it's L., S., R., and P. (names).

     And I fell in love with the children of Kolkata. Really, the children of India in general. They are beyond beautiful, and are currently distributing the pieces of my heart that have been broken before them.

     I have also gained a greater awareness of God's heart for me and how He has shaped my passions. I really love street children, and I am just drawn to them for some reason. I am not sure yet how God is going to use that, or where, but I just really love working with the most vulnerable, and I can't wait to see how He uses this.

     More than anything, I have gained a greater understanding of the power of Jesus's name. He is the only hope for complete and total restoration. I can take a woman out of a brothel, give her a job, money, an education, a home, but I cannot change her heart. There are broken pieces and walls that only He can see, wounds so deep that only He can restore to glory. He is a big God... so great and powerful.

     His name means Victory... Victory over sexual sin, addictions, abuse, heart ache, loneliness, shame, guilt, rebellion... over the darkness of this world. My prayer is that more and more from the red light district will come to know Him and that He will have victory over all.

     His adventures are always the best. His dreams are the greatest. Taste and see that the Lord is good, because even in the midst of the rock and the pain, He is sweet.

     Has India been everything I hoped it would be?

    No... it's been more.

    I have been hot, tired, uncomfortable, unsure, and very much outside of myself. I have been on my knees, covered in dirt, sick to my stomach, and heart broken. I have kissed their cheeks, looked into their eyes, shared their smiles, opened my arms wide, opened my heart even wider, held them close, and shared countless moments of songs, laughter, prayer, and joy. I have seen darkness, and I have seen light.

   And I have come to life.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A New Communion

    The wine and the bread... two objects I have seen all my life. The body and the blood, broken and poured for us. We take and do likewise as he did on the night before he was crucified. We take and we remember.

     Throughout this internship, we have been reading a book entitled One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, which is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Throughout the book, Ann speaks of communion, of the bread and the wine. She speaks of learning to be continuously grateful... for every moment... the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, because these moments make up our life stories.

     It is in these moments when we are grateful, thankful from the inside out, that we are truly able to experience communion with God. Communion... fellowship... a relationship where I know my Beloved deeply, intimately, and He knows me. I can love Him because I know Him. I can trust Him because I know Him. Because I know that every moment where I am acknowledging His hand, His touch, His love... in this present moment, I am drawing closer, falling more deeply in love.

     While in Kolkata, I have been trying to figure out what to do with my life. I have a greater awareness of my passions, but I am still very unsure about the next step. I have been trying to figure out the next year, five years, ten years. Is India home? Where is home?

     And God stopped me from my anxious wanderings, and whispered gently, "Today, India is home. Let me worry about tomorrow. Today, it is home." Today. This moment. The present. I am alive in this moment. I am engaged in the present. I am grateful for this moment.

     There is so much rest and peace that comes to an anxious soul when I simply stop and wait. I stop straining to see the future, and instead I focus on the present, and my world is brighter. Colors are vibrant. People are noticed, appreciated. The air is cooler. Loved ones are cherished, instead of cast aside because I am too busy. My sense heightened. I feel. I touch. I can hear his whisper, instead of trying to tune my ear to a cry from the distance. There will be no greater purpose than the present, no greater grace than in this moment... becuase that's what He gives... grace for the moment, strength for today.

     I am grateful for so many experiences, people, and moments from my time here. And because I love lists, here are a few things that deserve special attention:

1. The Godly wisdom I have had poured into me by Beth, Janelle, Emily, and A. They lead by example, and they speak truth into my life, pushing me to give more, serve more, love more, and allow me the freedom to let God move in my heart.
2. Jessica, our Indian intern, who I swear is my twin. She has also led by example and taught me so much about how to pray continuously and worship every moment. She is a gift and a blessing to me.
3. Chelsea and Carolina... my partners in crime. Three different personalities, three different sets of gifts, but God knew what He was doing when He brought us together. I am a better person because of them.
4. The children of the ECC who have completely stolen my heart. I don't know if I have ever been so attached to a group of children and so burdened. They are so precious. Miracles-- every single one.
5. My ice cream girls... the ones who call me Auntie Joy, and make my heart light up every time I see them. Beautiful.
6. The amazing church in Kolkata with a pastorial staff that longs to see God transform their city. This church is going to change the world.

     I am learning the art of gratefulness. When I am overwhelmed, I stop and I look for things in that moment, and I thank God... coconut water, that woman's smile, a cool breeze, my shoes, feet that can move, cool water...

     Tonight at Beth's house, we took the bread and wine. We circled around the elements, prayed, and sang.

     Intimate, quiet communion. Fellowship with the God who has brought us together and captivated our hearts. Moments of reflection. This do in remembrance of Me.

      He is sweet. He is good. He is a God of communion, relationship, knowing... and I want to know Him more. A Holy Experience. The present.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

And I know that there are angels all around...

     She is a tiny little thing with dark brown skin, big brown-almost black- eyes, and a smile that lights up her entire face. Five years old, and one of the cutest little girls I have ever seen.

     We caught up with her and her older brothers as we were leaving the Evening Care Center and walking to get a taxi. She held my hand.So small... she doesn't even come up to my waist yet. We walked through the mass of men, vendors, smokers, and women headed home... or atleast, I think they were headed home. I tried to lead her as best as I could, wanting to shield her from everything... from hands that may reach out and grab her. From the dog bigger than she is. From the open flames of street food.

     She waved goodbye,  and grabbed the hands of her older brothers. She blew us a kiss, and with a smile, turned down the dark alley towards home.

      I pray harder.

     I have seen those alleyways.

     It feels almost surreal, as if you are walking through a portal into another universe, where suddenly, these women are standing in doorways, some in miniskirts, some in saris, some with lots of makeup, some with little. Some smile, some stare, some just look away. The brothels are separated by language groups... Bengalis over here, Telagus there, Nepali just in front of you, etc.

     I followed an Indian woman into her home, up the stairs into the darkest hallway I have ever seen. Steep staircases. She unlocks the door to her room. We remove our shoes. This is home... one bed that feels more like a cloth covered bench, cobwebs on the wall, clothes folded on shelves, dead garland underneath her picture of Cali. Smaller than my bathroom at home. She talks, we listen, we pray... my feet are bare... standing on holy ground.

     We walk more, and I can feel their stares. The men, look me over, and despite the fact that I am in complete Indian garb, they still notice me. Ugh. It's at these moments when I envy Muslim women. I want a burqa.

     We follow another woman into her home... her room is on the roof. Steep brick steps shrowded in darkness. I am surprised no one has broken their necks on these things. The middle is worn from years of walking up and down. Smaller than the last room... just enough for a bed. This is where she lives, she cooks, she does business with customers, she sleeps.

     I learn that children sleep underneath the bed. While the mothers work, they are often chained to the beds and drugged so they will sleep.
     Two more women come, one is an alcoholic. Their eyes are dead. We pray with them. Shoes once again removed. Holy ground...

     I will forever associate tobacco with the men buying and selling women on the streets. It is spit everywhere, with that ridiculous hacking sound. Disgusting. Some of it is red, and you think someone has a bloddy mouth, but really it's just tobacco. Could you imagine having to service a customer with that crap dripping down his chin? There are no words...

      We walk through a narrow alleyway, only able to walk single file. I catch glimpses of women in the dark shadows and corners of their rooms, waiting to be looked over and chosen. There are women standing outside, but many more waiting in doors. It's a buffet for the sexual appetite. Take your pick and feast.

     We make our way back to the ECC, the edge of the district, shoes once again removed before we enter the room.

     I have been given a group of about twelve 9 and 10 year olds, and I adore them. We are creating stories... writing thoughts and feelings, using imaginations, and learning English in the process. I want them to find their voices.

     It is chaotic... so many people in one small room. Yelling for markers to color our pictures. Trying to translate from Bengali to English and back to Bengali. Singing loudly at the top of our lungs. Cookies flying. It is chaos. Sweat on my forehead. Bare feet. Holy ground.

     There is a small group of boys I just love. Nine and 10 years old. Sweetest hearts, and biggest smiles. I watch them protect their younger siblings. I watch them pray and sing. Too cool for hugs, not too cool for secret handshakes. I just love them.

     And I am afraid... because I watched the men around them. I know of brothers who have sold their sisters. Men who were once sweet boys that become pimps, buyers, and abusers. I know the men they have as role models and examples. Good God. I could be a better example of manhood than these clowns gambling and stumbling on the side of the road.

     My heart hurts, breaking for my boys. My heart that is growing attached and will soon be ripped away. Oh God please... raise them to be a new generation of men. Men who follow you no matter the cost. Men who stand for purity and justice. Men who protect their mothers and sisters, who love their wives and children. Men who will not stand for laziness or take the easy way out.

     Jesus. Jeshu. Yeshua. Yahwah.

     He walks here. In the red light district, among the garbage and waste, the idols and the sex. He knows the corners of every brothel room. He created the men and women here... formed them, fashioned them, designed them and knows them by name. This is his home... the places he chooses.

     I am beginning to realize that maybe God isn't very impressed with our clean walls and pristine sanctuaries. He rarely visited the temples. Instead, he walked among the people. He touched their sores. He called them from their sin to a better life. He got dirty, bloody, disgusting for the sake of his people. He demands we do the same.

     I can't help but think that this is where he dwells. He is here, when all hope seems lost. He is working, bringing light to the darkness. I want to be here, where he is. Do you? Are you willing to be dirty and uncomfortable, just so you could catch a glimpse of his face? Or are you content to live life safe inside the padded pew, and wait until heaven to see him. Yes, heaven will be amazing. But why wait when you could have the unspeakable joy of seeing him now? Touching him now? Walking with him now?

     Oh dear friends, I have seen glimpses, and it is beautiful... glimpses in the midst of hell.

     So I take off my shoes... because it is holy ground.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Finding the Beautiful...

       Acne. Mosquito bites. Dirty finger nails. Frizzy hair. Chapped lips. Dry skin. Sweat. Added cellulite do to an excess of rice, potatoes, and oreos.

      I can neither confirm nor deny that I have been suffering from the above conditions since I have been in India.

      And I have a confession to make: It bothers me. I don't like the added bumps, the dry skin, and the fact that I can't really wear make up because I will sweat it off within five minutes. Even though monsoon season is now upon us, it is still very hot. My clothes are less than fashionable, my hair is in a pony tail, and I've been wearing the same shoes every day. Please understand, I am not saying all this to complain. Rather, I am sharing with you my struggles. I am being honest. I am sharing my heart (and please, no emails telling me how beautiful I am and God made me special... that is not what this is about).

     I have always struggled with self esteem issues. Maybe you can relate to the feeling of never really being comfortable in your own skin. The fuzzy hair and stained teeth didn't really help me growing up. I always wanted to be my older cousins... beautiful, loved by everyone, straight hair. I couldn't wait until I was older and I could finally wear better clothes, and um, mature. Of course, I had friends and family tell me I was beautiful, but you know it doesn't matter how many people tell you. Knowing and believing are two very different things. I devoured fashion magazines that told me to mix prints, avoid prints, wear bright colors, black is now in, pink is now the new black, avoid carbs, eat carbs, embrace the natural look, wear more eyeliner, blah, blah, blah.

     For me, beauty has been a process... actually more like a roller coaster, but nevertheless a process. I had braces in middle school and my stained teeth were bleached. I finally stopped wearing these awful green overalls when I entered high school. In college, I discovered the diffuser, so my frizzy hair could now be managed. Now, post college, I am awaiting my next beauty break through... but I just might have it.

     I think it takes being pulled from my comfort zone to truly realize just how dependent I am on things to make myself feel beautiful. In America, I am able to seek solace in eyeliner, and I have foundation to cover the blemishes. My hair is decent. My clothes match, and I have jewelry to accessorize. When I scratch my skin, my nails are not black underneath. I am presentable. I can hide my insecurities behind lipgloss and mascara.

     I can't do that here. I think what bothers me more than anything is the fact that I have nothing to hide behind. My face is bare (and sometimes looks a little dehydrated). My feet are dirty. My pants are big enough for three people and do little to enhance my figure (Pants here are not One size fits all... instead, they are One size fits everyone you can possibly put in them).

    Today, I sat on the concrete floor of the Evening Care Center in my Indian clothes, muddy from the monsoon rains and hot. My hair is disheveled and has not been brushed all day. My acne... let's just not even go there. I am removed from my comfort zone in every possible way.

     And yet, I have never felt more beautiful. In fact, these are the times, as crazy as it seems, when I actually feel like my skin and I fit perfectly together.

     When my little five year old is genuinely excited to see me.
     When another little girl showers my cheeks with kisses.

      When I am covered in spit up and in desperate need of a shower, yet she is still in my arms letting me rock her to sleep.

      When my group of boys can't wait to sing the Coconut Song ("The fruit of the Spirit's not a coconut...")
      When my baby boy puts his forehead against mine and squeals.

      When the former pr*stituted woman opens the door of her home to me.

      When I share oreos after church with my ice cream kids.

      When I hold my daughter as she is released from my arms into the arms of Jesus.
      When I am walking through hell and seeing glimpses of heaven.

      When I am dirty, tired, feeling a little nauseous, and have been in the sun too long, but I am still singing and dancing with all my smiling brown faces....

      When it's not about me.

      Because following Christ means taking everything I hold on to... all my material possessions that define who I am... and throwing them away. Because when I, as a fallen human being, am completely emptied of myself and allow Him to shine through me, then I become everything I was meant to be... a reflection of Him.

     One of my favorite quotes comes from the movie Little Women, in which Marmee is speaking to her oldest daughter Meg. She says, "My dear, if you feel that your value lies in being merely decorative, then someday that may be all you really are."

     I don't know about you, but I don't want to be remembered as someone who is "merely decorative", focused only on my outward appearance, so much to the point that I neglect those I am purposed to love.

     But I think I beginning to discover a precious secret... something counter cultural. Beauty is not found when I am looking at myself. Instead, it is found when my heart is turned towards Him, and He then turns it towards others. It will never be found standing up straight... rather, on my knees, bathing the feet of the little girl who lives in garbage.

     Beauty... real and lasting beauty... is only found when my heart is being poured out for my King, and in those precious moments, it's not about me. Because really, in my broken and sinful heart, there is nothing genuinely beautiful about me. The only good in me comes from Jesus Christ. He is the ultimate definition of beauty, and my prayer is to be His reflection.

     My advice to you: You don't have to come to India (although it really is fabulous and you should be here). You don't have to forego all make up completely and walk around in baggy clothes, although God likes to use those situations to get my attention.

     Instead, let your arms wrap around the shoulders of those around you in need. And get dirty.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

My first word, My hero, My heart

     Your name was the first word I ever spoke.

      I have your eyes, and my ear does the same weird folding thing as yours. When you do things to embarrass me, I jokingly ask if you are really my father. But there's no denying it. I'm yours.

     I love that I inherited your sense of humor... corny jokes, Monty Python, and the ability to make yourself laugh at your own silliness. Your laugh is my favorite sound in the entire world, and whenever I am away, it's what I miss the most.

     I want to write a beautiful letter to tell you how much you mean to me. I wish that I had better words, or I could write a beautiful poem... but really, how do I tell you just what you have done for me, when really, you have given me everything. I will try, but I will fail. So I'm doing my best.

     I am who I am because of you, and that may sound confusing or cheesy, but it's true.

     I am a Florida Gator because you took me to my first football game at six months old. You explained the game to me, and watching football with you as I have grown up is one of my fondest memories, and one of my favorite things to do. UF vs. South Carolina in 2006. Jarvis Moss saves the season... we were there because of you. Heck to the yes.

     You took me on my first mission trip when I was 14 years old to Honduras. I served the people with you, and I watched you love those who were unfamiliar. When I told you I wanted to become a missionary, you didn't question God's calling or tell me to pick something else. Instead, you let me say "Yes" when so many other fathers I know of said "No". You let me dream and gave me the courage to be obedient.

     You taught me to speak words of life over those around me. I love that you prayed over me before I went to sleep every night, blessing me with "Happy Thoughts" and declaring the promises of God. I have in turn done "Happy Thoughts" with the little ones God has placed in my life, carrying on your tradition of blessing.

     I am safe when I am with you. I have never once had to worry that you would lift a hand in anger or hatred. I have never had to worry about being abandoned. Here I am, on the other side of the world, surrounded by women and children whose fathers are absent and evil. I am grateful more and more for who you have been as a father to me... a protector. I can trust you.

     You love my mom, and not just with words, but with actions. You value her and treasure her. You take care of her. Thank you.

     I have never once felt as though I needed the attention of a boy to fill any needs in my heart. I have never needed to flirt or get attention from other boys because you have been present with your heart and mind, not just your body. You give the best hugs (and the best presents). You have filled the need in my heart to be loved and valued.

     I have been told that I have high standards when it comes to boys, but it's no wonder considering you are my standard of comparison. I have watched as you love Jesus and my mother, and I know never to settle for anything less.

     I love hearing you sing and watching as you worship the Lord. I love your prayers, and the family meetings that go on for three hours.

     I love that playing games with you is impossible because you always accuse the other team of cheating.

     I love it when you try to dance.

     "Rule #1, obey all rules".

     "In the book of Chauncey, chapter 3"... Really sir, you're hilarious.

     You are my hero. You are my favorite person in the world. You are my strength, and you are my constant. I am able to love and minister to those around me becuase you have taught me how to love... completely, sacrificially, unconditionally.

     You showed me Jesus. How do I thank you for showing me life?

     I love you Daddy. I hope that your Father's Day is amazing, and know that I am lifting you in prayer every day, speaking "Happy Thoughts" over you.

     You are my heart.

      And all I said was this halibut was good enough for Jehovah...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Light in her eyes...

     She has one of the sweetest faces I have ever seen. Even when she is not smiling, her face is soft, as if ready to laugh at any moment. Her hair is long and curly, falling gracefully down her back.
     I didn't think she was older than 35, and even she is unsure of her exact age... but she is a mother with two daughters, and she knows she is older than thirty. One is married, and the other will be married in a week. And she is a grandmother to a small baby girl.
     I tease her, saying that I will look fifty by the time I am her age, and she will still look the same. Her eyes sparkle, and she is absolutely beautiful.

     I don't know what life has done to her. I know that she is not married, but I am unsure of the details of her story. But I know that life has been hard. I sit beside her as she sews her quilts... sewing to support her family... to support herself. She threads her needle with skill, tenderly weaving it through the fabric to create intricate patterns.
     She comes from a Muslim village. Every Friday, she and another friend journey for several hours by bus into Calcutta to deliver their products, work in a clean and quiet place, and then return to their village with more quilts to complete. If she can make ten quilts a month, then it is a good month for her.

     Her daughter will be married at 15 years old. I learned that according to the traditions of her religion, it is best if a girl is married as soon as possible in order to preserve her virginity and insure she is untainted before she is wed. The mother of the groom sat next to her sewing her own quilts as she shared these details.

     For some reason, my heart is just drawn to her. She is always ready with a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. She is the type of person who, when you enter her presence, your soul just relaxes. Her presence is soothing, comforting... the presence of a mother, a friend.

     And she doesn't know Jesus. But He is wooing her. I believe he is. To her, He is just a prophet, just a name. But I pray that He will soon be so much more. I pray that she will be captivated... through dreams and visions, through His presence, through the people she sees every Friday that reflect His love. The hold of Islam is strong, but my Jesus is stronger. He is bringing light into her heart. I believe it.

     Pray for my dear friend. Pray that she will see the truth. Pray that she will fall in love with Jesus.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

This might give me a few enemies...

     This has been on my heart for a while. I promised to be honest. I promised to be truthful, to share what I have seen and heard, what God has been doing in my heart. And this post might make me lose a few readers, as well as gain some enemies. Oh well. My purpose is not to offend but to make you think.

With the summer months come summer movies... blockbusters, lots of explosions, romantic comedies, and highly anticipated sequels... one such sequel was The Hangover II. I do recognize there are many movies I could talk about dealing with this subject, but this is what God has put on my heart, and if I don't share with you, it's my fault. I have not seen this movie, so I am getting my information from detailed reviews (pluggedin.org) and magazine articles (relevantmagazine.com).

I did not see the original Hangover. I have a belief that if a movie is rated R and does not include any violence, then it is probably filled with cursing and sex. Since I don't find either of those things entertaining, I typically avoid them. The good news is all of the funny jokes are usually quoted to me about a million times, so I feel like I'm getting the high lights, and I don't have to pay a dime. It's a win win for me.

Yet, when I saw previews for the second Hangover, I began to feel uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.

The movie is set in Thailand, and it could just that my sensitivity is heightened because I am hanging around a red light district these days... but something about this movie just didn't feel right.

You see, Thailand is, in the words of pbs.org, "a land of opportunity" for traffickers in Southeast Asia. In fact, Thailand has become one of the poster countries, along with India, for human trafficking. Thailand's beautiful beaches and rich countryside make it a hotspot for tourists, and with the tourists comes the opportunities for someone to profit off the selling of another's body.

Here are a few facts:
*Trafficking in Thailand is a roughly $12 billion dollar industry... more than its drug trade
*Many of the people in Thailand's North region do not have Thai citizenship and live in poverty. Therefore,  they are very vulnerable.
*Victims from Cambodia, Laos, and Burma are often brought into Thailand... it is believed that roughly one fourth of prostituted women were from Burma
*In 2003, it was estimated that there were roughly 200,000 being forced to work in prostitution

Why am I sharing this? What does this have to do with the Hangover II?

One of the reasons I became uncomfortable while watching the previews was because, knowing the history of this film, there would probably be a visit to a brothel. Researching the movie confirmed my suspicions.

The characters do indeed visit a brothel, the services of one prostitute are used, other prostitutes appear nude, and a Russian club owner offers the sexual services of a child for $2,000.

And it earned $61million within the first two days of opening in theaters.

Dear friends, there is something wrong here. I observed my Facebook news feed as people posted their excitment in watching the film, their reviews, lamentations about recycled jokes and plots, etc.

It broke my heart... because in this film, men and women in real danger are portrayed as objects of entertainment. Because in reality, the majority of those people in the brothels are sold, beaten into submission, and forced to sniff rubber cement to remain compliant. They are numb, their feelings fried, and hearts damaged beyind repair. They are forced to have abortions, suffer incurable diseases, used and then sewn up to be resold as virgins to fetch a higher price.

And we laughed.

There is something seriously wrong when we choose to suspend reality for the sake of our own entertainment. Am I overreacting? No, I'm not... because I know the woman forced to sell her body for over thirty years. I know the man abused to the point he is confused about his gender and giving his body away. I looked into the eyes of the girl standing on the line, waiting for a customer. I know the girl with scars on her arms and back from years of torture.

You can argue with me and say that it wasn't real. It was just a movie. I am being uptight. Lighten up, it's a comedy. The problem comes when the joke is based on reality, and I don't care how cleverly it is told. I can't lighten up. I go home from the red light district knowing it could be the last time I ever see some of the children there because they could be sold at any moment.

Friends, I promise that I am not lecturing you....what I am doing is trying to make you aware.

You see, when we watch something, our minds become used to what images are put in front of us. I am a testimony to this as much as the next person. Horror no longer scares us. Blood no longer sickens us. And image of a woman being prostituted does not render the honor of a second thought. This film, while promoting entertainment, has also promoted the selling and trading of more women and children into sexual slavery, whether it realized it or not. And we as Americans with our obsession to be entertained went right along with it.

But wait, you didn't know... Well, now you do. And you can turn away, but you can never again say you didn't know.

Please remember my purpose in this post is not to make you angry or guilty. But, I want you to think. Research before you invest time and money into something. Please. What messages are pouring into your heart if you see this film? Will be become calloused to the cries of those around you?

I beg you, think. Because I know the woman sold for someone else's pleasure... and she was too stoned to look back at me.

The Bruise on Her Face

She always has the biggest hugs and the softest heart. Sweet, gentle, shining brown eyes, and soft cheeks you just want to kiss over and over. She always wears a sparkly dress. She is always smiling.

There was a bruise on the right side of her face today. Running from her temple to just above her eye. She didn't fall...

Sweet girl, what did you do? Were you just in the wrong place when his anger grew too hot to control? Did you say something and he responded with a hand instead of words? Where was your mother? Is this man even your real father?

How is she still smiling? Does she pretend everything is ok to escape? Has she just become numb? Does she turn up the charm to receive extra love?

I want to take her away and run as fast as we can from this place... from hell. She is fair skinned. She could pass as my daughter.

But I can't. So I lay hands over her, begging for protection and blessing. "Come again", she told me as we said goodbye. You too baby. Please God.

I look around at all of the brown eyes that have captured my heart. All with bruises on their hearts. It's so dangerous, the alleyways they call home. Evil not only lurks in the darkness but parades on the streets in daylights.

My sweet little ones. God protect them. Heal what is broken. They have seen more than I can possibly imagine... mothers being raped, being raped themselves, abused with words, objects, hands and feet, drugs, the brutal beatings of their mothers and siblings and neighbors, friends cut to pieces. I wish I was exaggerating. God, I wish I was being dramatic, but I'm not.

This is their reality. Don't pray for me. Pray for them. Pray for her. God, get her out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Little Ones who have stolen my heart....

I know their names now... I have seen them several times. Outside church, waiting for people to leave so they can collect a few rupees. They are a little band made up of friends and siblings. It started off with one ice cream cone, and now I have six new friends. The other day, One came and found me, but I don't know how, although a white girl is not that hard to spot. They call me Joy. Either that's what they think my name is, or they can't say Jordan. It doesn't matter. They could call me whatever they want to, as long as they let me spend time with them.

It's just buying ice cream. It's just a few oreos after church. But it's so much more than that. It's showing them they have value. I care enough to remember their names, to hug them. I'm not afraid of their dirt. I want to hold their hands. Allwoing them to sit with me in a cool place, a place they are normally not allowed to go. They matter. They have names. I give them treats, time... they give me so much more.

She wears a red string around her arms and neck with amulets. She has such large brown eyes... almost too big for her face. Her family is obviously devout Hindu. Trying to protect her from evil, demons, and spirits. Oh, I wish they knew how useless those charms are. She has such a beautiful little smile, such a tiny little body. She knows all of the songs by heart. She listened intently to the Bible story. I watched as she folded her hands to pray, lips moving as others led. The Kingdom is in her eyes. I can see it... God, let her grow.

He coughed throughout Sunday School. He couldn't weigh more than 30 pounds. I held him in my arms, asked his name, laid my hands on my bony chest framed by visible ribs, and I prayed. He says he is taking medicine. I pray against the disease. He is so shy, so cute, obviously not used to attention. Adorable. I kiss him on the cheek, and he blushes as much as an Indian boy can.

They weren't there today... two little girls, little faces that I memorized. One is in danger, one whose story I don't know. But I missed them. I wanted them. I pray they're just getting ready for school. Please God, nothing more.

How do I explain this to you? There is such an awareness of life and death on this side of the world. Such an awareness of eternity where every moment counts. Every word spoken can bring a blessing or a curse. Every prayer uttered with purpose. My little ones...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Light House

It's like an oasis in the middle of the desert, a haven, a refuge, a home of hope. Standing on the roof top, I couldn't help but rejoice at what this place will become. The breeze was cool as it whipped our hair, remnants from the heavy monsoon rains that had just come.

Two three story buildings. The floors and walls are still being finished... men were still laying concrete and brick as we walked by snapping pictures, dreaming of the future.

"This will be the kitchen area. These floors will have apaertments where women can live together, have their own bathrooms, and little kitchens to cook for themselves", Beth explained to us. Little things, learning to live independently... steps towards recovery, restoration, freedom.

It is surrounded by mango trees, papaya trees, coconuts, jack fruit, lychees, all kinds of delicious fruit. There is room for a garden, so the women can grow food. Space for chickens and maybe even cattle for cheese and milk.

There will be space for the girls to play... playground, bicycles, a place to just be kids. It is beautiful and safe.

The vocational unit will be there as well so women can learn skills to build a new life, learning what it means to make their own decisions.

We stopped by the girls' home on our way back into town. Their faces lit up as we described the progress. "Will there be swings?" one sweet ten year old asked excitedly. They are so eager to move to their new home... ready to stretch their legs, to grow.

There will be space for many more girls. Many more women will be able to receive complete freedom and healing.

Pray dear friends, that the work will be finished quickly. Chains be broken. Lives be healed.

Thinking back to that roof top, I know the feelings that washed over my heart...feelings I want for all of the girls and women I meet... Safety, rest, peace. Praying that they will know the Prince of Peace soon. Praying they will find their rest. Praising Him for his provision. He sees His hurting little ones. He is good.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Little Candles Gaining Fire

     The most precious sound in the world... the prayers of a child. Their laughter. Their music. Their joy. I just close my eyes and I listen, absorbing their sweet melodies. I watch them play... running back and forth and trying to climb onto basketball goals. Ice cream smeared on their cheeks. Eyes bright.

      Bible stories. Songs about Jesus. Puppets, prayers, memory verses and skits. God, they hear, but do they understand? The Word of God does not return void, and I know that, but God I am so afraid.

     I know the places they call home. I watched their mothers and fathers, and I've seen their eyes, eyes that have no room for light anymore because pain and greed have overtaken them.

      So many little secrets behind their eyes. There's the little girl who needs to be rescued... so quick to love and give hugs, but her light is softly fading, evils unspoken coming against her. There's the little boy I held as he slept through most of the afternoon, enjoying the chance to be under a fan, to rest in peace. There's the other little girl I am just drawn to for some reason with her pig tails and purple dot on her forehead that matches her outfit. Little ones with charms and amulets around their arms and necks to ward off evil spirits... not realizing the danger in trusting those charms.
     How long God, before the abuse becomes too great, the joy is smothered, the little girl sold, and the boy is forced to use to become a man? You know the corners, and you know the darkness. The darkness cannot withstand You.
     The patron goddess of Calcutta is named Kali... it's where the name of the city comes from, and it literally means "The dwelling place of Kali". There are temples dedicated to her throughout the city, and a grand festival is held every year.
     She is a fearsome thing to behold. She is jet black with long hair, a necklace made of skulls and blood dripping from her mouth. In her hand is a severed head, and she sits on a decapitated body. Followers will often cut open their chests to offer their blood to her. For women, Kali means "shakti" or "power"... and isn't that what women have been wanting since the Fall... power? "You will become like God", the serpent whispered to Eve, and is still whispering to this day. She is the goddess of death and destruction... a symbol of darkness.
      My prayer, and my dream for Calcutta,  is that the name will change from no longer the dwelling place of Kali... death, destruction, pain... but will instead be known as the dwelling place of God. His city full of life, hope, and peace... light.
     I believe that it will happen with these children... 150 children who live in hell and walk among darkness. They will carry the light... they will be the light. Jesus, I believe this and I declare this over your little ones... Little  ones you love and have created with a specific purpose to change the world and bring glory to your name.
     God, no matter what abuse, what stories, what words are spoken over them as they return to their homes, let your words hold fast in their hearts. Bind it to them Lord, that they will know the truth. May they never forget you are the One true God... not an idol made of stone or the lie of a prophet... but You, the Living, Resurrected, Holy and Perfect God, who gave up everything so they could have life. Oh Jesus, be their life. Protect them from the perverse desires of the enemy. Cover them with your angels, and may those who wish to do harm to them be genuinely afraid because you are guarding them with your power. I know this makes you angry... injustice done to the weak and vulnerable. God, may those who try to hurt them in any way see and feel your anger and your wrath. May we as your people never sit quietly or become content with empty prayers and idol hands. Fill us with your anger, your desires, your Spirit. When your little ones cry out, answer them. Teach them to pray. Send your angels around them. Be their superhero. Be their light.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hey Lucy, I remember your name...

*On May 29, 2010, a woman named Lucy came to Gentle Hands in Manila, Philippines. Lucy was about 30 years old, and was very sick with tuberculosis. During her stay, I had the opportunity to care for her and love her. Today, June 8, marks one year since her death. 3:03pm, to be exact. This my letter to her.

Dear Lucy,

It's weird that it's been a year. I remember sitting with you, holding your hand, watching as the life went out.

I am unsure in sharing this letter... sharing your story. By telling people about you, am I exploiting you? Am I saying "Look what I've done?", because really, you did everything for me. I pray no one looks at this and thinks of me, but rather thinks about the God who orchestrated all these events, because He loved you so much... that he wanted you home with him... away rom this world and all the pain it brought you.

I miss you. I think of you every day, and my heart hurts, still. I can't cry. I really wish I could, and I want to because then maybe the grief will finally seem real. It's hard because I can mention your name, and I talk about you, but it's all very surreal. For ten days, I was your mom. For ten days, I bathed you, fed you, held you as you cried. It was only ten days, and in the grand scheme of life, those ten days are only a small fraction. They couldn't have made up for all of your hurts, all of your pain. But they changed everything for me.

Did you know your name means "Light"? That's what you were to me... my light. I wanted so badly to change your life, but God used you to change mine. Nothing else matters except the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and no Gospel will ever be greater than being willing to get completely outside of myself. You showed me that. You showed me how to love, and you gave me a glimspe of heaven. You showed my heart it's purpose. You showed me life... a real life outside of myself... a real life built on things that matter.

How do I make people understand that? I lost a child... you... my child. But, I'm only 21. It was only ten days. It was a mission trip. A mountain top experience. An experience! I can hear it in voices and see it in eyes... full of sympathy, but just not understanding. "She's just being dramatic".... and I get angry...so angry. I stop talking about you because I don't want anyone to simply brush off your memory. And so I keep you to myself... my treasure. Because I want so badly to protect you at least in death, after life fought so hard to destroy you.

I think a lot about what would have happened if you had survived. Would you be home? Would you be thriving? Or hurting still? Would you be loved?

There is so much about you I don't know... your birthday, your favorite foods, colors, movies. What did you dream of? What did you want? Were there ever any moments of  real joy?  Did you really want to live, or did you just want to get out? I don't know your birthday, but I remember your death. It's not like I can have a cake for you... I don't even know your real age.

I've thought about what I would do on this day. If I were home, I would maybe go to the beach, or a coffee shop and remember, and pray. But I'm here in India... surrounded by thousands just like you, and to be honest, I don't know how to even love one.

But I remember your name, your face, your hands.... brushing your hair, smiling at you, guarding you while you slept, and hanging pictures on your walls. I wait for the tears that I desperately want to fall. I listen to the songs that remind me of you... songs I have avoided. Will anything change after tomorrow? Will things be different this time next year? I don't want them to be because I want to remember you. You deserve to be remembered, just like you deserved to be loved.

I pray for your family... maybe one day I will be able to share with them everything you meant to me. Maybe I will be able to share Christ. God please...

Yet, despite anything I may be feeling now, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are home. Laughing and smiling... more loved than you have ever been. What does Jesus look like? What does heaven look like? Oh, I can't wait to see you again... to smile and laugh and play with you. Will you be there to meet me when I follow you home? I just can't wait...

I love you sweet girl. I miss you.

Love, Mom

*God showed me this verse the day before Lucy died:
"When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will be true: 'Death has been swallowed up in victory'. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God!He gave us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" -- 1 Corinthians 15:54-57

"To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor."-- Isaiah 61:3 (My Lucy verse)

Songs that remind me of Lucy
Soon and Very Soon-- Hillsong United... One night in particular while she was struggling, this song came on the cd player, and she immediately calmed down.
Hallelujah-- Bethany Dillon... The day before she died was really hard for me for various reasons, and God brought me this song to remind me I can still praise Him no matter the pain.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

For the Moments I Feel Faint

     "Ma'am, who is this?"
I was asked this question repeatedly today by several concerned Indian families. For some reason, the sight of me holding hands with a 5 year old Indian girl needed to be explained. And of course, I told them she was my sister. That answer was not enough to satisfy, especially when they started comparing my white skin to her very dark skin. I found it rather amusing. She is my sister and that's all you need to know. Thank you.

We went for an outing today with 13 girls from the girls' home to Victoria Memorial, which is basically a big palace with lots of paintings, and the planetarium. Between 17 Indians and 5 white people, all females, we made for a very interesting sight... and thus, some onlookers could not resist asking questions. One boy even asked me to tell him about my country. Not quite sure what that was all about, but he was a cute kid.

As a side note, if anyone ever needs a good nap, visit a plantarium. They flipped off the lights and Chelsea and I were out.

Tonight though, I feel tired... slightly frustrated with myself. I don't really want to share this, but I promised I would be honest. Tonight felt like a night when I just wanted to crawl under the covers and hide for a long time. It was a night when I needed my mom, and it's that harsh realization that I can't call her which made everything a little more difficult. There was a small list of things that just kept piling up.

And then I think about the people outside my gate. The family who sleeps on the sidewalk. My little ice cream girls who are sleeping God only knows where. The women who won't sleep tonight because they have to sell themselves.

And then I remember that I've only been in India for 2 and 1/2 weeks, and I become frustrated with myself for being frustrated. I mean, I will only be here for 5 weeks. I can deal with anything for 5 weeks. And besides the heat, I haven't done anything strenuous.

I wish that ministry made me more of a superhuman. I wish that I could instantly be more perfect... or atleast less of a complainer/worrier, less dependent on other people... someone who didn't worry about the way her hair falls or the sweat on her face. I just want to be better. And I want to be less focused on me. One thing is for sure, geographical location does not make one less selfish or prideful. I am still the same sarcastic, self absorbed me.

And God, I am at the end of me. Broken, undone, open before you. I need you to be everything because I have nothing. I am numb. I am tired. I am coping by becoming apathetic. Refine me. Sometimes the desert is required to reach the promised land, and God I'll go through it, but I need you to hold me. I can do nothing on my own, and I don't want to be the same person I have always been. I want to be different, more like you. At the end of the day, all I have is you. All I need is you. Thank you for wanting me despite the flaws, the pride, the sin. Thank you that you haven't given up on me. Thank you... increase in me. I need you.

Friday, June 3, 2011

And Then Everything Changed...

     I have to be honest... I am struggling with this. I feel like I am obligated in some way to talk about what I have seen and heard. God, how do I convey this without exploiting those I want so desperately to protect? And I will never be able to make you understand. I can describe things to you with words, and Lord knows I am not the best writer. I could show you pictures and videos... if I could take them. But even those images before your eyes allow you to keep a safe distance. I have to confess that until today, I felt very detached. I knew there was a red light district and what was happening, but it wasn't real. It hadn't come to life.
     And now it has. God give me the words...

     Evil is very real. Darkness is very real. It lurks in the shadows behind the women as they stand at their doors. It is in the drugs given to the new girl to make her compliant. It is in the pimp who watches and collects the payments... blood money. It is in the idols on the walls and the red bands around their necks to ward off evil spirits... not realizing the evil that is consuming them already. No charm could ever fight that off.
     Pain is very real. It is in the eyes of the woman who wiped away tears as I walked past. What happened to you darling? Were you hurt? Rejected? It is in the downcast eyes of the woman who had one eye completely bloodshot. Some looked and smiled back despite the pain. Some simply stared. Some couldn't look at all.
     It smells like celery... I later discover it's liquor... homemade. God, I hate that stuff. It turns men to animals. It dulls the senses. It weakens her resolve. The heat is oppressive. Hindi music is played loudly in the streets.... almost like a mocking celebration. There are goats. I taste mango juice, a gift from a dear friend as we visit her home. I breathe in cigarette smoke, and when we get to the car, I cough... my body trying to expel the dirt. Some women stand in groups. Some stand alone. And there are so many men. On their way home from work. Taking advantage of good business in the area. Trading money for her body. It hurts to watch.

And yet, there is life...

     Hope is very real. I see it in their eyes... the little ones. The bright eyes and big smiles. I hear it in their voices as they sing. I watch them dance for us. I can't wait to hold them. To know them. Yet, little one, what horrors do you go home to at night? What evil lurks in the shadows to steal your innocence? Did you ever have any to begin with?

When do the smiles of joy turn to smiles of seduction?

When do bright eyes lose their fire?

When does that fiery spirit weaken to submissive resolve?

When do hearts that so freely open become hearts of stone?

God, what is that point? How do we stop it? When does the blow come that finally breaks her? Please no...

Yet, in the midst of the pain and evil, God is there. He moves. I know this because I know that evil cannot defeat my God. No darkness can extinguish the light. Oh He can move. He is moving. These are his people. His treasures. God move... make all things move.

I ask you friends to storm the gates of heaven on behalf of one little girl who is being abused and needs to get out. Speak life over her. Pray away the strongholds. God wants her. Pray for light. Don't pray for me, but pray for her... that she will be rescued before the light in her eyes is extinguished. Please...

Now that I have seen, I am responsible. Faith without deeds is dead.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

And They Were Called Yellow...

Look at the stars. Look how they shine for you, and everything you do...

     My fingers and nails are stained with yellow. Curry, spices, all on my fingers as a beautiful brown face teaches me. "No auntie, like this", she tells me while placing the freshly cut gourd in the boiling oil to fry. "Nice auntie", she encourages, smiling and laughing and my clumsiness. She is patient. Other brown faces move in and out of the small kitchen... some to help, some to watch, some just to hug and walk away.
      Gourds are finished, set aside. We toss onions into the oil, then potatoes, soy, tomatoes, cilantro, and more spices. An aroma fills the kitchen with the promise of good things to come. "Sit auntie", they tell me, taking note by my face that I am not used to the heat. Sweet little hands fan me with a newspaper. I laugh and try to make them stop. It's no use. Don't you know I am here to serve you? They are too selfless. We wait as the food sizzles and simmers in the pot (how's that for alliteration). Music floats from the living room. Laughter. Joy. Hope.
     We gather together, bodies encircled on the ground. Plates in front of us. Fingers move to collect rice and vegetables, scooping them into anxious mouths and hungry bellies. I am still not good at this. Their fingers move like a dance, while my own are clumsy and awkward. Maybe I will get it. Oil drips down my hands from the gourd. Yellow, smooth. We fall asleep on our mats, the heat still there, but not as oppressive. We dream...

I came along. I wrote a song for you, and all the things you do...

     It is light that expells the darkness. The soft yellow of a flame. The dark yellow of a light. The glowing yellow of the sun, signaling that day has come. Weeping lasts only for a night and joy comes in the morning. I am greeted by those lovely brown faces, eyes bright like sunshine. I am given ginger tea, warm but sweet on my lips and tongue. We eat toast with butter, a yellow that is warm and cozy. Reminding me of home. Welcoming me to a new home, a new family.
     We sing together and offer songs to the Lord. There is something holy that I am discovering about seeking His presence in the morning. He is here in our midst, loving, relishing the adoration of His little ones... the rubbish of the world that He sets apart as diamonds. Oh, He is here. I listen to their voices and learn how to worship. I listen to their words and learn how to pray.
     The day continues. Trying to help with chores is like trying to pull teeth from a lion. I insist. She gives in. I can rinse out the dishes. I smile and thank her. Something small. Sometimes the holiest moments come from the littlest acts of worship. The day is still filled with laughter and music. I braid hair and pray blessings over them... finally understanding in a small way what it means to pray without ceasing.
      Lunch is served. My fingers are becoming more accustomed, more stable as I eat my potato and okra. My yellow chapata scoops up the leftovers my fingers could not. We rest together. We learn to communicate. We grow.

Your skin, oh yeah your skin and bones, Turn into something beautiful...
     We sit together as the sun begins to fade from its bright yellow. We sing more. We share our stories. Rejection, abandonment, hurts, sickness, betrayal... a common thread no matter the shade of the hands and face. We speak blessing and healing. We speak life. I place my hands on her head and hand as water drops spill from eyes and down cheeks... brown and white cheeks. We cry out to God together, my voice and her heart. Our tears mix... I am learning how to cry, to let the tears go, a real gift for someone like me. I am learning so much.
     You are loved by the King of kings, called His daughter, His precious child. He chose you. He wants you. The words fall from my lips. Brokenness exchanged for healing. We begin to heal... she and I. Believing in a God of restoration. A bruise turns yellow when it has almost healed. Sweet girl, the yellow is coming, and all things will be made new. Yellow dispells the black. Light overcomes the dark.
     We return home with hugs and kisses before we leave. Leaving hearts behind. How like God to use his treasures to polish each other, to bestow crowns of love and grace upon one another. Healing. Restoration. Wholeness. Holiness. Joy comes in the morning. Light comes in the morning. Yellow.

D'you know? For you I bleed myself dry? For you I bleed myself dry...
     I noticed her sitting by the wall by herself. "Speak life over her", He whispered. I began to braid her hair, and I prayed over her. I spoke life.

"Auntie are you praying?"
"Yes I am. For you."
"Oh. My mother?"
"Yes baby, I will pray for your mother".

I spoke life over her mother as we sat together in a rare stillness. Salvation. Healing. Peace. God, thank you for the honor. To be let in to just a little. The chance to offer what I can. The chance to use my hands and my heart to love.
     Couldn't I do this in the States? Why go all the way to India?
     Dear friends, if only I could make you see. Yes, I can pray over someone in the States... anywhere. But this is the God I serve... a God who calls and beckons us to run towards the light, bringing everyone we can with us. He invites us to touch and taste and feel. He invites us to glow with the brightness of His fire, rather than remain in our own black coldness. If the only reason I flew over the ocean is to pray for this one child, then it is worth it. If I can give her just a glimpse of His love for her... a love so great that He would bring someone across the earth just to love her, this dear girl whom the world considers unworthy but who is so jealously loved by the God who made her.  Dear friends, a soul is always worth it. Saying yes is always worth it. She is always worth it.
     Sometimes we run away from the light because we like our darkness. We are afraid that stepping in will hurt, expose the black filth that must be cast away. Further... stepping into the light forces us to see those still in darkness who need the light. And then we must do something. We cannot look away.

     The darkness is an empty hell. The light is streets of gold, brilliant color, a warmth that comforts and does not oppress.  He is in the light.

     Run to the yellow.

Look at the stars. Look how they shine for you, and everything you do. And they were all yellow....