A place of colors, rich culinary heritage, lush landscapes, cross-cultural intellect and talent: these all describe the beautiful country of India. Yet according to a 2018 study by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, it’s the most dangerous country in the world for women — rated on factors of health care, cultural traditions, discrimination, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, and human trafficking.
In response, a Chennai and Kolkata-based nonprofit that focuses on empowering women (who must remain anonymous to protect their work), continues tirelessly in their anti-sex trafficking, anti-sexual harassment, and anti-gender based violence campaigns. For our six-member team, India was the place where God’s call of making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) and doing justice (Micah 6:8) in conjunction with this non-profit coalesced.
First up: the non-profit’s fundraising gala. Attending provided us a chance to meet their local supporting community and learn about their story, ongoing projects, and future hopes. We were encouraged by the success of their silent auction, put together by items purchased with the help of our supporters (that’s you!).
Our first few days included joining rehabilitation programs for girls and women who had been rescued from the sex trade. This spanned two gatherings: an outreach event at a women’s hostel and an afternoon at the non-profit’s office spent with girls receiving counseling. While we came prepared with testimony sharing, an art therapy activity, and dance and song, there were surprises as well. From the girls’ eye-popping reactions when we brought out the gel pens to their deep gazes when posing for portraits — these were just a few of our humbling moments.
We exchanged stories, we laughed, we danced, and we drew. Despite the language barrier, our shared humanity led to organic interactions. The Rehabilitation Director revealed that she had never seen the girls relax and open up as they did that day.
New day, new gears. We drove four hours from Chennai to a countryside school to teach ESL to the local elementary, middle, and high schoolers. As it is with kids, a day of enthusiasm and unbridled curiosity ensued. We came with lesson plans, children’s books, and craft supplies. We left with humidity sweat stains and renewed senses of joy.
In Kolkata, we visited the offices and factories of social enterprises to hear how they bridged business and social justice. Both the businesses we visited employ women (previously in the sex trade) in jewelry crafting and apparel and textile production. The employment provides holistic rehabilitation services through professional training, health insurance, and community. We see these types of products often in the US. But to see and to sit next to the women producing these works of art — that’s exposure that instills purpose for purchase.
Additionally, we spent two days in Kolkata’s slums and red light districts. We first visited an area called Kalighat. Our time there was led by two women from Estonia and Russia who had already begun outreach efforts in the community. In small bare rooms, we shared prayer and communion with a few local women (prayer in Bengali is a sound to behold). Our leaders led us through the neighborhood to invite kids to our art workshop and check in with families through their existing relationships. Residents regularly invited us in to eat and drink with them — though they possessed little, they gave generously.
The art activities were a rowdy time. Whatever rooms we could find were packed to the brim and overflowing with kids, bursting with life and energy. Gone were careful instructions and guided steps; the existing lack of resources gave us an eye-opening lesson of how different our worlds were.
While Kalighat held glimmers of hope, it was another story to walk through Sonagachi. As India’s largest red light district, it contains several hundred brothels and 11,000 sex workers. Words cannot express the experience of walking through dark spiritual forces and oppressive groping eyes on all sides. Yet consequently, it’s space for the most hope and most justice to come.
Isn’t that what life is about? Our entire existence directs us to missions, to bringing hope and light to people and places that lack it. Indeed, doing justice is conditional to the call of Christ (Micah 6:8). In our case, it led us to the women and men, the deeply inbred and unjust industry of sex trafficking, and the spiritual forces of India. We hope our team’s stories will convict you to consider joining future teams.
Sex, abused, destroys the soul. But Christ, illuminated — renews the world.