Full-Time Ministry is Not an Occupation

After raising support and being in full time ministry, I have had a hard time adjusting to living a seemingly “normal” life at home in Jacksonville Florida, studying for my masters and working as a nanny.  But during this time, God has shown me what it really means to do full time ministry.  We have used that term to describe people who have an occupation in the church, missions, or with Christian organizations.  But in reality, if we follow Christ, we are always in full time ministry.  The whole of creation is groaning for reconciliation with our God and as Christians, we are given the ministry of reconciliation.  As it says in 2 Corinthians 5: 17-20: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  He makes all things new through the redemption established by Christ and carried out by Christians as his ambassadors with the ministry of reconciliation. 

What does living a life committed to the ministry of reconciliation look like?  While I don’t think there is a simple or universal answer for what this looks like for each person, I do think there are a few general guidelines. I will just touch one the one aspect that the Lord has been teaching me.  God has been gently leading me to live openhandedly as though He is fully sovereign, meaning everything belongs to Him and is under His control.  It is not easy for me to live in such openhanded, reliance on God.  But he has drawn me deeper in my trust and love for Him and gently pried my hands open from the things I held onto too tightly.

Open handedness with our lives in light of God’s sovereignty means more than just being willing to be generous.  Openhandedness means letting go of your dreams and expectations for how your life was going to pan out.  It means being content in the circumstances God has placed you in, knowing that He has your best interest in mind and is doing everything possible to draw you in closer to Himself.  I thought by now I would have a job with a salary, live on my own, and be engaged.  Instead, I live with my parents, work as a part time nanny, and am entering my late twenties as a single woman.  Needless to say I have struggled with feelings of discontent and frustration that my life does not look how I thought it would at this point.  These feelings have been perpetuated by the norms of the world, by the lives of my friends and even my younger sister who have established jobs or marriages already. But when I compare myself to others or the standard timeline the world presents, I lose sight of what is truly important, which is growing deeper with God in his likeness and freedom.  I have realized the hard truth that God is jealous and will do anything to draw me deeper in Him.  His jealousy is not the evil kind that we see in the world.  Rather God’s jealousy is a longing for us to grow deeper with Him for our betterment.  His jealousy is that He desires us to become more like Him and more in love with Him, which is always in our best interest. This means that I may never have the circumstances that I thought I would because ultimately, God will shape my life in a way that allows me to experience greater depth in Him.  And honestly, I am so glad that he doesn’t give me what I want, or what I thought I wanted.  Living openhandedly with God means that I have given all of my dreams, hopes and circumstances to Him, trusting that He will shape my life for my betterment and His glory.  As I have grown in this, I am more content and free now than I ever have been, which is only by God’s grace.  While I have not achieved my dream job or met Mr. Right, I have had a perspective change to see that thankfully, God’s ways are not my ways; they are better. 

In this past year, many of my friends have experienced difficulties and hardships as their lives did not play out the way they thought either.  But each of them have walked out of their situations understanding more of God’s goodness and growing deeper in trust of Him.  This is not to say that they fully understand their situations or why they happened but that in spite of the confusion and pain, they know that God is good.  This is living openhandedly with God and allowing Him to really be the Lord of their lives. 

This openhandedness is also about material things as well.  Everything belongs to God, given and taken away by Him for His ultimate glory.  This does not make Him selfish or cruel because again, as John Piper says, He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.  I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of my friends, family, and supporters in the past few years which has given me a better understanding of God’s undeserving grace and goodness.  I want to thank each and every one of you for your generosity in my life that has encouraged me to live more openhandedly.  By living more generously, trusting God to provide, I have found incredible freedom and joy.  I no longer feel like I have to make it on my own, financially or in other ways.  As the church, the body of Christ, I love seeing Christians reach out and trust God in their giving, embracing the Kingdom family with loving arms.  God has placed needs in front of me to give to when I opened my hands and released what is not mine anyway.  There is such joy in giving.  If anyone needs suggestions for ways to invest in the kingdom, please email me (khart1238@gmail.com) and I will gladly share some of the needs that I know of.  Living a life of full time ministry is for all Christians, in all walks of life, to share the joy of going deeper with Christ and loving the world as He did and does.

I just wanted to share what the Lord has been doing in my life and what he has been teaching me. Thank you for reading, if you got this far, and I hope that you will walk away encouraged. 

God bless!

Here are some photos from my recent visit to India mentioned in my last blog post.  Some of these are from my time with the Delhi House Society community development team and the others are of my friend Preeti’s wedding and my visit with Pranitha’s new baby boy David!

Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! 

Considering my last blog was in June, I think it might be time for an update.  Let me start by thanking all of you for your continued prayer and support as I continue to follow God’s leading in my life.  After my internship with Rethreaded in June I began my two year online graduate program through Eastern University pursuing a masters in International Development. My program is in Tony Campolo’s School for International Service, the same school where Shane Claiborne studied.  Since his book Irresistible Revolution was instrumental in igniting my passion for the poor, I am extremely honored to be studying in the same school.  I have 11 other classmates in my cohort and incredible God fearing professors that I get the opportunity to engage with face to face three weeks out of the year in July when I go up to Phili for residency. 

After completing my first residency this past July, I got to travel back to India and visit the friends I made during my time in IJM.  It was such a blessing to be in the office again reconnecting with my old coworkers.  I even got to attend the wedding of my dear friend and old desk-neighbor Preeti and see a new baby of my friend Pranitha.  I also had the opportunity to visit a community development organization called Delhi House Society in Delhi where I learned about their various projects and took photos for their Facebook and webpage. They are doing amazing work with three main slum communities offering schools, vocational training, self-help groups, and health services.  Since my trip, I have been working as a part time nanny and studying while living at home in Jacksonville Florida.

Let me try to briefly explain why I have chosen to pursue my masters in International Development.  When I worked with IJM helping to free and rehabilitate survivors of human trafficking, I began to understand many of the roots of modern day slavery in third world countries.  Many of the people that fall victim to human trafficking simply did not know their rights, how to advocate for themselves, how to read and write, and lacked other basic resources that we in America often take for granted.  It deeply saddened me that people had fallen into generational slavery partially as a result of lacking these basic skills and understandings.  There are many reasons that people fall into human trafficking but I began to see some of the ways that this kind of oppression could be prevented and counteracted through development efforts. 

International development can encompass a broad spectrum of tasks such as changing policies, working at the community level to empower women through self-help groups and micro financing, economic development, infrastructure development such as digging wells, and much more. I do not know exactly what area or country I want to work in but I do know that I want to learn how to empower indigenous people to help themselves and bring development to their communities. I want to work in development not just so that they can have better standards of living but so that they may be free to truly experience the love and sovereignty of God.  How can people believe that God is good and experience his love when they spend all their waking hours trying to find their next meal?  So I decided after much prayer and seeking that a masters in International Development was the best next step to prepare me for what God has next in my life. During my second year in the program, I am required to work internationally for a few months which will most likely be an internship of some kind.  I feel incredibly blessed to have the ability to pursue my masters degree and know that it is not simply for my benefit but so that I can be more effective for God’s work. 

Since the start of my program, I have been introduced to the biblical concept of Shalom, which in my opinion sums up what drew me into the work of International Development.  Shalom does not simply mean peace or a lack of violence but a rightness of relationships as God intended them to be in four main areas; relationship with God, with each other, with ourselves, and with creation.  In Robert Linthicum’s book, Transforming Power, he wrote, “But we are called to be a foretaste of that kingdom, a model of it in our life together, and to work toward God’s creation of that shalom community by being involved in empowerment of our people as we together confront the political systems of oppression and greed, equitable distribution of wealth so that there will be no poor among us, relationship with God and each other through Jesus Christ” (p.190).  You have all joined me in being a foretaste of God’s kingdom to the oppressed in this world through your prayers and support over the last few years.  I hope you will continue to hold me in your prayers as I study and prepare to go back out into the world wherever God calls me.

May God bless you in this new year! 

You supported me when I served at IJM and I want to pass this opportunity along for you to continue supporting their incredible work of freedom and restoration!  Some of the photos seen here were taken by me :)  

I am so proud of my Chennai Family in this incredible rescue!  Read the story to find out more about the freedom brought through the office I served in!  Praise God!

Check out this article that my friend Curt Devine wrote about me in Sojourner’s magazine!  It talks about my journey for justice that was made possible by the grace of God and the support you have all shown!

The Work of Justice Compelled By the Gospel of Love

"I dreamed a dream" is the song sung by Fantine, a lead role in Les Miserables who was abused by a man, shunned by her community, and forced into prostitution as a last resort to keep her child alive.  What gets me the most about her song is the line “I dreamed that God would be forgiving” followed by “Now life has killed the dream I dreaded.”  Her heartbreaking circumstances led her to believe that God had abandoned her in a living hell.  That he did not see her fit for his grace.  That he is not good.  

After my two internships with IJM and now Rethreaded, I have seen many of heartbreaking stories; stories of abuse, neglect, exploitation, and suffering.  I am blessed to have worked on the rehabilitation side of these stories, the side of freedom and restoration.  But the facts remain.  While my office in South Asia has rescued over 4,000 slaves, an estimated 27 million are still enslaved around the world.  While I have seen women experience healing and redemption at Rethreaded, there are still many more walking the streets of Phillips highway or being trafficked and exploited.  How can God be good with all of this heartbreak and suffering?

After much thought and prayer I came to the conclusion that God IS good.  He reveals his goodness through a loving relationship with Him and through loving relationships with each other.  Another beautiful line from Les Miserables is “To love another person is to see the face of God”.  So how can those suffering believe that He is good?  This can only happen when we choose to show them His goodness through acts of love by meeting their physical and spiritual needs.  The supernatural grace and love of Christ reaches into their darkness offering healing and restoration.  

I have seen this happen at both IJM and Rethreaded!  I have seen the power of love and sacrifice that allows those suffering to believe in the goodness of God.  I threw in the word sacrifice because these acts of love are not easy.  My coworkers at IJM did not just work a 40 hour week but chose to be on call at all times.  If a rescue took 3 days, they were there.  If a rescued family had a daughter in the hospital, they were there.  Rain or shine, weekends or afterhours, they were there.  They sacrificed so that people would finally get a glimpse of the goodness of God.  My coworkers at Rethreaded never really leave work either. They physically leave the building but are constantly networking and advocating for the women at Rethreaded.  They know that their dedication will lead to others seeing the goodness of God.  I am not promoting becoming a workaholic and I do not consider those mentioned above be. I am simply trying to paint a picture of the kind of dedication God calls his people to when he calls them to show his goodness.  It calls for flexibility and giving of ourselves even without a paycheck.  It is a lifestyle, not a job. 

My friend Beth came and spoke at Rethreaded about her experience serving in India.  She said that she went to India to work with victims of the sex trade because she wanted to work among the people that had the hardest time believing that God was good.  Many women suffering in the sex trade think as Fantine did, they can’t believe in the goodness of God because no one has ever shown them. 

In the beginning  God foresaw all the suffering that would take place and yet said, “It is good.”  How God can not only be good but also say that this world is good?  I think when looking at the immense suffering, this is a hard question to answer.  But the world does not consist of suffering alone.  Suffering is simply part of the equation.  God longs to take our suffering and turn it into gladness bringing freedom and redemption for all through his unfailing love. God takes our ashes and turns them into beauty.  The world is good not because of the suffering but because of the constant outpour of God’s love as he redeems and restores.  

I am pursuing a master’s degree in international development.  My aim is to bring development to the world, meeting the needs of the suffering in a sustainable and life giving way.  But I know that there will be many times of failure.  There will be many times that programs fail and great ideals are lost in reality.  Many times that what I want for someone will not be what they chose for themselves. But I have hope because through my work, I will bring the gospel.  If people receive the love of Christ through my work and yet my program fails, they have experienced true life. This is a concept I began to grasp through IJM but was further developed by working with Kristin Keen.  The mission of Rethreaded is not to save women from the sex trade by offering alternative employment. While this is part of what we do the mission is to LOVE all those affected by the sex trade through relationships and community. The priority is to share the love of Christ.  Kristin created this mission recognizing that programs mail fail but the love of Christ will always be life changing.  

As my time at Rethreaded is coming to a close, I believe this is the most important lesson I have learned.  I have seen how the act of loving has been more life changing than the actual business.  Even when sales are down, people are transformed.  The staff, the volunteers, those who come to Rethreaded events, everyone involved with the organization has experienced the love of Christ in a life changing way.  Let me clarify one last thing.  Love is not just a word but an action.  Sharing the love of Christ means meeting someone’s physical and spiritual needs.  The business of Rethreaded has extreme significance but the priority is love.  I am blessed to have been a part of that mission and will take this thought wherever I go; Christ’s love is the only real way to being lasting change to those who are suffering in the world.  

Thank you to all of my supporters who have helped me bring God’s kingdom to Jacksonville through my work at Rethreaded and who have helped me understand the love of Christ in a new way.

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Here is a picture of my boss Kristin Keen and I matching at work.  This has become a more frequent occurance which I can only hope is her rubbing off on me :)

Letting Go of My Calling

Today, I wrote a letter to myself.  Sound s strange I know but the new church I am attending, Church of Eleven 22, had the congregation write letters to ourselves about how our hope in Christ would impact our lives over the next 6 months.  With my memory, I am excited to read what I had to say to myself in 6 months because I can almost guarantee I will not remember what I wrote.  As I wrote this letter, I thought about what I hope my life will look like in 6 months.  With my internship at Rethreaded wrapping up in June, I am searching for a career in program design for community development.  I will hopefully have a salary paid job in my field of interest and be excelling in grad school.  But those are the things that I want.  Are they bad?  No.  But what if God has something else planed that doesn’t fit my mold of what a successful and godly life looks like for myself?  Let me explain.

I have grown up with the mentality that I need to pursue MY calling, or God’s calling on MY life.  There is a lot of pressure with the idea that I need to figure out what God is calling me to do and pursue it and do it well.  I don’t know if you are catching on but this mentality means that my hope is in myself, MY ability to figure out what God wants for ME specifically and MY ability to carry it out.  After all, God calls me because he has designed me with abilities and skills to carry out my purpose right? 

This year has been one full of the pressure of figuring out God’s will for my life.  What am I good at and how can I find the career and degree that will allow me to be used the most for God?  The problem with all of this is that it is not MY calling.  It is not My life.  The God of the universe has a master plan to pour out his love onto his children and have intimate relationships with each one where he is glorified in their fulfillment in him.  Basically I think that God chooses to reveal his love to the world in ways that don’t always make sense and that cannot be planned.  The God I serve is unpredictable yet unwaveringly good.  How can I fit an unpredictable God in a mold of finding my calling and carrying it out?  What if I had the wrong definition of my calling?

I watched a movie last night called “Jeff, who lives at home”.  The movie is about Jeff, a 30 year old pothead who lives in his mom’s basement.  Despite Jeff’s unproductive lifestyle according to the world’s standards, he is very much at peace (not just because of the pot).  Jeff wakes up to what seems to be a wrong-number phone call with a stranger yelling for him to find Kevin.  Instead of blowing it off, he spends the day looking for Kevin.  You see, Jeff lives with the mentality that there is a greater purpose to the universe and he is supposed to find Kevin today.  He doesn’t know if he can help Kevin at all.  He just knows Kevin is important, and he needs to find him.  He has no idea what he will do when he finds him but believes that the higher power will guide him as he goes.  As he follows the name Kevin, he ends up continually at the right place at the right time so that he can minister to people along the way.  He ends up saving his relationship with his brother, his brother’s marriage, and the lives of a father and his two daughters.  All this happened because he chose to “blindly” follow the direction of a higher power.  I believe God works much like this.  He doesn’t always tell us where we are going or how he is going to use us.  He just asks us to take a step forward where he leads and he will use us in whatever situation in which we find ourselves. 

What if our calling in life was simply to be in the presence of the Lord and put our hope in him?  From there, he will direct the rest.  Besides, it’s HIS plan anyway.  The funny thing is, most of the people I admire who are being used in amazing ways for the Lord didn’t get a degree to do what they do.  My boss Kristin Keen, founder of Rethreaded, studied nutrition and has now helped start two non-profits that are giving women freedom all around the world.  Moses didn’t get a degree in leadership or public speaking to be used to lead the Israelites.  Kristin and Moses just opened themselves up to the leading of the Lord and he empowered them.  With that said, I am starting Graduate school in May in an online program through Eastern University for a masters in International Development.  I am not saying that this degree is by any means futile because I firmly believe the Lord has led me this route.  What I mean is that people do not have to get degrees or have an extensive resume to be used by God.  He can use the well educated and trained just as much as he can use the inexperienced and who didn’t graduate high school.  The way that he leads each one is unique and fits perfectly into his master plan. 

 I don’t think there is a cookie cutter way to do anything when it comes to following the Lord.  I do think there is one common factor: resting in the assurance of his presence daily.  In His presence, he will lead you day by day.  This sounds too simple.  Yet I can tell you that I feel like I have wasted the last 8 months, maybe my whole life, chasing after MY calling and feeling anxious and frustrated in current situations and fearful that I’m not doing enough.  Did my circumstances surprise God?  No!  I now believe that those same circumstances that seemed confusing  and frustrating were God ordained for that time.  And I blindly kept searching for something else instead of resting in his presence and taking in the incredible blessings of that day!  There is so much freedom when the pressure of finding my calling is lifted and I rest in the knowledge that he will lead me through His presence.  My degree and career are His not mine.  The pressure is gone!  Will I still try?  Of course!  I will do everything as unto the Lord.  But there is freedom knowing that it is HIS and not MY calling.

I will close with one last thought.  A friend told me that the ancient Chinese belief was that the heart, one of the only organs not controlled by the brain, functioned by a direct mandate from heaven.  It received a heavenly mandate, and then the blood carries it out throughout the body.  When people say, “Follow your heart” that meant “Follow the direct mandate from heaven”.  In every decision, I aim to follow my heart, my direct mandate from heaven that I will be able to discern by spending time in HIS presence.

“My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.”

                -Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Testify

"He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”      Psalm 107:2

I’ve been back in the USA for a little over 3 months. Crazy how time flies.  I thought it might be a good time for an update.  

I have loved having pumpkin spice lates with my mom, beautiful fall colors, actual chills in the air, and wearing my pretty scarves that I bartered down to $10.  But being back has been a roller coaster of experiences and emotions.  I say “back” and not “back HOME” because the saying “Home is where the heart is” has taken on a whole new meaning for me.  My heart is in India, here in Jacksonville Florida, and for people around the world.  My heart has also been continuously ripped open more and more for those that suffer different issues that break God’s heart.  So I am home as long as I am where God’s heart is, and currently for me, that’s in Jacksonville, Florida.  

I am working at an nonprofit called Rethreaded as the Advocacy Coordinator intern.  Rethreaded’s vision is to “Love all affected by the sex trade by fostering relationships and life giving community.”  The mission is to fight a business that exploits with a business that dignifies.  Rethreaded does this in two ways.  The first is that we hire women who have been affected by the sex trade here in Jacksonville to become seamstresses, making products out of up-cycled T-shirts.  They are sewing a new story by making beautiful new products, starting with a children’s line of clothing.  The first three women will be hired on November 5. At Rethreaded, we define the sex trade as pornography, strip clubs, prostitution, and sex trafficking.  Every study that we have seen shows that 65-95% of women in the sex trade have suffered from a background of abuse.  We believe that no little girl wants to be in prostitution when she grows up.  Whether or not she has chosen to enter the trade, she has been led to it by abuse and desperation of some kind.  In a study done in California, 92% of women in prostitution said they wanted to leave prostitution, but couldn’t because they lack basic human services such as a home, job training, health care, counseling and treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.   So that is why Rethreaded exists, to provide jobs and training for women to come out of the sex trade and to break the cycle so that they don’t return.  We hope to offer them a chance to thrive in their freedom through a loving and safe environment with sustainable work and job skill training. The second way that Rethreaded fulfills it’s vision is by importing with 8 different freedom companies around the world that employ women coming out of the sex trade such as Freeset, Sari Bari, Love Calcutta Arts, and Isanctuary. Part of my role as an intern is to host Home Parties and events where I raise awareness of the issue and offer people a chance to get involved either through volunteer opportunities or purchasing our products.

What I love about my job is not the sales, the webdesign, the events, but the advocacy.  I find so much joy in seeing others becoming educated and empowered to fight the issue of human trafficking.  I have seen human trafficking with my own eyes when I worked for IJM in South Asia.  It is a horrific practice that should and can be stopped.  In my office alone, approximately 4,000 people had been released from modern day slavery in the last ten years.  After witnessing the oppression and freedom firsthand, I believe that I am back in the US for the purpose of testifying to the world. I have been sharing my experiences with people and explaining that freedom and restoration for victims is possible because I witnessed it firsthand.  Not only in my internship at IJM, but also in my personal life.  

When I was in South Asia, God freed me from sin and brokenness that had crippled me for years. Since I have been home, he has continued to restore my brokenness and show me his heart for me.  I realized that my behavior and struggles stemmed from a brokenness that Christ alone could redeem.  I turned to relationships, activities, and attention to fill a void in my life that Christ alone could fill.  He lifted me up, wiped the dirt from my face, and showed me that I am his beloved who he gave his life to redeem.  It has not been easy, but Christ has made me a new creation and made me whole in Him.  Since then, I have not been able to keep my story of transformation a secret.  And I have seen how sharing my story, the ugly and the beautiful, offers hope to those who desperately want Christ’s redemption.

That is why I am so joyful to be working at Rethreaded.  Yes, I am unpaid, drive 30 minutes everyday to work, and there is not a single day that passes where I don’t desperately miss South Asia.  But I get to share stories of hope for the victims around the world and of what God did in me.  While my purpose in Jacksonville is different than it was when I was in South Asia, it is just as impactful.  My purpose is to testify.

Thank you for reading my blogs and joining this incredible journey with me.  I am not sure what is next, grad school for community development, more missions, or something I can’t even imagine yet.  But for now, I am right where God wants me, at Rethreaded.

"He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”            Psalm 40:3


P.S.If you are interested in learning more about the issue, I would like to recommend reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof.  This book discusses many of the issues dealt by women around the world and includes organizations that are working to fight the injustice.  The book functions as a great awareness tool while also offering ways to get involved.  Also, rent Whistleblower and Nefarious.  These films offer realistic depictions of human trafficking.  Check out Rethreaded’s website at www.Rethreaded.com. Thanks for reading!

I’m Back!

After a 30 hour flight spent mostly crying and watching the Best Exotic Merigold Hotel* multiple times, I am finally back home in the USA.  The flight was extremely eventful and humorous now looking back but not the kind of story I would share on a blog.  If you want a good laugh, ask me about the story another time and I will gladly tell you.  Now begins the period known as readjustment, reverse culture shock, which is actually interesting considering that I spent the majority of my life here and now I have to adjust to it.  It’s been a challenge reconciling the two worlds that I now know and love with each other.  I used to use a normal average nokia cell phone, but now I have joined the world of smartphones by purchasing and Iphone.  That alone is a whole different world in and of itself.  Cars drive in their respective lanes and honking is considered rude.  The American version of spicy food barely alerts my taste buds and eating with your hands is no longer an acceptable practice.  Even though using my left hand for things is not considered rude anymore, I still feel really awkward whenever I use it.  I find myself responding to people in Tamil, which generally results in blank stares.  Adjusting is a process.  Part of that process is reflecting on what God has shown me and brought me though this past year and figuring out how to apply those things here in a completely different world.  But one thing that I’ve learned is that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that he doesn’t just stay in one place, which I am so thankful for.

I want to briefly discuss an incredible experience I had before leaving.  I went on my third rescue operation.  In this operation, we went to two different facilities, a rice mill and rock quarry, rescuing 32 people from slavery!  It was one of the hardest sights I saw for two main reasons.  The first facility, the rice mil, had a two week old baby.  The mom had given birth in the facility and was given no maternity leave or time to take care of the child.  She was working when we entered the facility literally less than two weeks after her baby girl was born.  We find the baby in a tiny room that they called home left to lay on a piece of cloth all day while the rest of the family worked.  She was covered in flies and left alone.  This poor mother was not allowed to tend to her child but was forced to work all day.  Her face was expressionless and she seemed like all hope had left her.  The second facility had two small 7 year old girls working alongside their parents in the hot sun breaking rocks with sledge hammers all day.  Not only were they forced to do excruciatingly difficult manual labor in the hottest part of the day, but they were denied the chance to enjoy their childhood or receive an education.  Luckily, the government official saw them working with his own eyes and without a second thought, granted them their freedom.  These two situations broke my heart.  I was angered and saddened to see these people stripped of all humanity and treated as slaves.  I am so thankful for the chance to play a small role in eradicating the horrifying practice of bonded labour that denies mothers the chance to care for their children and strips away childhoods and chances for a hopeful future.  Being my last rescue operation, the official let me hand one of the labourers their release certificate that granted their freedom.  This document says that their debt has been canceled and they are no longer slaves to anyone.  It was a powerful moment for me as I handed her the document which meant that she had a new hope for her future, a fresh start.  I am so thankful that the same God who has redeemed me from a life of slavery to sin was able to use me to redeem his children in South Asia from a life of literal slavery.  Over the last ten years, the office I worked in has rescued almost 4,000 individuals from slavery and that number continues to grow.

So how am I making these worlds collide?  Well, the mission is never over.  God calls us to be his hands and feet across the world and in our home towns.  In South Asia, the needs are often more evident than they are in the USA.  That’s not to say that there are not needs here as well.  And that is what I am slowly discovering, the needs in those around me here in Jacksonville.  I am learning how to rely on his strength every day to be a blessing to those around me whether it is my sisters or a stranger that I just started talking to.

I want to thank you all for following my blog this last year and for being a part of the incredible work God did in me and through me in South Asia.  I hope you have enjoyed the adventure with me.  Now that I am back, I am searching for ways to stay connected to the work of IJM and the mission of God’s heart.  I am continuing to follow IJM’s website and prayer updates and also heighten my awareness of the issue of trafficking here in the USA.  I hope that you will to stay connected to this mission as well and seek the ways God wants to continue to use you in this world.  As mentioned in my post the Scar on My Heart, I will never stop praying for South Asia and God’s work there and hope that you do the same.  I am looking into the next step for myself as well, working for the rehabilitation of sex trafficking victims in the US.  Nothing is certain yet, but I have two leads into voluntary positions at non profits here in Florida.  Please keep me in your prayers as I discern God’s voice and take the next step of faith.  Thank you again for all of your support!

For all of you in South Asia, I miss you so much and am praying for you daily!  I can’t wait until we meet again someday.

*The Best Exotic Merigold Hotel is a movie set in South Asia which is why I watched it so many times, to feel connected to the place I just left.   

Lungi Dance

As I wrote in my last post, I truly loved learning and being a part of the South Asian culture.  Here is an example of that in a typical dance choreographed by my friend Ravi and edited by Sean and Jenny.  Enjoy!

The Scar on My Heart

3 weeks left. I can’t believe that this amazing year is almost over and I will be returning home to the sunshine state where toilet paper is readily available and I can tell people my name without having them think I’m saying my religion. But as I prepare to leave, I do so with a permanent “South Asia” scar on my heart. I will cherish this country and its people for the rest of my life, remembering them in my prayers and hoping to one day return. So why has this country made such an impact on my heart? Oh, where do I begin.

As I mentioned before, when I first arrived, I was expecting an American version of South Asia. I was shocked by the chaotic traffic, lack of crosswalks, toilet practices, and the way my fingers became the only utensil in every meal. But now, almost 11 months later, these same things that shocked me have become normal and expected. The sound of horns blaring no longer startles me. I can sleep through a wide variety of noises, including obnoxiously loud wedding parades on my neighborhood street. The head bobble has become a perfectly acceptable mode of communication and fixed prices make for a boring day of shopping. I have started saving every leftover, even if just three bites, and arguing over 10 rupees to squeeze the most value out of every purchase. While I’m not sure if anyone really adjusts to the heat, I have accepted a constant state of sweating as the norm. As I adjusted to this very different way of life, I began to fall in love with this country.

My roommate, Rachel, mentioned that she loves how much life there is here. And I couldn’t agree more. No matter what time of day or night, you can find people everywhere engaged in conversation. Men gather around tea shops and women gather around their front doors and discuss anything and everything. Most of the free time is spent visiting different family members and sharing meals together. Never before have I met more hospitable people or seen value placed so highly on simply conversing for hours. Anytime you walk into someone’s home, and even sometimes a store, they offer you a drink or a cup of chai. When a guest arrives, the whole family will drop what they are doing to gather in the common room to greet them. If you need anything, people jump at the opportunity to help in any way that they can. Not only is there a strong social aspect of life, there is also the vibrant colors of the fabrics, the lively sounds of the music, and the energetic dances. In this part of South Asia, the lungi dance is very popular. The lungi is a typical dress for men and the dances usually involve very energetic movements. One of the best afternoons I’ve had was spent with my friend Ravi who helped a few of the interns choreograph a lungi dance to a Tamil song.

Many things here revolve around food, maybe as a part of the hospitable nature of this country. The two questions everyone asks are “Eppidi irake?” (How are you?) and “Soptingla?” (Have you eaten?) So naturally, my life has also revolved quite a bit around food. My favorite places in this city are restaurants, especially the ones on beautiful rooftops where breezes allow the heat to be forgotten and the busyness of the street is left far below. Every food is full of robust flavor and spices. I have attempted to cook only a few Indian dishes and hope to perfect at least one recipe before returning to the States. But if I don’t offer to cook for you when I come home, please don’t be offended because I’m probably doing you a favor.

A midst all of the life that is so prominent here, there is also so much darkness. People searching for meaning and hope find solace in rituals and superstitions. The lack of infrastructure produces a survival- type-mentality that causes people to pour into their families while sometimes ignoring social injustices around them. As I was thrown into this place that is overwhelmed with need, I have been encouraged to work for an organization like IJM that is making a difference one life at a time. Despite the overwhelming need around me, I get to go to work everyday bringing God’s hope to this country through the work of justice. I have seen the way God loves these people as he has opened up opportunities for our office to help them, redeemed lives of those victimized by bonded labour, and changed the hearts of government officials. His kingdom is advancing in this country in astounding ways. I have written and seen countless stories of people who were hopelessly trapped in slavery who are now living redeemed and fruitful lives in their newfound freedom. God is using his faithful servants at IJM to bring relief and restoration to his beloved children, and I have been blessed to play a part in it.

I recently went on my last rescue operation where 40 people were released from bondage in two different brick kilns.  One man who had been bonded for over 8 years had lost two of his children in the kiln.  Another woman fell face down on the ground begging the officials to get her out.  When I took their photos for their government forms, I asked them to “siringa”, smile in Tamil.  I think I say it incorrectly so they usually laugh at my pronunciation and enjoy my effort.  But three of the adults refused to smile.  A few hours later at the government office, after we had a chance to interact with them for a bit and drink some chai together, I tried taking their photos again.  This time, everyone smiled.  Literally in a matter of about three hours, joy had started to seep into their lives as God worked through the love of our staff.  I saw them become filed with hope as they began to realize their new freedom after almost a decade of bondage.  God heard their cries and moved his people at IJM to be his hands and feet, carrying out his justice.  

I have had a lot of time to reflect on this past year, the incredible work that I have been involved with, the wonderful relationships I have made, and the way God has shaped me to become more like him. I hope as I have shared a bit about my experiences in this country that you are able to understand why I will carry this nation on my heart. Thank you for your prayers and support that have made this year possible and that have been influential in the advancement of his kingdom in this beloved country.

Transformation

I recently had the surreal experience of hitting my 9 month mark on May 20th.  As I start to see the end approaching, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my time here and the HUGE ways God has been moving and transforming me and the world around me.  The theme of this post is the hope of transformation.  I’ve experienced this in my own life but also in the work around me and what God is doing here in South Asia.

As a member of the communications team, I get to be a part of the advocacy and structural transformation departments.  Structural Transformation is an IJM word so let me give a quick description of what it actually means.  The public justice system is broken; the law is not enforced, the cases don’t move in court, the labourers are not rescued.  It is not that there are not laws or systems in place to make justice a reality, but the system is broken.  Structural transformation means fixing the public justice system so that it will work to protect the vulnerable and oppressed.  It is a big task. The advocacy department, which I am a part of, works through trainings, media, and community events to create awareness and public and political will to fix the system and end bonded labour.  We have seen two big, transformational successes recently that I would like to share. 

In a city in the south, a government official who had attended and IJM training conducted a rescue operation on his own.  He rescued 42 labourers from slavery in a brick kiln and called IJM to ask for guidance on how to properly conduct the rescue and initiate the rehabilitation of the victims.  He used the Best Practices Manual that IJM had out together on how to enforce the law on bonded labour.  This is a huge success to see that as a result of our trainings, government officials are learning how to enforce the law and are actually doing it!  Check out the full story here: http://web.ijm.org/site/MessageViewer?em_id=19202.0&dlv_id=20243

Recognizing the media as a crucial tool for raising awareness and public and political will to take action on bonded labour, we work closely with them pitching stories and inviting them to our events.  Recently, one of the big newspapers here attended our Freedom Training and wrote an incredible article!  If you haven’t heard me mention it before, Freedom Training is a three day event that occurs shortly after rescue as the initiation of their two year rehabilitation program.  The labourers receive trainings on a variety of topics such as their fundamental rights, vocational opportunities, budgeting, and other basic life skills.  It is an incredible experience to witness these people who have been enslaved for years and sometimes generations realizing for the first time what it means to be free.  At this event, as they start to learn what it means to walk in their freedom, I am reminded of how God has freed us from our sin and calling us to walk in our freedom as well.  I don’t think I can express how beautiful this comparison is better than my roommate Rachel.  She described what she wants to tell the victims and compared it to what God wants to say to us.  She wrote:

This is what I long to share with our clients.  I want to say, “Please don’t fear anymore!  You are redeemed, you are the chosen ones.  We have summoned you out of slavery…by name.  We knew your names before we met you, we longed for your freedom and prayed for your freedom before we even saw you.” 

What a beautiful comparison.

The journalist captured the beauty of redemption after a life of bondage in his article.  This is a significant article because it is a direct result from our advocacy efforts as a member of the media saw the importance of the issue and was moved to write about it.  Here is a link to the article: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Exploited-labourers-tell-tales-of-torture/articleshow/13370544.cms

This month I had my first and probably only visitor.  My dad was able to make a trip over here and experience the craziness of South Asia!  He could not get over how insane the traffic was or how close vehicles got to me when I walked on the side of the road but most of all, how much honking there was.  It was funny because all of these things have become so normal to me now.  While he did have one day where his stomach could not handle the food, the rest of the trip was jam packed with fun and travels.  We did everything from touring ancient forts and seeing snake charmers to riding elephants and drinking tender coconuts on the side of the road.  But one of the best parts of our travels was seeing other NGO’s around the country working for justice in their own ways.  We visited 3 amazing NGO’s, Freeset, Destiny, and LCA (I can’t say the full name) who are all working towards rehabilitating girls coming out of sex trafficking through vocational training and experience.  Freeset started in early 2000 and has grown to now employ over 160 women!  Check out Freeset’s website: http://freesetglobal.com/  We got to hear incredible stories of girls who were given a second chance at life and a job that made them feel valued and independent.  Most women in the sex trade find it difficult to get other jobs even if they want to because of the stigma society places on them.  Here, they are taught how to make bags, journals, wallets and other handicrafts that are then sold in south Asia and around the globe! These organizations give them real, sustainable jobs and show them that they are valued members of society.  They are given a new sense of hope as their lives are literally transformed with a respectable job and people around them who care.  For those of you who live in Jacksonville, check out this store where you can actually purchase products from the NGO’s I visited as well as get involved in the cause of transformation though your purchases:  http://www.rethreaded.com/about-rethreaded

God’s transformative power blows me away. As I’ve noted, South Asia is experiencing this in so many ways, through the media, government initiated rescues and trainings, and vocational trainings and opportunities as alternatives to sex trafficking and bonded labour.  As I reflect on this past year, I’ve also seen his transformative power in my own life.  We have a biblestudy every Tuesday night and we are focusing right now on how we learn more about God when we learn more about ourselves.  This year, I’ve learned a lot about myself, my weaknesses and my strengths, what makes me tick and motivates me, and so much more.  Through each of these realization bout myself, I’ve learned even more about how God relates to me and who he truly is.  One of the biggest things I have learned is that God is my redeemer.  I’ve always known that in my head but through my experiences, I’ve come to really understand that he has and continues to redeem me.  Whether it be broken relationships that I could not see any way of mending or situations that looked impossible for me to get though successfully, he has shown up in powerful ways every time, accomplishing the seemingly impossible.  I feel like in some ways, being here for the last 9 months has fast tracked my spiritual growth because I’ve been thrown into something so completely different than anything I’ve ever known.  He’s stripped away familiarity and things that I thought I knew so that I could see him and myself more clearly. 

My dad visited our office and had the chance to share with the staff.  He spoke about how broken this world is and how no matter what we do to advance his kingdom, it just looks like another drop in the bucket.  The task of ending bonded labour is daunting to say the least.  We have rescued about 4,000 victims of slavery but there are about 4 million still trapped in slavery.  Yes, it seems impossible.  But this is God’s work.  Nothing is impossible for him.  Through him, the world is constantly being redeemed to himself and we are called to share in that mission.  Seeing the successes that I mentioned earlier with the government initiated rescue and the media writing that compelling article are small signs that transformation is happening in the public justice system.  What a hope I have as I witness his transformational power in my own life and in the world around me.

Celebrate New Life

While Easter day came and went, the celebration is far from over.  Last night I attended an Easter program presented by Christian Missions Charitable Trust.  This is an organization that does so much around South Asia serving the poor.  This particular program was presented by girls from the mission hostel as well as from the orphanage.  These girls were rescued from different situations and given a new chance at life.  Girls are often not highly valued here as seen by the high numbers of female infanticide.  Some of these girls in the mission are orphans.  Some are rescued from situations of poverty.  Each girl has her own story but they all share one in common; through this ministry, they are loved, educated, cared for, and given hope for their futures.  Attending this Easter performance brought tears to my eyes as I watched these girls singing of the joy of new life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ in light of the hope they had been given in their own lives.  I hope you enjoy the short clip of them singing of how Jesus lives.

Here is a link to the organization’s website: http://www.christianmissionsindia.com/index.htm

Myself and another intern are planning to start volunteering with this organization in our free time.  Please pray for the ministry of the CMCT and all of the girls involved.

Snapshots of South Asia