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 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.
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 :)
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
"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!
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.
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.
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.
The only thing I didn’t miss about Easter this year was peeps. Typically, my sisters and I put on our new bright Easter dresses and go to church as a family. This year, I tried to squeeze into churidar pants that didn’t quite fit my calves while my body was already sweating just 5 minutes after showering, and went to church alone. Of course I had friends at church that I met up with but it wasn’t the same. Every Easter my sisters and I practice a few traditions that I’m sure we are far too old for such as an egg hunt and finding Easter baskets around the house, cleverly hidden by my dad. Even the traditional flower, the Easter lily, was nowhere to be found this year. Despite all that seemed to be missing as I celebrated Easter, I actually found so much more depth and meaning to this Holy weekend. Since all of my usual traditions were stripped away, I was able to celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord with a new rawness. Christmas hadn’t felt at all like Christmas because I celebrated it on the beach in Thailand, not even attending church because there were none nearby. I decided I wanted to intentionally celebrate Easter in a different way. I actually never thought of Easter as that big of a deal. Since I enjoy the celebration of Christmas so much more, I would debate with my dad about which holiday was more important, Easter or Christmas. I would argue that without Christmas, Jesus would not have been alive to make Easter possible. I remember he would claim that the resurrection was the pivotal point of our faith because without it, none of Christ’s life would matter. Even though I knew he was right, I’ve never really taken the time to dwell on the importance of this holiday in my life as a believer. This year, with all of the distractions and traditions stripped away, I finally took the chance to experience the true meaning of Easter.
I’m not going to go in depth about what Easter means because you can get that information from apologetics books and your own pastors. But I want to share an experience God used to reveal the power of the crucifixion and resurrection in my own life. One of the other interns, Stephen, has an incredible ability to make friends absolutely everywhere he goes, on the train, in the ocean, and in this instance, at an Indian wedding. He randomly met a guy on a cruise before he moved here who happened to live in the same city where we work now. He invited Stephen to a wedding where he met the cousin of the brother of the groom, Paul, who is a strong believer. Why did I just give you all that random background? Because I think this story is a perfect example of divine connections. So Paul works in a tire company. Everyday, he prays before he goes into work, “Lord, help me share the gospel with someone today.” He has faithfully shared the gospel with his Hindu coworkers for months. A few have already accepted Christ and others have shown an interest in Jesus. Paul asked Stephen to join him in his efforts to share the gospel with his friends. He had planned a small get together on Good Friday where he had invited his Hindu coworkers who were interested in learning about Jesus and asked Stephen if he could bring a few friends to share their testimonies. He said, “What better time to share the gospel than on Good Friday?” So Stephen, our friend Ravi who is a Christian with a Hindu background, Bobbie, and myself went to his house on Friday. I didn’t really know what to expect or what I was going to share but God met us there in a powerful way. Paul shared the gospel and some clips from the passion of the Christ. As I was watching the clips that I had seen before, I was struck once again with the incredible love of Christ. I found myself brought to tears thinking of how Christ, the most innocent, pure, kindhearted, loving man of ALL time was ridiculed, mocked, falsely accused, and given the death of a murderer, all because he loved me. And this was the Hollywood version of what he endured, not even close to the horrific reality. As the Pharisee mocked Jesus saying, “He could save others but not himself” I thought of how painful those words would be. It would make Jesus look like his whole life had been fraudulent because he wasn’t really capable of saving anyone, even himself. And yet he never defended himself because he knew he had to die for the world. I thought of all the ways I had sinned or shown disobedience and how incredibly undeserving he was to take the blame for my stupid mistakes. As I thought of what I was going to share in my testimony, I was overwhelmed with the love and the perfection of the Jesus that saved me and continues to redeem me everyday. Through sharing my testimony and hearing the testimonies of my friends, the meaning behind Jesus’ death became so real. His death and resurrection has brought transformation to my own life and the lives of my friends who shared. Recalling the specific ways that Christ had saved each of us and raised us to new life made the story of his death so much more powerful.
All of the men who listened were very receptive of the gospel and our stories. At t he end, one man stayed behind saying that he didn’t want to leave. He was so overwhelmed with the gospel that he didn’t want anything else. I think he is either a new believer or in the process of committing his life to Christ. He shared a testimony of how he had a problem with his heart that would cause him to always be short of breath. He was supposed to have surgery but instead, he had Paul pray for him. Now, he said that his heart is completely healed. His relatives still want him to have the surgery just in case but he refuses saying, “I know God has healed me.” At almost every social function, cake and juice or coffee is served. So naturally, at the end of our meeting, while we watched the final scene of the Passion, cake and juice were served. One man told Paul the next day that he took the cake with him when he left. When someone asked him why he was not eating it, he said, “I just saw God beaten and murdered. How can I eat cake?” I’m not sure if the 7 men will commit their lives to Christ, but I know that they were given an incredible depiction of the gospel that they otherwise might not have ever heard if Paul hadn’t stepped out in faith.
Again on Easter Sunday, the four of us traveled with Paul to a village to share our testimonies, this time not with 7, but 40 Hindus who were interested in Jesus. Every week, Paul’s friend goes door to door sharing the gospel and inviting the villagers to his church if they want to learn more about the gospel. They have already had 21 baptisms and the interest is continuing to grow. It was such a joy again to share my testimony in light of the resurrection of Christ and to hear of his redeeming power in my friends’ lives as well. When the pastor asked who had been blessed by our stories, almost every hand went up! I was blown away that God had used my testimony to bless others 2 times in one weekend!
To sum up this long post, I want to say that my dad was right. The death and resurrection of Christ is the pivotal point of my faith. It was a very different Easter than I am used to. I thought to myself, what is Easter without my family traditions, coloring eggs and Easter bunnies? Oh did I find what a deeper meaning Easter held than my silly traditions! I will never again look at Easter the same way. Christmas may have more festivities but Easter holds a meaning incomparable to anything in this world. The love of a perfect savior, the victory of his resurrection, and the promise of new life in Him is quite the reason to celebrate. Happy Easter everyone!
This past month has been an eye opening time for me as I’ve seen more and more the oppression in this world. I’ve seen things that I have only read about in books. I’ve seen people oppress others with no regard for their humanity. I’ve seen the effects of extreme poverty and how it can severely damage the future of a child. I can’t say that I’ve seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot. But in the midst of it all, God has been faithful to show me that he is not far away and cares deeply for the needs of his children. I want to share three main experiences that I have has this month where I have seen great need but also God’s great love.
After each rescue operation, our Aftercare team conducts a Freedom Training, a three day event that marks the beginning to their two year rehabilitation program. While in bondage, these victims are not given the option to make decisions for themselves. Under the oppressive rule of the owner, they are constantly told what to do in every aspect of their lives including when to work and sleep, when to eat and when to rest. After being released, the former laborers have the freedom to make decisions on their own but often lack the capacity or knowledge to do so. Those born into bondage often know nothing of the world outside of the facility where they worked. They can find the vast number of new options too overwhelming and return to bondage where life seemed easier and more familiar to them. The Freedom Training program provides interactive educational sessions about how to make the most of their new opportunities and how to lead successful lives in freedom. There are sessions informing them of their legal rights, of how to petition the government, of employment opportunities and budgeting lessons, as well as other simple life skills such as health, hygiene, and how to maintain healthy relationships within the home. It is truly an incredible experience to watch these laborers who had been bonded less than a month ago discover the hope that their futures hold. They begin to understand how their bondage violated their rights and what proper employment options look like. They are also encouraged by being with other families who are learning the same things and experiencing the same struggles.
As part of the communications team, I have the chance to attend these Freedom Trainings to take photos and write stories about our clients and work. This past Freedom Training that took place a few weeks ago was for two groups of laborers who had been released from a rice mill and rock quarry. Even though they had undergone significant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse, they were joyful with hope for their futures. One little child broke my heart. Only one year old, this child had a case of incurable polio. Because he was born into bondage and denied the opportunity to receive vaccinations, his life will be forever marked with this incurable disease. Even though these clients have had a hard and difficult life in bondage, they gained so much knowledge and hope during the training. The released laborers started to understand the importance of education and hope to see all of the children enrolled in school by the beginning of the next academic year. These children, who had been denied the chance of a childhood, were dancing, playing games, making crafts, watching finding Nemo and experiencing what it meant to be a child through the love of the aftercare managers. Some of the families also took a pledge to keep domestic violence out of their homes. As I looked at the pictures of these same families on their day of rescue, I compared them to how they appeared during the three days of training. The transformation was remarkable. They were so much more healthy and hopeful even just after less than a month of freedom. How much more can God transform them for the next two years and for the rest of their lives!
A perfect example of the transformation of our clients is a woman named Rajeswari. As part of my internship, I have the opportunity to write stories about our clients and share them with the world. I had the chance to meet Rajeswari and write her story, some of which I will share with you. Rajeswari and her family were bonded laborers in a rice mill released by IJM in 2008. They began their journey in freedom homeless and jobless. Through the help of Aftercare managers and trainings, they learned the importance of education, how to budget their finances, and start a business. Today, all three of their children are attending school and they have a successful business of their own making and selling charcoal. They have employed over 7 other families through their business and helped others in their community lead better lives as well. Rajeswari was elected by her community to be a leader. She helps others petition the government for the benefits that they are lacking, has started a self help group where community members help each other save money, and has taught her community the importance of education, ensuring that every family sent their children to school. I met her in her village where she kindly invited me into her home and boldly shared her story. After spending about an hour and a half with this inspiring woman, she took me out to the field where she gathered a bag of fresh peanuts to give me as a gift, which my roommates and I are excited to roast and enjoy together. I was so blessed by her kind and generous spirit and her willingness to help others. Although she has completed her rehabilitation program with IJM, she still attends IJM Freedom Trainings and Leadership Trainings where she shares her story to encourage other released victims.
I have also had the opportunity to do a bit of traveling over the last month. I visited the beautiful city of Delhi and saw the Taj Mahal with a few other IJM interns. But my favorite city so far has been Mumbai. Not only is the city amazing but I was able to learn more about what it means to work in sex trafficking. I had the chance to visit a store called ISanctuary which is a jewelry shop that employs women who have been victims of sex trafficking and teaches them a new vocational skill. They also have a store in the states where they ship their products and the website is http://www.isanctuary.org/. Each piece of jewelry was hand made by a victim of sex trafficking. I met one of the founders and heard her vision for the rehabilitation of sex trafficking victims and I got the chance to meet a few girls in the store. I also volunteered in one of the largest slums in Mumbai working with boys who either have bad home situations or no home at all. We played games with them, danced, and ate snacks. One of the little boys, no more than 8 years old, was there because his parents were alcoholics and were going to sell him to support their habit. Luckily, another boy saw this happening and saved him and brought him to this shelter. I held back my tears as I saw the harsh results of poverty and how it affected each of these boys. But again my heart was overjoyed to see them smiling and having fun and experiencing the love of Christ through the workers at the shelter. During snack time, they brought out a tray of fresh fruits and cookies. Even though they literally have nothing, they were offering me the fruits before eating any themselves. And they wouldn’t take no for an answer. Even though I was as stranger who didn’t speak their language, they immediately welcomed me in their group and showed me kindness and generosity. It was quite a wakeup call for me to see these children who had so little, give so much with joyful hearts. They were a true example of Christ like love. They didn’t know me but accepted me as their own and even though they had so little, still gave generously. How much more should I love those around me without hindrances and giving generously to all?
Even with the trauma and hardships that I have seen around me, God’s love and redemption has been made evident through it all. I saw redemption in the clients at Freedom Training, through Rajeswari’s story, through my interaction with the girls at ISanctuary, and through the joyful smiles of the boys in the slums. No trauma or disaster is too much for God’s redeeming love. I am so thankful that I serve a God who hears our cries and lifts us out of the pit of despair. Even though my eyes have been opened to so much oppression and violence against the innocent, God’s goodness is not lost. He is faithfully redeeming the world to himself through people like the slum shelter workers, the founder of Isanctuary, the IJM Aftercare workers, and amazingly, though myself. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than right here, bringing true and lasting transformation to those God loves. Thank you again for all of your support and prayers that have allowed me to sere where I am today!
These are the interns I travled to Delhi and Agra with! We had so much fun :)