I take a deep breath and inhale the thick scents of the city street: the aroma of spices from street vendors, the distinct smell of diesel, and the always present scent of smoke from wood burning within the city, envelopes us. We turn to walk down a narrow, bottlenecked road. It's choked with small clusters of people, littered with trash and paved with dirt and broken, uneven stones. Small dwellings with colorful curtains sandwich us on both sides.
What I find, as we enter the red light district, is women going about the business of preparing for their day. Appropriately dressed in their kurtas and traditional dress, women stand or sit and prep vegetables in the street, as their children run about. Occasionally we pass a small handful of women who stand together in full makeup, and we recognize that they wait on the prospect of work, but at this early hour, they are the exception rather than the rule.
For the most part, I find that if my gaze catches that of one of the ladies, they look down, or away. If our group moves past a small cluster of women who are chatting together, the conversation grows quiet.
The morning was spent playing games, singing songs and spending time with these precious Indian children who live among the Red Light District.
In the afternoon we set up our medical clinic. We met the kind and amazing Indian volunteers for Rahab's Rope, who live among the women and who do the hard work, day in and day out. We have come to support these warrior women. It is their work that continues and faithfully serves this community between the teams that come and go.
Once the first woman appeared, we all took to our designated roles. Soon our papers were full of chief complaints and blood pressures but also the excitement of reading glasses we were giving out. The room quickly filled with women and chatter, and we were hoping that as the day progressed, they might give voice to more complex needs. However, trust is not something that comes easily in this community so we tended to them as best as we could, in the place they were most comfortable. Today, that place looked like glasses and minor aches and pains, one day, quite possibly it may be more. We all sensed the depth and weight and brokenness of the needs that were given no voice. It was clear most women didn't know their age or birthdate because most were "30" and nearly none of them looked as much. But in the safety of this place, eye contact and smiles came easier.
I silently prayed as I listened to heartbeats and breath sounds. With my hands physically examining their simple aches and pains, I prayed that they would feel some measure of gentleness that was Jesus.
Among the women, a few of the madams trickled in to be seen. The second I saw them, I knew who they were. They smiled big smiles and were nothing but kind and yet, I had a sort of visceral reaction to them. I didn't feel soft towards them, I felt angry, as if they alone, were responsible for the entrapment and abuse in this place. But Jesus reminded me that the madams might be the most desperate, hardened and broken of them all. Was it not so long ago that they were likely one of these girls? The hardness of living has left deep lines on the faces of the madams. In this layered hierarchy of sex work the madams report to their pimps. One, is as enslaved as the other.
His grace is enough for all.
The amount of money that these women make to do this work that damages their bodies and shatters pieces of their souls; mere rupees. In fact, for months after they arrive here after having been stolen or sold into this sex trafficking work, they are drugged by madams or pimps until the fight in them is snuffed out.
As we sat and talked, and tried to wrap our minds about the realities of what we were hearing, sadness and emotion seized my throat. I tried to talk but I couldn't get my words out. For all of the books I'd read and the documentaries I'd seen; for the statistics I thought I knew...these were flesh and blood women.
I wept and weep, still.
But here's the thing about this RLD and these streets we walked. I also cry because hope is not gone from here. I saw the gospel in its rawest most beautiful form being lived out by these Indian volunteers, who choose to serve these women day after day. It's beyond messy here; there's oppression so heavy you can feel it. But hope still pulses and truth is proclaimed and prayed over these women and this community. Our Father is in fierce pursuit of his bride.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23
Behind the curtains; along the broken streets, He is faithful.
To the fatherless and abused, He is faithful.
To the girls and women who are abducted or stolen and who wake up each day not knowing if they will ever see their families again, He is faithful.
In this broken world, from America to India and everywhere in between He hears the cries of his people.
Come Lord Jesus Come....
M - Short-term Medical Volunteer