Tuesday, January 10, 2017

India Day 4: Shining in the Darkness

This post is part of a series from a Discovery Trip to visit one of Partners International's partners in Kolkata, India. JKPS works in community development, social justice, adult education and with children at risk. Resources like bikes, clean water wells, monthly partnership with a local pastor go a long way to enabling this vital ministry to the Bengali people.

Today was a down day for the team as a whole. After a few days in India, it was time for a rest day -- a chance to reflect, recoup, see some of the unique beauty of the city, and to shop!

The morning started out with the first shopping endeavours, where different team members procured clothing, cricket bats, and silk scarfs.

After lunch, the team visited the Victoria Memorial, a massive park in the 'Lung of Kolkata', so named because of the amount of greenery in that area of the city. A beautiful walk around the manicured grounds, and plenty of photo opportunities later, we left for some final shopping.

Amidst this revelry and beauty, however, was an anticipation of something far less beautiful ahead. Nicole and I, were given a unique opportunity to visit JKPS' Ashaloy Center, right in the heart of the Sonogachi Red Light District -- this is a place that westerners do not go, and are not welcome. Here children can come after school for tutoring, computer lessons, and a much needed place of safety from the world around them.

As we pulled up in the taxi, pimps descended upon the vehicle, eager to snatch the latest client into the brothel. What made this interesting, was Nicole -- a white, female woman. Immediately the men backed away from the vehicle.

We were met by other JKPS staff who escorted us into the den of the lions. At the mouth of the street, a physical manifestation of the filth ahead waited -- outdoor urinals filled with men.

The streets had a pungent air about them, burning garbage, incense and human waste lingered in my nostrils, reminding me of the putrid heart of this place. Children ran playfully through the streets, returning home from school as pimps leered at us foreigners. In some buildings, men waited for their prostitute of choice to finish with previous clients, either in hallways or in a room with TV. Women who were not actively working lounged in the doorways, looking for their next payment.

Through this all, the JKPS staff led us on. Lalita before us, clearing the path, staring down those who drew near, and ensuring we were close behind, and Finney and another worker behind to watch over Nicole. It was clear that we did not belong in this place.

After a short time, we turned off the main street into a dark alley, where the entrance to the center beckoned. The weight of the brothel was upon our shoulders, and you could practically taste the wretched heart of the darkness. Yet as we crossed the threshold, much as I felt at Mahima two years ago, there was a lightness in this place. The Holy Spirit clearly resided here, a lighthouse amidst the darkest storm.

Children greeted us as we climbed the stairs, happy to have the unusual visitor. They had just finished their English tutoring class, and as we introduced ourselves, and heard about them there was joy mixed with the clear realities of trauma on their faces.

These are children who live in the same rooms their mothers work. Often, they sleep underneath the very bed where she entertains her clients. Their young minds having to process the atrocities that their mothers are subjected to. Victims of the worst kind, children who have had their innocence stolen before it ever had a chance to settle.

Yet here, they find respite.

As I shared the story of Jesus and the woman at the well, my prayer is that the Lord would remind these children that He is with them. That He would walk with them through the trauma, and provide them a way forward.

I could write thousands of words more, but I will say this. If the Gospel of Christ is not for ones like these, then what is it for? To go to the very gates of hell, to proclaim freedom for the captives, to care for those the world has forgotten and to spread love. The Gospel is not a weapon to use against other children of God, but against the forces of Darkness. It is there that we should turn our vitriol, there that our anger should be set, there where we should set our energies.

As we left the center, Lalita and myself got slightly ahead of the group, and the experience was wholly different than when we walked in. Because Nicole was not near me, that small cellophane protection was removed, and I saw an even darker underside. Prostitutes called out to me, inviting me into their homes, pimps reached out to beckon me closer. Lalita shooed them each away, being an imposing presence, but it was clear that the darkness my heart perceived was very much alive in this place.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. We come to proclaim freedom for the captives, and often we are also called to storm the prisons that besiege them. The work of JKPS is creating new opportunities for the children of these workers, and building bridges to women who are victims of a vicious cycle.

I hope this will drive you to your knees to pray in brokenness in the same way it has broken my heart.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it." - John 1:5


  1. Praying that the Guardian and Sustainer of your soul will look after those wounds you must surely have felt for those women and children. Because you have been privileged to bear those wounds, no doubt He will use you to boldly proclaim His power to conquer over the evil. Blessings on you and Nicole throughout the rest of your journey. I am devouring every word of your posts.

  2. Yes it certainly has. Thank you for your work and for sharing. God bless you Stephen and Nicole