Wednesday, August 26, 2015


How was your week?

Not good.

She slides down to the ground, her back against the wall, till her knees are pulled up to her chest, and she covers her knees with her thin purple kurta–she is always wearing purple or blue–and she wraps her arms around my arm and lays her head against my shoulder, and she sighs.

—the clapping of children in the alleyway the scream the raucous of kids the sloshing of water carried in a pail out to the field of excrement flies hovering in the doorway a woman comforting her child by loosening her blouse sari pinned over thin shoulders the teacher’s voice yelling for silence but everybody is too wound up and we sit in the haze and thrumming fans and the muted noise of it all sweat dripping down my arms into her thick rough hair her eyes half closed all the grief of the world contained in each exhale—

Not good.

My heart burns.  The wound is months old, but I imagine all the things I would do to that man, and realize I am not the first to think such things.  I have no touch to heal what touch has destroyed.  I lean my head against the wall, aware of the weight of her existence.  I want to see her laughing with her friends in the street, fondling a new puppy. I want to see her running and playing games and mindless.  I want to see her singing.  Not like this.  Head drooping against my shoulder, sigh after sigh, and who knows what thoughts plague her sweet head, the same head that quickly kissed me on the cheek and looked happily at me as she ran off, happy that she had expressed her love for me.

You are my sister.  You are beautiful so beautiful, sister.

*     *     *

I want to be a police inspector! 

She sits very straight, smiling at her dream career, eyes deep and bright, in the circle of girls, everyone shouting dreams.

I want to go to America!

I want to climb a mountain!

I want to be a teacher!

I want to find good husband!

They dream.  And she sits there, in a cloud of possibilities.

She is happy even if she can just give a pencil to someone.  Her teacher looks at her with a smile.

*     *     *

I ask her to find a comb, and she reluctantly leaves my side, going to the neighbors houses in search of one.  Girls are dancing around us, playing games, laughing, making jokes, forgetting.

She sits at my feet and I begin with the tangled ends, slowly tugging away.  And for fifteen minutes she sits between my knees, and I brush her hair, and I think, this is what sisters do for each other when no words can cross the barriers.  I braid the hair heavy, weighing her down, I tell her she has lovely hair, even though it is so dirty that it’s hard to handle.  But it smells of coconuts and earth.

I did not know that it would be the last time I saw her, when her mother forbid her to come anymore to the school.

Yet she sent me a letter the day I left, a pair of earrings delicately wrapped in paper, her exclaiming over and over again you are so beautiful sister you are my big sister I will always pray to God for you.

Lord promise me she’s well, promise me she’s safe.  Does God make such promises?

All I am left with is Dietrich Bonhoeffer to satisfy my pleading.
‘He hath done all things well.’ Let this be the word we speak about every week, about every hour that has passed. Let us take these words with us into our prayer until there is not a single hour left about which we are not ready to say, ‘He hath done all things well.’ And just the days that were hard for us, that tormented and frightened us, days that have left a trace of bitterness in us, are the ones that we will not leave behind until we can also say of them, humbly and thankfully, ‘He hath done all things well.’ We are not to forget, but to overcome. And that is done through gratitude. We are not to try to solve the unsolved riddles of the past and fall to brooding, but leave behind what we cannot understand and give it back peacefully into the hands of God. That is done through humility. ‘He hath done all things well.’  (emphasis added)
I look through the narrow lens of retrospect, and I see her sweet face, and I can never forget the look in her eyes the day that I met her, when she sat aloof and sad from everyone else, and all I think is I miss her hanging on my arm as I walked through her slum or sat by her side. And I think, sometimes the most painful things become the sweetest, and sometimes the most beautiful things become painful because they have been so lovely.

Yet, truly, he has given me the faith to say, he hath done all things well.

- RH, Goa volunteer. Reposted with permission.

Monday, July 13, 2015

How’s it Goa-ing?

Kristen Marks

June 13 8:47 AM

Some might look at my hand and simply see mehndi. When I glance down, I see the girls who did it and the bonds that are starting to form. My project for the summer is to develop and carry out leadership development trainings. I am working with two staff ladies, a group of girls (ages 17-22) from the stitching center, and a group of girls (ages 15-18) who are the daughters of CSWs. I’ll be developing the curriculum, leading a series of workshops, and carrying out evaluations to see the effectiveness of the curriculum. While I knew that building relationships and trust would be essential in order to effectively teach the girls, I did not realize how truly important it was. The past four weeks have really shown me that. The girls at the stitching center are not the most receptive and trusting of outsiders. While it is slow going, connections are starting to be made. Whether it’s doing mehndi on my hand or asking where “Kristen friend” is when I’m working in a different slum, I think trust is forming. Even though those are just small gestures, they have been significant to me. It’s been a lot of just sitting there, being a consistent presence, and talking to the girls. For an introvert and someone who is more task oriented, this has definitely stretched me and put me out of my comfort zone.

I left home a little over four weeks ago. My weeks have been full of figuring out how things work here, meeting new people, learning the bus system and how to get around and starting to form connections. The past four weeks have gone really quickly (aside from the nights prior to monsoon season when you were so hot the hours stretched on forever). Monsoon started in Goa when I was in Mumbai for a few days, and I am very happy. The heat and humidity were unlike anything I have ever experienced. The rains have cooled things a little, and I am actually sleeping at night for the first time since I have gotten to India.

Aside from the weather, Goa is beautiful. I mean… it better be if it’s India’s big tourist spot! Being in another country shows me the interconnectedness of the world. The roads I travel could be roads I travel could be roads in a number of other countries. A tree transports me to Malawi. There are smells that bring me to Uganda. The colors of the homes send me to Honduras. And the crashing of the beach makes me feel like I am home in Jacksonville. I am thankful that these places have stayed with me and are a part of my story.

One of the hardest things is the amount of attention I get because of my skin color. I thought it would not be that much of an issue because I’ve traveled a lot and would be used to it, but it is a lot worse here. People constantly stare. They are always taking pictures. A lot of the times I want to just take pictures back, but that would be inappropriate. It makes me very uncomfortable.

I will start the leadership trainings this coming week. Pray for these trainings and the curriculum being finalized, and pray for continued trust and connected trust and connections between the girls. Thank you, friends.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Religious Curry

"In the Garden of Eden," said the man sitting opposite me, "good and evil are united in the form of a fruit… Since that time, we see the division. Good, separated from evil, is written on every man's heart. You, my friend, must listen to your heart to know what is good. And when you do this, you will know God because God is good." 
I was astounded by the diversity in this man’s world views. Trying to help untangle this fishing-line of truths and lies, we debated for almost 2 hours. 
His soup of theology contained an unwavering believe that he was saved through Jesus Christ but also through his childhood devotion to the Catholic saints. It was heavily salted with New Age belief that you decide what is right for yourself and peppered with Hinduism claiming that doing good is the essence of knowing God. 
"You see a man stealing." He continued, "I say that is wrong; YOU say that is wrong. We are agreed. You look at it from one side; I look from the other side. We both are correct…"
Stories like this one seem to come up everywhere. A land steeped in Hindu thought has little resentment for the name of Jesus. Accepting the gospel is not a stretch: removing all previous religious orientation is, knowing that being a sold-out believer is considered to be the most embarrassing of religions.  
Still, I am deeply encouraged by the faith of those who have none but Jesus. There are three of us on the field, and the work we are doing stretches ad blesses us every day. The heart cries of Believers praying for their neighbors living in demonic darkness and the laughs of school children torn away from troubled lives for a few short hours a day; it makes our hearts melt. 
It is the end of the first week. Lack of sleep and a head cold are testing two of us. God is faithful. We have had many first experiences, and I'm sure they will not end soon. The biggest culture shock for me was lack of personal space. Every other experience has been fascinating. 
Will we ever see the fruit of these Gospel conversations or witness the life-changing power of our Bible stories on young children and unbelieving teachers? Maybe not until the end of time. India has already pushed our prayers into high gear.

CS - Goa Intern

Monday, August 18, 2014

I don't tell them

The plane touches down in DFW airport. It’s been 36 hours since I left India, and my emotions are all out of whack due to jet lag and lack of sleep. On the verge of exhausted tears, I make arrangements to have my delayed bag delivered to my apartment.
The next day is a blur of catnaps and puppy kisses and phone calls to family during hours of alertness.

I wake up early the next morning to get ready for work. Everything seems surreal, as if I am still asleep in my bed in India and dreaming of home. Driving down the highway, I keep expecting other drivers to honk at me as they pass…but this is not India, and honking does not mean “hello, I am passing you; please don’t move over” here. “Namaste!” I greet my coworkers. No one notices the mehndi on my hands or the jingling anklet on my foot.

Was it just last week when I was singing silly songs with a room full of children? Was it just last week when I sat around the dinner table with my friends, talking about the craft for the next day? Was it just last week when I was boarding a run-down bus to go into town to eat lunch, and watching all the cows and dogs and goats wander down the road?

“How was India?” The inevitable question. As if I can sum it up in a sentence or two. “Awesome!” I always reply. “I had a lot of fun spending time with the kids.”

I don’t tell them about the darkness that has reigned over the subcontinent for thousands of years, the spiritual oppression you feel all day, every day.
I don’t tell them about how unvalued women are there, how I avoided the eyes of every man to reduce the risk of unwanted advances. 
I don’t tell them about the overwhelming grief I felt when I would see a woman kiss her fingers and touch a passing cow, as if it could save her.
I don’t tell them…it’s too soon.

Monday, July 14, 2014

there and back again (part two)

I’ve been reading about human trafficking for years. 
If there’s a documentary about it, there’s a good chance I’ve watched it and can recommend it to you. I’ve read books, I can name off some of the big name organizations focused on eliminating it and rescuing victims, I know that trafficking for labor and sex happens both in the United States and overseas. I’ve read of horrific cases that seem so dark and so riddled with evil that they almost seem fabricated–how is it possible for humans to treat other humans with such contempt? The same is true for hearing stories of children left to fend for themselves. How can adults watch children, five year olds taking care of one year olds, and not feel the overwhelming sadness of it? How can people watch and do nothing?
The difference for me now is after going to India, and being just minutes away from the Red Light District (though I never went it), I have more than stories and statistics.
I have people. 
I have relationships.
I have face-to-face moments I shared with tiny human beings who have personalities and are real people.
I have three little faces* looking up at me with dark, trusting eyes, and I hear that they watched their father set their mother on fire and that she died in front of them. These ones? These little ones, 7, 5 and 2, who still somehow smile and play–two boys and a little girl. She’s too young to remember, which is the only mercy, but the older boys surely must remember something. The oldest boy wakes up from naptime crying almost every day. All the kids protest, but he fights me with a particular distress. It occurs to me that maybe he remembers something.
It’s not a story. It’s not an impersonal, distant statistic.
It’s a reality, and it’s their reality.
It’s not “so many children are suffering with AIDS”, it’s our little Sultan*, who looks more like a three year old than a six year old, and more like a little elderly man with his missing teeth.

He sleeps most of the day, and was feverish and lethargic when I first arrived, but finally started school for the first time the last week I was there, and it’s an exciting triumph. He didn’t warm up to me too much in the time I was there, since he has his favorite “didi” (the name the children call us all: “sister”), but he did climb into my lap once to laugh at videos on my phone. He was so small in my lap. He has siblings, much older siblings, but doesn’t want anything to do with them and throws temper tantrums. I’m not sure why.
It’s not “ex amount of children are living on the streets alone”. It’s the fairest Indian boy I’ve seen yet, with bright blue eyes that make him look like more like a European. I find out that his funny little swagger and tough guy nature that causes him to lash out occasionally with his fists probably kept him alive while he lived homeless from two years. He’s about eight now. He’s so young. How is it possible?
It’s not “such and such children grow up in the brothels their mothers work in”, it’s this little one and the fact that her mom was swinging her into a brick wall by her hair in the brothels when the girls found her.

She’s been taken back by her mom twice, and if she comes a third time, Rahab’s won’t be able to keep her. Her eyes are huge and her smile is contagious. She’s so beautiful, even now with her short hair that had to be cut to help with the lice all the kids share, and I can’t fathom it as I look at her. How could someone look at this little doll and harm her?
And on and on and on it goes.
But even as I share here, I realize they could be reduced to stories. It almost feels sacrilegious or disrespectful to share, somehow. I choose to, still, because meeting them changed my perspective on things. What I previously categorized as an atrocity that was predominantly a woman’s struggle I now see as a dark claw that reaches past women to children, both boys and girls, and men as well. There is no cinematic glamor or grit about it and it should never be simplified with dramatics. Please understand me when I write the words that are so unflinching and so uncompromising: it was real.
And now that I know, now that I’ve seen, now that I’ve been there… now what?
What is the next step?
What can I do?
What can I say?
Sometimes I feel that sharing my experiences means that I should have an answer or a “lesson learned” or a sunny bow to tie everything up with by the end of the blog. I usually do. But this is heavy and today I don’t have answers… other than I know with every fiber of my being that I’ll fight this.
Satan is a nasty foe, but Jesus has already overcome.

*For safety reasons, names have been changed and faces are hidden

To read this blog in it's original format:

Used with permission from author. 

there and back again (part one)

No hobbits here, but I have made it back again after an eye opening several weeks. I think that I’ve been somehow avoiding writing because I haven’t been ready to process but I can tell it’s time. With some solitude and a little iced coffee, I suppose it’s okay to let the tears fall freely.

The Organization
First I want to share about Rahab’s Rope, wonderful nonprofit I was privileged to join in ministry. Started by Vicki and David Moore back in 2004 after Vicki heard stories of young women and girls being trafficked for sex, they have three locations in Bangalore, Goa and Mumbai. Additionally, Rahab’s has a store location in downtown Gainesville, Georgia where they sell products that the women create to generate revenue for the ministry.
God has shown them incredible favor and opened up opportunities for them in the darkest of places—their predominant position of ministry is directly inside the brothels and red light districts where they spend time teaching (both reading, English, trade skills and most importantly, about Jesus), loving and building relationships with the women that are enslaved. Rahab’s partners with International Justice Mission to actually rescue women, but they also don’t give up on the girls that are unable to leave, or even more incredibly, not ready to step away from the only life they know.
I can’t speak highly enough about the dedication and bravery of the long term staff that walk into places most of us would consider unthinkable and spend their time serving and loving those the world at large might consider unredeemable. To me, that is the very heart that Jesus had while he was on earth, and it is part of the beauty of our God—there is no one, no one, who can find himself (or herself) out of His sight or out of His reach.
I’ve never been more passionate about a cause in my life, and I stand 100% behind Rahab’s Rope, International Justice Mission and any group of believers who not only are dedicated to helping women in a tangible, physical, practical way, but also recognizes the need for the spiritual healing that only Jesus is able to offer.
The Children’s Home: Mumbai
With specific numbers varying from source to source, it’s estimated that there are between 20 million (Hindustan Times) and 31 million (UNICEF) orphans in India today. Some children are abandoned by their families, some are orphaned by AIDS, some are ‘illegitimate’ children of commercial sex workers (CSW), some are HIV/AIDS positive themselves. Any way you choose to look at it, there are staggering amounts of children who are in dire physical need; it goes without saying that the spiritual poverty is just as devastating.
Partnering with local brothers, who are also pastors, Rahab’s is caring for about 75 children between the ages of 2 and 18, the help of full time national staff and short-term volunteers from the States. All of the children living in the home are either 1) orphans, 2) children of CSW and/or 3) HIV positive. Together, Rahab’s and the nationals have been able to arrange scholarships with different schools around the city so the children are able to receive an education, as well as a more stable living condition that is found at the children’s home. The little ones have their basic needs for clothes, food, shelter, health care, education, loving care and play met—and they learn about Jesus.
I’m not able to post most of the photos I took for safety reasons; some of the children are still being sought after by madams in the brothels and putting images of their faces on the internet is ill-advised. Rest assured, they are completely and flawlessly precious.
Where I come in
As a short term volunteer I spent my time in the children’s home, predominately with the young 5 – 9 year old boys, doing VBS activities, helping the boys get washed, dressed and ready for the day, playing little games and doing lots and lots and lots of cuddling. It’s difficult for the kids to get enough one on one cuddles and attention that all children inherently need, and that is the most valuable thing I was able to contribute during my time. Love given to honor Jesus, no matter how seemingly “insignificant” or small, is never love wasted. It is the very heart of God.
The Team

I also had a chance to meet other girls my age passionate about the same things as me, despite the differences in our backgrounds. There was a time where I would have said that two nursing students, a nutritionist student, a missionary kid/psyche graduate, a naval officer, an ex-elementary teacher and myself wouldn’t have anything in common, but we all shared a love for Jesus and a desire to be His hands in a world much darker than the one we grew up in. I can’t explain how encouraging and exciting it was to see these ladies in action each day, and to share a living space with them. We shared so much fun and so much heartbreak over the little ones and the experience would not have been the same without them.
Several of the girls are still over there and you can read more about their day to day activities and learn how to pray for them and the littles ones on their blogs:
Moments in Mumbai Kaitlin
The Scarlet Cord – Valerie
(To Be Continued)
To read blog in it's original format:
Used with permission from author.

Friday, August 16, 2013

All about You...

"I'm coming back to the heart of worship, And it's all about You..."

Yesterday was the last day of the mission with Rahab's Rope, in Goa, and my last full day in India. So after almost 10 weeks with Oasis, in Mumbai and Bangalore, and 2 weeks with Rahab's Rope in Goa, my trip is coming to an end and I was given chance to reflect on what God has been teaching me. One of the questions in our group debrief was, 'what is the main thing that God has taught you during this trip?’ That is a challenging question. He has been so tangibly close to me in my whole time here and I have countless examples of His grace, mercy and faithfulness. He has taught me so much about His character, and mine, and I am excited about what the future might look like now that this experience is being woven into it.

But, what is the main thing He has taught me? As I often do in those situations I began frantically trying to rehearse an answer that would sound good, witty or very spiritual (yes, I do that) but then I stopped. I literally laid down and waited for God to bring something to mind. I should do this more often because it was pretty incredible. He just reminded me of a thought I had begun last Sunday, but stopped because it was a bit scary...

We were in church and the band were playing 'Heart of Worship'. I love that song.

Yes, I could definitely resonate with this. I sang along, feeling content that my being in India was 'all about You, Jesus'. I've been here living out the gospel, right? Good news to the poor? Release for the captives? Setting the prisoner free? Yep, it was all there.

 I was only a week away from going home and I realized that I'd missed the point somewhere along the way. It wasn't 'all about You, Jesus' was it? I'd made it all about so many other things...

"I'm sorry Lord for the thing I've made it
. When it's all about You"

I'd made it about things that may seem good, and right even.
 I'd made it about the women, and about the children. About those who were still living in brothels and being systematically raped every day. 
 About those who have been abandoned in orphanages that don't meet their needs. About women who eek out a living during the monsoon seasons when nobody comes to her shop.

I'd made it about me, about how I could change the world, how I could rescue them and how I could tell others about what I've done.

 And yes, I was doing this for God. I was doing all of this because I fully believe this is what following Jesus looks like; this is radical discipleship. I'd forgotten that this is all about Him. That this is only about Him. It is Jesus who rescues, heals, redeems, frees and loves. I am blessed that He has chosen to share His work with me but it really is His work, not mine.

 I had made an idol of the ministry and the women and children (even of the pimps and the madams), and that is my biggest lesson on this trip.

Yes, I have learned enormous amounts about prevention, intervention and aftercare in human trafficking. 
Yes, I have learned about the faithfulness, grace and mercy of God. 
Yes, I have learned about life in India and the atrocities of the commercial sex trade here. 
Yes, I have seen, heard and experienced things I will never forget.

The bottom line is that this is ALL about Jesus. It is not about me. It is not about India. It is not even really about human trafficking.

 This trip has been an out-working of worship; a response to God's love for me and my understanding of His love for the world. Worship. And that needs to begin with the realization that it is Jesus who changes the world, not me.

G - India Volunteer