Sunday, 6 December 2015

A different world...

I stopped near the Turbhe station and called Abhay.  "I am here" I said, "how do I come?"

"OK" he answered "Come close to the station and take a left into the gully opposite the main gate.  I will send David to meet you."

I hung up and drove the Papaya forward another 50 meters or so.  There was the main entrance to the Turbhe local railway station on my right.  So I took a left into a tiny crowded road that entered what could be any of Mumbai's slum settlements.

Shops on both sides, some selling mobile phones, others rice and other dry goods, small hole in the wall eateries.  The narrow road made narrower by a market on both sides, hand carts laden with oranges (in season right now) and vegetables.   People and motorcycles moving this way and that.  My car moved slowly and my horn was used a number of times.

The road started to climb a hill.  I was scanning the pedestrians for David.  I saw him just as a large car coming the other way forced me over into an awkward spot.  David clambered in, I reversed out and started climbing again. Slowly.

And then I noticed that I was not in Kansas anymore.

The shops had disappeared.  There were small huts on either side.  And there were girls sitting on the stoops.  Lots of girls.  Looking out in the warm afternoon sun.  Lounging on plastic chairs.

At some undefined point we had entered into Turbhe's red-light area.

David guided me ahead.  "Take this lane.  Right here.  Straight ahead.  Left here."   We finally stopped in front of a shuttered ware house.  A small lane led to more ware house doors, men were lifting things.  I parked and we got out.

David Gurung is a part of the Manna Prayer House, an amazing ministry to women engaged in the sex trade and their children, rooted in the heart of the Turbhe red light area.

David took me down two tiny alleys and we were there.  A small door with chappals outside, the sound of singing coming from inside.  We ducked in and were in a small room with some 20 kids and a number of women, in front was an old friend of mine - Asaram K - playing the bongos and singing.

Abhay Sharma - who along with his wife Hoinu helped set up the Manna Prayer House - welcomed me with a hug.  I had been asked to share from God's word, and after some more singing, I was up. 

I shared about the disciples being in the boat, rowing in the darkness of the night, with the wind and waves against them.   What was the experience of these ladies?  I could tell some were Nepali.  One or two of the songs had been in Bengali, so I assumed that a number of them were from Bangladesh or West Bengal.  A madonna-like woman - clearly from Nepal - had a small child in her lap.   I later learned that she was HIV positive and had been started on ART. 

Sitting in the small room - with bright posters on the wall and the kids in front of me being normal kids - squirming and singing and poking each other and sleeping - what would I know of the troubles that these ladies go through?   Abhay told me afterwards that many of the mothers want the children to be at the Manna Prayer House because otherwise the kids are with them in their 'rooms' (curtain-separated cubicles) often under the mothers' beds while they service their clients.

We talked about how the disciples felt that they were alone, far from Jesus.  But that He had been on the mountain praying for them - and went out to meet them... walking on the water.   When those hardy fishermen saw Him the cried out with fear.  All they could think about was that He was a ghost.  But Jesus immediately calls out to them:  "Take courage.  It is I.  Don't be afraid."

And that's what Jesus is telling each one of us.  Be it a woman far from her home in Nepal - in the grime of a distant city selling herself and cradling her child in her lap - or a mixed up chappie with multiple blessings who has just come by for a few hours and will soon be back in the comforts of a flat with a family and love and prayers.  But the awesome truth is that we are both made by a loving Master's hands - and all of us have the amazing opportunity to be loved by the One who left heavenly glory to be born in flesh and blood.

True to their name, there was prayer.  At the end of the meeting, we prayed for a number of the ladies.  Three of them were HIV positive and are being cared for by the staff of the centre.

The picture on the right is from the Manna Prayer House website. One of the things each of us needs is to have a hand put on us and be prayed for.

After the meeting we shared a meal together.  And then Abhay took me over to the original place that the Manna Prayer House started in.  A 10 by 20 ft room, with two beds in it, a small office and big pictures on the wall of Nepal adorned with Bible verses.   This had been a brothel - and they were able to purchase it some years ago.  Today it serves as an early half-way home.  A place where ladies can take the first steps of getting out of the system. Women can come and stay there.  And some do.  For months.  Abhay told about one woman who they were able to reunite back with her family in Nepal.

It is also a place where the sick stay.  Manna Prayer House is looking after a number of women who have HIV - taking them to the govt. hospital for their ART treatment.  Jeevan Sahara Kendra ran a testing camp with them last year - a way of helping the women in the area know whether they have HIV or not.  A small step to try and help them see the value of stepping out of the trade.

Abhay opened a drawer and pulled out a plastic bag and pulled out a bunch of wooden bead bracelets and earrings.  "We welcome women to come and do something" he said "while they make these we talk with them, make friendships, pray with them."  He asked me to chose some for Asha - I took two.

In the empty room we prayed together.  I am so grateful for Abhay and his wife and the amazing single-minded love they have for the ladies around them. 

He told me that there were about 15,000 women in the trade in area.  Each room goes for about Rs. 15,000 rent per month - and the owners ask for a Rs. 5 lakh deposit.  Flesh sells.

The room they are renting for the children's centre is being given to them at Rs. 8 K per month.  No deposit.  The owner has a soft heart for them.  They are using the place to the maximum.

Walking through the lanes with Abhay was surreal.  Here he is making a friendly comment to almost all the women sitting in front of their doors.  The ladies are in a line, sitting on plastic chairs, combing and oiling their hair, basking in the late afternoon sun, listening to songs and playing with mobiles, chatting or playing cards, looking languidly through a peddlers wares of small children's clothes.  I was struck again with just how massively strange it is to have this area so completely different from where we live.  Almost a parallel universe.  A place which I don't want to even believe exists - but is just a 45 minute drive away from our home.

It was getting to late afternoon when I headed out.  The first costumers were arriving.  A young man walks by - a woman with a neon bright shirt takes him away.  Another group of women are chatting when a man walks up.   I look away. 

Many many years ago, a wise man wrote this about a similar situation:

I saw among the simple, I noticed among the young men,
    a youth who had no sense.
He was going down the street near her corner,
    walking along in the direction of her house
at twilight, as the day was fading,
    as the dark of night set in.

Then out came a woman to meet him...  (Prov. 7.7-10)

Today a number of churches across Mumbai held a "Mumbai AIDS Sunday."  Different congregations prayed and asked God to touch people suffering from HIV, challenged each other to reach out and care for those in need, prayed that the spread of HIV would slow down even more, asked Jesus to break our hearts by the things that break His....

Abhay and Hoinu and their colleagues at Manna Prayer House are living out these prayers.  We are so, so thankful to God for them.   Eternity will see the impact of their lives.

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