Yesterday the Eicher boys had the privilege to spending an afternoon with Jim and Leena Varghese and their crew. Poor Leena was outnumbered 7 to 1 in the gender stakes, but made a good fist of it anyway. The 5 lads enjoyed themselves to the max with Enoch and Yohan having a joyful afternoon and emerging on various skateboards, roller blades, driving remote cars while in the back ground a steady staccato of an almost continuous air-hockey game could be heard.
Jim and Leena and I had a long post-lunch talk which wandered over many a dale and where we reviewed a lot of what we as families have been walking through - and where we hope to go too!
You spend an afternoon like this and you kick yourself for not having done so earlier, more regularly... rather than just before you are about to up-stakes and out!
As the winter sun started moving down, I asked them if they would show me part of their work - which over all these years I had never seen.
They did. We tumbled into their vehicle - all 5 lads and Leena taking the middle seat - while the two bald guys had the front of the jeep to themselves. Jim drove us out of the jam-shakle set of shops and politician birthday posters crammed in between housing complexes with names like Solitaire Plaza that 'down-town Ambernath' is and out over the dry hills to Badlapur.
At the end of our 20 min drive we came up against three sparkling new buildings hugging the base of a hill.
We had arrived at the Bombay Teen Challenge Academy - the main classroom building along with its hostels.
We had entered a different world. Our 5 young men rushed off to the playing field to do their thing with the american football that Jim had brought along - while Leena and Jim showed me around where Leena has been helping change destinies.
We met a few of the girls. Small knots of them talking with each other. Brightening up when Leena came by.
All of these girls come from the red-light area. Each one's mother has or still is in the trade. They are here to start a new future. Leena has been serving at the principal of this academy for the past year or so.
We walk into a huge hall with a kaleidoscope of colour above - a whole mess of umbrellas - each a brilliant hue has been hung upside down from the ceiling. The walls of the sparkling hall are covered with various art works. More girls are sitting around one of the many dining tables talking with each other. The hall is the main meeting and eating hall.
Leena takes Jim and I to the adjoining learning space. A smaller hall with movable partitions - the classrooms can be adjusted to fit the numbers of the learners.
It is the Christmas holidays so no students are there - but their art works - their word projects - their exhibitions of learning and talent are every where to be seen. Words. Images. The fruit of ideas and joy have been pasted on almost every available bit of space. Leena believes in learning by immersion. Her teachers have caught on and shared this joy with their students.
I catch my breath a bit. Wow. Wouldn't I love my kids to be part of this school. Roll back the years - wouldn't I like to be there myself.
The BTC Academy has 80 students. Grades 1 - 7 and the special learning section as well as the 'star class' where students who are not able to be fit into classes are engaged until they master a basic set of skills and are then added to a class.
Wow. Many schools in Thane will have 80 students in a single section.
The love of learning and the love for each one of these precious children is immense. And you can see it on the walls - and hear it in Leena's voice and see it in her animated face as she lights up thinking about her students and her teaching team.
To think that each one of these children would otherwise be there in the red-light area - and with most of the girls being groomed for a life of selling themselves... and instead they are here where they are loved. Where there is a future. Where they see the love of God in action and are blessed by the Lord Jesus' hands and feet who are caring for them day in and day out.
We go over to the beautiful library. Light pouring in. Places to curl up and read. Beautiful books on beautiful shelves. Leena tells me that not many of the older girls read much, but that the younger ones are moving forward. We meet a young lady who serves as the librarian. Her eyes light up as we talk about books. She has dreams of serving others too and is currently reading a missionary biography.
At the back of my mind I can't help thinking... what will all this cost? Where do the funds come from? But here I am with my friends enjoying the sheer miracle of a place devoted to caring for those whom no-one cares for. Rejoicing to see girls who are now going to local colleges and who have dreams of living a different lives from where they come from.
It's Saturday, and Jim tells me that a number of the children have gone to church.
Church is back down in the red-light area. The children have gone to the prayer meeting that BTC holds in the middle of the brothels. Many of the women come to sing and pray. Most return to their business. The children have gone with the hope of seeing their mothers.
One of the poignant statements was written on one of the walls of the school. A child and printed out some things about herself. One of which was "I am sad when my mother does not come to church." Sad because her mother continues in the trade and has chosen not to come and meet her daughter.
Prostitution is a long ugly complex set of relationships and various levels of bondages. I for one understand very very little about it and am so grateful for Jim and Leena and others like them who are pouring their lives into giving these women a shot at redemption, opening at least a small window in their minds that change is possible and that God loves them so much that He can help break the various kinds of chains that hold them down.
There is a land of hope. It is a messy one. Jim and Leena used that word many a time over the afternoon. But as my mind goes back to the warrens of Turbhe and the women decked up to sell themselves, waiting outside the cloth-veiled doorway for men to come by - I am so very very grateful for those like Jim and Leena and their teams who with Jesus' hope are working to help at least some see a new tomorrow.
Onwards messy and beautiful ones.