The following is part two of a blog post written by John Kuryan on his experience of serving in the Red Light District in Mumbai, India through Bombay Teen Challenge. Part one can be read here.
After 3 days spent in the middle of the most deplorable conditions I’ve ever seen, it was difficult not to be disheartened. But the glimpses of hope seen through BTC’s efforts in the Red Light District were on full display at Ashagram, which means “Village of Hope”. This is where BTC takes the women and children who have been rescued from enslavement in the brothels. As soon as the guards opened the gates, there was a sense of safety and security. Imagine driving 2 hours from Mumbai, leaving the filthy, congested streets of the Red Light District and entering 70 acres of lush, majestic scenery. The honking horns and blaring music were replaced by chirping birds and gentle breezes. Instead of seeing despair and brokenness, we saw cheerful smiles and faces full of hope.
The thing I may remember most about Ashagram is the food. I really hope my mom is not reading this – but that may have been the best home-cooked food I have ever had! It had just the right amount of spice to make my nose sweat (a common issue for those that know me). I can’t imagine what it must feel like for these children to have 3 delicious meals every day after coming from a place where they may not have known when their next meal would come.
I visited one of the Jubilee homes, where many of the kids are HIV positive. I was asked to examine them, but frankly, it was a rather uneventful session. I was amazed at how well the staff cares for these children. Instead of seeing rotting teeth, I saw the beautiful smiles of kids that were receiving proper dental care. I looked through their charts and saw normal CD4 counts and undetectable viral loads, a sign that their HIV was being controlled with the help of life-saving anti-retroviral medications. One of the few things the kids asked for help with was building “muscles” like I had! (The fact that they asked me for advice was a telltale sign that they had never seen any actual muscular people in their lives). I think many of them were confusing fat for muscle, but I didn’t want to get into a boring scientific discussion about the different types of tissues in the human body. So I showed them how to do push-ups and even bicep curls using their backpacks! (I could only demonstrate a few of each before getting short of breath, but I think they got the picture). I expect that there will soon be several body builders in the group.
At Ashagram, we saw women, once enslaved in the the brothels, now receiving vocational training in sewing. We visited the store where their beautiful work was on sale. Of course, my wife, sister-in-law, nieces and daughters bought practically everything in stock. The profits are used to support these women and help BTC continue its amazing work. (Their work can also be viewed at their online store. My youngest daughter, Sonya, loved the mini handbags, which she will likely use to carry around important keepsakes, such as rocks and crumbled pieces of Oreos.)
We saw the children at Ashagram line up wearing uniforms, on their way to attend the best private schools in the area. We also saw the newly constructed BTC Academy and its beautiful library, where the children of BTC will soon be able to receive a first-class education on-site. These women and children, whose lives were full of chaos and destruction, now have hope for the future – and the possibilities are limitless.
Food for the hungry. Clothing for those who were naked. Healing for the sick. A sense of family for those who were abandoned. Joy for those who despaired. Restoration for those who were broken. For those that have been rescued from the Red Light District, Ashagram must surely be the best place on Earth. And for me, it was a glimpse of heaven. Of course, there is no perfect place here on Earth. There is much work to be done, and BTC needs support in order to continue to make improvements. But with dedicated leaders like founder K.K. Devaraj, as well as our dear friends Jim & Leena, we know that God will continue to do His work in this place. He most certainly has not abandoned the people of the Red Light District. In my eyes, BTC is evidence that God is still there, working to rescue and save His people.
So many people have congratulated us for going on this trip and taking our kids. While I truly appreciate the sentiment, there is nothing special about us at all. We stepped outside our middle class bubble for 1 week. The real heroes are the staff of BTC, who have dedicated their lives to doing God’s work. Not for glory or recognition, but because they truly know what it means to be saved. We can all be a part of this work by keeping BTC in our prayers. We can also use the resources God has blessed us with to support BTC financially (which can be done through this link). I look forward to returning to BTC in the future to see how God will use these gifts to make “the best place on Earth” even better.