Kushi1 is a young woman from India who was abandoned by her stepmother at age fourteen. A woman soon approached Kushi and offered her a “good job.” Instead of the promised job, the woman sold Kushi to a brothel, where she was drugged and kept locked up until she stopped fighting. After ten years in the sex trade, Kushi heard about a business called Sari Bari where she would be taught how to sew blankets and be given a good wage. More than anything, Kushi was excited to learn to read and write. Kushi is now able to attend “school” at Sari Bari. She is also saving money to buy her own home.
Sarah Lance and her community (who are part of Word Made Flesh [WMF]) started Sari Bari two years ago and are the ones who have given Kushi a chance to try on freedom. “New life in the making” is its mantra; Sari Bari is in the business of freedom. The business employs women who want to leave the sex trade to sew bags and blankets out of recycled saris. Women who want to find freedom receive a fair wage and generous medical, savings, and educational benefits for themselves and their families.
Their workday starts with a short devotional and prayer. Then the women roll out their blankets and begin to work—smiling, helping each other, chatting, laughing, and asking questions as they learn to sew straight lines. The women have dignity now and best of all, their eyes reflect a scattering light of hope. This is a picture of resurrection.
Resurrection in Community
Just three days separated Christ’s suffering and resurrection, and the WMF community in Kolkata is aware of this truth. Each staff member who works at Sari Bari commits to participating in the community’s coinciding ministry in the brothels. At least one day a week, they visit the red-light district, making and maintaining friendships, drinking tea, visiting the women’s rooms, and playing with their children. They go because the WMF community in Kolkata recognizes its need to follow the suffering Christ into the brothels where their friends’ bodies are being used up for $2USD a customer.
They believe that the resurrected Christ cannot be celebrated at Sari Bari without also ministering to the wounds of the crucified Christ in the brothels. Likewise, the WMF staff who lead the brothel ministry always work at least one day a week at Sari Bari. The two groups of workers—those who serve primarily in the brothels and those who serve primarily at Sari Bari—need each other. The suffering found in the red-light districts can be endured, and even embraced, when the hope of redemption found at Sari Bari is present. And the hope of Sari Bari motivates those who would otherwise be crushed by the despair of the red-light districts.
The Bigger Picture of Redemption
Indeed, when we look at the current realities of the world, we are tempted to despair. UNICEF estimates 158 million children aged five to fifteen are engaged in child labor. An estimated two million children are exploited in prostitution or pornography. Approximately 1.2 million children are trafficked around the world every year.
According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, eighty percent of transnational trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to fifty percent are minors—and most are trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation. The most vulnerable—women and children living in poverty—become victims because they can be used and abused to gain or keep something that many people believe is more important than a human being’s life—money.
However, we are in a time when there actually is potential for real change to happen in the world. Some of the worst news, while still bad, is taking a turn for the better. For example, UNICEF reports that “in 2006, for the first time in the modern era, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday fell below ten million, to 9.7 million.”
We are growing more and more toward kindness. And yet, although I am hopeful, I worry that we are becoming over-saturated with all the facts, news, crises, and even good opportunities to be involved that are coming at us.
Responding in and through Worship
As our awareness of world poverty, suffering, and injustice sets in, we immediately and rightfully must consider how God would call us to respond. Yet many of us skip past an important step: worship. This includes prayer, silence, and the proclamation of God’s goodness, mercy, and love. We cannot jump from awareness into action unless we are first refined by love. Full life awaits, but it starts out very small and very, very quietly.
Sit with it.
Quietly. (You may need to stay a long time. Or many long times).
Let it change you.
Grieve if you are able.
Listen a little longer.
Hear your name—beloved.
Experience peace where you are now.
Yield to the moment.
Yield to love.
Let the yielding heal you.
This love can change me.
This love can change us.
Love can create a world where we want to live.
In quietness we can hear God speaking and moving. We begin to see; we realize there are open doors that never seemed to be there before. More and more frequently we hear a whisper, “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21). Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a faithful witness to the cycle of action and reflection—she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Long, quiet, honest reflection on our life choices often reveals skewed or contradictory values. One of our Word Made Flesh USA board members, Bob Mabrey, often tells the story of his battle with cancer many years ago. Before he became ill he would tell people that his relationship with God came first, his wife and children came second, and work and ministry came third.
While he was sick, he was forced to examine his life. He came to realize that for many years his life had actually reflected the exact opposite of what he had always boasted. His work and church activities regularly took first priority. His wife and children received the remaining attention. If any energy was left after that, he spent it with God. Many long hours in bed cured him of a life of contradiction.
A Reconnection with Our Humanity
Along with curing us of contradiction, prayerful contemplation reconnects us with our humanity in new ways. We become aware of our bodies, our breathing, our senses, our emotions. Being in tune with and growing in respect for our own humanity awakens a deeper desire to respect the humanity of others as well. When fortified by love, we cannot continue on as we did before, living lives of contradiction, or simply living for ourselves. Love compels us to act on behalf of a world that is desperately in need.
The economic hardships we are experiencing now, while devastating for many, provide us an opportunity to step off the treadmill, think, pray, and ultimately reorient toward a more human way of life. We can become free from the overconsumption under which we suffer. We can embrace our humanity and the humanity of others. Below are a few small practices that can become signs of the coming kingdom in these days:
- Watch and listen for Christ. Consider whether your life reflects both the crucified and resurrected Christ.
- Practice love. Love the people God has placed directly in your life—even when it’s hard.
- Recognize that resources aren’t limited to money alone. Time, emotional energy, skills, and talent are resources that can be shared and given away in love.
- Rethink your spending. You probably long for a human touch or a quiet moment more than you really want the next “thing.”
- When you do shop, buy fair trade.2 In doing so, you can celebrate the dignity of humanity rather than participate in modern-day slavery. Women like Kushi thank you for it. Visit www.saribari.com or find a free trade store near you at: www.transfairusa.org.
- Support an organization that is bringing dignity to human life. In doing so, you embrace the coming of the new kingdom. Visit www.wordmadeflesh.org.
In love, these small acts of worship can reorient us toward the God who became flesh. They touch the lives of women like Kushi and become signs of the coming kingdom.
1. Kushi’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.
2. For example, a large, upscale retail-clothing store sells the exact same kind of blankets as Sari Bari (in fact, the quality of Sari Bari products is higher). This company pays workers $2.50USD per blanket with no benefits and takes a one thousand percent profit. Sari Bari pays its employees about $12USD per blanket, plus benefits, and re-invests profits back into the women.