Seeing the light in the red light district
by David Giles
The team has travelled on to Mumbai today, the financial and entertainment capital of India. I'd experienced a bout of nowhere-near-Delhi belly overnight and had precisely zero sleep. Although I rallied during the day, I was seriously contemplating bailing out of this evening's fact-finding mission. I'm so glad I didn't, as this proved to be a truly inspirational evening.
The Salvation Army's Jeevan Asha night shelter provides accommodation and a range of complementary care facilities to boys in the Kamathipura district of the city. This is one of Mumbai's red light districts. Not as overt as Amsterdam or Bangkok, perhaps, but there was a distinct whiff of the illicit in the air - literally and metaphorically.
The boys, ranging from 7 to 16, have one thing in common. Their mothers are engaged in the sex trade in this area. The reasons for this are complex and saddening, but clearly the boys cannot be around as their mothers ply their trade. This means that the alternatives are either spending the night wandering the streets with all the associated risks, or being accommodated at a centre like Jeevan Asha. The scale of the problem is immense - just in this one part of the city, there are an estimated 5,000 children on the streets. What reason do these young people have to be hopeful?
The answer was as striking as it was humbling and inspiring: Jesus.
Without exception, the boys spoke of their personal faith and hope. There was no compulsion to take part in Christian worship - but these lads had chosen to take part in a special week of 'Vacation Bible School' activities. They sang movingly, gave their own testimonies of changed lives and performed an outstanding contemporary worship dance, to the track El-Shaddai ('God Almighty'). I am not generally moved by dance of any form, but this was outstanding. Their passion and skill was incredible.
We heard of their ambitions (one wanted to become a manager of a successful company, one told us that they wanted to be a professional footballer). We heard of their educational development - which they ascribed largely to being able to attend Jeevan Asha, without which there would be no place for them to keep up with their school work. One of the older guys, aged 21, had been in the Jeevan Asha project for 7 years, and had been so affected by its ministry that he had chosen to study social work and join the Salvation Army team as a project worker to help other vulnerable boys.
They were blown away by the fact that we'd travelled thousands of miles to meet them. But actually, the privilege was ours. It was great to be able to pray with and for them.
After meeting the boys, we returned to the crowded streets outside - where there was little doubt as to the nature of services offered. As we strolled around, we met some of the mothers - they, too, were exceptionally grateful for The Salvation Army's work and justly proud of their sons' achievements.
We met some women who - with the help of a linked Salvation Army programme - have broken out of a life of prostitution. One runs a nearby flower shop, while another is studying law. A third told us that she was so grateful for the opportunity to study, that she couldn't really express it.
There was a glimpse of the reality of life for the boys when, suddenly, the police swooped to move them on. Fortunately, the Salvation Army project worker was able to quickly reassure the police - who were trying to protect us - that this group of young people was no threat.Tags: India, Western, Health, Employment, Homelessness