And hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:5)
Today started on the same theme as yesterday finished.
To Mark's disappointment we headed off to meet Benjamin's close friend, church planter and area leader Arne (pronounced Arnie) by car. It's same Arne who is 'house sitting' the Basirhat property who we had seen on Tuesday and so I was looking forward to keeping my promise to him to return! I hope I don't have to explain that to you, do I?
Although we are here with a clear focus to take the planning for the Aftercare Home on to the next stage the work that Benjamin and his team are doing is quite phenomenal. It really is Acts in action. And so I wanted Mark and Ben to experience how Benjamin and his team have already planted over 16,000 churches in villages all over India and further afield, in countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nepal.
We left a little later than we had planned to. I know how difficult regular readers of the blog will find that to believe but it's true. Traffic in Kolkata was....you know the picture. And I'm sure Mark was dreaming of the motorbike as we sat in the midst of a slowly moving tightly packed mass of mostly mangled machinery. I guess the mortality rate of drivers is actually quite low, though, as cars rarely go faster than walking pace. The problem is minor dings. The 1960s Austin Ambassador is still the car of choice for taxi drivers. And why not? You'd have to have slightly abandoned your senses to spend all day on these streets in a car that you might worry about being scratched or dented.
Finally we hit the open road. And freedom for the driver to accelerate. The problem with that is that chicken played at 5mph in the city is a different game entirely from chicken played at 50mph in the country. Travel insurance. Check. Intense prayer. Check. The Apostle Paul encourages us to pray ceaselessly. No need for any encouragement other than circumstances today. Church planting is a serious matter when people can be beaten, abused and occasionally killed. I think it may actually be nearly as dangerous to get to the villages in the first place. The Crown Prosecutor and the former defence lawyer had a most stimulating conversation about how many of the drivers on the road we travelled today would have found themselves prosecuted under s3 of the Road Traffic Act for careless or inconsiderate driving. Learned and unanimous conclusion - all of them.
The journey was not enhanced by the fact that for a good half an hour we followed a wide open channel taking raw, untreated sewage from the 18,000,000 people of Kolkata to the sea. Touch here # for an authentic sensory experience. You didn't did you? Anyway by now I'm sure you can imagine the stench. It's hot here!
By the grace of God we finally made it to the spot where we were getting the Big Life boat to take us to a Hindu village not accessible by road and where the team had not been before.
We were very well received by the village and whilst Ben and Mark expended far too much energy on a hot day playing games with the children I joined Arne and a Christian Dr to run a medical camp. This took place in the yard of a woman's basic 'shack' home, a woman whose name sounded like Chamonix but didn't quite understand when I mentioned this to her. I asked what connection she had with Big Life. 'None at all, she's only just met us.' She brought us chai and biscuits as a crowd gathered to have their medical conditions diagnosed and prescriptions administered. I discovered that nearly all the complaints related to water borne parasites and diseases. Or the arsenic which is in the water at very high levels. This shocked me but didn't surprise me. Remember the sewerage which was not so far away. And add the massive landfill site we also passed for a toxic cocktail.
By this time Chamonix had a tract in her hand entitled 'Free from fear' and Madhu, who was doing a great job interpreting, asked her what she feared? She replied without missing a beat. 'Getting sick.' No surprise there. The nearest medical facilty is over an hour away by boat and there are no local Drs. No medicines. No hope. It wasn't the poverty of a lack of money that struck me. Two boys entertained themselves for ages with two plastic margarine tubs and two sticks. It was the poverty of the fragility of life without the extra resources to treat their water properly, have good transport, seek proper (or indeed any) medical care, or protect there children. What do I mean by that last comment? You see, although this outreach today is not about traffick victims, it still is. It is from places like here that young girls get taken and put into brothels. Young boys end up in brick kilns and can longer aspire to be Drs or engineers like the ones I spoke to today. I was surprsied by how open the village was with us. Complete strangers. We meant only good but how easy it would be to win the affections of such kind trusting people and then abuse that trust. I don't want to be cynical but I know it happens. I've seen the stats, I've listened to the IJM workers. They could be playing in bricks today and working in a brick kiln tomorrow. Only hope of a future without fear can stop this happening.
Being part of a loving church fellowship can bring this hope. Hope doesn't disappoint us. And it won't disappoint them. Being part of a worldwide family that is called to love the least and give water to them in Christ's name can help. Big Life are planning on building a clinic in this area, too. All this helps to break the chains of the cycle of trafficking. By removing the poverty of fear and replacing it with the hope of the true Gospel, the captives are set free and the year of the Lord's favour is proclaimed.
Together we can make a difference.