Today was supposed to be a quiter, more restful day. Right. We have packed so much in to four days it feels like we've been here for at least two weeks. Even at the end of the day, following Benjamin's nonchalant request on Wednesday, I have been preparing a talk on 'Identity' for a youth conference tomorrow morning with 200 young people attending. 'Oh, and I've booked you to preach at Carey Baptist Church on Sunday.' Whilst I am very honoured to be preaching at the church started by the father of modern missions, who had 'sati' (widow burning) abolished, translator of the scriptures into 18 Indian languages and dialects, founder of the University of Kolkata and general all round amazing saint, and a hero of the faith, a tad more notice and access to my back catalogue of sermons would have been useful and time efficient!
So after a wonderfully bland English breakfast of Sainsbury's orange and ginger marmalade on buttered toast we headed off to meet Smita again, this time to see the two other Mahima houses that she runs so well and which are spoken of so highly by everyone we meet both here and in the UK who knows anything about Aftercare homes.
There is an almost palpable sense of love, warmth and 'home' at Mahima. We joined her at the first home, Mahima Hope, where we had met on Monday. Joining her and her staff for devotions was a privilege, as a case worker led from Hebrews 10:35 on not loosing our confidence. It was so timely as Indian regulations and red tape can sometimes make the possibility of establishing a home like Mahima, seem remote. But we believe that God has called us to this, and He who calls is faithful.
The Mahima homes are not large. 15 girls is one and 12 in another. The third is empty whilst it is being extended but even then will only house about 25 girls. Some girls are with Smita for their minority, other actually stay on afterward whilst finishing their disrupted and delayed education. Others are housed 'short term' whilst being required to attend court to give evidence against their traffickers and abusers. Some cases take as long as 'Jarndice v Jarndice' and so short term is anything but short. We met one such girl at devotions. Trafficked by her cousin and other family members from Bangladesh aged 14, rescued at 15 and now due to give evidence Friday week. She looked like any ordinary 17 year old girl. Really well cared for and clearly happy in her surroundings. Yet she suffers from PTSD and OCD as a result of her hellish experiences and needs ongoing psychiatrist and psychological help, along with the love and care of Mahima counsellors, social workers and Smita herself.
Her room is really comfortable, just like this one photographed at Mahima today.
We spent some time this afternoon with Madhu whose dream is to end the sight of women and girls being sold on the streets of Kolkata, or anywhere for that matter. It's a massive dream for one so diminutive. But David was not a big chap and he slayed Goliath. He had big vision because he had a big target and an even bigger God and you come away from a discussion with Madhu knowing that everything is possible through Him who gives us strength. In her work Madhu has seen what the conditions were like that girls were forced against their wills to live in. Appalling conditions that fellow human beings, children, have to endure. Now. Today. As you are reading this. Conditions just like those in the photos below. Our police cells and prisons are like suites at Dunstan Hall in comparison.
And this last photo is of a room which 'housed' three girls right next to each other on mattresses on the floor. Note the bars at the door. And now imagine just curtains separating them whilst the worst is happening......
And it doesn't take much to see why the work of IJM and Smita is essential. Or why we should stand shoulder to shoulder with them and provide whatever help and support we can to see these precious girls, made in the image of God and loved by him, rescued, redeemed, restored. And loved. They need to be loved better.
The day ended with some light relief. Benjamin's flat, where I am staying and where we are being so well cared for and fed with amazing Biriani and maramlade (not together, I hasten to add) is below the flat which Benjamin rents for guests and teams coming to do work with Big Life. Ben and Mark have that flat to themselves. So at supper time Ben comes down but no Mark. 'Is Mark coming?' An unconcerned Ben says something about last seeing him head for the loo, hoping he's ok and he'll be down in a minute. Well, more than 10 minutes pass and Ben thinks we should eat. As his last mouthful of curry disappears inside a satisfied face Ben says heroically that he'll check Mark is ok. Returning a couple of minutes later he looks rather sheepish as he's followed by a very healthy looking Mark exclaiming 'He locked me in!' Whoops Ben.
Tomorrow Ben and Mark are heading back to Basirhat to do a full measure up of the house. For some reason they didn't want to stay and hear my talk to 200 youth. Where's your commitment, boys? They are going as unaccompanied adults on a train. But Mark seems happy enough. He has a newly acquired Indian tape measure. I hope that Indian millimetres aren't as flexible as Indian minutes.