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Different Vacations: By, Christianne Walsh

Beach in Thailand

My family just returned from vacation on a beach in Thailand… just what the doctor ordered. I needed to be away… from pain… from ugliness… from grief…  just for a time, so I could see my Maker… see His beauty… and know His own Love and Grace, that are so deeply hidden in the chaos of these streets of Kolkata.

I returned to day one of work, refreshed and ready for whatever the day would bring. Here’s how the day unfolded…

9am: My Indian co-worker begins to tell of his vacation time at his home. His mother and older brother have cheated him out of his birthright… his farm. He has no recourse and is hurt in the deepest recesses. We cry together and pray.

11am: We go to visit the ladies in Sonagachi. One woman tells us about the cyclone that is hitting her home back in her home state, as we speak. The house where her children live with her 100-year-old mother-in-law is under water. She is worried and fed up with another disaster to deal with. We pray, and ask God to calm the storm.

2pm: My house-helper, a resident of Sonagachi, comes to my home. I ask her how her vacation was. She says, there was lots of fighting in her home. Her 15-year-old sister has been arrested. Her mother poured kerosene over herself in an attempt to kill herself, because of the shame. “That was my vacation!” she says with alarming resignation.
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Sometime in the middle of the night: I wake up from a nightmare (which I have frequently here). People are after us and we need a place to hide. It takes me a good five minutes after waking to realize I’m in my own bedroom, and that I can stop looking for an escape on the other side of my window.

Here we are, back in Kolkata! The harsh realities which our Bengali friends deal with every day are so hard to contend with. I do thank God for time away.  The glimpses of the life and beauty He meant for us all to enjoy are still fresh in my heart and mind. Deep down I know He is Good.

I appreciated this blog written by Ann Voskamp, that I read while away. It helps give me perspective on Hope and Waiting. Please take a moment to read it and be encouraged, in whatever hardship you or a friend might be facing. Jesus IS making something beautiful… even in the ugliest and darkest of places.

Echoes and Resilience: by Andrew Shaughnessy

Right now I’m reading From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman’s award-winning account of his years as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. In it, recounting the neighborhood bombings in 1980s war-torn Lebanon, Friedman waxes philosophical and writes:

“No one was keeping score. Death had no echo in Beirut. No one’s life seemed to leave any mark on the city or reverberate in its ear.”

As I read those sentences, it reminded me so much of the red light districts of India. Sonagachi is not a war-zone, but, like Beirut in the 1980s, lives are destroyed and senseless suffering is meted out indiscriminately on a daily basis. And, like Beirut, most of those lives seem to leave no mark on this city or reverberate in its ear. The lanes of Sonagachi have no echo. And the world spins madly on.

Later on in his book, Friedman discussed the strategies developed by Beirutis to cope with the senseless violence around them. He writes:

“… those who survived the Israeli invasion of Beirut in the best physical and mental health were those who learned how to block out what was going on around them that was not under their own control and to focus instead only on their immediate environment and the things that they could control. This prevented them from suffering from ‘system overload.’”

I think this “system overload prevention” is necessary, to a degree, for effective action both by us here in Kolkata, and for those of you reading this from back in the states.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed and paralyzed by the scope of the injustice and pain in the Red Light Districts. The problem is big, and there are thousands of girls that we, with our Freedom Business model for addressing the problem, simply can’t reach. There is so much, so many lives, that are out of our control. And that breaks my heart. But if that lack of control and how much you can’t fix and can’t save is all you allow yourself to see, that will break your spirit.

There’s a level of resilience that can be built through focusing in on those things which are in one’s immediate environment and which one can control. Those of us working to build the Freedom Bakery don’t have immediate solutions for the systemic poverty, economic injustice, and generational slavery that we see around us on a daily basis. But we can dramatically change the lives of a few individual women by giving them worthwhile jobs, education, and pouring into their lives relationally.

What’s more, the ripple effects of that are huge. Some of the women we will employ will have children, who we hope to ensure are cared for and in schools, away from the risks of going into the trade themselves. Many support their extended family through their income. That means that the change that comes through the freedom business has the potential to transform generations.

Now, I don’t mean to say that’s easy. Even within the scope of changing the lives of a few women, there’s heaps of challenge. Moreover, as a big picture guy, I think it’s vital that we keep one eye on the big picture and the larger issues at hand. But in the day to day, to survive, to be effective, to continue to hold onto hope and give a damn, we have to hone in on our immediate environment: those lives we do come in contact with, those pieces we can play a part in putting back together, and those daily actions of faithful striving and love that often are all that we can control.

In that way, we develop resilience, we survive, and we continue to fight. In doing so, my hope is that we break through that vacuum of silence that surrounds Sonagachi, and that both the stories of injustice and the stories of transformation begin echo in this city, to leave their marks and reverberate in every ear until they can no longer be ignored.

Book reflection

P.S. – We’re now in our final 2 weeks of the $10,000 for 10,000 Women Matching Campaign. For the next two weeks, any donations you make to the Freedom Bakery will be matched to double your impact. To Donate Click Here and enter Designation number: SAsia-KFB.001

Expectation: by Christianne Walsh

The future site of our freedom bakery

The future site of our freedom bakery

Expectation

I’ve learned to hate the word “expectation.” I think just about every expectation I had about this life and work in Kolkata has fallen to pieces. And then things I didn’t expect, are reality. I think…I hope…I am learning to lower my expectations, but most days, my expectations are just too high, still.

I want things to move fast. I want to do more. I want things to work. I want it to be easy. Well, nothing in Kolkata goes fast, and not too much is easy. But where the rubber really hits the road, is the seemingly long list of unanswered prayers we’ve lifted before God in these two years we’ve lived in India. The waiting for God to move has just seemed like an eternity. My soul is tired.

So many times I’ve asked God, “How do I go on here with so many unfulfilled hopes and expectations?”

His answer always come in these two passages,

Psalm 27:14, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

and

Romans 8:24-25, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Patience.  My achilles heel…

The last two years have been hard, grueling, even. To see so much need around us daily. To want to offer freedom, but being unable, unready. So many days of deep lament. Tears. Sorrow. Just two weeks ago, I thought to myself, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t leave these girls, my friends, on the streets night after night. It’s too hard. My heart can’t hold any more.

Patience.

Well, as usual, despite my lack of confidence and loss of hope, God proved Himself faithful. Last week, our cafe and bakery was finally incorporated with the Indian government. Last Friday, we signed the lease agreement on a beautiful property that will soon be home to our cafe.  Yesterday we took our first women hires down to see, touch, and feel the property, the place where they will work, and, we pray, their lives will be re-built in Jesus, in dignity.

The unseen is becoming the seen. The women who had no hope are finding it. 

And my hope has been restored. I’ve felt Joy anew.

Patience. You’re still my achilles heal, but I’m learning to trust you.

Some technical problems

Hey all,

some technical problems sprang up and most comments on posts from the past 3 months were deleted. I’m going to go back and individually add back comments that I have records for, under my account. Sorry if your comments got lost. We’d still love to keep hearing from you now and in the future as you interact with our stories from Kolkata.

Thanks,

Andrew