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Broken Things: By, Andrew Shaughnessy

1 Month Freedom Birthday

1 Month Freedom Birthday

When I was in Africa I loved to fix broken things, to build with my hands. The long equatorial days were filled with unanswerable questions: numbing poverty, spiritual vacuums, legacies of suffering, problems that demanded addressing but rejected easy answers or clear-cut solutions. And in the shadow of my inability to fix broken people and their broken land, I found solace in fixing broken bicycles and boreholes. It was easier, I found, to wield a welder’s torch and build something new and good and useful out of scraps of steel, than to wield economic theories and sound Biblical counsel to build something new out of broken people. And there was comfort in that sense of completion.

This City is worlds away from those African days of dust, but there are still broken people in a broken world that rejects quick fixes or easy answers, but demands an attempt at healing. Our small piece of the larger picture involves pouring our efforts and prayers and lives into the lives of seven women who the world has turned its back on. And I want for the healing to be instantaneous, the transformation to be complete and exponential. But people and cities and institutions and generational legacies of suffering and exploitation take more than a welding torch and a screwdriver to patch together.

The weeks have been long, but we’re beginning to settle into a rhythm.

Devotions. Songs. Prayer. Group Therapy. Math. Cha. English. Baking. Lunch.

We add short modules teaching practical life skills. G teaches a class on budgeting. I take a morning session for first aid instruction. Tomorrow I will teach a basic self-defense module.

The shipment of equipment from China is delayed. The café renovations are hitting obstacles. We adapt. We improvise. We make mistakes often, sleep little, and love much.

Lessons. Plans. Coffee to make it through the mornings, noons, and long nights.

Monday to Friday. The schedule and repetition lends a sense of normalcy and routine to a life that is far from normal and far from routine. And then something jars us out of it – the brief breakdowns and tears, the bruises, the steely resolve juxtaposed with frustrating apathy, the tiny chapters of unimaginable histories.

Widowed when still a child.

Gave birth to her first daughter at age 12.

Her junkie husband making trouble.

Her name tattooed on her wrist like a brand from Dachau. If she winds up dead in an alley someone can at least read her name.

And then we remember the high stakes. We remember that the Monday to Friday routine that six seconds ago seemed almost normal, is in fact a daily battle. Teaching in a foreign language, learning grace in the face of hopelessness, constantly adapting, exercising compassion, crying out to God for wisdom and strength.

They crack at the seams, these children of God, literally in some cases. Life in the brothels takes its toll physically, mentally, and spiritually. The women from the Lines age more quickly than others. Several of our women in their 30s look like they could be grandmothers. Several are.

We try to understand. We try to hold the pieces together. We try to empower them and tell them that they are strong. That they are worth something. We do our damndest and lean heavy on God’s helping hands.

And we hang on to the glimmers of progress and hope and redemption that we are granted day by day.

The light in her eyes when the empowerment of a new English phrase clicks.

The gears of their minds whirring to solidify the steps in a recipe.

The soaring laughter that transcends language barriers that fills the rooms.

In the streets flatbed trucks and carts carry 10 foot idols of plaster-and-paint gods with blood red eyes and six hands holding severed human heads, and the people dance and beat drums and cry before them hoping, just hoping, that if they make enough noise their gods of death will hear them and grant their requests. In these rooms tears fall as these children of God hear for the first time of a suffering savior, a God who cares for the poor and the downtrodden and hears their faintest whispers.

There’s a line from Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables that I go back to time and time again:

“His humble soul loved; that was all…. That he raised his prayer to a superhuman aspiration, is probable; but one can no more pray too much than love to much… He inclined towards the distressed and the repentant. The universe appeared to him like a vast disease; he perceived suffering everywhere, and, without essaying to solve the enigma, he endeavored to staunch the wound.”

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.
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.

Protected: Bridging Communication Gaps: by, Andrew Shaughnessy

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How long must we wait?: by, Joe Pouliot

How Long Must We Wait?

“We are

born like this

into this

into these carefully mad wars

into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness

into bars where people no longer speak to each other

into fist fights that end at shootings and knifings

born into this

into hospitals that are so expensive that its cheaper to die

into lawyers that charge so much its cheaper to plead guilty

into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed

into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes”

- Charles Bukowski (found in the local newspaper, The Telegraph)


How long must we wait for you, God?

How many more wars? How many more people have to die? How long will evil reign? How long will death and suffering haunt our existence?

Tonight was a rough night. I am struggling with the realities of life. Injustice reigns throughout the world, in our governments, in our systems. But it’s not just “them,” it is in our very own hearts. The brokenness of this world is wrecking me and I can’t seem to wrap my mind around it. How can I? How can we? And I’ve been to Bible School. I know all the answers I’m supposed to have. But they all seem to fall short tonight and I look to my God and ask Him, “How long must we wait?”

My mind wanders… I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for Jesus to walk this earth. To see the world He created and walk among the fruits of the path that we, humanity, had chosen for ourselves – the hurt, the struggle, the pain that has existed throughout history since the beginning of time and continues to this very day. The atrocities that have been committed, the lives that have been lost, the desolation of a beautiful creation…

And as I’m dwelling on all of this, the story of Jesus walking up on a large funeral procession comes to my mind (Luke 7:11-16). He sees the only son of a local widow being carried out of the city gate. He hears the weeping and wailing; he looks on at the broken hearts. He sees the mother who just lost her only son and grasps the anguish that has shattered her as she walks alongside him. Jesus cannot just let this pass. He is moved in the depths of his being to action:

 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” (ESV)

After I read that, more and more of the stories of Jesus’ life flooded my mind- all the times He was moved with “compassion” or “pity” and even how He “wept.” It was like with every word He was speaking, every miracle He was doing, He was showing us the very heart of God poured out on the earth. He sees what I see now, and He was, and still is, moved with compassion. He hates evil and all it’s faces, and He gave His life to defeat it.

His hope met my despair and I am grateful.

I’ve come to realize that to be a Christian in this world is not to just go to your local church on Sunday mornings. Father, have mercy on us! It can’t be only that. It is a call to change, a call to action- to be moved with compassion and to stand against Evil itself, not only in the world, but in ourselves. To choose to live in direct contrast to it everyday, by the power of the One who overcame the world! And the desire of our hearts as His followers must be to seek the redemption of His creation, the restoration of all things, whatever the cost, till He returns…

Life is hard. If you watch the news enough, it’s hard not to get depressed. We may not be able to fix all the world’s problems. We may not be able to raise the dead. But my prayer is that the followers of Jesus, all over the world, would lay down their lives for their neighbor, and show the world that God has not abandoned us…

Till He returns,