India is completely breaking my heart. My world has been turned upside down as India has become my new home for the time being. The sights, the smells and the culture are indescribable but I will do my best to give you an idea to the ministry I am involved in and what we are doing here in Kolkata.
I began ministry at Life Connection (the children’s restoration day program ministry) on Monday and WOW-God has broke my heart for the little boys (ages 4-15) that I will be working with for the next three weeks while in Kolkata. On Tuesday, there was probably 10 kids who came to Life Connection-which is amazing because apparently for the past few months, there has only been 4 or so kids who have attended. Wednesday, we had 13 boys come! We are still praying for girls to come but recently its been only boys. Basically what happens is our India team splits up into 2 groups. Sona and Chuba are a married couple who live in the apartment next to us. Sona is 8 months pregnant and expecting in a few weeks. They are the founders of Life Connection and have about 5 staff working under them.
Every morning, our team gets together for worship, intercession and prayer at 6:15 am. We then eat breakfast at 7, get ready and leave by 7:30 to walk to our ministry. We break into 2 groups. Most of the group will go to Life Connection (which is a 20 min walk). The other group will go with another translator staff. They then walk 20 min to catch a local train to Howrah Train Station. Howrah is one of the biggest stations in India. 10 million people pass through it everyday. Basically, when you walk through the station, it feels like you are in a circus (dodging people during a Black Friday sale in the mall.) It’s Insane! In India, there are many children who run-away from home. Many of these kids are boys who are very young. The movie. Slumdog Millionaire becomes a reality and comes to life when you experience India in person. Although, the train stations and railroad tracks are completely covered in garbage, human and animal feces, food, sleeping dogs and passed out people. You can imagine the horrific smells while walking through the stations or next to the tracks. All the waste from the trains is dumped on the tracks. This is basically their idea of a sewage system. Many children runaway from home due to violence, abuse or too many people in the household. With that, many kids live at Howrah Train Station. At Howrah, there is specifically one man who knows how to attract the runaways. He is a Hindu man who does his little “business” with the children there. He finds some way to appeal to them and offers to “take care of them.” In reality, he finds the runaways, gives them an ID card (to keep track of them or to bail them out of jail). He sometimes feeds them and for awhile the children had to pay him 5 rupies. (50 rupies=1 American dollar) Many of the kids are employed under him and there are other adults who have become Controllers of the children as well.
During the day, the children usually sleep at the train station and during the night, the children go on their search for empty water bottles because they can get 1 rupie per 1 waterbottle. They then have to turn in a certain percentage of money to their “boss” in whom they call Uncle. This man is nothing like an uncle or care provider. We hear stories from the children of this man beating them or the police beating them. Because the boys don’t have positive role models to look up to and they are trying to do anything to survive, there is stealing and crime that occurs. Many children have become masters at stealing money from other children and from passengers. With the money that the boys have remaining, from their bottle collecting or whatever-they usually end up buying Glue. They then find rags and pour some glue on the rags, then put the rags in their mouth to inhale it and sniff it. They do this to get high and the majority of children are high in the station. When they get high, they are unaware of their surroundings and many end up finding razor blades in which they use to cut themselves deeply leaving gashes all over their bodies. When we walk through the train stations, many children and teenagers are passed out with rags next to their mouths because they were using glue.
At the train station, we do a prayer walk three times a week along with working at Life Connection. We walk up and down the 23 platforms for a few hours praying and talking to children-trying to build relationships with them and doing our best to convince them to come to Life Connection with us. When we see children, we wake them up but it is often challenging to get responses from them because they are so high. They struggle to open up their glazed-over eyes. The children are between the ages of 3-18 or so. It makes me wonder, “How do children ages 4-17 learn to get high off of glue and then cut themselves with razors?” This absolutely breaks my heart. Where is the childlike innocence? This is not just a nightmare, but a nightmare being brought to life. This is reality for these children (daily life.)
After part of the group goes to the train station for the morning prayer walk, they start traveling back to Life Connection to meet the other group who has been there all morning working with the kids. Everyone does at least 8-11 hrs of ministry a day. They boys who come to Life Connection every day usually catch a ride on the local train from Howrah to the road where they walk 15 min or so to the ministry house. They usually show up around 7:30 am-8. Below is a schedule of our day at Life Connection:
8: Arrival, pocket check for the boys and registration
Team and staff intercession and worship
Bath time, powder and oil. All the boys bathe and shower. We then put powder on them which is like deodorant and it helps them sweat less. We then give them oil to put in their hair.
Breakfast and Lunch prep (requires lots of peeling, chopping and cooking for staff and kids)
Breakfast and Prayer
Worship and Prayer for the kids and we do it with them (interactive songs)
Story time (One of us tells an interactive Bible story which we like acting out)
Informal Study (we help the boys learn English and Bengali, their numbers and the alphabet) Also, during the time, we switch of playing games as well.
Lunch (usually consisting of rice, dahl (lentils), meat, and potatoes)
Chores, (sweeping, cleaning, dishes ect)
Games/Movie for a few hrs.
Clean-up and leave
Unfortunately, the boys have to leave the ministry at 4 to go back to the train station because there is no other house for them to stay at. Sona and Chuba are praying for a boys home in which they hope to open. They would need to be blessed with finances, a building and another committed staff in order for that to happen though. They want to open up a boy’ s home in which they can take in boys and keep them there throughout the day and night. Please be praying for this situation.
Working with this ministry has broken my heart for the children of India. We don’t just help provide a day camp at the restoration home but we feed them breakfast and lunch. They get to eat as much as they want until they are full. If the boys have wounds and razor cuts, we help bandage them. They get a bath, new clothes to change into and people to Love on them. We teach them education and during story time, we each take turns telling Bible stories. I love seeing the boy’s faces come alive with anticipation when we are doing skits, telling stories, playing games, watching movies or just interacting with them. They are so hungry for Jesus and when we all pray, they sit there intently with their hands folded praying to Jesus as well. A few days ago, we were praying over each of the boys as the boys were praying themselves as well. One of them started crying and he later told us that he had seen Jesus in front of him while he was praying. He then told Jesus that he didn’t want to live at Howrah any longer. And he told us that Jesus said back to him, “Don’t worry, I will be with you.” This boy is probably 8 years old. All the boys have such a childlike faith and want to know more about Jesus! You see it in their eyes when they pray for each other and for themselves. These boys need attention and they long to be loved. We all do our best to just love on them and spend time with each and everyone of them.
This is a bird’s eye view into what we are doing here in India during this month! Please be praying for all of us. We have all gotten sick at some point during this past month. It is very hot and humid as it is nearing summer. Thank you so much for your prayers and thoughts. This is a crazy adventure of a lifetime. Hopefully, next week when I have internet, I will post more of what we are doing and more stories! Love you all!