THE CHANGING OF ONE AMERICAN LIFE
We are taking a detour in our One Story One Life this week, and providing you the vantage point of one American life that has been changed forever by intersections with Bombay Teen Challenge. There have been quite a few questions generated by reading the stories of Sanjay and Israel, and so it seems fitting to answer a few of them with this story this week. So, this week, the One Story One Life is the story of Susie. Journey to Hope is passionate about the work of Bombay Teen Challenge, and you might ask why? Why Bombay Teen Challenge? Here is my answer to that question:
If you had asked me in 2008 whether visiting India would be on my top ten wish list or bucket list, my answer would have been no. Not that there was anything negative about India; the idea of traveling to India or having people visit my home from India just was not on my radar. We have had many international exchange students over the years from Japan, France, Australia and Brazil, and our family has been so much richer for every experience. All of these students came for a several month stay, and went to an American school for a semester while they lived with our family, and worked on their English and were exposed to American culture. Because of this background, Stafford Crossing Crossing Community Church, where I also was on staff, asked me to head up a similar program for our church to receive students from India, and we named it XChange4Life. Our goals were to place each student in individual homes, and provide an English immersion as well as an exposure to American Christian Culture.
8 women were chosen to come for this first trip from India. These young women from India who came in 2008 were also a dance team, and it was the leader of the dance team, Lakshmi, who stayed in our home. We prayed about who God would have to stay with us, and so felt a peace about it being her when the time came. Each of their life stories was incredibly powerful; how God has worked in their lives and given them hope for their future.
On the day the girls arrived, it was easy to see that they were afraid. It was their first trip outside of India, and to the U.S. Coming home with us and being shown to her room was all very much a culture shock, I am sure. Lakshmi asked us to just call her Lux, to make it easier. Another issue that surfaced was that we had two golden retrievers and a cocker spaniel, and Lux was afraid of dogs. My husband and I showed Lux around our home, and to her room and said good night. A short while later, we heard her praying in Hindi, and when she was still praying 30 minutes later, we decided to join her in spirit and prayed in our rooms. She prayed like this every night for her team, for their trip, for our family, and the way she prayed and cried out to God reached a very deep place in our hearts. We grew to love Lux. While it was our desire to make a difference in her life, the truth is that she also made a powerful difference in ours. The team left to return to India in late summer, 2008.
The next intersection with India came in October, 2009, when Stafford Crossing Community Church put together a missions team to go to Bombay Teen Challenge in India and lead a program called Life Hurts God Heals. I was already offering Life Hurts God Heals as a group therapy for teens at Stafford Crossing, so I headed up the team to lead it at Bombay Teen Challenge. We flew to Mumbai, and spent a day or two being introduced to the city, the beauty and poverty side by side. We visited the first center that many children go to after being rescued, and met so many precious souls who were being given a chance for a better life there. I had no idea until later, when viewing pictures from the trip, that I was just a few feet away from Israel at this center, but we did not know each other yet. It is amazing that he and I were right there together, with no idea that in one year, he would be staying in my home. We also visited the Red Light District, and this was truly heartbreaking for me. To see young, very young girls standing on the side of the street, all made up and dressed up and offering themselves to anyone who would pay the price. It was hard to sleep after this first day of exposure to the horror and the hope residing in the city of Mumbai.
We headed out next to Ashagram, which means the Village of Hope, where there is a drug rehab unit, a home for boys, a separate home for girls and special housing for women who have been rescued from sex slavery. These women who come out of the red light district are offered refuge at Ashagram, as well as being given the opportunity to learn a trade (such as jewelry making, leatherworks, or tailoring). It is a beautiful center, located a few hours outside of Mumbai. I am not sure I could ever find it on my own - the journey there was quite long and the roads were very challenging!
We stayed at the guest unit at Ashagram, and for three days, we led the Life Hurts God Heals program – God used all of us there to minister to the 150 or so who participated – to show that God can and will heal any hurt. We also visited the other Jubilee Centers. Heading back to Mumbai, we spent a day or two resting and seeing some local sights before heading back to the US. This trip was a lifechanger for me in a few ways. First, to see so much absolute poverty everywhere around me was devastating. Second, to see the red light district and those hundreds of sex workers filled me with such a sense of how broken our world really is and I found my heart breaking over their life stories. Third, to see the redemption in the boys, girls, men and women who had been rescued through Bombay Teen Challenge gave me hope.
The next intersection came in 2010, when the music/drama team from Bombay Teen Challenge came in the summer. This is the story of Israel, which you have already been able to read. God has been very busy lining the walls of my heart with India!
In the fall of 2010, I traveled with a small group over to India to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Bombay Teen Challenge. This trip was very, very different, in that we had one night at the Taj Hotel celebrating this wonderful ministry, and another celebration at Ashagram, where I got to see Israel and Lux before heading back to the US.
2011 did not include a team from India to Virginia or me to India. However, it did include several trips to Virginia from Devaraj and the forging of a wonderful friendship between us. Devaraj knows that he has an open invitation to stay at our home, and we have had the blessing of him staying several times, as well as members of his family. A very meaningful moment that happened on this journey to hope with Devaraj was when he came to our brand new office and prayed over the opening of it as a new business. He prayed for quite some time that God would have the victory here and that hope would be found by those who came through our doors for help. That blessing was very powerful for us at Journey to Hope.
In 2012, we were blessed to have yet another team of young men and women come as a music team to tour the US, and this is when Sanjay came to our home, and you also have that part of the story.
In 2013, Andy and I flew to India, and spent 2 weeks in India, visiting all the centers, and leading some training for staff at several of the centers. It is our prayer that this great alliance forged on the anvil of our shared faith can continue for the future between Journey to Hope and Bombay Teen Challenge. God is always greater and able to do anything He chooses in and between the hearts of those who love Him. Amen.
For more information about Bombay Teen Challenge and all their ministries, please visit www.bombayteenchallenge.org