In late November, I was blessed with the opportunity to go on a week-long mission trip to Mumbai.
The trip was part of Redeemer Presbyterian’s short-term missions program, which coordinates dozens of trips each year to assist and serve international nonprofits and NGOs in various capacities. Thanks to the generous support of family and friends who contributed financially and prayerfully to the cause, I was able to embark on this eye-opening journey into the heart of India.
Words can never adequately describe the full experience, but I attempted to share some highlights and takeaways. The following is adapted from an email I sent to supporters shortly after the trip:
With open hearts and minds, the Mumbai mission team traveled into the heart of India for Redeemer’s 4th mission trip centering on human and sex trafficking issues.
Our team of 13 doubled down on efforts to bring light to the victims of sex trafficking through spiritual, educational, and artistic activities. This was made possible thanks to a blossoming partnership with 2 partner organizations on the ground: International Justice Mission, and another organization (whose name must remain hidden for security purposes).
Our team split time between two locations: 3 days in Mumbai, and 4 days at a school/shelter in Badlapur (a small town about an hour outside of Mumbai).
Below is a day-by-day summary of how our time and dollars were spent.
Day 1: Context
We started our trip in the Red Light District of Kamathipura, Mumbai, arguably the world’s largest hub for sex trafficking (it is reported that 40% of the world’s human slaves live in India).
It’s an ironic truth that within the sprawling confines of Mumbai, there’s a booming industry – one that runs counter to the city’s moniker, “City of Dreams” – where thousands of women are stripped of their dreams through violence.
After worshipping at the Red Light District Church alongside women (some of whom still work in the brothels), we drove through the Red Light District’s noisy and winding roads. Though we were shielded from view in a car, the scene was a harrowing glimpse of the reality that some 300,000 women experience daily in Mumbai.
Women stood wistfully on the streets, platform-heeled & sari-bedazzled, while men casually eyed ‘goods for consumption’; it was an image reminiscent of a meat market. Grotesque as it was, what we saw doesn’t come close to capturing the full situation. All-told, the Red Light District houses more than 1000 brothels, with most hidden from sight within the District’s dark alleys.
Days 2 – 5: Badlapur
We traveled to the ATC Village*, a recently-built educational facility an hour outside of Mumbai, where approximately 40 rescued children of women in prostitution receive a free, high-quality education.
Here we spent the next 4 days leading Bible Study, financial literacy classes, arts and crafts activities, and homework help. Most of the girls’ mothers are still enslaved or undergoing HIV/AIDS treatment. Despite their lack of parental figures, they were eager to learn: many speak fluent English and have dreams to attend university, have a career, and become financially independent.
At one of the shelters we visited, rescued women underwent job training and learned to make beautiful handmade quilts, jewelry, and handbags, with the ultimate goal of creating their own businesses.
To top it off, our Events team “made it rain” with sprinkles and glitter at each of the three facilities (including a shelter home for rescued women and their children as well as a dedicated home for HIV positive children). Dressed to the tee in fedoras, glowsticks, and fancy shades, the girls (and boys!) had a blast posing at our instant Polaroid Photo Booth.
Days 6 and 7: Mumbai Slums
If the first part of our trip was “service”, then our last two days were serious “education”.
On the final leg, we returned to Mumbai and served food to the homeless at a food mobile truck. We also met with International Justice Mission (IJM) to learn more about their unique 4-prong strategy to protect the poor from violence.
Not only does IJM conduct raids to rescue victims from sex trafficking, they actively work to change the system through prosecution of the perpetrators, legal advocacy, and policy-making. As of December 2015, they’ve trained 10,000 Indian police officers to more effectively enforce the law and swiftly bring perpetrators to justice!
Equally important is their rehabilitation work that restores current victims to their community through educational and health services. We were blessed with the opportunity to meet with a leader of one of these Mumbai outreach ministries, Pastor Guy. Guy is an inspiring and energetic soul with a heart for the poor.
He took us to a slum community where he ministers; there we met with a family who graciously welcomed us into their home and we then prayed over each other.
Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to purchase a plentiful stock of groceries for the family, as well as a new motorcycle for Pastor Guy! We hope that these gifts can nourish the family’s health and facilitate ease and convenience for Pastor Guy’s work in the slums.
More than anything, this trip reinforced a nascent view of mine about simple grace and generosity. There were several moving moments, but one in particular stands out.
At an evening devotional with the girls, after prayer and worship, the group of 40 girls prayed over each of us. The fervor and depth of their murmurs were more heartfelt than anything I could ever muster! It hit me then: this belief that we came to “bless” was a misnomer, for along the way, I received more than I gave.
“Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”
– 2 Corinthians 8
More importantly, I left Mumbai with hope that organizations like the ones we worked with are providing victims with opportunity to start new lives in a protected environment of love.
IJM provides a great overview of the human trafficking issue at large, if you’d like to learn more. While more healing is needed to restore the spirits of those affected by the scourge of human slavery, I am personally blessed by the “votes of confidence”: friends who listened to my doubts trusted counselors who nudged me to take this trip, as well as all who generously donated to the cause. Words never suffice, but thank you.
*Christian organizations like the ones we worked with, have recently been the target of hardline grassroots organizations who oppose spiritual freedom in India. A partner organization’s name and its facilities are hidden in this post to protect its identity.