Thursday, December 24, 2009

making christmas bright...

bright lights on christmas day so far...presents with the watermans, new prayer books from mom and dad, phone call from one of the newest sari bari women (made me cry), cinnamon rolls that turned out flat but still taste like christmas morning, and bing crosby wafting down my alley in kolkata mixing with Chris Tomlin's Christmas album. off to celebrate with the SB ladies in some more christmas cheer!

Monday, December 21, 2009

the one that was lost

As I have looked toward Christmas this year, i have been anticipating the ways that Jesus could come in new ways in my own life and new ways in which he can come in the lives of so many of my friends in the red light areas. I have looked toward rest and creating spaces of peace and spaces of celebration for our community. And i have enjoyed the process and buying about 50 sari's to give as gifts to the Sari Bari women at our christmas celebrations on the 23rd and the 25th. ( We will have about 60 people at each event including the husbands and children of our women).

I was thinking mostly of the joy of christmas. celebrating the people I love and reflecting on the HOPE of emmanuel. Last night, as i walked down the road a few women stepped in my path and told me about our long time friend who has HIV. Her condition is serious and she has refused to get help or let herself be helped. she pulled her kids out of a great school situation and they have become her caregivers. We have not seen or heard from this woman in many, many months. And after hearing the sad state of her current situation, i agreed to visit her on christmas eve and hopeful be able to connect her with the help both she and children need

Suffering entered my picture of Christmas for this year, not suffering i am afraid but suffering that was unexpected. The broken body of my friend, the isolation and lack of support for her children, the loneliness of all it.

i was not able to sleep last night, wrestling with my sadness at the whole thing. And all i could think of today was the story of the lost sheep. 99 doing well and the one that was lost. Sitting with the Sari Bari women in the sona....gacchi, i was overwhelmed as i looked at their faces, they too were lost at one point and are being found. I saw in their eyes hope and renewal that was not there three months ago. they have been found. The are secure in the embrace of the master....loved and growing in security in that love. and yet, are many of their sisters just outside on the lanes are still very lost. and all i could think of was the one who is still friend,the friend of our community, a woman whose picture i keep in my bible. I welcomed her into my heart long ago, and now it deeply hurts to know of her suffering, it deeply hurts to know that our many pursuits have not brought her yet into safety, it hurts to know that she is still lost, and that her children suffer with her.

It will be my honor to pursue her once again with other members of our community on Christmas eve and hopefully be able to bring her home to safety. Please pray for the miraculous return of this dear lost friend that she may know the healing and restorative embrace of our Emmanuel.

This christmas I will certainly be celebrating the joy of salvation in the form of a child savior and i will be marking the suffering of the those who are still lost who do not know that they can be found. We in kolkata will continue seek those who lost so they can know that they are sought after and deeply loved.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Broken Body

These pages are to tell you,
my dear brother, my sister,
not to run away from people who are in pain
or who are broken,
but to walk towards them,
to touch them,
Then you will find rising up within you the well of love,
springing from ressurection.
In waling along this way
I have had to meet my own darkness and brokeness
in the deeper knowledge that i am loved,
and so , though i have had to let go
of many dreams for our world
and many illusions about myself,
still i am growing in hope and trust
in the light that shines in each person:
believer or nonbeliever.
Yes, in that broken child,
a light is shining;
in that man in prision,
a heart is beating;
in that women, victim of prositution,
there is yearning for life;
in the rich and greedy person, seeking power,
there is a child of purity;
in that young man dying of AIDS,
there is the light of God;
in every person, no matter how broken, sinful,
hardened dominating and cruel,
there is a spring of water waiting to flow forth.

If you walk with Jesus along this path,
he will lead you
to the poor, the weak, the lonley and oppressed,
not with fear and despair,
not with feelings of guilt and helplessness,
not with anger or revolt,
not with theories or preconceived solutions,
but with a new and deeper
peace and love and hope.

Jean Vanier, The Broken Body

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December Prayer Letter 2009

The sunlight is streaming in washing us with light. The Paki Tara (bird star in Bengali aka. WMF Logo) flys above us and all of Sona—gacchi. Kyle is playing the guitar as we worship with the women in our Gach unit, our mostly female voices lifting high the name of Jesus, and I imagine the streams of light and hope that are carried out into the lanes of the red light district with our voices. It is a moment of beauty and perfection as I reflect on all that has lead us to this point. We are almost 4 months in at the new unit in Kolkata’s largest red light area, the women are full time now, finding their place and we are finding which product suits them best depending on speed and skill. We are discovering their hearts, learning their burdens and sorrows and enjoying these new friendships and cherishing even more those that began many years ago when the seeds where first planted.

I know not many people get to see their dreams come true and their hopes finding feet but it is a profound gift to live in the reality of a place where dreams really do come true. And it is not a Disneyland reality, of fireworks, color and candy but a fleshed out reality of life being made new and heroes being formed out of real people, real women whose only super power is love and their story!

This week as I was reflecting with the women on stories of Faith, I caught my breath a little bit. There is always something about relating new scriptures to the women that reveals new things as I think about what it means for them, in their context and the realities that they face every day. Both are stories of deep faith. One of the faith of a man for his daughter’s healing and one of a woman, caught in deep suffering and frustration over a long term illness. The woman’s faith revealed her strength of will and committed desire for healing. She believed so hard that only a touch of Jesus robe was enough for complete healing. Her faith is the way faith works sometimes, straightforward, committed, and certainly profound. It is however, Jarius faith that made me catch my breath a little. He was not seeking healing for himself but healing for his daughter. His daughter, her body too weak and broken, to come before Jesus herself; she may not have even had consciousness, awareness, such that we could see or name the presence of personal faith for healing. But Jarius had faith, faith for one he loved. He had faith even when others called upon him to give up hope. Jarius made me think of several of our ladies who are becoming our heroes. They in fact are very much like Jarius, having faith for the freedom and healing of those who remain in bondage in the red light areas, coming to Jesus on behalf of ones they love. Sitting in front of the women, it was beautiful to be reminded together of the one thing we all need to hear sometimes. We are not alone. And in Sona----gacchi when you cannot have faith for yourself, here beside you at Sari Bari are all these other women who will have faith for you. Here at your side, are the Heroes who have gone before, who have faith for your freedom, because the God of Hope, has begun His healing and redeeming work in them. They can tell their stories of faith and restoration. Our Heroes can tell the stories of those who loved them deeply and believed for them when they could not believe for themselves. And I must tell you my friends; you too are a part of this story of Faith. Your prayers for the women still trapped in bondage and those coming into the arms of love, have and are making a profound impact. You have believed for the Sari Bari women when they could not believe for themselves and Jesus has turned them into markers of Hope, reflections of Himself, and those who will point the way as the Kingdom continues to come in Kolkata.

Celebrating this season of Hope with Joy, Merry Christmas to you! Love, Sarah

A few of my favorite things

1. The enneagram personality test: scarily accurate and really "rips my face off" as Kristin Keen would say. The WMF kolkata community had a great retreat last week in Gangtok and as we "looked into our cup" so to speak, we were able to celebrate and encourage each other in all the ways that we are different.

2. Closing time at Sari Bari: We pray together, sometimes holding hands, sometimes noi. At SB Sona...gacchi, about 7 or 8 ladies wait around and we all walk out together, talking, laughing and I like to think offering a little bit of Jesus presence to the girls we pass who have not yet been able to take those steps toward freedom.

3. Beth Waterman becoming the Kolkata Field Director: Beth and I just spent 2 intense days doing the symbolic hand over of responsibilities. And I am really so excited to see Beth lead us and shepard the community in the coming years.

4. Talking to my mom and dad: I get all filled up to the top when i get skype time.

5. Making beauty: I am on a crochet kick right now, it must be the freezing 60 degree weather! also designing a few new products for sari bari...and working on some sketches for a friend.

6. Upendra Prasad Saha: Never met a man with a bigger smile, a bigger heart and a more profound gifting for what he does at Sari Bari as the Operations Manager.

7. Christmas in kolkata: I have decorated my little tree and i am looking forward to celebrations with our women at Sari Bari. I feel I really get the "when you leave houses or family for my will receive a hundred fold", i receive a hundred fold everyday.

8. My new sari bari king size bedspread: I almost never buy any Sari Bari Products because i want to get them out there for the world to see but I finally bought myself a sweet, gorgeous blanket of many colors. I am sitting on it right it!

9. Spiritual direction: Someone who constantly points you back to Jesus. Who asks the right questions but does not give the answers, who listens with you and for you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Coming Soon...

I have been under it, so to speak! After travels in the states and then my parents coming to visit, and trying to play catch up at Sari Bari, there has been time for little else. But I will be back, hopefully with a real blog post this week some time!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Update and Visit in Oct.

Dear Friends- I hope you are all well and have enjoyed your summer! We have had a super busy summer here in Kolkata and Sari Bari has grown as we opened the doors to a second Sari Bari Unit in a second red light area. We are super grateful for your support and for the support of the One Million Can Campaign which made it possible for us to open this second unit and remodel a run down building in the red light district.

I believe in miracles in everyday life and it is unlikely that anyone could convince me women having freedom from the sex trade is not a miracle and does not require the direction hand of God in action, breaking chains and setting women free. Even as I write today, 22 women got their first paycheck at our new Sari Bari Unit in Sonagacchi. One of them called, practically shouting with joy to tell me how happy she was and how all the girls were laughing in celebration their first paycheck. They celebrate the gift of promises kept, hard work paying off, freedom tasted and they will come back for more.

The Kolkata community continues to live in the space of dreams for our friends here being realized not in just small ways but in large, “can’t believe this is real”, ways. Thanks to the gifts of the One Million Can Campaign, Sari Bari has seen our dream of opening the unit in Sonagacchi become a reality. We opened the unit on one of the darkest lanes in the district and while it did take us 9 months to get the contract, during the construction process we received so much favor. We have been welcomed into the area and girls continue to come every day asking for jobs (We currently have a waiting list.). Most of our new women in training came through the doors out of relationship with each other not because of previous connection to our community. However, two women who have joined us have impossible stories and we see the miraculous in their presence among us. We know Sushmita because she was the owner of one of our friends and when she came through outdoors we were surprised, and yet a month later she is still here and learning what freedom means to both have and give to others. She is not allowed to keep girls as a condition of her work and it will be exciting to see how God uses this woman of influence in the area to bring about His purposes. Our friend, Jamie, stopped me on the street more than three years ago for tea, and brought me into a room filled with very young girls, among who she was one. Over the years, we have become friends with many of the girls in that room, we have taught literacy, and been invited to eat with them. We talked about other work with Jamie many times and there was one instance, when she was at my house in the last 6 months, where a taste of what was possible became real for both of us. Freedom was possible. So it was especially exciting when Jamie joined us at Sari Bari and brought along several of her friends. She is finding freedom not only for herself but making freedom possible for the women around her. These two women now among the 22 that work in the new unit are a marker for our community of what God has done and what He can do through our presence in Sonagacchi.
God has done great things, making lives new, and bringing light into the darkest places. As a community we were profoundly moved as we prayed scripture over the SB Sonagacchi unit. Each person brought a word or scripture full of promise, full of hope, full of the truth of who God was, who God is and who God will be for us as a community among our friends here in Kolkata. We all often have the feeling of, “is this real”, “can this be happening” and I hope that feeling does not go away. Because that feeling, leads us to Jesus, and our own powerlessness to make any of it happen without God’s divine direction and leading. We are all thankful to be here now, awaiting God’s continued direction as we walk forward, alongside our friends on the Exodus road to freedom and the Promised Land.

Personally, my first year as Regional Coordinator has been super full, comprising of itself of the loss of a Field Director and multiple staff members in Nepal, bi- weekly calls with Field Directors, 2 visits to Thailand, 2 visits to Nepal and one visit to Chennai and lots and lots of time reflecting on policy conversations as the larger WMF community grows and reforms itself in new and I believe healthy ways. I feel like I have finally found my footing and am regaining balance as I try to manage Sari Bari, being the Field Director and also a Regional Coordinator. I think all that was needed was time and growing and deepening personal connections with the staff throughout Asia.

I am more at home in my life here in Kolkata than I thought could be possible. There are certainly ebbs and flows of weariness, energy, joy and sorrow but mostly there is deep sense of purpose and calm in my life here in the last 6 months. I am so grateful for my time away from Kolkata because it has allowed me to refocus and at the very least pick out some important practices and rhythms that make life fuller and most sustainable.

I began meeting with a spiritual director 6 months ago and it has really been a gift to have someone listening with me to what God is speaking. I also began attending an Anglican church just before Easter this year and it has been a super centering and important part of my weekly practices. As we sit in the cathedral, the beauty of the place, the sometimes volumous silence marked against the Eucharist prayers sung by the congregation, the presence of the Holy Spirit, a still small voice so to speak, though the word and song my soul feels restored.

I feel like my listening and actually doing what I hear, has been a gift in relationship as I struggle to lead an evolving community and a struggling region. There has been many times when my intent has been to bring the hammer down and all I hear is wait, listen, and pray for them. My nature being one that both hates conflict and yet needs resolution often leads me into some hard situations but I think I can safely say that when I have been obedient to the ‘still small voice’ things seem to go better than planned and I guess I am seeing the fruits of the gentleness and patience that I have prayed for many times in recent years.

I will be back in the states briefly this fall to attend two conferences, one in Ohio and one in California. While I am in California, I am hoping that I can borrow a car from Oct 3rd to Oct 12th from someone living the LA, Pasadena area. I am also looking to borrow some camping stuff, a tent, a stove, a couple of sleep bags for a little camping in between conferences. If you are willing to help me out with either of these things please let me know.

My itinerary is as follows:

30th Sept: Depart Kolkata
Oct 1: Arrive Toledo, Ohio for Prostitution and Trafficking Conference
Oct 3: Depart Toledo, Arrive in Los Angeles
Oct 5: Travel to Carlsbad California
Oct 7,8,9: Not For Sale Conference in Carlsbad, CA
Oct 10-12: Time in Los Angeles with friends and family
Depart for Kolkata

I hope to see a some of you during my brief visit to Los Angeles.

Much love,

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Future Not Our Own

Written by Arch Bishop Oscar Romero

It helps, now and then, to step back
and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No programme accomplishes the church's mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders,
ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

A little update on Ranjana

Just wanted to let everyone know that at least for today Ranajana seems to be a little better. She is eating, off the IV and she herself says "I am better." Thankful that now,after a couple weeks back on the right meds, it seems she is inching toward getting better and to place where maybe we can transfer her back to the one decent place in the city to receive hospice care. That's todays good news, pray that it becomes good news everyday when it comes to Ranjana's care and recovery!! I believe that the prayers of many for relief from suffering for Ranjana are getting answers!

Friday, August 21, 2009

What money can not buy in Kolkata....

In most places in the world, it seems that if you have a little money, you can enter most doors and find the help you need. I find this to be especially true in kolkata, the support we have received from our many friends and the profits from Sari Bari have allowed us to serve with generosity and regularity the needs of our friends here in the red light areas and at Sari Bari.

There is however, one stopping point. One barrier that money does not reconcile and that is in the area of the treatment of HIV. There is only one hospital in all of kolkata that will admit patients with HIV/AIDS and that is the government hospital. Where doctors are overun with patients and students seems to do most of the work. Our friend Ranjana is there in the end stages of her life not being offered the best comfort and care but barely receiving the minimum and there is nothing we can do about it. She is in pain, crying out and her IV is dripping most of its contents on the floor and the woman we hired to care for her likes to disappear and be rude (yes we tried to fire her and get a new woman but the hospital controls who we can hire and fire) I can barely contain my frustration and anger and hurt at the conditions that we are forced to offer our friend who needs so much more, who we want to give so much more.

Ranjana called me yesterday, sobbing, in writhing pain telling me she wanted me to take her away from that place. But I am powerless, there is no other place to take her. When we hung up, I sobbed at her suffering, in frustration at the my powerless to help my friend.

I tried. We tried to get her admitted to a private hositpal where the care would be more consitant and compassionate but there is not one private hospital that will accept someone with HIV. When i called Apollo Hospital, a reputable and good health care insitution, the call went something like this: Hi, I need to admit a patient with HIV. Transfer, transfer. Hello can i help you (operator again). Transfer. transfer. Hang up. I call again. Yes, sir i just called a minute ago and i would like to talk to someone about admitting a patient in the end stages of life who has AIDS. Yes, let me transfer you. Transfer. transfer. (emergency room) Hello, I need to admit someone with HIV, can you tell me the process, indiscernable babble--do you speak english or bengali? indiscernable babble. transfer. transfer. hangup. Upendra used his contacts through a doctor friend who used his contacts to contact every major hospital and private care one with take someone with HIV/AIDS.

I am to the point of lament, to the point to crying out for mercy, for someone, anyone to use basic medical precautions and offer humane and compassionate care to those with HIV AIDS. I told Beth yesterday that I can not watch another one of our friends be put in a situation like this again. And it will happen again, another friend and sister will need medical care for HIV and the government hospital will be the only place to go. Cockroaches and poor response to patient needs will be all we can offer. I feel powerless. I am powerless.

I am in pleading posture, saying to anyone who listen, Bill and Melinda Gates give your money to hospitals who will offer good care and good facilities to those with HIV. Stop giving money to the sex workers unions who keep sex workers uninformed of their HIV status while allowing them to continue to work in the trade. Mission of Mercy hospital be merciful and care for the poor whom you profess to serve.

"Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will." Martin Luther King Jr.

Monday, August 17, 2009

God's eyes are better than mine...i am thankful that he is letting me see again with His.

These last weeks have been full of joy and amazement as we have opened the doors of our second Sari Bari unit. What is happening now is the realization of a is the dream we thought we would never see realized. Light burns the darkness and Hope rises from the the murky depths to triumph over devastation.

I can now walk to work in 2 minutes straight thought the heart of the Gach. And each morning the Gach leaves is mark on me. There is a face the turns and smiles, a woman who wants a job, and a muddy lane that leaves is marks on my pant legs every day. It is a walk of boldness and humility, if those can exist at the same time. As I walk I make the choice to be exposed to the darkness, letting it grab me before I walk through the gates of Sari Bari. Truly, even after all this time it takes a little guts for me to do this alone. What is humbling is knowledge of where I am, where we have been and the road that we have taken to arrive at this point, all to make a space of safety and Resurrection in the midst of a place of danger and death. I am humbled that this is the place that God has given, humbled we as a community together acknowledge all that God has done to bring us from a few ladies in a tiny room to the darkest lane in the Gach throwing open the doorways of freedom. Humble because I know that this miracle is both God's grace and mercy on His beloved daughters and son's in the red light and His grace and mercy for our community in the gift of being able to see dreams come true. And the fight has been and is real but it is and always has been His fight and it humbling to see what happens when we have let Him lead and provide and use us.

In the last months, I have been surprised by how God shows up in my own life and how He keeps showing himself in very real and tangible ways for friends here. I do not know why I am surprised...i think I keep expecting more setbacks and end points. But what is constantly being affirmed for me personally and communally is that God sits at the table waiting, always present for us to show up. He is not the one that needs to show up in the equation, I am the one that needs to show up. When I show up He is always waiting, and sometimes when I do not show up He gets up from the table and stands in my way to do what i should have been letting Him do in the first place.

God is showing up not only in the joys of recent weeks but also in the losses and places of suffering. Our friend Ranjana is dying of AIDS. She has worked for us for a couple of years and there has been a profound struggle for her life in the last 6 months. She is losing the struggle and we are all beside ourselves whether we admit it and allow the tears to come or not. She has known a life full of deep suffering and suffers still. She often talks of dying and this may be the end. We have moved from encouraging her struggle to live to assuring her that the dreams that she dreams of Jesus are real and His presence is with her now in the seen will be very soon tangible when she gets to live in Jesus house. We see Jesus holding her, she sees Him holding in her dreams cradling her head. We know that this suffering will end and it is gift to be able to offer that there will be an end to the tears and the sickness. We want our ranjana to live, to raise her kids and to keep finding life and freedom among us but know that our dreams for Ranjana are probably too small and God will do what he does and keep meeting her, holding her and loving her whether it is in this lifetime or not.

We have struggled to love Ranjana's husband knowing the personal burden's and struggles of Ranjana's family. But as we lose Ranjana we have been given eyes to a broken man who looks for love as we all do and needs it so desperately. I once said that i did not know if i had ever met a more broken and destroyed individual but yesterday I realized, he just wears his shame on the outside...humiliation draped around his shoulder marking him unfairly in world where most of us are master's of illusion. God loves this man deeply, just as he loves Ranjana. God's eyes are better than mine...i am thankful that he is letting me see again with His.

The suffering of Rajana and her husband exists beside the joy and celebration of God making things new in the Gach and in KG. This is how it is in our broken world...where the kingdom comes and yet all of creation writhes with devastation, both exist, in both places we find "Emmanuel", in death and in Resurrection.

Pray for Ranjana and her family. Pray for continued grace and favor for Sari Bari and pray for the 25 ladies who are working toward freedom. And for the 30 ladies who have been long on the exodus road and are still engaged in battle for their lives and

Definitly worth reading...

Why Christians Can’t Be Post-Racial: Christian Existence in the Murky Waters of Race and Place
by Brian Bantum

Brian Bantum is an assistant professor of theology at Seattle Pacific University. He is currently completing his first book, which is tentatively titled Mulatto Theology: Christ, Identity and the Birth of a New People (Baylor University Press). Mulatto Theology examines interracial existence and draws on theological doctrine and critical theory to reimagine Christian identity and difference.

When we are baptized, we are made new; whether as children or adults, somehow our lives are different, and the life of discipleship is the discernment of that life. Struggling to conform or resist, we attempt to understand which aspects of ourselves must die and which aspects can be conformed into the image of Christ.

But in the Western world, this is not the only baptism we undergo. Through refusal or acceptance, we are incorporated into racial waters and into a racial people. We are reminded that we are not like others or we are assured that we have a place. Just as many of us came to see ourselves as beloved, as God’s children, we also undergo a racial conversion of sorts. W. E. B. DuBois described his own baptism into racial life this way:

In a wee schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card, - refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.1

DuBois’s experience, from over a century ago, continues to reverberate today as we are confirmed or refused in subtle and not so subtle ways. The question of race in America is about systemic patterns of inequity. But it is also about how these inequities are born through the formation of hopes and in the practices of everyday life.

Our lives together are indelibly marked by race. The complicated interconnections of belonging and exclusion, foods and music, practices and hopes, and simple ways of being in the world are not easily untangled from our claims of who Christ is for us and for the world. Because of this, the question of race is not merely about practices or acts that should be eliminated. The question of race for Christians is about the shape of our lives together and what might prevent us from binding ourselves to one another in ways that produce a real disruption to the racial imagination and its oppressive systems in the modern world.

I suggest that if Christians are to account for race in their lives, it must be seen as a matter of discipleship. Race (and ethnicity) constitute a wide set of practices, visual markers, and ways of being in the world that cannot be bypassed or become “post-racialized.” Far from imagining a “post-racial” world, the question of race reminds us of the difficulty of discerning how to live faithful lives. As disciples of Christ, we are continually discovering what aspects of our lives must be conformed more faithfully to the image of Christ, while also consecrating the particularities of our life to glorify the God that created us. The question of race confronts us with the realities of our own formation and of how our lives are shaped by something both illusory and real.

Our lives together are built upon the lies, pain, and blood of racialized life in the West. This necessitates that we recognize the power and effects of racial formation in all American identities, particularly the challenges and possibilities that racial formation poses to our Christian claim that God has called us and that somehow God’s Word has entered into our predicament. Through this entrance, God draws us into life with one another and into God’s own life. To become a disciple is to account for the ways race has formed us and shaped our vision of a Christian life that is disconnected from one another.

Who We Are

Today, at the end of the summer of 2009, it is clear that we still struggle to negotiate the realities of race in both personal and systemic ways, that these are intricately tied, and that these struggles are significant. For the sixty children of the Creative Kids Camp in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who overheard women talking about “all the black kids” at the Valley Club pool in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, race mattered. It mattered for the men and women of Valley Club who would refund the camp’s admission and revoke its privileges at the pool.2 And it mattered for those many white people who protested or were appalled at the behavior of the club. It matters in the criminal justice system. It matters in identifying gifted and talented children in schools. It matters in who likes whom in middle school, who loves whom in high school, and who marries whom after college.

Race mattered in the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his Harvard University home. How race intersected with power in the exchange between Professor Gates and Officer James M. Crowley (as well as President Barack Obama), we may never know. But what is clear is that a significant portion of this country felt Gates’s pain and humiliation while another portion of the country identified with the officer who they felt was “just doing his job.”

In this process of identification we are reminded how intimately race binds us or separates our perceptions of one another as well as what even constitutes a problem. Race matters in our assertions of its existence, and it matters in our refusals. But perhaps we must now ask the question, “How does it matter?” and perhaps more importantly for those who confess the name of Christ, how does Christ complicate the process of identification, assertion, and refusal that constitutes our identities? What does it mean to live as disciples in a world so indelibly marked by race in its institutions and its relationships?

Those people who became uncomfortable with sixty darker children in the swimming pool were not the same kinds of racists who, forty years ago, would have considered the pool water dirty. But despite their relative innocence, they represent the pernicious effects of racial formation in our modern world. These effects accumulate in the mundane hardening of institutional arteries. America’s racial problem is perhaps no longer due to insufficient laws but to our failure to imagine ourselves differently and consequently our failure to imagine one another differently. The challenge of race stands before us no longer as a beast armed with bold ignorance and legal codification. Instead, it lurks in the everyday, and in this way, it entangles all of us in illusions concerning our lives together.

President Barack Obama’s election ushered in a new era of hopefulness regarding the possibility that America might have crossed an important threshold in the race problem. Wide swaths of the American public embraced this man and hoped that his election would be representative of a change in America. Obama’s election shows that America has changed to some degree, but more than anything, it reveals the complications of American identity—his election marks the visibility of our condition. He is both hopeful and disruptive.

Like those parents at the pool in Huntingdon Valley, white society in America is only now beginning to calibrate itself to the presence of difference within its boundaries. Many white people are only recently recognizing the presence of those who presume their equality and whom white society thought it presumed to be equal—until they got in the pool. That is, we often speak of our desire to be fair and without prejudice, but we do not reflect on what might prevent us from doing so. Here we have unwittingly tied the task of discipleship to commitments of citizenship or family or race in ways that shape our perceptions of problems and possibilities. This is not to say that we are racist, but that we must attend to how our desires are shaped by a deeply racialized world.

Of course, the Apostle Paul admonishes us to not be of this world, but we cannot take this as a matter of simple obedience. It is a task of de-formation. The church cannot merely ask, “What is to be done?” We must begin by asking, “What in the world are we?” We must discern together how the patterns of this world have become a part of us, how they have made us reflect something very different from Christ. Although we so often want to act to show our lack of guilt or a true desire to serve, our actions are always bound to our perceptions of the problems and the possibilities. Our vision of what must be done and who it must be done for is always bound to who we perceive as others and who we see as our people.

We see difference where we should see similarity, and we see sameness where we should see difference. This lack of discernment could be identified as a mark of our fall, the corruption of the imago dei. When Adam and Eve looked at the tree of good and evil, they saw similarity, a thing to be attained. Transgressing that line of difference, they gave birth to a series of fissures that would continue to fragment individuals, peoples, and societies. These differences sparked a flame in the very first children of the fall, as Cain hated Abel’s difference and sought to master it, and on and on.

In the midst of these refusals and misconceived claims, Christ, as the early church father Ireneaus of Lyon reminds us, came to undo the knot that Adam and Eve ensnared about humanity.3 The child of Israel, Christ refused the impossibility of difference; he came as a God-man, as the God-man, thus opening up a new way to conceive difference in the world. But even within Christian reflection, the question of difference, the question of Jew and Gentile continues to mark the church and the world.4

Racial identity is bound to the contestations and assertions of identity in encounters with “new” peoples. We exist in a vast wake of claims and forces that we cannot quite locate, but that nonetheless pervade our sight, our assumptions, the nuances that so often become constitutive of our deepest value, and our individuality. The modern world we are wading through is indelibly marked by the racial question, what W. E. B. DuBois would call the problem of the color-line.5

In the modern world, the question of difference is predominately a racial question. Or to put it another way, the question of difference was the birth of the modern world. Discovery of peoples was always bound to encounters, and encounters always became explanations of “Why?” and “For what purpose?”

The question of race is important for the church—in fact, this question should pervade our very identities as Christians—because we are children of the modern world, a world forged in the foundries of racial speculation and dominance. We cannot forget this. To ignore this would be to look away from the mirror and forget who we were and what we have become.

Race matters in the world, and most importantly, it should matter for those who claim the name of Christ. But it matters in a particular way. It matters not as something to move past as we seek an “unqualified Christianity.”6 Rather, Christ qualifies us and as such, he dissects, interrogates, and illumines our particularities, our struggles, and our possibilities. To be without qualification is to be people of our own making. We must ask, “What is our qualifier?” and “What does the answer to that question mean for our lives together?” Some of us have found the injustices of racial oppression lamentable yet abstract, whereas some of us live with the consequences of this silence and obfuscation. Before we speak too quickly, we would do well to properly consider the power of race upon us.

Race Is Discipleship

More than a biological fact, an essential aspect of our createdness or our nature, race is a process.7 It is a way of imagining difference and the significance of those differences. For centuries, racial indicators have served as signals that point to a deeper set of realities (intellect, spirituality, or capacity for citizenship, for instance) and denote how peoples ought to be ordered or participate in the common life of a nation or culture. These racialized presuppositions were not merely prejudices about peoples who were different; they were a complicated process of forming self-understanding that all peoples participated in.8

Simply because we have attained some separation from the brutally explicit practices of differentiation does not mean we have escaped the subtle modes of identification or differentiation that mark all identities. In this way, race is much more a process of formation than a given fact. This is not to say it is not real or that it is everything about us, but racial identities are a product of our living into ideas about who we ought to be or who we do not want to be.

This process of formation is what makes race in America such a difficult and pressing challenge for the Christian church. It is a theological challenge not only because of the inequities still present or the vestiges of oppression that haunt us, but because it highlights the failure of churches to account for the very real ways we are formed and the aspects of ourselves we do not question or examine more carefully. In failing to do so, we unwittingly fall into a trap of idolatry, of worshipping (through our patterns of life, our fears, and our hopes) a god who seemingly looks like us and wants for us what we want for us.

It is not merely a question of people being afraid to air their true racist feelings. They truly believe it does not matter, that they are not racist. But this is where the church has failed. We have failed because we have placed the emphasis upon actions rather than personhood. We have chosen to fight against injustice rather than fighting for people.

The emphasis here is not the exclusion of action; it is a question of how our actions are bound to our self-understanding. For example, the evangelical fascination (or obsession) with Supreme Court justices and state abortion legislation is, in many ways, the inverse of the civil rights movement and its contemporary legacy. In each instance, the movements sought the codification of their aims.9 Likewise, although legal action can press the Valley Club to offer its space to the Creative Camp or an abortion clinic to turn a young girl away, it cannot abide with them. It does not imagine a life together, but only the other as opposition. On one level, such action is necessary, but as Christians, might we ask the question differently? Is this God for us? Is this how Christ has qualified our lives? Do these actions of opposition only reify an illusion of purity?

We cannot recognize our own sin because we equate sinfulness with the perpetration of certain mores, laws, and codes of conduct that legitimize or delegitimize our membership within these communities. To be blunt, we are Pharisees. We are the ones who pray in the temple, thanking God that we are not like “those over there” (Luke 18:10) determined to establish our purity and therefore our place before God (or the hospitality lay committee or the worship band or the you-fill-in-the-blank).

We cannot recognize how race matters because we have refused to accept our own culpability, our own sinfulness, our own participation in these processes of formation. For all of us, these processes and their products are different, but none of us are without the need for reflection.

In the theological academy and some Christian traditions, we hold up baptism and the Eucharist as the central elements of the Christian life, and in other traditions we preach Christ, obedience, love, tithe, serving—none of these help us to see that race still matters, that those who are different from us matter, because we have refused to acknowledge our own failures. We do not confess that we have sought to be God in these moments in our lives.

If we took confession seriously, we would be confronted with the very real possibility that God may not matter for us, not really. Does our view of God really determine who we look at on the street, who seems to “click” with us at a local party, who we look for first when our wallet is gone, or who we are convinced is the smartest in our class? Does our faith participate in the vision of the one we want to marry, the one we want to sleep with, and the children we hope to have?

When we consider the realities that shape and form us, we want to think that our lives have been formed by our desire for Jesus, our hope and love for a God who saved us, but when we really look at the patterns of our lives, where we live, who we befriend, who we avoid, and who we hope to be like, we begin to see the perniciousness of that quiet beast lurking. Race is alive in America.

Because we do not think about how race matters, those assumptions and habits not only go unnoticed, but become sacralized, embedded within the patterns and hopes concerning ourselves that are above reflection, above confession. They are simply an aspect of who we think God created us to be. So I like this music, and they like that music. I like this neighborhood, and they like that one. My judgment of his or her criminality is completely objective.

We exonerate ourselves on the question of race because we are not like “those” women in Huntingdon Valley. But those women have done us a great service because they have been the sacrificial lambs. They are the ones who would die to appease the guilt of the many. They are the ones who allow the rest of us to say, “We are clean.”

However, this is not an occasion to appease our guilt, but to confess our similarities. It is not an occasion to lament the stupidity or narrowness of a few privileged white people but to lament our own participation, however small, on any given day. Christ frees us to confess. He has freed us to bare it because it no longer marks us, and it only fails to mark if we give it up, if we identify with the one who knows us better than we know ourselves. But knowing us as he did, he also knew he would have to die.

This is the difficulty of the race question in America. We are so convinced that race is bound to truth that we refuse our own complicity. Certain of our vicitimization or our innocence, we enter the conversation not to bear witness, but to accuse or deny. But what is so deceptive about these approaches—and telling about our churches—is that it presumes a certainty of who we are and simply asks the question of what we should do given this fact. And perhaps this is the clearest indication that race matters in America.

We enter churches certain of our placedness. We enter classes certain of who we are. We are certain through a complex process of signs and patterns of interaction. We come to believe certain things about who is beautiful and who is not, who has a right to speak and who must prove themselves worthy to speak, who is to be trusted and who is suspected. These certainties are no longer racially coded in an explicit sense, but they are deeply bound to race in the modern world (a fact that dark people of the world have been trying to convince white people of for some time). The certainty of who we are becomes bound to the things we think we need not confess. If I am certain this is who God made me to be, I must reflect upon, search out, and confess the aspects of myself that are inconsistent with that personhood.

All of this is to say that our conversations regarding race can no longer be centered upon what to do alone. This, for lack of a better phrase, was a question of the 60s. It was a question that needed to be raised against a vicious beast who had been fed so well it could walk easily in the daylight and whose presence emboldened others to feed it and be fed by it.

But this beast is not dead. The beast now lingers quietly in the sinews of cultural and personal formation. It binds itself quietly to our yearnings and our fears so that it becomes so close to us we could mistake it for ourselves. This beast will rear up publicly on occasion, but we are not like “those” narrow-minded suburbanites—we would welcome those darker children—it’s a shame they live so far away! No, in reality, the marks of the beast are quite plain and our participation is too often clear if we take the time to honestly look at ourselves or let another name us.

So we go to church, and we sing, and we listen, and we share. We repent for the bad word we spoke or our frustration with the neighbors. In our most vulnerable moments, we might even confess our sexual addiction or our violent anger, but we will not confess or think about how it could possibly be wrong that we failed to see that Susan was more than “Asian.” We cannot take the time to consider why we presumed that the white guy was more qualified than the Hispanic guy—“I just seemed to ‘click’ with the other guy,” “We came from the same city,” “I could really see myself working with him.”

Jesus’s life challenged an Israel that had forgotten what it ought to repent for. He was a presence that refused the claim of the state that it was god. Both the Judaic elite and the Roman state sought to discipline and shape its followers not through strict codification but in formation through the mundane. The codes represented a system of identification that resisted transformation for its own survival. Christ’s person and work ushered in not only the possibility of social and individual transformation, but even more radically, a citizenship not bound to the world yet still present in the world. The earliest baptismal rites incorporated a physical turning away as part of their liturgy, which suggested that the life of the Christian must require a certain death of the old person. When we consider race in America, we can only say that our baptisms do not call us into death, but deify our own self-deceptions. In these ways, we are still slaves to the state and servants of the law.

It is this necessity of confession, this ritual of self-discovery that the church has failed to do and that our conversations regarding race have refused to acknowledge. It is not about what must be done. Our lives as disciples are a claim about who we are bound to, what we do or do not do. In the face of Christ, we cannot begin with what we understand about ourselves; we must begin with the confession that we do not understand ourselves, that we do not know the depths to which we have sunk in this system of death and imprisonment. We must all acknowledge that we do not know where to go or where to begin. We must confess this, we must make our lack of knowledge central to who we are because we cannot change without this. And we cannot begin to imagine what we ought to do unless we can imagine becoming people who are different because of these conversations and these relationships.

The longer we refuse to acknowledge how we are intertwined with race and its optics, the more race will matter. Our conversations, our prayers, and our liturgies must come to take seriously our malformation. Perhaps through this process of confession we can begin to imagine what to do, how our lives can resist the mark of this beast, and how we might become conformed with one another in Christ. Our baptisms have ushered us into a world in-between where difference can no longer be accounted for in the same way. For the simple reason that we are baptized, we cannot hope to look beyond; we cannot hope to be “post” anything. We are baptized into a living body that did not bypass us, did not look beyond us, but became us and entered into our condition. Our baptisms enter us into this life of transformation, this life of holy union that produces children who may not look like us and our lives. As followers of Christ, we must seek not only the possibilities but also acknowledge and struggle with our own refusals.

1. W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York, NY: Dover Publications), 2.

2. The club would eventually extend an offer to the children to return to the pool, claiming that safety and not race led to their decision to break the contract. See Zoe Tillman and Max Stendahl, “Montco Swim Club Accused of Racial Discrimination,” Philadelphia Inquirer, July 9, 2009, Local News section,, accessed July 30, 2009.

3. Ireneaus of Lyon, Against Heresies, trans. Robert. M. Grant (New York, NY: Routledge, 1997), III.22.4.

4. For two interpretations of how theology failed to account for difference and Jesus’s Jewishness in the development of modern theology see Jay Kameron Carter, Race: A Theological Account (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008).

5. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk, 9.

6. Rodney S. Sadler Jr., “Unqualified Christians,” Christian Century 124 (2007): 16. Dr. Sadler is a good friend of mine, and here I am not seeking to contradict him but rather to suggest a way of imagining how to account for the particularity of our lives in a world where race has mattered and perhaps should matter.

7. Recent scholarship has described race as a process or more formally as a social construction, thus repudiating the claims of race as natural. The notion of race as natural was tied to ideas concerning essential characteristics related to this natural phenomenon. These claims regarding race as essential aspects of our identity were deeply bound to the hierarchical and oppressive systems of slavery, Jim Crow, interracial marriage, and inadequate education for those deemed not white.

8. For an excellent account of how whiteness was “formed” in the United States, see Matthew Jacobsen, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).

9. Of course, an important difference here is in the way the legislation is envisioned. For the civil rights movement, legislation was sought that included citizens within the larger possibilities of the country while anti-abortion legislation (while seeking to protect unborn children) must do so through exclusion or refusals. Although this is an important difference, it is also vital to note how the civil rights movement began to splinter as Martin Luther King Jr. and others envisioned a wider (and deeper) level of participation through the language of integration.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Hello from BKK

August 2009: Out of the Box

August 2009

…if the gospel of Jesus is just some formula I obey in order to get taken of the naughty list and put in the nice list, then it doesn’t meet the deep need of the human condition, it does not interact with the great desire of my soul, and it has nothing to do with the hidden (or rather obvious) language we are all speaking. But, if it is more, if it is a story about humanity falling away from the community that named it, and an attempt to bring humanity back to that community, if it is more than a series of ideas, but rather speaks directly into this basic human need we are feeling, then the gospel of Jesus is the most relevant message in the history of mankind.

What if the gospel was an invitation to know God? . . . If the gospel of Jesus is relational; that is, if our brokenness will be fixed, not by our understanding of theology, but by God telling us who we are, then this would require a kind of intimacy of which only heaven knows. (Donald Miller, Searching for God knows What, pg. 45,46)

If you know me well, then you know that I like boxes. You know, the things that hold other things, and make things look nice and make things easy to find. I have boxes and baskets in my tiny little flat, which hold items categorically: my art supplies, office supplies, jewelry, magazines, clothes, blankets. I have a bookcase to hold my books by category and also doubles as a dust protector against the Kolkata dirt. I like the box or at least the idea behind the box.

But as I reflect on the box, I see that it not only serves the purposes for which I appreciate it but it also keeps me out. I forget that my art supplies are waiting for me to be creative and that things I have been saving to use for just right purpose are buried in a box, pretty on the outside but elusive and prohibitive to seeing right away the thing that will meet my need of moment.

Boxes do serve a purpose; seriously, my house would chaos without them. But boxes are best for things not for God. I’ve found, more than I would like to admit, that I have made God very small and fit Him into my little box. I fear what might happen to me if I let God out of the box. For certain I would be out of control and then I might be overwhelmed with His love and His grace. I might love others without reserve. I might open the door of my heart all the way and been seen by God and others for who I am really.

In boxing in God, I have not found Him when I have sought Him. I have limited God and I think sometimes He lets me, just to prove that my limits work for a time but truly He is limitless. My neat clean box prevents me from dreaming and hoping and praying for more than I can ask or imagine. When I relegate God to the box He is limited because He seems to only go as far as I let him and in limiting my Father, Savior and Friend, I am missing out on the fullness of whom He is and wants to be for me and for the people I love and serve.

I have always wanted my faith walk to come in 3 to 5 easy steps. A list of precepts and programs, easy as one, two, three. But honestly when it does happen that way, I rebel. I am known to have occasional authority issues and every time I am told a rule, a policy or a procedure or a way of doing something I question it. I do not really want a list, that is just my excuse for not pursuing and allowing myself to be pursued by the great and mighty, gentle and loving Abba. I want a relationship, in the deepest core of my being, I want to be loved, love and find intimacy with a pursuant lover. And in the truest way, I find when I let go trying, doing and numbering lists; I find the freedom of a relationship with Jesus. It’s not perfect yet, I still am dismantling the boxes but I am relishing the embrace and newness of discovering God in new ways after more than 20 years being a believer.

God outside of the box is not only what I need but also what our friends here in Kolkata need. My friends “Julie and Monita” need a God out of the box for them to take the first steps of freedom in August as we open the doors of our second Sari Bari location. (Pray that these ladies and about 18 more make those steps to freedom and new life. Also pray for our staff as we start at the new location in a new area). They need a big, big God who can makes all things new, who can call them beautiful, beloved, forgiven and treasured. They need “the intimacy of which only heaven knows” as Donald Miller puts. They need that intimacy because not only is it the most basic of human needs but because they need a transformation of intimacy. They need an intimacy that restores broken human relationship with agape, boundless love.

My prayer is that you too would continue discovering Jesus out of the box.

Much love,

Monday, June 15, 2009

July 2009 Prayer Letter: Names

On the day of our birth we a given a name. It is our “good name”, as our friends in India call it. The name is given by our parents who probably spent 9 months thoughtfully, even prayerfully, considering what name would ours for the duration our lifetime. Our names have weight and meaning in defining us, our spoken and written identity to friends, family and even our governments. Our names have deeper meanings. My name, Sarah, which means Princess or daughter of the King. My middle name is a family name, Lucinda, and it means, bringer of light. If you read my blog, you know that the web address is, a name that I have identified with in part and hope to live into every day.

We live in a world that loves to name and not all those names are good. Working with women in the sex trade I see the burden and weight of many who bear false names given to them by culture and society. They are whores, hookers, prostitutes, and husband stealers. Many, when you meet them, will not give you their “good name” but instead give another name that they have chosen to hide their true identity and protect them from the false names chosen for them by society. When they leave the red light area to visit family, they leave their false name behind and again take on their “good name”, leaving behind the other names that plague them and dehumanize them.

Naming has profound importance at Sari Bari. Each woman chooses her name and that name is the name that you will find marking each blanket. When the time comes to choose their name, they will most often choose their “good name”, the name given by their parents to identify them. They want to be identified with their good name, as good women, leaving the false names, the red light name behind.

There is a re-naming that happens at Sari Bari as the women take steps down the road of Exodus into freedom. The renaming happens as the women begin to understand that the false names and the awful names that society has given them do not need to hold power in their lives or in their identity as human beings. We process with them the false names and give them new names. We use names that bring dignity. Instead of prostitute, they are Sari Bari business women, seamstress’, and artists. Instead of a whore, they are friends. Instead of hooker, they are sisters. Their new names come in relationship, in a safe place of welcome and respite from society, and in the warm cleansing embrace of Jesus. The re-naming is a process. First comes the giving a new names and them comes the part where each woman must choose to live into her new names. Living into the new names is the hardest part. Living into being one who is now called accepted, loved, cherished, daughter, friend, sister, mother, beloved, cleansed, healed and beautiful is no easy path. Especially when the burden of false names like rejected, despised, dirty, worthless and powerless has been ascribed and those are the names that you have been living into for more years that you can count.

The “good names” must be embraced. We embrace the women, each one, and call them by name. Just as Jesus has embraced us and called us by name. We are compelled by our friends and their lives to continue the pursuit of women who do not yet know their names. It is the names that move us, compel us toward reconciliation, restoration and healing for the red light areas where these beautiful women live. Bringing freedom to the red light areas is not about a cause. It is about a human being with a name. Ending human trafficking, sexual slavery and the exploitation of persons are truly noble and important causes. But it is the one woman living into her “good name”, into the new names given, which compels our action, our advocacy, and our hearts. The causes must have the names of persons and be framed by the human persons who compel the causes. I do not know any prostitutes or whores or hookers. I only know women, friends, sisters and daughters of the King. And they have beautiful names: Minu, Shopna, Putul, Shakina, Arotun, Josna, Bharoti, Chaya, Rohima and Champa.

Coming in the mail in the next month, you will receive a personal letter from me and you will find some the names of Sari Bari women. These are the name tags we use to label each and every blanket. I have enclosed three names. I hope you take these lengths of labels and put them in your bibles, or on your fridge, and even share one with a friend and then when you see their name, pray for these women by name. Let their name speak to your heart. Speak the name out loud making it real. Look up their name on the website blog and find out a little bit more. Come and meet them in Kolkata and you too may find a new name.

Blessed be the name of Jesus!

With love,


Thursday, June 04, 2009

not my people

I am frustrated and concerned when I hear things like "not my people." makes me sad. yeah, we disagree. so what? we have different beliefs, politics, ideas about how life should be live, how faith should be experienced and practiced. So what? isn't everyone welcome at the table in the relationship. if we are believers in jesus, doesn't that make us apart of the same body. certainly, we do not reflect christ perfectly as the body. it is a broken body.

i have many concerns about the church body here in k-town. honestly, when i hear things like you are not a believer if you do not attend such and such a church, i cringe. I want to see welcome and inclusion of all members of the body regardless of church attendance. but my stance is to be welcoming when others are not, to include people who may judge me as well as those who agree with me. does one group and one group only have the corner on truth. We have central beliefs that we agree on, some periferals that we do not, and some kind of important stuff that we just not have the answers for, even if we say that we do. Where is the grace for each other in all of this...

i am just as weary of liberal bigots as i am of conservative ones. Bigotry no matter where you derive it from, is ugly. love covers a multitude of sins, so why can't it cover a multitude of varying ideas, belief systems and politics. we are still human, imperfect, broken, frail and created. we can take no credit for our presence on earth nor can we assume that it ours to take for granted, full of entitlement.

i admit to having been a bigot, especially in my idealist 20's, to not welcoming others because for their beliefs or politics, but age, the knowledge of my own failed humanity has brought some humility. learning to offer grace before i expect it to be offered to me. the God of the universe is the only one who loved first, gave grace first. should we not follow the leader on this one? Jesus did not like the religous leaders but certainly he loved them. He spoke truth to them but did not reject them. they rejected him. as humans we need to offer grace if we expect to receive it. it seems more appropriate the we welcome the rejection that is sent our way than that we reject and condemn those who disagree with becoming like them in the process. God forgive me for not embracing your body and all it parts, for rejecting when i have been rejected, for not offering grace to my fellow journeyman and women as we travel this road together.

You are all welcome at my table. I may not agree with you and sometimes i may not even like what you choose to do but you are welcome to share life with me. just so know, you are all my people!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

insider...outsider: HUMAN

There is loneliness sometimes in being different but also a beauty in the places that different takes me.

In Kolkata, i stand out, a shining beacon of foriegness, tall, a bit heavy, jeans and big earring wearing different. People stare, sometimes they cheat. it feels heavy, wearisome to not be welcomed because I look different and maybe act different.

the beauty of different is the places i can go with no shame, no fear of cultural reprisal. I am an outsider, not fully in-culturated, though i do try to submit to many cultural standards, still able to do what many here cannot without reprisals. No one judges me for entering a red light area--if they do, i have the freedom of not caring because there is no cultural reprisal for me. and i have several hundred, maybe even several thousand people in the states who support what i do and cheer me on.

Our indian partners do not have the difficulties of different but they do not the luxuries of it either. They face cultural reprisal for entering the red light areas. They face rejection from the church itself in many cases. They give something up to do what they do...inspite of what they might lose, they lay down their lives for the freedom of our friends. they lay down their reputations so the women can regain theirs, they lay down their own preconceptions about red light areas so they can have the eyes of God and the heart of the Father and love our friends into freedom and something better.

There is reconciliation of insider and outside in relationship. We each have something to offer that the other does not...we are a partnership reflecting the body. our reconciliation to each other in all the ways we are different happens when we partner together for something beyond what either an insider or an outside could reach without the others help. that's it really, loving partnership, working together in community to accomplish the kingdom for the glory of God.

And for me being an outsider does not matter when i sit and share chai with a friend in their brothel room. I only feel like a friend, a sister, a fellow human being. It is gift when different falls away and there is no insider or outsider. There is only us in the moment. And it does not matter in staff meeting where we, insiders and outsiders, together dream for the future and imagine what God might do for our friends in the red light areas. We are only believers, believing for more than we can ask or imagine.

I had an afternoon without being on the outside yesterday. I was invited in to just be with the Sari Bari women in their homes. not really even their boss for those few hours, just their friend and their guest. only strange in my unmarried state but really not that strange for many are alone there. it was a gift. it is always a gift when we can see that regardless of color or class or cultural indentity, there is welcome and beauty in our shared humanity. We are welcome to the kingdom, for the glory of God as we pursue each other, becoming one in jesus.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

no answers

I walked down the street yesterday morning on the way to sari bari, after filling my belly with the best Puri (fried bread with potato curry) in Kolkata, I saw two little boys had a very large piece of cardboard and had made themselves a little fort right on the sidewalk in the midst of rush hour chaos. they made me smile and turn my head to see them better. And i thought to myself, there is not enough cardboard in the world for the forts that must be in the imaginations of these boys.

I visited one of my friends at the AIDS hospice yesterday. Seeing her breaks my heart and i could barely restrain my tears last night as i thought of her. I fear to lose her even though death might be a release. Selfishly, i do not want to endure the pain of what will be a deep and profound loss to our community and a deep and profound loss for me personally.

And thinking of my friend struggling to survive with HIV and the little boys building forts, i began to think about what needs to be righted about the wrongs I see everyday. And i thought if AIDS can not be cured, which is obviously the best solution, then when are't AIDS hospices palaces of comfort. Why isn't there fair distribution of resources so that those imaginiative little boys could have 4 walls to their fort instead of just one. There are enough toys in the world for all its children i am pretty sure, yet some have more than they will ever play with and some have one piece of cardboard and their imaginations. These are my questions.

I have no answers. Only faces in memory to mark moments of joy and despair, open ended, unresolved feeling with no answers.

This is the story of so many of our friends....

From The Sunday Times
May 17, 2009

A Life in the Day: Mariam Laskar, s*x worker
Mariam Laskar, 42, a s*x worker in Kalighat, the poorest r*d-light district in Calcutta

I wake up around 5am so I can use the latrine early, while it’s still quiet.

I share it with nine other households. Each has one room about 8ft square. Although Kalighat is a red-light district, families live here too, street vendors and stall workers, but most prostitutes live alone like me.

My room doesn’t smell so good because it’s next to rotting rubbish and the latrine, but it is away from the street.

I go back to sleep until 8. My bed is a thin mattress on a board lifted off the ground by red bricks at each corner. Under the bed are the pots I use for cooking and washing.

My saris and underclothes are strung on a wire across the small window. I have electricity, a light bulb, a fan, a black-and-white television and a suitcase.

If I’m on my own, as I mostly am, I make tea, heating the water on a kerosene stove in my doorway. If my babu — he’s like a special client, a temporary husband, you could say — is with me, I give him naan bread and sweets. Calcutta is famous for its sweets: all colours and varieties you can buy here.

Then I go to the vegetable stalls outside and buy ladies’ fingers, brinjal, potatoes, tomatoes and garlic to cook later.

I put on eyeliner, a bindi on my forehead, my jewelled earrings and gold bangles, and I am working the street by 10am. There are three of us who mostly go together — Arati, my best friend, and I watch for each other. I work a little strip just outside the slum beside the Mohambagam football club.

There is a disused pitch and that’s where I go with my clients. Mostly they are strangers, rickshaw drivers or hawkers.

Kalighat is the cheapest red-light district, but I have to work here because I’m old now. I need to make 250 rupees a day [about £3.50]; my rent is 45 rupees a day and I am paying off a loan to my landlord for hospital treatment. My clients don’t have much money — maybe I get 50 rupees a time. I try to make them wear a condom but mostly they don’t. I have been very lucky: I don’t think I have any sexual diseases. There is a clinic in Kalighat run by the Hope Foundation for us. I go a few times each year.

When I was young I worked on a jetty on the Ganges — they call it Babughat. I would go with men on boats they rent. Then I would have 10 or 12 clients a day easily, shopkeepers or truck drivers, and each would pay me 250 rupees.

My own family in Bangladesh has no idea if I am alive or dead. I grew up in a small village with three older brothers and a baby sister.

I was trafficked here when I was 14 by a man who married me. His real wife and children were here in Calcutta, and he brought me here. He sold me to a brothel. I was terrified, but he was my husband and I thought I had to do what he said. I did not have the guts to tell my family what had happened to me, so I never contacted them again.

If I‘m lucky I finish around 9.30. There is a lot of waiting around now, so we drink Bangla liquor, a strong illegal drink they sell on the streets. I drink it quite a lot — it helps. If I have made enough money I go home with Arati, and maybe we go to my room or her room and share some food. But if business is slow I stay out all night.

Even if I finish early, I can’t sleep until 2 in the morning. I worry about so many things. I have had six pregnancies, but I only have one child, Sheila Khatoon. She’s 14 now and she lives in a girls’ home run by the Hope Foundation. I visit her on the last Saturday of every month. I tell her I sweep in a hospital, and I wish I did, but no one would employ me now. She lived with me until she was seven.

She didn’t go to school and I couldn’t really look after her, but I didn’t bring men back to the room with her there. Then the Hope Foundation found her on the street. I wanted them to take her. If my daughter was to take up this trade, I would want to die. No mother can imagine such a thing as this. But she would have had no choice if she’d stayed here.

At night I think of my parents and my daughter. I think of what would happen to her if I died suddenly. I worry about how I got myself into this situation and what will happen to me in the future when I cannot make money any more. Around 2am I fall asleep, and then I don’t dream.

Andrea Catherwood is the UK ambassador for the Hope Foundation

Interview: Andrea Catherwood.

There are many important aspects to the story below:

1) This pr*stituting woman, like so many adult women in pr*stitution, was trafficked as a child;

2) Those pr*stituting women who don't die young from brutality and disease do grow old, and as a result their "marketability" declines making their lives all the more precarious due to their decreasing income;

3) Like so many women in pr*stitution, in order to survive they must have sex without condoms and thus risk HIV infection. Of course, there is great risk for a variety of other STDs as well;

4) Note too how she has lost so many pregnancies. This could be the result of health complications from her s*x industry involvement;

5) In the last paragraph, you can see evidence of Mariam's self-blaming despite the fact that she was trafficked by her "husband";

6) Mariam comments on her alcohol use as a "coping mechanism" -- this is very typical coping strategy among women in the s*x industry;

7) Mariam had to sacrifice bringing up her only daughter, in order that her daughter might have an opportunity to be educated and/or have another means of livelihood;

8) And of course, this article brings to the fore the grinding poverty that flourishes the world over;

9) Lastly let’s not forget demand. The authors of a study centered in Sonagachi (another Calcutta r*d-light district) report that the district’s 4,000 pr*stituting persons serve approximately 20,000 men a day (Rao, Gupta, Lokshin, & Jana, 2003).

Such clear, bright light withers the supposed “glamour” of the s*x industry. So much for sexual agency – this is a brutal, lonely fight for survival plain and simple.

Taken from:

The Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking
c/o The Salvation Army USA
National Headquarters

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Sari Bari Second Location: The Before Photos

We just finalized the 5 year rental of the space for our second location. This space will be able to provide for at least 40 women to work for Sari Bari and a small daycare for their kids. We hope to open the doors our friends in August for the first training. Until then keep us in your prayers!


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Donate $1 to WMF just by visiting Catalyst website

We have a great opportunity for you to give to WMF, just by filling out a form!

Catalyst Conference will donate $1 to Word Made Flesh on your behalf when you enter their giveaway for a free Flip Camcorder. Just go here to sign up for the giveaway. Just be sure to choose Word Made Flesh from the drop down list of organizations (it’s the very last entry box).

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

In the last two days I have...

Watched 6 episodes of LOST.

Made Honey mustard chicken over a bed of garlic mashed potatoes with sauteed zuccini for Beth and Kyle.

Got a massage...worked out those chronic shoulder knots!

Made sun tea.

Made lime and mint water.

Ate a whole loaf of french bread.

Drank a little bit of Starbucks Christmas Blend both cold(iced) and hot brewed in my press pot.

Went veggie shopping.

Bought a pitcher for the sun tea and a kettle.

Read The Lost language of Lament by Michael Card.

Wrote in my journal lots and lots.

Ate a bar of dark chocolate.

Showered three times in the middle of the night because i was so hot.

Reorganized some house stuff.

Hand washed my towels.

Slept late.

Had maybe 20 minutes of work related conversation but that is pretty good for me on my days off.

Got a bad haircut for the equivalent of 2 dollars and i am okay with it.

Sunday, April 05, 2009


I am talking a extended weekend...resting. Rest heals and fills up when I have been poured out. I am always thankful for rest and its restoration.

My rest is not perfect, some friend's are having a family crises, i am in an unresolved conflict with someone, work comes into my home even when i do not seek it. But still this weekend for many reasons, i feel like i have had to choose powerlessness in these situations and let rest heal me. I can not solve the family crisis or resolve the conflict without the other person or avoid the work that comes to my doorstep. But i am choosing not to let it destroy my rest...i let these things come and let them go. It still takes practice...i still have to choose to sit and wait instead of running after solutions. I admit I have failed this weekend a couple of times...but I can see that when i have just sat and waited, Jesus has met me and rest and restoration has done its work.

Lost Language

Our inability or refusal to enter into lament betrays the fact that you do not recognize the depths of our sin. We stubbornly refuse to have our hearts broken by it. The only result is that our sins continue to break the heart of God. It is only after lamenting our sin that our eyes can be truly open to the glorious truth that we stand forgiven, with the righteousness of Christ, and realize that we are in the Presence of the One who has heard our cries with tender and sympathetic ears.

Apart from lament, you and I are robbed of our true identity in God. We remain unaware of the depth of our fallen identities as sinners and blind to the reality an depth of our fallen identities as sinners and blind to Jesus Christ. Confession is lament for the sin that began in the Garden. The painful honesty confession demands is the fabric of all lament, as is the deep need for forgiveness and restoration to God's Presence. it is as if worship and confession are on holy fabric held together by the strands of lament.

The Lost Language of Lament, Michael Card

Friday, April 03, 2009

The old woman on my back

This old "woman" keeps following me around. Showing up when I least expect "her". I have thrown her off many times, sought to leave her behind but when i am most stressed, most vulnerable, she comes back...maybe i let her come back. She jumps on my back again and holds on tight. Makes me feel like i do not know myself, like no matter how hard I try i may never be finished with her. She got her hold on me this week and I have fought to pull her off my back, some days i succeeded, some days i did not. The last couple weeks have left me empty, a lot poured out, not much poured in...that's why I let her jump back on my back, maybe it was easier to let it happen than to fight her off. My choice, my weakness really. It was easier to be angry than alone. It was easier to blame than give it to Jesus. I do not want to be the "old woman", i want to be the new one. The one that forgives easily, pours out unreservedly, does not run from the master's grasp but runs into His embrace. My emptiness is my fault...I poured out but did not find the places i need to receive, to be filled up again. I feel like i am stumbling forward or being pulled backward. That's the way it is I guess. The day we stop growing we die. I have to keep pressing into the embrace even when i am tired and empty...its the only place to be filled up. i have been reading "the lost language of lament" by Michael Card for the second time. It has been a good reminder to press in rather than run away. I can press in with my anger, my fear, my insecurity and trust that God can handle it. When i run away, i only find myself in the arms of the "old woman", the woman i do not want to be, the woman that i cast off, the woman does not walk in her healing and does not live in grace but condemnation, fear and anger. My prayer today is that I will be able to pull the "old woman" off my back and walk forward and free as the new woman that God has called and created me to be...My prayer today and everyday is "lord have mercy, christ have mercy, lord have mercy."

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How rich are you?

I was looking at my friend Faye's blog and she had posted this link. It is super interesting. I looked at the disparity between my potential salary, if I raised the full amount each month, and the salary that the production manager at Sari Bari makes. There is a huge disparity between our annual incomes but we both end up in the top 15% of the worlds population. With so much of the world living on less than a dollar a day, it really puts everything in perspective. Check out this link and find out where you stand. Be prepared for a shock!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Human Beings

I just read a couple of articles on CNN about a high class sex ring being busted and i need to ask can we please stop using the following words:


These words demean and denigrate human beings. Of the women and girls who work in the sex trade, selling their bodies, 95 percent have been sexually abused prior to entering the trade (this may include men too but i do not know). I have never met a women who at the age of 7, 10 or 19 wanted to enter the sex trade. We live in a world of sexual brokenness and distortions, why would we presume that these human beings choose something that destroys identity and dignity by its very nature and that now they lack humanity because of it. Whether a woman has entered the sex trade due to addiction, poverty, trafficking, trickery, or even choice (as someone will surely say, if do not--however, i do not believe it is a choice when you have no other options), they remain human beings who by their very nature should be given dignity and value. When those words are used, women lose humanity, my friends lose humanity, i lose humanity, the men and women who use these words to describe others lose humanity. The words we use to describe one another can destroy dignity or restore it. Let's restore and give dignity to other human beings, rather than stealing value with our careless names for those we do not understand or care to know. there are other words that we can use to describe professions or lines of work with out making the person their job. None of us are the job that we least i hope not. All of us are human least i hope so.

Monday, March 16, 2009

neverending exodus

My heart breaks with every loss, every stumble, every pain that my dear friends suffer on their road to freedom. It is such a long, long road to walk. I have said before that just like the israelites, many may not see the promised land of wholistic freedom. But still I live and work and hope like they will. I was remembering tonight how and why we started Sari Bari...the dream for freedom. We started and began to dream for the impossible, for thing we may never see. We claimed romans 5: suffering produces perseverance, perservrance character and charter hope and HOPE will not disappoint us. We wanted to live like Isaiah 58 was possible...we dream of well water gardens, of places of hope and restoration, we dream of streets and dwellings restored. The dreams glimmer in reality some days and some days it is hard to remember the dreams.

This morning we talked of faith, we HOPE in faith, even though we can not see, we can trust that God IS. These words are begining to answer the question for me of: Where is God drawing you? My sense is that He is drawing me to trust more deeply, not with my eyes but with faith knowing and trusting that what i can not see now will someday be revealed. Maybe that, the dreams I dream for my friends, will be realized, completed. Maybe that the dreams and hope that these beautiful women look toward would become reality. I want to believe it but some days everything tells me all is lost. As I shared my heart this morning about my own journey of faith and I could see in my dear friends eyes that my struggle held true for them too. We talked of our losses and our struggle to trust that God hears us. We named names, we named losses, we named fears, we named hopes...all things that we can not now understand, all the things that we can not see. we dwell in darkness but for the HOPE that in faith what we now can not see will someday be revealed.

So until then we will proclaim with faith that freedom, healing and restoration is possible! May the Exodus one day end and the promised land be revealed underneath the rubble of now!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Never make eye contact with a Kolkata Street dog

Never make eye contact with a street dog in kolkata. Not because they will attack you but because they will think you actually care for them and follow you where ever you go. I have a standard practice of petting while not actually petting the dogs here. I just make stupid human noises that sound kind, while moving my hand 6 inches above the dog. They act like i am actually petting them. They wiggle and wag all over. I do not have much compassion for the dogs...too much human suffering always out weighs their plight. Sometimes i wonder how it is that they can appear so content with so little, they eat trash, they get stoned and run over, yet that does not stop them from lying in the street, taking long naps, playing with each other and looking for eye contact from humans. They are eternally hopeful and amazing survivors. I try not to resent their contented behavior, i mean seriously, they eat trash, but sometimes after a long day I wonder how it is that they can be content with so little and I who have so much still am not content most of the time. I am embarrassed to have written this blog about the dogs...but apparently even they have something to teach me in Kolkata.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Yes, I am stealing Chris' Blog posts because they are just so good...

Vulnerability means to be hurt over and over again without seeking to love less, but more. Divine love is sheer vulnerability—sheer openness to giving…Being vulnerable means loving one another as Christ loved us. If we did not have to forgive people, we would have no way of manifesting God’s forgiveness toward us. People who injure us are doing us a great favor because they are providing us with the opportunity of passing on the mercy that we have received. By showing mercy, we increase the mercy we receive. The best way to receive divine love is to give it away, and the more we pass on, the more we increase our capacity to receive.

— Thomas Keating’s, The Heart of the World: An Introduction to Contemplative Christianity, page 15.

Grace of Brokeness

Sunday, March 08, 2009

good questions

i love meeting cool people who ask good questions. questions that they have wrestled with themselves. questions that have a sincerety in wanting to know the answers to the questions. questions like what is the difference between Word Made Flesh and Servants? How does the incarnational commitment look different for these two communities? how is simplicity lived out, as singles, as marrieds, a families? why is there on man for every two women in these post modern "incarnational" communities? why do some organizations fail to empower local leadership? Why does community provide a more sustainable model than the single, i can do everything, warrior model? We had really great conversation today based on these questions.

I am particulary interested to understanding how families in incarnational groups make it work...does simplicity have to be lost? or does simplicity even matter? I know one family who has lived in slum for 10 years in single room with their two kids. They are the exception not the rule. they are fairly extreme but truly hold my respect for their longevity and commitment to those they love in their neighborhood. Most families, need or want more for their families, really for survival and sustainability. There is a conflict between wanting the best for their kids and living in poverty contexts where, though people want the best for their kids, they do not have the ability or choice to provide the best. so there is always a conflict...I have no answers really, my love for the families i know far outweighs most thoughts. I just wonder what incarnation looks like for families...i am sure there is no one way but many. I know my parents at one point considered a move to a innercity ministry in the states but decided for us kids that it would be better not to go. they feared we would lose something. when they told me, i actually felt a loss that they had not gone and moved our family to chicago (who knows if i would say that if we had gone but it interesting to think about it).

Incarnation implies presence in the places where Jesus may not be present in the physical sense. So relationship really means more than the things that you have or hold in your hand. But the things you hold in your hand can prevent relationship, stall it or even act as a barrier. I have been wrestling with the issue of simplicity alot lately. Wanting to maintain or even lower my standard of living but also knowing that simplicity is really more an issue of the heart. And my heart is really the issue. i accumulate because i am lonely, or unsatisfied, or trying to fill some hole in my heart. I sway between legalism and grace. fear of outside judgement and a care-less what you think posture. love for my neighbors who are poor sometimes comes into my decision making but more often then not, my attitude of entitlement governs my choices. i am not sure if resolution is possible really, maybe i will continue to wrestle for year to come. this is also something that we do not really talk about, even a community that celebrates simplicity as a lifestyle celebration. We may judge one another but fail to speak into each others life for fear of having others speak into our lives. We do not submit our purchases, we hide them. We do not ask if someone else might be served by the time or money that use, we use it for ourselves. I know i have not submitted in this area. i want to talk about it more. beth and i have been talking, wrestling a bit. but i wonder how we can be more open in submitting our lifestyles to one another. in the context of international partnership, this is an essential aspect. can i not only submit my lifestyle choices to my north american community but can i submit them to the indian staff. can i and will i allow them to speak into my life in this way. I want to...i just need make that choice. in the states, finances are personal, but in india finances are for the family, everything is shared. so i am asking myself, if my community here is my family, can my finances be submitted to them? can we share everything is common? i hope so...i want to continue to move in that direction.