Sunday, February 20, 2011

God Sets the Lonley in Families

I am not a mother, I have no children of my own. I am not even married. I am a graying single woman who is surrounded by more family, more sisters, and more children then I could have ever dreamed.

I have been given the gift of coming from a beautiful family that raised me well, cherished me, called me smart, a princess, a woman of compassion, my parents told me I could do anything, be anything. I believed them. And this family that I was born into loved me enough to let me go. They sent me here to India, they are sharing me and prayerfully upholding me. They are my Aaron and Hur. And here I am bewildered and amazed by the gift of more family.

It's true that God sets the lonely in families. I see it happening everyday. I see women come through the doors of Sari Bari and find something they have been longing for, a safe place, a community, a family. We are a unique family, heavy on the x chromosome but thankfully cherish the few who carry the y chromosome ( they redeem the whole lot with their presence and because of who they are among us). We are a family that mourns the losses in our midst, a family of hope addicted crazy dreamers who believe that impossible is possible, a family that spends most of its time just being together, working alongside each other, supporting, listening and moving forward one step at a time.

today, we celebrate the 5 year anniversary of Sari Bari and they many beautiful, amazing women who are the core of our family. I may being graying but I am so not alone and so very thankful to celebrate our life together this week as we travel to a hill station (a short 8 hour train ride and 5 hour jeep ride away) to mark this moment in time, to remember all that God has done and to look foward with Hope to future whose seeds have been planted but have yet to bloom.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's a good story

A good storyteller doesn't just tell a better story. She invites other people into the story with her, giving them a better story too.
–Donald Miller, A Million Miles, in a Thousand Years

Dear Friends and Family-
In the last ten years, I have been invited into many stories. I have been invited into the lives of the people of Kolkata and some of the journeys have been short and some of them long. Each of these stories has deeply impacted me, changed me, formed me into who I have become and who I am becoming as friend, a woman, a seeker of justice and freedom and a follower of Jesus.
When I began ten years ago, I was welcomed into the story of Mother Teresa and the women of the Missionaries of Charity, who have given their lives in whole hearted service to the poorest of the poor. I spent years discovering the heart of God in the broken bodies and minds of the destitute whom I been given the opportunity to serve, love and care for at the Home for Dying. These beloved women(MC Sisters) taught me a new way to pray, a new way to serve and new way to mourn for those who found themselves with no one to stand beside them in their times of most desperate need. I remember being invited to sit with Sister Georgina to pray beside a man who dying and we prayed until he slipped into the arms of God. I remember caring for a woman with AIDS with touch and songs and I remember her reciprocity and God’s affirmation of how He saw us both, as His beloved daughters, not separated by language or culture or class. We were His and held together by His embrace.

As I continued, I made many friends whose stories led me and challenged. There was Martin, a gentle Irish man, whose compassion and commitment taught me about humility and grace. Martin truly is one of the few people I have ever met that reflected Jesus almost perfectly.
My friend Maya welcomed me into her home and heart in the early days in Tollygunge. She fed me, stretched me as I struggled through my Bengali and my culture shock. Maya is my oldest friend in Kolkata and as I joined her story, I also joined the stories of her children who are now becoming adults and overwhelming me with just how old I am now!

The WMF community in Kolkata has grown and changed and evolved over the last 10 years and I would not be who I am without the Brotherly love and friendship of Josh, Kyle and Trever. They protected me, challenged me, inspired me and hugged me every night when they left my house. My beloved sister Kristin, cofounder of Sari Bari, was my back up in so many ways. She taught me that No can sometimes be the most loving answer. She showed a way of passion and compelling love that still drives and impacts me. She held me and knew me in my deepest brokenness and loved me anyway. And there is Bethie, so much more than a little sister, a partner whose heart holds the key to opening so many doors in the lives of people whom she serves Sheppard’s and upholds in prayer. Kyle Scott has been an anchoring presence of peace and service and example of just how redemptive a good man can be in a place where all the brokenness of males surrounds us. And now, Melissa, Sheila and Brookie offering something new…I am excited to share in the coming years with these beautiful women.

Pinkie’s story brought me back to Kolkata with a desire to give my life here. I met her in 2004 and her tragic story brought me to my knees in lament before God and spurred the passionate desire to never have to walk away from a young girl trapped in the sex trade by poverty with no choices, ever again. The end of her story is unknown to me but I hope and pray that she found a way.

The words that came from the story of a man who spent thirty years in Bangladesh still move me to tears. “Dream for things you will never see.” And I do, I do.

Some my favorite stories are the ones connected with the Birth of Sari Bari. We were invited into the story of Freeset, Connextions and At the Well who gave us encouragement, place, and vision for the first stumbling steps forward. Out of these first stumbling steps, I was given relationship with Upendra. He is brother and friend. I am pretty sure he might be a super hero; God has given him the gift of being able to accomplish the impossible in India and his joy in doing it is testimony to his character. I have also been given beautiful friendships with Radha, Shela and Gita. Sharing in Gita’s story has been something like the joy of being a mom and watching your children blossom and grow and do impossible things with grace. Last year when I walked her down the aisle on her wedding day was one of the most important and beautiful days of my life.
And of course the story that I love to tell and the story that I love to be a part of is the stories of freedom that come out of the life journey’s of the women at Sari Bari. They have invited me into their stories with such trust and love. I know them as sisters, saints, teachers and heroes. We have shared the highest highs and the lowest lows together as family. I have watched as Jamuna, a friend for three years prior to Sari Bari, trapped in one of the worst brothels I have ever entered, become an advocate for the freedom of other women as she makes her own freedom journey. The gift of watching so many of the women at Sari Bari blossom, grow and find new life has been something that I struggle to give words. I never could have imagined that so many would become managers, trainers and heroes for other woman. They now led us forward as they invite new women into both their stories of loss and into their stories of hope and restoration. I have sat by Ranjana’s beside begging and pleading with God for her life and have seen God save and restore her. I have mourned alongside Ranjana as she lost her husband to HIV, shared my home with her, even as she taught me quiet lessons on faith, waiting and receiving. I have mourned the loss of Pornima alongside the women at Sari Bari and I jumped into the dirtiest river I have ever seen, to share in the washing away of the tears after the funeral. In the last 5 years, I have seen more than 80 women celebrate their first freedom birthday on the day they entered Sari Bari for training and just a few weeks ago 2 women who have been with us since the beginning , marked their 5th freedom birthday and 8 more celebrated 4 years! We have celebrated birthdays, retreats, graduations, births and freedom together. These women are now deeply apart of my story and I am so very honored to have been invited to be a part of theirs!

I celebrate the journey and I celebrate being invited into the stories of so many amazing people. I celebrate you, my friends and family, who have journeyed with me, visited me, upheld me and my community in prayer, and also been so generous and faithful in creating the opportunity for me to be here with your support. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I am looking forward to the stories of the next ten years of stories in Kolkata and looking forward to my upcoming Sabbatical which I am sure will be full of opportunities to join in new stories and invite others into mine!

With a spirit of thankful celebration for all that God has done in and through these many stories,

Friday, February 11, 2011

Flowers in the Jungle

“No one sees flowers in the jungle. It’s the jungle, flowers are fragile and stunning, and no one would plant a flower in the jungle, who would see it?” This is the way my friend began her story recently as we sat together on my bed both of us sick and trying to recover. Jamuna has been my friend for 5 years. She is without a doubt one of my hero’s and one of the women whose life and story is a miracle. She is a prophet and preacher of freedom in the Red Light areas, she has brought many women through the doors of Sari Bari and continues to be an active advocate for freedom and offer hope to others. She has found her feet and is beginning to root in beautiful and healthy way, a flower herself planted in the jungle as she continues to live in the red light, being a presence and witness to the power of love within her.

Jamuna told me that it is was a woman who is interested in coming to work at sari Bari who offered this reflection on flowers in the Jungle. The woman asked, who plants a beautiful flower in the jungle, no one would see it. The jungle is dangerous and unpredictable no one would plant a thing of beauty in a place like that! She said that Sari Bari coming to Sonagacchi last year was like a flower being planted in the jungle…no one who matters is ever going to see it or understand its beauty. She was profoundly amazed at seeing someone plant a flower in the jungle of Sonagacchi, right in the midst of the darkness of a dangerous jungle, a flower to bring hope. She thought maybe the folks at Sari Bari must be a little crazy but she was thankful that she might have the opportunity to be a part of it.

I was pretty overwhelmed and amazed to hear this story…a reflection from a woman who does not even work for us yet a woman who gets it better than most. I keep thinking flowers in the jungle are sign posts of the kingdom. A beautiful flower amidst other beautiful flower is still beautiful but it does not stand unique. I think the sign posts of the kingdom are everywhere but I see them standing out in a profound way when I walk through Sonagacchi. In the middle of the red light area, at an intersection of lanes that I walk by everyday on my way to work, I imagine a lamppost, it’s so dirty that nobody even notices it when they walk by, but I see it. I know its power to light up the lane, for now it waits, fully powered but not fully ready to be revealed. This is sign post of the kingdom, the thing that allows me to walk through the lanes alone instead of around—the knowledge that the lamppost is fully powered and is only waiting to be revealed. This is the kingdom, fully powered only waiting to be revealed.

The woman who sees’s Sari Bari as a flower in the jungle is really seeing a signpost of the kingdom and it is truly a unique thing of beauty. But she does not yet see the reverse, that in my eyes, in the eyes of our community and certainly in the eyes of God, the flower in the jungle is her, a beautiful treasure who has the possibility of blooming in the most unlikely of places, the tragic circumstances that have made this dangerous jungle home only makes the beauty of this flower more striking. We are surrounded by flowers in Sonagacchi, waiting to be revealed and discovered. What will Songacchi, the place called Golden Tree, be in ten years, or twenty or fifty? We believe with hope that it will be garden of overwhelming beauty—a testimony that a small frail flower can in time with the right nurturing take over even the darkest densest jungle.

We will be marking 5 years of Sari this month on February 20th. We will be celebrating with our women by taking them to Darjeeling for our annual retreat. I am looking forward to sharing in this celebration and embracing the bouquet of beautiful women that it has been my privilege to share life with over the last 5 years. Many years ago before I came back to Kolkata in 2005, I talked about creating a garden space in my heart and in my home to make Kolkata more sustainable—a life giving place and I am overwhelmed to see that once again God has done more than we could ask or imagine by surrounding us with a garden of the most beautiful flowers (relationship with the women) in the midst of the jungle where I absolutely did not expect to find them.

If I had a glass, I would raise it and toast the ladies, “Here’s to you, the signposts of the kingdom in our midst, to life, to beauty, to freedom, to flowers in the jungle. Thanks be to God.”