I thought I’d seen some pretty appalling situations but nothing prepared me for a rural district I visited recently. Kerry, David and I had travelled 200km north of a familiar South Asian megacity to a district I’d heard about but not yet visited.
For a few months I’d been hearing about the need for us to be more than “the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff” by offering freedom to those enslaved in the sex trade. The challenge is to also be a “fence at the top of the cliff,” changing the industry of a district of more than 7 million people from trafficking and prostitution to hope and freedom.
On the edge of this town is a rocky embankment next to a river. Dozens of bamboo and tin shacks stand on stilts. Each shack is about 3m by 1.8m. The shack walls don’t reach all the way to the ground because the annual flooding sometimes sweeps many of these shacks away. Inside a bench, made of bamboo, serves as a bed. A flimsy bamboo door provides so-called privacy.
It’s 11am on a Thursday. If you look along the water’s edge and up toward the base of these shacks, you can see the feet and lower legs of a man following a young woman into one of the rooms. They kick off their sandals and their feet disappear up onto the bench. About five minutes later the feet reappear, the sandals shuffled back on, the man pauses for a moment then scuttles out the door, up the riverbank and back into town. The woman’s legs stand still for a moment or two then move slowly to the doorway to be greeted by another man – and the cycle repeats itself.
Where are we? We’re standing at the base of a brothel on the edge of town where men come, in broad daylight, to women who sell their bodies for 50 rupees – that’s about $1.25. The rent for the shack is 100 rupees a day. That means they need to sell themselves twice before they start to earn a living, if that’s what you want to call it.
We head further north to a truck stop near the border of a neighbouring country where women sit and wait for customers. When they arrive they escort them into a three-walled bamboo pen in plain view of the main road. The pen is curtained off with some plastic or old rice bags. It has no furnishings, just a dirt floor and maybe a sheet of polyurethane. Some of the pens have roofing, but many don’t. In the time we walk along this road a few of the women welcome customers into their 200 rupee-per-day rented dwelling.
We stop and talk to a woman sitting on a bench, waiting. She is nursing a child; who knows who the father is? Kerry has visited her before and today she cries, “I desperately want to get out of the trade, now! I have ten other women ready to leave with you today. Will you help us?”
We walk away aching because, the reality is, at this moment, we cannot help them. But we take away a determination to find an answer to her question. We think it will be at least two years before we can offer a sustainable solution. You see, it’s not just about saving this woman and the ten others who are ready to join her. It’s about stemming the tide and putting a stop to prostitution at this truck stop for good, and ending the need for a brothel on the edge of town.
I was depressed and angry for the rest of the day and am still trying to process what we saw. How could our world become so depraved that it would allow such a despicable situation to exist?
In the pain of this horrible day I really felt God was calling us, as New Zealand Baptists, to respond. I felt that God wanted us to commit to finding an answer to that woman’s question and I believe he will help us do just that.
I must confess, I was so angry that I found it hard to pray that day. Since then I’ve begun to seek the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills to come to our aid and give us the resources, the people and the pray-ers to change this part of the world.
Please pray with us as we seek God’s guidance as to what to do next – join me and begin to pray for Murshidabad! If God is calling you to be part of the answer don’t hesitate to contact me.