Outside a small, two-story building on the edge of a large city in India, a set of rust-red metal steps leads to a small opening. It’s just large enough to allow one adult to climb through. On the other side lies a small room, about 10 by 10 feet. A large, decorative window lets light into the clean, bright space, which holds a table, three chairs, and a small sewing machine. On a weekday afternoon, a group of women has squeezed through that opening and are sitting on the floor. Every Thursday, 15 to 20 women cram into this space to pray.
Down below is a row of small dwellings about the same size. These rooms are darker, with no windows and small doorways. Inside each, a bed takes up most of the space. These rooms line both sides of a lane within a small red-light district.
The women gathered in prayer live here in this red-light area.
A local congregation has turned the upstairs room into a drop-in center. They call it “Hope for Life,” and that’s what they want the women and children who come here to experience.
“Coming here and praying—it feels good,” says Anaya*, a 35-year-old mother of two daughters. “I’ve also started going to [a nearby congregation].”
After praying and listening to someone read from Scripture, a few women stay behind. After listening to them share pieces of their stories, I ask, “Do you believe that God loves you?”
“I know God loves me and is asking me to pray for others,” Diya, 45, says.
Kyra, 30, was brought here by a friend at 16. She smiles as she answers, “Yes, I do. And I trust in God.”
That God is present here, working to lift the veil of darkness, comes as no surprise to me. But to hear women who have been abused and exploited in the most vicious ways so easily express trust in God? That was a surprise.
The women I speak with have been told over and over, both in words and actions, that they are worthless. They have been made to believe their value is found only in the number of men willing to pay to abuse them each night. That these women can say with certainty, “I know that God loves me”—surely that is a miracle.
Hope for Life was birthed out of the sincere belief that God does love the women here and wants new life for them. A woman named Amna has been working as a counselor at Hope for Life for several months. During that time, she has seen three women leave this life, and she is working with five more who are in process of leaving.
“I’ve seen women go from hopeless to hopeful,” she says.
Reshma is among the hopeful. She was trafficked here as a teenager and at 45, she had become a madam. This was the only life she knew. When she invited the congregation to turn a small room into a drop-in center, she was still keeping other women in prostitution and was engaged in prostitution herself. Over the course of several months, she began to experience and understand God’s love for her. She stopped doing “the work,” as she calls it, and today she works for Hope for Life as a peer leader, encouraging other women to work toward a new way of life.
When asked to describe the center, Reshma says, “Hope for Life is somebody who will hold your hand and walk with you toward something else—out of this life.”
A year ago, Reshma volunteered to share her place so a congregation could open a drop-in center. Today, this upper room in a red-light area has become sacred space.
On the way out, Reshma has one request. “Pray for me,” she says. “I need God’s grace and mercy to help others into the light.”
*All of these names are pseudonyms. The names of the women in the red-light area have been changed to protect their privacy and dignity.
To read more about the Hope for Life center, check out the summer 2018 issue of NCM Magazine here.
Click here to support the work of Hope for Life.
On September 23, 2018, we are asking churches to stand united against human trafficking through FREEDOM SUNDAY. Participate through prayer, advocacy, and support of church-led anti-trafficking efforts like the one in this article. Free resources are available here.