Patterned After Grace

India is famous as a place of vibrant colors and textures. One of my favorite things to do is spend time at the many fabric markets in which these colors and textures take up several streets in towering mounds of cascading beauty and design.

Since I moved to India I have fallen in love with the block print method of fabric dyeing. It is intricate and beautiful – and a lot of work! Each color is stamped individually by hand. Some pieces require over 20 stamps to be used!

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First the stamps are carved out of wood and the height levels of each color must be determined so that all of the stamps work together to make the correct pattern once the colors have all been stamped. The printer lays out the fabric and puts the stamps in order, and then stamps each inch of the fabric, one color at a time. Slowly the fabric begins to take on a pattern and finally is covered in dye resulting in a beautiful kaleidoscope of color and design.

The process is painstakingly tedious, but the beauty that results is so unique. A piece of cloth that starts out so plain transforms into something intricately beautiful and costly. The Lord showed me the way that this process mirrors the process of our lives. We each begin as a plain piece of cloth that the rest of the world would see as dull, boring and insignificant. He toils tirelessly picking out the perfect colors of our lives, and measuring out the lines that will need to intersect in our lives in just the perfect place to create something that in the end, is a masterpiece.

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A question I am often asked is whether or not the women with whom we work are “believers.” I internally cringe each time this question is asked because it is such a difficult question to answer. Not because they don’t know Jesus or believe in Him – that I can answer with a resounding “yes!” because they do know Him and they are experiencing Him at work every day in their lives. It is difficult to answer because each of these precious daughters are in the midst of a process; a messy process. But there is such beauty in the mess.

It is estimated that on average for a person who was at one time committed to Hinduism it takes seven to nine years from the time that the person discovers Jesus to the time when he or she forsakes all other gods to follow only Christ. At what point along that process does that person become a “believer?”

From what I have seen and experienced, I believe that the Lord honors the moment in which a person first encounters Him and begins to put their faith, hope and trust in Him. I have seen a woman take the tiniest step of faith – maybe just asking for prayer for the first time – and in those moments of faith witnessed the Lord faithfully show up in miraculous ways. When He walked on the earth Jesus responded to faith in the same way. How many times did a simple act of faith bring healing from the hands of Jesus? The lame man lowered through the roof, the ten lepers (even the nine who didn’t come back to thank Him)…Jesus’ response every time; “your faith has made you well.”

In our human lives, we are constantly in a process. It is an ongoing process of discovering more in our relationship with the Lord, and becoming more like Him as we follow His voice. I have the privilege of witnessing what may be some of the messiest processes on earth in the lives of the precious daughters in the red light areas. But it is a process that is full of life and hope. In those initial steps of faith I have witnessed these sisters receiving their first stamps of color and life from the Creator. For a while it can be difficult for us as observers to make out the patterns that the Lord is forming in their hearts. There may be brilliant streaks of vibrant color followed by yards and yards of plain nothingness. But the color bears witness to the hope of glory held in the hand of the loving Craftsman who is creating breakthrough in her understanding of His love for her, as He constantly woos her towards His heart.

Are these women believers? Absolutely. Do they have all of the details of their lives sorted out? Not by any means. But their process is a beautiful mess that bears witness to the redeeming and transforming love of their Maker and Savior. In childlike faith they come, and in His faithfulness He receives them. A more beautiful testimony of grace I have yet to behold.

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Married on a Monday

Yesterday was her wedding day. She called us on Sunday excited to let us know that she had picked Monday for her wedding, because Mondays have a special meaning for her and her new husband.

Mondays were the days they had each found Jesus.

It all started back in March, when our team began holding weekly prayer meetings in our community center – at the request of several of the madams and controllers in the area. They started asking, “why don’t you guys pray?” and our response was, “what are you talking about? We pray with you every day!” But they insisted that they wanted a meeting; a consistent time when they could gather together to worship, hear the Word and be prayed over.  And if you knew these ladies, you would know that asking for something that requires consistency and commitment on their part is a HUGE DEAL! We had tried setting up weekly classes but couldn’t get them to attend at a consistent time to save our lives! But we decided it was worth a try, so in March we held our first prayer meeting and among the 15+ women who showed up that Monday morning was Prasana.

Prasana became our most faithful attendee, and as time passed she started to stay after the meetings had ended to ask questions. Her searching grew deeper and deeper, and one day she shared that she was asking Jesus to show her the “good road,” because she wanted to “be good” but she didn’t know the way.

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In July Prasana showed up early for one of the prayer meetings, and asked us if her boyfriend could attend with her. We had always been strictly a women’s center, so her question caught us off guard initially, but we agreed to allow him to come. We had been hearing stories about Kamal from her for several weeks as he had been living with her at her brothel for over a month; stories of how he would come home late at night, drunk and aggressive, which resulted in heated arguments. Once it got so bad that he showed up drunk and forced her to get on his motorcycle with him and they ended up in a wreck.

But the man who attended prayer meeting that morning was meek and quiet. He was respectful and listened with utmost attention to every word that was spoken. He waited until everyone else had left, and then shyly, with Prasana’s firm urging, asked if our staff would pray over him for his alcohol addiction. We laid hands on him and prayed for his deliverance, and then the two of them left together.

The next day Prasana came bursting into the center to tell us that Kamal had not touched alcohol the night before – even though he had gone out with the same group of friends he would normally drink with. And the next morning again she ran in with the same story – a change had started to take place.

The following Monday at prayer meeting, the couple boldly shared the ways the Lord had been working in their lives, and told everyone that Kamal had not touched a drink for a week. This testimony continued as the weeks grew into months. They began sharing their story outside of our weekly prayer meetings as well; inviting anyone who would come into their house to hear about Jesus and how He was changing their lives.

Three weeks ago they came to prayer meeting as usual on Monday morning, but this time their circumstances were unusual. They told us that they had driven in that morning from their new house that they had rented in a neighboring city, about an hour away. They informed us that they had left the red light district for good, and that they were going to be getting married within the month. The smiles on both of their faces were the most beautiful thing I have ever seen…that kind of joy could only come from the Lord, and all of us knew it. Kamal recorded the entire prayer meeting on his phone, because he wanted to be able to take the songs and teaching with him as they traveled to Prasana’s native village for their wedding. After prayer meeting we gathered around the two of them and our entire staff prayed over this precious couple and sent them out into their new lives.

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They called us this past Sunday to inform us that everything was in place for their wedding the next day; Monday. Prasana’s mother was overjoyed that her daughter was getting married, and was happy with her selection of a husband. Her family’s acceptance of Kamal had been one of her most adamant prayer requests since her engagement – and the Lord’s faithfulness to answer yet another prayer prompted her to call us so we could rejoice with her over the good news.

Yesterday was their wedding day. Today is their first full day as a married couple; the first full day of the two of them walking out their story of redemption together as one. Prasana and Kamal have stepped from darkness into light, from bondage into freedom, and from fear into faith. They came face to face with Jesus on a Monday, and their lives were forever changed. They came to know the Truth, and the Truth set them free.

Living in the Spaces

If there is one thing I have learned in the almost two years since I began this journey, it is how to be busy. I am good at it. I am good at to-do lists, at filling up my schedule with meetings and conversations and times to plan the next day’s activities.

What I really suck at at is the in-between times. The times that are supposed to be set aside for me to rest. I am not good at being still. Being quiet. Resting. Instead I find myself dreading those times as I force my body to stop moving at 100 miles an hour and sit still while my mind continually races over and over all of the things that I “should” be doing.

On Monday morning our team was in the center praying together as we do at the beginning of each day. As I sat there on the floor I heard the Lord whisper, “It is about living in the spaces.” I thought, “what does that even mean?” and I quickly slid it into the “to-ponder-more-over-later” file in my brain. But this little phrase has kept surfacing the last three days, and I am beginning to sort out what it means. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far; it means that I am not called to busyness. I am not called to live a life that is full of doing. Shocking, I know. To most of us it sounds backward. Especially when so often those speaking into our lives emphasize what we should “do” for God. As if He even needs us to do something for Him! God is not a helpless Being waiting on His people to do His work for Him. Rather, He is a loving God who chooses to let His people in to get the “inside look” on what He is already doing. We get to peek behind the curtain and get the behind-the-scenes on His master plan! He is a God who built partnership with His creation into His plan for the world. He loves us so much that He enjoys having us working side-by-side with Him! How incredible is that?

So, if the most important thing is not what I “do” for God, then what is the most important thing?

Last week I was preparing a devotion to share with our Rahab’s Rope staff at our staff retreat, and God brought the story of Mary and Martha to my mind. It is a story I have heard countless times, but for some reason it struck me in a new way this time around. What struck me was this; Jesus didn’t tell Martha that she was wrong for working. But He saw into her heart and knew that her busyness caused her worry and stress – her work was not flowing out of her relationship with Him, but rather out of the need to be “busy” and “get things done.” So much of the time I do things for the same reason as Martha. I feel like running around like a chicken with my head cut off will get the Lord’s attention. “See God, I am working so hard for YOU!” But He sees my heart and knows how stressed out the whole thing is making me, and He leans in and whispers “live in the spaces.”

The spaces are the in-between times. The times that aren’t scheduled. The times when I sit around trying not to dwell on what I “should” be working on. The times when I come to a stop and regroup. Those are the times in which life abundant is found. Those are the times in which He wants me to dwell. To sit at His feet – bask in His presence and in the knowledge that I am His child and am unconditionally loved. It is then that I realize that He will not love or accept me more based on the amount of work that I “accomplish” for the Kingdom.  He already loves and accepts me to the fullest! How often do I fail to live out of that knowledge, and instead strive to earn what is already mine.

So I am learning what it looks like to live in the spaces. The spaces in between the lines on my to-do list. The spaces in between “ministry.” The spaces that are an open invitation – an invitation to sit with the King, the Father, the One whom my soul loves.

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How do you live in the “spaces” in your life? Any advice or words of wisdom from experience?

IMG_8245A photo from our India staff retreat

Oh The Places He Goes…

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when the Lord shows up somewhere unexpected. I shouldn’t be surprised when He shatters my expectations of how He works, or defies the limits of my finite concept of His modus operandi.

Over the past two weeks I have found Him in places I never would have expected Him to show up. One place was inside of a brothel, in the heart of one of the madams who is currently managing several houses of women who are enslaved in prostitution. It is often easy to pray for, hope for and desperately cry out to God for the freedom of the women enslaved, but often forgotten and scorned are the women who are on the opposite end of the spectrum; women who were brought to the same place long ago, when they were little girls themselves, and who after years of betrayal, abuse and terror were finally tossed aside and simply took up the only available task – that of managing those younger than them. It is easy to cry out for justice against pimps and madams, and somewhere along the line they made poor decisions and are responsible for their own actions. But when I look into the eyes of a 40+ year-old woman and can see a twelve-year-old girl reflected back, a terrified, broken, lost little girl, it is much easier to find compassion in my heart for her.

One of these women is Sonia*. Sonia is over the age of fifty – a grandmother. Two weeks ago she showed up for the first time to the prayer meeting in the center. I had met her on the street before and had several brief interactions with her, but when I saw her face at that meeting I knew that something was different about her. I had walked in late to the meeting as I had been out spreading the word about the meeting to other women, and as I slipped in and observed the scene one of my teammates pulled me over and said “Sonia is sharing her testimony!” She was speaking and the rest of the women were listening with rapt attention to every word she said. Her countenance was radiant. After she had finished, we proceeded with the rest of the meeting as planned, but after it was over I was immediately at Sonia’s side. I told her that I was sad that I had missed her telling of her story, and her face lit up again with that same joy as she dove right back into the details of the last few months of her life. Her husband had passed away, and his financial arrangements were not coming through the way that they were supposed to. Sonia said “I prayed to every god that I could, but nothing happened.” She spent time worshipping and praying to every god that she could find to help her, but to no avail. Then she attended a church service in the area and heard about Jesus. She went home and began praying to Jesus. The next day all of her husband’s financial arrangements came through. She told me, “I knew that Jesus was the only God that hears me, so I left all other gods and I am only serving Jesus.” She has been faithfully attending church since that first Sunday, and her heart is on fire for the Lord.

I never would have expected to meet with Jesus as I sat with a fifty-year old madam in our center that day, but I suddenly found myself at His feet, humbled once again at the ways that He chooses to work in the hearts of His beloved children. I am thankful that Sonia is my sister in Christ, and despite the place that she finds herself in today, there is Hope, and Grace for her soul because her Redeemer has ransomed her.

The Source of Life reached into a grave one Sunday morning and restored life to the Lamb who had been slain. I shouldn’t be surprised to discover Him working in the same way today – reaching into places of death and breathing new Life into those who have been bound by death’s grip for so long. Where I see dry bones He sees an army, and He is raising them again to life.

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*for the protection of this individual, a pseudonym has been used

A Strong Tower

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run into it and they are saved.”

It is a familiar verse, and as I sang the lyrics with the worship team this morning, I was more focused on melodies and harmonies than on the depth of meaning that these words contain.

After church I met a new friend. A sweet smile and a friendly handshake accompanied our introduction. We exchanged phone numbers and the customary “we’ll get together sometime soon.” We said goodbye and then I left to eat lunch with a group of friends. The next thing I knew, she was sliding into the seat next to me, and the same sweet smile spread across her face as she explained, “I came back!” We waited for our dosas to arrive, and without really knowing how it happened, both of us were suddenly engrossed in a conversation about her life.

She grew up in a Hindu family, but she heard the name Jesus at her Catholic school. She told me that she learned the name of Jesus not because He was taught in her classes, but because her school celebrated Christmas. She didn’t know who He was, or even that He promised redemption from sin or eternal life (she told me that when she found that out years later, it was a “bonus” added on to what He had offered her in this life). What she did know was that He was God and His name brought her comfort and peace. So she started talking to Him. She had nightly conversations with Jesus as she laid in bed at night as a little girl. She wrote letters to Him and let the concerns of her young heart spill out onto the paper. With the faith of a child she clung to the Friend she knew was real, although she had never seen Him, heard teachings about Him, gone to Sunday school, or read the Bible.

Her childlike faith did not fade with the passing of her childhood, but she continued her conversations with Jesus as she grew. At the age of 20 she found herself in the middle of a break up. She had given her heart to a man and he had eventually lost interest. It crushed her, and she found herself that night at the feet of the man whose name alone she knew. She cried out to Jesus and told Him that she no longer wanted to live. She begged Him to take her to wherever He was, and she told Him that she loved people in her life but never received the same love in return. She told Jesus that she would live with Him and love Him but she didn’t want to live on this earth any longer. There, in the midst of the deepest rejection her heart had known, she found comfort in the acceptance of a Lover who never betrays His own.

As all of this was taking place, the Lord was wooing the heart of this former boyfriend’s mother. She came to know the Lord, and about a year after my friend’s breakup, this mother was the person who led my new friend to the truth of salvation. Finally, the Name that she had clung to her entire life had drawn her to a place where she could come to the fullness of the truth and knowledge of who He is. He used the person who had rejected her the most deeply to bring her into relationship with the Person who would never reject her – the Person who she had spent her entire life searching to find.

All she had known was a name. But she clung to that Name despite the teaching of her Hindu family, and despite the pressures of her adolescent and young adult life. She clung to a Name that she knew would never leave or forsake her. And the power of that Name transformed her life and the life of her family. Her mother has also been a follower of Christ for the past 12 years, and my new friend is praying and believing that her father, older brother and his family will also come to know the Truth.

I walked away from lunch today with a full stomach and a heart overwhelmed by the intimacy and passionate love of a God who knows our hearts and our deepest desires. His love infiltrates the hearts of those He has chosen, and circumstances cannot stand in the way of His furious love. Many would have shaken their heads at a young Hindu girl who had never read the Bible, but I guarantee you that this little girl growing up in a Hindu family knew her Jesus more intimately than many who have grown up going to Sunday school and heard Him preached from the pulpit every Sunday.

I sang the words from my mouth in worship this morning, but my heart poured them forth hours later as I walked away with an infinitely deeper understanding of their meaning through this dear sister’s story;

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”

~ Proverbs 18:10

Are YOU My Mother?

Our team often laughs about how we didn’t know that we were moving to India to become parents… yet somehow, twelve little girls have  completely captivated our hearts. During our time in class with them we are responsible for teaching, feeding, disciplining, and most importantly, for loving them. When we come home at the end of the day, our conversation invariably revolves around “the girls” –  how we should handle discipline with them, what they need to learn, and the funny things they said and did in class that day.

Sometimes the hardest thing is to feel like a parent to these girls while not actually being the parent. The past week has been full of difficult reminders that we are not in fact the parents of these girls, as we have faced situations in which we must default to a parent’s decision, even when we disagree.

One situation surrounded two of our girls being sent to a different organization for the morning class time. Ultimately, our desire is simply for these children to be safe and well taken care of, and if that is somewhere outside of our center, we are okay with that. But our hearts were heavy when we learned that the parents had decided to move the girls. And enforcing their parents’ decision despite the girls’ tears just about broke my heart.

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with one of our girls’ mothers and talk to her about her home life. Her husband died several years ago, and she is now married to another man who does not contribute financially to the family, but leaves his wife with the burden of providing for several children. She leaves her thirteen-year-old daughter at home in charge of cooking and cleaning while she is at her job, and often this girl has been forced to miss school in order to take care of her home. I encouraged this mother to make decisions for her daughter’s well being and to think about her daughter’s potential and bright future. But her need for someone to care for the home is overwhelming in her mind, and currently supersedes her desire for her daughter’s opportunity.

It is a difficult and often heart wrenching line to walk – to respect the decision of a parent while your heart desperately desires something different for these precious little ones.

Sometimes I question God and ask Him why He put these girls in such a dangerous place. Why does He allow their innocence to be tainted by the events that take place in their community every day?

 God gently reminds me that He is a Father, and that His heart breaks continually for the injustice and the difficulties that these girls face. He reminds me that He loves them more than I do, and cares about them more deeply than I ever could. He reveals to me that this is an opportunity for me to learn about submission, and about turning to Him for help rather than attempting to take circumstances into my own hands and make the outcomes turn out the way that I want. He is teaching me to trust Him with the lives of children that I love, and reminding me that His hands are so much more capable than my own.

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A Prodigal Son

Her eyes lit up when she saw me.  The gleam in her eyes grew brighter as she turned to my friend who was translating and whispered in her ear…there was something she wanted me to know, and even before I heard the translation, my heart leapt with anticipation over the words I was about to hear.

She had shared a piece of her heart with me the last time I had seen her. She had one son, and she didn’t know where he was. He had been missing for over a year, and her mother’s heart was breaking. Her deepest desire was for the Lord to bring her son back to her. One of the stories I have told multiple times to this group of women is the story of the prodigal son, and the truth of that story had struck deeply in her heart. She had faith. She believed that the Lord could answer her prayer and restore her son to her. So we held hands and together with tears and faith we had lifted her heart’s desire before the Father.

Our translator came over to me. “She said the last time you were here you prayed with her that she would find her son?” “Yes,” I responded, hopefully. “She wants you to know that the Lord has answered her prayer, and she has found her son.”

I looked over at her and the smile that lit up her face literally spread from one ear to the other. It was the most intense expression of joy I have ever seen.

How intimately faithful is our God. Intimate enough to know the heart’s cry of a mother separated from her only son. Intimate enough to reach out and meet her where she is – and to send His light to penetrate the darkness of an Indian brothel. His faithfulness reaches beyond the chains of bondage that the enemy has thrown around her life.

She is still working in the brothel, and although we pray for her rescue, the Lord hasn’t answered that prayer – yet. But He is building her faith. He is meeting her where she is and revealing to her that He is a God who hears her and answers her prayers. As I held this sweet sister’s hand once again and we once again prayed together, gratitude spilled out of my mouth to the Father who is always waiting for His wandering children to return to Him. To the Father whose deepest desire is for us to be restored to an intimate relationship with Him, and who is willing to meet us in the darkest places and answer our prayers.

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