I almost gave up. I was ready to move home and forget about my friends in Calcutta who are trapped in the sex trade. I didn't want to press into relationships. I was tired of hearing girls call themselves "karap meye" (bad girls). I was tired of walking down the streets of Sonagacchi with heaviness in my heart. I was tired of searching for hope among the suffering and hell these girls live in. I used to be able to find hope, even in little things, but for some reason I was losing that ability and despair was winning.
There is a girl, Pria, who was sold into the trade by her mother at 15. Now, at the age of 20, she is a hard woman. She smokes, drinks and is emotionally out of control, but sometimes when we are in her brothel room alone she lets me into her pain. She lets me put my hand on her back and sit with her while a single tear runs down her cheek. I tell her she is such a beautiful woman and I love her and she can leave this work. I try to tell her there is another way, and then her self-protective wall comes up. Her heart goes cold, and she makes some joke, turns on her Hindi music and wants me to dance with her.
Then there is Sima. She is 18 and was forced into the trade when she was 14. The other day she told me she will do this kind of work for the next 10 years and then she will quit. I told her if she keeps working in this trade for 10 years, her heart will grow hard. She looked me dead in the eye and said, "I have no heart." An 18-year-old girl just told me she doesn't have a heart. What has she been through to make her think that? What has made her not want to feel?
Sometimes I am amazed that something so evil as forcing girls to become sex slaves can exist in this world. Sometimes I rage at the men and women who keep these girls under their power. Sometimes I lie in my bed and weep for them. Sometimes I want to be a savior, to run into their brothels, drag them out and not think of the consequences for either of us. Sometimes I want to hide in my room and never leave. Sometimes I want to escape and watch a happy movie with a happy ending. Sometimes I want my dad to give me a huge hug and whisper in my ear, "I love you. I know you're tired but I am here to take care of you." Sometimes the ache for a husband becomes so intense that I cry.
Sometimes I laugh and dance and sing. Sometimes the kids who live on my block give me kisses on my cheek and set me free. Sometimes I look into the 16-year-old sex worker's eyes and see Jesus, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I have this hope and this drive inside of me that says, "Don't give up." Sometimes I believe that things really will change.
Through all the "sometimes" in my life, I know Jesus is keeping me. I know this when I keep my eyes on the Cross. I look at the Cross, read Jesus' words and find the mystery of love and sorrow. I see a God who has not forsaken the girls of Sonagacchi but has come close by sending His Son to enter into their suffering through the Cross. I see a God of flesh and passion: a God who enters in to the pain of His children.
This is the simple belief in my life that sustains me through the rough "sometimes": A God who simply loves His people so much that He enters in with us. In the places where I think there is only darkness and hopelessness, Jesus is already there, because He is Emmanuel, God with us. This truth gives me courage enough to sit and cry with Pria and to tell Sima that she indeed does have a heart. It gives me the strength to walk down the streets of Sonagacchi and look for the face of Jesus among my friends.
Kristin serves in Kolkata, India, among women who prostitute. She is the India Servant Team Coordinator. This article was originally published in THE CRY, an advocacy journal of Word Made Flesh [Fall 2005, Vol. 11, No. 3]. Copyright 2005, Word Made Flesh. Reprinted with permission. To learn more about the ministry of Word Made Flesh go to: www.wordmadeflesh.com. To request a free subscription of THE CRY, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.