PUNE, INDIA (April 15, 2010) – The Hindustani Covenant Church (HCC) invited 60 prostitutes for lunch in a yard in front of its national offices. The women arrived on rickshaws paid for by the church.
By paying for that transportation, the church was honoring the guests – who are considered in India’s caste system to be “lowest of the low” – and in doing so declare that they are people of worth, says Ruth Hill, executive minister of the Department of Women Ministries of the Evangelical Covenant Church. “It gave them a sense of dignity.”
The women came to the national offices to meet with Hill. All of them had received assistance from the HCC that was funded in part by Women Ministries’ Break the Chains donations.
“The mercy and affirmation the Hindustani Covenant Church shows these women is amazing,” Hill says. “They’re not asking them to change first, but are reaching out to them where they are.”
These special guests have not been able to break away from prostitution because of poverty or slave-owners forcing them to stay, but the HCC continues to minister to them in multiple ways. That kind of ministry has enabled the church to help resurrect the lives of the downtrodden and enslaved elsewhere in the country, Hill says.
To help the HCC expand its already extensive ministry, Hill presented the HCC with a check for $74,000 representing funds raised through the Break the Chains initiative. She traveled to the country March 18-30 on a trip sponsored by the Indian church.
She was awed by the work of the HCC. “It went beyond the difference money can make. It also was a testimony to the grace that the Hindustani Covenant Church is extending. I would not have believed just how many people have had their lives radically transformed by this church.”
During her time in India, she glimpsed a sampling of those lives as she visited eight projects and other sites.
One of the women she met is a former sex slave who now leads a program that teaches marketable, life-affirming skills to women who are ready to leave the sex trade.
In Mumbai, Hill met freed sex slaves, all of them minor girls, who are being helped through an aftercare program supported by International Justice Mission, the other partner in the first two years of the Break the Chains initiative. “The girls proudly showed us their crafts,” Hill says. Items made by the girls will be sold at Triennial XIII this summer.
In Melghat, the church provided a micro-enterprise loan to a widow who started a small sundries store in front of her home. “The business has been so successful she is now getting a loan to expand it,” Hill says.
“She could not have gotten a loan anyplace else,” says Hill. Had she not been able to obtain the loan, the widow’s plight would have been nearly hopeless.
“This is an example of how micro-enterprise can transform people’s lives,” Hill says. “You could see in her eyes the self-confidence, the hope.”
In the same area, the church is providing a “Break the Chains” ministry that offers programs to improve nutrition and literacy, as well as provide loans.
“When HCC began there, they found 50 malnourished children ranging in age from nine months to four years,” Hill says. “Parents were simply waiting for their children to die. The church said, ‘this does not have to be,’ and they saved the lives of all 50.”
When Hill visited, each child wore a lanyard with their “before” photo. The nutrition program is transforming the village as people learn how to use local foods. One of the mothers is now a devoted leader in the program. The lower photo shows HCC Moderator Steven David with some of the children showing their lanyards. See additional photos from the trip below.
Hill also visited a small rural village, where she met 36 adults and their children, whose families had been enslaved for generations by a moneylender. The HCC would have taken the slave owner to court, but he was connected to authorities in the justice system.
The Hindustani Covenant Church paid off their debt and has been working with them for 18 months, says Hill. “They are all followers of Jesus. They have been set free spiritually and physically.”
Housing for the freed slaves still is desperately needed because they currently are living in shanties (top photo), and the landowner may soon force them to leave, Hill says.
Funds for Break the Chains, now in its third and final year, are being used to start New Day for Children, which will operate an aftercare facility in California for girls rescued from prostitution.