“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
I was traveling for almost two hours on a road that had dust, crowds of people, motor bikes, auto-rickshaws, old British looking taxis, and passing buy trains filled with so many people they were spilling out of each compartment. I was on a road in Mumbai, India headed to visit a couple I met at a conference earlier in the week. This couple started a pre-school and tailoring center in the heart of the red-light district in North Mumbai.
I had already been in India for about four months working in Church and Community Relations for International Justice Mission (IJM). IJM Mumbai works in partnership with local authorities to combat sexual exploitation and human trafficking by bringing freedom and restoration to victims and ensuring perpetrators are prosecuted for their crimes. I knew we were going to meet this couple to see if we could start any type of partnership that would help in our work at IJM Mumbai. What I didn’t know is God was going to show up.
My two co-workers and I got out of the vehicle, met the couple; who then took us down a long ally-way. The ally was lined with small rooms, with women and young girls sitting in front of each door. They had full faces of make-up, tight clothes, and looked completely glazed over. At this moment it felt like my heart shattered and I was physically ill. I had gone to the main red-light district in the heart of the city of Mumbai, but not here where it was more out in the open. I saw little girls who were maybe 7 years old and thought, they don’t even have a chance of a normal life because they are growing up in a brothel. We then entered the pre-school and tailoring center and learned about the ministry they have through this center. While sitting in this room and older Nepali woman came in to offer us chai (tea). As soon as I laid eyes on her I knew who she was. She was a brothel owner.
When most people hear about sex trafficking they automatically think the perpetrators are men, but that isn’t the case. In Mumbai it’s usually older Nepali women who have been in the sex trade many years and now own their own brothel or are managers of brothels (though there are still men that work for them).
When she put the cup of chai into my hands, it took everything I had to choke it down. She talked about how she owned two girls and her own brothel room. She then went on to say she had been in the trade since she was very young and it was now her turn to make money. I was filled with rage. She put a face to each perpetrator I had ever heard of in our rescue cases of girls who have been severely traumatized and abused. I then heard her talk about her hardships and that she never wanted this life style. I heard God say, “Shannon, I love this woman as much as I love you.” Oh…that would make sense. If God is a god of love, grace, and mercy, wouldn’t he love her as much as he loves you and I. This doesn’t mean I do not believe legal consequences should be in place, but in that moment I had felt God’s grace for this woman. My heart was changed that day and I asked if we could pray for her. She welcomed prayer with open hands.
I don’t know what that woman is doing now. I do know the Lord has brought freedom to many girls in that area trough the work of many organizations and partnerships.
Shannon Constable is a Social Worker, extreme animal lover, and resident of the Northside community. She has spent the better part of the last 5 years working with victims of domestic abuse with the YWCA in Cincinnati and combating Human Trafficking in Mumbai, India with International Justice Mission. You will often find her drinking a hot cup of coffee and helping a friend in need.