Thursday, September 12, 2013

Bibles to Nations

Sept. 11 this year will stand out in my memory as another "God-do-it" day. I went to the beach, quite unexpectedly, Holy-Spirit led. It was my first time, in over a year, since I fell sick, and I had certainly not hoped to see the beach again, so soon.  Still, here I was, sitting in a beautiful home, the ocean stretching out before us, the thunder of the surf reverberating in my ears as I listened to yet another remarkable God-story (so many this summer!). It was the perfect time, the perfect place and the perfect story for my own personal, perfect celebration of healing. The sunset on the right was captured soon after this. Here's the story.

Empowering Widows' Daughters is a Bibles to Nations ministry. Its founder PLN Murthy narrated the story of how it all began. A few years ago, Murthy felt the time had come to reach out to the high caste Brahmin priests in India with the good news of Jesus Christ. His organization, Bibles to Nations began to distribute Bibles to priests in Vrindavan (a famous temple city of the Hindu god Krishna), known as Temple Town; there are more than 5000 temples in this city alone. At every temple he visited, Murthy would see beautiful young girls and women, about 50 of them, lining the entry way to the temple. He became curious about them. Who were they? The answer when it came was shocking. He learned that they were the abandoned widows and daughters of Hindu men. Hindu religion believes that the wife must die with her husband but it is no longer legal for wives to perform "sati" (commit suicide by burning themselves on the funeral pyre of their husbands). Therefore, parents of the widows bring the women and their daughters, if any, to one of the many temple towns that are located in India. [In case you're wondering, sons are considered auspicious and cared for by the family.] In Temple Town, the woman are wedded to the "god" and left to die or live as they choose. Hindu religion also considers that sex with a woman married to god is blessed. This is the cult of the temple prostitute; young girls are chosen and married to the god at an early age and prepared for prostitution in the temple itself. I knew about temple prostitution having read about the Scottish-Irish Presbyterian missionary Amy Carmichael (1867- 1951) but she had died long before I was born and India prides itself on being a modern nation. There is something quite surreal about hearing this post-modern twist of several barbarous traditions and customs - self-immolation of widows, temple prostitution, prejudice against girls/daughters - from the lips of a cultured and cosmopolitan Indian Christian, a former high-caste Hindu, standing right in front of me today. In this macabre twist the widows become the temple prostitutes and the flesh trade mafia buys or kidnaps their young daughters.

As he visited temple after temple, Murthy saw many women lined up. Sometimes, he'd even see the wife waiting for the husband while the man went with one of the temple prostitutes (I didn't want to know the details but apparently this must be in collusion with the temple authorities too). Murthy's heart was broken as he remembered God's admonition: "Religion that God the Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress." (James 1: 27). He also realized the character of God. Our God is "A Father to the fatherless, a Defender of widows." (Psalm 68:5). He knew his organization could no longer just distribute Bibles. They had to do something more. But what? He'd been one of the top executives of the International Bible Society before God had called him out of the fast-track, high-paced, executive way of life to become a missionary distributing Bibles to the nations. Now, God, it seems was asking him to meet a social need. How could he do it?

God, in his usual marvelous way, brought a couple who offered him the compound space outside their home. It was thus a sewing (tailoring) school was launched. In the first year they had 25 students, the daughters of widows who had turned to Jesus. The girls were taught tailoring, coping-with-life skills and the truth about the Supreme God, Jesus. At the end of the year they were given a sewing machine apiece (approx. worth is $125) to keep for their own and start them on their business. They could become independent seamstresses and God's blessings followed mightily. Each girl was pretty soon earning $10 a day (abundance in a land where about 30% earn only $1.25 a day; the international poverty line). Requests for bridal makeup followed and when the girls did that too, they found themselves earning as much as $20 per day. What a joy to see the faces of the young graduates and hear how their life-stories were totally transformed by Bibles to Nations.

The program flourished - 25 in 1st year, 50 in 2nd, 75 in 3rd year, and now in its fourth year there are 100 young girls. They will graduate in December 2013. Murthy was raising funds for the 100 sewing machines he would soon need to give each girl as she successfully completes the course. You can learn more and donate either $125 for the sewing machine or $365 - $1 a day for sponsoring a young girl this year or the next on their website at Bibles to Nations.

This is exactly the kind of program - vocational training to marginalized, oppressed, forgotten, poverty-stricken youth - that I think is so very much needed in India. Similar to what my friend Lucy has been doing at Pravaham: A Community for Peace and Justice; Lucy takes in about 25-30 girls every year and shares the love of Jesus with them while training them to become Nursing Assistants and at the end of the year the girls are placed in jobs. The girls' incomes transforms their families and in the process the community too is changed. Now, I am delighted to see another well-educated Indian with a privileged background, Mr. Murthy taking such a courageous stand against another unjust social practice. It is my hope and prayer that Murthy and Lucy will connect and may be of mutual help and encouragement to each other. Since their two ministries are vocational training programs and both have been 100% successful in getting young women off poverty after only about a year's training, please join me in prayer for the Spirit to lead their fruitful collaboration. We also pray His Providence, favor and protection rest with Mr. Murthy, as he continues the important work. We thank God for the generous teams of people who've come alongside to support, nurture and encourage Murthy and ask the Lord to bless them too. May God's favor rest on Indian's young women, especially those caught in impossible circumstances like these, now and forever and may more of them be rescued by His love and mercy. Amen.  

Thank you, Don for bringing this worthwhile ministry to my attention. Thank you Vic, Pam and Lonnie for your gracious hospitality. Thank you, Murthy, for your much-needed and inspiring work. I am touched by your humility and heart for service.

Related References:

Beloved Daughters. God prepared for me today in his own remarkable way. This is the link to my blog post on the Beloved Daughters photo exhibition that featured the Vrindavan widows.

Water. A beautiful (but sad) movie by Deepa Mehta (she's also one of the writers) of the widows in Varanasi (another temple city in Northern India).

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the historical and cultural insights that you are uniquely able to provide, via your Eyes On Christ posting today, to those in the U.S. and other Western countries. God is using your writing and personal experiences, with his Spirit, to speak to others who will participate in this ministry to free these women.

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  2. Most encouraging of you, Don. Thank you. India is such a land of extreme contrasts. Its hard to grasp that this is the same country which had a woman prime minister for so long and denies equality and charity to so many of her daughters still :(

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  3. it was good to meet you and thank you for coming to our event yesterday! i have shared this blog entry on my facebook page. you are very eloquent! may God bless you and others who have a heart for these women in India. by the way, i'm also a uiuc grad (1995). i wonder if we have friends in common?

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    1. Thanks, Judy. My heart breaks for these young women in India. Stories like theirs and of the women and men who help them are ones I long to tell. These are the voices of hope and healing that God is helping us unleash into our world today. May we continue to let Him open our hearts and minds to them. Praise Him! Still gives me goosebumps how the venue changed to the beach home.

      I'm sure we have common friends, Judy! It would be cool to find out. There used to be a So Cal UIUC alumni group but they always met at some football event and I'm not a sports fan :(. My nephew just joined UIUC too.

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  4. Anita, a heartfelt compelling piece about the plight of some unwanted Hindu widows and girls in India. This is truly appalling! At times when I think there may be aspects of goodness and holiness in Hinduism (or even Buddhism), this practice clearly speaks of how evil and perverted this religion is (or have become). God is using you to help to shed light on some very dark places and godly Christian leaders like Pastor Murthy to break the yoke of bondage of these women and girls. May Jehovah Jireh's power and might go forth to end this injustice. - SusanW.

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  5. Thanks, Susan. Yes, its wonderful how God is working even in the darkest places to bring His light and freedom. Growing up, I had no idea this existed as many Hindu widows (my friends' moms) were not thus treated. The closest form of discrimination I saw was my friend's mom a widow who wasn't able to be "fully present" at her daughter's nuptial ceremonies (she had to watch from hiding as she was considered ritually impure). Anyway, I am not justifying any of the practices, especially abandoning the widows, but the Bible clearly says, evil (greed, etc.) is in the heart of man. Economics is probably a contributing if not a driving factor in why these women get abandoned. Water, the movie, makes this clear, if I remember correctly.

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Thank you for taking the time to encourage me with your feedback. Blessings.