While in Goa, one of the preventative programs Rahab’s Rope wished to implement was a tuition (tutoring) program for adolescent girls. In this culture (particularly those of Hindu and Muslim faith), when a girl hits puberty her family usually won’t let her out of the house on a regular basis until she is married. This impacts the girl in many ways, one of the most detrimental being that she usually drops out of school. This tuition program would be to tutor these young girls to either be prepared enough to enter back into school or to pass their 10th standard exam, which is an extreme version of the SAT. Ideally this program would be wonderful, but the families will not let them out of the house to even come to the tuition program. So, what is the answer to this riddle of how to reach these women and girls? A nutrition program. The girls’ families really do want the best for them; they want their daughters to be healthy and learn to take care of a family of their own. So, Emily and I hatched a plan: what if we had a nutrition program for teenage girls in the slum, close enough that they’d be allowed to come to us. I knew this would all have to be completely dependent on God because I had no idea how to implement a nutrition program, of all things. This program would be a holistic approach to health: we would teach them how to physically take care of themselves by teaching water sanitation, basic first aid, and hygiene practices; meet their spiritual needs by having a Bible Study every other week; and give them the tools they would need to put what they need into action. Each week the women would gather for a lesson, alternating between nutrition and Bible Study and receive a glass of milk mixed with a vitamin powder full of calcium, folic acid, and other really important vitamins and minerals. Every month the women would receive a hygiene kit that includes 7 pads, a bar of soap, and a toothbrush/toothpaste pack (the toothbrush pack is given once every three months). After extensively talking to Vinod and feeling out the best way to go about this in a culturally sensitive way, we (and this means mostly Emily) developed the Bloom Nutrition Program. We diligently planned and budgeted for days to be able to start the program the next week. It was also expanded to reach women who may have been married when they were around the age of thirteen and weren’t prepared to take care of a family. We originally budgeted for 20 women, and I was expecting about 12 that first day. That Monday afternoon, I was all jitters waiting to see how God was going to show up in that small, scorching room in the Birla slum. Twenty-six women came that first day. I think an excerpt from my journal that day will best capture my feelings…
“We had only budgeted for 20 and told Vinod that we’d have to cap it there, but seeing those women and how badly they wanted to come I said we’d find some way to fund it , and God would provide. TWENTY SIX! They were literally spilling out the door. My heart was so full that I thought it might burst. Just that God would bless me enough to allow me to be a part of this was too much. I almost cried. I couldn’t really talk to them because they didn’t speak English, and I’m sure I scared them because all I could do was just beam at them…There were a few 14 year olds that were married. A lot of 15-18 year olds and some women in their twenties with kids. It was such a beautiful sight I really just can’t even express it. Vinod allowed me to speak (he translated) and the gist of what I said was ‘You’re precious and my biggest desire for you is to grow in love and see how much He loves you and that I personally loved them and cherished them.’ …Literally if the sum of my existence came down to do this one thing, my life would be worth it.”
The next week we handed out the first installment of the hygiene kits. The women were so incredibly grateful. I can’t describe their faces. As one of the women, Kamla, called out each woman’s name off of a list, I handed them their kit. They stood, shook my hand, and waited for everyone to clap. Yes, they clapped like they had gotten the first prize in some contest. It still moves me so deeply to see their smiles. This was two days before my birthday and let me tell you – best. birthday present. ever.
The next week was a Bible Study. I felt the overwhelming feeling to preach the Gospel. Some, if not most, of these women were either Hindu or Muslim so I felt the need to start off with a basic understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what He did for everyone, even these women on the other side of the globe. The Bible Study was supposed to follow the fruits of the Spirit so with some wise guidance from Will, I started with the story of the condemned woman in John 8 and how Jesus does not condemn us but loves us. First we had to define how God loves us – unconditionally, which is so unlike what they’ve experienced at the hands of their husbands and fathers. We used Psalm 139 to show that we all have worth in God’s eyes. I told the story of the condemned woman and how Jesus did not condemn her and declared John 3:17-18, that Jesus came into the world not to condemn us but to save us. That He had come into the world and allowed evil people to kill Him on a cross and took on all of the bad things that we’ve done and all of the mistakes we’ve ever made so that we could be free. The evil men had killed Jesus, but three days later He was raised from the dead – nothing evil could keep Him down. He didn’t do this so that we would sacrifice to Him, but He did this because He loved us and so we could be free. They were captivated, and I hope God met with them there. Over those 3-4 weeks, I got to go into many of their homes and listen to their stories and pray for them and their families. I really feel like these women were the reason God had me in India at that particular time and place. I’m privileged to have the honor of serving Him and them.