Christmas in Dark Places

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Daddy is feeding Little Man Christmas cookies for breakfast and I don’t care, because they’re both happily entertained in the kitchen. We’ve got the space heater blowing on high and the lights on the tree are twinkling.  It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas!

Yesterday was a day so full that we came home and crashed into bed in utter exhaustion—and complete thankfulness and contentment. I am still somewhat speechless as I mull over the moments of the day. Lucy invited me with her to the Christmas Party at the Drop-In Center in the Red Light District. Seven years ago I would walk those sidewalks with my impervious older colleague Tilka, and with heads down we would sneak around the crowds of customers and up stairwells past madams who sat like glaring Buddhas, guarding their rooms of girls. We would visit, week after week, and pray that slowly the ladies inside would begin to trust. Would first trust us with their little girls in danger, and later with their boys, and then our hope has always been that they would trust us with themselves—their own hearts and lives and futures. I am still in awe that for a number of months I was able to walk those dingy alleys and littered hallways with Tilka when it all felt incredibly impossible. When one smile or twenty minutes over a homemade cup of chai meant the world to us.

During those days we would often visit a couple rooms in the middle of it all, rented out by another lady doing medical work. We would encourage the lady working there, and we would pray that one day God would give us a space in this district of broken dreams. A space to light a lamp in the darkness.

It so happened that in the past five years of persistence on Tilka and Lucy’s part, that same space became available to rent. After renting it out and using it well, one day God opened the door for the floor above it (including a kitchen, bathroom and 3 rooms) to be purchased. They were miraculously able to purchase this at a reasonable price and to renovate it as a Drop-In Center for ladies and children at all times of the day, to come for prayer, counseling, medical help. There were many days where Tilka and her coworker R. just sat in those rooms alone, drank chai and waited. But now there are many days when women come, one after the other. Because now, after seven years, they know that these women and this team can be trusted.

So yesterday I followed these ladies through the same filthy alleyways into the heart of the district, up a stairwell that leads to two entire levels used as the “Drop-In Center”. Fresh paint and clean floors and hot chai. A Christmas tree, streamers, a nativity, and plates and plates of snacks awaited us. An hour later the room began to fill with familiar faces, young and old, and their tiny ones. The room filled and filled and we squished closer and closer to one another on the floor. Then an overflow room was created and women squished into the second room. There were around ten mothers of the children in the home. And then there were around thirty new faces—ones that Tilka and R have been slowly reaching out to month after month. Thirty new faces! The team could not have been more thrilled.

I sat back in the corner between two young moms—both younger than me—and held and entertained one’s little boy of 10 months who crawled all over me and cooed at the streamers overhead. Edlin, the incredible lady who took over the ministry in the past year, shared with the ladies about a God who knows them, made them, and still loves them. She shared that He wants to reside in their hearts. And that is why we are there in this place. To share His love, to know them, to help and encourage them… to provide a place where God resides in the middle of hell.

And right there, in the middle of hell, I sat and sensed His love and presence in such a strong way. And I prayed that they could sense it too in the midst of confusion, of substance abuse, of helplessness and hopelessness, of just-trying-to-survive. It seems that we are so close to one of these ladies choosing the difficult, complicated path to freedom.

After a lot of chatter and samosas, chai, gift-giving and picture-taking by the tree, the ladies all left to return to their daily lives. We had held the party at noon, when most of their world is just waking up (a little like having a Christmas party at 7am in our world), and now it was time to rejoin their world. They said their goodbyes and “Merry Christmases” and each one got Christmas kisses from Lucy. We ventured out into the alleyways to return to another world. We watched out of the car windows as the city traffic crept by, and chattered in awe of how much God has done in seven years. We talked about how incredibly good all of the girls and boys in the home are doing.

After all this we picked up Hubby and Little Man and ventured back out to a local bakery for Santa Clause pictures, Christmas cookies, and face painting! Our little Rudolph and his red nose spent the rest of the day riding in a red car at the mall, munching on Christmas cookies and oohing and ahhing at the Christmas decorations.

By 7pm we sat exhausted with Lucy and our friends A and J at Chili’s (we ate real burgers!) and marveled once again at what a good day we had been a part of. We marveled at how much God is doing and how we get to experience and walk in it. And how because we choose to be here, because we choose to love people, we get to see precious men and women walk paths from death to life.

We get to walk with them from death to life, if we just stick it out long enough to build their trust and watch God work.

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