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FIRST-PERSON: Gospel green light in a Mumbai red-light district

MUMBAI, India (BP)–The red-light district of a south Asian city would seem an unlikely place to relearn a bedrock Gospel truth. This is a place where dirty children wander outside, seemingly on their own, where men sleep off hangovers outside their doors and women prepare the day’s meals over charcoal fires.

It is where we met a woman who told us she had TB and now feared she was pregnant, but she cried and told us she didn’t want to keep her “work baby.” It is a place that appears dark and perhaps even hopeless.

And yet God moves in hearts there. And He taught me a lesson there.

When you think of going to an impoverished area like the slums of Mumbai, the first thought may be “What physical need will I attempt to meet there?” Will I feed hungry people? Will I give school books to children? Will I bring clean water? All of these efforts are worthy, and among Mumbai’s 20 million people, they are welcome. But this was not our mission.

Our mission was simple and can be found in one chapter of Scripture — Luke 10. That was our strategy. There was nothing to memorize; there were no bullet points. There was just the simple plan outlined by Jesus Himself. In a nutshell, just go out and meet people. Don’t weigh yourself down with extra baggage. And when you find someone who is interested in what you have to say (i.e. a “person of peace”), talk with them. If they invite you into their home, go inside. If they offer you food, eat it. If there is no person of peace in an area, simply move on to the next place.

Using this method, I was able to share (through a translator) the Gospel story with dozens of people. There is a Most High God, who made everything you see, including people. He loves people and wants to have a relationship with them. But people did wrong, and they were separated from God, because He is holy. But because He loved them, He provided the only sacrifice that would pay for the sins of the people — His perfect son Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect human life, was crucified, dead and buried. But after three days, God raised Him from the dead! And now, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be right with God. All we must do is believe that Jesus is Lord and confess that God raised Him from the dead. If we follow Him, He promises to be with us on earth and to take us to heaven when we die.

Of course, each situation was unique. Sometimes the story was longer and more detailed. Other times, it was just the basics. Often, it included personal testimonies from me or one of the other team members. Almost always, it was listened to intently. One woman stands out in my mind.

We met her in the red-light district. Our translator had known her from his time as a social worker in the area. He led us to her home, where she sat outside on a sort-of homemade hammock. She invited us all to sit with her. While we sat, we chatted. We learned about her family. She was raised a Muslim but had been married to a Hindu man for 15 years. Their marriage had been arranged, and they had two children who were now in school. She fed us lunch — a delicious dish of rice, greens, peas and tomatoes with mango juice to drink. All around, young women stood in doorways, in their cotton nightgowns and heavy makeup — a constant reminder that we were, indeed, in the red-light district.

Eventually, we asked her what she knew about Jesus, and what she said has not left my mind since. Here was a woman raised in a religion whose adherents never know where they stand with their god. All the rituals, all the cleansing, all the prayers — everything can be perfect. And yet there is no assurance that their god is pleased or that he will accept them. And now she is married to a man in a religion with so many gods that no one knows for sure which one to call on today. We asked her, “What do you know about Jesus?”

“I think Jesus is the best God,” she said. We sat there stunned while she continued, “Because when you have other gods, you must do all the rituals, and have all the charms and jewelry. But when Jesus is your God, He is all you need.”

And that’s how God used a Muslim/Hindu woman from the wrong side of an impoverished city on the other side of the world to reiterate such a simple truth to me. Don’t we make it too hard? We try to make it about so much more — our buildings, our music, our budgets, our strategies, our books. But when Jesus is your God, He is all you need. And He is our God!

It sounds silly to say, but I was stunned in India at how simple it really is. You really don’t need a program to tell people about Jesus. You just need to do what He says. The story really is compelling, especially to those who’ve never heard it. And there’s probably someone you know who’s never heard it.

My friend was not ready to accept Jesus that day, but I told her that it was obvious He was chasing her. She smiled and seemed to agree. He is chasing her and millions like her all over the world. Pray for them all, that they would slow down and follow the God who is all they need.
Laura Erlanson is operations coordinator for Baptist Press.