EDITOR’S NOTE: Human Trafficking Awareness Day is being marked today, Jan. 11, nationally and internationally.
MUMBAI, India (BP) — A white-haired American woman sits in the corner seat of a train in India as it rattles past skyscrapers and slums in one of the nation’s massive cities. Kathleen Jones* chats with a street boy hawking nail polish, a friendship she has acquired during her frequent train rides.
At the end of the line, Jones, 69, a retired schoolteacher, weaves through the throngs of people in the station and out into the sunlight. She keeps a steady pace along trash-covered sidewalks and across busy streets in Mumbai until she reaches her destination: a small dilapidated building, partially obscured from the street — a brothel.
A woman runs out to greet Jones and, taking her arm, pulls her excitedly toward the others waiting in the shelter of the building’s overhang. Women crowd eagerly around Jones as she distributes eggs for their lunch and gives them each a smile and welcoming hug.
Jones comes to this brothel five days a week to share Christ’s love with the women working here. She has been working in the red light districts of India for more than three years. With four children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren at home in the United States, coming to India was not an easy decision, but Jones says she knew it was what God called her to do.
“I am living proof that God can use anybody at any age,” Jones says. She has no plans to pack up and head home anytime soon.
Jones serves through the ministry of Rahab’s Rope, a faith-based nonprofit fighting human trafficking in India through prevention, rescue and aftercare.
“My heart just broke for [the women here],” Jones says. “It seems that God has just put a burden in my heart for women in need.”
In society, Jones says, “these women are scum of the earth. No one wants to talk to them, be their friend, associate with them. They are outcasts.”
She spends time with them, offering her friendship and teaching them basic knowledge and practical skills, since most have not had the opportunity for education.
“They don’t see anything beyond where they live, how they get to where they work and their workplace,” Jones says. “They don’t know the possibilities that are out there in the world. They don’t even know how big the world is because they have lived in such a limited and controlled environment.”
Many of the women were sold into the sex trade at a young age by a family member. About half of the women in Jones’ ministry have been trafficked from India’s neighboring countries. None of them come by choice.
“Once they get in, they can’t get out,” Jones says. “They have no skills; they have no education; they have nowhere to go.”
Though the women do not earn much money — just over two dollars a customer — they make far more by working in the brothel than by doing any other kind of unskilled labor.
“A lot of them would like to get out, but they have families to support,” Jones says. “They get trapped by the money because they couldn’t go wash floors and make as much money as they make in the brothel…. It perpetuates the situation.”
Jones tries to teach the women about the hope that is free to them in Christ. Since many of the women are practicing Hindus, their only hope for a better life lies in an almost endless cycle of rebirth. Jones presses to show them hope for this life and for eternity.
“There’s as much hope for them in Christ as there is for [any of] us,” she says.
A huge part of the ministry is meeting the basic needs of the women, Jones says, reaching them physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. She could tell the women that Jesus loves them and walk away or, as she says, “I can go out there and I can spend time with them and I can show them that I love them by trying to teach them and improve their lives in some way. That speaks more to them than what I say.”
Jones ultimately wants the women to know they are loved without any strings or conditions, without anything required of them in return. Deep and unconditional love comes only from Christ.
“There is not enough that I could give them and do for them that would really change their lives without Christ,” she says.
Though it is hard for Jones to be away from her family, it is harder to see the women trapped in a situation from which they feel there is no escape.
With her own heart daily breaking for the hurts and hardships of the women, Jones nevertheless says, “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t thank God for letting me be here.”
*Name changed. Kate Taylor writes for the International Mission Board. For more information about the ministry of Rahab’s Rope, visit www.rahabsrope.com. Among resources available on the topic of human trafficking is “Not in My Town: Exposing and Ending Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery” by Dillon Burroughs and Charles Powell, available from New Hope Publishers at www.newhopedigital.com. New Hope is the trade books arm of Woman’s Missionary Union.