September 6, 2016

A Church That Throws Parties for Whores

Post by Brittany Tedesco

Indian woman dancing

"We know that even if you persuade all your clients to wear a condom, one broken one can infect us. And once we are infected there is no cure. We will die—if not today, then tomorrow...But that is our tradition. That is our karma."

I read these words, spoken by a devadasi known as Rani Bai, in an article in "The New Yorker."

A devadasi, literally translated as "servant of god," is a temple prostitute. That's right. Temple prostitutes aren't just something we read about in the Bible. They still exist today in India.

Devadasis, which can be traced back to the 9th century A.D. or earlier, were once held in high esteem. Young women who served in the temples were trained in music, dance, and poetry. They were among the few who were literate. They danced before kings. Some were taken as royal concubines. People honored them—invited them to weddings and other auspicious events where their presence was viewed as a divine blessing.

Things have changed. While devotees still flock to ornate temples to worship at the feet of various gods and goddesses and to be blessed by the priests, the modern-day devadasi is little different than a common sex worker. Some don't even work in or near the temples, but out of their homes.

A 1920s photograph of two Devadasis in Tamil Nadu, South India

Once chosen from the finest, high-caste families, devadasis today are exclusively from poverty-stricken low-caste families. Desperate for money, poor parents dedicate their daughters as devadasis, usually when the girls are between the ages of 5 and 10. The girl will be thrown an elaborate dedication ceremony and then continue living a normal life...until her first menses, after which time her virginity will be auctioned to the highest bidder and her life of prostitution will begin.

A devadasi can typically earn the equivalent of a few dollars a day—versus a few cents a day from picking produce in a field—which is usually enough to support her family. But the support doesn't often last long, as many devadasis contract venereal diseases that take their lives before they reach the age of 20...or perhaps 30. AIDS has ravaged the devadasi community. A devadasi over the age of 50 is rare.

When Anaya* was a little girl, older devadasis—no longer considered attractive enough to work in the sex trade—would knock on her door and beg her parents for food. The image of these destitute women, used up and thrown away, stayed with her.

A follower of Jesus Christ, Anaya grew up and married Vihaan*, a fellow believer. They had good jobs and lived well, but the devadasis called to their hearts.

The Indian government tried to outlaw the devadasi institution in 1988, but it persisted. Tens of thousands of devadasis live and work in Karnataka, where Anaya and Vihaan live. They witnessed the failed attempts of their government to remedy this evil, and knew that the only true remedy is Jesus Christ.

Young Indian girl

In 1997, they quit their jobs to serve prostitutes. Since then, they've helped thousands of women and girls escape prostitution by providing them with education and vocational training. They've provided food, clothing, and medicine to the large HIV-positive community in their area, planting five churches among them.

For four years, the couple prayed for a children's home to protect the children of prostitutes and break the generational cycle of prostitution. They began with four children. Today, 40 girls and 10 boys are living at their children's home. Of the hundreds of children who have lived and grown up in their children's home, none have either entered or returned to prostitution.

Rescuing children is only part of Vihaan and Anaya's vision—they desire to rescue entire families, looking to the example of Rahab in the Bible, whose faith saved her entire family and from whose lineage came Jesus Christ, friend of prostitutes.

Indian woman giving someone a shot

In his book, "Love Walked Among Us," Paul E. Miller provides us with a different lens in which to view the familiar Bible story of the prostitute who washed Jesus' feet. Miller doesn't focus on the costly bottle of perfume the woman poured out—the great sacrifice she made. He zeroed in on the scandal of it all—how it looked to the other men in the room. Jesus is reclining on a couch when a prostitute enters the room and begins rubbing and kissing his feet. "The scene is very intimate and personal—and public! Most men in a similar situation—in any culture—would be embarrassed," Miller writes.

But Jesus wasn't embarrassed. His focus wasn't on Himself and how others might perceive the situation. He was focused on the prostitute, the one so broken by her sin and so captured by His love.

He set the example for us. The Church was never meant to be an exclusive group of nice, clean people who meet together in a nice, clean building to sing a few nice songs and listen to a nice sermon and then leave to go back to their nice, clean, comfortable lives.

I just finished reading Brant Hansen's book, "Unoffendable." In one of the last chapters, he tells the story of how Pastor Tony Campolo threw a birthday party for a prostitute named Agnes. Sitting in a diner in Honolulu at 3 in the morning, he overheard her tell some other prostitutes that she would be turning 39 the next day. They mocked her, asking if she expected a party. Tony heard her tell them that, no, she didn't expect a party—she'd never had a birthday party in her entire life.

Indian woman using sewing machine

After they left, Tony made arrangements with the owner of the diner to throw Agnes a party, complete with cake and decorations, when she came in the following night.

Agnes had the shock of her life when everyone yelled "Surprise!" She cried and just stared at the cake—her first ever birthday cake. She then asked if she could leave momentarily with the cake. She'd be right back, she told everyone.

She walked out, leaving the party goers to stand around awkwardly. Not knowing what to do, Tony decided to lead everyone in a prayer for Agnes. People bowed their heads and closed their eyes. When he finished praying, Tony opened his eyes to the disgruntled face of the diner owner. "Hey! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?" he asked.

"I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning," Tony said.

"No you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!" the diner owner responded.

You and I may not belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores, but they exist. They exist because people like Vihaan and Anaya plant them.

People like Vihaan and Anaya collect the broken souls of discarded women and girls and redeem their lives by pointing them to our Redeemer. They act as their parents, in every way—even arranging Christian marriages for them. When they visited Christian Aid Mission, they proudly told us that two of the young women who lived at their children's home had just married pastors.

It is not your karma to live this way, they tell the devadasis. You don't have to dedicate your body to the temple of a false god. You can be a temple of the Living God.

*Names changed for security purposes

Shirley - posted September 9, 2016
I love our Living God, Who cries for each of these precious lives. Their beauty of soul and spirit, were never meant to be disgraced, discarded. They are so treasured by their Creator, Who sacrificed and died for them. Thank our Lord that many are being loved and protected as the special soul they are meant to be and to become. Thank You Jesus.