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Temple Prostitutes Learn to Serve Lord Jesus

September 9, 2016

Indian women washing feet.
Women who once served Hindu deities in northern Karnataka, India learn what it is to serve Christ.

The impoverished mother of a little girl in southern India had already dedicated her as a temple prostitute by the time her daughter was 4 years old.

The daughter of a woman who offered sex to men as a service to Hindu gods in northern Karnataka state, Tehmina* was bound by tradition to the same destiny, the leader of an indigenous ministry said. Within a few years, Tehmina was serving Hindu gods by offering sex.

"Her father was taking her by the hand at midnight looking for customers, and then during the day her mother would take her on the streets," she said. "By her earnings, the whole family would be taken care of."

Doomed to a life of dishonor, disease and early death, Tehmina came into the ministry's care when her mother put her faith in Jesus Christ.

"She learned that if her daughter is to have any hope, it has to be through Jesus Christ alone," the director said. "So Tehmina went to school, stayed with us for 11 years and completed 10th grade. After that she wanted to go back and take care of her mother and go to college. We thought she would be a great witness to her own people, so now she is in college and taking care of her mother."

The ministry is also assisting her with her education by providing a scholarship, said the director, who along with her husband started the ministry to temple prostitutes and their families in 1995. They decided they had to do something when they learned that women entertaining men had their children with them in the same rooms.

"In many houses, when the mother is practicing prostitution at night time, the children have to go under the bed and hide themselves," she said. "If it is during the day time, they are thrown out onto the streets while the mother is entertaining men. So the ministry seeks to give them a safe place where they're protected, and they can study and be loved."

The women are known as devadasis, a term that implies they are slaves to gods. Outlawed in 1988, the devadasi initiation ritual of young girls being "wedded" to temple gods persists, condemning them to live in Hindu temples until they die of sexually transmitted diseases or are thrown out, with most becoming street prostitutes.

Vocational training is a crucial element of the ministry, as desperately poor women will return to prostitution if they lack income-generating skills. The ministry has trained rescued girls and women in sewing and computer skills, among other things.

The number of rescued kids at the children's home fluctuates, but the ministry is now meeting the basic needs of food, clothing and medicine for 40 girls and 10 boys. The home began accepting boys in 2005, as the leaders recognized that the sons of temple prostitutes were also being subjected to unhealthy and dangerous environments.

The ministry leader said an 8-year-old girl who recently came into the children's home has a 5-year-old brother they would like to help.

Indian childen
An indigenous ministry provides children of temple prostitutes a safe alternative to unhealthy, dangerous environments.

"Whenever a customer arrives, he might bring some alcohol and food and leave the leftovers," she said. "When a customer enters into the room, they leave the leftovers, so the boy is hungry and eats the food, and he has seen this man drinking and he has seen his mother drinking, so he lifts it up and drinks. And then he goes and bangs on the door, 'Come on, open the door for me, open the door for me!' So these children are exposed to things that they should not be exposed to."

A natural outgrowth of the ministry's work is caring for people who are HIV-positive. AIDS is spreading rapidly in India, and the ministry has begun providing food the entire families of 100 people with HIV, said her husband, whose name is also withheld for security reasons.

"If they stop working as prostitutes, they won't be able to feed their families," he said. "The government doesn't give any support for them. So they don't want to leave prostitution, even if they are very weak, very sickly, and they will be spreading this disease to so many people. And they're dying, so we thought it would be good to give something to these people, at least give them some food so they will have a full stomach."

One of the ministry's churches is located in an area where nearly 80 percent of the residents are HIV positive, he said.

"We were not just filling their stomach, but we also have opportunities to share the good news with these people," the ministry said. "I have seen these people who were sickly, they know they will not be able to survive it, but they come to the church and just raise their hands to the Lord Jesus Christ, because they have the joy of receiving Jesus Christ into their lives."

Through the ministry's HIV project, five churches have now emerged in one village, he said.

"We have seen many people who have received Jesus Christ just before their death," the leader said.

The ministry plans to distribute 200 saris to HIV-positive women at Christmas time, and also on tap is a "ramp walk" for the former prostitutes, to help instill a sense of being beautiful in Christ's eyes in women who have only felt used, he said.

"We have seen many times these ladies come to us crying, very desperate, they have nothing, no hope was there, and then they receive Jesus Christ as their personal savior and they return back, bringing the joy of Christ," he said.

He recalled the first daughter of a temple prostitute to get married.

"She met her husband at Bible school," he said. "He's also from a Hindu background. Now she's the mother of three daughters, and she and her husband are working with our ministry."

*Name changed for security reasons

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SC: MIR