Shared Hope International began its ministry of rescuing and restoring women and children who have been victims of sex trafficking by opening the first Home of Hope in India in 1998. Asha Grahm, or Village of Hope, has since grown into a 72-acre development two hours north of Mumbai. It’s through this facility that a young lady named Ganga was given the opportunity to escape sexual slavery and begin a new life nearly eight years ago.
Ganga, a young teenager, had been visiting Mumbai with friends when she was separated from her companions. Ganga was able to retrace her steps to a bus station that she remembered from her travels earlier that day. However, after several hours of sitting and waiting, night had begun to fall. She lowered her head and began to cry. Hearing Ganga cry, an elderly man approached her and asked what was wrong.
He said that the last bus of the night had run, and he offered to take her home to his family for the night and then bring her back to the bus station in the morning so she could return home. He seemed nice, so Ganga trusted him; she had no other options. But instead of taking her to his home, the man took her to a brothel where he sold her for $1,500. At first Ganga was confused. “What are we doing here?” she would ask the other girls. But they refused to answer her.
Despairing and frightened, Ganga began to cry so loudly that the brothel owner came and responded to her question. His answer was terrifying: her freedom had been sold and she was now owned by this man. For an entire year, Ganga was kept in a room within the brothel. She never saw the sun; she was never allowed to go outside. Then, at the age of 14, the brothel owner decided that she was “ready” and forced Ganga into prostitution. After several months, Ganga finally managed to run away and escape back to her village. She thought that she could find shelter and comfort with her family...but they rejected her and ordered her to return to the brothel.
Tragically, since she had no other place to go, she did return to the brothel. Most of the women forced into prostitution believe that’s their fate, and they are told that if they are “good” prostitutes then maybe their next life will be better. It’s a message of utter devastation and hopelessness. However, Devaraj, executive director of the Village of Hope in India, has a very different message. His is one of love and forgiveness, life and hope.
Shortly after her return to the brothel, a local associate doing outreach in partnership with Shared Hope International was able to intervene on her behalf. Part of Shared Hope’s intervention strategy is outreach through church services led by the Village of Hope team. “They accepted me, even though my own family would not,” Ganga says. This message of love is how Ganga found freedom from sexual slavery and eventually a relationship with the Lord.
Now, eight years later, Ganga is aggressively leading the efforts to combat sex slavery in Mumbai. She leads a team back to the red-light area where her childhood was so unjustly taken away from her to help women escape from the bondage—sometimes carrying them out in her arms when they’re too sick or tired to walk on their own. “I know what these girls are going through, and I know what will happen to them if they do not obey or cooperate,” she says. “They will be beaten, starved, and locked away until they are weak and agree to work or die.” Recently, Linda Smith, founder and director of Shared Hope International, was invited to join Ganga as she married a wonderful man at the Village of Hope.
“My heart was full of emotion as I watched this glorious woman in a beautiful white bridal gown agree to cherish a wonderful young man in the God-ordained covenant of marriage,” Smith recalls. “To see her standing there as a young woman, radiantly beautiful with the joy of Christ on her face, in a tremendous transformation of her mind and spirit through God’s love...the memory is almost overwhelming.”
It’s a trophy of God’s grace. The Village of Hope provides shelter and security for more than 200 women and children rescued from brothels. The complex includes an educational facility, vocational school, and spiritual counseling. In Mumbai, India, Shared Hope has established several transitional safe houses for women on their journey to the Village of Hope or back to their native country. Shared Hope has also launched a mobile medical clinic and mobile food van, serving more than 2,000 people annually in and near the red-light district.
This article first appeared in the newsletter of Everyday Woman.
For more information on Shared Hope International: P.O. Box 65337, Vancouver, WA 98665, 1-866-HER-LIFE www.sharedhope.org