PUNE, INDIA (December 22, 2011) – Editor’s note: Advent is a season for both reflection and anticipation – celebrating the incarnation of Jesus while looking forward to the Messiah’s return and the kingdom of God in all its fullness. It arrives amidst the reality of a world filled with desperate needs, grief, anger and frustration. We find encouragement, however, in celebrating lives being transformed through our shared ministries, reminders of what is yet to come. Covenant News Service is publishing occasional Advent reflections on ministry within that reality.
By Kim Crawford
Budhwar Peth is a commercial area in Pune, India, that is home to many electronics shops, retailers and restaurants. And it is home to more than 5,000 commercial sex workers. Last June I walked through the streets of this red light district as part of a vision trip with other pastors and church leaders.
Ministers from the Hindustani Covenant Church who reach out in this area led us through the streets. “Don’t take pictures,” they said. And we didn’t. “Stay together,” they warned. And we did.
Two times we lapped around an eight-block area of the city. The darkness was visceral. The buildings were visually darker than the rest of the city – stained with smoke from burning coal and years of neglect. People moved about with an odd silence, eerily devoid of the hustle and bustle of normal city life. Our group was equally silent as we walked in a tight huddle. We were keenly aware of the darkness present in the faces of solicitors and customers alike.
This Advent season, I was struck by the line in the famous hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” that reads: ‘yet in the dark streets shineth the everlasting Light.’ And when I sing those words, I remember so clearly the darkness that we felt on the streets of Pune back in June. So often the message of Advent describes the juxtaposition of darkness to light.
Living within this juxtaposition can be difficult. Each individual in our group expressed a sense of exhaustion after walking through this red light district. The darkness seemed so powerfully overwhelming. What could be done? How do we even begin to help this kind of situation? How can the light penetrate such a dark place?
Light is breaking in, however. Ministry workers walk into these neighborhoods and slums to meet with women and care for their children. The Hindustani Covenant Church has set up an informal school where children of commercial sex workers can attend while their mothers are working. There they learn the basics of hygiene, the alphabet, songs to sing and stories of Jesus’ love.
They indeed bring light into the darkness and proclaim life through Jesus. I am honored to work with the Covenant, whose gifts through the denomination’s Covenant Kids scholarship and Covenant Cares gifts are helping to make these ministries possible.
I also am humbled by the faithfulness by those for whom Advent is very real. Every day teachers like Ms. Sarwanshe face the realities of darkness in the streets of Pune. But they know that the everlasting light that shines in the dark streets is Jesus, and that “In him was life, and that life was the light of all people.”
Editor’s note: Kim Crawford serves as associate director of mission mobilization and connection in the Department of World Mission of the Evangelical Covenant Church.