We had no idea in 2016 what lay ahead for us. No notion of where God would take us, what we would do, how we would grow. We could not begin to imagine the beautiful women we would meet and come to love. And we had no neat and tidy box for the stories we would be called to share.
It all began in northern India, among the hardworking Adivasi women of the tea gardens. These precious sisters, and our friend Jenny Jamang, welcomed us into their world, the world of massive tea plantations blanketing steep hillsides, oppressive back-breaking labor for a pittance, and a caste system that offers no hope of anything more. As tribal people, we learned they were not even low caste; they were out-caste. We didn’t know. We gave them what we did know: a women’s conference. We gave them a picture of a God that cared about them. A God that sees, hears, and knows. And when we left, we gave them hugs. Every woman in that large room. We shocked them with this, and they clung to us. Westerners rarely embrace the out-caste Adivasi. We didn’t know.
What came next? There was more to learn. More about India and our beautiful sisters there for sure, but we would be schooled much closer to home. There were things going on in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood in San Francisco that can be soul crushing for some women: women living on the street or trapped in poverty, caught in the bondage of addiction or regularly dehumanized in local strip clubs, and very young women being sold for sex on International Boulevard across the Bay. We didn’t know. We made sandwiches, delivered hot meals and hot cocoa, offered safe touch for neighborhood women at Nail Day and goodie bags for girls forced to sell themselves on the street. When this is your life, and even more so when this was your mother’s life before you, it can be nearly impossible to get out, to get away, to get help. We didn’t know.
Six years ago, we could not imagine the things we would see. We would see girls working in a Bangkok bar, not with a nametag on their uniform but a number, being ordered off a menu like pork fried rice. We’d see girls in Bali sitting in a stuffy room called an aquarium, waiting as customers perused through a large picture window, hoping the red dot of the laser pointer didn’t land on them. And we’d see nearly naked girls vacantly dancing in glass boxes suspended high above Walking Street in Pattaya…on offer for just a few bucks. Some of these girls were tricked. Some of these girls were kidnapped. Some were sold by their families into this life. We didn’t know.
And nothing could have prepared us for the stories we would hear. Stories of child brides given to 30-year-old men in exchange for livestock; the innocence of a little girl equal in value to a cow. Stories of girls being dedicated to a Hindu goddess at age six and then required to sexually service men in the village ever after. And stories of young girls enduring sexual abuse in the mountain jungles of southern Costa Rica. Over and over. Year after year. Generation after generation. We didn’t know. Some of these girls end their lives. Some end their pregnancies, not able to bear the thought of giving birth into the world as they know it. About that depth of pain, we didn’t know.
We didn’t know. And as we processed the shock, we began to realize that you didn’t know either. So, we felt called to share what we had learned.
And this is what Esther Movement set out to do in 2016: to share what we saw and what we heard and what we learned. We believed that if we encouraged our friends to journey with us and see and hear and learn, you might begin to pray with us. And if you would pray, you might give. And if you would give, you might go. You might go with us, and you might even go without us. And for some of you, the experience might even change the entire trajectory of your lives.
And we were right. And we are grateful, grateful for Esther Movement and for this most peculiar education. We have laughed and cried, felt grief and anger, shock, fear, and experienced both grace and healing. And we will never be the same.
We’re grateful to Ron Smith and Global Sharing for giving us time and space and a covering to explore the global plight of women, how God values them and how He’s reaching them through the faithfulness of our sisters around the world.
It’s time for us to head out in new directions and wind Esther Movement down. And as we do, we will be forever grateful for those of you who have joined us on this wild and truly transformative journey. Thank you for being part of our trek into the unknown.
We didn’t know. But God did. And now we do too.
Janet & Kristin
PS You can click the links below to give to the global women’s ministries we have been a part of!
Costa Rica: thenestcostarica.com
San Francisco: becausejusticematters.org
India & Philippines: globalsharingusa.org/donate