India #7

Dharwad, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 8:26 am (8/21, 7:56 pm)

The picture I didn’t get with my camera, but that is frozen in my brain is Hayley being pulled by smiling girls away from our group to join all 67 girls eating dinner on the floor. They LOVE her, and she is showing them the love of Jesus, her smile as radiant as I have ever seen it.

Our days here will be filled with travel over the wide area in which the Massey’s minister. Yesterday, we left early and drove an hour to visit one of the Friends churches here.

Kittur Friends Church

We found a small, 15′ by 10′ upper room. One wall had scripture verses, written in the beautiful, uniquely distinctve script of Karnataka state, but with English references, so I can see they are from the book of John. A tall, 1950’s American style picture of Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock,” nestle next to the door. We were served tea and cookies by the pastor’s wife; the pastor was ministering to a family whose mother had died. Arun told us that several years ago, about 35 people would come to this church. A new government party came into power, and now some Hindu fundamentalists stand outside the church on Sunday mornings, threatening those who come to worship. Attendance now is only 5 to 7 because of the persecution, but a different 5 to 7 from week to week, so many of the original Christians remain. As Arun spoke, we realized the wide scope of their rapidly growing ministry: 27 full time workers, pastors alone in villages where they are many times the only Christians. We could serve a huge supporting role by giving regular prayer support for these men and women.

Our main destination for the day was the temple of the goddess to whom the Devadasi, religious prositutes, are dedicated.These are the people Arun and Shobha focus their love and efforts on. Along the way, we saw a 15th century fort and a large dam in a beautiful canyon.

Kittur fort

Kittur fort


We stopped at a bath area along a river, 5 kilometers from the temple, and Arun told us the story of this goddess. She has many names, but the most common is Yellama. She used to get water at the river at the spot where the bath is now built.

At the bath area

At the bath area

Once, she saw a husband treating his wife well, and thought, “My husband never does that.” This thought was a sin, and because of it, her pot would no longer hold water. This told her husband that she had sinned. He asked each of his three sons to kill their mother; the first two refused, and he killed them with a curse. The third agreed, but only if the father would grant three wishes. The father agreed, and asked the son to bring him his mother’s head. The son did, but with his wishes, restored the lives of his brother and asked for his mother’s life back as well. The father was furious, and said only if he brought the mother’s body to be rejoined to the head. The son couldn’t find the body, so he killed another woman and brought her body. The mother was brought back to life, but she was furious. She asked the gods for more and more power, greater than her husband, which the gods granted. She became a goddess, dedicated to destroying faithfulness in marriage.

Devadasi woman

This woman is one of the Devadasi. She is dedicated to the goddess as a temple prostitute. She went through a “marriage” ceremony with the shrine to the left of her, and carries it with her to identify herself as a Devadasi. Most likely, she lives in a village where men fulfill their lust and try to avoid curses from the goddess by paying for her services.

The temple area itself is a hubbub of activity, the outer rings of it like a market, almost with a carnival feel. The temple is the center of a large plaza, and the booths all have large amounts of the red and yellow powder-paint for their heads.

At the temple

At the temple

At the temple

About 300 yards from the temple, a spring comes out of a rock, which they believe has healing powers. A few dozen at all times are washing themselves.

Healing water at the temple

Seeing it all really brought home the oppressiveness of their beliefs about the goddess. The gods are not kind, or giving, or gracious. The gods demand a life of prostitution, penance, offerings, with no certainty that they will ever respond. I’ve been reading in Ephesians, struck by the contrast, seeing that our belief in a gracious God who WANTS to give good gifts is so, so different.

We watched a woman, surrounded by 30 or so people, as she performed some ritual of penance. Starting at the spring, she would take a few steps, and sweep the ground at her feet. A priest would sprinkle her head with water, and she would lay prostrate, forehead flat on the ground. Her progress was agonizingly slow, as everyone chanted around her, making her way into the temple. The only picture I could make myself take was as she entered the temple.

Penance at the temple

This was the thing that broke my heart more than anything. Watching her, it somehow seemed clear to me that she really didn’t have hope that this would solve or cure whatever the issue was. Arun said if it didn’t work, she would almost surely be dedicated as a temple prostitute for the rest of her life, living in some village as the known way for men to commune with the goddess and satisfy their lust.

This morning, Shobha spoke beautifully of the love she has for these women. She can put up with ill-treatment and scorn from them, because she wants them to experience the freedom of Christ. No other Christians are serving this group.

In the U.S., perhaps it’s less obvious how people need Jesus. We hear all the time how people everywhere need Jesus. But here, seeing the temple, seeing the woman bowing her way across the courtyard without any hope, there is an urgency that burns. I want to support Arun and Shobha. I want more people like them. I want to join with them so this daughter of a Devadasi will not follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Devadasi woman and child

Returning to the Joyful Children’s Home was like an oasis. We joined a celebration for all of the girls with August birthdays, each child decked out in the bright colors of India, piercingly white smiles leaping from happy faces. These beautiful girls and young women, many of them, were conceived in an act of prostituted worship. We see their joy and the love of this house, and it is one of the most clear examples I have ever seen of the redeeming, reclaiming, loving power of Jesus Christ.

Going to church

In the evening, we walked a few blocks and worshipped in the local church of South India. It was good, yet I was bothered a little that many of the songs were simply translated from English, that it was an Anglican order of service. I wondered what truly indigenous worship would be like.

(Posted at YMCA in Mumbai, Aug. 29.)

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