International Day of the Girl

On my twelfth birthday, I sat on the cold ground in a corner of a dark room with my knees drawn up to my chin and my arms wrapped around them as the tears rolled down my dirty cheeks.   I couldn’t sleep.   I didn’t want to sleep because I was afraid that he would come back and hurt me again.  It really hurt down there.   Why did he hurt me?  Did I do something bad?  I can’t tell anyone.  He said that no one will believe me.  I can’t tell my mother.  She will beat me if I tell her that my father hurts me.

Sometimes I want to run away but I don’t know where I could go.   Sometimes I wish I was never born.  Sometimes I wish I could die.

One day my father got very ill and a week later he died.  I wish I could say that I was sad but I wasn’t.  I thought to myself, “He will never hurt you again.”  My mother didn’t seem sad either. She and my father didn’t love each other.  They used to fight a lot.  Sometimes he beat her when he was drunk.  Now it was just her, my two brothers and me.   Life did not get better after my father died.  I was still treated badly and beaten.  I worked hard while my brothers played.  Life was hard and unfair.  But what could I do?

Then, one day, three women came to our village.  One of them came to our home.  She had a kind face.  Her name was Sister Hope.  She spoke to my mother.  She talked about Jesus.  I was curious about this Jesus but didn’t want to ask any questions in front of my mother.  My mother had her gods so she wasn’t interested in this new God Sister Hope told her about.  Sister Hope smiled and left.  I was outside doing my chores.   She saw me and she came over to me.  She smiled and asked me my name.  She invited me to walk a little of the way with her.

As we walked, I asked her many questions and she answered them.  She told me about the Bridge of Hope Centre.  It sounded like a place where I would like to be. It was my chance to leave home, at least for a while.  I asked her if she could speak to my mother.

I went to the Bridge of Hope Centre once a day—in the afternoons.  The staff was so kind and caring. I was not used to that.  I was used to being abused, neglected and mistreated.  My father abused me since I was five years old.  My mother never loved me because I am a girl.  She loved my two brothers.  Sometimes I wished that I were a boy so that my mother would love me and my father wouldn’t hurt me.

It was not easy at first. I was not doing well in my studies.  I was still hurting inside.  Sometimes I found it hard to concentrate but Rashmi who taught me was very patient with me.  One day, she gently asked me to share my story with her.  I found it hard to talk about it so I drew pictures.  When she saw the drawings, she looked really sad.  I could see the tears in her eyes. That surprised me.  No one had ever cried for me before.  No one had ever felt sorry for me.  When I was at home, I was all alone.  I had no one to share my pain with.  No one cared.  No one asked me anything.  I didn’t matter to them.  But here, I did.

After she put the drawings aside, Rashmi reached out and held my hands.  She looked me straight in my face and said, “I’m so sorry that you went through such pain but I want you to know that you have a Father who loves you.  He saw you suffering and that is why He sent me to you. He loves you with an everlasting love.  He knew you before you were even born.  He knows that you are still in pain and wants and comfort you.  He wants to pour out His love on you if you will let Him.”

When I heard that I had another Father who loved me and wanted to take care of me, I began to cry.  I cried for a while.  Rashmi sat there, holding my hands.  Then, I stopped crying and felt better.  The heavy feeling that I had was not there anymore.  I felt God’s love fill me.  It felt warm.  That is the moment when I gave my heart to God. My work began to improve.

Rashmi taught me from the Bible.  I learned more about God and how much He loved me.  I learned that He gave His Son, Jesus so that I could have eternal life.  I had a Father who wanted what was best for me and who wanted to give me everything I needed.  He would never hurt, mistreat or neglect me.  He promised that He would always be there, watching over me and protecting me.  He was the father and mother I never had.

Jesus became my Friend.  He filled me with a peace that I never had.  He is always there.  When I read about how kind He was to the Samaritan woman, I knew that He would be kind to me too even though I am a girl.  I knew that Jesus didn’t love me less because I am a girl.  He had friends who were women.  He didn’t reject women and I knew that He wouldn’t reject me.

My mother noticed the changes in me. I was no longer sad. I was singing as I did my chores. I tried to tell her about Jesus but she didn’t want to hear about it. She even said to me, “If I hear another word about this Jesus of yours, I will stop you from going back to the centre.” I didn’t talk to her about Jesus after that but for weeks I prayed every night that she would want to know about Him. Weeks went by and then one morning she came to me. She looked scared. “I had a dream last night,” she said. “I was at the river doing laundry when I saw a bright light around me. Out of the light I heard a voice say to me, ‘forsake your gods and follow Me.’ I was afraid but the voice sounded kind so I asked, ‘who are You?’ The voice said, ‘I am Jesus.’ Then He told me again to forsake my gods and follow Him. Tell me about this Jesus.”

I was so surprised that I didn’t know what to say at first. God had answered my prayers. Jesus had revealed Himself to my mother. I told her all that I knew about Jesus. Then Sister Mary came to study the Bible with her. My mother accepted Jesus and our lives have changed. We get along better now.

Now I am 15 years old.  I have been going to the centre for three years.  I love it here.  I want to be a teacher so that I could tell other girls about Jesus.  I want to tell them that it doesn’t matter that they are girls.  Jesus loves them.

This story is fictitious but it is the reality for many girls in South Asia.  Many are abused, neglected, mistreated and unloved simply because they are girls. Some run away from home and end up on the streets where they end up begging, forced into child labor, exploited or trafficked or some of them end up in a Gospel for Asia’s Children’s home.

From the time they are born, they are mistreated, solely because they are girls. A girl cannot carry on the family name nor aptly provide for her parents when they get old. Additionally, her parents will likely have to go into debt to pay her marriage dowry. Because of this, she is seen as a burden to her family and not a blessing – Gospel for Asia.

Thankfully, some girls who still live at home like the one in this story are invited to the Bridge of Hope Centre while others like Manjulika are placed in Gospel for Asia’s Children’s home.  Read her story.

International Day of the Girl is a global and annual event initiated by the United Nations to raise awareness of the plight girls around the world.  This year’s theme is “The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030.”

There are nearly 600 million girls aged 10 to 19 in the world today, each with limitless individual potential, however they are disappearing from public awareness and the international development agenda. Between inequities in secondary education to protection issues, adolescent girls are uniquely impacted and should benefit from targeted investments and programmes that address their distinct needs. Investing in adolescent girls can have a formidable ripple effect to create a better world by 2030. On this International Day of the Girl, join us in highlighting the unique challenges and potential of adolescent girls – UNICEF.

This is our opportunity to highlight the needs and rights of girls.  Girls face discrimination because of their gender.  They face barriers to education, opportunities to make a living, child-marriages and poverty.   The sad reality is that when we invest in girls, “we create a brighter and safer future for everyone.  When girls are educated, healthy and informed, they are able to lift themselves, their children and communities out of poverty” (Because I Am a Girl).  Girls matter!  They should be celebrated, empowered and encouraged not abused, misused, neglected or exploited.   Invest in a girl today!

There are girls out there who don’t know that there is a God who created them in His image and that they are precious in His sight.  He rejoiced when they were born.  Pray that He will send missionaries to their homes and rescue them from their private hell.  Pray that boys and girls will find refuge at Gospel for Asia supported Children’s homes. Help programs like Bridge of Hope, a children’s program, where they help with the children’s education, provide them with food, medical care, tutoring, clothing, and show them the love of Christ.  Pray that many of these girls and their families will be led to Christ who has the power to “give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death–to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Galatians 1:4).

Celebrate the power and potential of girls!

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; UNICEF; Because I am A Girl

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Daya’s Timeline

When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up – Psalm 27:10

Daya was like an orphan even though her parents were not dead.  They abandoned her and if it weren’t for her grandmother, she would have been completely alone.  Family life was terrible for her.  Her father beat her mother and then abandoned them both.  Her mother deserted her. Neither parent showed her any love.  There is nothing worse than a child not receiving parental love.

Things didn’t improve for Daya.   With no income, she and her grandmother were forced to beg at bus stops, train stations and shops.  It’s heartbreaking to see an elderly woman, with her grandchild in her arms, begging for something to eat.  The cook for a Gospel for Asia Bridge of Hope centre had to be cautious.  He knew that there were beggars who carried small children in order to get larger handouts and they pocketed most of the money for themselves.  He couldn’t tell if this beggar was on the level.  He asked her a question and demanded an answer.  Her response was to break down in tears and pour her heart out.

He learned that the woman was the child’s grandmother and that Daya had once been a happy child until strife tore her family apart.  Realizing that this woman was telling the truth and moved with compassion, the cook invited her to enroll Daya in the Bridge of Hope centre where he would cook the young girl meals.

Daya joined the Bridge of Hope centre lodged between a railway station and a slum. Unfortunately, she stood out from the rest of the children.  She was the poorest of the poor and living in the slums for much of her life, she didn’t know much about hygiene.  She went to class each day in the same dirty clothes.  She rarely had a bath and when she did, she didn’t use soap.

It was not long before some of the parents began to complain about Daya and they pressured the Bridge of Hope staff to drop her from the program.  They didn’t want this dirty child to be around their children.  They threatened to remove their children from the centre if she didn’t leave.

Daya’s future was in jeopardy.  If she was dropped from the program, she would return to the streets as one of the 300,000 child beggars in India.  Somewhere down the road, she would be among the 20 to 30 million boys and girls who are exploited as child laborers.  If it weren’t for her grandmother’s protection, Daya was at risk of becoming one of the 1.2 million Indian children abused as prostitutes.  And worse yet for Daya if her grandmother were to die.  She would be lost and her future would be hopeless.  She wouldn’ stand a chance in a society where evil men preyed on the innocent…

Behold, God is my helper; The Lord is with those who uphold my life – Psalm 54:4

The Bridge of Hope staff remained committed to helping Daya because they knew that God had brought her to them.  They decided to keep her in the program and undertook her hygiene problem.  They scrubbed the 8 year old and gave her new clothes.  By the time they were finished with Daya, you could hardly recognize her.  They continued to teach her and her classmates proper hygiene and other practical life skills.  These wonderful people of God didn’t cave into the demands of those parents who wanted them to expel Daya from the centre.  They followed the example of the apostles Peter and John in Acts 5:29 who, when the council demanded to know why they were continuing to preach in Jesus’ name after being commanded not to, replied,  “We ought to obey God rather than men.”  They had to do whatever was necessary to protect the welfare of this child whom God had rescued from a life on the streets.

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly – John 10:10

Over six years have passed since Daya joined the Bridge of Hope centre.  Instead of dirty rags, she is wearing beautiful dresses given as her uniforms.  She had gone from being a beggar to being blessed.  She had gone from the streets to a sanctuary where she receives an education.  She is not in bonded labor or in a brothel.  She is enjoying liberty in Jesus.  She can realize her dream to be a teacher.  Daya, now 15 years old, has a relationship with a Father who loves her and a Savior who has given her hope and set her free from the social evils which plague young girls like her in South Asia.

Daya’s grandmother has witnessed first hand the love of God as shown through the kindness of the Bridge of Hope staff.  And she too is experiencing that love.

God is using Bridge of Hope to change communities.  More than 60,000 children are finding hope in Jesus through the centres but there are millions of children like Daya out there who are still living in despair.  You can reach out to them by sponsoring a child.  Find out what every Bridge of Hope child receives.

My heart goes out to these children who are robbed of their childhood.  They are unloved, abandoned, exploited and abused.  I was touched by the story of Lakshmi, a nine year old who works in a factory rolling cigarettes.  She is an example of selfless love.  She doesn’t care about playing or going to school–all she wants is to bring her sister home from the bonded labor man.

My sister is ten years old. Every morning at seven she goes to the bonded labor man, and every night at nine she comes home. He treats her badly; he hits her if he thinks she is working slowly or if she talks to the other children, he yells at her, he comes looking for her if she is sick and cannot go to work. I feel this is very difficult for her.  

It would cost 600 rupees to buy her sister’s freedom but for Lakshmi, there is hopeless.  “We don’t have 600 rupees,” she says, “…we will never have 600 rupees.”  600 rupees is only $14.00 US.  This is just one story among over 10 million stories of children who are bonded laborers in India.  Help Bridge of Hope to bring hope to these children.  Pray that God will rescue more of them from the clutches of evil people.   Pray that they will discover that there is a loving God who sees their plight and will intervene.  Pray that they will come to know Jesus.

Let Your mercy, O LORD, be upon us, Just as we hope in You – Psalm 33:22

Source:  Gospel for Asia

Pakistan’s Senate Passes Domestic Violence Bill

I read this evening on the website for Violence is Not Our Culture about the passing of domestic violence bill in Pakistan.  VNC congratulated their partners Baidarie Sialkot and Shirkat Gah and other civil society groups and women’s human rights activists who have been campaigning over the past few years to pass this bill.

Baidarie Sialkot is a non-government and non-profit organization which was established in 1993 by the rural women of UC Roras who were keen to work for the empowerment and development of the women of the area. It carries out its operations without having religious, lingual, political and social discriminations to motivate the rural communities, particularly women, to take an active part in the social developmental process. The organization strives hard to develop women into active, productive and dynamic citizens of the country.

Shirkat Gah literally means a place of participation. It was formed as a non hierarchical collective in 1975 by a group of women with a shared perspective on women’s rights and development.

The organizations’ fundamental goal was to encourage women to play a full and equal role in society by promoting and protecting the social and economic development of women already participating in, or wanting to participate in, the national development.

The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) bill makes violence against women and children an offence carrying jail terms and fines, state media said.  It was introduced by Senator Nilofar Bakhtiar and passed unanimously by the upper house of the federal parliament, Pakistan Television reported.  It was passed unanimously in the National Assembly, the lower house in parliament almost three years ago in August 2009.  It will come into effect after it is signed into legislation by President Asif Ali Zardari.

Under this bill those found guilty of beating women or children will face a minimum six months behind bars and a fine of at least 100,000 rupees ($1,100).  In addition to protecting children and women, it provides protection to the adopted, employed and domestic associates in a household.

The law classifies domestic violence as acts of physical, sexual or mental assault, force, criminal intimidation, harassment, hurt, confinement and deprivation of economic or financial resources.   In the past if a man beat her wife or children, the police could not arrest him because it was considered a domestic affair.  Now, thanks to the passing of this bill, the police can step in and make an arrest.

Human rights groups say that Pakistani women suffer severe discrimination, domestic violence and so-called “honour” killings.  This means that a victim is murdered for allegedly bringing dishonour upon her family.  I read that in Afghanistan running away from an abusive husband or a forced marriage are considered “moral crimes”, for which women are currently imprisoned.  Rape victims are imprisoned because sex outside marriage, even when the woman is forced, is considered adultery, another “moral crime”.  I cannot believe that the woman who is abused by her husband is imprisoned.  I fail to see how rape can be classified as adultery which is consensual sex between two people outside of marriage.  Rape is not about sex.  It is a violent act.  And rape victims should be protected not treated like criminals.   It would be really great if Afghanistan were to pass a similar bill.

It is believed that the spread of Islamist fundamentalism is increasingly isolating the women in Pakistan, especially in the areas where the Taliban are.  Thankfully this bill will change things in the Pakistani women’s favor.  Men will no longer get away with their crimes.

It is truly a victory for Pakistan and especially the women and children whose rights are finally going to be protected.  This is a testimony that awareness + action = change.

Source:  http://abusehelplines.org/2012/02/21/pakistans-senate-unanimously-passes-domestic-violence-bill/