The Fashion Show

Martin glanced at his friend, Albert and was amused when he saw him staring at Brenda who was strutting down the runway, hands on hips and big smile on her face as she modeled the black and white 50’s looking dress.  The fashion show was actually a charitable event and sponsored by Martin’s company.  After much cajoling, he managed got his friend to come.  Until now, Albert had seemed unimpressed and rather bored with the fashion show.  None of the beautiful women who walked past him got his notice.  And then, Brenda walked out.  Albert glanced up with the same bored expression on his face which immediately changed when he saw her.  His eyes followed her up and down the runway.

Martin leaned over and said in a low voice.  “She’s a stunner, isn’t she?”

Albert didn’t answer.  He watched as she paused at the end of the runway before heading back in his direction.  As she drew nearer, he sat forward, anxious to see her.  She stopped right in front of him.  After acknowledging Martin, she shifted her attention to Albert.  Their eyes met and he felt his heart stop when she smiled at him.   Then, she was gone.

“Would you like to meet her?” Martin asked him.

Albert watched her retreating figure until she disappeared from view before he turned to his friend.  “Yes.”

Martin grinned.  “Good,” he said.  “You’ll meet her after the show.”

“Is she going to come out again?”

“I don’t believe so.”

Albert looked disappointed.  He sat back in his seat, anxious for the show to be over so that he could meet the model who had captivated him.

She was standing on the terrace, looking down at the gardens when they joined her half hour later.  She was wearing a simple orange pant suit which complimented her complexion and flattered her figure.  As she watched them approach, her gaze went to the tall and attractive man with the thick dark brown hair, dressed in the dark grey sweater over a white shirt and dark grey trousers.  The glasses he wore suited him.  She didn’t usually go for the preppy, nerdy type but something about his guy made her pulse race and heart do somersaults.  He looked shy.  She liked that. He would be a welcome change to the obnoxious and overbearing men who usually hit on her.

“Brenda, thank you for being a part of a very worthy cause,” Martin said when they joined her.  “You looked really great out there.  Have you ever considered modelling for a new career?”

She laughed.  “No, the thought never occurred to me.  Besides, I’m too short.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I had fun.” Unable to resist, her gaze shifted to his friend who was watching her.  Behind the eyeglasses, she could see that he had beautiful, expressive eyes.

Martin observed them, smiling.  “Brenda, this is my good friend, Albert.”

Albert was nervous.  He tried not to stare but he couldn’t help himself.  His gaze was riveted to her face.  “Hello,” he said when what he really wanted to say was, I’m so very pleased to meet you.  He took the hand she offered and clasped it in a firm handshake.  Her fingers felt small and delicate in his, yet they had the power to stir feelings in him which he never experienced before.  His heart was pounding and he began to worry that he might make an utter fool of himself.  In all of his forty years, not once had he had ever been tongue-tied or nervous around a woman.

She smiled at him.  “I’m very pleased to meet you, Albert,” she told him.  “Did you enjoy the fashion show?”

He realized that he was still holding her hand and he released it.  He put his hands behind his back in an attempt to appear relaxed.  “The last bit of it,” he said.  He didn’t want to admit that until she walked out, he was bored out of his mind.

“I’m not into fashion shows but I don’t mind doing them if it’s for charity.”

Martin chimed in.  “If you two will excuse me, I have to go and find Margot.” He left them and headed off to find the fashion photographer whom he was currently dating.  Margot used to be a model until she decided that she liked being behind the lens better.

Alone together, Albert and Brenda became intensely aware of each other.  They couldn’t hide their attraction for each other even if they tried.  “You really are very beautiful,” Albert said to her, his expression tense.

She had been paid many compliments before but she was never affected by them as she was by his.  Albert made her feel beautiful just by the way he said it and the way he looked at her as he said it.  “Thank you,” she replied.

“I’m not usually this bold,” he sounded apologetic, “but I was wondering if perhaps, we can go for a walk in the gardens?”

“Yes, I’d like that.”

“What do you do when you’re not modeling for charity?” he asked as they strolled across the well manicured lawn.

“I work at a law firm.  When I’m not working, I like to curl up with a good book.  What about you?”

“I’m a Financial Director at Shadoworks Company.  I like to write essays in my spare time.  Just recently, I wrote how the words of Christ, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, would be the panacea for the social ills plaguing our society such as abuse, bullying, racism, violence, oppression, sexual harassment.”

“And gender inequality, rape and human trafficking.  This world would be such a different place if we all were to follow the teachings of Christ.  I’d like to read your essay.”

He smiled, flattered that she wanted to read something he had written.  “It’s in the Opinion section of the April 4 issue of the Daily Observer.

“I like the Daily Observer.  It has great articles and it’s not afraid to address sensitive issues.  Yesterday I read a very frank and informative article on sexual harassment in the workplace.  At my firm, we deal with hundreds of cases of sexual discrimination and harassment and bullying in the workplace.”

“I would imagine that it becomes overwhelming sometimes, having to deal with such cases.”

“It does.  I still remember the case of a lawyer whose was being sexually harassed by one of the partners at the law firm where she used to work.  She sued him and the firm and won.  Now she has her own practice helping women who are victims of sexual harassment, discrimination in the workplace, including law firms.”

“It’s unfortunate but sometimes people have to go through terrible experiences so that they could turn around and help others.  But, you like what you do.”

“Yes.  I like being a part of the solution.  Although I have been working there for four years, compared to the others, I am still the neophyte of the firm but every day I am learning and growing.”

They found somewhere to sit and talked for a long while about different things, learning more about each other and finding that they have a lot in common.  Then, he glanced at his watch and an expression of deep regret came over his face as he looked at her.  “I’m afraid that I must go,” he said apologetically.  “I have a pressing engagement.  It’s my niece’s piano recital,” he added quickly when he saw the look on her face.

She smiled, relieved and stood up.  “How old is your niece?” she asked as they started back to the building where the crowd was starting to disperse.

“She’s fourteen.”

“What is she playing?”

“I believe it’s a piece by Mozart.”

“I wish I learned how to play the piano.  It’s my favorite musical instrument.  I am a big fan of Chopin.”

“I’m more partial to the violin and Bach.”  They were standing at the foot of the steps now.  “Do you need a lift to anywhere?” he asked.

She shook her head.  “Thank you, but my sister, June is meeting me here in about fifteen minutes.  I’m spending the rest of the day with her and her family.”

“I really enjoyed our time together,” he said quietly, his eyes serious on her face.

“Me too.”

There was a pause as he seemed to be contemplating something. “Will you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?” he asked, his expression hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

“Yes, I will,” she said.  She opened her handbag and after tearing out a sheet of paper from the back of her address book, she wrote her address and phone number.  She folded it and gave it to him.

“I’ll pick you up at seven” he said as he took the paper and tucked it in his wallet.  “I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“See you tomorrow.”  She watched him ascend the steps and waved when he stopped to glance back at her.  When he disappeared from her sight, she stood there for a moment, thinking about him and how much she had enjoyed his company.  Then, she went to meet her sister at the front entrance of the building.  As soon as she got into the car, she said to her, “I met him today.”

June stared at her.  “Who’re you talking about?” she asked, pulling away from the curb.

“The man I’m going to marry.”

June laughed.  “Really?” she exclaimed, sounding very skeptical.  “And what made you come to that conclusion?”

“I used to think that love at first sight was a foolish romantic notion but today it happened to me.”

June glanced at her and realized, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am.  We spent about an hour just talking and getting to know each other.  I loved being with him. He’s so different from the men I usually go for.  We had the most stimulating conversation and I could have sat there all day just talking to him but he had to go to his niece’s recital.  He asked me to have dinner with him tomorrow evening.”

“Wow.  I wish I’d come earlier to meet him.”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll meet him.”

“Does he know that he’s going to marry you?” June teased her.

“Maybe not as yet”

She thought about him for the rest of the day, wondering how his niece’s recital went and if he was thinking about the time they spent together.  She looked forward to seeing him the following evening and was thankful when it arrived.

He showed up at promptly seven wearing a black suit over a white shirt and no tie.  His hair was slightly damp, a few tresses falling across his forehead and he was not wearing his glasses.  He looked so handsome that she couldn’t stop staring.  “I’m wearing contacts,” he said unnecessarily.  Perhaps he was as nervous as she.

Her heart was pounded wildly, especially when she saw his eyes travel over her and the expression in them when they returned to her face.  She was wearing a Burgundy Long Sleeve Shift Dress with rounded neckline and long sleeves with lightly puffed shoulders.  Long, shapely legs clad in sheer hosiery, peeped out from under the hem and black dress pumps completed the outfit.  “I didn’t think it was possible for you to be even more beautiful than you already are.”

“Thank you,” she said, sounding a little breathless.  He offered her his arm which she took and they walked to the lift.  Fortunately, for her it was a balmy evening but she had brought her shawl just in case.  On the way to the restaurant she asked him about his niece’s recital and as he talked about it, she could tell that he was very proud of her.

They went to a modern French restaurant in Covent Garden.  It was reputed to be the world’s most romantic restaurant.  They started with the Crispy Parmesan Polenta & Saint Marcellin Cheese and for the main course, she had the Oven Roasted Free Range Chicken Leg Stuffed with Duck Liver & Truffle while he had the Pan Roasted Organic Irish Sea Trout as they each enjoyed a glass of white wine.  They had a lively conversation and made plans to see each other again.  For dessert, they had both had the Greek Yogurt & Lemon Zest Mousse, Yuzu Curd & Honey Comb.

After dinner, they drove to Canary Wharf.  He parked the car and took her on a little tour of the office district, showing her the building where he worked.  The place looked beautiful at night and the tall office buildings reminded her a little of Manhattan.  “How long does it take you to drive to work?” she asked as they walked back to the car about half-hour later.

“Approximately 35 minutes, depending on the traffic.  Longer during the winter.”

“I like it here.  Very busy, upscale and lots to see.”

“I will bring you here again another time and we can spend a longer time, walking around and perhaps go to a concert, if you like that sort of thing.  We can grab dinner afterwards.”

“That sounds wonderful,” she said smiling as she got into the car.  “Thank you for dinner.”

“It was my pleasure.  Do you have any plans for tomorrow?”

“No.”

“I was thinking that we can go on the Little Venice to Camden Walk.  Someone at work mentioned it to me a while ago and I have been meaning to look into it.  Afterwards, we can visit the Waterside Café before the walk.

“I didn’t know that there was a Little Venice in London.  Sounds very interesting.  I would love to go.”

“I read online that it was named such by the poet Robert Browning who lived overlooking the canal in the 1800s. I’ve never been to Venice but hope to one of these days.”

On the drive to her flat, they talked more about their plans for the following day.  Outside of her door, he said goodnight and then leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  They held each other’s gaze for several minutes before he turned and walked away.  She watched him go, touching the side of her face where his lips had been before she went inside her flat.

They went for the Little Venice to Camden Walk and had a wonderful time.  After that, they started seeing each other on a regular basis and by the end of the year, they were dating each other exclusively.  Spring of the following year came and it was when they were in walking in St. James’ Park that he turned to her and said, “I have been meaning to say something to you all morning.”  They were standing at the western end of the park from where they had a clear view of Buckingham Palace.

She stared up at him, wondering what was on his mind.  He looked very serious, nervous.  He took her hands in his and clasped them.

“I love you, Brenda,” he confessed.  “I fell in love with you the first time I saw you.  You came into my life and changed it completely.  The times you and I have spent together have been the happiest for me.  I can’t imagine my life without you in it.  So, if you have no objection and I hope and pray that you don’t, I am asking you to marry me.”

Tears sprang to her eyes.  She raised their entwined hands to her lips and kissed his.  Her heart was in her eyes when she raised them to his face.  “I love you too, Albert,” she admitted huskily.  “Until I met you, I didn’t believe in love at first sight.  Of course, I will marry you.  You’re the man for me.”

Albert released an unsteady breath and letting go of her hands, he hugged her around her waist and pulled her against him.  He bent his head and kissed her.  She put her arms around his neck and kissed him back.  For several minutes they stood there, kissing while the ducks waddled about the grass before some of them headed for the pond.

At length, he drew back and said, “I have something for you.”  He reached into his pants pocket and took out the box with the ring.  He opened it and her eyes widened when she saw the exquisite diamond.  He took it out and taking her hand, he gently slid it down her finger.  It was a perfect fit.  When he raised his eyes to look at her, they were filled with emotions.  “I love you.”

She swallowed.  “I love you,” she managed to say and then he kissed her again.  They left that spot a few minutes later, his arm was around her shoulder and hers was around his waist.

They had a summer wedding.  June was her matron of honor.  When they had a chance to speak, Brenda said to her with a smile and a wink, “I told you that I was going to marry him.”

June laughed.  “Yes, you did.  And after meeting him and getting to know him, I can see why he’s the one you ended up with.” She hugged her younger sister tightly.  “I wish you both the very best and God’s many blessings.”

“Thank you.”

It was a lovely reception and afterwards, they left for their honeymoon in Venice.  They did return to Canary Wharf and it was when they were sitting on a bench, having sandwiches that she told him they were going to have their first child.  She laughed when he almost choked on his.  He quickly put it back in the paper and put it down on the seat beside him before turning to hug her tightly, burying his face in her neck.  She hugged him back as she felt his tears wet her neck.  They sat like that for a long time.

Sources:  Fantasy Names Generator; Findlaw; Lulu’s Fashion; YouTube; Trip Savvy

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Women and Mental Health

May 1-7 has been Mental Health awareness week.

One in three Americans struggles with mental illness but the rate is much higher in women.  Research shows that women are 40% more likely to develop depression than men.  It is not clear why mental illness is more common among women but doctors have come up with a number of possibilities.

Discrimination, Trauma and stressful life experiences

Trauma is common among women with half of them experiencing some form of trauma in their lifetime.  One in four women have faced an attempted or a completed sexual assault.  Reportedly, one in three are abused by a domestic partner.  Gender discrimination, violence and mistreatment undermine a woman’s mental health.  Stress is a predictor of mental illness.  Women juggle housework, kids even while working fulltime.  They report that they have to work harder to get the same credit as men and worry about the gender wage gap.  They have to deal with sexual harassment and discrimination in workplaces where these are commonplace.  These challenges can significantly affect a woman’s ability to cope and her self-esteem.

Hormonal Issues

Women produce lower quantities of serotonin than men due to differences in hormone levels and this deficiency can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting

41% or women suffer from some form of postpartum depression.  Some of them are overwhelmed by the demands of parenting, especially in the early days.  I remember that there were times when I felt that I was drowning–in over my head.  Once I even cried out while I was holding my toddler.  Thankfully I had God and a very supportive partner.  It helped when he came home and I had an adult to talk to. Not all women are as blessed.  Research shows that women who don’t have supportive partners, experience traumatic births, live in poverty or a highly stressed will most likely develop postpartum depression.  

Gender bias is another problem women face.  Some research suggests that doctors tend to label women’s symptoms as emotional while taking the men’s symptoms more seriously.  So, a woman who reports that she is experiencing chronic pain to her doctor might be labeled as depressed.  This happens because we live in a world where gender discrimination exists and women are seen as more emotional and less rational.  

In many countries, the way health workers spoke to the women made it difficult for them to disclose their psychological and emotional distress.  And when they worked up the courage to disclose their problems, they were either over-treated or under treated by many of the health workers.

I read in an article in The Globe And Mail that women are getting the prescription that is available more often than the treatment they need.  They are getting medication to solve their problems even when science finds that treatments such as psychotherapy is equally or in some cases more effective without the side effects.  Bias in mental health care is a hindrance to women, preventing them from getting the proper help they need.  Not much effort goes into researching how drugs affect female patients.  While drug companies like to bombard women with their pills, most of their clinical trials have been dominated by men.  And the ironic thing is that the disorders most commonly diagnosed in women such as depression, anxiety and insomnia are the ones most likely to respond to therapy.  Most women are likely to prefer therapy over drugs.  

According to Dr. Marina Morrow, a Simon Fraser University psychologist who studies gender and mental health, “Women aren’t getting access to the range of care they need.”  She believes that an effective approach to this would be to include medication when necessary but in also offer therapy, peer support and pinpoint what social circumstances lead to the illness.

It has been argued that therapy is the safer, more effective and cheaper choice.  The authors of a 2015 study by Canadian and U.S. researchers concluded that, “There remains no sound justification to prescribe drugs without first trying therapy.  Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Gender and Health, believes that “the way we fund therapies in Canada does not make sense right now.”  She wrote a letter to Quebec’s health minister to make the point that even if 20 per cent of seniors with insomnia received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with is used to treat insomnia, the cost-savings to the system could be in the hundreds of millions, based on the potential falls that would be avoided.  Therapy saves on costly and debilitating falls and hip fractures.  

We live in a country where medication is favored over psychotherapy and women are more likely than men to be prescribed antidepressants and sedatives as seniors and as a result they are at a higher risk of suffering from adverse effects.  Hopefully more women and those in the medical profession will speak out against the bias that is prevalent in the mental health care.  Doctors and those in the health care system need to give women more choices when it comes to treatment.  It’s their health so they should have the right to determine how they want to proceed once they have been diagnosed.

depressed woman

Love Came Down

He left the glory of heaven to come into our world.  He was willing to rearrange His life so that He could come here and live and walk among us. He traded in His majesty for our humanity.  He left His home to come to a place where He had nowhere to lay His head. He left the adoration of the angelic host to come to a world that did not know Him and to His own who did not receive Him.

He left everything to come into a world that was plunged in darkness, filled with sorrow, sickness, hurt, violence and pain. Why?  Why did He come?  Would you come to a place where you would be rejected, unappreciated, opposed and despised?  He did. Would you reach out to people who are always trying to trap you and challenge everything you say or do?  He did.  Would you wash the feet of the man who would betray you and share bread with him?  He did.  Would you forgive the man who denied three times that he knew you?  He did.  What about those who spat on you, mocked you and wanted you dead, would you forgive them?  He did.

Why would Jesus subject Himself to such improprieties?  It’s simple.  Love.  He did it all for love.  Love for the Father and love for us.

Love filled His heart as He walked the streets, touching, healing and ministering to people.  Love filled His heart as He drove the demons out so that the person was in his right mind again.  Love filled His heart as He gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk and the dumb speak.  It was love that filled His heart when He touched the leper instead of just speaking the healing.  His word was just as powerful as His touch but He chose to touch the untouchable.

It was love which prompted Him to forgive the paralyzed man because He saw the man’s true need.  Everyone saw his physical need but Jesus saw his spiritual need and He responded to it.  It was love that made Him encourage the widow of Nain not to weep before He touched her son’s dead body, giving him life again.

It was love that broke down barriers when He offered salvation to the Samaritan woman at the well and healed the daughter of the Greek woman.  Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans (John 4:9). There was animosity between the two groups.  And women were not highly regarded.  In fact, when a Jewish man started off his day with prayer, he thanked God that he was neither a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.  Gentiles were seen as in a very unfavorable light. They were seen as unclean or common (Acts 10:28).  It was unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with them or go to their homes. So, these two women had two strikes against them–their nationalities and their gender.  Yet, to Jesus these things didn’t matter.  He loved them and wanted to offer them what the world couldn’t.

It was love that made Him call the woman with the bleeding problem, “Daughter” and offer her words of encouragement.  He wanted to assure her that her faith had made her well.  And it was love that made Him look up at the despised tax collector up in the tree and invite Himself to his home for food and fellowship.  It was in love that He reached out the unreachable, the unloved, the discarded, the neglected and the undesirables.  His love knew no boundaries, no barriers.  It was freely given but not always received or returned.

It was love for you and me that made Him endure the insults, the whipping and finally the Cross.  He bore the indignity of being nailed to a tree between two thieves, treated like a criminal although He had done nothing wrong.  Yet, He did all of this so that believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life and that the world through Him might be saved.

Love came down to save a perishing world.

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself – John 12:32

jesus-with-people

Sources:  John 1, 3; Christian Courier

Mental Health Crisis in India

More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness.  In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent.  According to doctors, roughly 10 per cent of India’s population suffers from depression – MGMH

 

Women with mental illness are treated as less than human.  They are dumped, abandoned and abused.  If there are any signs of mental illness, a woman is put in a mental hospital with no chance of getting out.  Men can go back home while women are there for life.  In the following video, we meet a woman whose husband had her institutionalized although she had no history of mental illness.  Here’s a story of a mentally ill woman whose husband built a case against her so that he could get custody of their children after divorcing her.

It is not surprising that women suffer from depression at higher rates than men.  They have to deal with gender inequality, violence, lack of paid employment, lack of education, excessive spousal alcohol use and poverty.  Mothers are blamed for the birth of a female child and many face pressure to have male children.  Women are diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, oftentimes, following the birth of their children.  The children are often removed from the ill mother’s care and this results in further distress for her. Indian women have higher rates of suicide than women in most developed countries and a higher rate of suicide compared to men in India.  Depression is one of the most common reasons for suicide among Indian women.

Mental health in India carries with it a stigma, especially if the person suffering from mental illness is a woman.  According to MGMH (Movement for Global Mental Health), in rural India, it is common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers instead of hospitals and doctors, especially in cases of mental health.  Mental health was something that was talked about in hushed tones.  Thankfully, it is no longer being swept under the rug.  People are coming forward.  Deepika Padukone stunned her fans last year when she admitted that she suffered from anxiety and depression.

At the time the news broke, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. It took tremendous courage for her to disclose her illness, especially since people diagnosed with mental illness face discrimination.  Deepika has since launched the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health issues and as a result many celebrities were inspired to come out in the open and address the need to talk about mental health.  Varun Dhawan admitted that he was depressed during the making of Badlapur and Honey Singh revealed that he has been undergoing therapy for bipolar disorder.

Sadly, those living with mental illness are victims of a cruel fate.  They are often locked away and stripped of their basic human rights in state-run institutions that are under-staffed. In an article, titled Mentally Ill Suffer a Horrible Fate in India posted on the site for Deutsche Welle (DW), most state run mental hospitals are in deplorable conditions. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that out of the 43 government mental hospitals in India, less than half a dozen are in a “livable” condition”.

There are doctors in charge of these hospitals who have no business being there.  “These doctors don’t understand the intricacies of a psychiatric illnesses and the comprehensive care the patients require,” said a psychiatrist working in a state-run mental hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

And in the midst of the crisis of hospitals not providing the conditions and care the patients need, are quack healers who are profiting from this.  According to a study by Dr. Shiv Gautam, former superintendent of Jaipur Mental Hospital, 68 per cent of the mentally ill are taken to faith healers before a psychiatrist.  “The reason, besides superstition, is that most general medicine doctors fail to diagnose psychiatric illness,” Gautam said. “A mentally ill patient displays symptoms which superstitious people believe are paranormal,” he added. “Such patients are tortured, chained and used for extracting money from their families.”  Hema, who was suffering from Schizophrenia was believed to have an evil spirit.  Her family took her to Datar Sharif Dargah where she spent a year locked up.  It wasn’t until her condition deteriorated that she was brought to Dr. Gautam.  In 15 days, she began to improve and a month later she was normal.

In other cases, the mentally ill are subjected to one of these horrific ordeals:  whipping, caning, inhaling burnt chili smoke, having their eyes smeared with chili paste or having their eyes branded with red, hot coins.  There are laws banning this practice, however, many dargahs and temples keep the patients chained.  Some of them spend the rest of their lives like this.  In 2001, 26 patients perished in a fire at a dargah in a coastal village because they couldn’t escape the blaze since they were chained.  What a horrific and senseless tragedy.

Families of mentally ill people opt for dumping them.  This means that they are dumped into an asylum where the conditions are not fit for a human.  When an illegal asylum was raided, they found thirty-five men and six boys living in inhuman conditions.  The stench from their unwashed bodies and the excrement drove neighbors to alert the health department.  Naked and chained inmates were discovered, dumped there by their families after they paid the asylum owner.  Some of these poor souls were found crawling in their excrement, some even consuming it.  On their bodies were marks of torture.  Some had surgical scars on their backs, leading to allegations that the asylum had links to kidney theft.  78 patients had entered the asylum but only 41 were found during the raid.

Other patients are dumped in jungles or forests ranges.  Their families pay lorry drivers to drop them.  Women and children are among these victims and in some cases, the females are raped by the drivers before being dumped.  Social activist Murugan S. who has rescued countless mentally ill people from the streets, cautions us not to judge the families by calling them cruel.  Instead we are to examine what forced them to take such extreme measures.  He believes that system needs to change.

Part of the solution is raising awareness.  The suffering of the mentally ill has been brought to our attention. It is out in the open.  The next thing that needs to be done is to show the superstitious and fearful society that mental illness is nothing to run away from or to be ashamed of.  The person suffering from mental illness needs love, support and most importantly, proper care so that he or she can live a normal life.

The government needs to put something place to ensure that patients are placed in reputable, sanitary facilities that will provide the care that they need and to ban the operation of illegal asylums and the practice of dumping.  Quack healers should be banned from profiting from other people’s suffering.  Husbands should not be allowed to institutionalize their wives if there is no record that they have mental illness.

No one wants to be mentally ill but it is a reality for many people and what they need is to know that they have a platform where they can talk about what is happening with them. Here in Canada, we have Bell Let’s Talk, a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across the country. It has done so much to fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get involved in educating themselves and others.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that something will be put in place in India so that attitudes toward mental illness would change and those suffering from it will have a platform where they would not be judged, dumped, abandoned or discriminated but supported and be treated with dignity and open minds.  In the meantime, let’s keep talking and raising awareness.

Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness – Bell, Let’s Talk

 

Sources:  Vice News; Movement of Global Mental Health; Wikipedia; Deutsche Welle

Oppressed Because She is a Woman

Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, But they have no comforter—
On the side of their oppressors there is power, But they have no comforter – Ecclesiastes 4:1

It saddens me that in some countries, it is dangerous or even deadly to be a woman.  Sex trafficking, bride burnings, infanticide, gender related crimes, poverty and oppression are the realities that girls and women face in Asia.

Women should be able to live in a society where their rights are protected  and are not oppressed because of their gender.  Gender discrimination is something that all women may encounter at some point in her life but in Asia, women are perpetual victims of violence, abuse and oppression.

Imagine that you are a mother and one Sunday evening you find your daughter lying naked on the front step of the house she shares with her husband and children.  There is no one there to help her and no one wants to come to her so you are the only one she can call for help although you live quite a distance away.   Imagine how you would feel when you see your daughter with burns on more than 80 percent of her body, crying in agony. She survives for three days, long enough to tell the police that she was doused in kerosene by her mother-in-law and set on fire by her husband–the father of her children.  Then she dies…

This is what happened to Laxmi, a woman in Bangladore.  She was a victim of bride burning which is a crime that accounts for the death of at least one woman every hour in India.  More than 8000 women die in this horrendous way.  This type of crime is also called, “dowry death”.

A dowry death is the death of a young woman in South Asian countries, primarily India, who is murdered or driven to suicide by her husband. This results from the husband continually attempting to extract more dowry from the bride or her family. Bride burning is just one form of dowry death. Others include acid throwing and Eve teasing.  Because dowry typically depends on class or socioeconomic status, women are often subjected to the dowry pressures of their future husband or his relatives.

Laxmi was only 28 years old when she died.  Hers was not an arranged marriage.  It was a love marriage and she came from higher caste than her husband, Majunath.  He became increasingly drunk and was unable to find regular work because most of the money Laxmi earned was spent on liquor.  Pressured by her in-laws to provide, Laxmi turned to her mother for financial support.  Laxmi was harassed and accused of adultery by her in-laws and beaten by her husband.  It turned out that it was her mother-in-law who compelled her son to set his wife on fire.  Majunath ended up dying because he suffered from burns when Laxmi hugged him in a desperate attempt to put the flames out.  So, their two children became orphans.   An arrest warrant was issued for Laxmi’s mother-in-law but she has disappeared.

Trafficking of minor girls – the second-most prevalent trafficking crime – surged 14 times over the last decade and increased 65% in 2014, according to new data released by the National Crime Records Bureau.

Girls and women are the main targets of immoral trafficking in India, making up 76% of human trafficking cases nationwide over a decade, reveal NCRB data.

Other cases registered under human trafficking over the last decade include selling girls for prostitution, importing girls from a foreign country and buying girls for prostitution.

Sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes takes place in various forms including brothel-based prostitution, sex-tourism, and pornography.

As many as 8,099 people were reported to be trafficked across India in 2014.

In the article, Silent Slaves:  Stories of Human Trafficking in India, I read about a 15 year old girl who was in a New Delhi hospital.  She was frail, her face and head were bandaged.  A bruised black and blue eye and swollen lips were visible.  She had burn marks and scabs on her neck and down her whole body and one of her ears was disfigured.  She had a wound on her skull which was rotting and filled with maggots.  This caused a stench. She was in this horrific condition because of her employer who beat her everyday with a broom and a stool.  Many times the woman would put a hot pan on the girl’s body and burn her skin.  The skin on her skull started to peel because she was repeatedly burned in that same spot.

How could one human being treat another like this?  Sadly, this teen’s case is not an isolated one.  Thousands of girls like her are trafficked every year from remote villages to large cities and sold as domestic workers. Many of them are abused or sexually exploited.

Extreme poverty, lack of education and employment, and poor implementation of the government’s minimum wage system in rural India make girls more vulnerable to being trafficked. The 2013 Global Slavery Index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, an organization that works to end modern slavery, found that almost half of the 30 million “modern slaves” in the world are from India.

The article describes how domestic worker placement agencies operate and how they are flourishing at the expense of minor and illiterate girls. Read more.

Due to the fact that girls are seen as an economic burden and boys a source of income, girl babies have been aborted and murdered – female infanticide or Gendercide – in their millions in India. The Lancet estimates that 500,000 female fetuses are aborted in India every year. As a result according to the BBC, “an estimated 25-50 million women in India are ‘missing’, if you compare the proportion of women in the population with other countries.” Staggeringly, Unicef believes 10 million girls, were killed by their parents in the last thirty years.

Killing babies because they are girls really hits close to home.  As a woman, I can’t imagine my parents ending my life because I was born a girl instead of a boy.  I always remember my mother telling me that she had a dream of how I would look before I was born.  My father used to take me kite flying. My parents loved my two sisters and me.  I know fathers who have only daughters and no sons but they are ecstatic.  They adore their girls.  This is not the case for the girls in India, however.  Some are aborted or killed after they are born, others are neglected or abandoned.

In India a girl is an expensive burden because when she marries, her family is expected to pay a sum of money to the groom’s family regardless of whether or not they can afford it.  It’s an expense they don’t want to deal with.  So, when a girl is born, there is no joy.  There is no celebration, only disappointment and anxiety.  In some cases, there is rage–rage of the husband toward the wife and the baby girl.  The wife is blamed for the gender of the baby and the girl, if she survives, is constantly reminded that she is a mistake–she should have been a boy.

Bride burnings, sex trafficking and girl infanticide are just some of the hardships that women and girls face in Asia.  The documentary film, “Veil of Tears” takes you on a harrowing journey into their lives.  Their stories may make us squirm but instead of shutting them out, we ought to raise awareness and do what we can to help.  Let us be the voice of hope for the oppressed.

Find out more information at this link:  http://veiloftearsmovie.com/take-action/ 

And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him – Psalm 37:40

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; The Sidney Morning Herald; Wikipedia; Scroll In; Women’s Media Center; Counterpunch

 

Kalavati’s Story

There is no greater violence than to deny the dreams of our children – Kailash Satyarthi, founder of GoodWeave

She Just Wanted to be Like Other Children

Imagine what it would be like if your son or daughter was forced into child labor.  On the Voices of America (VOA) site I saw a photo of five year old Pakisthani girl named Naginah Sadiq.  She worked in a brick factory.  In the photo she was resting on a bed next to her 8 month old sister Shahzadi on World Day Against Child Labor on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan on June 12, 2012.  She was wearing dirty clothes and was barefeet.  Her hands and feet were dirty.  She looked so tiny.  How could she work in a brick factory?  This photo was taken three years ago.  Is she still working there?  Will her baby sister be forced to work once she turns five?  Millions of children are forced into child labor in order to support their families.

I’m sure that Naginah would rather be like other children who get to play, have no responsibilities and go to school–things that our own children take for granted.  Growing up, I didn’t have to worry about anything.  There was always food on the table, clothes for me to wear and I went to school.  I didn’t do any housework.  I played with my friends or spent most of my time reading and writing.  Life was good for me.  I had a decent childhood.  This is the kind of childhood that children like Kalavati could only dream of.

Can you imagine how eleven year old Kalavati felt when she saw other children playing without a care in the world while she worked alongside her mother?  She had been working since she was eight years old.  At eight I was probably still playing with dolls.  Kalavati had to work in order to support her family.  She had no choice.  Her father lost his job because someone had performed witchcraft on him, causing him to be mentally disturbed.  He stopped showing up for work and then he disappeared.  Days, weeks, months and a year passed but there was still no sign of him.

Then one day, while walking through the village, Kalavati’s mother, Bhama saw a crazed looking man, sitting under a tree.  He was naked and alone.  He had a long beard and at first she didn’t recognize him.  Then she realized that it was Deval, her husband.  She took him home where he was welcomed by the family who were relieved and overjoyed to see him.  The joy didn’t last, though.  Deval was not in his right mind.  They took him to the hospital to be treated but that didn’t work.  He was violent and no one could control him.  His story reminded me of the one about the man who was living among the tombs in the country of the Gadarenes because he had many demons.  He was violent and no one went near him.   Deval began to throw stones at the villagers.  He was not the same because of the curse someone put on him.

She Just Wanted to be Like Other Children

Tired of dealing with Deval’s violent behavior, the villagers drove the family out of their home.  Life went from bad to worst for Kalavati.  Now she had no home or support from the neighbors.  The family went to the big city where Bhama hoped to find work.  For days they lived and begged on the streets until Bhama finally found work as a maid in a farmhouse.  Unfortunately, this job was not enough.  It didn’t provide the family with the relief they needed.  Bhama worked day and night but it was not enough to provide two meals a day.   Kalavati helped her mother with the laundry and cleaning of the utensils in the house but all the while she wished she could be like the owner’s children.  She saw them studying and wished she could do the same.  At that moment education seemed far out of her reach.  It was merely a dream that would never come true.

What touched me as I read this story was when Bhama became so discouraged because her husband was not getting well in spite of the treatment he was getting with the money she had borrowed from her employer that she was convinced that the only way to save her family from the ever-growing burdens was to poison them and herself.  It was at that moment when God intervened.

It was around this time that the Bridge of Hope staff members visited the family.  They listened as Bhama told them that she didn’t believe in God and revealed her plans to commit suicide.  They told her about Jesus and prayed with the family.

Bhama had a change of heart about God after her encounter with the believers and when she saw some improvement in Deval.  She knew that this miracle could only have been the result of the believers’ prayers.  This prompted her to visit the Bridge of Hope center the next day and ask if they would enroll Kalavati.  The dream that had seemed impossible for Kalavati became a reality!  She attended the center the following week.  The staff members continued to ask God to heal Deval and for Bhama to find stable work so that she could provide for her family.  God answered their prayers.  Bhama found a stable gardening job at the local hospital.  Kalavati helps her sometimes but not because she has to.

Kalavati can be like other children.  She plays and draw pictures.  And she is getting an education.  She has something far better than what the children of her mother’s ex-employer had–she has Jesus in her life.  Thanks to the Gospel for Asia workers, Kalavati and her family learned about Jesus.  She is thriving at the Bridge of Hope center.  She has reason now to dance and play with her classmates.  The love of Jesus has transformed her world.  There is hope now when there was so much despair.  Her father is improving a little at a time.  He is no longer aggressive and violent toward others.  He eats meals with his wife and daughter and attends church with them.  Together they worship the One who saved their lives.

Just think, there was a time when Bhama thought there was no hope.  She saw no way out of her despair.  She saw no end to the family’s struggles.  But God does not give us more than we can handle.  He sees what we are going through and He intervenes.  Thanks to the Gospel for Asia Bridge of Hope ministry, Bhama came to know the God she had not believed in.  He had revealed Himself through the changes He had brought into her life.  God revealed Himself in a very profound way and helped Bhama to do what she could not do in her own strength.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble – Psalm 46:1

Pray that God will intervene in the lives of other children who are trapped in child labor or families who are forced to beg in order to survive.  You can make a difference.  You can sponsor Gospel for Asia’s Bridge of Hope ministry so that they are able to reach out to families like Kalavati’s and share with them the hope that they can find only in Jesus.  Or you can sponsor a child like Kalavati and change a family.

With God’s help, you can help Asian boys and girls to be like other children who are free to play and draw and do the things that children do.  You can help to protect them from those who would rob them of their childhood and innocence, deny them a bright future and crush their hopes and dreams.

Deliver the poor and needy;  Free them from the hand of the wicked – Psalm 82:4

 

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; AZ Quotes; VOA

Persecuted for Their Faith

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven – Matthew 5:10

I have been aware of how much the church has been persecuted in different parts of the world through emails from Voice of the Martyrs Canada.  I have read many heartbreaking stories but I will share two of them.  A Christian woman named Mariam was expelled from her home by her husband who had militant Muslim views because she refused to renounce her faith.  At the time Mariam was pregnant and due to give birth soon.  She had to be cared for by church members.  In 2012 when she became a Christian, her Muslim family provoked an attack, forcing her to live on the streets.  Mariam is from the Ivory Coast which has seen an increase in violence since November 2010.

In Pakistan a teen died after being set on fire.  He was approached by two men who asked him about his religion.  After Nauman told them that he was a Christian, they proceeded to beat him.  He tried to run away but they followed him and doused him with kerosene and set him on fire.  Unfortunately, his attackers wore masks so there is little hope that they will be caught.  And it doesn’t help that the authorities show little interest in further investigation.

I thought that what these people experienced in their countries was bad but Ivory Coast and Pakistan are not even part of Gospel for Asia’s list of the top 10 countries where Christians are persecuted.  Life for Christians in these countries is simply horrendous.  First up is North Korea.

North Korea is the worst persecutor of Christians in the world. Christians are tortured, imprisoned and murdered. Private, non-state-sanctioned religious activity is prohibited. Anyone discovered engaging in clandestine religious activity is subject to arrest, torture or even public execution – Voice of the Martyrs – North Korea.

Yang was a Christian woman who became a follower of Jesus while she was still living in North Korea. Watch her incredible story of pain and hope.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” – John 16:33

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam is known for being one of the worst places when it comes to women’s rights and religious freedom.  According to VOM Canada, it is one of the most oppressive nations in the world for Christians.

Religious freedom is nonexistent, and leaving Islam is punishable by death. Non-Muslims are not permitted to become citizens of Saudi Arabia, and no places of worship other than mosques are permitted in the country. All non-Muslim religious rituals and materials are banned. Converts from Islam to Christianity are rare, and converts have been executed for the offense. Anyone who performs mission work or converts a Muslim faces jail, expulsion, lashing, torture or execution. Non-Muslim worship, even private worship for foreign Christians, is prohibited, and Saudi religious police have been known to raid homes where expatriate workers were worshiping – Voice of the Martyrs – Saudi Arabia.

In September 2014, a house church in the city of Khafji was raided and 28 people were arrested, including children. Bibles and musical instruments were also seized. The worshippers, mostly expatriate workers from South Asia, were held overnight and released the following day, apart from a leader of the group who was held for another night – Church in Chains.

Can you imagine receiving 200 lashes and two years in prison if you are from Saudi Arabia and 300 lashes and six years in prison if you are from another country?  In 2012, two men, one Lebanese and the other Saudi Arabian were charged with brainwashing a Saudi woman into becoming a Christian.  These charges were levelled against them by the woman’s family.  The woman, known as the “girl of Khobar” is living in Sweden where she has been granted asylum.  She wasn’t brainwashed, she chose to become a Christian (Church in Chains).  Watch as she and another Saudi share their testimonies.

“Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” – John 8:36

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan does not recognize any Afghan citizens as being Christians, nor are Afghan citizens legally permitted to convert to Christianity. Although there are no explicit laws that forbid proselytizing, many authorities and most of society view the practice as contrary to the beliefs of Islam. There is only one legally recognized church in Afghanistan and it is located within the diplomatic enclave, and not open to local nationals.  Muslims who change their faith to Christianity, are subject to societal and official pressure, which may lead to death penalty. However, there are cases in which a Muslim will adopt the Christian faith, secretly declaring his/her apostasy. In effect, they are practising Christians, but legally Muslims; thus, the statistics of Afghan Christians does not include Muslim apostates to Christianity – Wikipedia

I read that the growing number of Christians in Afghanistan is causing great concern among the Muslim leaders and they are calling on President Hamid Karzai to “limit the number of aid workers and Christian missionaries coming to Afghanistan” to keep Afghanis from converting to Christianity.”  Apparently this all started when a TV station in Kabul reported the conversion of several Afghans to Christianity and broadcasted photos of them praying and being baptized.  This sparked an outrage and a call to convict believers under the Sharia Law which decrees that anyone who leaves Islam and converts to another religion that person will be executed – Christian Headlines.  The Afghan Christians have no church building where they can go because the last one was destroyed two years ago.  They are completely underground now and are risking their lives to meet in homes.

This is my comfort in my affliction, For Your word has given me life – Psalm 119:50

The situation of religious freedom for Christians has seriously deteriorated under the influence of the establishment of the Islamic State in large parts of Iraq. In June 2014, a strict version of Islamic law was implemented in the area the militants of Islamic State hold. Christians were forced to convert, flee or pay a tax for religious minorities. As a result, many Christians fled. Moreover, the broader Iraqi society is turning more Islamic, with increased social control on women wearing a veil and observance of Ramadan. Christians most affected by persecution are converts from Islam. However, in areas held by radical Islamic groups all Christians are under great pressure – Open Doors USA

A family of four was forced to flee Iraq because of militants and a man for questioning the Quran.  Read their stories.

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand’ – Isaiah 41:10

Last year a Somalian believer was dragged outside of her home and murdered by a group of armed men. Anyone who tried to rescue her was shot at.  Her parents witnessed this terrible tragedy.  If a Somali was discovered to be a follower of Jesus, that person was going to face certain death not only in Somalia but in neighbouring countries where they are forced to flee as refugees.  According to one VOM source, “In Somalia, they kill you if they just find a piece of literature” (VOM USA).  My thoughts are with this young woman’s family and I pray that they are leaning on Jesus and trusting Him to strengthen them each day.

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You – Psalm 9:10

Maldives is one of the least evangelized countries in the world. The 0.2% figure for Christians refers to expatriate Christians. Citizens of the Maldives are automatically Muslim, and non-Muslims may not become citizens. The open practice of any religion other than Islam is forbidden. Maldivian believers are carefully watched. They suffer ostracism, mockery, incarceration and even torture. Christians cannot meet or read the Scriptures openly. Expatriate believers have been expelled, especially after sharing their faith – VOM Canada.

Citizens of the Maldives who convert to Christianity lose their citizenship and risk torture. Expulsions of Christians occurred several times in the last 10 years (Wikipedia).

In his presidential campaign the current President of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen promoted himself as a saviour of Islam. “Think for yourselves, do you want Islam in the Maldives or do you want to allow space for other religions in the Maldives,” he said in an election speech.  In his speech on Maldives Conversion to Islam Day, he told the citizens, “We should also be very vigilant of foreign influences attempting to weaken our religious faith” (The Diplomat).  Clearly, things for Christian believers in Maldives is not going to change any time soon.  Let’s lift them up in our prayers that they will remain strong and steadfast until the Lord returns.

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you – 1 Peter 5:10

It has been said that Mali has always been a dangerous place for Christians.  Christians who have fled are afraid to return and those who return find their properties occupied by Muslims.  There is no normal church life for Malian Christians in the north and those living in the south feel threatened by the Islamic groups in the north (source:  Open Doors).  Read about a pastor who escaped a deadly plot in Mali.

For the eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, And His ears are open to their prayers; But the face of the LORD is against those who do evil” – 1 Peter 3:12

Imagine risking your life to tell others about Jesus in a country where religious freedom is on the decline. Watch this compelling video of a Iranian woman named Padina who was about to commit suicide but God intervened.

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” – John 8:12

Yemeni citizens are not allowed to convert to Christianity (or other religions). Converts from an Islamic background may face the death penalty if their new faith is discovered. Converts from Islam also encounter opposition from extremist groups, who threaten “apostates” with death if they do not revert to Islam. Proselytizing of Muslims is prohibited – VOM Canada

How frustrating it must be to have to hide your new faith or face possible death if it is discovered.  Please pray that your Yemeni brothers and sisters will be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD – Psalm 31:24

I received a prisoner update of an Eritrean man named Mussie Eyob who has been in prison since 2011. He was arrested because of his faith and his desire to share the Gospel with others.  Mussie became a Christian in 2008.  Three years later, while he was living in Saudi Arabia, he went to a mosque where he spoke about Christianity.  He was arrested on February 12, 2011.  It is a capital offence to proselyte in Saudi Arabia.  Praise God, He intervened through the appeals from various human rights groups and individuals.  Mussie was deported to Eritrea.  You can read his story here and see how you can reach out to him and his family.

It is ironic that as the people of Eritrea celebrated 24 years of independence in March 2015, religious freedom for Christians is still a concern.   According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the greatest shortcomings in religious freedom are felt by minority groups such as evangelical Christians.  So once again, in 2015,  USCIRF holds to its position that Eritrea is to be designated as a “country of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act.

In the wake of their independence, Eritrean Christians had to flee to Ethiopia to escape their hardships where they continue to boldly share their faith.  “They are actually seeing many from (various) religious backgrounds — Muslim and Orthodox — enter into a personal relationship with Jesus” says Greg Musselman, a spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs Canada.

“Today, you’ve got anywhere between 3,000 to 4,000 Christians there who are imprisoned in shipping containers or military camps because of their faith.”  Can you imagine dealing with torture, acts of cruelty, random arrests and detention without charges? Musselman believes that these practices are as a result of the government’s belief that evangelical Christianity is “western” and is linked with the CIA (ERITREA: Refugees Boldly Testify of Christian Faith; Source: Mission Network News).

It is encouraging to know that despite the ban on their religious activities, the imprisonments and persecutions, the Eritrean Christians are holding on.  They have this assurance that they are not alone and that they are fighting the good fight which will carry them through these fiery trials.

“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life – Revelation 2:10

If you are moved to pray for the Christians in these countries, find out how at this link.

“Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; Voice of the Martyrs Canada; Open Doors; Church in Chains