It’s not the end.

India is an incredible country. In the last few weeks we have tasted so much delicious food, consumed copious amounts of chai, met amazing people who we honestly would not have survived without, and have seen natural beauty that has left us both in awe.

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Just two of the amazing friends we made in India. Thanks for everything Vikas and Donnie.

India is a wild country. In the last few weeks we have jumped onto (and off of) moving trains (they were going pretty slow), been stranded in a city that was almost entirely shutdown as the state entered a time of mourning for a lost leader, driven an SUV on city streets during rush hour, wandered through mangroves that tigers are known to inhabit, and slept on a boat in the Bay of Bengal, all while India was in the middle of a financial crisis with rupees nearly impossible to come by.

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It’s not the safest way to travel, but it was a free ride home.

In the midst of this once in a lifetime adventure we have been challenged, heartbroken, inspired, and filled with a deep sense of hope and gratitude. We want to share some of these stories with you.

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Serenity Beach at Pondicherry.

In Kolkata we were still travelling with Lance and Sara, who are two of my close friends from Calgary. Two years previous, Sara had spent time in Kolkata and one of her connections there offered to give us a place to stay. Despite their own financially uncertain situation they asked for no money in return for the accommodation or food. They loved us like family and took incredible care of us. But, more than their their unparalleled generosity and hospitality, it was their desire to actively support those in need in their own country that inspired us most.

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A view of the Ganges in Kolkata.

They currently provide education and care for ten young girls, who come from unstable homes where abuse or neglect have been involved. This hits close to the heart for us because it is children in these circumstances who are most vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. We had the unbelievable privilege of spending a few hours with these young women. They told us of the dreams they had for their lives and we were so inspired by each one of them. It wasn’t until after they left that we learned of the situations of violence and utter depravity that many of them had come from. This broke our hearts, but seeing how far they had come gave us so much hope for their futures, and a deep gratitude for the incredible family who has taken them in as their own.

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Our friend Josh took us out for some street food for our last night in Kolkata.

In Bangalore we stayed with a friend who is doing work with an organization called International Justice Mission (IJM). We got to hear about the work they are doing to combat sex-trafficking and bonded labour in India and around the world. These people are working alongside law enforcement and government officials to bring about lasting change in these areas of blatant and brutal injustice. We learned of the deep-rooted nature of the problem, but were inspired by the action being taken to see these institutions of injustice brought to an end.

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Eating street food at the only open shop in the whole city after the state shut down due to the death of a government official.

We also got connected with the most wonderful powerhouse of a woman who works with children’s homes around the city. She invited us to help take the kids Christmas shopping and come with them on an overnight stay at a camp. The boys all chose to get suits as their Christmas present, which shocked both Brad and I, but seeing them fully suited up and grinning ear to ear was such an incredible experience to be a part of. We were so honoured to be able to help them try on their suits and teach them some gentlemens etiquette, especially considering the lack of male influence in their lives.

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Pure joy.

When we arrived at the camp the first thing we did was push the beds together because this would be the first time any of the children had slept on proper beds in their lives. We were worried that they might fall off during the night. Then, by the light of a bonfire, we danced. We are talking wild, nothing held back, South Indian dancing. The kids had already had an exhausting day, but the moment the music started they jumped and screamed and left nothing on the dance floor. I consider myself a man with pretty good dance endurance, but these kids put me to shame.

Over the two days we spent with these children we saw love and care that is rare even between siblings. We saw joy in spite of difficult life circumstances and we saw kids overcome fears with the encouragement and support of their friends. Most of all we saw the hope and joy that results when one willing person is able to put others before herself. The fact that these children are in a safe home and receiving education means that they are safe from exploitation and have the opportunity to grow into empowered and dignified contributors to society. This is first hand prevention work and is so encouraging to see.

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Didn’t have the rupees to get any closer than this.

Since then we have had a busy few days. We welcomed our good friend Sam to India and toured the city by auto before saying goodbye to him and our new Indian friends from the church we attended during out time there. Then, after a 30 hour train ride and a day touring he historic city of Agra, we arrived in Delhi.

We are now less than 24 hours away from boarding our flight back home to Canada. It is a surreal feeling. As we reflect back on this trip we are so grateful for the experiences we have had and all that we have learned about the world and ourselves, but we are so excited to come home. When we arrive home, we are not finished fighting for justice and freedom. We will continue to support the work of Lighthouse Voyage and will always challenge ourselves and others about the way we choose to view those around us and issues that affect us all.

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We cannot thank you all enough for the constant support along the way and for getting behind this cause that we are so passionate about. We are thankful for everyone of you and hope to see each of you soon! Keep fighting for others and never stop believing in hope.

With much love and great anticipation,

Joel & Brad

 

Reasons to Hope

 

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When it comes to the topics that we have sought to address on this journey, such as human trafficking, the negative effects of pornography, and situations of sexual exploitation, it can be easy to become overwhelmed to the point of hopelessness and apathy. These truly are dark issues that we are faced with, but when you allow yourself to dig a little deeper and see the ever-present hope that exists for each and every life, complacency and inaction are no longer valid responses.

Maybe you really don’t believe that there is hope for the issue of human trafficking. Millions of people are trapped in modern day slavery. Human trafficking has existed in one form or another throughout history and honestly does not show any major signs of slowing down. But does that infer an absence of hope? Even if we come to the end of our days and the sex trade is still nowhere closer to disappearing, I will still hold to the belief that hope exists then, just as it does now.

Let me tell you why I have this hope.

I watched and listened to a young girl, who spent time living with dogs after being abandoned by her parents, tell me, with the biggest wide-eyed grin you can imagine, that she wants to be a police officer when she grows up.

I have met a couple that has sacrificed their money, their time, and their personal agendas, to provide food, housing, education, and unconditional love, to ten girls who are from situations of poverty or abuse. They are planning on taking in another 5. That is 15 girls who have the chance to grow up to be strong, empowered women, safe from situations of sexual exploitation. 15 girls taken in by one family.

I have heard true stories of physical, emotional, and spiritual healing, that blow my preconceived notions of what is possible right out of the water.

I have experienced the unconditional love of countless people who have helped us on this journey. People who are willing to lay their lives aside for a time to care for two haggard, needy strangers.

I have seen men who were addicted to pornography, and who had broken relationships as a result of this, change completely and stand up against the cultural tendency to objectify one and another and truly seek deep and meaningful relationships while vocally and actively opposing pornography.

I have met many individuals and have come across countless organizations that are willing to enter the darkest places and seek to bring hope and freedom to the individuals for whom darkness is all they have ever known. This is occurring on individual, community, and legislative levels.

As long as people like this exist and continue to operate where the need is (which is everywhere), I will continue to believe in hope. As long as there is breath in the lungs of precious, beautiful people who are held in captivity, I will continue to hope for freedom and believe that healing and fullness of life can be recognized in each and every life. But I can’t just hope in this. In my own way, I must learn to stand up and fight for the dignity of each life. If we all do this in our own ways then I believe that we will see change occur that we never thought possible.

We have so many reasons to hope. Now let’s use that hope to bring us to action and watch hope multiply.

With much love and great anticipation,

Joel