Consumed is a campaign designed to raise awareness about our consumer habits and how this relates to the good life found in Christ. Bec Oates, Consumed Contributor, shares her thoughts on consumerism.
So anyway, there was that awkward moment when I was supposed to be all about Jesus and save the poor people but accidentally realised I was a bloated oppressor. Read on.
After praying a dangerous prayer asking God to help me to not be consumed with the things of this world and that I would know God’s heart and find freedom in him, I found myself walking into India’s largest red-light district…
Stupid damn hole in my shoe. This was so not the outfit I had planned for my evening stroll through the largest red-light district in India. Damn it. I trudge through the mud with my friend Kerry, five steps of my stumpy legs to one of his long strides. My shoe starts to squeak. Squeak… squeak. Oh, kill me now. I might as well have brought a rubber ducky with me.
I scurry along, trying to keep up. Trying to avoid the puddles from the evening rain, trying to maintain some dignity amongst the cacophony of squeaks.
We walk down a busy street in Kolkata, dodging cars, dodging goats, dodging human waste. There are people everywhere, like really, everywhere. The traffic wails past me, horns blaring their long shrill tunes, cows wandering aimlessly (although I’m not sure cows ever wander with true intentionality, do they?), women cooking dinner in the street.
The evening heat is oppressive, sweat is now my constant companion which I’m sure is a joy to my friends and family. I smirk as I think of those stupid television advertisements for air fresheners, with a woman in white slacks smiling at her nice smelling couch. Bring it White Pants Lady, see if you can smile and spray away this filth. The filth of desperation, it lingers like a sour smell.
We happen upon a corner. There is a large group of men yelling. They are yelling in Bangla. I can’t understand them. They appear to be jostling for position, selling, as though selling vegetables in a market. Yelling and selling. Yelling and selling. But they aren’t selling vegetables.
They are selling girls.
They have come to the entrance of the red light district to increase trade for the evening. Spruiking their wares.
I push through the bustle of men with my blasted squeaky shoe and step into a laneway. It’s dark, and filthy. Human excrement lying waste, rats nesting, foul smells, deep oppressive evil lingers. The oppression descends like a dark cloud as I look around at the hundreds of people crammed into the laneway.
And naturally I think about myself… and most importantly, my face. What is the appropriate facial expression? How do I make sure, as I look at people living in this nightmare, I exude Jesus lovingness and all-knowing all round super Christianesss? How will I “bless” them I wonder, you know, with my face?
While I’m practicing my best face for the awkward moment when you meet someone whose poverty is slapping you in the face, I stumble upon some women. Girls really.
They are standing there. Waiting in a line. Shoulder to shoulder. Waiting… for customers. My chest clenches, I catch my breath.
There she stands, meekly presenting herself in a line with countless others, should you want to purchase her innocence.
I look her in the eye. I smile, with a touch of “sorry you are here selling your body and I am going back home to ruminate over how this experience can give meaning to my self-indulgent life” kind of compassion. I think I nailed it. She smiles back.
She reaches out her hand to hold mine. And there he was.
My breath leaves me.
She rubs my hand. I smile again and move on.
It’s dark. Not just because it’s night. It’s truly dark. The oppressiveness deepens as we walk further into the laneway. The heaviness weighs upon me, my spirit is alert, my heart is torn, my senses overwhelmed. I trudge along in stunned silence. Seemingly even my shoe is silenced.
The line continues. The line of girls. God’s precious daughters. The line winds itself around a labyrinth of grimy laneways. Girls for sale. Grey buildings, thick with decades of grime and mould holding layers of untold stories. There they stand, colourful, beautiful, despite the gripping poverty and wretched evil that holds them captive.
I walk up a staircase, customers coming and going, small rooms with a dirt floor and a dirty mattress. Transactional rooms. Rooms that bare the soul of countless girls who have lost themselves there. Barren. No light, we scramble to the top of the stairs, to a room no larger than my linen cupboard. She welcomes me in. She makes tea.
I take off my squeaky shoes. I lay them down. I sit on the concrete floor. It begins to rain. Hot steamy rain. I don’t care.
I welcome the rain; I hope it will wash away the thick layer of filth on me. Not the filth from this place, but the filth of my own sin, my own complacency, my own complicity.
I sit with a gaping hole in my chest, with a deep knowing in my gut that Jesus is here. We pray together, that God’s Holy Spirit might rage through this darkness and that he might pour down freedom like rain on his beautiful girls.
She looks at me and asks, “You say you follow Jesus?”
“You say he loves me, and he loves the thousands of girls that are trapped here in this place? That he loves vulnerable people, that he loves people who are living in poverty?”
“You say Jesus is here?”
“Well, then where are his people?” She challenges. “You say many people follow Jesus, and that he is here, but where are they? Where are his people?”
Silence descends between us. The silence of my grief, the silence of my inaction.
I wash my face. I realise I am dirty. I am a filthy one. I am the oppressor who justifies myself. I am the one who is so consumed with myself that I’ve failed to see her, failed to know her. I am the one who is not willing to have less so that she might have more. I am the one who is not willing to lay down my material possessions for her, let alone my life for her.
My heart condemns me.
1 John 3: 16 – 24
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.