As a freelance writer, I often work from coffee shops to get out of my home office and be among the living. Mostly I find it helpful. Sometimes it just reminds me why it’s often nice to work alone—as an incident last week proved.
I was at a coffee shop, concentrating on my work. A fellow patron did what he could to garner my attention. As I looked up, he was holding a handwritten note. SMILE, it said. Confused, I said, OK? The man explained, You are awfully serious, there! I commented that I was working—meaning, leave me alone. I didn’t explain that although I love my work and find it greatly fulfilling, there are days that it doesn’t make me smile at all. In fact, it breaks my heart and makes me rage at the brokenness in the world.
One of my clients is an organization in India that rescues girls at high risk of being exploited. They are adopted into the lifelong family and cared for just as we care for our own children—fully, for life. The redemption makes me smile. But there are thousands upon thousands who don’t get rescued. When I am researching the depressing stats of abuse and enslavement and torture that many girls face, it’s all I can do to hold myself together. I prod myself along, telling myself that my work increases awareness and fights human trafficking and female debasement. The very serious nature of my work often leaves little to smile about.
Please hear me—I am well aware that such horrors aren’t India’s alone. We bear this burden as fellow humans, for everywhere we are, there will be injustice and brutality of the most heinous sort. Because of my work, however, my eyes are often bent toward my beloved India; I know its sorrows are representative of the whole world.
I also know that I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed when evil mocks us with arrogant, brazen force. The world gasped to hear the grotesque acts that occurred in 2012 in India when a young 23-year-old female student was gang raped, mutilated, and dumped in the street to die. We mourned when she succumbed to her injuries, and we supported the protests for social change and better laws.
Change like this can be slow. But it begins by challenging the status quo in ways that place the norms in a new light, calling people to see reality. That’s what the “Abused Goddesses” print campaign does. Created by Save Our Sisters/Save the Children India, the ads feature Hindu goddesses Saraswati, Durga, and Lakshmi in traditional dress, poses, and settings. But they also bear the cuts and bruises of abused women. Messaging says:
“Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.”
Men and women alike pray to and revere these goddesses. But somehow that respect is lost on at least 68 percent of India’s women—and the many others who are trafficked, exploited, and enslaved.
The ads masterfully expose a blind spot in India’s society. Lest we look down upon the blind spots elsewhere, however, Jesus calls us to first extract anything that obstructs our own view (see Matthew 7:1–5, ESV). Judgment, arrogance, pride, and prejudice—these cause blindness in all of us. Humility of heart is needed if God’s grace is to descend upon the dark places caused by our blindness, hidden by our blind spots.
At times, my work requires that I highlight the dark places where sin has accumulated. The atrocities often steal my smile, but I hope—I have to trust—that my small, feeble efforts to raise awareness for the girls I love in the country I adore will deliver grace to the dark places—when I do them with humility. I’m hoping this campaign about Hindu goddesses will be one means God uses to grant grace to women in India.