A Tiny Church In A Mumbai Slum Gives A Giant Gift At Christmas

Women carefully piece together quilts for survivors.
Women carefully piece together quilts for survivors.
Each quilt made by these women will go to a survivor of sex trafficking in Mumbai.
Each quilt made by these women will go to a survivor of sex trafficking in Mumbai.
Mervyn is IJM's Director of Community Mobilization in Mumbai. He says of this church, "“They know the way to express dignity to a person."
Mervyn is IJM's Director of Community Mobilization in Mumbai. He says of this church, "“They know the way to express dignity to a person."

MUMBAI, INDIA – Two women sit quietly on a tile floor in a Mumbai slum and carefully piece together bits of green and orange fabric in an intricate design. Sunlight filtering through the barred windows lights up piles of brown plastic bags around them; hundreds of cotton quilts are folded neatly inside.

“I want to make them fast so I can give them to the girls sooner,” Shanti* says with a smile.

She and other women from her church in this slum have been sewing since August, and Shanti’s eyes light up when she’s asked about the upcoming Christmas parties where these quilts will be given away: Each quilt will go to a survivor of sex trafficking in Mumbai—a unique partnership between her church community and IJM’s work in their hometown.

The Church Behind The Quilts

Shanti understands the kind of pain and suffering these survivors of trafficking have endured. Now 33 years old, she has grown up in a slum and is familiar with the everyday violence that threatens people living in poverty.

It’s the same for her whole congregation. Shanti’s church of 200 is made up of “Dalits,” the lowest caste people who were once referred to as “untouchables.” They are trash pickers, trinket-sellers at train stations, and house cleaners. They are also men and women with a remarkable capacity for generosity.

When their pastor was invited to translate at an IJM event in 2010, he felt moved by the stories and eager to help sex trafficking survivors. Pastor Guy recalls, “It was God’s wonderful plan that we met IJM.”

Pastor Guy invited IJM Mumbai’s director of community relations, Mervyn, to speak about justice at his church. Inspired by Mervyn’s sermon, the entire congregation decided to fast and pray for 40 days specifically for IJM’s work combating sex trafficking in their city.

The church was eager to get even more involved. Mervyn also shared that many girls needed new clothes when they were rescued from brothels, and the congregation sprang to action again. The next time they received a batch of donations—intended to meet their own needs—the congregation decided to give everything away. They washed the clothes and packaged them for IJM to give to sex trafficking survivors.

“This was the first time I saw a church take the clothes and wash, launder, iron and pack it in nice bags. And then pray over each bag,” says Mervyn. “They know the way to express dignity to a person.”

On multiple occasions since, Pastor Guy and his parish have also chosen to pass along snacks or plush toys that were donated to their needy community to the sex trafficking survivors IJM serves.

Getting Joy By Giving

Even the quilts made for survivors this year were the result of paying forward the generosity shown to Pastor Guy’s church.

When a woman donated sewing machines , Pastor Guy’s first thought was to set up an income-generating project for women in his church. His next thought was to call Mervyn and see how this might also serve the survivors we work with. Last year, the small sewing unit created dozens of bags then were then gifted to the girls who live at aftercare homes. And this year, the five women learned to make quilts.

Shanti said she had been praying for a new job that would allow her to take Sundays off so she could go to church. She was working a cleaner for a large company, and her husband had recently passed away. The sewing startup has been an answer to those prayers—not only does she earn a fair wage and get Sundays off, she finds deep meaning in her work.

“I believe Jesus has saved my life for a reason,” Shanti says, “and I have become a person who should save others’ lives.”

Another young woman who started at the sewing startup earlier this year needed part-time work that would allow her to keep going to school. With support from the church, she finished her 12th grade finals and is now considering getting her Bachelors in social work.

She explains what the sewing business has meant to her: “We get this joy, excitement and satisfaction knowing that we’re making these [quilts] for the girls who have been rescued.”

The Spirit Of Christmas

This month, 700 survivors of sex trafficking and 150 staff will receive the beautiful handmade quilts at Christmas parties throughout the city.

Pastor Guy’s church will help host some of the parties where the quilts are distributed, but the beauty of the events is how collaborative they are. Just like a patchwork quilt, various churches are contributing different bits—money to purchase food and party supplies, volunteer cooks, and more volunteers to host games and crafts in the homes.

Mervyn adds, “To defend the right to be loved and to love each other is a reflection of the spirit of Christmas.”

South Asia, Sex Trafficking, Aftercare