This town was founded some centuries earlier by a Hindu hermit who supposedly saw a vision of one of the many Hindu gods (one guess as to what he ACTUALLY saw).
Up on the top of a nearby rocky-top mountain is a large temple complex, yet another place for pilgrims to go to seek a religious experience. It too charges an entrance fee…Hindu temples are big business in India. Some of the monks or others who run them become very wealthy from the pilgrim donations. We didn’t go up to the temple, but we could see it from the town down below. It is reminiscent of perhaps one of the Greek Orthodox monasteries at Patmos…sprawling and gleaming white in the sun.
The town at the foot of the mountain was compact, with a narrow main street that was lined with stalls selling Hindu votive items…cards and posters of the gods, scarves, sandals, and colorfully cheap plastic junk undoubtedly imported from China. Since the day we visited was a national holiday (Republic Day), it is likely that the crowds filling the streets were enjoying the day off by shopping. Many were also pilgrims who had come to do whatever at the temple on the mountain, then come back to the town for rest and relaxation.
The Yadagirigutta economy was stimulated primarily by pilgrim traffic; not only could one buy toys and devotional items there, you could have someone help you get a meal, find a room, score some alcohol or procure you a prostitute. These procurers were known locally as ‘pimps’, and could be either male or female. (It was a curious aspect of these pilgrims that they were very religious/superstitious, but not particularly moral.)
We took a left turn down one of the side lanes of the town, past the ‘red light district’, the rows of ground floor apartments where the prostitutes plied their trade. We were travelling with a pastor’s wife, just so that no one would get the wrong impression about why we were visiting. As we drove by, there were several young women standing in doorways of the apartments, smiling and looking very pretty, decorated with gold jewelry and flowing saris. I noticed them, but didn’t make eye contact. These were the prostitutes that serviced the men who came to Yadagirigutta.
Another left turn down an even narrower alley, and we stopped in front of the only Christian church in the village. Called “The Well Of Life Church”, it is a small white building with one large room and a small side room. This building was sponsored by a well-known Christian radio teacher from the United States. Shortly after the construction of the church, the town council approved a measure which bans the further construction or establishment of any other Christian church in Yadagirigutta. So, until that ruling might be overturned, The Well of Life Church will be the only Christian witness in a town of Hindus.
Brother Samuel runs the church and serves as its pastor; he is a white haired, white bearded man in his late 50’s, and the Well Of Life exists primarily to minister to the needs of the children born of the local prostitutes.
The sad fact is that most if not all of the women caught up in prostitution have no other marketable skills, and thus have no other way of earning income to support themselves and their families. The children born of their liaisons will almost certainly follow in their mother’s footsteps if no intervening force interrupts the cycle.
But Brother Samuel is providing a way out for most of the girls, if they will come to the church and allow themselves to be ministered to. It isn’t a difficult choice really, for Samuel is providing many valuable services to these girls. He provides a basic education for them, and education they would otherwise not receive if they stayed at home with their mothers. He has a feeding program for them (On the day we were visiting with the girls, I saw another volunteer pull out bags of pakoras for the girls as we were leaving). Very importantly, he provides some vocational skills training for these girls, so that they might be able to have a marketable skill, such as sewing, or computer operating. Only then could they be able to leave the town, and support themselves out of the shadow of generational prostitution.
By far the most important service Brother Samuel provides is introducing these girls to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is done through the systematic Bible study program that was introduced through Bible League. Armed with study booklets, these girls come to believe in a God who created them, who loves them, and has plans for their lives…good plans. Most of the girls we met…ages ranging anywhere from mid-teens to early 20’s…had heard the Gospel and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Brianka is one such girl whose life has been changed by learning about and believing in God. Her mother is one of the sex workers in the village, and Kiertie began coming to the church as a way to avoid the inevitable encounters her mother had with the various men who came to their house. (All of the action takes place in the home where the family lives, rather than some hotel room somewhere. The men who pay for sex sometimes abuse and take advantage of the young girls in the home as well…another sad truth about life in Yadagirigutta.)
Brianka had in her adolescence been stricken with ‘fits’, in which her body would become rigid, her eyes would roll back in her head, and foam would excrete from her mouth. The way they were described made them sound like epileptic seizures of some kind, but whatever they were, they were apparently very frightening to witness. Those who observed them said that it looked as if Brianka was dying.
As the story is told, one night, in the middle of the night, Brianka began having seizures, and, as a way to endure them, she began singing in between bouts. “Jesus Christ is watching me, Jesus Christ has died for me, and my sins have been taken away…” Imagine the disturbing sound of a teenaged girl singing at midnight, the song punctuated by strangled gasps and sobbing. To Brinaka’s mother, it was very eerie indeed, and the next day, she went straight to Samuel’s house and confronted him.
Brother Samuel was surprised to have the prostitute on his doorstep, waving her fingers in his face, and demanding to know what he had done to her. “Did you cast some spell on her? Why is she singing about this Jesus at midnight?”
Samuel made a gentle response. “We did not do anything to her, honestly. We’re just praying for her and asking that Jesus would heal her.” This answer was not to the mother’s liking.
“No, no, no, I do not want you doing any of that for her,” she yelled angrily. “I don’t want her coming to this place anymore.” Many of the nominal Hindu people of the town had similar reactions to Christianity. They didn’t understand it and they didn’t want it. But Brianka’s mother had no way to keep Brianka from coming back to the church; most of the time, she was too busy entertaining men and trying to earn a few rupees that she didn’t or couldn’t keep track of her children’s whereabouts.
Brianka told Samuel later, “I don’t care what my mother says; I want to come to church.” And in fact Brianka did continue to attend, and even increased her presence in the small congregation. Not only was she enjoying a basic education, she was learning about the Lord greatly, and becoming increasingly more steadfast in worshipping Him as the only God. She’s now 16 years old, and a fully participating member of the Well of Life church. Her faith in Christ has been a great solace to her, even in the midst of difficult times and circumstances. There is hope now that she will one day be able to leave the town with some skill, so that she might start a new life and not be condemned to follow in her mother’s footsteps. And the seizures? They have for the most part stopped. Brianka says that while she used to suffer from them once or twice a week, this past year, there has only been one. All Glory to God!