Updated: Dec 23, 2019
I sat in the middle of the woods quietly completing my Couples Camp field guide prompts when I reached the following:
"Let's just assume for the sake of the exercise, that God wants to speak to you through this solitude deal. What are the thoughts and ideas in your mind right now?"
I cleared my mind, leaned my head back, closed my eyes and waited. Short, direct, thoughts began to pop into my head. I wrote each down as they came.
This was my list:
1. The question "are we supposed to have kids?"
2. Go to India.
3. Produce a documentary.
4. Continue writing.
5. Are there any mission trips to India?
6. Follow the curiosity rabbit hole.
7. Share your story.
8. Free others.
The last thought/statement, that I refused to write when it initially popped into my head, I'll share at a later date. Sorry...
"Go to India."
Why would God tell me to go to India? Does it have anything to do with my husband, Teno's, "What If" questions he asked me a few weeks ago?
I shared my solitude experience with Teno during our wine time that afternoon.
"I think God answered you through me," I said.
His jaw dropped as soon as I mentioned, "Go to India."
"Alright, we're going to India!" he shouted.
"What?! What if I'm wrong and it's not God saying that?"
My level of discomfort and hesitation with immediately saying "yes" without taking time to think about it was a strong indicator that those thoughts weren't my own.
I don't know what your religious beliefs are or what your spiritual life looks like, if you have one, but I believe God speaks to us in many different ways. Now that I've returned home from India, I'm 100% confident that those thoughts weren't my own. They were nudges from God.
You see, when we got home from Couples Camp and looked up the different trips our church offers, the India trip description ended with the phrase, "...be part of God’s movement toward radical freedom."
We looked at each other, "No way, they probably all mention freedom."
No other trip description to any other country mentioned the word "freedom" even once.
Coincidence that I had been on an almost 1-year journey in search of my own personal freedom? Coincidence that less than 2 months prior to camp (which took place at the end of Sept. 2018), I decided to relaunch/rebrand this blog, declaring the general topic of freedom as the blog's niche, and mentioned that it would eventually (I'm slow y'all) support survivors of exploitation? Is it a coincidence that this support for survivors of exploitation looked like starting with a partnership with the business, Freeset, in India, on a t-shirt campaign (coming soon!). Coincidence that this mission trip was all about partnering with an organization that provides aftercare services to young women who were rescued from sex-trafficking?
No, my friend. All of that can't be one big coincidence. It made perfect sense. So we signed up to go!
Toward the end of October 2019, we boarded a plane with a group of 20-25 other men and women and traveled somewhere between 18-24 hours (I lost track) to Mumbai, India. We arrived at our lodging past 1 AM Mumbai time. I took a hot bucket shower, realized I forgot to pack toilet tissue (thank God for Kleenex), and managed to get 2 hours of sleep on a very hard twin cot, despite freezing because we didn't know how to adjust the AC unit.
For half of our trip, we were at an adventure camp with staff from our partnering organization, 30+ rescued girls staying in their aftercare homes, and their house mothers.
We wall climbed, rappelled, ziplined into a lake, made our way through obstacle courses, kayaked, and floated down a river after tackling a few rapids in a water raft. We sang Hindi worship songs alongside the girls (Azaad Hoon was my favorite). We ate lots of authentic Indian food with them and received lessons about the proper way to eat with our hands. They told my husband to stick to a spoon. Lol! We used creative activities to teach them about patience, kindness, unity, and focus.
They shared their hopes, dreams, and career aspirations. They taught us words in Hindi and they drew beautiful henna designs on our hands and arms. The most beautiful part was witnessing the amount of joy that poured out of them. They smiled so big and laughed so hard it was impossible to tell that they had experienced unspeakable acts of sexual trauma. I was surprised by it. I struggled to understand it even. But mostly, it was amazing to watch these young women walk around with their heads held high, full of joy, knowing that they are loved, seen, known, worthy, and free.
Our time at the adventure camp wasn't all sunshine and rainbows though. There were a lot of hard moments mixed in with all the beauty. In those 4 days, all my insecurities were exposed. Each day I fought to not let my inner thoughts and struggles prevent me from connecting with the girls and my fellow volunteers. Each day ended with defeat.
God couldn't have brought me here for this, to conjure up insecurities and feelings I thought I had dealt with - insecurities about my race, my appearance, my personality, and my husband.
Although there were some bright moments at camp, by the last day I couldn't wait to get out of there. I was emotionally and mentally spent and needed a break from the turmoil inside my head...
"You don't belong here."
"You have brown skin just like them, but you're still "other," an outsider. They even pointed you out."
"You don't know who you are."
"You're a difficult person to connect with."
"Your husband prefers to be around other people more than he does you. If only you were more outgoing, charismatic, fun, and spontaneous."
"The surprised looks when they find out you're married... of course they don't think you're together. You're not attractive enough to be with him."
"What do I believe to be true? - a question my friend told me I would need to ask myself over and over throughout the trip.
"What do I believe to be true?" I wrote in two of my journal entries. I recorded what my actions and thoughts indicated I believed. Then I wrote the opposite of each statement. Believe that Kelli. This is what's actually true.
We boarded the bus back to the retreat center on the 4th and last day of the camp.
*sigh of relief*
Finally. You didn't have to bring me all this way for this God.
I closed my eyes and intermittently rested during the 7-hour bus ride back to the city.
That wasn't all He brought me there for though. There was so much more. I just had to wait until the last night/day.