Love in the hard places
The recent Academy Awards in the United States drew much attention to the poverty stricken areas of Mumbai, India with the naming of 'Slumdog Millionaire' as the best motion picture of the year, but another, more dubious award, was recently given to the city of Hyderbad.
In the magazine, India Today, Hyderbad was dubbed the “sex capital of India.” According to a 2008 survey, Hyderabad leads India in the highest incidence of: adultery, “wife-swapping,” sex with prostitutes, homosexuality, practice of under age sex, and the use and distribution of pornography.
A disturbing downside to this is that Andhra Pradesh (AP), province where Hyderbad is located, has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS afflicted people in India. A survey by the National AIDS Control Organization has revealed a jump in the number of HIV/AIDS infections to 15.5 percent of the roughly 57,000 people in the gay community (Deccan Chronicle, August 21). Saji and Priya Mathai and their YWAM team feel called to serve this population. Among twenty men the team is ministering to, eight are HIV positive.
This concern has led the team to another, less reported part of Hyderabad society: the growing number of transsexuals. "We consider it as a privilege to be chosen by God to travel a road that might seem dirty and ugly to others.” says Saji, describing their ministry with pre and post-operative transsexuals. “We have experienced the uncomfortable reactions of others when we take a transsexual man for a cup of coffee or a meal. But it is a privilege from God to show these precious ones that He loves them and accepts them,”
The YWAM team works alongside a local clinic which treats AIDS patients in the city, to take a positive approach to issues of health and sexuality. They strive to serve people in a loving, non-judgmental way.
Their work has been met with positive response by people on both sides of the issue, “Even one of the ‘pro-gay’ organizations in our country has asked us to counsel their clients who want to go for sex change surgery. Most of these young men go for the surgery without knowing the risks that are involved with it. A few of them have regrets after the surgery and they want to become male again, which is very difficult.”
The castration surgeries undergone by young men they have met are often done in an unhygienic manner. One boy Saji knew recently died in Chennai while he was undergoing castration.
“Only very few can afford to go for proper plastic surgery. Unlike in developed countries, sex change surgery in our country often means just crude castration and many even die on the process,” said Saji.
While their ministry has helped a few men change their minds about undergoing the surgery, Saji described the experience of one man he is counseling:
“We have been ministering with Dinesh, now known as Juhi (not real names), who went for gender surgery and became a female some time last year. We have been so surprised to see the dramatic changes that have come on her as the result of the surgery and the hormone treatments. As we met over a meal, she poured out the whole process of the surgery, both the good and bad. Professionally, she is now very successful. Her acting career is taking off and she feels acceptance from her colleagues as a dancer and actress. However when it comes to acceptance as a person she feels total rejection. We praise God that she has not ended up in prostitution and we are able to continue influencing her in small ways.”
Priya and Saji recently asked six new staff members to join the ministry to work with HIV/AIDS care, so they can concentrate more on ministering to the homosexual and transsexual communities.