There is a woman that I love, admire and respect more highly than most I have every come in contact with. Besides being one of the most loving and giving people I have ever met - she has the best laugh I've ever heard!!
I'd love to share with you Shanta's story so you can share, in part, my love and awe for her. I got this write-up of Shanta's story (literally, word for word...I am totally stealing this) from my amazing and wonderful friend, Dawnette. It was actually from her old blog so I can't give her proper credit by connecting you to it - but know that she is the one that was amazingly articulate in putting this together and remembering these details. And now, in D's words...
Shanta has been life and breath and love and peace for countless women (and men) in Nepal. I got to hear her testimony at each speaking engagement...
As a child, she was one of 5 kids born to her folks. Because of lacking medical care, three of her older siblings, two girls and a boy, died within 15 days of each other. In Nepal, sons are considered imperative to have. It is the sons who are responsible for caring for their ailing parents, and eventually providing the cremation for them when they die. It is a belief within Hinduism that without a son to do these things, one will not attain heaven. So when his only son died, Shanta's father began to mercilessly beat her mother and tried to kick her and the remaining two girls out of the house. He relented and let them stay, but he married another woman, moved her into the house, and when Shanta was 12 he gave her away in marriage to a man many years her senior.
In her marriage family, Shanta was again mistreated. The man who took her as wife also had another wife, and Shanta was definitely the subordinate one in the family. Shanta's in-laws mistreated her as well. In Nepal, it being a Hindu country and a country of strong caste-system, if you associated with someone of a lesser caste you could lose your own caste. Shanta's birth family was Brahman ~ the highest caste. And within that caste level, they were of the highest group: a Priest family. She married into another Brahman family.
In that house she found a big brown book ~ it said "Holy Bible" on it. She would sneak it into her basket each day before going out to cut grass or collect water. Her uncle had taught her to read, and had told her you always start a book at the beginning. So every day for a month Shanta read this book....but she'd start back at chapter one each day! So within that month she only ever read chapters 1-4 of Genesis! When she read that Adam had lived 930 years, she thought "I am only 12 years old - I have many years left to live - I don't need to read this book right now!" After a month of reading it, she set it aside and didn't pick up a Bible again for over 12 years.
At one point, her in-laws began selling milk to a group of missionaries. Shanta was given the task of delivering that milk. One day a missionary invited her in for tea ~ she'd never had tea, so she accepted the invitation. Friends, who knew she'd gone into this missionary's home, went back to her in-laws and told them she'd "associated" with the missionaries (who are of no caste). As a result, the family stripped her of her caste, and for nine years would not even allow her into the kitchen for fear that her touching something there would render it "unclean" since she was now of no caste. She was forbidden to enter the kitchen for NINE YEARS.
She suffered much cruelty over the course of the 12 or 13 years she was with her husband. She cried often, and constantly wondered if she might find some peace on the other side of the hills she saw each day. Finally, at age 25 she left. She went out to cut grass one day, and with the grass-cutting knife in her hand, and only the dress she was wearing, she headed for the hills and ended up in Kathmandu.
In the city she got word that the missionary she'd once known was asking about her. She met up with this woman and asked about the Big Book. The missionary told her she could find that book at a house not far away - a red house. Shanta found that house, and inside were 6 Nepali people who were starting a church together. She went inside and sat in the corner, listening as they worshiped and read from Scripture. She joined them week after week, and soon came to find the peace and love she'd ached for all her life ~ found that in the person of Jesus Christ. She also met Min, the man who would become her loving husband and father to their children.
Before long she realized she wanted to help other people, but that she needed training. Youth With A Mission offered a Discipleship Training Course and made room for her to take the course. After the 5-month program she set aside three days to fast and pray, asking the Lord for a vision for ministry. She'd known a girl with polio in her village, and in her heart she so wanted to minister to handicapped children. Three times she asked the Lord to give her a vision for handicapped kids....and three times the Lord said no ~ He had a different plan. He wanted her to work with the used and abused girls of Nepal. Twice Shanta said "No Lord, I want handicapped kids". Finally, she relented and gave herself wholly to the vision the Lord gave her.
She and Min had nothing to their name. They borrowed the equivalent of $15 to rent a two-room place so they could begin to bring girls into their home to minister to. The first girl they got, Shanta found dumped by the roadside. Her body was so tormented that maggots had already begun to eat at her. Shanta brought her home and cleaned her up and began to BE the love of Jesus to this girl.
Not long later, Shanta was in the hospital for a surgery. The hospital knew she was running a home for girls, and they approached her about a girl they had in their care. This young woman had been in the brothels 22 months, and became the first person in Nepal diagnosed HIV+. Because she was the first, the hospital literally had nothing they could do for her. She was sick with pneumonia and tuberculosis, as well as a few STD's. She was so sick she couldn't even sit up. The hospital gave her 6 weeks to live. Shanta argued that she needed medical care, but the hospital said either Shanta would take her or they would cast her out into the streets ~ people were beginning to avoid the hospital because of this woman's HIV and they just couldn't afford that. So Shanta brought her home.
Her name is Bruna, and that was 17 years ago. Bruna has NEVER had any kind of medical care for ANY of her ailments....and she is now the longest-living HIV+ person in Nepal without medical care! Bruna is also the most effective counselor Shanta's ministry has. She's been there. She knows. She has a voice none of us will ever have. Bruna has stayed with the Peace Rehabilitation Center all these years, and God has used her life in mighty ways.
There are endless stories yet to be told about Shanta, her time here, the PRC and its ministry, but those will have to wait for a subsequent entry. I pray as you read this, you take some time to simply ponder the greatness of God and His plan for our lives. Three times in Shanta's first marriage she tried to take her own life. She still weeps as she tells her story. Her life was horrific. I don't claim to understand why the horrific happens....I only have a firm belief that God is present there. And that He does have a plan. I rarely know what it is...I just feel mighty blessed, in the deepest sense, when I get a glimpse of the plan in action. I felt that a lot the past two weeks.
Shanta says she knows God had a bigger plan for her. And again, she weeps as she recognizes day after day how His vision reflects all that. It unfolds on a very consistent basis as she meets each girl who enters her home or receives PRC training.
I said it before: If you've not had the chance to meet Shanta, I hope you will sometime. I hope you get to sit with her, drink tea with her, hear her heart and enjoy silence in her presence. It really is a beautiful thing.
Shanta is beautiful.