Filling empty spaces
By Sarah | India in South Asia
She knew even before the tube light flickered to life. She knew by the way her footsteps echoed hollowly. When dim light finally filled her one-room house, she saw that the room was barren — that all of her things were gone. Jyoti ran next door to ask her husband and mother-in-law what had happened. They were evasive and awkward, refusing to answer her questions. It must have been robbers, they claimed.
Only when Jyoti tracked down her landlord did the truth emerge — her husband and his family had taken everything from her room while she was visiting her mother.
When Jyoti was first diagnosed with HIV, she was already pregnant with her daughter. The government hospital referred her to Shalom, whose workers offer the love of Christ, care, counselling, support and community. Shalom has been the one constant source of comfort to Jyoti since.
Terrified about how her husband would react to the diagnosis, Jyoti begged Shalom staff to tell him. Much to her surprise, his initial reaction seemed to be supportive but she quickly realised his was not the only opinion that counted.
He told his whole family about her diagnosis. As is custom for daughter-in-laws in their culture, Jyoti had been living under her in-laws' roof with their support. Now, however, they were disgusted by her illness and moved her out of the family home into a one-roomed house next door. It was there she began a life with her newborn daughter.
Now that small house stands empty.
At the urging of her friends at Shalom, Jyoti was persuaded to lodge a court case against her in-laws. As the case wound its way through the court system, Shalom stood alongside her.
The court found in Jyoti's favor. As a consequence of divorcing her, Jyoti's husband was required to pay back the dowry she had brought to the marriage. Full custody of their daughter was also given to Jyoti. However, Jyoti was direly ill, unemployed, and - unable to care for herself - was living with her mother. Reluctantly, she gave the custody rights of her daughter back to her husband.
Heartbroken, she moved to a smaller house. Over the next three years, she worked steadily to rebuild her life. She found a job, navigated new relationships, and learned how to manage her illness alone. Shalom provided counseling and coaching, listening when Jyoti needed to talk and helping her think through her next steps. Divorced added another layer of stigma and Jyoti sometimes dreamed about giving up. The community provided by Shalom's staff encouraged her to continue working towards her future. She began finding herself braver than she thought she could be.
One day, some case-workers from another NGO suggested Mukesh, who was also HIV positive, might be a be a good match for her. Unmarried women are vulnerable to unique forms of exploitation and oppression in this culture, and the NGO staff hoped a second marriage would provide Jyoti some support and protection. After a brief courtship, Jyoti and Mukesh married in a small court ceremony.
But Jyoti's joy at a second marriage was soon shattered when she discovered Mukesh was unfaithful. She was already pregnant with their son, and their fighting only got worse.
They stayed together until their son, who was HIV negative, was born. But on the day they were driving home from the maternity hospital, Jyoti asked Mukesh to stop for something to eat. "I don't have any money to get you anything to eat," he snapped at her.
He always seemed to have money for other women, but never anything for Jyoti. Hurt, Jyoti returned to the small house in which she had begun rebuilding her life. Then she called Shalom.
Shalom entered into Jyoti's family crisis once more. They prayed with her to create a different ending to this story. Shalom staff helped Jyoti think through how she wanted to respond. They met with Mukesh and explained how much his unfaithfulness to Jyoti hurt their family. His angry response was that Jyoti did not satisfy his needs.
But the Shalom worker asked him one simple question: "How would you feel if a man did this to your daughter?" Mukesh was stunned into silence.
Today, Jyoti prays often for her marriage to Mukesh. She sees changes and believes it is because of the God Shalom has taught her to pray to. Sometimes Mukesh joins her to pray. They are slowly reconciling. It seems that Jyoti's life is beginning to fill with good things.
• Shalom and its staff to be a life-giving resource that points many to Jesus.
• continued redemption in Jyoti and Mukesh's marriage.