"It shows you, for someone's life, it's pretty cheap to get their
freedom," said Jeff Keith, Newport-Mesa Christian Center assistant
pastor in charge of global outreach programs.
Keith said when the group originally booked the two-week trip to
the eastern part of the country, it intended to spend the majority of
the time working at an orphanage. That occupied some of the time
during the late January and early February venture, but tsunami
relief turned out to be a more pressing concern.
Toward the end of the two weeks, the travelers made a side trip to
the state of Andhra Pradesh to visit one of the country's many red
Rock Harbor Church members had been there a few weeks earlier and
warned the Newport-Mesa Christian Center congregants of the dismal
conditions and hapless residents.
"It was total squalor," said Shannon Keith, Jeff's wife. "On one
side was a sewage irrigation system, on the other side were huts with
dirt floors. The river was polluted, and that's where people washed
Shannon Keith delivered a speech in front of a group of about 75
women who had been forced into prostitution, primarily for monetary
She said many of them broke into tears when she told them they
"Many of them had never heard that message before," Keith said.
Teaming up with Christian group Harvest India, the volunteers
bought food for the women and assisted in daily maintenance duties.
But church members wanted to go a step further.
So they arranged to meet with 11 women in the upstairs of a nearby
home to talk about the chance for freedom.
"We wanted to do things within the framework of their culture,"
Shannon Keith said. "We didn't want to be a quick fix and just make
ourselves feel better."
The congregants agreed to pay off some of the women's debt. For
others, they paid for dowries to allow them to be married.
Shannon Keith said the group was interested in ensuring the women
wouldn't have to return to prostitution once they left.
"We don't want them to be relying on charitable donations from now
until eternity," she said.
It was then that the congregants committed to financing a building