Nalla Sundarajan is living a transformed life. Once a nominal Christian, she is now a deeply committed follower of Christ living in India seven months a year – a place she had no desire to return to live. She is running a non-profit organization that cares for imprisoned prostitutes. “Never in a million years had I thought about working with prostitutes,” says Nalla. But God changed her life.
On April 21, I posted a story about her husband, Isaac. In that story, I mentioned Nalla’s call to open Lighthouse for Women in Chennai, India. The vision of Lighthouse for Women is to transform the lives of the most oppressed and abused women and their children; to break generational poverty and to provide opportunities for women to change their lives and the lives of their children. Lighthouse serves these women by providing temporary safe homes, and empowering them through literacy and vocational programs to help them gain financial independence.
Coming to faith
Nalla was raised in a Christian home. Her family attended church but she says, “I had no real understanding of who God was.” As she got older, she stopped going to church.
All that changed when she was 30. She read a book by Ruth Heflin called Glory, which is about the glory and reality of God. Nalla was impressed with this woman’s experience walking with God. “He’s so real to her. I said, ‘Lord, how wonderful would it be if I could get just a small, little piece of it.’”
Nalla decided to attend a women’s conference where Ruth Heflin was speaking. While at the conference, Nalla felt the presence of God. She describes her experience this way:
During the praise and worship, I sensed a strong presence of God. I was just shaking, crying uncontrollably. The reality was like God was saying “I don’t want you to deny me again.”
The next two nights Nalla had profound dreams about the people she was traveling with.
On the plane home, there was a passenger beside me. God dropped her name in my heart. How weird is that? I said “Excuse me, is your name so and so.” She said, “Yes, how do you know?” Then I began to share with her what had happened to me two days before. For whatever reason, God was also confirming to me what I had experienced was real. I realized that it wasn’t just my emotions that swept me away at the moment. That was the happiest day of my life. Since then, the Lord has become so real to me. He is my best friend, my everything.
After her experience, Nalla began to notice changes in her life. She says, “I think until that point, I was expecting a lot from Isaac even to sustain my self-esteem. There was such a need — a craving in my heart — but when Jesus became everything to me, I regained my self-esteem. Also, the Word of God that used to be boring became very real to me — my daily bread.”
She also noticed changes in her behavior. She says, “Before this, I always had this thing where I would start projects but would never see them through.” But as Nalla began to take on new projects she started completing them, asking God to guide her through the process. For example, despite a lack of skill or enjoyment in sewing, she decided to take on the task of making drapes for all her upstairs windows. It was a daunting task, but she pushed through and was able to finish all the drapes by the deadline she had set for herself. She says, “In the big scheme of things people might say that it’s a very small thing. However, it was one step that God was showing me. It was like He was saying, ‘This is a huge thing that you undertook. However, I am with you and you can finish it.’”
She also went back to graduate school. Nalla hadn’t been to school in 13 years and had a rough start. She says she “felt completely lost with what the teachers were saying.” But God carried her through. She earned straight A’s in all her classes. Nalla was the first student in her class to finish her thesis and did so while teaching part-time as well.
Lighthouse for Women
God was proving himself to her and preparing her gradually for bigger and bigger steps of faith. In 2000, God gave her a vision to start Lighthouse for Women. She didn’t know what the ministry would be or how it would come together, but she registered the name and began setting aside money. A few years later, while watching a documentary about prostitution, God spoke to her. In the film, authorities were searching for a prostitute’s daughter. She comments:
They were in a house that was pitch dark, bringing prostitutes into the camera light to get a closer look. And God said clearly to me “These are my treasures of darkness. Do you want them?” That was very profound. I said yes. I had no idea how it would come to be. But I knew somehow a part of Lighthouse for Women would be to minister to prostitutes.
In 2008, Nalla sensed from God that she needed to go to India. She had not been in India for seven years, but with God’s prompting she decided to take the trip. Nalla comments, “I had no idea how everything would come together, but God said ‘Just trust me.’” While she was in India, she was able to use various connections to meet with pastors and others willing to help. She started holding meetings with victims of prostitution where she would speak about God’s love. The women responded and the ministry began coming together. A year later, she decided to move to India to continue the ministry.
Currently, the bulk of her work takes place in a low-security prison where prostitutes are incarcerated for a few months. The prison typically houses 50-60 young women at a time. She and her team go to the prison three days a week for three hours every day. They work on fun projects with the young women to teach life skills, like parenting, HIV prevention, nutrition, personal hygiene, and budgeting. Lighthouse for Women sponsors a tailor who teaches the women tailoring skills.
On Sundays, they pray with the women and talk about God’s love in ways they can understand. The women come from a belief system that convinces them that they are in prostitution because of bad karma, a consequence of something horrible that they had done is their past life; therefore, they can never change their destiny. “We confront their beliefs: Who said this is your destiny? Can God change lives? We make the women think for themselves and sow life-giving seeds in their hearts. Most of all, we give them hope.”
Nalla gives out her phone number and frequently receives calls even from women whom she hasn’t seen for years. “They talk about how their lives have changed.” She says that some of the women have left prostitution and work in honest jobs; some attend church regularly and are now sharing the word of God. Nalla comments, “I don’t know how God is going to change their lives, but God promises, ‘You sow the seeds I’ll bring the harvest.’ We just go with this. God is with us. We let God do the work.” She stays in touch with several of them and helps them find work and helps their children with school fees and medical bills.
Nalla says there is much more in store for Lighthouse for Women, but she is relying on God to see where He will take the ministry. She says, “For years, God has been speaking to me from Isaiah 45:1-3, which basically says that He will go before me, He will open the gates, He will flatten the mountains, and He will give me treasures of darkness stored in secret places. God has done so much, and I know He is planning so much more for us.”
Story by Skip Vaccarello and Christina Richardson