September in a city in South Asia.
The monsoon rains ebb and flow. Some days the sky pours like an open faucet and the drains clog with old newspapers and plastic bags and the streets fill and flow like rivers. The buses and rickshaws plow through the water like steamships and make waves that lap over the fractured brick sidewalk where, here and there, the street dwellers have pulled the tarps tight and fixed them with brick in a futile attempt to stay dry.
Today there is no rain, but the humidity folds into a muggy and sticky wall that reaches all the way up to the grey building tops.
Sweaty from my daily commute from the metro, I step through the glass doors of the Freedom Bakery and am immediately hit with the coolness of the air conditioning. A wood-framed chalkboard menu over a façade white, a brick wall lists the selection of coffees and teas.
The walls are covered with art made by local artists and posters of upcoming events. The coffee grinder whirrs and the milk steamer whooshes behind the bar, where baristas craft intricate latte art using coffee grown and roasted in their country. Local college students laugh over board games, families ooh and aah over cinnamon rolls, and ex-pats savor the quiet and familiarity with a coffee and a good book.
Further back, through a swinging wooden door, seven bakers are hard at work.
A year ago, these seven women put on bright lipstick and worked the lines, selling their bodies to men several times a day in one of the most notorious red-light districts in Asia. Now, they put on aprons and expertly form cinnamon rolls, bake chocolate chip cookies, and squeeze icing onto cupcakes for a competitive salary higher than the industry average.
They have jobs they can be proud of. They have dignity. More than that, they have a community that loves them and which they love in return.
In its six short months of existence, the Freedom Bakery has grown from a dream into a fully functioning café and a landmark in the City. Articles are written about us in the papers praising the cinnamon rolls and the warmth of the hospitality. We have become known for the best coffee in the city, and our reputation as a hub for promoting local artists and musicians is growing.
Somehow, despite the hardships, the barriers of language and culture; despite our shortage of capital and shortage of grace; despite our inadequacies and failings, our short tempers and selfishness and pride; despite…ourselves, God has done incredible work that is only just beginning to unfold.
Seven women have been given freedom from slavery and brought into work and a community where they can hear about the love of Christ.
More than that, beyond our expectations and intentions, the Freedom Bakery has become a hub for the community to gather over good coffee and stimulating conversations, a refuge for local charity workers and ex-pats and a place where the love of Jesus can be expressed.
Only ten months ago seven women stepped for the first time into a little apartment living room for Day 1 of pre-bakery training. We left our shoes and our fears at the door and stepped into each other’s lives. We learned together, laughed together, struggled together, prayed together, and grew together. We became friends. We built something extraordinary.
Yesterday I peeked into the kitchen as I walked by.
In a quiet moment, the women had gathered in a circle with Akash,* one of our baristas who is a Christian. Without any prompting or formal organization from us, they were circled up to pray to Jesus.
In the past week, our little team has doubled in size to include a consultant and two interns. Like the women in the kitchen, we circled up to pray. Tim* spoke to God about how far stretched we were, how we were operating outside of our giftings, of being tired, how amazing it was how far the cafe had come: “You hold it all together,” he prayed. “Even in spite of us, you hold it all together.”
Indeed, with God, nothing is impossible.
*Names have been changed for security.