Welcome to Ryley Writes, a collection of thoughts, stories, and work from deep in the heart of Texas.



Confession: when I boarded a plane for India a month ago, I actually wasn't that excited.

I had been spending weeks telling people I was excited, because hello, I get to go to India for 10 days as a part of my job. How cool is that? And everyone who had been on this particular trip — an annual women's trip focused on human trafficking issues — gushed about it. It was supposed to be incredible, but I had serious doubts.

While I have a good bit of experience in missions work, the vast majority of that has been centered around poverty and its (pervasive) effects. It's heartbreaking, but I know how to handle it, emotionally.

Justice issues, on the other hand, can be heart hardening for me. They make me mad first, and cynical second. I can see potential solutions for poverty issues — strategies for solving the source(s) of the problem — but too often in justice-related work, the best we can do is address symptoms. And that's frustratingly insufficient for someone like me, who is basically out for blood.

I am never less gracious or more depraved than when confronted with injustice. Others look at the sex trafficking industry in a place like Kolkata and respond with, "That's unjust, we should help the women involved." My response, on the other hand, is more like, "That's so unjust, we should kill the men involved." Just being honest with you. I'm terrible. If I were God, I would probably just smite us all and call it a day.

Thankfully, God is God, and able to perfectly, inexplicably balance justice with grace in a way that I, clearly, cannot. And — perhaps because of that — He is the one who gets to deliver it. Not me. As I prayed leading up to the trip, concerned that it was just going to be 10 days of heaviness and being mad, that's what He demanded I remember.

Psalm 140:12 says, "I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted, and will execute justice for the needy."

I read it the morning of our departure, and it became the gentle but firm rhythm in the background of my trip. Really believing that verse meant walking around Kolkata with eyes that saw present hurt in light of future victory, and engaged in current, merciful work with the conviction and peace that God will right and is righting every wrong. Even if I don't see it or get to bring it about myself.

With that in mind, I tried to shake off my reservations and embrace India as fully as I could. Which was good, because turns out, it kind of envelops you regardless.

I'd heard a lot of people describe India as "an assault on the senses," which seemed a little overly poetic and a touch violent to me before going. Now I get it. India is bright colors, loud noises, strong smells, spicy food, and roughly the same temperature as oh, I don't know, the surface of the sun. Or somewhere you would throw people for eternal punishment, maybe. Just spitballing!

The sensory overload was real, but also oddly a delight. India is a good time. I got the feeling I could stand in one place at any given moment for hours on end and never notice everything. The warmth and color and humor of the place was energizing, and the perfect antidote to engaging with the darker, harder sides of the country and culture.

The other thing that made the trip so unexpectedly joyful was the team I got to go with:

  • Brenda Debor, our fearless leader and logistics Queen (yes, with a capital Q)

  • Kay Smith, our former fearless leader and one of the most passionate, creative souls out there

  • Sterling Greene, whose humble spirit and sense of humor were a steady example for the rest of the team

  • Ashley Manley, who was always up for an adventure and seemed to love from a completely unguarded place, raw and real

  • Emerson Stanka, a 15-year-old bursting with courage and compassion

  • Kelly Thomas, Emerson's mom, whose vulnerability, wisdom, and work ethic challenged me every day

  • Heather O'Laughlin, who I was lucky enough to room with throughout the trip and whose warmth and sweetness bolstered me on the daily

  • Shirley Thomas, who with laughter and fierce encouragement and the occasional campfire song was comforting for me and life-giving for the entire team

  • Barbara Brennan, who quietly ran the show and who loved the temporary tattoos we brought so much that I will forever be trying to peer pressure her into getting a real one (I'LL GET ONE TOO, BARB)

I loved a lot of things about India, but honestly, getting 10 days laughing with and learning from these women was maybe my favorite part of the trip. We worked with so many different ministries in so many different ways, and everyone had the opportunity to truly shine at one point or another. Watching each of them serve in their sweet spot was an inspiration.

Even after wrestling through my hangups with a justice-focused mission trip, I still wouldn't have gone so far as to say I expected my time in India to be joyful. But thanks to this team, that's exactly what it was. I've never been happier to be so wrong.

Throughout the week, we worked with six incredible partners.

Trafficking is an industry fueled by desperation. New Hope School, run by Pastor Rudra and his wife Mita, attack the problem at its roots by offering education and subsequent options to children at high risk for becoming just another cog in the brutal system.

Mahima Home is a safehouse for rescued or at-risk teenage girls. Other than their harrowing histories, hanging out with them wasn't all that different than hanging out with the 8th grade girls' life group I lead here in Katy or my teenagers back in Dripping Springs. They stole my heart. (Same goes for Grandma's, a sort of daytime-only safe house in Sonagachi, the largest red-light district in India. I hear there's a strong possibility the ministry is closing its doors, and we likely won't be working with them in the future, but getting to love on the women they serve and their children was a highlight of the trip for many.)

Sari Bari and Jewels in a Crown are two of the most astonishing, smart, philanthropic business models I've ever seen in action, and they excite me. Just go read about them yourself, honestly — and buy their products — but I was massively inspired by the faith and fervor of the people who run them. Honestly want to just go hang out with the JIAC girls and be best friends forever. Awesome.

And last, but not least, Destiny was the place in Kolkata that felt like a puzzle piece clicking into place in my heart when I stepped through the door. On paper, it's the ministry I would have been most wary of — after all, the women to which the organization ministers are still currently working in the sex industry, not rescued or recovering, and devout Hindu, to boot. Sounds like the heaviest of the heavy, right?

But as soon as I stepped inside, something in my soul felt light. Those women were my people. Two days of chai and Gospel chatter with them filled me to overflow, and I pray the spiritual seeds we had the privilege of sowing take some kind of root and get the nourishment they need.

We spent the last two days of the trip pouring into the women who run those ministries through a retreat just for them — praying over them, encouraging them, and simply having fun with them. I left more convinced than ever that while we had an impact in our short time in India, the greatest ministry with the most lasting power we engaged in was simply empowering those for whom Kolkata is their daily culture and context, and who are going to battle there every day. What an absolute honor.

Before returning to good old #Merica, the team made the most of a 19-hour pit-stop in Dubai; powering through sleep deprivation and our general need for a good shower to see process and celebrate the previous 10 days together.

By the time we reached Houston, I was 100 percent ready to be home, but more grateful than ever for India and my time there. It stretched me and grew me. It delighted me. It resulted in new and dear relationships. I will be unsatisfied with local Indian food forever, probably.

Anyway, the point is this: get on the plane and be grateful even when you don't want to, people. It turns out God usually knows what He's doing.

Loving Lately

Loving Lately

Little Heavens

Little Heavens