February 27

Morning

“Thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation.”
Psalm 91:9

The Israelites in the wilderness were continually exposed to change. Whenever the pillar stayed its motion, the tents were pitched; but tomorrow, ere the morning sun had risen, the trumpet sounded, the ark was in motion, and the fiery, cloudy pillar was leading the way through the narrow defiles of the mountain, up the hill side, or along the arid waste of the wilderness. They had scarcely time to rest a little before they heard the sound of “Away! this is not your rest; you must still be onward journeying towards Canaan!” They were never long in one place. Even wells and palm trees could not detain them. Yet they had an abiding home in their God, his cloudy pillar was their roof-tree, and its flame by night their household fire. They must go onward from place to place, continually changing, never having time to settle, and to say, “Now we are secure; in this place we shall dwell.” “Yet,” says Moses, “though we are always changing, Lord, thou hast been our dwelling-place throughout all generations.” The Christian knows no change with regard to God. He may be rich today and poor to-morrow; he may be sickly today and well to-morrow; he may be in happiness today, to-morrow he may be distressed–but there is no change with regard to his relationship to God. If he loved me yesterday, he loves me today. My unmoving mansion of rest is my blessed Lord. Let prospects be blighted; let hopes be blasted; let joy be withered; let mildews destroy everything; I have lost nothing of what I have in God. He is “my strong habitation whereunto I can continually resort.” I am a pilgrim in the world, but at home in my God. In the earth I wander, but in God I dwell in a quiet habitation.

Evening

“Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting”
Micah 5:2

The Lord Jesus had goings forth for his people as their representative before the throne, long before they appeared upon the stage of time. It was “from everlasting” that he signed the compact with his Father, that he would pay blood for blood, suffering for suffering, agony for agony, and death for death, in the behalf of his people; it was “from everlasting” that he gave himself up without a murmuring word. That from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot he might sweat great drops of blood, that he might be spit upon, pierced, mocked, rent asunder, and crushed beneath the pains of death. His goings forth as our Surety were from everlasting. Pause, my soul, and wonder! Thou hast goings forth in the person of Jesus “from everlasting.” Not only when thou wast born into the world did Christ love thee, but his delights were with the sons of men before there were any sons of men. Often did he think of them; from everlasting to everlasting he had set his affection upon them. What! my soul, has he been so long about thy salvation, and will not he accomplish it? Has he from everlasting been going forth to save me, and will he lose me now? What! Has he carried me in his hand, as his precious jewel, and will he now let me slip from between his fingers? Did he choose me before the mountains were brought forth, or the channels of the deep were digged, and will he reject me now? Impossible! I am sure he would not have loved me so long if he had not been a changeless Lover. If he could grow weary of me, he would have been tired of me long before now. If he had not loved me with a love as deep as hell, and as strong as death, he would have turned from me long ago. Oh, joy above all joys, to know that I am his everlasting and inalienable inheritance, given to him by his Father or ever the earth was! Everlasting love shall be the pillow for my head this night.

February 26

MORNING

“Salvation is of the Lord.”
Jonah 2:9

Salvation is the work of God. It is he alone who quickens the soul “dead in trespasses and sins,” and it is he also who maintains the soul in its spiritual life. He is both “Alpha and Omega.” “Salvation is of the Lord.” If I am prayerful, God makes me prayerful; if I have graces, they are God’s gifts to me; if I hold on in a consistent life, it is because he upholds me with his hand. I do nothing whatever towards my own preservation, except what God himself first does in me. Whatever I have, all my goodness is of the Lord alone. Wherein I sin, that is my own; but wherein I act rightly, that is of God, wholly and completely. If I have repulsed a spiritual enemy, the Lord’s strength nerved my arm. Do I live before men a consecrated life? It is not I, but Christ who liveth in me. Am I sanctified? I did not cleanse myself: God’s Holy Spirit sanctifies me. Am I weaned from the world? I am weaned by God’s chastisements sanctified to my good. Do I grow in knowledge? The great Instructor teaches me. All my jewels were fashioned by heavenly art.

I find in God all that I want; but I find in myself nothing but sin and misery. “He only is my rock and my salvation.” Do I feed on the Word? That Word would be no food for me unless the Lord made it food for my soul, and helped me to feed upon it. Do I live on the manna which comes down from heaven? What is that manna but Jesus Christ himself incarnate, whose body and whose blood I eat and drink? Am I continually receiving fresh increase of strength? Where do I gather my might? My help cometh from heaven’s hills: without Jesus I can do nothing. As a branch cannot bring forth fruit except it abide in the vine, no more can I, except I abide in him. What Jonah learned in the great deep, let me learn this morning in my closet: “Salvation is of the Lord.”

EVENING

“Behold, if the leprosy have covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce him clean that hath the plague.”
Leviticus 13:13

Strange enough this regulation appears, yet there was wisdom in it, for the throwing out of the disease proved that the constitution was sound. This evening it may be well for us to see the typical teaching of so singular a rule. We, too, are lepers, and may read the law of the leper as applicable to ourselves. When a man sees himself to be altogether lost and ruined, covered all over with the defilement of sin, and in no part free from pollution; when he disclaims all righteousness of his own, and pleads guilty before the Lord, then he is clean through the blood of Jesus, and the grace of God.

Hidden, unfelt, unconfessed iniquity is the true leprosy; but when sin is seen and felt, it has received its deathblow, and the Lord looks with eyes of mercy upon the soul afflicted with it. Nothing is more deadly than self-righteousness, or more hopeful than contrition. We must confess that we are “nothing else but sin,” for no confession short of this will be the whole truth; and if the Holy Spirit be at work with us, convincing us of sin, there will be no difficulty about making such an acknowledgment–it will spring spontaneously from our lips.

What comfort does the text afford to truly awakened sinners: the very circumstance which so grievously discouraged them is here turned into a sign and symptom of a hopeful state! Stripping comes before clothing; digging out the foundation is the first thing in building–and a thorough sense of sin is one of the earliest works of grace in the heart. O thou poor leprous sinner, utterly destitute of a sound spot, take heart from the text, and come as thou art to Jesus–

“For let our debts be what they may, however great or small,

As soon as we have nought to pay, our Lord forgives us all.

‘Tis perfect poverty alone that sets the soul at large:

While we can call one mite our own, we have no full discharge.”

 

In India, Missing School to Work in the Mine via NYTimes.com

By Published: February 25, 2013

KHLIEHRIAT, India — After descending 70 feet on a wobbly bamboo staircase into a dank pit, the teenage miners ducked into a black hole about two feet high and crawled 100 yards through mud before starting their day digging coal.

 

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Meghalaya State is in the isolated eastern part of India.

They wore T-shirts, pajama-like pants and short rubber boots — not a hard hat or steel-toed boot in sight. They tied rags on their heads to hold small flashlights and stuffed their ears with cloth. And they spent the whole day staring death in the face.

Just two months before full implementation of a landmark 2010 law mandating that all Indian children between the ages of 6 and 14 be in school, some 28 million are working instead, according to Unicef. Child workers can be found everywhere — in shops, in kitchens, on farms, in factories and on construction sites. In the coming days Parliament may consider yet another law to ban child labor, but even activists say more laws, while welcome, may do little to solve one of India’s most intractable problems.

“We have very good laws in this country,” said Vandhana Kandhari, a child protection specialist at Unicef. “It’s our implementation that’s the problem.”

Poverty, corruption, decrepit schools and absentee teachers are among the causes, and there is no better illustration of the problem than the Dickensian “rathole” mines here in the state of Meghalaya.

Meghalaya lies in India’s isolated northeast, a stump of land squashed between China, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Its people are largely tribal and Christian, and they have languages, food and facial features that seem as much Chinese as Indian.

Suresh Thapa, 17, said that he has worked in the mines near his family’s shack “since he was a kid,” and that he expects his four younger brothers to follow suit. He and his family live in a tiny tarp-and-stick shack near the mines. They have no running water, toilet or indoor heating.

On a recent day, Suresh was sitting outside his home sharpening his and his father’s pickaxes — something he must do twice a day. His mother, Mina Thapa, sat nearby nursing an infant and said Suresh chose mining himself.

“He works of his own free will,” she said. “He doesn’t listen to me anyway, even when I tell him something,” she added with a bittersweet laugh.

Ms. Thapa said that three of her younger sons go to a nearby government school and that they would go into the mines when they wanted to.

“If they don’t do this work, what other jobs are they going to get?” she asked.

India’s Mines Act of 1952 prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from working in coal mines, but Ms. Thapa said enforcing that law would hurt her family. “It’s necessary for us that they work. No one is going to give us money. We have to work and feed ourselves.”

The presence of children in Meghalaya’s mines is no secret. Suresh’s boss, Kumar Subba, said children work in mines throughout the region.

“Mostly the ones who come are orphans,” said Mr. Subba, who supervises five mines and employs 130 people who collectively produce 30 tons of coal each day.

He conceded that working conditions inside his and other mines in the region were dangerous. His mines are owned by a state lawmaker, he said.

“People die all the time,” he said. “You have breakfast in the morning, go to work and never come back. Many have died this way.”

While the Indian government has laws banning child labor and unsafe working conditions, states are mostly charged with enforcing those laws. The country’s police are highly politicized, so crackdowns on industries sanctioned by the politically powerful are rare. Police officers routinely extract bribes from coal truckers, making the industry a source of income for officers.

“Child labor is allowed to continue in Meghalaya by those in positions of power and authority, as it is across India,” said Shantha Sinha, chairwoman of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

In 2010, Impulse, a nongovernmental organization based in Shillong, Meghalaya’s capital, reported that it had found 200 children — some as young as 5 — working in 10 local mines. The group estimated that as many as 70,000 children worked in about 5,000 mines.

Its findings led to images in the Indian news media of small children working in horrifying conditions. State officials angrily denied that there was any child labor problem.

Investigations soon followed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, as well as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, one of the nation’s most respected independent research groups. Both confirmed the presence of child laborers.

Despite visiting during the monsoon season, when many mines are closed or barely operational, the Tata group found 343 children age 15 or younger working in 401 mines and seven coal depots. The group had intended to conduct a more extensive investigation, but the “researchers had to stop data collection, as local interest groups threatened them with bodily harm if they continued with the study,” the report noted.

“The mining industry is clearly aware of the issue of child labor and the illegality of the act, and yet children continue to be employed,” the report concluded.

Bindo M. Lanong, Meghalaya’s deputy chief minister for mining and geology, flatly denied the investigations’ findings.

“There is no child labor in Meghalaya,” he said in a telephone interview this month. “These allegations are totally absurd. They are not based on facts.”

Mr. Lanong also said that mines in Meghalaya follow national safety regulations.

Yet, several mines visited in Meghalaya had no ventilation and only one entrance; they followed no mining plan, did not use limestone to reduce explosion risks and had minimal roof supports, among other illegal and dangerous conditions. Their bamboo staircases were structurally unsound and required miners to walk sideways to avoid falling. Miners said those conditions were endemic.

Mr. Lanong responded: “What should we do, stop mining? I ask those people if rathole mining is banned, you will be interfering with the liberty of the landowners.”

Despite offering high pay, mine managers nonetheless have trouble finding enough workers in this area, according to the Tata report. The local tribal population largely shuns the jobs, so children and other laborers are brought here from Nepal and Bangladesh in informal networks that advocates have decried as trafficking. Many are soon trapped in a classic swindle: although pay is high, mine operators charge huge premiums to deliver drinking water, food and other staples to mining camps. As a result, many child laborers are unable to send money home or earn enough to leave.

There are few schools near the mining camps, and those that are available teach in local dialects — languages that immigrant children generally do not speak. So even if they want to get educated, many children cannot.

Wildcat mining has become so endemic in the Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya that much of the land resembles a moonscape, denuded of trees and brush. Roads are choked with coal trucks, and roadsides are covered with piles of black rocks. Mining has led “to a host of issues such as subsidence, degradation of soil and water resources as well as air pollution,” the Tata report stated.

But it has also brought money for those who are from the region. Suresh said he earns $37 to $74 a week, a healthy salary in a country where two-thirds of the population lives on less than $15 per week. He gives the money to his family, he said.

After lunch, Suresh got ready to return underground. He said that he had seen people die, “but I haven’t had an accident yet.”

“Well,” he amended, “I hurt my back once when the mud fell in, but we still had to work the next day.”

“How can we not work?” he asked. “We have to eat.”

 

Sruthi Gottipati contributed reporting from Khliehriat, and Niharika Mandhana from New Delhi.