Day 1 in Nepal
Our first full day in Nepal started early. Wake up call at 5:30 AM and breakfast by 6:30, although, jet lag woke up most of us before then. After two days on an Etihad flight, we were all ready to stretch our legs in the land of the Himalayas. Unfortunately, our legs were in for a rude awakening as to a reality of Himalayan life – there are no short drives in Nepal.
The plan for the day was to drive from Kathmandu to Pokhara, a distance of a little over 170 kilometers, and dedicate two newly constructed churches along the way. The itinerary scheduled six and a half hours for the drive, plus another two hours to visit two churches that would be dedicated. Despite the generous time allotted for such a short distance, we didn’t arrive in Pokhara until roughly thirteen hours after we left Kathmandu.
In America with our highways and bi-ways, it is easy to take for granted the ease with which we travel between our various daily activities. The Nepalese know no such luxury. To go to work or attend church, they must traverse steep mountain passes, climb sheer cliffs, navigate dangerously narrow roads, and brave traffic caught in a perpetual game of chicken. We caught a glimpse of this toil as we dodged oncoming cars as well as bounced and careened around Nepali roads.
Chaundra, a local pastor associated with the churches to be dedicated, rode the bus with us to guide our trek (and calm our nerves). He is a thoughtful and warm man, and he shared his story of becoming a Christian. Like many Nepali Christians, he converted after a pivotal life experience. His father died when he was very young, and his mother passed soon thereafter. While his mother was ill, she was nursed by two Christian missionaries from Scandinavia. Before her death she became a believer and was baptized. Upon her death she asked the missionary nurses who cared for her in her passing to take care of her son and be sure he was raised as a Christian. He was educated, worked, married, and left his job when he felt called to serve God. Early in his marriage his wife fell severely ill and her condition deteriorated over a period of years. They had very little when life was uncertain, but their faith brought both healing and perseverance as his wife lives a healthy and joyful life today.
Chaundra, like most pastors in Nepal have been jailed at least once during their live of Christian service. Until 2006 the practice of Christianity was illegal in Nepal. If you converted to the Christian faith you could be imprisoned for 1 year. After your sentence, you were required to convert back to your prior faith. If you attempted to convert others, the punishment was 2-5 years imprisonment. For these reasons, the majority of Nepalese people associated in Christian ministries suffered these consequences for their beliefs and practices.
The first church we visited was located up rocky, dirt road off of the main highway near the city of Gorkha. The people welcomed us and a throng of children mobbed those of bearing gifts of candy and trinkets. Connie Richards performed the ribbon cutting as her church funded its construction. The church pastor ushered us into the building where one of the children presented each member of our group with a cream colored silk scarf. Connie presented a framed collection of photos, illustrating the exterior and interior of her church and their pastor and pastor’s wife to remind the Nepali congregation who is praying for them in the United States. The pastor graciously accepted Connie’s thoughtful gift and displayed the framed photographs on the alter stage. Connie then honored the local pastors and those persons who helped build the church with an ICM cross necklace. The pastor specifically recognized two individuals, one man and one woman who were instrumental in the creation of the church, through their respective construction and cooking talents.
The second dedication did not take place due to a death of a family member who lived directly next door to the newly erected church. In Nepali culture a family cannot celebrate for one year after a death; however, we were still able to meet, pray for and honor the church community for their accomplishments. The church was located off one of the main roads near the first church, so we parked and walked down a somewhat narrow mountain pass to find a church built into the side of what we would consider a mountain, but our Nepali partners noted was a mere hill. Regardless of its designation, the setting was nothing shy of majestic as the doors of the church opened to view the twinkling lights of a mountain village located directly across a vast valley. Mike Maddy, a minister from Iowa, honored the pastor with an ICM cross and distributed colorful stuffed animals for the children, as his church funded the church’s construction.
It was dark by the time we returned to the bus from the second church. Sam, tour guide extraordinaire and ICM Director of Partnership Review, recounted the story of meeting his wife as we traveled the last leg of our 120 mile journey to Pokhara. Some of us fell asleep, although, this was due to exhaustion rather than Sam’s incredible tale of love and providence. We reached our destination around ten o’clock, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and collapsed into bed.
Day 2 in Nepal
We woke on our second day in Pokhara, Nepal to the sound of birds chirping loudly and the chatty return of sporty European hikers who had already summited an unknown peak to undoubtedly view the revered Himalyan sunrise. We opted for a later start; our contrasting sluggish group filed into breakfast. The morning was spent walking and shopping the market streets of Pokhara, enjoying the beautiful view across the large lake, around which the main street wound.
Our flight back to Kathmandu, after which we planned to visit the Nepal Church Fellowship radio station and observe two Mini Bible College Bible studies. One meetings, was unfortunately canceled due to weather related delays. We boarded our trusty bus in the excellent care of our bus driver, whom we quickly learned to trust with our lives as he navigated the wild roads of the country, and settled into a 6 hour trip back to Kathmandu. We arrived late in the evening, ate dinner at the hotel, and retired to our hotel rooms.
Day 3 in Nepal
The Himalayas are truly bigger, grander, and more awe inspiring than any other mountain range on earth. Today we drove up and over what the Nepalese call a “hill.” I don’t know any hills that climb above the cloud line or terminate hundreds and thousands of feet higher than the tallest peak on the east coast of America. While the far away views of snow capped peaks [6,000-7,000 meters high (Everest is 8,800 meters)] were obstructed by hazy skies, the immensity of these “smaller” ranges were sufficiently draw dropping for us Westerners.
Pastor Samuel, a leader in the Christian Nepalese community, joined us for today’s church visits. Pastor Samuel is an impressive man whose conversion to Christianity grew out of a unhealthy childhood and young adulthood that led to a nearly fatal upper respiratory illness. After coming to faith, he stopped taking all his medications and relied on the newfound peace of Jesus for healing. He miraculously became well and continues to be in good health today. In addition to his testimony, Pastor Samuel apprised us of the history of Nepal and the plight of Christians over the last fifty years.
Our mountain journey took us roughly three hours north of Kathmandu to a small region near Syabrubesi, located just south of the Chinese border. Our ride was arduous and although we were traveling on “good roads,” we gasped, covered our eyes, and prayed both silently and out loud for a safe passage through (and over) the mountains.
Our first stop was a small structure, made entirely of corrugated tin and wooden poles, that served as a church for a rural community of roughly over a hundred Christians. We exited the bus and were greeted by two rows of women and men holding garlands of yellow and gold marigolds, purple thistle, and other vibrant flowers. Our necks were donned as we walked towards the building, where we sat and heard the story of the pastor and his church. Notably, one 81-year old woman walked over 1 hour to attend church every week and she was often the first to arrive! This woman was not unique; many members of their congregation (and many others as we learned through visiting churches in Nepal) walk great distances to worship.
Our second stop of the day was to visit a school and church under construction in the city just below our first stop. As we viewed the church space, a half completed second story of a building still under construction, the elementary school let out for lunch, and a long line of adorable children greeted us.
Thereafter we made our way across the street and walked along a dirt path that led through a small neighborhood and across an empty field to a third church near Syabrubesi. Here we met another local pastor who shared his testimony with us. His story was particularly compelling as he explained how God answered his three prayers, all of which he prayed as an atheist prior to becoming a Christian. His community aspires to be a Hope Center church. They are an enterprising community. The Church members were not permitted to use the local water source, so, the church built its own well on the property. After visiting the final church, we shared an authentic Nepalese lunch with Pastor Samuel and some of the local pastors.
Upon return to Kathmandu, the women in our group met with Pastor Samuel’s wife and her sister to discuss the work of female Christians in Nepal. The fellowship of women administer many programs to enhance the spiritual and physical lives of women in the country. In addition to a literacy program, the women make wedding veils for brides-to-be, learn to cook various healthy and protein rich foods, like peanut butter, and most significantly, they designed and teach women to make home-made sanitary napkins. Most Nepalese women use rags in the place of sanitary napkins, complicating problems associated with women’s hygiene. The napkins are a huge success and showcase the inspiring ingenuity of these community leaders. The stories shared with the female ICM representatives will help inform and enhance the ICM’s Women’s Initiative as their successes will reach the ears and hearts of ICM partners and members in the US.
We were joined by board members from a national association of churches, known as NCF, for dinner. NCF also operates a network of radio stations across the country that broadcasts the gospel. They brought several local minsters as well who use ICM’s Mini-Bible College MegaVoice device. After dinner, we heard a presentation from NCF and the local ministers concerning the association’s work in Nepal over the last twenty years as well as the churches built in conjunction with ICM. The work accomplished to date is significant and its growth will be shared in partnership with ICM.
Day 4 in Nepal
Today is sadly our last day in Nepal. After breakfast in the hotel, we boarded a new bus and headed to the NCF radio station to witness the work we were unable to see two days prior due to our canceled flight. The morning rush hour traffic put Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and any other US city you could possibly imagine to shame. The horrendous traffic caused us to skip seeing the radio station and instead we went directly to the airport.
Our flight out of the country was delayed, but we finally departed a normal two hours late. We took off, reached our altitude and caught a glimpse of the mighty and breath taking Mount Everest. After another delay in Bangkok we finally arrived to Chiang Mai and are looking forward to our time in Thailand!