Hard to believe that it is only until day three that I can post of my first night’s sleep, but such is the way of air travel and time zones. Sam (the CBF missionary), Milton and I share a room here in Kathmandu and while we each have our own cot there is hardly room for anything else except snoring. The house we are in is rented by several Christian workers associated with the Apple of God’s Eye Ministry, which was started by Brazilian believers but now is largely run by local Nepalese. Our house is clean and efficient, and although the cots are reminiscent of what it is like to be camping on the ground, we are snug and dry. Electricity is scarce throughout Kathmandu with daily outages lasting 12-14 hours. I have to make certain both the computer and phone are charging during the night (because the electricity usually comes on around 10 at night) so that I can have them when I need them during the day.
The weather is pleasant and cool. As I write this paragraph it is just after seven in the morning and the sun is starting to rise, shining through a thin fog of mist and smog.
After a delightful breakfast prepared by one of our hosts, we took a bumpy ride out of our suburban home (there are pot holes here that could have swallowed my old MINI), we arrived for the Pastors Conference that I was invited to address. The church that hosted it is called the “Listen and Believe Church.” It is one of the largest Nepalese churches in Kathmandu. It is a simple structure of four brick walls with a slant roof, two doors and two windows over a mud floor covered with pieces of carpet. Since Sunday is a work day, but Saturday is not, they meet every Saturday for worship. When we arrived we heard echoing down the little dirt road and soon we too were part of their worship (all in Nepalese). These ministers came together to hear encouragement and teaching from Sam and me, but Milton was asked to speak as well. This surprised him, but not only did he oblige, he enthusiastically shared and gave witness of his faith. When he finished there was great applause! All three of us had a great translator who is also a pastor in Nepal.
After several hours we took a break to eat lunch in their “fellowship hall” which was a tent structure with a few chairs for honored guests and the elders. We were served local dishes of rice, puri (fried bread), spicy chicken that tasted like curry, and wonderful conversation. Milton pushed his food around but was quite gracious and appreciative. I had seconds. Milton had a pepcid.
That afternoon we reconvened and I shared again with them about our common work and responsibility as Christians. For my afternoon text I used the story of the feeding of the 5000. Amazing how these ancient stories in the Bible apply to churches as far apart as Augusta is from Kathmandu. Once again, my translator did a superb job and I got the feeling he was adding to my sermon at an effort of improving my remarks. I asked Milton if he would like to speak again, but he said he probably only had one sermon a day in him!
All of the ministers and their families were very appreciative of our leading this day of mutual encouragement and exhortation. Of course I was the one that was appreciative to have been asked to be a part. We were rewarded with smiles, hugs and salutations of “jai-massiha” (praising Jesus). It was a long but rewarding day. Milton and I were humbled by the depth and sincerity of their faith that gives so much hope to circumstances that otherwise could be described as oppressive. Dignity is a wonderful gift of God.
We spent the evening with some other host families who provided desserts and coffee. Keep in mind that just a couple of hours later we went back to our host home to have supper. While Milton went hungry for lunch he has made up for it with his stash of snacks, surprise desserts, and late night dinner. For entertainment we had Milton cracking jokes and keeping all our hosts in stitches. One of the Nepalese who helped make dinner asked the meaning of our names, to which Milton replied, “My name means ‘horse thief’ and Greg’s name means ‘slow.’”
We are still a bit “punch-drunk” with jet lag and working fairly long and involved days, but I could not ask for more fulfilling experiences. Like all good mission trips, we are receiving far more than we are giving. Tomorrow too promises to be another one of those days as we visit the school and home of “Apple of God’s Eye” ministry. Milton best be working on his remarks. When I am through I will call on him next.
Remember that I am grateful to you for allowing us this time to serve.
Day 4 (Thursday)
I had a great night’s sleep from 11:30 until 2:45am. It was about that time that my eyes opened and said, “get up Greg, it is 3:30 Wednesday afternoon in Augusta!” Oh well, this is to be expected. Just in case anyone wants to know roosters and dogs are up this early too.
I have several more hours before breakfast, but once that rolls around (8 AM), we will take off and visit the school and some more of the homes of the Apple of God’s Eye Ministry. As I have shared before, this is a ministry that provides six houses for rescued prostitutes, those that are at risk for prostitution and children of prostitutes. This ministry now has the recognition of the government and can repatriate any Nepali anywhere in the world who is victim of human trafficking.
These girls and boys (many of which were sold into human trafficking as early as 8 years old) are effusive with love and tenderness. When I noted this to one of the workers and commented that I would have expected a high level of distrust considering their history, she said that they were teaching them that there is good love in this world and that all who stay here have dignity and worth. She went on to say that no one is allowed in these homes except for those we (the organization) fully trust. Therefore it is a real privilege for Milton and me to be invited in to their trust. Through Sam, this ministry has received generous support from the CBF.
When we arrived at the school all 200-plus children ranging pre-K to high school greeted us enthusiastically and draped our necks with “kata” silk scarves, a Tibetan tradition of welcome (this is the third time we have been so welcomed since arriving here). They first gave a pledge to the Nepali flag and then recited the Lords Prayer. First I was invited to speak and then Sam and Milton gave a greetings on behalf of our church. Next we toured the school and entered every classroom, each time the children would stand at attention and greet us again.
This school ministers to the lowest caste in Hindu society and although it is distinctly and unapologetically Christian, they welcome all – Buddhist, Hindu, Hare Krishna and others. Along with the children of the homes, the take in children who in one form or another have suffered abuse and neglect. With no advertising they are fully enrolled and are struggling to keep up with the need to enroll more. The administration operates with the philosophy of loving the children into God’s love.
We next visited the very first home that started Apple of God’s Eye Ministry. In its earliest days it housed over fifty boys and girls rescued from human trafficking. This home, while very spacious by Nepalese standards, is only four bedrooms. Eliza grew up in this home and now oversees it. Meanwhile she is also studying to be a lawyer. Her prayer is to be the Prime Minister of Nepal – we should pray for this too. What a demonstration of redemption we have going on in so many lives.
Our next stop was lunch and this time it was tame – KFC. It was not my idea but it had Milton’s vote! Actually our hosts wanted to take us there. There are only two American chains in all of Nepal and the other one is Pizza Hut. They actually cater to tourists since a four dollar meal (the cost of my lunch) is several times more than a Nepalese would normally pay.
The afternoon was spent shopping in Thamal district where you can buy everything from Buddha statues to counterfeit backpacks. It was also the first time we saw Caucasians since we arrived.
We visited Pashupatinath, Hindu’s most holy site in all of Nepal. It is made up of temples, ghostly mystics who live in and around there, and the sounds of grieving families. Alongside these temples are the cremation ghats were there are the constant fires of Hindus being cremated and then there ashes pushed into the Bagmati river. The air was thick with its smoke and the smell was simply ghastly. Milton and I watched around five different pyres of cremations fires as well as a body being prepared. I have never scene or experienced anything quite like it and we left there feeling much heavier than when we entered.
“When little hands give big blessings…”
It was a good providence that after Pashupatinath we visited another one of the homes and were regaled with loud and rambunctious singing from the children. Once again Sam and I were asked to speak and we were happy to oblige. Milton was introduced as “Pastor Milton” and instead of correcting anybody he decided he too had a message. He mustered up another sermon and shared very loving and hopeful words to the children.
They were then invited to lift up their hands to pray a blessing over their new American friends. At this point dozens of children and teenagers jumped up and surrounded us, placing their hands on our heads, shoulders, and back and prayed for us. The room was buzzing with their prayerful murmuring.
Those little hands give big blessings.
We enjoyed a meal with them and left this house around 9:30. It is near 11pm as I type this and we have to get up at 4:30 am for our next big event. With that I am lifting up my somewhat bigger hands and praying a blessing for you too.
Day 5 (Friday)
Today is the first of two days where we simply “played.” It began with the alarm waking us at 4:30 am. Milton, Sam and I reserved tickets on “Buddha Air” to fly around Mt. Everest. The flight left around 7 and returned an hour later and it was a wonderful use of time and money. The two attendants point out seven of the tallest peaks in the world, including the mighty Everest. I have no desire (or money or time) to climb Mt. Everest, but seeing it up from the window of a small plane is not a bad experience.
Following our flight we made our way to Boudanath, the UNESCO site of the largest settlement of Tibetan Buddhists. There is a large stupa in the center and it is surrounded by shops of most every variety. It is a sea of crimson and saffron robes of Tibetan many of which are now living in or around this area. Many more have made pilgrimages just to be there. We stopped several who sweetly agreed to pose for pictures. Neither Milton or I felt the need to shave our heads or don their robes, but we enjoyed looking and shopping that morning.
We then had lunch at a nice, simple restaurant overlooking the stupa. To my delight they had a genuine cappuccino machine and suddenly I was transported back to Italy. This particular restaurant intentionally hires the outcasts of society – dwarfs, developmental disabilities, and other limitations that would likely leave them impoverished and begging. Once again we see redemption at work in interesting corners. I enjoyed “Hot Potatoes” which had the most unusual blend of spices, and Nepali Curry Chicken. Both dishes were well prepared and spicy HOT. I brought Tums just in case, but I made it through the day with no event.
After a nice lunch we began a two hour bumpy journey to the village of Nargakot. It is only about 30km ride but it took two hours due to the roads. They are partially paved but that only makes for more jagged pot holes. I am the one most prone to motion sickness, but I happily made it through the winding, jarring ride up to the hotel where we would spend the night. The hotel itself is luxurious by Nepali standards, but rather simple and clean would be the way most Americans would describe it. The television was an old thirteen inch model that only picked up stations in India in the Hindi language. None of this really mattered because outside our balcony from left to right there is magnificent view of the Himalayan mountains. Far to the right of the chain, well into the distance, you could just make out Mt. Everest. You do not need a television when you have that kind of view!
We met our new friends, Pastor Rendell and Theresa Day, who made all the arrangements for the overnight stay. Since there was still plenty of sunlight we took a short hike up a paved mountain road and enjoyed the varying views. We passed several Tea Houses which are little more than crude plywood stands selling tea and other refreshments. Some tea houses also provide lodging, which can best be described as crude camping without the tent. It is not uncommon for the owners of the tea houses to live there. All totaled we hiked about five miles. which proved to be a good way to stretch out our legs after the white knuckle ride to get there.
Supper was a nice affair of local dishes. If you like lentils, rice, and curry, you will get along fine. Thankfully I do. They also served some greens which were “electric green” but slightly bitter. They too were delicious. I tried their famous buffalo yogurt which was quite good. Come to think of it I have yet to eat a dish that I have pushed to the side.
No great surprise right?
Bedtime came early for me because I have not been sleeping well. Even this night would be a bit compromised. In spite of a sleeping aid, I still did not begin dreaming until midnight. Amy always begins my dreams this was not a bad way to close out a great day enjoying the Himalayas.