Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings

some kind of mother’s love

I am good at burying memories of my not-so-proud moments. I’m really, really good at it. But then sometimes, something random and innocuous  trips my memory blocker and I remember the moment–in detailed clarity and with all the original embarrassment.

Today a cute little dog name Tia was what made me remember one of my moments.

It was about the third week of our  life in Nepal. We were still the fresh, drenched-behind-the-ears missionaries getting used to many things–a stone and marble home without heat in the Himalayan winter; scrawny chickens that looked like turtle doves at the dinner table; boiling and filtering water to drink; showing some respect to the soldiers carrying machine guns at the army posts along the highway; topping off a sandwich with Yak cheese instead of Swiss.

Life was exciting and adventuresome. Even in that which we didn’t care for, we reveled in the experience of it (like the first time we realized the delicious treat was buffalo innards). Even when listening to warnings from the US Embassy officials about living in Maoist territory, we felt a Superman-like wave of the thrill of danger.

I was like Super Mom, Super Wife and Super Missionary molded into one tough, good-looking woman. At least that’s how I saw myself–until one dark, so-quiet-you-can-hear-the-silence night. It must have been about 2 in the morning. I was fast asleep. So were Roy, the kids and the dog. Then, all of a sudden, out of the stillness of the night, came the loudest thunderous sound I had ever heard. In that instant between sleep and wakefulness, I knew it was a bomb.

Screaming, I jumped out of bed and began running down the hallway towards the front door. Alongside me was Wrinkles, also running, trying to beat me to the door. I was out the door, in the middle of the open yard before I realized that I had run out of the house without thinking of Roy or the kids. I was just thinking of getting myself out to safety. Looking through the open front door, I saw my family looking at me like I was crazy.

Some Superwoman I turned out to be. The fact that Wrinkles was far from being man’s best friend that night by trying to get out before saving her family didn’t make me feel  any better either.

Personal Ramblings, Spiritual Musings

God in a Fortune Cookie

Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you Genesis 12:1

Photo by Charles Deluvio

When our family received a call to go to Nepal as missionaries, I said no. It was the worst possible time–My career that was perched for great possibilities would die; my son’s intensive piano lessons that were preparing him for a career in composition would be jeopardized; my daughter’s academic goals would be crushed; and my husband would be unmarketable when we returned. It simply did not make sense. And I said no.

But God knew better. His persistence grew stronger with my every objection. The signs I got would have put Gideon, Moses and Joseph to shame. Yet I refused. And then one Sabbath morning, away from home in the pre-google days, my husband and I opened the Yellow Pages to find a church to attend. There were over 20 of them. So we randomly picked a church and began our drive. Less than 3 minutes on the road, I spotted a church and suggested we attend that one instead of the one we had picked. Roy refused (his Germanic genes do not allow changes in plans). Five minutes later, I saw another church; Roy refused. Another ten minutes went by and there was another church. Roy refused. We were now late for service.

By the time we got to the church, the sermon had already begun. And I was furious with Roy. Just as we sat down, the minister said, “Faith is about setting out on a journey without all the answers to your questions.” Roy nudged me in ribs. My response was silence, but I could not help but scribble the quote in my Bible. The trip back to the hotel was long and silent. I chose to nap that afternoon to blot out the strangeness of us attending that particular church and hearing that particular message. I woke up late in the evening, hungry and miserable, feeling trapped in our hotel room. We ordered in Chinese and ate in silence. The meal ended and I broke open my fortune cookie. It said: “You will go to a strange and far away land.”

In that moment I imagined God smile and say “Checkmate.” I knew I had lost. Six years later, after our mission term, life was just as I had predicted–my career took a dive. My son’s music career never happened. My daughter didn’t end up in an Ivy League school. My husband did not find a job comparable to his strengths and experience. Yet we gained more than we lost.

Our journey of faith that began with that fortune cookie took us into an experience of complete trust in God and nothing else. We survived political strife, physical hardships, poor health, emotional trials and dangerous conditions. Every day was an adrenaline rush of miracles, a continual supply of blessings. When I was able to give up my vision for myself and obey God’s call instead, God’s plans became my plans, His desires my desires. And in Him, I have found joy abundant even in the worst of times.

Reading Life Between the Lines, Spiritual Musings

measuring life with potato chips and cheesecake

My first few months of missionary life in Nepal were awful. I felt trapped, imprisoned and deprived of necessities like heat in my home, television sitcoms, hot showers, high speed interne, and people who used deodorant. But most of all I was outraged that there was no potato chips or cheesecake. Unable to imagine six years without potato chips and cheesecake, I was an extremely grumpy servant of the Lord.

And then one frigidly cold Friday night, wearing three pairs of woolen socks and wrapped in a thick blanket, I read about Polycarp – A disciple of Apostle John, he was arrested when the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, was persecuting Christians. During the trial, Polycarp was told that the only way to get his freedom was to give up Christ. In response, Polycarp said Eighty-six years have I served Him, and He never did my any injury; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior? Polycarp’s allegiance to his Lord cost him his life. His was bound like a sacrificial lamb and set on fire.  While the flames rose around him, Polycarp looked up into the heavens and said I give You thanks that You have counted me worthy of this day and this hour.

Polycarp made me look and feel like a selfish, whiny crybaby. I gave myself a good mental spanking and vowed to make the most of my six years. The result – I’d go back for another six years if I could! And I’ll always remember that by the second year there was both potato chips AND cheesecake in Nepal!

Life in Nepal, Previously Published

a cup of tea?

This is the last of a series of 12 articles published in the Adventist Review 

“Where can I get a cup of tea?” he asked, winking exaggeratedly. Must be a nervous twitch, I thought as I pointed down the road and said, “Try the blue stall under the big tree.” His request was strange when tea stalls are plain to see along the roads of Nepal. It took several inquiries about tea before I realized there was something more to tea than tea—especially since all the lost tea drinkers seemed to have a nervous twitch.

Tea here is synonymous with gratuity. Someone does you a favor, you slip them some money. And the favor can be as simple as helping you find the bus station or as complicated as getting an ultrasound machine out of the airport customs office.

“Tea” is a contradiction to my clear cut, no-nonsense Adventist way of doing things. When everything is either black or white, life is simple and uncomplicated; every action redeeming or damning. So I want nothing to do with tea–the sleazy kind you pass under the table or the caffeinated kind you slurp.

Lessons learned from my upbringing in a typical, cloistered Adventist campus play my conscience all the time. But reality is that here in Nepal nothing gets done without at least a tiny sip of tea (If you know what I mean). Last year I met a director of Southern Asia Division who has two different business cards. One reflects his position as Brother So and So, Director of Something Good and Pure; while the other insists he owns a tractor company. The card he presents depends on who he is having tea with. He neither moonlights nor gets two pay checks; The two business cards and the lie are connected to his sincere work for the Lord—It’s just that there are places and situations that he can have access to only as the owner of a tractor company.

These low-key, Mafia-like dealings shatter my Adventist black and white, do’s and don’ts system. To add confusion to my already rattled conscience I think of my Ethics class in College where we discussed (without coming to satisfactory conclusions) grey situations –like telling one lie to protect the truth or taking one life to save many. And I think of Mission Institute where we learned about conceptualization and how morality is often intertwined with culture and that missionaries need to be flexible without being intolerant. And I ask myself “Whose standard should guide me? Is there room for compromise? How can I be ‘Christian-ly’ different when I’m easing into their way of doing things?” So many perplexities in so many shades of grey when I step out of my black and white world!

My husband has taken to tea drinking—both kinds. He does it with ease; yet I know he doesn’t like tea—either kind. So I asked him how and why he did it. In his observations and explanations I found understanding.

Tea—the drink—is weak, milky, and extremely sweet. It is offered when you visit a home or an office. To refuse the beverage would be an insult. You can’t claim to be lactose intolerant, diabetic or even just too Adventist. Talking business over a cup of tea binds two people with a shared purpose. Tea—the gratuity—works the same way. You would offend a Nepali by calling  it a bribe.  It’s a gesture of confidence in the person and assures smooth transactions in the future. Nepalis never forget the people they’ve had tea with. You become friends for life (or until you stop having  tea with them).

“Tea is all about building relationships,” was Roy’s closing phrase. “And without relationships, YOU will never get anything done and THEY may never get a glimpse of Christianity.”

I hear many tea drinkers say of my husband: That Christian is a man of his word. A trustworthy man. An honest man. A fair man. May he live a 100 years.

Of me they say nothing. All I get is a wary smile.

What is right, what is wrong? Don’t ask me. One thing’s for sure—”Missionary-ing,” even in Jesus’ day, was done in a very grey world. As for me, even with Roy’s explanation, I continue having trouble seeing the value of compromising my standards in the grey area of tea drinking.

Oh for black and white again where everything is clear!

Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings

strife in the land of peace

An email I sent a friend back in 2006

The strike has been on full swing. Yesterday was the fourth and supposedly the final day. Roy has been itching to defy the strike and go into Kathmandu. Yesterday he got his chance when a patient had to be transferred to a KTM hospital. He rode in the ambulance and saw firsthand the chaos on the streets—burned tires, strewn bricks, destroyed vehicles, angry mobs, etc, etc.

All day, from my living room window I could see demonstrators walking to Dhulikhel from Banepa. Following them were police with tear gas. Every now and then there’s been an explosion and fumes rising up—another vehicle being set on fire! Absolutely no vehicles allowed on the road except for dire emergencies.

At about 3pm, we heard gun shots. A few minutes later our ambulance was called into Banepa. Went there and picked up three gun shot victims. One arrived dead, the other went if for surgery, the third we couldn’t take care of and had to be transferred to Kathmandu. But the problem was that our ambulance was stoned just trying to get the victims from Banepa to the hospital and attempting to go into Kathmandu was too dangerous. Roy was ready to go, but there was a very emotional mob outside the hospital trying to get in and there wasn’t anyone else at Scheer to be forceful enough so he had to stay put and keep the crowd out of the campus. Dr. Silas offered to ride in. [Since yesterday Roy, Silas, and Stuart (Director of Support Services from Australia) have been taking turns riding in the ambulance.]

Meanwhile, Roy and his hickory axe handle stood guard at the hospital gate–It was not that the crowd was angry at Scheer; the Nepali are generally a very emotional people and when they get that way they usually don’t think rationally–There were about 500 people outside and they ALL wanted to come in to check on the wounded. When we wouldn’t allow that they lost what little rationale they had!

Bricks were thrown into the hospital compound, missing Stuart and Eunice by inches, reporters seeking refuge in our compound which agitated the mob even more.

When we called the police to come up the hill and calm the crowd, not one turned up!! A curfew was enforced beginning 5 pm today. At about 6pm things began to calm down.

As scary as all this sounds, everything will be back to normal shortly. We’ve been through this so many times! We are fortunately to always be alerted of when it’s going to be a bad one–and that gives us time to prepare and be ready. The same was true with this strike. We were told by our “sources” what to expect about a month ahead.

Today continues to be curfewed–and there’s an air of apprehension. Employees could not go home last time, no room at the hospital, food is running low, nursing students feel unsafe in their dorm, the wounded keep being brought to the hospital–yet the newspapers only report that three have died so far. We know of many right here in our neighborhood.

Sky thought it was all better than watching TV!

Life in Nepal, Personal Ramblings, Previously Published

the view and the fog

(published 2003, Adventist Review)

Sometimes a fog of discouragement clouds my vision and my view is not very appealing. What once brought pride and satisfaction is now a pathetic sketch of mishaps and coincidences. What once was a source of encouragement is now a sore irritation.

Without a WOW moment in a while, my spirituality is in a slump. When the petty takes control of the day, it’s difficult to remember what it was like just a while ago. Clouds hang heavy at such times. Times like when . . .

I read the chronicles of conversion in other 10-40 window areas and can barely hear a few lethargic sheep bleating in the Nepal fold;

I return from vacation to be bombarded by complaints of irate workers about trivial problems;

I take 3 hours and pass 7 army checkpoints to travel 12 miles to do my weekly shopping;

I find Roy at times too busy being missionary in Nepal to be husband and father;

I read an anonymous letter listing the sins of a church leader in Southern Asia;

I learn that the three new members joined the church because they thought it guaranteed a job.

At such moments I hear a voice telling me “Pack up and leave. NOW.” And I embarrassedly remember the accolades and praises we receive from friends back home—all in admiration of what we are doing in Nepal. If they could only see me now!  The weight of my gloom emphasizes the hypocrite within me. What am I doing here? I should be home, close to my college-age son. I should be concentrating on my career. Is it all worth the spattering of miracles now and then?

Discouragement can be fatal to spirituality. It quickly translates a satisfying spiritual past into a series of superfluous, insignificant blah blah blah’s—noise that drowns out the good and positive.

From the lessons I learned since at my mother’s knee, I know what I must quickly say to the one sucking out my enthusiasm–“Away from me, Satan!” The solution to my negativity is really as simple as that. I need to get the focus off myself, get off my high horse and let go of the reins. In my humanness, the present looks bleak and hopeless. But heaven looks down, sees God in control and cheers the march forwards and upwards.

So I force my unwilling soul to do what is unnatural at the moment—I get down on my knees. I raise my soul heavenwards. I tightly shut my eyes so I can see.  And I see people touched by God’s children passing through this land.

I see Biku Maya. Homeless and illiterate, she can’t understand what goes on in church, but she comes anyway—just to be in God’s house, with God’s people. She comes because someone, a very long time ago, showed her the compassion of Jesus.

I see Aarti. She used to work in her mother’s tea stall from before sunrise to way past sunset. But now she goes to school because John and Ruth who came here as volunteers one summer are giving her the gift of education.

I see Dawachiki. She used to be a beggar outside our walls, but the hospital stepped into her life some 30 years ago. Now she is a ward aide in the hospital and has seen her daughter become a nurse.

I see Surya. She began doing odd jobs around the hospital at the young age of 13. Today she is the hospital’s chief financial officer. Her life is such an intertwining of Adventism that she’s decided to join the church.

I see Bishnu. He struggles with alcoholism in a land that does not recognize it as a disease. The hospital now conducts one of the two Alcoholics Anonymous programs in the country–to bring hope to him and others like him.

I see terrorists, near death, brought to this hospital because they know that here compassion overrides prejudice, hatred, and even fear.

I see women who can now ride the bus and shop on their own because ADRA has taught them to read and count change.

I see these lives touched by those who come and go, those who leave behind a legacy of God’s eternal control over His church, over His people, in this country and everywhere.

Where I am today, the view may not be good, but if I listen hard enough, I hear Him through the din and fog. He tells me “Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9

Life in Nepal, Previously Published

in spite of the what if’s

(Published in Adventist Review, 2003)

Backpack slung over his shoulder, Raymond, a blue collar factory worker, rides the Singapore transit bus every day. All week long his routine is the same, broken by moments when he tucks a few dollars in the envelope that stays in his backpack.

Every time we make plans for Singapore something comes up; the last time it was SARS. But now we’re finally vacationing in Singapore. And we’re invited to share our Nepal experiences with a small group on Friday night. As the meeting begins, a simple, unassuming young man walks in. Introducing himself as Raymond, he remains strangely quiet and intent while we speak.

After a week’s work, Raymond welcomes the Sabbath with Friday night vespers. This evening there are visitors from Nepal. He listens with great interest and sympathy–about children stunted in growth from lack of protein, about the imprisonment of those proselytizing, about patients who walk for days to get medical care; about God watching over His children.

Vespers is over and we are walking to the bus. As always it was a temptation to slip in a pitch for money. But we didn’t. Just shared experiences and left the finances to God. Looking over my shoulder I see Raymond trying to catch up with us. Tagging along, he is very curious, asks questions, says he will pray for us. His enthusiasm is a bit unnerving! We say goodbye and go our separate way.

Raymond thinks about the envelope in his backpack, wondering if the contents should go to help Nepal. Tossing and turning in bed over his dilemma, he finally decides to give the money to Nepal IF he runs into the Klines in the Union office the next morning. The Klines were staying at the guestroom on the third floor and he attended the church on the first floor so the chances of running into them were pretty good. The next morning Raymond arrives early and is on the lookout for the Klines

Jetlagged, we wake up late Sabbath morning. We have mission story at a church 20 minutes away by bus so we get dressed in a hurry and rush out the back door, avoiding the people gathered by the church downstairs. Of course we have no idea that Raymond is at the other door looking for us as Gideon looked for water on his fleece. We stay for potluck and visit with church members. It’s getting late and someone offers us a ride, saving us time and a long bus ride back.

Church is over, so is potluck. Yet there’s no sign of the Klines. Thinking that perhaps his feelings about giving them the money wasn’t really from the spirit, Raymond picks up his backpack and heads towards the door. And what do you know! The Klines walk in!

Walking into the Union office I see Raymond. I can’t quite figure out the look on his face. As if he has a secret to tell, he pulls me aside. Then he takes out an envelope from his backpack and says that he’s been carrying it around for a very long time, adding to it every now and then.

“The Lord wants me to give this for His work in Nepal” he says simply.

“God bless you for responding to the Holy Spirit,” I respond. “Can I have your mailing address to send you a receipt?”

“I don’t need a receipt when the money is where God wants” replies Raymond. When I insist, Raymond scribbles his address on the envelope, hands it to me, and leaves with a quick goodbye.

I count the money. Once again I’m stumped by Providence. I ask my family to guess how much was in the envelope. Considering what they’ve learned of Raymond, they begin to guess—10 dollars. 100 dollars. No one goes over 200. But inside the envelope is 2000 dollars. A lot of money for anyone, let alone a factory worker, to save—and give away!

Now what if our Singapore plans had been foiled again? What if Raymond had skipped vespers that weekend? What if we didn’t get the ride that brought us to the Union office just in time to meet Raymond? What if we had entered the back door while Raymond was leaving through the front door?

So many what-if’s could have deprived Raymond and us of our experience. But God’s plans prevail in spite of the what-if’s. Be it here where I am or way over there where you are, God brings you and me opportunities together for His glory.


Life in Nepal, Previously Published

the club

(published 2003, Adventist Review)

Ten feet tall, it stands in my front lawn on a well worn patch of dirt, symbolizing the differences between the worlds on either side of the fence. The basketball hoop is as uncommon a sight in Banepa as is a 225-pound, 6-foot, bearded 17-year-old.  And it doesn’t take long for a crowd of children to gather on the other side, wagering on Jez’s shot and his age!

The differences between both sides of the fence are many, caused mainly by the dark cloud of inescapable poverty that hangs over the other side. Undernourished and underprivileged, children here are small in stature, resigned to their fate and starved for fun. Often they have only their imagination and someone else’s trash to provide entertainment–A bicycle wheel turns into a hoola-hoop, the discarded wheels of a chair convert to a skateboard. I’ve even seen a rock take the place of a ball! Such is their life–void of childhood, forced into the role of breadwinner before reaching puberty. In their world only the fit and tough survive and principles are dictated by the lack of equity: For example, it is acceptable to take from those who have more; it is foolish to aspire to be more than what your caste dictates; it is unnecessary to say thank you when the gift is given out of abundance. Theirs is a world where life is what the gods have predestined one to have—or not to have.

Befriending those on the other side sometimes has a negative effect on their already low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority. One-on-one relationships oftentimes only emphasize the disparity that is very real and cannot be combated with gifts or goodwill. In an effort to address this bleak, fatalistic attitude, the Club was begun by the Shrestha family where the father is Nepali and the mother American.  The Shresthas’ bicultural environment helped steer the kids across the fence into a non-threatening group setting, away from the seeming opulence of our lifestyle.

They came in little groups—curious yet intimidated by and apprehensive of the mixing of the worlds. Soon The Club was the talk of the town. There was basketball, volleyball, parties, games, crafts, and lots of fun. However it wasn’t long before they discovered that in order to experience the “fun,” they had to sit through a Christian meeting. This was a “Pathfinder” Club!

Like forcing dinner down just to have dessert, they sat in polite silence through our worship. This was understandable since the majority of them were Hindu and what was said had little relevance to them. But a few months later, they began to show some interest: They actually listened to the stories, asked questions, memorized verses, and even came on time for worship. A few more months went by and they were attending Friday night vespers and Sabbath School classes. By the end of the first year, several joined the pastor’s baptismal class and some formed a music band called “Mukti” (Salvation).

When the Shresthas moved back to the US, Jez took over as Pathfinder leader. Watching him take pride in his “children,” I remembered his days as a member of the Spencerville Pathfinder Club in Maryland. Of course, the Pathfinder Club of Banepa SDA Fellowship cannot be compared to the one at Spencerville where fun involved ski trips, theme parks and Camporees. Here donations are needed even for the paper needed to make airplanes. And the Banepa kids will probably never get to a Camporee. However, be it The Club in Spencerville or the one here in Banepa, the end product is the same: an environment that fosters relationships– with Jesus and with one another.

The Club here initiates young men and women into a new kind of life and gives them a fresh perspective. At The Club they learn that life has possibilities, not limitations; that talents are to be nurtured, not stifled; that fulfillment comes from sharing and not hoarding; that the future is what you make of it, not what is handed to you; that God is not someone who sits on a pedestal but one stays beside you—no matter what.