“We need teachers!”

A few weeks ago we shared some of the options for educating mission kids abroad.  Today our guest blogger, Debbie Drew, shares her appreciation of the role of teachers, and the need for more of them at mission schools like Kathmandu International Study Centre (KISC).

Sometimes when I am sharing about our need for teachers to teach children like ours, people respond, “I would be willing to come to Nepal, but I’d want to work with the Nepalis not the expats”.  I understand the sentiment; the desire, given the sacrifice of career, salary and closeness to family and friends, to make a difference where it matters most and to be among the neediest.  But that also reflects a limited view of the impact a school like KISC has.  I see it in two ways.

KISC aims to provide excellent education, primarily to the mission community.  It exists to nurture and educate our children.  “Third culture kids” (TCKs) is a term coined to describe children raised in a culture other than their parents’, such as children in the military, business and diplomatic circles as well as overseas mission.  Research has shown some unique traits in these children.

They can connect with many cultures, but can struggle to feel ownership of any.  They become skilled at building connections quickly because they live in a place where friends come and go frequently, but they live with the perpetual grief of missing friends who have moved on.  This way of life can build resilience and flexibility, but TCKs can also feel they don’t know where home is, they can find long-term relationships difficult due to the frequency of transitions and they can struggle to reintegrate back into their passport country.

KISC provides an understanding international community that accepts, understands and supports these children through all they face. All four of our children, each very different in character, absolutely love being part of KISC.

The second impact KISC has is that it enables the parents to work in Nepal.  I could fill a book with the amazing stories of the work people are involved in… kick-starting businesses, anti-trafficking work, supporting the young Nepali church and so on.  If the school wasn’t here, most of the parents wouldn’t be either.  The impact is immeasurable.

I found tears streaming down my face whilst writing this, as I’ve reflected on all God has provided for our children, usually against the odds.  Sometimes I’m tired of the pace of change and uncertainty we’ve been through and worry what the long-term effects on our children will be.  Will we have regrets about the choices we’ve made?  It’s upsetting to see their already small community of friends come and go.  It’s hard not to be distracted with wondering if we will have enough teachers next year.  And I know they miss out on some things by not being in the UK (even though they gain in other areas).

And yet I know that God cares for our children and time and again has provided for them.  I am especially encouraged by their outlook on the world – they are truly global citizens that care passionately about war and peace, justice and the environment because they have seen first-hand the effects on people.  They have learnt that God is with them in the tough times.  And don’t we all have to trust our children into God’s hands whatever our situation?

KISC (and most other mission schools like it) desperately needs staff.  You can find more information on the KISC Facebook page or at www.kisc.edu.np/vacancies.
Debbie is a Trustee of KISC, and together with her husband Chris and their four children, serves as a mission worker in Kathmandu with International Nepal Fellowship.

The long and winding road…

img_20161014_144243Many of us will be familiar with the tortuous roads which wind up and down the hillsides in the mountainous countries where much of our mission work takes place.  We seem to spend a lot of time zigzagging up and down to get relatively short distances, often going in completely the wrong direction.  Once when in Nepal I took several hours to walk little more than a mile (on the map) going down a precipitous route into a gorge, and slogging wearily up the other side to a village which was within sight of the place I had set out from.

Changing the metaphor this week from rail to road, this is an image of the lives some of us are having to lead right now.  Appearing to go in the wrong direction, taking the long way round, burdened by our heavy load, instead of finding a cute Alpine cable car to take us across the valley to where we want to be.  In our busy, purpose-driven lives, we focus on the achievement, the goal, or the destination and feel frustrated.  Yet we often lose sight of the fact that the journey has a value of its own.  Like many of us who travel a lot, we don’t enjoy the travelling so much as the arriving, yet the journey itself has much to teach us.

In the Bible, roads feature a lot.  People are often travelling and we find that the stony, winding tracks of ancient Israel were places of encounter with prophets, wild animals, angels, armies, muggers, or estranged family.  Battles, funerals and processions took place.  Roads are places of revelation and teaching.  Many of Jesus’ recorded conversations took place as they were walking somewhere.  Just the phrase “the road to…” can be followed by Emmaus, Damascus, Jericho or Azotus for widely differing experiences.

At the moment, those of us who can’t get back to our designated field may feel rather like the traveller on the road to Jericho: beaten, confused, frightened, or vulnerable.  Not unlike the two discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus, and we know what experience enthused them so much that they went seven miles back to Jerusalem in the dark.  They met Jesus on the road.

Have you met Jesus on your particular road?  What is Jesus explaining to you that you didn’t understand?  What revelation do you have that can transform your mourning into joy?  And if you can’t answer those questions, what time have you made to listen to Jesus, even as you continue walking?

One of my favourite road events concerns a widow about to bury her only son (Luke 7:11-17).  As the funeral cortege leaves the village on its way to the graveyard, it meets a procession coming the other way.  It’s Jesus and his followers.  They, no doubt, are a happy crowd, telling stories of the amazing teaching and healing they have received.  For a moment both crowds stop, unable to pass each other without breaking formation.  An awkward quietness falls over the disciples, who shuffle to the side of the road.  Then Jesus steps forward, and with one sentence transforms the situation.  Joy triumphs over grief.  Life over death.  One journey is no longer necessary, and the procession suddenly has a lot more disciples as they flock joyfully back into the village together.

How is Jesus transforming your journey?

Derailed?

Sderailedeveral of my acquaintances in the mission world are struggling to return to their field of mission due to difficulties getting visas.  It prompts me to reflect on how people are facing the challenges of not being at home, having to homeschool children, not being able to do their work, and trying hard to support their colleagues remotely.  Often these people have also overstayed their welcome in family homes, inadvertently found they’ve become liable for UK taxation, and had to hand back the Syzygy car they’ve borrowed because somebody else had already booked it.

This situation has led to many feelings of frustration and confusion.  Some people struggle to connect with God, and some are angry with God, because they know they have a calling to do a specific work and God has not opened the door for them to do it.  They feel as if their life and ministry has been derailed, and the longer it goes on, the more confused they become:  “Why is God stopping me what he has called me to do?”

Paul appears to have experienced this problem too (Acts 16:6-10).  He and his team were trying to move on and couldn’t figure out where to go next.  It appears that they were prevented from going to several different places.  Yet at no stage does Luke attribute the blockages to demonic activity or human opposition – it is always God who has stopped them going somewhere.  One gets the sense that God was shutting doors that they were tempted to take in order to get them to take seriously the new one he was about to open.  That was immediately prior to the Macedonian vision which took Paul into Europe for the first time.

Some years ago I participated in a security briefing where hostage negotiator Phil Harper pointed out that our mission to reach out to other people with the gospel never ceases, even if we are kidnapped!  Many of us think in the narrow terms of our specialist focus, rather than broader calling we all share.  If you have a calling (for example) to Nepal but can’t get back there, why not think a bit broader?  What about seeking out a Nepali community in the UK and working with them?  Or going to India where there are many Nepali economic migrants?

Sometimes God shuts doors before he opens new ones.  Mission workers of the China Inland Mission, ejected from China after the communist revolution, realised for the first time that they could go to the Chinese diaspora instead, in cities like Bangkok and Singapore.  Then they realised that other Asian peoples needed the gospel too, and OMF came into being, now working in many east Asian countries and with diaspora groups globally.  This might never have happened if they’d all stayed in China.

If you know people with visa problems, please pray for this specific area of their lives, that God would open doors for them that nobody else can shut.  Even if they’re doors they didn’t expect.  Pray that they would experience clear guidance.  Pray that they will not feel ‘derailed’ but will take the opportunity to do mission work wherever they are.

 

Should I stay or should I go?

ClashKnowing when to leave is always one of the biggest challenges for mission workers, particularly when a crisis occurs.  A topical application of this issue would be the earthquakes in Nepal, as a result of which some mission workers have left the country, whether by their own choice or because their church or agency chose to withdrawn them.  Other mission workers stayed.  Who has made the right decision?

A few years ago, in a discussion facilitated by Emma Dipper, a group of HR managers were asked how risk-averse they had been when they were living abroad.  Most of us were so un-averse that we could be considered irresponsible, gung-ho mavericks.  We were then asked to think through how risk-averse we are when we think about the mission workers in the field for whom we currently have responsibility.  As we thought that through, we realised we would hit the panic button much quicker.  We would pull people out quickly because we had health and safety responsibilities, issues concerning ‘due care’, and trustees with legal responsibility holding us accountable.

red buttonGiven the litigious nature of western culture, it’s not surprising some churches and agencies would pull their people out of Nepal.  Suppose a mission worker were killed in the second earthquake, or one of the 200+ aftershocks, and the agency were sued by an angry relative.  We would be unable to mount an effective defence, knowing there had been a risk but not having done anything to mitigate it.  So it seems prudent to pull our people out, even if they don’t want to leave.  We have to consider the agency’s reputation.  But this will also give the mission workers huge guilt issues – they’ve had the luxury of going to a safe place while their local friends have to sleep outdoors and hunt for clean water.  Have they run away, or deserted their posts?  What will their Nepali neighbours think when the Christians run away at the first sign of trouble?

Those who stayed in Nepal are having a huge impact, channeling relief funding, facilitating reconstruction, organising counselling and debriefing for traumatised Nepalis, and demonstrating the love of God in their commitment to staying.  Many Nepalis will be encouraged that they cared enough to stay when they could so easily have left.  But the price is the trauma the mission workers will suffer, and their fear for their children.

The Bible leaves us with no easy answers either.  Jesus walked determinedly into Jerusalem knowing that he would be killed but on an earlier occasion slipped away from a mob in Nazareth that wanted to lynch him.  Noah built a boat to escape in, and must have been traumatised by the cries of those trying to escape the flood whom he didn’t let in.  No wonder he took to drink afterwards!  Paul was bundled unceremoniously out of Damascus to save his life, yet on other occasions showed uncommon bravery.  Yet the general tenor of the New Testament is that we should expect to suffer.

Perhaps our best hope of a making an appropriate decision is to ask the local church.  They will be much more aware than we are whether our ongoing presence in their community is likely to bring danger or protection, or to help clear up or be a hindrance.  At least one agency I know of makes all their personnel responsible to the national church leadership, so that the decision to evacuate is taken out of the hands both of the mission worker and the church/agency.  Perhaps that’s a new paradigm for missions – trust the locals to make good decisions!

Earthquake in Nepal

62 - Anna with PalomaHearing about the terrible disaster in Nepal last weekend reminded me of a time a few years ago when I led a short-term trip to Peru.  We landed just one hour after a major earthquake and after some discussion changed our programme to travel to the disaster area and help feed people, and start clearing up.

Shortly after we arrived, a young Peruvian girl carrying a crying toddler came up to one of our team members and, saying nothing, handed the toddler over to her.  Somewhat surprised, our team member set about comforting the toddler, and while the rest of us went about our work, she spent the rest of the day playing with the toddler and encouraging her to eat.  By the end of the day she had one happy child with her.

Later on, when we had all returned to our base, she said to me “I don’t know what that accomplished”.  What she didn’t know until I told her, was that the toddler had lost both parents in the earthquake, and hadn’t stopped crying for seven days.

It underlines one of Syzygy’s mantras for world mission: it doesn’t take much to make a difference – you just have to be there.

Many Christians, both Nepalese nationals and foreign mission workers, will be making a difference in the aftermath of the earthquake as they help to clear up and comfort the afflicted, even while suffering with their own fear, uncertainty and grief.  Please pray for them to be effective and for the Nepalese people to see the love of Jesus at work in their communities through them.

If you want to donate money to help, why not avoid the uncertainty of the international bureaucracy and mass appeals, and give directly to a Christian charity which has been working in Nepal for over 60 years – INF.  You can give through their website at www.inf.org/earthquake-appeal-europe.

Featured ministry: Koshish Nepal

KoshishMatrika grew up the youngest of 3 brothers in a small village in the hilly Nepali district of Gorkha.  He attended a mission school and by the age of 15 had shown himself to be one of the top students, with a bright future ahead of him.  Then he was struck by illness:  pounding headaches, pains throughout his body, choking sensations, and constant tiredness.

As months passed, even writing became an overwhelming task and by the time he took his high school leaving certificate he barely achieved a passing grade.  Despite suffocating feelings of hopelessness and failure, including an impending sense of death, Matrika pressed on to take a 2 year certificate in forestry.  His mother was very religious and as he struggled through his illness, Matrika often considered what lay after death, but he found little appealing in the options presented by his mother’s Hindu faith.  By then in his early twenties, Matrika remembered his missionary teacher and a missionary doctor whom he knew, and how they had endured many difficulties living as foreigners in Gorkha.  Speaking with the doctor, and later reading a Christian pamphlet, Matrika found the comfort he was looking for and turned to Jesus Christ with his life.

Souce: (www.sxc.hu)

Despite his new-found faith, Matrika continued to struggle with his illness.  His sense of hopelessness and extreme anxiety led to his isolation from friends and neighbours who saw him as a lazy, good-for-nothing youth who would do better to pull himself together and get a job.  It was only when a neighbour  suggested he might see a psychiatrist at the nearby mission hospital that Matrika finally got an explanation for his crippling illness.

10 years after it first struck him, Matrika was diagnosed with unipolar depression.  He spent the next 5 years coming to terms with his illness and investigating treatment options as he tried to cope with the heavy side-effects of anti-depressants.  Matrika prayed fervently that God would heal him so that he could become independent of these medications, but that did not happen; in his own words “it is good, it reminds me of my true situation”.

While starting work as a forester, Matrika continued to ponder his situation and that of the many other people he encountered in daily life whom he could see were also struggling with mental illness.  He had a vision from God in which he saw a channel of water carrying love to dry, desert banks, but wondered how God could use him when he himself was so weak in his own mental health.  He now understands that “having this pain in my own life allows me to have not sympathy, but empathy from my heart” for others with mental illness.  After a few periods of working with mental health NGO’s, Matrika enrolled for a Bachelors in Social Work.

photo_98706From the earliest days of his own treatment, Matrika has made an effort to respond practically to the needs of those with mental illness.  Keshar was such a person: a young Christian man with a steady job at a hospital, he became ill with schizophrenia and, like so many, ended up living alone on the street.  He was distinctly recognizable, expressing his mental isolation in the wearing of layers and layers of stinking rags so that he looked like a perverse Michelin man.

Matrika, armed with the dual confidence of his training and God’s calling, as well as the financial support of a woman involved in Keshar’s childhood, stepped in with appropriate legal measures to have Keshar taken into residential care for the administration of his medicines.  Several years on, Keshar lives a simple but contented life as part of Matrika’s family.  A member of the church choir in his youth, he now writes folk songs that raise awareness about mental illness.

In August 2008, one month before he passed his final exams, he established and registered Koshish Nepal, a national mental health self-help organisation.  “Koshish” is the Nepali word for “making an effort”; the organisation works in advocacy and awareness-raising to have mental health recognized as an essential element of overall health, to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and to have treatments included in the country’s primary health care system.  A defining feature of the organisation is its inclusion in its governance and membership of those who themselves are living with mental illness.

awareness1Koshish continues to be involved in the rescue of mentally ill persons who are imprisoned by their families or living homeless on the street.  In 2011, Koshish opened a transit home for homeless women with mental illness, where they receive treatment and are stabilized before efforts to reintegrate them back to their families and communities.  Koshish continues to advocate for people with mental illness and last year Matrika won the prestigious Dr Guislain Award as recognition for his efforts.

You can read more about the work of Koshish on their website – http://koshishnepal.org/ – and donate to the charity through the website of the United Methodist Church.

This article was written by Deirdre Zimmerman, a long-term development worker in Nepal.

Enculturation or resistance – a dilemma for Nepali believers

Nepal“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” Hebrews 12.14

In a country where 95% of the population is Hindu, we live in an environment where almost all our Nepali neighbours, colleagues and friends are Hindu.  This weekend was Holi, one of the multiple Hindu festivals that punctuate the calendar here on an almost weekly basis.  Like many such festivals, its origins vary greatly, but in Nepal it is associated with the god Krishna who is known for his playfulness and his charm with women.

The festival, appropriately known as the festival of colours, is celebrated by showering friends and family with water and coloured powders.  Excitement builds as brightly coloured water pistols of different sizes appear in the shops.  Many find it hard to wait for the day itself, and for up to 2 weeks beforehand children and teenagers will delight to throw water balloons at unsuspecting passers-by.  Our boys were thrilled when visitors left a gift of two water pistols for them.  We were less thrilled at having to face the issue as to whether or not they should be allowed play Holi, even as several other missionary families from school planned water parties for the day.

These festivals however raise serious questions for many Nepali Christians.  Their frequency and their interwoven-ness with social life here are a significant challenge to separating oneself from Hindu religious practice and ritual, something the church feels is essential to its identity.  Hinduism is a religion that embraces multiple deities, religious teachings and practices, and many Hindus are happy to include Jesus Christ in their pantheon of gurus and leaders.  The church feels it is important to take a stand that clearly reflects their faithfulness to Christ as their one and only Saviour, without the confusion of practices that may have Hindu origins.

Weddings are an example of an occasion that is steeped in Hindu rituals, and thus it is that Christians not only marry in a church ceremony, but that the brides also generally wear a Western style pink or white gown. The fear is that the traditional red and gold wedding sari may carry some significance for Hindu observers and prevent them from clearly distinguishing the Christian faith.  Dashai is the largest Hindu festival in Nepal, lasting several days and involving much animal sacrifice and the exchange of Hindu tikka between family members.  Associated with long holidays and much socializing, non-Christians tend to liken it to our Christmas (we beg to differ!).  But for many Nepali Christians, it is a time of real conflict, feeling isolated from their community and being torn between their family and their faith.  To borrow the allegory, imagine if you as an individual had to choose not to participate in any aspect of the Christmas festivities your friends and family enjoy: the parties, decorations, meals, gifts, let alone the religious ceremonies.  The church is aware of the immense pressure and sense of isolation that many feel at this time, and so usually organises several days of events at churches for Christians to attend and enjoy together, including meals served with meat (butchered, not sacrificed) as a treat.

Some outsiders criticise what they see as the church’s inability to distinguish between cultural and religious practice, and its failure to explore a truly Nepali expression of Christianity.  They fear that this attitude only reinforces the concept that Christianity is a foreign religion and that Nepali Christians are not truly Nepali, an accusation frequently made by Hindu fundamentalists.  But I am not sure that any of us non-Nepalis can fully understand their experience as a minority (at times, persecuted) faith in this country, nor their struggle for recognition in a land where the ‘secular’ government provides massive subsidies for Hindu sites and festivals.  Many Nepali Christians report that even in this day when Nepal is supposed to have freedom of religion, some Christians experience being cut out of their inheritance, denied land that is rightfully theirs, or being thrown out of their families because they have converted.  It is not an easy or light choice that people make, and they usually endure far more than we ever will for their faithfulness to Christ.

So what to do about our boys valid hopes to try out their new water pistols, and join in the water fights and fun outside our apartment for Holi?  At church, we referred the matter to our Nepali pastor, who gently but unwaveringly stated that none of the other children from the church would be playing Holi.  After the service, the church showed a film and provided snacks for the congregation as alternative entertainment for the afternoon.  Our family instead braved the streets again and went home for our ‘traditional’ sabbath nap.  When the boys woke up, the children next door were already out on the empty lot waiting for Mark to start a game of baseball.  Grabbing mitts and bat, the boys headed out, water pistols left lying in our storeroom, waiting for another day.

This blog is an edited version of an article by Deirdre Zimmerman, a long-term development worker in Nepal, where she lives with her husband Mark and two sons.  To read the full version, follow this link.

Mission report: Nepal

Mount Everest

Until a few years ago, Nepal was proud of being the world’s only Hindu kingdom.  Now it is neither Hindu nor a kingdom.  The constitutional settlement which deposed King Gyandendra in 2008 also introduced secularism, although approximately 80% of the population is Hindu.  So now Nepal is mostly famous for its altitude, since eight of the world’s ten highest mountains are in this small landlocked country, or on its borders, including of course Mount Everest.  In sharp contrast, in the south of the country the tropical lowlands are a mere 100m above sea level.  The country’s other claim to fame is having the world’s only national flag which is not rectangular.

My recent two-week visit involved a lot of trekking in the foothills amid breathtaking scenery, but also provided some amazing ministry opportunities.  Each day I shared a message on ‘The spiritual significance of topographical features in the Bible’, and with topics like mountains, rivers, trees and rocks there was plenty of opportunity to meditate on these while walking between villages in the Annapurna foothills.  Every now and again I would meet Christians from the city, who had migrated into the hills to find employment in the hostels catering for backpackers, or I would find modest little church buildings by the wayside.  Even in the Himalayas there are believers unashamed of the gospel!  I also had the opportunity to pray with some of them, and to witness to non-Christians I met.  I even did an impromptu Bible study with a man I gave a Nepali New Testament to.  Please pray for him to read it and find Jesus through it.

Back in Kathmandu, Aanandit (= ‘rejoicing’) Church in the suburb of Imadole is one of a group of four planted under the enthusiastic leadership of Milan Adhikari, who spent a year in England training with Ichthus.  I had the privilege of preaching there and of praying for the sick.  It was exciting to find that many churches in Nepal are non-denominational, and while there can be disagreements between them, they tend to focus on what they have in common rather than what divides them.  Truly refreshing!

Christians in Nepal tend not to be seriously persecuted, although they may well be passively victimised by being passed over for promotion.  Nevertheless, in a meeting with the president of the Armed Forces Christian Association I was encouraged to find that they have some 500 members, including a major and a police inspector.  However, a significant cause for concern is the draft text of the new constitution, which will make it an offence to try to convert somebody to your religion.  Not only will this outlaw evangelism, it may affect the activities of Christian organisations which run hospitals or schools, since this may also be interpreted as evangelistic activity.

A Nepali Christian

One such organisation is the International Nepal Fellowship (http://www.inf.org/) which has a variety of projects including the Green Pastures Hospital in Pokhara which I visited.  An impressively efficient establishment, largely run by Nepali people, it was originally founded to treat leprosy patients, but as numbers have dwindled it has evolved into a spinal injuries unit as well.  Ironically, like many such establishments in the current economic climate, it has no difficulty raising large grants to build new facilities but struggles to find the money for the running costs.

I also had the opportunity to visit the highly-respected Dr Mark Zimmerman of the Nick Simons Institute (http://www.nsi.edu.np) and hear about his significant work training health workers in some of the poorest regions of a poor country.  Many of the outlying areas get neglected, and because they are remote and have poor facilities, many healthcare professionals refuse to work there.  The solution is partly to upgrade facilities like schools to make the rural areas more attractive, and partly to train the existing healthcare workers so that they are more multi-skilled.

Please pray:

  • for the Christians in Nepal, that their churches would thrive and take advantage of the current peace that Christians will continue to have the legal freedom to evangelise;
  • that the gospel would spread among the armed forces, and that people at senior levels of government would meet Jesus;
  • that a new generation of church leaders would be bold, zealous and equipped for the task;
  • that funding would continue to be available to Christian charities working in Nepal.

Visit http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=289551&id=625609602&l=12d06f0aeb for more pictures.