Faces of Kathmandu

One of the most important parts of this trip to Nepal is meeting real people. The more we truly see them and get to know them, albeit often briefly, the more we grow to love the people and not just the country. Sonia and I have a growing fondness for the Nepali people. They are humble, warm and welcoming. The following are some of the interesting men, women and children we met in Kathmandu. Some of the best photos are taken by my wife. She has an eye for really “seeing” people.

Bricklayer

Brick Layer: I told this man I liked his shirt and asked if I could take a picture of him. He was so happy to be asked, he stopped what he was doing and posed with this huge smile on his face. They were rebuilding a fallen wall of a school that one of our missionary friends attended as a child.

Woman_on_Sidewalk

Sidewalk Saleswoman: When you walk down many of the streets of Kathmandu, the sidewalks are filled with people selling everything. And I do mean everything. Everything from fruit to jewelry to rubber slippers to fried spicy meat to sweat pants to cellphone accessories. This woman happened to be selling spices along with her friend. Sonia admired the rich tone of her skin and asked if she could take her picture. The woman shyly obliged.

Suga

Instant Intimate: This young man, named Suga, was crammed next to me on the minibus during rush hour. There were 16 people in this tiny little van. It felt like the small car that dozens of clowns squeeze into at the circus. He is a website developer. Bright and open. His English was excellent. Most Nepalis speak quite a bit of English learning through the school system. I had a great conversation with Suga. How could I not? I was practically sitting on his lap!

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Tough Guys: These guys were moving into a disaster area with great intent until I asked if I could take their picture. The one on the right quickly called his buddy back and suddenly gave me tough-guy military face. Kind of reminded me of my first driver’s license picture. His friend obviously missed the memo not to smile.

Boy_Working_MinibusBus Hustler: Minibuses drive along the street and young boys shout out the window where they’re heading to. If you want to go in that direction, they stop to pick you up. Sometimes the boys literally jump out of the open sliding door and walk alongside the moving bus to further convince people on the sidewalk to come with them. This young salesman was the best we met. Persistent and charming. It cost us 20 rupees each to go most places. That’s 20 cents US!

Nepal_Baby

Beautiful Baby: One of my favorite pictures, taken by Sonia. This baby’s mother approached us for money. We helped her and then she agreed to have her baby’s picture taken. A digital photo cannot fully capture the exquisite beauty of her eyes.

Man_by_Bus

Man in Anguish: This man kept holding his head and rocking. It was painful to watch but so indicative of the feelings of many people. I have to confess this was an unsolicited candid shot from my hip.

Kids_in_Water

Typical Boys: There were many people living in tents is this large public park. When we entered, we saw some of the boys jumping into this inactive water fountain. The water was extremely filthy but they were having a blast. Typical boys no matter what country.

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Wooed by the Father’s Heart

Seeta

Yesterday, we had the privilege of meeting Seeta. She is a faithful servant of Christ who serves with INF. Although she is currently on sabbatical, she was nice enough to meet with us over tea. Yes, tea. Everyone has tea here. She has a wealth of insight and experience in life and ministry within Nepal. We were so blessed by our time with Seeta but I was especially moved by her personal testimony.

Seeta was born in India but raised in Nepal. Her father passed away when she was very young. Obviously, this made life extremely difficult for her, her mom and her three sisters especially in a culture that is male-centric. Although her family were Buddhists, Seeta was sent to a school that was started and led by Christian missionaries. She learned about the God of the Bible through daily chapel times and Bible class. As a child, the one thing that stood out about this God was the way that He was described in Psalm 68:5,

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

Seeta was fatherless and her mother was a widow. She wondered if this God genuinely had a heart for her and her family. As she grew older, she cried out to this God to prove himself as described in Psalm 68. And guess what?…He did. Over the years, she saw God answer her prayers and she came to fully know and trust Jesus as her Savior when she was in college. When she looked back on her life before faith, she also recognized the Father was watching out for her even before she came to know His name.

I was so moved by Seeta’s testimony. Partly because she lost her father around the same age I was when I lost mine. But mostly because her heart longed for the Father and it was His heart that initially drew her to Himself.

At one point, I asked her, “out of all of the millions of gods that the Hindus worship, have you ever heard of one that was specifically a provider of the fatherless or protector of widows?” She said, “Never.” I said, “Are you sure? Out of millions, there is not one?” She replied, “Not one.”

Wow!! That’s Seeta’s God! That’s her Father! He is so drastically unlike any other god of this world! There is none like Him. He sits high above all others and yet his heart beats for the fatherless and widows. That’s my God! That’s my Father! Before departing for this trip, I was praying that I would see the Father’s heart in Nepal. I definitely did through Seeta’s life yesterday!

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Remembering Why We Came

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After a 15-hour flight from LAX to Guangzhou, a 14-hour layover in China and a 3-hour flight to Nepal, we arrived safely in Kathmandu last night, Thursday, 10:45pm local time. The trip over here was an adventure in of itself. Seemingly endless hours on a plane and crossing over countless time zones does funny things to your internal clock. My body wants to eat and sleep when our new destinations tell us it’s not time to yet. Because our layover was so long in Guangzhou, the airline gave us a hotel room to rest in. After a while, it almost felt like we were on a trip to China rather than Nepal. On top of that, watching movies on the plane thrusted me into the top-secret spy world of Great Britain (The Kingsmen), led me to explore grief and mental illness amongst Philadelphia Eagle fanatics (Silver Linings Playbook), exposed me to corruption in the fuel industry of the 1980’s (A Most Violent Year) and enlisted me into the battles for Middle Earth (The Hobbit). Put it all together in a 24-hour period and it’s easy to forget where you’re going and why. With my mind wandering and my body dizzied, everything was put to rest the minute we landed in Kathmandu. Sitting across from us in the plane was a young man from Canada coming to visit his family in Nepal. His homemade sign was a brilliant reminder of where and why we were called. Continue to pray for us. More importantly, continue to pray for Nepal!

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Durga Maya

This an inspiring testimony of a Nepali woman named Durga Maya. We leave tomorrow for Katmandu. Can’t wait to hear and witness testimonies like hers as God redeems the land and people of Nepal.

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Fear, Faith, Foolishness

In four days, we leave for Nepal.

I am excited to write that. Correction-I am VERY excited to write that. Despite all that transpired this past month, it is crystal clear that God has called me and Sonia to go and serve the missionaries and people of this shaken country.

Getting to this point has not been simple. There have been so many times this trip could have (and maybe should have) been cancelled in light of the earthquakes. Even after we were confirmed to go following the initial 7.8 quake, only a few days ago, a 7.3 “aftershock” rocked the earth near Mt. Everest. Every time something new is reported, loved ones call or email wondering if we are still going. We appreciate their concern for our safety. It contributes to the process of discernment in determining our call to go.

Obviously, the most important thing is to figure out what God wants and then to do it. I understand that this is not elementary. God can speak to us through circumstances, desires and wise counsel but ultimately it is His Spirit and His Word that are final. God used all of those means to confirm our call to Nepal.

Another way I process through decisions like this is using a simple template that looks like this:

FEAR – FAITH – FOOLISHNESS

FEAR: On one end of the spectrum is fear. Fear is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear measures the costs, anticipates the outcomes, and weighs the consequences. Healthy fear keeps us from jumping off buildings, putting our hands on hot stoves or wearing those spandex pants that look good on yoga models but have no business being in my closet (or on my body).

The Proverbs remind us that healthy fear is a fear of the Lord. Godly fear is the beginning of all understanding and wisdom. It frees us to live with humility and confidence. But unhealthy fear stifles. Ungodly fear takes our eyes off of God and fixes them solely on what is known, measurable and predictable. But, God’s not like that so ungodly fear can paralyze obedience because His call will inevitably involve mystery and the unknown. Let us not forget that His ways and his thoughts are so much higher than ours.

I think most of us, Westernized, Enlightenment-saturated Christians tend toward this end of the spectrum. If we can’t measure it and determine it, we are fearful to do it, even if the Lord is calling. We like to be in control. At least, we like to think we are. When we do only what we understand comprehensively, then our world shrinks drastically. No wonder so many believers falsely conclude that the Christian life is boring.

FOOLISHNESS: On the other end of the spectrum is foolishness. Unlike fear, foolishness is not concerned about the costs or the consequences. Foolishness is willing to do things that don’t necessarily make sense. That’s not necessarily bad. It’s what made my wife marry me. Love tends to do that. Without this kind of “foolishness,” forgiveness would not be possible. It makes no sense to relinquish your right to be angry when you’ve been wronged especially when it’s the 7 x 70th time. No one wants to be a fool but if it’s because our lives emanate the grace that we have received, then there’s nothing better than being a fool for His sake.

The Proverbs are rich with warnings not to be a fool. They broadly fall into three categories: those who relate to people badly, those who can’t tame their tongues and those who will not heed to wise counsel. When it comes to discerning God’s will, those on the foolish end of the spectrum ignore the risks and ignore loving people around them who are concerned. Without this consideration, we can quickly turn our personal desires into demands all in the name of the Lord.

FAITH: Somewhere in between fear and foolishness lies faith. Faith considers the risks heavily but is still willing to push past fear if it’s the Lord’s will. Faith pushed Peter past his rational fears of sinking and dying so that he could answer Jesus’ call to step out of the boat and walk on water. Faith is also willing to heed to wise counsel if it’s clear that it’s not the Lord and we’re just being selfish. It’s often challenging to discern where faith ends and foolishness begins because according to measurable standards, faith is always foolish “on paper.”

I wrestle with story of Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14. The night before the big battle, Jonathan goes up with his armor-bearer to take on the entire Philistine army. You remember what he said in v. 6?

“Come, let’s go over to the outpost of those uncircumcised fellows. Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few.”

It was a bold move, to say the least. Jonathan’s faith definitely moved him past all rational fear. He was confident that nothing could hinder the Lord’s victory whether it came by the hands of an entire army or by just him and his servant. What baffles me about what he said is the word “perhaps.” Perhaps the Lord would act on his behalf. Jonathan didn’t know what the outcome of the battle would be. He had no doubt about God’s power to give him the victory but he had no idea whether it was God’s plan to do it at that moment. Was it faith or foolishness? Yes.

WhistleAs we pondered whether to go to Nepal, we definitely weighed the costs. The fear of our loved ones was considered. We have talked with our kids through the entire process to get their feedback. We promised them that we wouldn’t go if they didn’t want us to. While they had some slight concerns after the second big earthquake, they are at peace with us leaving because as our youngest said, “this is what God wants.” We have contemplated the risks. That’s why we purchased unusually loud emergency whistles, got our living trust in order and sought the continual prayer support of more than a hundred people.

Yet despite all of our planning, as of today, we still only have 60% of our itinerary confirmed. The other 40% is still somewhat undetermined in light of the changes brought on by the earthquake. We know where we’ll be but not totally sure what we’ll be doing. I have no doubt that nothing can hinder the Lord from doing His work in and through us. Perhaps, we will know soon how it will happen. Perhaps, we won’t. All we know for now is that the airports are still open, INF still wants us to come and most importantly, the Lord has still called us to go for such a time as this. Some might call it foolishness. I call it faith. Please pray for us as we walk by it toward Nepal.

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INF – Nepal International Fellowship

This is a video introducing the work of INF-International Nepal Fellowship. They are the primary organization that we are going to serve in a few weeks in Pokhara. It’s quite encouraging to watch. There is always holistic hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ!

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Story of Nepal

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Yesterday, I received this in the mail. It’s my visa to enter Nepal toward the end of the month. It’s just a piece of paper, but to me, it’s so much more. This stamp in my passport represents a story that is continuing to be unveiled even as I write.

The story started over a year ago when International Nepal Fellowship (INF) invited seeJesus to lead A Praying Life seminar at their annual missionary conference. It was scheduled ahead of time to be in Pokhara on May 24-29, 2015. In the ensuring months, Sonia and I readied ourselves to go on behalf of seeJesus. We purchased our airline tickets, applied for our visas and set our itinerary to do ministry in Pokhara as well as in Kathmandu.

Then, unexpectedly on April 25, a 7.8 earthquake devastated Nepal. Fortunately, our missionary friends were all OK and accounted for, but obviously, the personal trauma and the demands of ministry were immediately heightened. While we were still willing to go, we were unsure of what INF’s needs and plans would be in light of everything. Just a few days ago, we received word that INF would still like us to come. So, Lord willing, we will travel to Nepal, May 19-30 to do ministry.

A week ago, we were wondering if our trip would be delayed or maybe even canceled. Today, we stand two weeks away from arriving in a land that has been ravaged by massive destruction and sorrow. I am not fully sure what I am feeling now. I am excited. I am overwhelmed. I am humbled. When I told a dear friend of the news, he said, “It is a privileged place to serve those who are in great suffering.” Indeed, it truly is. Ministering to those in their deepest moment of despair is a privileged place because it’s exactly where Jesus would be if he still walked this earth. In fact, it’s still where he is through the presence and ministry of his Spirit.

Obviously, this story is not yet completed. I don’t know what will happen next. Yet, I am sure that none of the details are coincidental. They are providential. Following His lead, I am confident that the Lord has raised us up for such a time as this.

More details will be forthcoming on this blog as they are confirmed. Your prayers are appreciated as we move forward.

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Thoughts About Nepal

nepal-flagFriday night, I drafted a blog entry about Nepal because in less than four weeks, Sonia and I are scheduled to travel there on behalf of seeJesus. Our itinerary includes serving missionaries, pastors and churches in Kathmandu and Pokhara. So, you can imagine how shocked I was when I heard the epicenter of a massive earthquake was located in between both of those cities. I emailed my missionary contact in Nepal and was relieved to hear that Kate was fine and all of the missionaries in her organization were accounted for. I have never been to Nepal but have a greater affinity toward the country and the people as I have been studying and preparing for this trip. Obviously, my greatest concern at this time is not the trip but instead the welfare of the people and the hope of the gospel in their suffering. I am not exactly sure what I am thinking or feeling but for now, here is some of the information I was originally going to post about Nepal. Most of it is from Operation World (7th edition, 2010).

Geography: A mountainous Himalayan state between China (Tibet) and India. It contains 8 of the 10 highest mountain peaks in the world.

Peoples: As many as 100 ethnic groups, consisting of over 300 peoples, sub-groups and castes. Caste is often as important a distinction as ethnicity in this strongly Hindu culture.

Economy: One of the world’s poorest countries, with around one-third of the people living below the poverty line, on less than $1 US/Day. Agriculture occupies up to 90% of the population and accounts for 38% of the GDP.

Politics: The ancient and hereditary monarchy ended in 2008 as Nepal became a multiparty constitutional republic. Never ruled by colonial powers, Nepal’s political isolation from the outside world ended in 1951. In 1962, the king assumed executive power in a government system with no political parties. The 1990’s and 2000s were characterized by painful uncivil unrest. A Maoist-dominated government took office in 2008 after years of internal conflict. The prime minister resigned in 2010 and the government remains insolvent, and constitutional reform has been delayed.

Religion: Once the world’s only Hindu Kingdom, Nepal is not officially a secular democracy. Foreign religious NGOs can operate freely as long as they do no proselytize. Hindus (75%), Buddhist (16%), Muslim (4%), Christian (3%), Other (2%). Currently, the fastest growing Church in the world is Nepal’s. I will blog more about this in the near future.

Prayer: There is a 40-day global prayer initiative centered in Kathmandu that happens to be going on right now. In fact, we were possibly going to partner with them when we arrived. Pray for those involved with this movement as well as all the believers there. Pray that the 40-day initiative would continue with greater focus and that God would fulfill his sovereign plans through the laments of His people.

The following prayer requests are from INF, the organization that I am scheduled to partner with in Nepal:

Please pray:

  • for the quick rescue of all of those trapped and injured, comfort for those who have lost loved ones and shelter for those without homes
  • that, as clouds are gathering, rain will not exacerbate the situation
  • for safety for those who will be spending the night outside
  • for God’s peace for all those with loved ones in Nepal
  • for the leaders of INF as they assess the impact on our staff, volunteers, patients and the communities we work with
  • for the government of Nepal as it responds to this crisis
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Cousin Hana

Sonia has a beautiful singing voice and musical gifts run deep on her side of the family. This is true of her cousin, Hana. God has obviously gifted Hana but what impresses us more is that she desires to use those gifts to honor Him. One way she is seeking to do this is to make an album that brings greater awareness to those who are victims of sex trafficking. This video is of a song that she already wrote and performed to give a voice to the plight of those suffering this injustice.

If you would like to contribute toward the making of Hana’s new album, check out this link. She explains her inspiration in the video below.

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