My BFF

Sonia_PokharaThis trip to Nepal has been a life-changer. So many unique experiences, so many amazing people, too many overwhelming blessings. I am so grateful that Sonia was here to experience them all with me. Partly, because it would have been impossible to come home and describe everything to her using only words and pictures. But, mainly because she is my best friend and I would want no one but her by my side in pursuit of the Lord.

Sonia_baby

We partner well together in ministry. Sonia’s many strengths cover my many weaknesses. She continually smooths out my rough edges. When we’re together, she even makes me more lovable. Since people are naturally drawn to her warm personality, by default they assume I can’t be that bad since she chose to marry me. Her gifts of faith, compassion, wisdom and generosity were used abundantly to blessed many here in Nepal. She not only equipped many through workshops on special needs and prayer & parenting but also prayed for, counseled and encouraged countless others. It was obvious that many women felt Sonia was a timely gift for them in their time of need.

I am well aware that we can’t always travel together on trips like these but there is no doubt in my mind that Sonia was supposed to come to Nepal with me. She was not an added bonus to this trip. She was an integral part of it. Many of the opportunities and appointments would not have been possible if she was not here. Her prayers, her faith and her perseverance helped us follow the Spirit’s lead throughout the entire adventure. I couldn’t have ask for a better (or prettier) traveling companion. I couldn’t have dreamed of having a better best friend. Thank you for journeying with me in pursuit of His heart, my dear!

Village-Candy

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Providence

Village_ValleyBefore Sonia and I came to Nepal, we were praying for divine appointments. Because of the earthquake, half of our original agenda was undetermined even after we arrived. We trusted that the Lord would fill in the blanks and He certainly did! Over and over again! One of Sonia’s deepest desires was to aid those who had the greatest need with hands-on help. Every time I inquired about helping, we were told that only those who were connected with relief organizations or a local church outreach would be able to assist.

Village-Receiving-Rice

I don’t even know how to fully described what we experienced today. It was a totally God-appointed moment. We got to witness the Father’s heart and even participate in what He was doing. It’s a long story but through many providential meetings, we had the privilege of purchasing rice, lentils, salt and oil and delivering them to an entire village (125 households) that has been largely ignored. We traveled away from Kathmandu for nearly two hours in a 4 x 4 with a local pastor, the head of a Nepali Christian Relief organization and two journalists. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the entire village. We really didn’t want it to be a big deal and kept expressing that to the pastor who arranged everything. But they immediately placed homemade leis around our necks and had me, the pastor and the community leaders say a few words. It was overwhelming and extremely humbling. What a privileged place to be representing the hands and feet of so many believers back in the U.S. Many special thanks to AL, SM, K&KW, G&JL, J&SC, MN, MK, R&CT, K&FM, A&JJ for helping to contribute toward the total cost of the supplies. Know that your generosity put food in the stomachs and smiles on the faces of many people today.

Village-Teenager

The people in this village are “untouchables,” a part of the lowest caste, yet almost all are Christian. When I asked how the gospel reached this tiny village, a young man told me it all started when the “Jesus Film” was shown here many, many years ago. Since then a church building has been built (which was undamaged in the earthquake) and a local pastor now shepherds the flock. Remarkable to see God’s faithfulness in loving and saving all people especially those who are the most despised. I know our help is but temporary not only because the supplies will be consumed after a month but also because we will be soon heading home. I don’t pretend to be a savior. Not even a tiny, temporal one. Thanks be to God that our true and only Savior, Jesus Christ, has called real heroes of the faith who are committed to serving these people for the long haul. The local churches, the pastors, the foreign missionaries and the Nepali Christian community development leaders are the true hands and feet of Christ to those who are suffering in villages like these. May we continue to pray for them as they follow His lead to serve the least of theseVillage_Pan

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Pokhara

Pokhara-Valley

For the first three days of our trip, we were stationed in Kathmandu. It is the capital city of Nepal. Very urban. Very busy. But since Sunday evening, we have been doing ministry in Pokhara. Pokhara is very rural and very lush. It almost feels like we flew to a different country after being in Kathmandu. Slower paced and a lot more laid back. I am more of a Pokhara kind of guy. The epicenter of the earthquake was between Pokhara and Kathmandu but the brunt of the force went toward Kathmandu. Pokhara shook a lot but there was not much damage.

Pokhara-street

In the mornings, I have been doing A Praying Life training for one hundred missionaries at their annual conference. Sonia and I feel privileged to minister to these people during the morning sessions, workshops, meals and free time. They are a wonderful group of people from all over the world: America, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, Australia, U.K., Nepal and more. They are deeply committed, faith-minded, gifted and compassionate. I admire what they do and more importantly admire who they are.

Pokhara_Pastors

While in Pokhara we also had a chance to connect with local pastors about future ministry partnerships. They are hard working men who not only shepherd their flocks but also look to develop the community through drug/alcohol rehab programs, AIDS patients outreach, micro-business economic development and more. It was a privilege to meet with them and see how the Spirit is moving in the Pokhara church.

Pokhara-Motorbike

One of the thrills of the day was riding on the back of a motorbike through the streets of Pokhara to get to our appointment. You haven’t really seen Nepal until you’ve been on a motorbike during rush hour. I had a blast!

 

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Fastest Growing Church in the World

Nepali_Church

When I was preparing to go to Nepal, I heard on various occasions that the Nepali church is the fastest growing in the world today. Nepal?!? Really?!? I did some research and found out the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, based at Gordon Conwell Seminary, published a study that reported that the Nepali church is indeed growing at the fastest rate in the world. Reverend Manoj Shrestha, former principal of the Nepal Ebenezer Bible College, reported the same thing saying,

The only reason I can think of [for the growth of the Nepali church] is the work of the Holy Spirit…If you come to Nepal, you will see many similarities between the church in Nepal and the first century church as described in the Book of Acts — in the religious life of the people, how the church is being persecuted, the excitement of the believers, how the power of God is being demonstrated through healings, exorcisms

When I told my missionary friend in Nepal about what I heard, she said based on what she’s seen, she wouldn’t be surprised if this true. Based on my limited experience with the Nepali church, I wouldn’t be surprised either. I have heard first-hand testimony after testimony about the rapid growth of the church through the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Fastest_Church

First church in Kathmandu

This past Saturday, Sonia and I attended worship service at the oldest church in Kathmandu and the second oldest in all of Nepal. The Gyaneswor Church was started by pioneer missionary and pastor, Robert Karthak. Raised in Darjeeling, Karthak felt a strong call to go to Nepal and in 1956, moved there with a small group of believers. Gyaneswor Church was planted a year later. Today, the church meets at five locations around Kathmandu with over 10,000 total in attendance. The largest site has multiple services with 2,000 attendees at each. We had the privilege of visiting the original site which was much smaller. Sonia and I were sitting very close together so we could share a wireless headset for English translation. After I settled into my seat, I realized all of the women were sitting on the left side of the room and all of the men were on the right. I was on the left and felt so embarrassed. There was no room to move so I was just praying that everyone would think I was a really big, ugly, hairy woman.

Pastor Robert is now 89 years old and rotates every week to preach at each of the sites. On the Saturday we attended, he happened to be there. Not surprisingly, he was a great preacher! Pastor Robert shared that the last time he was at this particular site, it was the day of the earthquake. He was preaching that if Jesus is in the boat with you then you don’t have to worry about anything, not even natural disasters! Five minutes later, the earthquake hit and the people in the sanctuary didn’t panic but left in an orderly fashion. A children’s class that was meeting outside had some metal siding and bricks fall on them but fortunately, all the kids were OK. Pastor Robert went on to preach through nearly a dozen texts that refer to the earth shaking but his primary text was Hebrews 12:25-29,

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

The sermon was primarily focused on the sovereignty of God in all circumstances and he saw the earthquake as a wake up call for the church to share the gospel in both word and deed in an even greater way. Wow! If the Nepali church was already the fastest growing in the world before the quake and this is the message now being preached, it puts the rest of the global church, especially in America, to shame!

Pastor_KarthaI had the privilege of meeting for tea and snacks with Pastor Robert and some of the elders in a small room immediately following the service. He is a gracious man that exudes wisdom and faith. It was like meeting John Piper, Tim Keller or Billy Graham in person but waaaaaay better. Kathak’s English is excellent so it was inspiring to hear from him and his brother-in-law (also an elder) how the seeds of the church were planted nearly 60 years ago by faith. I asked them why they thought the church was growing at such a rapid rate. Their answer, “the movement of the Holy Spirit.” Funny, same answer as Reverend Manoj Shrestha. It’s all about God and His glory. It’s by Him, through Him and for Him. All praise and honor to Him!

 

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Through the Headlines

Here is a look at Nepal simply through newspaper headlines. I think they speak for themselves.

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The Phantom of Fear

DestructionFear. Fear is the predominant feeling of those that I talk to about the earthquake they experienced in Kathmandu. Most people felt confused and shocked during the earthquake but fear is the residual vibe after the earthquake. One of the things that surprised me when I arrived in Nepal was to discover that many of the people living outside had homes that were still standing. They were not homeless but simply too scared to go back inside. Our cab driver was sharing with us that he, his wife and his three daughters slept outside in a tent for sixteen days even though they had a residence that was apparently undamaged. They would go back inside to cook and use the bathroom but spent the rest of their daily living in a tent outside. Obviously, many of these fears are not unfounded since the stability of most of the buildings have not been officially verified to withstand another quake.

Tent_CityIn Kathmandu, 1.2 million people have left the city out of a population of 2 million! Some were students who went back home because the school year was over. Some went back to help their families in the outskirts of the city. Some simply left out of fear. This mass migration has drastically effected the city. Yes, there is less traffic and less pollution and even the power grid stays on almost continually rather than the 14 hour max typically in the past. But less people also means less tourism, less business, less personal income. For those who stay, this ignites an economic fear as they wonder how to provide for their daily needs let alone rebuild the damage that the earthquake caused. There is no homeowners’ insurance or FEMA. They are simply left to fend for themselves.

But, much of Nepali worry extends beyond the weakness of physical structures and financial infrastructures. Much of their fear is rooted in the unknown and the “what if’s”. Sonia found an excellent article in the NY Times written by a foreign correspondent, Donatella Lorch. In it she writes this about fear:

It’s really too easy to call it fear. One word cannot possibly encapsulate this inability to predict or control a force that doesn’t have an end date…Fear for so many of us here is a living, breathing, controlling creature, a domino effect that continues to grow and beat down our rational, intelligent thinking selves…I’ve noticed the symptoms in my friends and in myself. It is in the camps for the displaced; in the far-flung villages facing hunger and landslides; in the homes for orphans; and even in the semi-destroyed prisons where inmates live under tents like so many other Nepalis. It’s the exhausting hypervigilance. I don’t lock or even close the bathroom door anymore, even if it is in a public washroom, just in case it jams in a quake. I slept outdoors for a week, then on the living room floor close to a door that led to my yard for another week, and I will return there when my husband heads out of town. Many of my neighbors still sleep outdoors. I always wear closed shoes, regardless of the heat, because I know I cannot run through rubble in sandals. I carry a go-bag everywhere, with essentials like bottled water, rain gear, snack food, a hat and several phone chargers. It even sits by my bed every night, alongside a crowbar.

For Donatella and so many other people, fear is a phantom continually haunting them with the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of life. How do you kick this uninvited guest out of the home of your heart? Some ignore the pain and flee. Some attempt to anticipate every possibility by being fully prepared for anything and everything. Others simply “shake.” Many report experiencing an earthquake “hangover” which means you feel like you’re shaking even though the earth is not. Donatella reports that this shaking is a physical phenomenon related to the inner ear’s reaction to the quake but I believe it’s also a psychological phenomenon as well. People’s minds and souls continue to shake.

Overall, the Nepali Christians we have met are hopeful and full of faith but most admit that there are moments of fear that creep in. One young, honest pastor told me he undoubtedly believes that God is sovereign and is working out all things for His own glory and for the church’s blessing. Yet, the pastor also confessed that he worried about the safety of his young family and wasn’t fully sure how to shepherd his people and preach through this season with honesty and hope.

Personally, I don’t claim to have the answers to all of these fears. Being a California native, I have experienced plenty of earthquakes but none this big and in these kinds of conditions. Rather than claim to possess profound wisdom that will kick this rid people of this phantom of fear, I simply look to God’s Word as our only source of truth and hope.

  • (Josh. 1:9) “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
  • (Psa. 16:8) “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”
  • (Psa. 62:1-2; 5-7) “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken…For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,   for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
  • (Zeph. 3:16-17) “On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: ‘Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak.; The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.'”
  • (Psa. 96:7-10) “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!  Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.’”
  • (Acts 4:31) “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”
  • (Heb. 12:25-29) “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  This phrase, ‘Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
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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!

Nepal_Soldiers

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 in Nepal. Although she is very busy, Seeta 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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