I’m back in the UK after completing a short mission trip with Interserve in Nepal for just over 2 weeks. What a complicated, adrenaline filled, wonderful, frustrating, inspiring, delicious experience it was! This is a whistle stop tour, so please bare with me cos its pretty long!
This past April the country suffered an earthquake that left thousands and dead and even more homeless. Interserve had planned to go to Nepal prior to the earthquake, but as I witnessed the ongoing media coverage, I felt compassion and wonder at a country determined to ‘get back to normal’ even after such a life changing event. The earthquake made Nepal even more vulnerable, and as a country rife with injustice, it gave those willing to exploit an even larger opportunity to carry out their exploitation.
My expectations before travelling were simply this: I am not going to change the world in 2 and half weeks, contrary to popular belief! I am going to learn and witness first hand work that is being done to prevent exploitation and bring about justice through sustainable social business. I had not even contemplated the concept that Nepal has the fastest growing church in the world. And that the government is on the verge of releasing a constitution focusing mainly on religion which has spun the country into political rife and uncertainty! How influential those latter events had been in our trip!
There is a heck of a lot of stuff going on Nepal at this moment in time. Then our team of 8 white, fairly middle class, foreign Christian tourist missionaries showed up….
We arrived in Kathmandu to a hearty welcome from the staff at the Interserve mission partner we would be working alongside. The company exists to encourage transformation through justice and adventure tourism with 3 social businesses: a B&B, cafe, and adventure tours. Bonus is, they are Christians! What is genius and got me totally buzzing when I got there was that actually, the company is completely accessible for non-christians as a tourism company and their passion for christians and non-christians is shared across the board!
The B&B business is superb. Its friendly and cosy and employs women at risk of exploitation to work in all aspects of the business. They have a ton of activities to choose from – adventure tours, prayer walks, scavenger hunts and they really made us feel welcome when we touched down. It was on a justice tour that this issue of exploitation in Kathmandu and Nepal in general really started to impact me, and the team. We visited cabin restaurants, observed massage parlours and discussed the history of the sex industry with the in country staff. It was an eye opening experience, setting the scene for our trip as we prepared to leave Kathmandu and head for Nepalgunj, where we would be completing most of our mission work. Although this justice tour was hard going, nothing inspired hope more than arriving back at the B&B. There was an overwhelming light that exudes from the house and its staff and the presence of God is wholly real and prevalent there!
Whilst I believe the Holy Spirit has claimed the B&B I was reminded that when you feel like you make headway with Christ and proclaim the gospel, the enemy finds a way to infiltrate forcing you backwards. Our time in Kathmandu set our scene for injustice but also allowed our feelings of spiritual battle to surface also. Members of the team struggled with illness, sleep deprivation and had concerning dreams in those first few days in Nepal which really put our trip in perspective. We committed to praying hard each day, for the staff and for the community work we would accomplish and the political situation, willing God to influence the constitution and quiet fears of protest and anger.
Before we knew it, it was time to hop on a plane to Nepalgunj, the second biggest city in Nepal which is right on the Nepal/India border. Now the reason Nepalgunj was on our radar was for that very reason – the border. It has recently been encouraging more exploitation to take place with girls being taken for sex and migrant workers taken for labour. We visited the border and spoke with police officers. The relationships between the partner and the police were incredible to see! Usually some of the in country staff and/partners are allowed to work with the police to interview potential exploiters and observe those at risk of exploitation. As we listened we prayed, aware that the border was in fact quieter than normal due to political unrest – more police were on duty – and we were assured that it can be quite easy for those at risk of exploitation to be moved across the border into India with no hope for returning.
Our guide and translator and overall hero took us to a bunch of his friends’ houses, where we were able to listen and pray into their stories of how they committed themselves to Christ and the persecutions they were receiving as a result of it. One lady shared that she was the only Christian in her village, and that the rest of her community disliked her because they believed she had annoyed the Hindu Gods by accepting Jesus and not serving the other Gods. I had never heard a story like that before, and truthfully, I was really shocked.
As we hung out in Nepalunj, we noticed more and more the affect the government was having on the political situation. Cars were prohibited on the roads, shops and businesses were closed and schools stopped classes for days on end. Local people got restless and countless police stood on street corners with riot shields ready to intervene if anything got serious. I am reminded of one experience we had at the end of our trip when we stopped for lunch in a little shop in the central market. It was our last day in Nepalgunj and we entered the shop to eat. Before we knew it the first shutter on the window was down and we could hear voices on a loud speaker just outside the shop. It was clear that this shop had been feeding the incoming protesters and then before he knew it the shop keeper had 8 foreigners sat cautiously at the back of his shop waiting to be served. People in Nepal are scared Christians are going to convert them. They believe most white people are Christians – hence our caution whilst travelling around Nepalgunj! So we are in this shop, drinking our cokes and snacking on our samosas, when a group of at least 50 or so march past the shop, shouting, chanting and waving sticks and machetes. Our shop keeper lowers the second shutter and we down our cokes and quietly get moving. It was a scary moment. The local people have such pent up anger and frustration – anything small could have set them off – including our white tourist faces!
During our time in Nepalgunj we were scheduled to visit some different community groups to deliver some basic teaching on multiple subjects. We presented a lot, to bible school students, women in credit groups, and then a specific community group called the Badi. They are deemed to be the lowest Hindu caste group of Nepal suffering much discrimination from other Nepali people groups and are known quite consciously as the prostitute community. Parents raise their children to become prostitutes, encouraging them never to marry and to aspire to this profession much like their ancestors. The prostitution of the community emerged from a livelihood of dancing and entertainment, and now the community people maintain this worldview to outsiders. We were to visit this community on two occasions but due to lack of transport were unable to. One of these communities also cancelled on us because they were paid to protest in the upcoming political marches in Nepalgunj! When we did visit a Badi community closer to where we were staying, it was a total highlight for me. The village leader was ballsy and welcoming and we delivered our program on a communal rooftop in the sweltering sun to around 50 women and children! It was chaos! We sang songs and taught some basic hygiene principles in hand washing and tooth brushing. We painted hands and invited the women to do a hand print on paper, so that they could practice washing their hands afterwards in a nearby bucket of water. After hand washing we wanted to encourage a practice of gratefulness and thankfulness – something we believed and prayed the Badi could have more of, especially in their current situation, so invited the women to write their thanks on strips of paper that we then made into one long paper chain. It was a short and sweet day of working with the community and allowed us a team to start to understand the complexity of this people group. For so long they have not cared what anyone has thought of them and they have been proud of their profession as they follow on from their ancestors. We may not have inspired them to give up their profession, but I firmly believe our work that day encouraged the relationship the partners have with the community to help further future development, so that an ultimate worldview shift can take place in their minds, bodies and hearts.
On multiple occasions we had the opportunity to meet and pray with women who had been loaned funds from the partner to start their own business. We met M, an ex prostitute who was now working as a tailor to support her young daughter. She was incredibly kind and generous to us and our translators and partners sung her praises exclaiming her gift of hospitality and hardworking spirit. She wasn’t a Christian, but wanted us to pray and keep praying for her and our translators sister who works closely with M and other women, mentioned that they had been reading the bible together and learning more about God, which was really exciting to hear!
P borrowed some money to complete a training course in the production of shoes. She has a small shop in Nepalgunj that sells school shoes, smart black shoes for men, and sandals for women. The shop had only been open for a couple of weeks and we were delighted to meet her and her two children and see the amazing handicraft that was her shoe collection! A few of our team bought some of her shoes, which I’m pretty sure counted as her first couple of customers! We learnt of her story and how she came to train, own and now run her business. She had been in a couple of abusive relationships, with husbands promising her goodwill and treating her appalling, as well as some domestic exploitation that occurred during the Civil war where she was forced to leave her village in search of work. Now she says her husband lives abroad, and that she is fearful of his return and what he will make of her new skills and success. When she shared this story with us she said that only the day before a Muslim man had asked her to be his wife in return for her working for him using the skills she had developed in shoe making and running her business. I felt such awe at P’s ability to continue working and providing for her family, and although she mentioned she is still worried about money I believe and pray that she will experience tremendous favour as she continues to attend the local church affiliated and learns more about Jesus.
After some fun in Bardia National Park at the end of our trip in Nepalgunj, we made it safely back to Kathmandu to the B&B to catch up with the staff and complete our shopping and preparations for going home. Once back in Kathmandu, we learnt that 24 hours after we had left Nepalgunj, 8 police officers had been killed and a 9pm to 9am curfew had been put in place to protect the local people. It is only now that I reflect on our experience that I realised how much God protected us in Nepalgunj! I have never known anything like the protection and provision felt in Nepalgunj on the days we were there. I still feel connected to the spiritual battle in Nepal and believe that prayer for the country and Christians that live there is a priority right now! Blessings and proclamations are what protected us in Nepalgunj and that is what I will continue to do as I return to my life here in Manchester. The people I met, the stories I heard and the actions I witnessed have greatly impacted my life, and I urge you to pray for Nepal as a country at the moment as the government works out its constitution and the local people work out where they fit into it.
“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”