Short term mission in Nepal: a reflection

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.”

Advertisements

A-Z (well mostly) of ICS Tearfund Bangladesh

Animals. Cats and dogs in our village were rogue! All the pets were up for grabs….
Badminton. I played this sport every day for most of the 10 weeks I was out there, it certainly brought communities together!
Culture. In our rural town, called Mongla, I discovered a sacred and beautiful culture based around food, family and religion. It was simple, full of wonder and completely inspiring.
Driving. There are absolutely, ABSOLUTELY, no rules when Bangladeshi’s drive. Its terrifying.
Eating. An event! Families buy, prepare and cook the food over long periods of time to achieve the best flavour of curry.
Family. Many families live close to each other, with the tradition of the wife moving in with the husbands parents as her own parents live nearby. Families build their own homes from their natural surroundings – there is no planning permission of passive aggressive letters to neighbours! You basically pitch up where ever..
Green. The landscape. Enough said.
Hello. Everyone knew each other in our village, I loved it. It was Rev 21, but in the flesh – open doors from neighbours with local communities trusting and believing in each other.
Impression.What I learnt as a volunteer was that first impressions are everything. Some of the people we worked with were meeting foreigners, us, for the first time. So it was on myself and the team to entertain – it the best way I know, making a complete idiot of myself signing songs and attempting the tricky language!
Joke. Once you make a joke in Bangladesh they will remember it for ever. I was Velka (meaning foolish) president. I can’t even remember how it came about!
K….
Love. This was one of the most inspiring things I witnessed between parents and children.
Mud. Is. Heavy. To. Carry. Definitely developed some guns whilst working cutting the mud!
Nuts. A late night snack sold on the the streets in our village.
Open. Families that we met in the village were so open in their generosity and sharing of their food and lives with us. It was completely endearing and really challenging.
Pride. The Bangladeshi’s are proud! End. Of.
Quality.
Religion. Is the most important thing next to family. Everyone practices it, and its the basis for most of peoples daily routine. Being a Christian is tricky, because Sunday isn’t a holiday or rest day – so whilst the rest of the country gets up early to work and earn a living – Christians attempt to meet in Churches to worship and remember Christ.
Stars. A natural phenomenon in our village where there wasn’t a car in sight.
Tea. Tea shops are wonderful places. I would go and people watch as families gossiped and children played. Our cook’s husband ran our local tea shop – and was one of the kindest men I had met, generous and clever, eager to make a living for his children.
Ultimate. This was my team. I couldn’t have asked for a more laid back, mis-matched group of people to spend my ICS journey with. We all had similar expectations, and when one was down or disappointed, we worked on it as a group – laughing at ourselves as we embarked on the pretty hard task of building relationships in a challenging community.
V..
Water. Its everywhere in Bangladesh. Its beautiful.
Xperience.… (it sort of works) I wouldn’t change anything that happened on our 10 weeks for the world. It was utterly wonderful, and I shall certainly be returning to Bangladesh in the future.
YOU! Bangladesh is a country that is slowly succumbing to flooding and national disaster, so seriously, go and visit this beautiful hidden country so that your perspective can be changed and you palette improved by the insane cooking!
Z..

I hope thats a bit of an insight into the 10 weeks. I mean it was completely life changing and I would definitely return to Bangladesh again, just to see the water and eat the curry and play more badminton! Peace xx

Where to begin?

Its been a pretty crazy few weeks. I’m in a little town called Mongla in south Bangladesh. We’re working with a local partner called Bangladesh Nazarene Mission (BNM) who are focused predominantly on preparing communities to become resilient to disaster. The main threats are cyclones, floods and increased salinity in the water. The local partner are collecting data from the communities in the form of community risk assessments, which are then used in a Ward Disaster Management Committee (WDMC) so that community can work out an action plan to prepare for the next cyclone or flood. Its a fascinating yet slow process – main needs here consist of water tanks and cyclone shelters. As UK volunteers we just don’t have the budget for that just yet! Its become apparent that the low-budget skills we can offer the community people are English lessons, first aid training, manual labour and Child Development Centre (CDC) sessions with primary school children on hand washing and some basic principles on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR).

The people I meet here daily are so hospitable. They literally have nothing, yet they share everything with us. Its taken me a while to be okay with this bizarre ‘white people’ tension. Some communities we meet purely ask for money, and everyone asks for a photo. Most of you will know I came out here to find some perspective and flipping hell have I got it. I don’t think I have an answer but its an interesting tension which I think will always be apparent when working in development. Plans here change daily and you just have to go with it. It makes me realise how busy my life is in England, and also that English people worry way too much. Having too much choice really makes you question your decisions sometimes, but here people really are happy. They eat, they sleep, they dig the land!

The landscape is beautiful. It like the books from Geography. Ponds everywhere with small mud roads that separates the water from the house. Most of the ponds are rice paddy fields, but workers here also cultivate fish and shrimp. The water is mostly saline though so there is also continuous development to source crops that can withstand the environment. The villages are remote and quiet, and often the people will nip up a tree to grab some coconuts to give to us whilst we play with the children.

Its been difficult to put our field experiences in our project context, purely because its mostly project set up. Games, bicycles, singing and balls really are all you need to connect with a community here so we continue to do this as we build relationships with the people here in Mongla. I hope the budget will come soon enough, but for the mean time i’m here to serve as many people as possible.

Some things I have learnt after spending nearly a month in Bangladesh:

1.  You can never have too much rice.

2. Jokes can last for EVER. I said one thing 2 weeks ago and we are STILL talking about it. Lol.

3. I miss correct waste disposal.

4. All the Ps and Qs you learn growing up in England are just not valid here.

5. I am sweating in places I didn’t know were possible.

6. I am very indecisive when choosing fabric.

7. I do not want to think about leaving this beautiful country.

8. I miss everyone more than I thought I would! Family is so important here as well so it sure does make you think about your own.

If you pray, please pray for direction for our project, else just send me a message on Facebook. X

Its Banga time

I’m just about to head to Heathrow to catch a flight to Dhaka,  Bangladesh, where I’ll be volunteering with Tearfund on an ICS (International Citizen Service) programme……

I’m nervous. I’m there for 10 weeks, living and working in a community. I miss my Manchester world already! But this trip has come at a time like no other,  i’m LITERALLY dropping cliches left, right and centre. I am full on going to ‘find myself’,  getting away from the backlash of a disastrous end to a relationship, and going to shift my perspective as to why I am a Christian and i’ve entered into relationship with God. The relationship where no matter how many disastrous moments there might be, it never ends. I’m just flying half way around the world to reconnect with Him. I can’t wait. But i’m nervous, this summer has been pretty diabolical BUT if theres one thing i’m sure if its the fact I want to continue serving people. Loving people. The other stuff is irrelevant. Sure you can pray and read and debate until the cows come home but thats not actually what Jesus said was the most important thing to do. He said love people (even the ones in disastrous human relationships).

I’ll try and blog a bit when i’m there but truthfully I will enjoy the break from social media. You know what i’m talking about.

I’m also not entirely sure as to what i’m going to be doing either – i’m based in a church in a southern region and we’ll just see what happens. Literally. Bangladesh suffers with a lot of flooding so I assume i’ll be doing aid work in relation to natural disasters. I also told them I’m a youth worker and not bad at running drama, cooking and craft clubs so maybe i’ll do a bit of that.

Ciao for now x

bangladesh-flag

A reflection in 6 parts

As we near towards the end of 2013, I cannot help but think of all that has happened this year. I haven’t written in what feels like forever, when quite frankly I have had a giant list of things that I totally could have shared with you. Instead I suppose I’ll touch upon some of my highlights, some that have definitely happened in the last 3 months or so!

After I finished a bunch of summer internships – BBC Performing Arts Fund, Library Theatre, Whitworth Art Gallery, I applied for a Marketing & Schools Co-ordinator job at the Challenge Network in Manchester. At this point I was so bored of applying for jobs. Annoyed at how poor I was and scarcely conscious of the fact I might have to move back home if I didn’t get something soon. I went into that job interview pretty flipping nervous. It didn’t stop me telling my interview panel quite confidently that I believed I could do the job, and do the job well. Two weeks later I got a call from them with a start date of December 2nd. My first choice, as it was going to fit in perfectly with the trip to America I had planned for November. So highlight number 1 – applying and successful getting a job. Next year I want to smash it!!!

In November I went to the States for 3 and a half weeks. It was magical. Full of art and beer and old friends and new ones. Some real blasts from the past were mixed in with some memories that I will remember for the rest of my lifetime! I gloried at the art in Manhattan, drank craft beer from Microbreweries in Portland, and sampled the foody delights of the Seattle Pike Place Market. It was just what I needed. A chance to get away from Manchester and have some ME time. I love my friends and my God and my life but pheweeeee it gets a bit busy sometimes and I really don’t put myself first. I stayed with friends I had not seen in years and was reminded of family memories that truly touched my heart. I was inspired by the creativity that oozed out of the country but remained perplexed at the social needs of some really poor communities. I made friends from Australia, Austria and Switzerland and spent a large majority of my time swapping stories – one of my all time favourite things to do. Highlight number 2 – USA! USA! USA!

Before my crazy summer of working for free and planning a holiday I graduated University. Something I knew I would always do but there was still a teeny weeny part of my brain that thought I wouldn’t get a 2:1. I did however, and comfortably walked across the stage in the Whitworth Hall to gain my certificate. Its a very hyped up event, totally over-priced and a bit weird, so my favourite part was seeing my family come together for lunch afterwards. We ate and drank and I showed them my new gaff in Didsbury. Highlight number 3 – BA (Hons) Drama, 2:1

I’m not bored with God anymore. I think when you finish a stage in life – which is largely connected to education – you feel like its the end of the world. Nothing is certain, and no matter how much people say ‘God has a plan for your life’ you just want to tell them to bog off and say why hasn’t anything happened yet. What have I learnt in 2013? Patience baby, its a true virtue that you have to PRACTICE. As much as I believe that people have a lot of common sense and things that appear naturally to them its frustrating when not enough emphasis is put on practicing disciplines. Whether you are in church or not! Practice time keeping (something I am getting better at!), practice patience, practice silence, practice love. This year I have learnt to practice. When I have gotten better at something – patience, time-keeping or loving people its made me just WOW over how God loves us and ultimately wants the best for us. Highlight number 4 – learning to be obedient and patient. (I still have a long way to go!)

In June I moved into a house share with 7 strangers in Didsbury. Its wonderful. We are our own little disjointed family, challenging each other left, right and centre and learning that just because we are all different doesn’t mean it is a bad thing. 8 people in a house gets busy and messy and stressy mind, but I really do love them, and I totally encourage you to live with randoms or do a house share cos it sure does keep you on your toes! Highlight number 5 – housesharing.

Things happen when you least expect it. Like boys, jobs, bad moods, arguments, and creativity. I’m pretty sure the best way to be is to embrace it all really. Try and be an open book. Know how to make yourself feel better when you feel crummy. Love people, REALLY. Highlight number 6 – trying to love perfectly so that fear is cast out. THEN blessings come tenfold!

 

mandela