October 2008


Tharus are the largest and most visible group of people in the area that we travelled.  With a population of about 1.2 million or 6.6% of the total popualtion of Nepal, they are thought to be the original inhabitants, and the only people able to live there due to a natural immunity to malaria. The eradication of malaria in the Terai resulted in a movement in of others to claim the fertile land of the valleys.  The Tharus were exploited by landowners, fell into debt and entered into virtual slavery as bonded labourers.  In 2000 the kamaiyas were freed by government legislation but little has been done  to help these now landless and jobless people.

The Tharus are very skilled at improvisation, making almost everything they need from the natural resources available around them.  Their homes are built from woven twigs and grass coated in thick laters of mud, which even acts as a natural heat shield.  This process is also used to make their furniture, cupboards and even water coolers and wood fired kitchen stoves.  Although their beliefs are largely animistic involving the worship of forest spirits and ancestors, there is also a very strong influence of Hinduism in the culture.

 

 

We visited a Tharu village and met with several families who told of pasts almost destroyed by the alcohol that was part of virtually every family and social function,  and with the wife of a once influential landowner, who took his own life after loosing everything due to his alcoholism.  This group have been very open to the good news of the gospel and large numbers have experienced changed lives. 

 

This man sent his child running to us with a bag of the sweets he sells at his market “stall”.  A thin, doughnut, deep fried and soaked in honey, they were awesome!

 We had already heard his story from his wife of how he was on the verge of suicide, having lost everything as a result of his alcohol addiction, when he was introduced to the life giving message of the gospel.

The TWR Nepal team is small and although the broadcast areas cover most of the country, their scarce resources severely limit the extent of available programming.  “The Word Today” is a 15 minute progam that is broadcast twice per week in many areas on local stations, usually between 6-8 in the morning and the evening.  A locally produced program is also available once per week in some areas and Women of Hope has been on the air for only a few weeks in Katmandu and Butwal only.  I have to admit that I really wondered how much impact this small amount of airtime could have on the country.  Everywhere we went we saw evidence of joy and peace in the lives of listeners.

Generations of Families Changed

One of the first stops we made was to visit a home in which three generations have been listening for a number of years.  There we met a young girl who was eager to tell us about the joy her families has recieved from the broadcasts.  She was delighted to write down her story so the we could share it with others on our return to Singapore.

Believers Reaching Out to Others

In a small town we were greeted by members of a church which had formed around the radio ministry.They were so happy to have us there that they did a little impromptu service, sharing some of their music with us.  This is the full size of their church building, and it was hot, but they were rejoicing in God’s provision. 

 

 

This church is reaching out to their community through a program to teach sewing skills to women so that they are able to earn some money to support their families.

 

 

 

I found a special friend in this lovely little lady.  I think she felt she could relate to me because we were in the same age bracket.

 

 

From here we went to visit an orphanage that was established by a young couple with a burden for children.  We were able to give them a couple of radios for the children’s dorms.

 

 

 Congregations Growing

After a quick visit to a rapidly growing church, we went out into the counryside to visit some of their members. We visited this home of this elderly couple and I stupidly asked how they got to church for services. Of course, they walk three hours to attend the church, in spite of the fact that he is partially paralyzed.

I have spent the last two days wading through all of my photos and trying to come to grips with all that we saw in Nepal.  It was really an amazing experience that I wish I could effectively share with everyone.

I travelled to Nepal with three others from the Singapore Service Centre.  Serene is the leader of the Women’s ministries for this region and Mel and Jack who are Media Resource Group staff.  Once there we met up with Simon, the Ministry Leader and three of their staff, Mohan, Desra and Shanty.  We were also very blessed to have an amazing driver, called “Guru” in Nepali. He is a very professional Brahmin man who not only skillfully manged the challenges of the road system, or lack of, but he also knew his country and was constantly looking after our every need.

Map provided by ReliefWeb <http://www.reliefweb.int/>

We drove west from Katmandu for about 6.5 hours to cover the 180 kms to Butwal.  From there we headed about 450 kms west almost to the western border, to the town of Dhangarhi.  We made many detours along to way to visit listeners in small villages and rural areas.  On Wednesday we returned to Butwal, did some local trips and then spent a night in Tansen, very high up in the mountains.  Attended church in Butwal on Saturday and then spent a night in the Chitwan area prior to returning to Katmandu for our flight home.

The goals we had for the trip were to get to know theTWR Nepal staff and see their ministries first hand so we could get a sense of the effectiveness and challenges of their ministry, research needs and resources for future programs and projects, visit volunteers and listeners to hear their stories and encourage them and to distribute radios.  Along the way we were monitoring reception and signal strength of current broadcasts.

I will never forget the people we met, the stories that we heard and the places that we were welcomed , often to share a cup of hot, sweet milk tea.  As this blog functions as something of a journal of our time in Asia, I will share some of those memories with you over  the next few days.

First Impressions

The conference officially ended after supper on Friday evening but by the time we cleaned up and de-briefed it was 11:00 p.m. before I headed up to finish packing for Nepal.  Since I needed to be at the airport at 7 :00 a.m. for my flight, it only made sense that I should do the 4:00 a.m airport run to see the first lady off on her early morning flight home.

The five and a half hour flight to Katmandu was very relaxing and as it turned, out the nap was absolutely essential given what we would face on the second leg of our journey.  On arrival we met up with Simon, our Nepal Ministry Leader, for a six hour drive west to Butwal.  There is only one road over the mountain, which snakes high above a beautiful river valley.  Barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, it is packed with huge trucks, buses, cars. motorbikes, tractors, ox carts, bicycles, men and women carrying incredible loads, oxen, sacred cows, goats, chickens, kids heading to school,  little babies playing with rubber tires and rocks and debris from recent landslides.

After supper at Simon’s home, we finally arrive at our first hotel, Summerland Resort, well after dark. 

First impressions are funny things.  The vehicle we rode in seemed pretty decent but little did we know that it would become a torture chamber in which as many as nine people were trapped  for 6- 8 hours a day for the next week.  The road we travelled seemed narrow, rough and a little frightening given the steep drops into the valley below but it was a super highway compared to what we would later travel on.  The quaint little outdoor stall type restaurant where we ate lunch was later referred to as the “five star” restaurant.   Although the Summerland looked a little seedy and tired, with a few bugs, we soon found ourselves longing for the luxury of that accommodation.

   

The agenda for the conference was very full and we worried that it would prove to be overwhelming, especially for those who really struggle to comprehend English, so we built in some fun stuff as well.

The retreat center was pretty basic but the fact that the accommodations are set up as three bedroom apartments gave us the opportunity to congregate in the various “livingrooms” for some great conversations. 

Food was plentiful and meal times were great for getting to know new friends, sharing ministries and even for individual consultations with Phil and the other speakers.

 

 

On Tuesday evening we all went out to dinner with some of the TWR staff from other departments.  Thursday evening we booked a bus for a trip to a restaurant called “Hooked on Heads” which specializes in fish head delicacies (not my favourite) and then a relaxing evening at the Singapore Night Safari.

 

 

For some of the younger ladies, this was their first trip outside of their own countries and some had never seen a building higher than eight storeys.  Wednesday evening, two of us, along with six ladies did a quick tour of some of the sights of downtown Singapore.  The highlight for me was taking the girls to the observation area on the 70th floor of the Stamford Hotel.  Once they recovered from the terror of the elevator, they were mesmerized by the view of what is truly a beautiful city.  We, of course, saw the Merlion, Raffles, the Fullerton and Clarke’s Quay before heading back to crash at about midnight.

Women’s Ministry Conference

Lasting Hope for Hurting Hearts

 

  

The first week in October marked the end of many months of prayer and careful planning in preparation for what turned out to be a wonderful week  with some of the most amazing women I have ever met.   They came from Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Taiwan, the Philippines and Australia.  Ranging in age from 23 to approaching retirement, single and married, those without post secondary education and others who are highly educated, with many different languages, they all share a passion to meet the needs of the women of their country

The goal of our planning team was that this would be an opportunity for gaining new knowledge and skills, meeting new friends who share the same challenges in their ministry, sharing ideas for strategies and projects, finding opportunities to collaborate on future projects, praying and worshipping together and having some fun and relaxation.

There were some very practical sessions on Strategic Planning, Programming and Developing a Prayer Network and Wholistic Approach to Ministry.  The major focus for the conference was on Biblical Counselling, a need that had been identified by teams from all of the countries.  Several sessions focused on specific areas such as self esteem, marital issues, violence against women and the sex trade.

Our key speaker was Phil Prather, from “Hope for the Heart” an organization that has developed an excellent set of resources for use in peer to peer counselling to offer encouragement, advice and hope based on Biblical truth. Hearing impaired from childhood, Phil articulates his words carefully and speaks at a pace that made it much easier for all to understand. He was a tremendous encouragement to those who work on the frontlines of care, and need the resources he provided. I’ll continue these thoughts next post.

 

Almost three weeks without computer access is almost more than I can bear!  I am in the Katmandu Airport awaiting my flight back to Singapore.  One quick night there and I catch a morning bus to KL.  These last few weeks have been amazing and will take me a few days to even digest.  For now I am just happy to see pics of my grandkids and read some emails from home.

Nepal is an incredible country and we were able to visit places never intended for tourists – at least upstanding tourists.  I spent time in brothels and prisons as well as churches and clubhouses and homes of some of the most amazing people.  It was an awesome privilege.

I even got to watch the sun rise over the Himalayas, drive over near impassable mountain roads and trek up some “small” mountains.  I also slept in some places that I never intended to sleep in my life and we won’t even talk about the washrooms.  Looking forward to a bed that is more than a thin pad on boards.

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