What have I gotten myself into? I asked myself as we were flying over Mount Everest headed to Kathmandu, Nepal. Here I was, a small-town country girl on a big plane headed to a strange country where everything was completely different from anything I had ever known. My stomach began hurting, and I wasn’t sure if it was my nerves or the curried prawn served by the airline. I just knew I was embarking on the biggest adventure of my life.
I signed up for World Service Corps in June 2006. I wanted to find out what being a worldwide church was about. Attending World Conference and the International Youth Forum, I had come in contact with members outside the United States and wanted to spend more time with them in their traditional setting.
Once accepted as part of the World Service Corps team, I was given my assignment in March 2007. I remember opening the e-mail and reading “Kathmandu, Nepal.” I thought to myself, I have never even heard of this place. I had a lot to learn. I set out to study everything I could about my new home. But no amount of reading could teach me the lessons I learned firsthand from the people of Nepal.
On arriving in Kathmandu, Pastor Nanda Malla and his wife, Muna, invited us to their six-month-old daughter Kripa’s first feed. This is as big a deal as the baby blessing in our church culture. The invitation immediately made me feel welcome, as though I were family. It is a big celebration to which family and friends bring gifts and watch the baby eat her first bite of rice porridge. The paternal grandfather offers the first bite of porridge followed by a spoonful given by each of the other guests. This was an interesting tradition not only to watch, but also to participate in. It was my first official taste of Nepalese culture.
Our first church service was also interesting. The congregation has about 200–300 members of all ages. Everyone sits on the floor, with women on one side and men on the other. The service usually last about three hours and is filled with many songs, prayers, and an hour-long sermon. When Paco Cadman, my assigned partner, was asked to pray, they all had a little laugh because the prayer was so short. In stark contrast, the people in Nepal pray 15–20 minute prayers. They were surprised at how we can fit a whole church service into one hour.
We were able to better get to know the people we were serving through cottage meetings and English classes. The young adults shared with us the ins and outs of their culture. They discussed everything from arranged marriages to the health care system. Many times, the young adults only see Americans for a few days and even then the Americans are there to work with the priesthood. Once they realized we were not much different from them, they warmed up to us.
What I enjoyed most was our walks together after English class. That was when I got to talk to them one-on-one about their lives. After a couple of weeks, I was able to give and receive hugs. This gesture is not usually shared in their culture. It was great to finally receive that affection and feel a human touch again. We take for granted how important a simple hug is until we go three weeks without one.
In sharing with the older adults, I learned about their conversion to Christianity in a Hindu nation. For years, many of them struggled with sicknesses and sought healing from many sources, including witch doctors. When that did not work, they would hear about the church and prayer. Esther Shrestha, a deacon in the church, shared her testimony of an alcoholic husband who caused his family to live in fear. The witch doctor gave her a stick and instructed her to beat her husband with it when the drunken tirades began. When this did not work, she and her husband, Jiwan, turned to the church. He was the first of the two of them to be converted and now serves in the office of elder. He is a mild-mannered man and you would never believe he could ever hurt a soul. She went on to share that since joining the church, not only does their family live in peace, but they are happier and more successful.
The church members in Nepal have so much faith in prayer and in the church. They are also committed. Because of government turmoil there are many strikes that shut down the transportation system. The strikes force many people to walk to church. For many of the members, walking to and from church is an all-day event. It takes some of them two-and-a-half to three hours just to make it to church. This caused me to reevaluate my lifestyle and way of thinking. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that in America, if most of us had to drive for that long just to attend an hour-long church service, we probably would not attend. The Nepalese people walk a great distance and still show up with big smiles and eager hearts, ready to welcome the Spirit.
Sunmoni is one example. One day, we had a health training seminar to teach the women about sanitation, first aid, respiratory infections, and HIV prevention. There was a strike that day and Sunmoni, along with many other women, made the long walk to take part in our training. She is sixty-four years old but still has the heart and energy of a teenager. All summer I never saw her without a smile or a story to share with me. I loved talking to her because it did not bother her that I did not speak her language. She shared with me anyway. Some things I understood, but most I didn’t. Through her expressions and body language, I was able to feel what she was talking about and the happiness it brought her. This is how I want to be! I want to share God’s love and the happiness it brings me even when others might not understand.
Not only did I learn about commitment and faithfulness, I also learned about culture and religion. Nepal is a predominantly Hindu nation. Many of those Hindu beliefs shape the culture, rituals, diet, and landscape. Going to Nepal, I vowed to myself that I was going to be open-minded and try new things. That I did! I ate things I probably never would have eaten at home. Surprisingly I liked most of them, although my stomach might say otherwise.
I learned about Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which I was ignorant of before leaving Louisiana. Seeing people of other religions worship made me realize that they are just as sincere in their beliefs as I am in Christianity. There are things we can all learn from every religion. Who am I to judge? As for the landscape, around most corners there are Buddhist stupas and Hindu temples and statues, and because cows are regarded as sacred—and not to be slaughtered or eaten—they roam the streets, free to graze wherever they like and to wander through traffic without fear of being bothered.
On returning home and reflecting on my summer, I am thankful for the opportunity provided through World Service Corps, and for the World Church, all the people in the Ark-La-Tex Mission Center, and my friends and family. This was an experience of a lifetime. The people of Nepal have forever left their imprint on my heart. I will always carry with me the lessons, love, and laughter they gave me so freely. They truly are a Community of Christ.