Left Oklahoma on May 1 and arrived in Bangkok late May 2.
Because of the Thai economy, I was not able to get any paid bookings in Thailand. Prior contact with Michael Dobson in Chiang Mai provided an invitation to the school there. I took the train to Chiang Mai on May 5 and was met by the Dobsons. “Wined and dined,” they took care of my physical needs for food and lodging and I worked at the Chiang Mai International School for two days.
I then flew back to Bangkok on May 8th to go on to Nepal.
Nepal on May 10th. Becky Thorson, my contact person with UMN (United Missions of Nepal), met me. While in Katmandu, I worked with KISC, the upper level expatriate youngsters and with two study centers for younger children. I also was able to go out in one of the nearby villages to Mindies’ Haven, an orphanage run by Mrs. Mindies, and work with her children again.
Plans kept changing because of Maoist unrest, elections, weather and travel difficulties but it was arranged for me to travel to Pokera by “Tourist Bus” on May 15th. Put up at the INF (International Nepal Fellowship) compound and worked two days with the expatriate children at the Pokera Study Center. I then went on to Gandeki Boarding School for 3 days. All of these were places that I had traveled to and worked with 18 months ago.
At Gandeki Boarding School, the English teachers wanted a workshop to try to figure out how they could use stories, action stories, songs, finger plays, rhythms, etc. in their teaching. They saw how well the students responded to them and were surprised that in having fun, I did not lose control of the class. They are from the old school of memorize, stand to recite, copy to your notebook - be serious because this is serious business. This new style of teaching intrigued them.
While in Pokera, I was asked to visit the INF Drug Education Program and did a workshop with the residents and work with the staff. I spent an extra day in Pokera on the 22nd and had a great day with that program. Some of my journey of coming to meet God through therapy and recovery in group work was useful in sharing there. Returned to Katmandu on another “tourist” bus on the 23rd. (On the return trip we saw 3 “Local” busses that had gone off the road in accidents - and off the road in mountainous Nepal is not a pretty sight. The monsoon rains had started to erode the roads and many “Local” bus drivers do not drive safely.)
I attended the UMN Annual Conference from the 24th to the 30th. Felt that I was doing exactly what the Lord had sent me to do. I worked with children and adults in sessions and one-on-one and was able to become a real part of the conference. Rather than stay in the single room that they had set aside, I chose to stay with Frank Billman’s team from Philadelphia. Slept in the older boy’s dorm and helped chaperone. They were great kids and it was fun to be involved instead of isolated in my room. Conducted the “Family Service” and gave the sermon for it. I had some fear about being “enough”, as I don’t do “sermons and services”; I do “programs and storytelling.”
As is often the case, my fears were unfounded and it was well received. As people saw what I do and could see how it might fit into their program, I was invited to go to Jumla. It was on my original itinerary but dropped for a number of reasons - distance, uncertainty of travel, lack of children, etc. All this changed when the nurse for the Leprosy hospital that was arranging the travel, ended up with one seat extra on the charter - my seat.
After Annual Conference I was invited to lunch with Colin and Marie Hazell. Paul and Sarah Wright also attended. The Wrights are going to Jumla to live in a couple of weeks. Helen Parsons and Celia were also there. We ate at the “Club” and had more fun teaching the wait staff string figures. They had to show us some they knew also. What fun. We are all kids at heart. I was then invited to stay with the Neil McDonald family two days until I went to Jumla. It was nice to be in a family home, eating and relaxing in that atmosphere. Very British, but home just the same. Helen Parsons from UMN personally escorted me to renew my visa and take care of paperwork at the mission office.
I traveled with the group by plane to Napalgunge, then by land rover to Surkhet. Stayed overnight in Surkhet, then left by charter to Jumla. The only other way is to walk from Surkhet, a five-day walk at best. I took a cat from Surkhet that the Wrights wanted. It was not a happy camper. I ended up carrying it from the plane up to the house, about 45 minutes away, in its basket, wrapped in my poncho to keep it from escaping. The porters thought we were crazy; one for bringing the cat, and two for carrying it ourselves. Compassion for animals is not in their experience. In Jumla I stayed in the hospital staff quarters with a young Nepali man. Slept on a mat on the floor and had tea and a bun for breakfast.
In the one week there, I was able to work with string with the leprosy patients each day and they were very responsive. The staff was equally responsive. If not for the patients, for themselves and so they could show their children. The staff can now work with the outpatients. They brought one man to see the figures. They wanted him to stay for a while in the hospital but he told them he couldn’t and anyway he had just bought a watch so he could take his medicine at 10:30 each day.
My most memorable moment on the trip was when I went into the women’s ward after working with the men and saw that one woman only had parts of two digits on each hand. What could she do? Then I remembered a figure called the mosquito, which only uses only two digits, and we made it. Not without much difficulty, laughing, starting over, etc. did we complete the figure. As I was working with her disfigured and crippled hands, I sensed that this was my “foot washing” experience. When the figure was completed, the look of joy and accomplishment on her face paid for my trip.
Madhav, my host in the staff quarters, invited me to attend the rice planting ceremony in his village, Lamra, a half day’s walk from Jumla. Nancy McGaughey, the nurse that arranged my travel to Jumla, also went. Many people have stories of staying in villages without electricity, water, etc. To explain how remote Lamra is, let me relate an experience in Jumla the day before.
I had been in Jumla (the trade center for about one eighth of Nepal.), I was tired of beans and lentils, the staple of the country, and asked Nancy where I could buy a candy bar. She told me to go down, hop a rice plane and I could buy one in Surkhet. No amount of money could buy a candy bar or piece of fresh fruit in Jumla or the region. The village of Lamra is one half-day trek from there. Survival is a full time occupation.
To be able to just be, to be present to their experience was exquisite. Their life is not easy but there is a dignity to it. In the best house in the village, the hearth is on the floor in the middle of the room, but they had some things that we have lost. It was not appropriate to be a guest in the Brahman’s home and preach the “Good News”, but I was able to make among others, a string figure that one of the young men at the UNM conference had developed and explain to the family that it was a representation of Jesus on the cross. Madhav, the Brahman for the village, said, “Oh yes, Jesus Christ.” At least the name of Jesus was spoken in that home in a positive way.
What a gift to be able to experience another culture at such a personal level. AAA Travel could not have put me in that village. The best travel agency could not have acquired a personal invitation to eat Dahl Bat (Rice and Lentils) at the home of a widow who has no fingers because of leprosy, but wanted to thank us for helping her family and teaching her nephew those string tricks. God can do what no man-made company can do, and he can tailor it exactly to my needs and interests. Praise Him!
I left very early in the morning to be back in Jumla to give the message time at the church. I have a better understanding of the many people who travel great distances just for the privilege of attending worship services.
While in Jumla, I also presented programs and gave out strings at two “Boarding Schools” and worked with a few children who hung around Nancy’s house. Sheila and Alex have a clubhouse where they have programs for area children. I gave a two hour program for their youngsters, about seventy-five of them. First I did stories, and then was ready to pass out strings. I told them that I would teach them some things to do. We passed out the strings and before I could show them anything, they were showing each other all the things they could do; the things that I had taught the leprosy patients, the staff at the leprosy hospital, the Boarding School children, etc.
Word had traveled in the five days that I had been there so I didn’t need to show them. They were showing each other. I think that is the way with the Christian church in Nepal. It is an exciting thing and people are telling each other about Jesus. Not about their denomination, but about Jesus. It felt safe everywhere I went to say the name of Jesus, to mention the fact that I am a Christian, and that the people from America love Jesus and want to share that love so they helped me to come and they sent the strings. It felt good not to have to try to do the job of the Holy Spirit and convict the people.
In Jumla I received word that an elderly friend that I was guardian for, had a couple of strokes and was not responding. The medical team said that she was terminal but not critical. I started the process to change my return flight but also knew that since I could not do anything for her, and had everything set up in the event of her death, that no emergency existed. I had planned on going to Surkhet to work with the leprosy patients and do some programming for the INF tutorial group and the church there. After praying about the situation and getting advice from the people in Jumla, I decided that there were a few things that I needed to do while there. God had not brought me that far to not work at the other leprosy hospital. I had great peace about the situation.
Everyone was most helpful during this time. Nancy McGughey sent my ticket with someone going to Kathmandu and Helen Parsons and others in the UMN office worked to change my flights. Meanwhile, back in Surkhet, I visited the leprosy hospital and worked with the patients and staff there. One of the nurses knew a number of Nepali string figures and was pleased to share that knowledge with the others. One man knew a trick that you could do with no fingers and of course the Lord put someone there that needed just that figure. We had a lot of fun sharing.
I also gave a program after the regular church service and about 60 people stayed to learn string figures, hear my testimony, and see some ways to use string in telling the “Gospel Story.” I gave a presentation for the YWAM’S, Youth Workers on A Mission. They were very responsive and wanted to know more about how to share the “Joy!” They had not experienced something this light, this simple, and this unimportant in sharing the “Gospel Story.” They were intrigued with the possibilities. I also worked with the expatriate children in the tutorial group.The housekeeper at the guesthouse in Surkhet was going to Kathmandu and so I had an escort who knew the ropes. She was also able to arrange a landrover from Surkhet to Napalgunge and transportation in Napalgunge. Again, the people in Napalgunge were most helpful, even to getting tea or a soda.
Back to the McDonnell’s gracious hospitality for a day in Kathmandu while my tickets were completed, then on to Oklahoma. With phone lines down and e-mails getting sent to the wrong places, I had not received word on my friend. People at home knew I was on my way but did not know when.
When I landed in Minneapolis, my first US stop, I called and found out that she had died the Friday before but they were holding the funeral the next morning, Thursday morning. God knows me and that I would have been trying to micromanage her death and that probably all parties were better off this way. He arranged for me to be able to have closure by attending the funeral. When one is 90 and does not know anyone because of Alzheimer’s, I am glad to know she is Home.
Was the trip effective? I have some glimpse of incidents that I think were effective. A teenager at Conference coming up with a figure of Christ on the Cross made out of string, the smile of a leprosy patient who could make the mosquito out of string, the young man who wants to be a missionary wanting to know how to transmit joy.
What things are important? Did I know when I put the Sees candy from Seattle in my bag that I would meet a family from Seattle? A packet of Ranch dressing mix is just a little bit of home if you are far away. Picking a lavender string because your dress is lavender, or used to be, or crying with a friend and being happy there is someone there for you. Describing a figure as being Jesus on the Cross might be the only time the name of Jesus has ever been mentioned in that Braham’s home.I hope that lives are no worse because I was there and maybe some are a little better. I know that my life is so much better because I was there. I was able to experience each person as a child of God. I became more comfortable sharing my faith journey to others. I was shown over and over again that the simple faith of children is not childish or something small in nature. That simple faith is what we each need to start with and continue to hold on to. That simple faith is the pure essence of what I need to know. Then I need to go walk the walk.