Friday, October 28, 2011

A Common Bond

I must have gasped when my foot slipped off the narrow ledge because hands flew out from in front and behind to steady me so I would not fall.  It was dark.  Thankfully, Matthew had brought the headlamps.  He also brought our raincoats which helped us stay somewhat dry in the steady rainfall.  We left Kathmandu Nepal early that morning for our journey.  After a two hour drive to the parking spot, we crossed a long bridge on foot to begin the hike.

As we crossed that bridge overlooking the river beneath our feet, we did not realize that it would be another 7 hours til we arrived at our destination.

On the other side of those seven hours was a mountain village and a church on a hill.  It was hot and humid during most of our trek although our companions made sure we had plenty of water, snacks, a walking stick to use when the path was steep, and even an umbrella to shield me from the blazing sun.  We weren’t just heading to any village or any church.  Excitement overflowed as we pondered the meaningful journey we were on.  We hiked and hiked enjoying the breathtaking views surrounding us, occasionally stopping to rest or talk to people along the way.

“A few more hours, a few more hours,” our new Nepali friends kept encouraging.  Those hours were filled with many interesting things that we don’t often encounter when we hike in the mountains of Colorado.  Here are a few examples…

Giant spiders…

Cows fighting on the edge of a cliff…

Interesting berries picked from a tree…

(A piece of advice for anyone who plans to trek in Nepal at some point in your life – if you are offered these berries and a group of people gather around to watch you eat them…Don’t do it!!!!  If you do, you will eat them and they will cause your cheeks to implode because they are so sour and the people will laugh at you.  Just thought you’d like to know:)
After hours of hiking in the heat, the clouds suddenly rolled in.  Just as the first few drops hit the ground, we ducked into a village home right off the path.  Our companions knew the family that lived there.  We first sat on the front step with rows of corn cobs hanging over our heads and chickens walking around us.  A few minutes later, the rain was falling so hard that we had to move into the house.  We sat on the floor taking up the entire first floor which was a joint kitchen and living room area.  The kids in the house sat on the ladder leading up to the second floor sleeping area. 

We ended up staying there for about an hour and a half because it was pouring.  The family began to prepare the kindling and sticks to start a fire under the stove.  Smoke filled the living room as they began to fry their corn for us. 

As we ate the crunchy snack, I looked around the room and realized that there was a goat right there in the living room.  Again, not something we normally come across where we live.  This was a truly authentic experience of life in Nepal.

After the rain died down, we started on our journey again.  Just a few more hours.  Matthew and I did not think about the possibility that it might be dark by the time we arrived.  Shortly after our hike resumed, the rain returned.  Not a downpour like before, but steady.  It made the path slippery but we carefully followed our leader, Pastor Hanok.  After another hour of hiking, they pointed across a valley to our destination, a small home on the hill.  I breathed a sigh of relief that our destination was finally in sight but then suddenly realized that the sky was darkening, the rain still falling, and although I could see the destination, it still quite a distance away.  There was no way we would get there before daylight faded.

Matthew pulled out the headlamps and we continued on our way.  Darkness came quickly and the rain continued to fall steadily.  Our guides decided that it was time for a shortcut.  Rather than staying on the wide path lengthening our journey, it was time to cut across the ledges of the rice paddies to get to the home as soon as we could.  They circled around us to keep us as safe as possible, picking up the pace and hoping to keep us in step with them.  My foot slipping off the ledge was indeed a shock, but my other foot was firmly planted and the hands that suddenly grabbed my arms prevented me from falling.  “You’re doing great babe, we’re almost there,” Matthew encouraged, although with the dim lights of our headlamps, we were both unsure how far the house was.

A short while later, we were suddenly standing next to a house where the occupants stood waiting for us.  We made it.  As we entered the home, I realized that it was not unlike the village home we visited a few hours ago.  Our hosts showed us to our bedroom, which was up a ladder on the second floor.  Actually, the bedroom was the second floor and it occurred to me that, as honored guests, they had given us the only room in their house.  We changed out of our wet clothes and I looked down at my calves to see thin streams blood flowing from the places the leeches had attached.  Wow, what a journey.

Despite the rain, the dark, the fatigue, and yes even the leeches, it was worth it.  Our companions summoned us downstairs to meet the family we had heard about.  This was a family whose lives had touched the heart of my father-in-law, Michael.  The woman of the house, a beautiful woman who exudes strength yet has a sweet, gentle spirit, has the most amazing story.  I don’t even know how to capture it in this blog, but just know that her story is incredibly beautiful.  So much so that my father-in-law decided to design and sponsor a church to be built in this far away mountain village so that these people would have a place to worship together.  Once the funds were in place, the villagers joyfully labored to build their own church with their own hands.

In the morning, we walked across the rice paddies toward the music seeping out the windows.  The views of the mountains around us were spectacular.  We saw the church on the hill, our hearts full as we listened to the sounds of music floating in the air.  

As we were welcomed in, we smiled as we saw that the room was full.  They honored us with garlands of flowers although we didn’t feel that we were the ones to be honored.  They sang and danced and prayed.  Matthew preached a powerful message with Pastor translating every word.  The women asked me to pray for them which blessed me.  

Afterward, we spent time with the villagers and they even let me hold a sweet little baby.  They gathered in front of the church for pictures and we laughed at how I blended in.  (Throughout our entire time in Nepal, I heard the phrases, “Are you Nepali? You look Nepali” multiple times every day!)  At that moment, there was no division between us as Americans and Nepalis, but only a common bond of brothers and sisters in Christ.

The trek down from the village church was much less strenuous and took half the time.  We heard news of the earthquake that hit Kathmandu last night.  Later we realized that if we had gone to the mountain village a day earlier as planned, we too would have been in Kathmandu during the earthquake.  I was overwhelmed to think about how many times God has protected us on this trip…this was one of several times in the last few months that we were supposed to be somewhere but our plans had changed causing us to barely miss a riot and a protest and a bombing and now an earthquake. 

As we hiked down, we learned more about our companions that guided our way up the mountain the previous day.  These young men were all church leaders in their communities. 

As they shared their stories, we realized that practically every one of them had faced major consequences for their faith including being beaten or being disowned from their families or even having to flee the country.  During the rest of our time in Nepal, we continued to find this to be true among the rest of the people we met.

Matthew and I were able to visit and stay for several nights at a children’s home with 10 kids.  We thoroughly enjoyed our days with the kids along with the house parents and their own two children.  The kids taught us how to play in-depth games with little pebbles thrown into the air and caught on the back of your hand.  We sang songs with them and taught them a few new English songs.  Every day, they would give us new cards and letters that they created, filled with messages like, “Uncle, you are so handsome” and “Thank you for teaching us songs Aunty” and “We will pray for you” and “We love you”.  We taught them to play games such as Red Light Green Light and Simon Says, and Matthew taught them how to walk on their hands.  We aren’t sure who was feeling more sad when we had to leave the kids – us or them.

Matthew and I met another young man, Amrit, with long dreads and a trekking business that he runs to support his own children’s home, this one with twenty kids.  Not much older than ourselves, we realized that Amrit was in his early twenties when he started rescuing children and formed this children’s home years ago.  We only spent one evening at the home but we loved meeting the kids.   All twenty of them greeted us one by one and told us their names.  All sorts of percussion instruments emerged as they sang and danced for us.  It was great fun!  The next day, Amrit picked us up to tour Kathmandu since we hadn’t seen the sights yet.  We climbed up hundreds of steps to tour a temple filled with more monkeys than steps, and overlooked the city of Kathmandu.  He told us the story of how he married his wife – the very first child he rescued was his wife’s younger brother.  He met her years later but didn’t know that the rescued boy was her brother until later.  After he found out, he cared for her too by helping her get an education, and the rest is history.

The two of us also spent a few days at more of tourist destination in Nepal, called Pohkara.  Our days in Pokhara were spent eating at a variety of restaurants, trying to glimpse the snow capped Himalayas when the sky cleared, renting a motorbike for a mountain drive, and doing some hiking to explore the area.  We planned to go boating on the lake but it rained during our last day there.  It was a relaxing time taking in the beautiful surroundings.

After Nepal, we decided to stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a few days before heading to Bali, Indonesia…

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