Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Nepal Missions Trip That Wasn't

People ask, "What did you do in Nepal?" and I smile and shrug.

It's Friday morning in Tansen, a town set high in the Himalayas, and our crew lollygags through morning routines and breakfast. Dave pushes open the screen door, glancing over his shoulder with one last invite to anyone who wants to make the steep ascent with him to Srinagar Park behind their home.  He teaches while he walks and we try to keep up, our breathing labored in altitudes where the air is thinner than we're used to.       

People are at work already as they shovel mix for concrete into burlap-like bags.  Children stop to watch us curiously as we pass by, some smile shyly, others call out, "Namaste!" 

It's a different world altogether.  This place with a temperate climate, needing so much and nothing at all.  Like America, but different.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  As we walk, my mind races about all the work to be done over the next several days.  I imagine building projects, and *VBS-like activities with children, and cuddling orphans, and cleaning up whatever needs to be cleaned up, and teaching and preaching and praying and evangelistic outreach, and... 

Dave stops and we stand close enough to listen.  The panoramic view of the city of Tansen is below us now and we take it all in as he explains the history, the culture, the people.  I'm thankful I don't have to talk because 1) I can barely breathe from the 5-minute hike we just made to get to this point and 2) I don't know any words to describe the exhilaration of this experience.  I just stand there -- we all do -- listening to Dave, his voice filled with compassion and love for these people and their world. 

Single file we follow a path through a wooded area until we turn a corner at the top where a metal banner that arches the entry reads "Shreenagar Parileyak Van."  A Buddhist shrine caps the top of the hill, the stone Buddha attended to by statues of an elephant and a monkey.

It is from here that we are able to see a long view of the Himalayan Mountain Range.  "But it's a little overcast today and so you're not able to see as many mountain peaks," Dave explains.  And we try to comprehend the splendor of what we're seeing... the idea that what we can see is only a sampling of the view on a clear day! 

I squint and gaze long, wanting to memorize this moment.  The profundity of possibilities... tangible and glorious... realized in God's perfect timing.

I hesitate, watching the others step, step, stop to point off into the distance, voices animated, then continue their descent.  I want to make all the moments last just. a. little. longer. 

Halfway down the steps my legs are shaky and I'm out of breath... again.  Interesting how the way down from a "mountaintop experience" can be at least as, if not more, difficult than the ascent.  To use a different set of muscles...

And it astounds me how often I don't see how God is going to use a moment today to encourage and motivate me later when I'm called on to use a set of muscles that are untrained.  When atrophy set in unawares.  How He loves me enough to not let me settle or get too comfortable.  And the way might be shaky, painful, and exhausting...

One   step   at   a   time.   

After our walk we visit the Tansen Mission Hospital and I am elated, thinking this is where we'll begin to serve!  We'll do something hands on!  We'll fix something broken!

It is Good Friday and the children write "Happy Easter" on balloons as we hand them to sick and injured children. 

We smile, bow with our hands pressed together like we're praying, greet parents sitting bedside vigil, "Namaste."

We show up and experience the grace of this hospital filled with hope.  People smile.  A lot. 

We coo at precious babies, eyes filled with curiosity. 

Healing surrounds us.

And as we walk from room to room I realize the enormous capacity of love in this place.  That many of these people will experience physical healing... but all of them experience the love of Jesus...

...through the medical team who make assessments, diagnose, prescribe treatment... all the while being the hands and feet of Jesus...

We finish making our "balloon rounds" and head back to the house.  But I am quiet, processing.  I am underwhelmed and overwhelmed all at once.  I had it in my mind how we would do so much.  So far, all we've done is be present

The path between the hospital and the house meanders up a small hill past the pharmacy, a few guest houses, and stores the size of smallish American living rooms.

We arrive at the house just in time as the Didi steps out from the wooden screen door to deliver a tray of mugs filled with hot chai tea.  Such a novelty, really, to drink dessert!  Bowls of warm popcorn are passed around as our motley crew settles in and prepares to listen to Dave read.

He begins to read from the book, At the Foot of the Snows by David Watters, and I grapple with this lifestyle of being present.  The art -- and discipline -- of presence.  How this culture slowly unravels all of my paradigms, gently landing me fully in the moment.

     "Rarely does it happen, but when it does, you know that God has smiled on you: you are allowed by God to become part of another man's narrative.  The walk is vicarious at first, but as you watch and listen, the journey quickly becomes your own."     From the Foreword of At the Foot of the Snows                                                                                                                                        

Six days a week, tea time is at approximately 10:30 every morning.  Dave reads and they dialogue about the narrative.  Our family melds into their family's daily rhythms and the transition into Nepali life is nearly imperceptible.  The day unfolds into a series of moments.  Unhurried moments of full engagement without pressure to perform...  and it does feel vicarious at first, this "missions trip" not turning out at all like I supposed.  Instead of hard labor, we gather empty popcorn bowls and mugs and carry them into the Didi who smiles and nods as she takes the tray.  It feels awkward... I think I've shown up to serve and this sweet, sweet Didi is glad to serve us.   

Chink, chink, the Master chips away at my pride, my addiction to performance and accolades.  This false humility I wear as a token -- how I default to a position of service so that I'll feel like I'm enough -- believing the lie that my efforts will prove myself worthy of grace.

Chink, chink.


Red dust kicks up at our heels as we follow single file along the narrow path into town.  It is hot and we are thankful for the high elevation as it is cooler up here than in the valley.  After several minutes we turn left and follow the Beine boys through a narrow tunnel that opens up to a steep street.  Dave leads us to a shop where our boys buy Khukuri knives, the traditional weapon of Gurkha soldiers.  Of course, Israel chooses one, too.  

Then we stop by the grocery market, the one that caters to Westerners with luxury products... like toilet paper.  We linger to visit with the proprietor... because this is what I'm learning we do in Nepal... build relationships, build into people.  (Not buildings?)   

We walk past the Tansen Palace, much of it destroyed by Maoist Rebels in the Nepalese Civil War in 2006.

2006.  And I'm wrapping my mind around time frames and history and wars and freedom and families enduring life in the midst of persecution.

Our little group reaches a large gate, yielding to allow each person to duck as we pass through the small doorway.

I smile to myself as I ponder one of my favorite quotes, the one printed on Ethan's t-shirt,

"Preach the Gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words."  -- St. Francis of Assisi

This mission's trip... I know it's the first day but I'm realizing that the reality of quietly bowing low, yielding to others, and reveling in the grace of engaging in the moment...  that the daily mission anywhere in the world is to remain fully present and available... 

And that for all my intensity and passion and pride, I'll miss the mission entirely if I constantly try to implement the next big initiative, strive to meet the next big goal, push for perfection in myself and those around me.  We stroll across the Main Square to the pastry shop where we buy bread and I admire pastries that -- I'm told -- "aren't any good." smile.  

After our trek through town we head for home where the Didi has prepared Dal Bhat, the quintessential Nepali meal of rice and vegetables. 

The day plays out, all of life with its work and play and prayer happening within relational context.  And Spirit whispers, "People.  Not projects."  My eyes brim with the grief of my arrogance and endless striving.  This wanting to fly to the other side of the world to fix the world's problems only to experience Spirit's pursuit of my heart, His grace all over again, to show me what the world really needs is Love fully present in the moment.

Sitting here in the Himalayas, I can feel God smiling on me.  I haven't done anything but show up.  And I don't realize it yet, how God means to woo me all over again in this place where relationships mean everything.  It's true, it does feel vicarious, this entering into another culture, not exactly a part of it and yet partaking freely of its nuances and customs.  All of my paradigms about "missions trips" are being turned inside out, and grace, pure grace without any strings or striving attached...  that God would bring me all this way to teach me the importance of presence.  

*VBS stands for Vacation Bible School... our Western idea for reaching out to children in the community to introduce them to Jesus.


  1. It is fun to see it through your eyes! Nick says it was so great that you came to visit relieve his boredom and provide friendship.
    -Kimberly, for the Beines

  2. Thank you for sharing! And what a good point, no matter where you are.

  3. I would love to hear your input on "my life as a medical experiment" on my blog in light of this entry... I believe we even wrote it at nearly the same time... how odd... and yet not.