Conntecting the Dots

Sunday, April 7

This was an Easter Sunday to be remembered for the rest of my life. A group of about 50 men, women, and children met in the same facility as yesterday’s conference. They sang several English songs that we know from back home, and those were okay, but their enthusiasm rose to a new level when they broke into a Hindi chorus. I couldn’t understand a word but I could understand the joy that flowed from their hearts. With guitars and a bongo-type drum accompanying, they sang for probably five or six minutes. I just closed my eyes and joined them in spirit.

A group of about eight children participated in the program by doing a pantomime to an English song. The lyrics may be familiar to some: “Thank you for giving to the Lord…I am a life that was changed….Thank you for giving to the Lord….I am so glad you came.” The oldest child was perhaps 10 years old; the youngest was only three. It was so touching that I couldn’t hold back my tears.

As the song went on, I was challenged afresh to be faithful to God’s calling on my life. Life is about loving others, not collecting stuff or a bulky bank account or even building an impressive platform. It’s about serving and encouraging and building up. It’s about leaving a legacy that impacts others for eternity.

Minutes later I was given the privilege to encourage through the spoken word. I spoke from Psalm 138 and listed the reasons for why we can celebrate God: His unfailing love, His faithfulness, His answers to our prayers, His care for the humble, and His mighty power. A skilled translator interpreted everything in Hindi for those who spoke no English.

Afterwards we enjoyed an Indian lunch with several OM leaders and their wives. These wonderful, talented men and women are passionate about serving their own people. While Gene spoke with the men, I learned more about the work being done among the women. One of the most effective things they’re doing is called Women Empowerment. They send out teams to rural villages to educate women (especially Dalits) about their legal rights, literacy, health issues such as immunizations, family planning, TB and HIV awareness. They also visit women in prison and have had the opportunity to present Christmas programs to them.

The women in these prisons are there because of the dowry issues. For instance, when a girl marries, her family must pay a demanded sum to the groom’s family. The payment is made, but the groom’s family often returns to ask for more. These demands are not small; they might even include land, a motorbike, or even a new car. If the bride’s family cannot pay, the groom’s family will seek revenge by torturing or killing the girl. That’s what the bride burnings are about – dousing a woman with gasoline and burning her alive to punish her family for not meeting the dowry demands. The prisoners (the bride’s female in-laws) might have been directly involved in the killing, or they might be paying for the crime committed by the male members of the household. In any case, the living conditions consist of an outdoor facility (no protection from the chilly winds in the winter), and a concrete floor to sleep on. Bathing facilities are practically non-existent and the food would be less than sufficient. Whether they committed a crime or not, their hearts are heavy and they’re hungry for someone to show kindness.

Saturday, April 7

Our flight finally reached Lucknow about three hours late last night. Three Indian women and one of their tenth grade daughters greeted us with two bouquets of gladiolas. Bless their hearts, they still wore big smiles and gave me hugs despite waiting at the airport all evening.

The conference began at 10:30 this morning, and approximately 50 women came from various local churches. Remember how I keep saying that flexibility is the key word? Well, put another tally mark on the wall! I’d prepared to teach in English but when the MC used a translator, I knew I’d best switch mental gears immediately. Two gifted Indian women took turns speaking as my translators. It was a ton of fun to work with them, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

The sessions went well, I believe. At the end of the last session, we had an open discussion time with questions focused on each of the three topics covered. I was delighted to see the ladies freely share their thoughts about how they’ve grown in their spiritual journey. I think they could have gone on for at least an hour but we ran out of time.

Harvest House and OM partnered to donate 70 copies of 10-Minute Time Outs for Busy Women to each participant. What a joy to see these women eagerly receive their own copies of the book!

I think I had my most embarrassing moment of my speaking career this afternoon. The heat here is about 105 degrees F. The electricity surged many times throughout the day, knocking out the air conditioning and leaving us sweltering in the meeting room. One lady gave me a cold Coke before the third session. I opened it while the ladies were singing a song a few minutes later. To my chagrin, the soda fizzed and overflowed all over my lap. There I was, desperately digging through my bag to find something…anything….to soak up the puddle of soda. The only thing I could find was a roll of toilet paper (one carries a personal roll of TP here because one never knows what to expect re: toilet facilities). I cleaned up what I could and got up to speak again albeit the huge wet spot across my middle. Oh well! The heat was good for something—it dried up the puddle while I hid behind the podium! The ladies enjoyed a good laugh when I told them what happened.

After the conference we had a few minutes to wander the street and buy bananas and oranges for tomorrow’s breakfast. On the nearby corner, a vendor sold marigold leis and teeny dishes filled oil and a candlewick. These were used by customers in a room across the street for a certain Hindu ritual performed only on Saturdays. We watched as men and women filed into the little room that held a golden idol that stood about three feet tall. They dabbed red powder on the idol’s face and set the burning candlewicks before it. Another idol sat in the room next door, flanked by two friendly Hindu priests – father and son, I learned.

Watching the idol worship reminds me of Scriptures that describe idols fashioned by man’s hand. Why do human hearts worship inanimate objects crafted by human hands? How does one find spiritual fulfillment by performing rituals on a rock? I’m also reminded of Scriptures that declare God as being above all gods. There are millions of false gods across this land but there’s only one true God – the One who loves mankind and invites relationship with anyone willing to believe in Him.

Friday, April 6

The morning began early with another meeting to learn more about human trafficking. One gal with whom we met has been working with sexually exploited women for several years. She told us that human trafficking is now a bigger international money-maker than the illegal drug industry. The evil and greed of man’s heart is hard to comprehend.

What to do about it? Well, I think I have my homework cut out. I need to do a lot more research and reading to ensure an accurate understanding of the complexity of the problem and to be able to suggest practical solutions.

We noticed something unusual when we left out guesthouse at 7:15 this morning. Hundreds of people had already lined the sidewalk of the nearby main street. The crowd grew as the morning passed. By 10:45, buses and taxis were having a difficult time getting through. We managed to get out and to the airport, but after arriving there, we heard that the riot police had come out and streets were being blockaded. The reason? A cell phone company was featuring a good deal and everyone wanted a piece of it.

Today w flew from Kathmandu to Delhi, arriving in time to find that our connecting flight to Lucknow would be delayed for two hours. So here I sit in the airport, catching up on blogs and working on an article.

I’m looking forward to the conference tomorrow. Seventy women are expected to attend. On Sunday I’ll speak at the Good Shepherd Community Church. We’ll meet with OM leaders for lunch, and with the World Vision Program Manager in the evening. On Monday we’ll fly back to Delhi where we’ll meet World Vision reps who will take us to visit our sponsored child.

I’m not sure what our email access will look like after today, so I’ll blog each day and post when there’s internet availability. Happy Easter weekend to all!

Thursday, April 5

We started the day by meeting with several men who serve on the Board of Directors for an NGO whose goal is to rescue and rehabilitate women sold as sex slaves into India. They described the means by which these women are sold: Sometimes attractive men visit remote villages, find beautiful young girls as young as age 12, and either marry them there or take them away with the promise to marry them later. They take the girls to large cities such as Bombay. Once there, they take the girls to a brothel, saying that these women in the house are relatives and they’ll (the men) will be back shortly. It doesn’t take long before the girls realize they’ve been lied to and are now enslaved in prostitution. If they refuse to comply, they are tortured and raped.

Sometimes the girls are sold directly into the sex trade by their own parents or even their husbands because of the income potential. Sometimes young girls are lured to the big cities with the promise of a cleaning job in an office or for a wealthy family. They get the job, alright, but they’re also forced to give sexual favors to their employers and then sold by the same into the industry.

Rescuing these girls is risky because so many people appreciate the income earned through this business. The police are often involved, taking bribes to keep their mouths shut if a girl seeks their help. We’ve heard stories of girls going to the police station for assistance and being raped there.

In many cases, these girls contract HIV. If they’re kicked out of the brothel when they’re too sick to function any longer, they often have no place to turn. Their village folk don’t want them back – being ill only makes them a financial burden. If they can’t work, how will they earn a living? They’re left destitute. If they’re still able to function to a degree, they often return to the brothel for lack of other options.

We listened to these men describe the work that’s taking place in their organization and sat in awe of what they’re doing. They own a house where these women and their children live. While there, they receive food, clothing, education, life skills training, and much needed HIV medication. If the girls marry, the organization looks after the details. If they die from AIDS, it takes care of those details. The Board expressed the desire to become self-supported by leasing or purchasing land to run a pig and poultry farm. They’re hoping to raise at least $3000 to help them purchase the above. What’s that to a North American? If 30 people donated $100 each, the farm could be purchased and the work could advance to a whole new level.

This issue of human trafficking looms larger than my imagination can comprehend. How can a little organization like this even make a noticeable dent? By faithfully doing what it can, one life at a time. And I want to help.

Wednesday, April 4

My friend K. is truly a woman of influence in her culture. The 20 additional children showed up at the orphanage for an initial visit while we were eating lunch in her dining room. Without a word, she slipped outside and made sure their arrival was a smooth one. While we were there, she also checked the previous children’s arms for their TB skin test results. Seven kids showed positive. Now they’ll have to take one pill on an empty stomach every morning for a year – accomplishing that will take nothing short of an act of God.

The facility was spacious but very modest: A three-storey concrete building provides a sitting room, kitchen, bedrooms, shower and tub, a covered deck on which to play during the monsoon rains, and a study room. The eating area is a separate building that holds four wood tables and enough benches for 42 kids. Where the other 20 will eat is anyone’s guess. A third building, a narrow brick structure with a bare concrete floor provides indoor play space. It’s a far cry from anything seen in North America, but it’s more than what some of these kids have come from, and their smiles show that they’re happy to be there. One little fellow, maybe four years old, sidled up to me and slipped his hand in mine – he stole my heart in an instant, and then we had to say goodbye. Sometimes I wonder why life seems to be so unfair, especially to these innocent ones.

We spent the remainder of the day traveling across the city and then visiting a training institute for Nepalese church workers. There are 12 students presently enrolled in the five-month program. Again, talk about a modest facility! The director has to walk through the men’s sleeping quarters (a bare room with four bunk beds) to get to his office. Three female students share sleeping quarters on a different floor. The dining room has one table meant for four people – perhaps the rest spill onto the adjoining outdoor deck. The teaching room has six narrow tables barely long enough to accommodate two students each, and a small whiteboard on one wall.

Nevertheless, good things are happening in and through the lives of these young people who have decided to follow Jesus. Several have overcome drug addiction and are now helping others who are struggling with various issues in their lives. They remain steadfast despite persecution. It’s obvious they’re following the Lord because they love Him, not because of a false notion that He’ll make their lives peachy-keen.

Tuesday, April 3

An American gal who works in Katmandu told us about a coffee house with wireless internet access. We discovered that it’s only two blocks from where we’re staying! So, this morning, I sifted through my emails while sitting on a comfy sofa and sipping a vanilla latte. Nice!

God fulfilled one of my personal dreams today. Through divine networking, yesterday evening I located the woman who was my language helper when we lived in Boudha in 1982. We saw each other for the last time in January 1984 and have had no contact since then. We spoke by phone this morning and arranged to meet for lunch.

K. is a beautiful, strong woman who has endured much. For instance, she lost her husband five years ago when he was killed by Maoists rebels during a major countrywide political upheaval. Her family’s vehicles were burned the same night, and she was forced to flee with only the clothes she was wearing. K’s life flipped upside down, and understandably so. While weaker folk might have thrown up their hands in despair, she has chosen to persevere and try to make life better for others.

K. is now involved with a local orphanage that cares for 42 children. Another 20 will join the facility within the next two weeks. Recently she discovered that most of these kids aren’t really orphans. Some parents lie about their children’s status to the government-run Children’s Welfare Organization in order to secure a guaranteed education for them. Others have one parent who works for 12 hours a day while their child or children sit alone at home or run the streets. The CWO then labels the kids as orphans and places them in facilities such as the one on her property. Granted, the kids are well fed and educated, but under false pretenses. They’re also filling space that should rightfully belong to children who honestly have no one to care for them. What to do when the needs are so great?

K. told us how strangers visit rural villages and tell parents that, for a price (about $300), they will take their children to the big city and place them in a boarding school to receive a good education. The parents believe them, pay the price, and bid their kids farewell. The strangers then deposit the kids at an orphanage and walk away with the money in their pockets. Sometimes those orphanages sell the kids into the sex trade industry or pass them along to another facility. Meanwhile, back home, the parents are thinking that their kids are being well cared for. Only when they try to contact their children do they realize they’ve been duped. Tomorrow we’ll visit the orphanage where K. volunteers and get an up-close-and-personal peek at what’s happening there.

Thanks to technology, K. and I can now stay in touch via email! With all my heart I believe God has reunited us for a reason.

The day ended with dinner with an ex-patriot family we’ve supported for more than a decade. What a joy to hear first-hand of their work and to see that they’re doing well. They spoke about the cause of the political unrest here – simply put, the Maoists want to throw out the existing government and establish their own.

We saw results of that unrest while trying to travel through the city today. Mass traffic jams resulted when Maoists demonstrated their displeasure at the massacre of 29 of their comrades last week.

Monday, April 2

While in Boudha we visited the famous Buddhist stupa. It’s a white structure several stories tall, topped by a four-sided tower with a set of eyes painted on each side. Prayer flags supposedly send prayers heavenward so long as the breeze keeps them flapping. This afternoon people of all ages and from many nationalities were walking around it, putting their arms through slots in the wall to give the enclosed prayer wheels a spin. Several Tibetan women on the next level above were paying homage to Buddha, too. They’d covered their hands with a type of cymbal which they clapped together before prostrating themselves face down on the concrete floor. Then they stood, took a sideways step, and repeated the process.

I surveyed the scene from a restaurant window above and the song “People Need the Lord” came to mind. These folks are on a spiritual quest to fill their heart’s God-shaped vacuum. Sadly, some have never heard of Jesus, the one who died to give them the free gift of salvation. Others have heard the Good News of salvation but refuse to admit their sinfulness and need of a Savior. They’d rather try to earn salvation through good works and religious deeds. “God, shine Your light into this needy land and dispel the darkness.”

Monday, April 2

I woke this morning realizing I’d slept better last night than any night so far despite the plywood-type mattress! “Thank You, Lord, for renewed energy!”

Our hotel boasted a garden sprinkled with round wooden tables and chairs where guests could relax in the shade. High walls covered by greenery provided respite from the noise of the nearby bazaar and ceaseless traffic. A waterfall gurgled and splashed in one corner. Two tabby cats meandered from one hotel guest to another. That’s where we were eating breakfast when the Nepalese mother we’d met yesterday arrived, this time bringing her ninth-grade sister to act as her translator…sort of. We ordered chia for them and then we launched into a conversation that required concentration on everyone’s part as we struggled to talk about concepts rather than merely physical things.

For instance, in Nepalese we asked how she felt about giving up her toddler, Shanti, for adoption, especially to a woman in a different country. She responded in Nepalese saying that she had cried for a long time in the days leading to Shanti’s departure, but that she chose to give her up because she wants a good future for her. She said that she’s very happy for Shanti now, and she looks forward to the day when she can see her again. She expressed a question regarding whether or not Shanti will remember her, and we were able to tell her that the doctor speaks of her often at home, referring to her as “Shanti’s tummy mommy.” She smiled.

While it must have been extremely difficult for this woman to do what she did, I’m thankful she didn’t sell her child into the sex-trade industry for a few dollars. I’ve learned that parents will sometimes sell their youngsters into a lifetime of slavery and eventual death by AIDS for a mere meal. “God, show us how we can make a difference in the lives of those who need help desperately.”

We checked out of our hotel at noon and moved into a lovely Nepalese-run guesthouse. Upon arrival, we were delighted to discover that the gal in charge once worked with UMN, the same organization we were with in Nepal from 1982-85. As we spoke further, we discovered that she and her husband were actually working at the Tansen hospital at the same time as we were! Small, small world.

After dropping off our suitcases, we caught a taxi for a district called Boudha, in search of the family with whom we lived for two months while we did language study in 1982. Unfortunately, the entire neighborhood, as we knew it, was gone. We recognized only one building, the home of a crippled man named Kami, who we visited many times back then. Apartment buildings have replaced the simple single family dwellings and rice fields that once dotted the district. We spoke with several older folks, explaining that we’d lived in the area 25 years ago and asking them if they knew our Nepali family, but no one could give us helpful information.

Regardless, we walked the bazaar and chatted with vendors. I had a blast asking men, women, and children for permission to take their pictures, and then showing them their digital image. The faces of Nepal tell a thousand stories, and I want to preserve every word to share with friends back home.

Sunday, April 1

The testing continued after checking into our hotel. Exhausted, I plopped onto one of the twin beds in our room. I nearly broke my tailbone when the mattress refused to budge. How in the world would I be able to sleep on a bed that felt like plywood? I wondered. Self-pity began settling in. Instantly an image of villagers sleeping on mere straw mats popped into my head, and I had to ask for forgiveness and a thankful heart.

The afternoon took a turn for the better when I began making phone calls to folks living here with whom we’d networked with by email prior to this trip. One call was to a Nepalese woman whose toddler our doctor adopted last year. Our doctor had asked us to deliver an envelope containing cash and pictures, and we’d gladly agreed. Less than two hours later, this Nepalese mother showed up with her first-grader and younger brother who spoke English fairly well. The young mother beamed when we told her that her adoptive mother is caring well for her child. We took pictures of her and her family and promised to give them to the doctor and her precious little one back in Canada. She told us that she’d return tomorrow to bring gifts for her daughter and new family.

We also met with a Nepalese man who I’d interviewed via email several years ago for an American magazine article. We asked about his ministry and he told us about establishing a training institute for Nepalese pastors. The program runs for five months. Alumni have established 40 churches so far, but his vision is to establish 400.

As an independent worker, one of his greatest challenges is dealing with the lack of financial support. He requires about U.S. $500 per month for his family’s living expenses. That doesn’t sound like much to a North American, but it’s huge for the Nepalis. As we spoke further, he told us that his greatest desire is for his children to attend a private school where they can receive a good education and their faith will be encouraged. Presently they’re attending a public school where they are forced to repeat Hindu mantras everyday. He says that enrollment spaces are limited and government officials’ children receive first dibs. The only option is to send his children to a reputable boarding school in India, but that would cost about U.S. $4000 per year, and he simply doesn’t have the funds to do it. He says he’s written letters to search out foundations who will contribute financially towards the education of national missionaries’ children, but he has received no replies. I’d like to present his situation to people back in North America to see if something can be done to assist him and bless his children.

Sunday, April 1

Our road journey took us to the Indian – Nepal border where we were granted an entrance visa. Until the moment the immigration officer processed our papers and stamped our passports, we were unsure about whether or not we’d get permission to enter Nepal. We’d always assumed that we were flying from India into Nepal and would get our visas at the airport upon our arrival. Last night, however, our travel agent informed us that the airport for departure was in Nepal, not India. His face fell when he learned we had no visas yet. He told us that if immigration turned us back at the border, our only recourse would be to backtrack to an airport in India, fly to New Delhi, and from there into Kathmandu. If I’m learning anything on this trip, it’s to trust the Lord for the details and move forward in faith. We asked the Lord to go before us and assign officers who would be merciful to these uninformed westerners. He answered, and we had our visas within 10 minutes of entering the building.

Another hour’s drive through rural Nepal delivered us to a small airport tucked between farmers’ fields. Security was comprised of two tiny rooms – one for gents, one for ladies – with dingy curtains for doors. When my turn came, the female officer searched my purse and then asked me to unzip my money pouch. That’s when the fun began. When she saw American $50 bills, she immediately asked for one. Well, well, well….that’s called bribery. Using my best Nepalese, I told her no. She asked why not. I told her that she was receiving a salary for her work and that she wasn’t to ask for bribes. Then she launched into a discourse about her country being poor and ours being rich, and that I should hand over my money. Again I told her no, but she refused to let me leave the room. That’s when I remembered the cheap keychains and souvenir pens I’d purchased for impromptu gift-giving. I dug out one of each and offered them to her. Her face lit up and she opened the door so I could finally enter the waiting area. So much for my cross-cultural negotiation skills!

The flight to Kathmandu was on a small plane, maybe 30 passengers. We flew at 12,000 feet – above the clouds but lower in altitude than our sightseeing trip to the lake on Saturday. Interesting! Enroute we enjoyed a view of the magnificent snow-covered Himalayas. Mt. Everest was easily identifiable above the other peaks.

One of my suitcases went missing from the baggage claim area in Kathmandu. It contained my notes for upcoming speaking engagements, my Bible, my laptop’s spare battery and electrical cord, gifts for my kids, and other important belongings. I’d kept these things in my carry-on suitcase for the whole trip so far just so they couldn’t be lost. This time, however, the plane had no overhead bins and airline rules required me to put the bag in the check-in section.

When one suitcase similar to mine was left unclaimed, we realized that someone had probably picked up mine by mistake. Thankfully there was a phone number in that suitcase and an airline employee quickly made the call requesting its return. I must admit that after sleeping only 1 ½ hours the night before and driving for many hours in the heat, I had precious little reserve to count it all joy while wondering if I’d ever see my belongings again. It was as though the Lord said, “Testing. Testing. Do you hear Me, Grace? Can you trust Me with EVERY detail?”