Reflections on Katmandu

Here on my last day in Katmandu before I start the long flight home, I wanted to write down some of my reflections while they are still fresh in my mind.

The first thing that hit me was how crazy it is to drive here, and how different it is from America.  Most of the cars are very old and used.  There don’t seem to be any lines on the road, traffic lights or stop signs.  People drive in any part of the road that is open, with one finger constantly on the horn.  Walkers, bikers, motorcycles, cars, trucks, children, and cows all seem to fight for the same space at the same time.  It felt like a miracle that we were never in an accident.  Yesterday’s newspaper announced that traffic injuries and deaths were up last month – I am not surprised.  We did drive by one bus that overturned.

You also quickly notice the extreme poverty here.  Wow.  People live and work in very run down conditions.  There are lots of store fronts with all kinds of little shops.  I saw some raw meat sitting out in the open in a couple of stores that didn’t look very appealing.  The condition of the buildings is really sad.  You could spend tons of money every year going from one end of the city to the other fixing up the structures, and it would still take you forever.  I was told one river was believed to be holy, but it didn’t look in very good shape.  There is pollution here.  Some people wear masks over their mouths and many old vehicles puff a lot of black smoke into the air.

Dr. Luke Vandari is the founder and president of the Himalayan Mission and the Jesus College of the Katmandu International University.  He got his M.Div. and D.Min. from Fuller Seminary.  He is a native of Nepal.  He started these ministries 20 years with just a few people in an apartment.  Now, they own a whole compound in the middle of the city.  They now have about 1000 students that have graduated from their program, and moved out in ministry around the country.  25 students received their Bachelor of Theology and Certificates of Theology in the graduation ceremony yesterday.  They have a main auditorium which had about 700 for our services, but maybe 1000 for the graduation.  Over 100 students now live in the residence halls on the campus, as does Dr. Luke, his wife and their two young daughters.  The school is now completely accredited, and he wants to add M.Div. and D.Min. programs, because it’s too expensive for students to go and study elsewhere.  For $100 a month, you can support one student at the Jesus College.  I walked into Dr. Luke’s office the other day, and he was listening on his laptop to Eric Clapton’s song “(I Have Finally  Found a Way to Live) In the Presence of the Lord.”  Then, he played it on his guitar with the praise band in one of the services and the students all loved it.

The worship is lively.  They have a praise band with guitars, bass, and drums.  The people love to sing and dance and shout and wave their hands and arms in the air.  It has a more Pentecostal flavor to it than I am used to, but that was probably good for me.  They need more depth to their Biblical understanding and theology, but their passion and enthusiasm for Christ is amazing.  Some of the other leaders led two times of prayer for the Holy Spirit to come upon the people.  All of us walked through the crowds laying our hands on people and praying for them.  Many were eager to have me do this.  A number of people were overcome by the Spirit and collapsed on the floor.  This is not what I’m used to, but this is what they are used to.

It’s amazing to see people who have so little have so much faith and joy in their lives.  It is really impressive and deeply touches your heart.  Each year before graduation, they have this three day Leadership Academy where people come back from their ministries to hear speakers, learn more about the Bible and ministry, and be encouraged.  Only a rare few have full time jobs as pastors.  Most of them have to work some job (many are farmers in the small town and outlying areas) because they do not get paid much if anything for their ministry.

We got to meet the former deputy Prime Minister of Nepal who came for the graduation service yesterday.  He is a Christian and a member of the Communist party.  We also met a young man who is a Christian and the national youth leader for the Communist party.  There were some demonstrations yesterday about the political unrest here in Nepal.  The Prime Minister had removed the army general (which evidently he did not have the power to do), so the President had reinstated the general (which evidently he did have the power to do).  So, the Prime Minister and his staff resigned, and now there is uncertainty about what will happen next.

Nepal is still officially Hindu with many Buddhists.  The Christians make up less than 5% of the population.  Nepal is located between India and China.  Nepal is not in conflict with either nation, but India and China do have some conflicts.  They had elections in India this weekend, and the TV stations kept proudly referring to India as the largest democracy in the world.

I was struck by the extremes – the extreme poverty and the extreme faith in Christ.  They seem to be related.  While some have referred to Nepal in the past as a “third world” country, more people today are referring to these nations as part of the “majority world”.  Growing up in America, I didn’t realize that we were part of the minority.  After experiencing Nepal, it’s interesting to think that this more like what the majority of the world experiences in their lives than what I am used to in the United States.  The biggest response I got from people in my talks was when I talked about fear (Numbers 13-14) and seeking the welfare of the community where God has sent you (Jeremiah 29).

As one who encourages people and churches to move out of their comfort zones, it seems like God was wanting me to heed my own words again.  This is definitely not an environment that I am comfortable in.  But, it was good to see life and ministry in some new ways.  I am grateful to have had the opportunity to come here.  It’s not an experience I will forget.

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