There are many kinds of travellers out there. Some travel as part of their work, others sell everything they own to wander the globe. Many are everyday people with more typical jobs, who make an effort to use up whatever vacation time they can get to go out and see the world.
Then, there are those who travel for very selfless reasons. Missionaries, relief volunteers and aid workers are these kinds of travellers. They go where they are needed, not necessarily what is on their bucket list. They don’t go to resorts, or with the mindset to hit up attractions and monuments. They are there for the people, the locals, who are in need, and they come to serve and share hope, life and love.
A couple months ago, on April 25th, you may recall the terrible earthquake that shook and tore across the country of Nepal, leaving behind utter destruction, fear and hopelessness. Among the survivors was my very good friend Julia, who had only landed there a couple weeks before with her YWAM (Youth With A Mission) team from Kona, Hawaii.
It has been 2 months now since that disastrous day, and Julia is back home safe and sound, and with incredible stories of what happened there in Kathmandu before, during and after the two earthquakes. I decided to sit down and chat with her, to get a first-hand account and perspective of Nepal, the country, the people, the event, and the aftermath. We met up at Tims, and the following conversation and questions ensued.
Nepal: The First Impressions
The noise! The vehicles, the honking, and crazy driving were the first things I noticed when I arrived in Nepal. “It scared me, it was scary!” The roads don’t have lines and no speed limits.
Motorcycles zig-zag through traffic anyway they can, it’s chaotic. There are also no stop signs, so you better run when you cross the street! Drivers don’t get punished the same way if they hit a human. “They would rather hit a human than a cow, you could go to jail for hitting a cow”. Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, has mostly dirt roads, there not many that are paved. “You can see electrical wires hang just a few inches above your head from electrical posts!”
The capital is very polluted and dirty, so much exhaust and grey-coloured skies – “you can’t even see the mountains except on really clear days”. Other sights include goats tied up, stray dogs wandering around, and cows literally lying and gazing around. “Because they consider the cow holy, you cannot even touch it, unless you own it”. It gives whole new meaning to the term ‘holy cow’.
When it came to first impressions of the people, the way women are dressed really caught Julia’s attention. “You knew who were Hindu and who were Buddhist. They (Hindus) wear a kirta of bright colours – lots of reds, purples and oranges. Buddhist women wear a longer head piece that wraps around their bodies”. As a female, Julia was not allowed to show shoulders or above the knee.
Many Nepalese women wear nose rings on the left, as opposed to the right, which is the Indian way. “They believe it will help make babies!”
Speaking of babies, the children in Nepal are not afraid to go up to people and start talking to them. While Julia admits that this is typical of most kids even in our culture, it was much more pronounced and open with these Nepalese children. “They fall in love with you instantly, and climb up on you. They (the families) love to invite you over into their home and feed you constantly”. Hospitality is prevalent in their culture, which is surprising for us North Americans, who have so much to give, and yet are not nearly so open to give and share with others, never mind complete strangers.
When the earthquake hit, what changed –
“Before – it was harder to talk to people about Jesus and to witness, to share about what we believed and talk about what they believed. Afterwards, they were much more open because they faced death, and realized that they had no certainty of where they were going after death”. The landscape obviously changed, but it is shocking in what ways it did. For instance, the Temples were all fine and standing, after the earthquake though, every single one in Kathmandu fell down. Dogs were freaking out more and barking at people, clearly also shaken after the earthquake. Life as they knew it, changed. Before, there were a lot more markets open the earthquake, and afterwards many of them did not open again. Their spirit of hospitality, however, was still very prevalent during the chaos.
How was the state of the locals?
Shaken. Every 50 years or so they experience a big earthquake, but they were still shaken. The Nepalese were very fearful, and the government already likes to use fear tactics to control the people.
They were searching for a sense of peace and would surround us whenever we were praying out loud in the streets. On the bright side, local churches were once segregated and not even aware of each other’s existence, now had a very good reason to rally together. Our team decided to get all the churches in Kathmandu to get together and 15 out of 25 of them came out to a worship event. It was very encouraging.
What was the greatest need?
“Peace and comfort”. As previously mentioned, they were filled with fear. Material-wise, they needed the everyday things to stay comfortable. The government, however, is so corrupt that they kept some of the materials that came in for relief, so the people weren’t getting things like blankets. They needed shelter, which we helped build, especially for those whose houses completely collapsed.
How did you comfort them?
We would walk around and pray for direction, then we would be led to a house and talk to the people, get to know their story or need. Many would come out to us before we even got there. We would pray over them. We raised some money for our close neighbours and friends in the neighbourhood where we were stationed, whose houses had completely collapsed. It was great to see how at peace and loved they felt – they almost didn’t accept the money.
How were the people’s spirits when you left?
The people that we knew well, we felt that we were leading them to a state of hope, “that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and something for them to hold on to”. We felt bad because we (the missionary group) got to leave the situation, but they have to stay behind and who knows how it will pan out, but they felt that they were going to be OK, and it is not the end but only the beginning of something huge. Nepal is definitely going to be a turning to Jesus, there is a chance for a revival. Everyone thought after the earthquake that “this nation is finished” but we spoke to them and said “no, Nepal is going to come back, and it’s going to prosper”.
What still needs to be done?
More missionaries, more people from anywhere to be placed there, because “the harvest is ready, but the worker are few”. Naturally, more materials are needed for houses to be built, and even for the temples. Offering to build up their old temples is a way to show the love of God and evangelize, which is what one missionary pastor is doing over there right now. Honestly, the government needs to change. They need a new person in charge, someone who wants to help and not leave it hanging on a thread. Ultimately, what needs to be done is to build Nepal back to be even better than before.
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There are people out there, just like Julia, who are doing good work across the whole world. They get no special recognition, award or building named after them. Our society and media is obsessed with actors, musicians, and famous idols who, for the most part, simply provide entertainment. Yet it is the humble, the selfless and the loving ones willingly serve others that we should look to as role models and with admiration.
I am so proud of my friend Julia, and I am so excited for what is in store for her in the coming years and she returns to do more missionary work in the fall. She inspires me to become a better person, to grow my faith and to open my heart to those who need it most. While life has not been arranged in a way for me to travel along with missions and relief groups, I know it is possible to share hope and love wherever you are and wherever you go. As wanderers, we have the opportunity to touch the lives of so many people in meaningful ways, both abroad and locally, and we should never forget that.
Do you have a story that involves travelling that you are inspired to share? Let me know and your story just might get featured in a future post!