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Nepal Newsletter

September 9, 2003
Mark and Deirdre Zimmerman 9 September 2003
United Mission to Nepal
Box 126
Kathmandu, Nepal

Stand at the crossroads and look,
Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies;
And walk in it and find rest for your souls.
Jeremiah 6:16

Dear Friends,

Last week the Nepal government informed us that our visas, which allow us to live and work here, will not be renewed after they expire in November. The Ministry of Health made a rule one year ago that expatriates could work in Nepal for a maximum of 10 years, and that no one could be over 65 years of age. Why the government would want to exclude its most experienced and fluent volunteers is not clear. Some have speculated that it was to get rid of certain people, others that long-term Christian workers might be a threat to the Hindu kingdom. In any case, our local organization the United Mission to Nepal (UMN), who had appealed the ruling, received the letter that conveyed a "no" for four of us who now work in Patan Hospital.

What this means is that our time in Nepal - 17 years for me and 7 for Deirdre - may be drawing to a close. As I mentioned in a previous letter, UMN has also disappointed many of us with its new plan to phase out involvement in hospitals.  We have pointed out to them the historic and mission value of these, their flagship institutions, but the "new" UMN is looking to be more "grass roots" in its approach. A group of us are in the process of trying to establish the three UMN hospitals as a mission outside of the UMN umbrella. This will now be harder to do with the loss of our group of veterans.

Dear Nepal finds itself in hard times. For seven months, "peace talks" between the King's appointed government and the rebel Maoists went nowhere. In fact, the killing just rambled along, if on a smaller scale. All during this time of negotiations, the elected politicians, who had been displaced by the King's men last year, raised loud and threatening protests. This unhealthy triangle collapsed on itself in the last week of August. Since then, the Maoists have brought their guerilla warfare into Kathmandu, with flurries of political assassinations and bombings. The Maoists have also expressed their anger with U.S. military advisors who came here to help the Nepal army. It is a big city, the violence is sporadic, and hospitals are generally off limits to the insurgency - so we have not felt personally threatened by all this. It is difficult to see hope in this morass, but we know that God sees it and we pray on.

With all this going on, perhaps it would seem a reasonable time for us to move on. The chapter does not close so easily though. I came to Nepal in 1986 with the intention of staying 6 months. The blessings that have fallen to me here cause me to view my life in two parts, cleft by that October day when I first walked across the airport runway ringed by green, wrinkled mountains. How could I ever have contributed this much or been so fulfilled as a doctor had I stayed in America? I have become intimate with these hills, made many generous friends, and I've learned an exotic culture and language. While working in Amp Pipal Hospital, I made my life commitment to Jesus Christ. And it was in Nepal that I met the wonderful Irish woman who became my wife.

Like me, Deirdre originally intended to work in Africa, where she spent her early childhood and later worked short-term. Her initial reluctance towards Nepal has grown into a deep fondness, and she has many close Nepali friends. She worked for 5 years with UMN's Nutrition Programme, going out to remote hill districts.  She still gives that team support, but from afar, as her first responsibility toddles about at home. Now 16 months old, Zachary was born in Patan Hospital and seems to thrive in all ways. He is friends with the local merchants of Patan, and seems to be on a first-name basis with many of the street animals.

We have known amazing support during our years here. How many times do we turn to each other, shaking our heads, showing a greeting card that tells of another person at home who prays for us regularly. By letters, the occasional visit here, interactions with support churches on furlough, gifts and donations to the work - we feel that we are walking this road with you. Where UMN support has lately lagged, groups of church friends, such as Friends of Patan Hospital, have stepped in to keep our Hospital's charity work going. As I write this letter, a 40-foot container of medical goods from Project Cure and a state-of-the-art ultrasound machine from Upstate New York friends are, respectively, sailing and winging their way towards Patan Hospital. We cannot pretend that the loss of senior staff will not affect the hospital, but capable and dedicated Nepali staff remain, and a cluster of great missionaries will continue on in this work for the Lord.

Where does all this leave the Zimmermans? On an emotional level, we are still a bit shaken by the government decision. We are allowing ourselves a period of time to hold out hope that appeals from hospital staff and local people may reverse the government ruling. Please do pray for that, for we feel that this is just when we should be here: at a time when Nepali people are really struggling. One possible option outside of the hospitals would be for me to work under a local medical school. Medical schools are under the Ministry of Education, who do not yet have a 10-year rule for expatraites. This would be a pleasant change in work style, one that would let me make use of my accumulated medical experience. We do want to continue in overseas mission work, so if all Nepal options fall through, we will go back to the United Methodist General Board of Ministries to explore possibilities elsewhere in the world.

This is the month when the monsoon clears. The drapes of cotton cloud blow off of the surrounding hills. Kites take off from every rooftop. Does one need to eat the rice at this time of year? - gazing on the green terraced fields almost seems feast enough. We watch the horizon for edges of Himalayan snow to begin to appear in the cobalt blue sky.

Deirdre and I have had a sense of God's leading us to Nepal. Our unexpected bounty of blessings (often wrapped in challenges) has the fragrance of grace, and we are full of gratitude. Just as He has led us here, we trust that He knows the next step. Certainly this process is beyond our capability to predict, plan or guide. We pray and watch, knowing that the Lord has something good in store for each of His children. Thank you for your prayers and for your sharing this journey with us.

Mark and Deirdre

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