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Nepal Newsletter

June 7, 2005
Mark and Deirdre Zimmerman
United Mission to Nepal
P.O. Box 126
Kathmandu, Nepal

7 June 2005

Commit your way to the Lord;
Trust in Him, and He will act.
Psalm 37: 5

Dear Friends,

A bird or two sings in the morning darkness. Then a rooster from farther off in the city. Grayness slips around the curtains, and I hear the cuckoo bird in a tall beech tree at the edge of our garden. My bedside clock reads 5:15.

It's the sound of two jungle monkeys in the next room that finally pulls me irreversibly from sleep. Zachary begins his soft cackle. Benjamin screeches, and then raises the level to a plea for release from his crib. Zach is under marching orders from his Mom not to come wake us untill his alarm clock goes off. "Meeeeyowk!" The peacock in the neighbor's compound looses a squawk that seems to fill our house. "Aaaaayowk!" I hear Benjamin shout back. "Hey, morning out there!" Zach shouts to the peacock through his open window. A short while later, Zachary bounds into our room with his ringing alarm clock - he has fiddled with it so it is now going off 45 minutes early.

One year ago, when we were home in the US and Ireland for furlough, we asked for prayers for the uncertain time that faced us here in Nepal. We wondered how the United Mission to Nepal and the Nepali government would work out their future commitment for our mission hospitals. We also mentioned a dream of starting a medical school associated with Patan Hospital. We didn't have a clear idea what God had in store for us - and still don't entirely - but an interesting thread has been sown into the fabric.

Back in September 2003, before we left for furlough, an American family called the Simons paid Patan Hospital a visit and took a tour. Jim Simons was a Harvard mathematician, and his wife Marilyn has her PhD in Economics. After moving to a University in Stoneybrook, NY as head of the math department there, Jim began to invest seriously in the stock market. He eventually became successful enough to establish his own investment firm and to leave academics entirely. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, the Simons' son Nick came to Nepal in 2002 to work and see the country. When he returned home in March 2003, two deep impressions had been made on the young man. He had fallen in love with Nepal, and he wanted to become a doctor. He enrolled in required pre-med courses, and before classes began he went on a world tour. On July 30, Nick was swimming in Bali and drowned.

Through the rest of the summer, Jim and Marilyn considered a memorial for their son. When they heard about a new medical school in Kathmandu that was affiliated with Harvard University, a number of things clicked, and they began to explore its needs. In September 2003, the Simons, with two of Nick's sisters and his two high school friends, flew to Kathmandu in their private jet. At just that time, though, the medical school was undergoing an internal power struggle, and the Simons found the scene in disarray. Having come so far to make a donation, the Simons asked about other charitable causes in Kathmandu, and that is how they happened to be touring our hospital one Monday morning.

"You have an impressive hospital, Mark - how can we help?"

"Well, as you saw, Dr. Simons, our Maternity Ward is overflowing. That's our next big project."

Within a month, the Simons sent word from New York that they wanted to fund the new Maternity Ward building project - for approximately $1 million. Donations of all sizes - and the prayers that come with them - are what keep Patan Hospital going. Our CEO Ram Prasad summed up the hospital's reaction to this turn of events with the Simons: "We were visited by angels."

While Deirdre and I were home on furlough, in February 2004 we visited our United Methodist mission headquarters in New York. While there we had dinner with the Simons in their apartment overlooking Central Park. Two of Nick's friends came and we talked about this unusual, free spirit - a man who made friends easily and who poured himself out for others. As we ate dinner, Zachary scooted off by himself to explore the far corners of the house.  Marilyn chased him down and settled him in front of some children's videos.

When we returned to Nepal last August, a busy schedule faced us. We had 15 months remaining on our visa, and in this time had to help forge a suitable transition process for Patan Hospital (post-UMN involvement), find my own replacement as medical director, begin building a new Maternity Ward, and explore future work options for ourselves. In addition, colleagues in the hospital were looking towards setting up a new medical school associated with the hospital. A month after we returned, events took another unexpected turn.

On a September night Jim and Marilyn Simons phoned me. In the year since they had first visited Nepal, they had been studying its health care situation. They wanted to fund a much larger project in Nepal involving medical education, but they had gone off the idea of a medical school. "We'd like you and your team to develop a proposal for health care training. Something that reaches beyond Kathmandu. A sustained tribute to Nick. Get something to us, and please don't take forever to do it."

I put down the phone and walked across to where Deirdre was sitting. We were both staggered by the magnitude of this challenging offer. We shared it with a circle of old mission hands internationally and with some potential partners here in Nepal. As our group formed, we were obviously excited by this opportunity falling into our laps, but also cautious. How does this fit into our mission here? Is this part of God's plan for us or a distraction? Where do we start in developing a proposal to use this much money?

The answer was 'start in prayer.' Our task force of 8 folks included about half Nepali, and about half from Patan Hospital. Over the course of 3 months, with input from many friends here and abroad, we developed a proposal for the Nick Simons Institute of Rural Health Training (NSI). One major reason for poor health in rural Nepal is the lack of access to trained health care workers, including doctors, many of who prefer to work in urban areas. Many facilities exist, but they are often only staffed by minimally trained staff who happen to live nearby. The NSI vision is to build up the capacity of a network of existing mission (and other) hospitals - many already serving remote locations - to become excellent training sites. This would simultaneously supply trained health care workers to the government's rural facilities and increase the viability of the mission hospitals, whose future is now uncertain. In a way, this is the medical school that we asked people to pray for while on furlough - but with a wrinkle, for it trains health workers other than just doctors.

This past January, the Simons received our proposal and digested it. In February they gave approval, so we are now working with them on developing a board. NSI would be an independant institution - not under UMN or Patan Hospital - but with close functional links to Patan and other mission hospitals. For me personally, this opportunity came along just as obstacles to my continuing in Nepal were growing: the government had become more difficult about granting expatriate visas to work long-term in hospitals, and UMN said they wanted me to be replaced as medical director by a Nepali.

In prayer, it seems right that we pursue this new possibility of working to develop NSI. It is an oppportunity to support the mission hospitals and to reach out in a new way to help rural Nepal. Still, there are many challenges ahead. We are trying to work out with the United Methodist Board how we can move into this new role and remain as missionaries. We want very much to continue our links with our home churches - which we consider vital to our work. We must get government approval for this new NSI venture and such a big project attracts a surprising amount of oppposition from people who would rather it be under their control. I hope to remain as Medical Director of Patan Hospital until this November, as we continue to work to steer our hospital into a Christian mission future.

The boys are asleep now. Through our window, a soft breeze blows down from the mountain Champadevi, a forerunner of the rains. Morning's birds have given way to evening's dogs. And the occasional ringing of a temple bell near the top of our lane. Houses murmer and waft the smells of frying garlic and cumin. Deirdre sits beside me on our small couch, which is covered by a quilt, gift from a Pennsylvania church. We read some. "So, what do you have on tomorrow?" We pray together. Midway she nudges me, thinking she must keep me awake. The crickets send us off to bed.


Mark and Deirdre, Zachary and Benjamin

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