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Nepal Newsletter

May 25, 2006
Mark and Deirdre Zimmerman
NSI, EPC 1813,
PO Box 8975 ,
Kathmandu , Nepal

“Lift up your heads, O you gates… that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?  The Lord Almighty - he is the King of glory.”

May, 2006

Dear friends,

The week before Easter in Kathmandu was eventful, and provided some interesting comparisons with that first Holy Week two thousand years ago and the associated Bible readings for the week.  For some time, the displaced political parties had planned a 4-day nationwide strike with a major rally in Kathmandu on the Saturday before Palm Sunday.  They were supported by the Maoist rebels, but with assurances that there would be no physical Maoist presence.  As the events approached, rhetoric between the parties and the king’s government increased, with the government banning all events, threatening a strong military response and eventually resorting to extensive curfews.

“See, your King comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey” Zech.9.9

Palm Sunday arrived with the capital city entering a second 13-hour curfew;  violent protests were occurring in towns all over the country and the first death of a protester by security forces was announced.  Meanwhile the king, despite the critical state of affairs, was to be found continuing his 3 month sojourn in a ‘holiday palace’ in the tourist town of Pokhara .  During his stay there, he had made occasional forays into rural towns where villagers and school children were bussed in to provide an appropriate welcome;  for this ‘hardship’ the king claimed a daily allowance from the state worth more than a middle-class monthly salary.

“…he will bring justice to the nations.  He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out…”Is.42.1-4

The Monday of Holy Week was more of the same.  The daytime curfew in Kathmandu was reduced to 7 hours, but was nevertheless widely defied by thousands of protesters who threw bricks and burnt tires in the face of lines of armed security forces.  The newspapers were filled with graphic pictures of individual protesters being chased down by police wielding heavy bamboo ‘laathi’ sticks;  others were shown bleeding and injured as they were dragged away to arrest.

“…He was despised & rejected by men, a man of sorrows & familiar with suffering…But he was pierced for our transgressions…the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed…”Is.53

On Wednesday word spread that the king had returned to Kathmandu .  The government felt confident enough to lift curfew, but protests continued and there was a palpable tension on the streets as people awaited the king’s traditional New Year speech (1 Baisaakh 2063 BS this year coincided with Good Friday).  King Gyanendra must surely have been burdened by what lay ahead of him, considering all the hatred and frustration directed towards his position, but there was no sign of sorrow or grief at the state of the nation and certainly no sense of suffering for his people.  When New Year’s Day/Good Friday came around, unfortunately there was only one similarity between the behaviour of Nepal ’s king and of Jesus in that both said little in response to the accusations against them.  Despite the hope of many that the New Year would somehow automatically bring a return to normality, by the next day the political parties’ strike was renewed and protests began again. The lack of political resolution or reconciliation must have resembled something of the situation the disciples found themselves in as that eventful week in Jerusalem drew to a close with Christ’s death.

Throughout all this, how did we fare as a family on a day to day basis?  Let me first say that, as with previous periods of unrest in Nepal , at no time did we feel any concern for our personal safety.  We were certainly grateful to be living in a roomy apartment with a large garden, considering how much time we had to spend under curfew.  Like everyone else, we would dash out early in the morning to take a walk and see what we could buy as supplies of fuel and some foodstuffs began to dwindle.  By breakfast-time we would all be back indoors, having carried out a full day’s activities in those first couple of hours!  Mark was able to go to his office by bicycle between curfews;  while frustrated at his inability to start cementing some of NSI’s training partnerships, he was able to catch up on paper work and develop some of the organisation’s policies.  As Easter Sunday approached, we were determined to get to church, having missed the previous 5 weeks because of strikes and curfew.  So at 6 am that morning, we were to be seen cycling through the early light with our boys behind us on child-carrier seats.  We were thus able to join a small group at the church for a ‘sunrise’ service and shared tea and hard-boiled eggs together afterwards before heading home for our ‘traditional’ Sunday cooked breakfast.

However, despite our fairly comfortable position, there is no denying that we did feel an increasing amount of stress during the period, especially myself at home with the boys, unable to make any plans or arrange to meet up with other children.  After he had attended for just two days of the new term, Zachary’s pre-school (along with all others) was forced to close for the remainder of the month.  Although, with our financial security, there was never any real danger of running out of supplies, I found myself unduly occupied with replacing any item we used, and considering alternatives if it was unavailable.  Many expatriate friends began to discuss leaving the country for a period and, although we wanted to resist such a move for as long as possible, it certainly was an unsettling thought.  Where would we go? For how long?  And what possessions would we take, or leave?

Many of you will be aware that following that first week, the situation grew more serious with another 10 days of frequently violent struggle.  A parital offer by the king at reconciliation was rejected outright as republican cries for the abolishment of the monarchy grew louder.  Thankfully though, just as some foreign organisations began to pull out, there was a sudden turn of events.  The king capitulated, making a television announcement at 11.30 pm that handed full power back to the parliament he had dissolved 2 years previously.  Since then, we have been barely able to keep up with the pace of events.  Parliament has been reinstated and has subsequently removed much of the king’s authority and pronounced Nepal a secular state (rather than a Hindu kingdom).  The Maoists have declared a 3 month ceasefire, subsequently reciprocated by the government, and peace negotiations have started with the main aim of leading the country towards an election for a constituent assembly (which would rewrite Nepal ’s constitution and thereby potentially its whole governance).

“When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’  With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit Jn.19.30

It was a dramatic turn of events, for which we (and many others) prayed, but perhaps hardly dared hope for.  On the streets and in the newspapers it was declared as a great victory for people power.  Of course, much lies ahead before we can be confident that Nepal has truly moved into a new period of peace. But we are grateful for that Easter assurance that “it is finished”, which we could hold onto throughout the last couple of months, and continue to hold onto as we return to our routines.  Zachary is back at pre-school and we are now proud owners of a clay thumb-pot, a dragon fly made from an icecream stick, and a zebra made from a toilet roll!  May is a big birthday month for us with our boys passing their fourth and second year landmarks, and has also brought the blessings of early rains after a winter drought.  Mark forges ahead with pulling together a team for the NSI work, and will see some of you during a brief visit to the US in June.

The Easter promise was especially poignant for us Methodist missionaries in Nepal following the sudden death of our regional executive, Mark Masters, soon after he arrived on a visit here;  please do remember his wife Kathleen and sons, Christopher and Matthew, in the days ahead.  With thanks to all of you for prayers, thoughts and messages that helped, and help, us along,

Deirdre, Mark, Zachary and Benjamin Zimmerman.

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