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Nepal Newsletter

posted:
August 30, 2006
Mark and Deirdre Zimmerman
NSI, EPC 1813,
PO Box 8975,
Kathmandu, Nepal

"There we knelt down on the beach and prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home."
Acts 21:5,6

30 August, 2006

Dear friends,

Mark Masters had the title of Southeast Asia Regional Executive/ Mission Personnel for the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, which meant that he looked after the personal support of missionaries like Deirdre and I.  There are 3 other United Methodist missionaries like us in Nepal, and in May Mark came out to visit us.  None of us here had met him before, but we’d exchanged emails over the previous year.  Despite Nepal ’s simmering political situation, we urged Mark to not postpone his long-planned trip.

The Friday afternoon that Mark walked into our house, Zachary and Benjamin greeted him with a chorus of “Mark Masters! Mark Masters!” a houseguest bringing some excitement into their routine.  “I think this is the house where two boys have birthdays!” Mark chortled back.  He later produced two books for them, pointing out things in the books that he’d liked when he bought them.

The next morning before breakfast, Mark and I had some time to sit around and get to know each other.  He and his wife Kathleen and their two boys had worked for GBGM in the Solomon Islands and in various parts of Africa over the 1990’s.  Now they were in the U.S. while their younger boy Matthew finished up high school.  He would be going to Emory to study microbiology in the fall.  Mark told about Matthew’s interview for a college scholarship.  When asked about his reasons for this study, Matthew told about his having cerebral malaria as a boy and about family friends in Africa who had died of AIDS.  In the car on the way home, Matthew reported to his father, “Then the interviewer started crying – like one of the ladies at the churches.”  He got the scholarship.

That Saturday morning, Mark met Elma Jocson, a Methodist mission surgeon, and they traveled together out to Tansen Mission Hospital , located 150 miles west of here.  The next morning Mark had some “indigestion” and lay down in the guest house.  A doctor from New Zealand came and took him over to the hospital, where a cardiogram showed that Mark had had a heart attack.  As they were getting ready to move him to a stretcher in the Emergency Room, he suddenly collapsed and died.

Elma phoned us from Tansen.  I managed to reach Steve Goldstein of GBGM and got him out of bed in New York .  Steve phoned Kathleen Masters in Tennessee .  Two days later, in the final riveting scene of a blur of days, Mark’s body was cremated on the banks of Kathmandu’s Bagmati River .  It was a Christian service attended by some people who’d met him in Tansen, us from Kathmandu , and some from the US Embassy.  None had known Mark in person for more than a week.

A month later in June, I traveled to New Jersey for a conference on the theme “Rural Medicine in Nepal .”  After passionate family goodbyes that seemed like I was leaving for more than just 11 days, I left for the Kathmandu airport with two suitcases.  One was mine; the other belonged to Mark Masters.  I carried his wedding ring in my waist wallet, along with my passport and other valuables.

We’ve only had children for 4 years, but I felt oddly light as I moved through the airport departure stations alone – a bit like flying before I got on the plane.  On the Qatar flight, a Nepali woman and her son sat in the two seats beside me.  It was their first trip to America and they were nervous.  He was 10 years old and had only seen his father twice in his life.  The father, a Nepali, worked in a hotel in Virginia and had just now managed to secure U.S. entry for his family.  I thought about the disjointedness of families.

My journey brought me to Reading , Pennsylvania , where my Aunt Marie lives.  Before I was married, I used to stay with her whenever I was on home leave in the U.S.   We’ve always been close, and have grown more so during the years I’ve been in Nepal .  For 15 years, she has taken meticulous care in assembling our prayer letters to friends (like this one), and she also mails us all sorts of things, including a weekly Sports Illustrated magazine.  After she realized the volume of “Unique” pretzels I ate when I stayed with her, boxes of them began regularly arriving in Kathmandu .  (If you haven’t tried these pretzels, you won’t understand the addiction.)   During this visit we stayed up at night watching NBA basketball games – while I devoured the various snacks she’d laid on for me.

In the week before the NJ conference, I visited churches in the Philadelphia area.  The morning after I arrived in the U.S. , I drove to Grandview Lancaster church and spoke at 3 services, then at a luncheon afterwards.  Far from being a burden, if a church is interested like this one (after lunch they peppered me with 15-20 questions) I get a real boost from the visit.   “Please keep praying.”

During the week at home, I went down and saw my Aunt Barbara and dentist Uncle Bud, who squeezed me in for a check-up.  At the end of the week, I drove up to Hamburg , PA to visit my Uncle Bob, who had broken his hip bone – but not his funny bone, it seemed.  Then over to Jersey to stay with my friends Bob and Marilyn Callendar.  As usual, Marilyn had a pile of selected books to give me, and her Kalpana prepared a wonderful meal.

On Friday before the conference, I got a ride to our mission office in New York .  I had been praying about this morning quite a lot.  What would it be like to meet Kathleen Masters for the first time, carrying Mark’s belongings back to her?   Would I deliver yet another blow of reality?  Mark and Kathleen shared a job and office in our mission. From across the open office, I saw her in the room that had their name on the door.  I hurried by and first went to meet Steve Goldstein – I suppose to marshal whatever was needed.  Steve immediately turned me in her direction.  “Come on.  Let’s go.  She’s doing amazingly well right now.”

He introduced us and left.  Kathleen appeared composed, and seeming to sense the need to reassure me, asked about our two boys.  “I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciated everything you all in Nepal did for Mark.”  She told me about their life, their two boys, and what they were planning now that Matthew was ready for college.  Mark was 48 years old when he died one month before.  “You know he called me the night before from Nepal to wish me a happy birthday.  I was shocked.  He never called from overseas; we just usually didn’t do that.”

She pointed towards the suitcase beside me.  “I’ve so been looking forward to finally getting that and going through his things.”  We spent about 90 minutes talking, as something seemed to hover nearby, holding the enormity of it back on all sides.

This autumn the Zimmerman family will return home again for a mid-term break.  Deirdre will take Zachary and Benjamin to Ireland to stay with her Mom and Dad, and I’ll follow 10 days later.  We’ll visit churches and meet friends and family, first in Ireland , then Pennsylvania and on to upstate New York in time for the autumn colors.  Finally, we’ll visit my Mom out in Lake Tahoe area, go see my brother in LA, and spend some time with my sisters and their families.  I expect that they will all treat us like returning royalty.  We have never lacked for lavish family support, despite our distance from home.  And, of course, in the end the visit will be far too short.

Why do you want to live so far away? Years ago, when I told him that I was planning to return to Nepal , my Dad asked me this question.  My answer that night wasn’t satisfying to either of us, and it remained an active, unspoken question between us, right up till the day in 1992 when he died suddenly – his son the doctor half a world away.

This October it will be 20 years since I first came here, and nearly 10 years for Deirdre.  Our boys have no real memory outside of Nepal .  We say to certain people, “We feel called to this place.”  I suppose that means that it feels right in prayer to be here.  And we like Nepal .  It seems more like home to me than the U.S. does, almost like I lived a previous life in a place like this – though I don’t hold that belief.  Sometimes my mind’s eye sees me walking through these streets and wonders ‘How in the world did you wind up in this place?’ It’s like I was just dropped into the middle of some story, taking a minor part in a novel set in an exotic place and time.

It’s so sad to think of a man dying here in Nepal , far from his family, no one here who even knew him well.  How will Kathleen and her sons work through Mark’s distant death?  But then she writes, and affirms that Mark died doing what he wanted to do most and that she finds peace in that.  So here are two gifts: one, that God leads us into something that we love; the other, that our families so faithfully support us in this walk.  Thank you for your prayers.

Mark, Deirdre, Zachary and Benjamin Zimmerman.

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