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Nepal Newsletter

posted:
December 31, 2006
Mark and Deirdre Zimmerman
NSI, EPC 1813,
PO Box 8975,
Kathmandu, Nepal

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” Col.3.1&2

31 December 2006

Dear friends,

It is almost 10 years since I first attended “Ananta Shalom” (Eternal Shalom/Peace) church.  I had met Pastor Kaji during my language and orientation programme in my first months here, and appreciated his warmth as well as his testimony.  Because there are no proper street addresses here, he arranged for his 10 year old son to meet me at the gates of Patan Hospital, not far from my apartment, and lead me to the church on my first Saturday (the day of worship in Nepal).  I well remember walking hastily through backstreets trying to keep up with this wiry child who pedaled furiously on a low bike with tiny wheels.  The thing that struck me most in that first service, and which I still recall clearly, was the warmth of the welcome there.  As with many new foreigners here, I initially spent some time visiting different churches to decide where I would attend regularly, but ultimately was drawn back to the small, second-storey room with a simple wooden lectern as its only decoration.  It was a bright room, not only because it had windows on 3 sides, nor because it was painted a distinctive buttercup yellow, but because of something intangible in the smiles, the touch, the joyous worship of the members who received me so openly.  Certainly I could not evaluate the church on theological grounds:  my language skills were so rudimentary that for weeks I strained myself trying to understand something about Susanna, who was frequently mentioned for prayer.  When I eventually asked who this lady was, it was gently explained that ‘suchanna’ were the weekly announcements.

As my language skills improved, I was invited to help out at the church’s mid-week fellowship and began occasionally to lead Bible study.  What a fascinating meeting this has been, crowded into the tiny rooms of 2 alternate homes, with children often forming over half the group.  It was there that I experienced first-hand the ‘New Testament’ miracles that God frequently performs in the Nepali church:  a mother with no food for her child’s lunch finding money in their path as she prayed to God on the way to school;  a family coming to faith as their youngest son was released by prayer from an evil spirit which had caused physical and mental illness;  countless stories of God’s protection in the face of accidents, and miraculous healings.  Even now, when I attend the meeting less regularly, and usually arrive late and harried, I never fail to be uplifted by my time spent with those simple folk, many of whom have lives much less privileged than mine, but seem more grounded in faith as a consequence.

It was 18 months after I started attending the church that Mark first appeared at a service.  Having recently returned from furlough, he was looking to join a smaller congregation than the very large one where he had been a member for many years.  At the time we barely knew each other, but had some contact through work and occasionally walked back from the services together.  That Christmas, before the Maoist rebellion took a firm grip on the country, we enjoyed being part of a large group from the church who went carol singing at night around the ancient streets of Patan before ending with a hot rice meal at the Pastor Kaji and his wife Rashmira’s house.  It was just 8 months later that the tall lean man who leapt around with the youth in traditional Nepali dances on the pastor’s flat roof, proposed to me, and Pastor Kaji was the first person we phoned to inform of our engagement.

Since then, many changes have occurred.  The pastor’s son is now a confidant young man who last year left to complete his education in America.  The boy who was released from the evil spirit is also completing his studies, but here in Kathmandu, and became a vibrant leader of the children’s Sunday School and a member of the worship team.  2½ years ago the church moved from that cramped ‘buttercup yellow’ room, where many people had to sit in the hallway, into a large 4 storey purpose-built building, including a spacious sanctuary with a large stage and well-equipped sound system.  And we ourselves have moved from being single people to becoming the parents of two vivacious little boys whose blonde and red heads stand out amongst the Nepali children with whom they (literally!) run during services.  But we always feel the spirit of the congregation has remained the same, enquiring after us with equal concern whether just a week had gone by since the last service, or whether we had been absent on 6 months furlough.  The same smiling faces, now grown familiar to us;  the same spirited worship, which many of our guests are touched by, even if they do not understand Nepali.

So it was a great shock to us when we returned from our mid-term break at the end of October to receive a phone call from Kaji saying that the church had split in two while we were away.  A few weeks before, the service had been interrupted by a sudden announcement listing various complaints and then over half the congregation stood up and walked out.  Most of those remaining in the church, including the church leadership, were taken by complete surprise and were left stunned and hurt;  many of those who left were long-standing members of the congregation whose stories, we felt, were part of our own. The reasons given were many, varied and hard to fully untangle;  certainly in our minds they did not justify the action taken and we are unchanged in our sense of loyalty to the original church and Pastor Kaji and Rashmira.  Unfortunately attempts to bring about reconciliation have not been successful and, although a desire for forgiveness and mutual understanding has been expressed on both sides, there seems to be no possibility of re-combining.  We continue to be struck with sadness when we arrive on Saturday mornings to see the wall of shoe-racks, once overflowing with a mass of dusty flip-flops, worn-down men’s shoes, odd slippers, and delicate strappy sandals – now  containing a few sparse rows of shoes from the congregation, who are grouped closely together in the over-large sanctuary.

Thankfully, the Christmas season is helping to restore joy even in the midst of ongoing hurt.  Christians here see the festival as a great opportunity for sharing the good news and, with the new state of peace in the country, many congregations once again took to the streets at night to carol-sing in their neighbourhoods.  We too joined a small but merry band from our church which set off with great purpose and gusto, and continued to sing and dance late into the night.  On Christmas Day itself, services take the form of celebrations with church members contributing songs, poems and plays and many Hindu and Buddhist friends attending.  The festivities end with a ‘love feast’ (a shared Nepali meal), usually enjoyed in the warm winter sunshine, and this also brought a renewed sense of camaraderie and fellowship to our little group as we welcomed each others’ neighbours and guests.  It was good to have our minds and hearts drawn back to the church’s true focus.  With Nepal now officially a secular state (as opposed to a strict Hindu kingdom), this year Christmas really hit Kathmandu with a commercial bang:  shops with flashing lights and plastic trees offered special Christmas discounts, newspapers were full of advertisements for Christmas discos and parties, and Santa kept busy doing the rounds at many schools before they started their traditional winter break.  To quote Rashmira, it seems as if everyone in Nepal knows about Christmas, and has heard of Jesus, but there is a great need for people to be touched beyond the superficial celebration by the true Spirit.  Please do pray for that as the country struggles to find its way through an often murky peace process, and do also pray for Ananta Shalom church, its witness, and especially Pastor Kaji and Rashmira.

We thank you so much for walking and praying through the last year with us, and hope we will continue to enjoy your companionship and fellowship in the year ahead.

With love,
Deirdre, Mark, Zachary and Benjamin.

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