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Nepal Newsletter

February 28, 2008

February 2008

Dear friends,

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, …full of grace and truth.”


When I think of the Christmas story, I tend to group it into 3 sections:  the stable birth, the shepherds’ experience, and the visit by the wise men.  This year, as I approached ‘the big day’ in a swirl of hosting visitors, editing documents for the nutrition office, last-minute shopping and entertaining two energetic boys at home for the holidays, I struggled to get my mind and heart into ‘the true meaning’ of Christmas.

While not claiming to be ‘wise’ in any sense of the word, at times I have felt that I can relate best to those ‘visitors from the east’ (I being a visitor from the west).  As expatriates in a developing country, our lives and our experiences are often quite ‘foreign’ to those living around us.  We try to live simply, but the comfort of our home, our financial expenditure on both ‘necessities’ and luxuries, our holidays and leisure time, our expectations for our children, even our Christmas traditions!-- are all so different from those of the ‘average’ Nepali, and certainly of those who are ‘poor and marginalized’.  Was this what the wise men experienced…traveling into a foreign land, with experiences and a background far removed from those who lived there, interacting briefly with locals before returning home, leaving only their impression as strange people who had come so far, for what?  Was that their role in directing others to Jesus, drawing attention to Him by their strange presence?…is that meant to be mine?  With much of my life revolving around the boys at home or at school, my contact with Nepalis in social or work settings is currently limited.  Even as Mark’s work at the Nick Simons Institute grows and develops, as a couple we feel challenged at the start of this new year to wonder what God’s purpose is for us here in terms of mission and being part of His kingdom coming to Nepal.

We had a more ‘shepherd’ experience the weekend before Christmas, when we joined our Nepali church for an evening of carol singing in the surrounding neighbourhoods.  On one of these streets is a shop run by Suryaman, one of the church deacons, who makes his living selling plastic buckets, jugs and other household wares.  Next door is Anil’s shop, selling lentils, beans, rice and other dried goods – he is a young, married man with one small child, and a reputation for a terrible temper.  To the despair of his wife and family, Anil spent many evenings out drinking, hanging out with a group of similar young men who were also the cause of great anxiety to their families.  For some time, Suryaman used his gentle manner to speak to the younger shopkeeper about Jesus and the possibility of a new life.  As Anil’s heart was moved and changed, he in turn urgently shared with his lay-about friends what he had discovered.  By the end of the year, 5 of these young men, and many of their extended family members, were attending our church regularly.  They have become the talk of their community, some amazed at the change in their lifestyles, and others very opposed to the ‘disruption’ of their deeply traditional (Hindu) neighbourhood.  The church, decimated just over a year ago by a painful split, is filling up again.

As we walked from street to street through their neighbourhood, these young men swelled our ranks.  The joy of their own new life, and their passionate concern for their friends and family, drove our singing to a fever-pitch.  At one point we passed the poignant scene of some of their ‘old crowd’ drinking in the street around a fire they had lit to stave off the biting cold.  Through narrow dark streets we pressed on from house to house, roaring out the good news, feeling more like the front row of a rock concert than a hymn-singing choir!  As the night stretched on towards midnight, it wasn’t hard to imagine the unsophisticated shepherds bursting onto the Bethlehem streets with their exciting news.

But it was perhaps the death of an old friend that spoke most to me this year of the true meaning of Christmas.  Mark first met Louise Schueler when they both volunteered to teach a special Sunday School class for mentally disabled adults at University United Methodist Church in Syracuse.  A woman who carried herself and her children through much heartache, including the death of a son in his twenties, she had known her share of suffering.  Over many years, Louise was a faithful supporter to Mark, and then to our family, in Nepal.  During our last furlough in 2004, we were delighted to have Louise, by then struggling with several ailments, and another dear friend, Helen Demore, over to share a Nepali meal with us.  The support of these dear ladies, and of so many of you, cannot be measured in dollars, including as it does the far more precious gifts of prayer, occasional letters, a genuine interest in re-connecting when we are home and (particularly in Louise’s case) the sending of local news from home.  How well we recognized the arrival of her envelopes, stuffed full of carefully clipped news columns and reports, all with some connection to our personal interests and background.  Recently she always included a cute card or picture that would appeal to our boys.

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when we started receiving e-mails from Louise’s children about a deterioration in her health.  After a short period of hospitalisation, she returned home with hospice support.  While the rest of the world pushed its way through crowded shopping malls, or raced from one Christmas party to another, Louise’s children mounted a vigil around the special hospital bed placed in her living room.  Her grand-daughter decorated a small Christmas tree that was positioned in her line of vision.  A speaker phone was installed in the hopes that Louise might recognize friends who called, even though she could no longer speak, or even eat or drink.  Christmas drew near, lights flashing, people rushing, cash registers ringing, but the family continued its focused waiting.  To me, the scene as I interpreted it spoke so much of the few gathered together in the humble stable to welcome the helpless baby Jesus:  a scene of love and adoration, set in a dark night, as God descended without fanfare or ceremony, while the rest of the world carried on in its ignorance of the enormity of the event.  Just a couple of days before Christmas, we received the message of Louise’s peaceful passing, in the comfort of her home, surrounded by her family.

We are so grateful for the support and encouragement over many years of faithful friends like Louise, some whom we know personally and some whom we may never meet.  We ask for your continued prayers for Mark’s work in health care, for Nepal as it struggles to find political stability, for the churches and Christians bearing witness in this Hindu (and increasingly materialistic) society, and particularly for us as a family as we reassess what the Lord’s priorities are for us here.  We pray that you too will be led into His new mercies each day of this year.

With love,
Deirdre, Mark, Zachary & Benjamin.

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