It was a good sixteen years ago, in October 2007, when I last visited Nepal on a trek with friends on the scenic Poon Hill trail. You can see the old video HERE. Things have changed considerably in Nepal. We paid toll to communist insurgents to trek through the areas they controlled. Now they are a legal political party currently in power. Once the beloved royal family was in power, but not anymore. Then there was the great earthquake in April 2015, a very painful scar in the memory of the Nepalese. Over 8000 lost their lives, thousands were rendered homeless, and the World Heritage sites I had visited had been damaged severely.
This time round, I visited Kathmandu, a rural village and hiked up to a remote mountain village. The conditions were starkly contrasting. Shopping shelves were filled with all kinds of foods and goods in the city, but in the village there were only tiny family-run provision shops selling essential foodstuffs. Cafes were abundant in Kathmandu, and you get a wide variety of cuisine, but mostly Western, to cater to the tourists, and oh at so affordable prices for us foreigners: SGD$1.80 for decent coffee latte. Taxis were easily hailed in the city but in the small village only two vehicles were available for hire…. and forget about cafes. Opportunities for good schooling and jobs are better in the capital then in rural and mountain villages. The differences were obvious to me.
It’s a beautiful country of grand mountains, golden grains, and abundant rivers and streams. The people are beautiful too: a hospitable people albeit weighed down by systemic poverty. This became evident when I travelled outside Kathmandu and talked to locals about the standard of living for the majority of Nepalese. It became clear when I shared in their meals, slept in their mud-houses, and used their squat toilets in the outhouse. I have not known such conditions in my childhood. I was born into the era of SIT apartment living, precursor to HDB flats. As much as I felt uneasy, the inconveniences were bearable for it was for a mere two nights. I recall looking at the young people in the remote mountain village and bemoaning the lost potential if they remained stuck in the mountains. This convinced me that student hostels in Kathmandu are a key help for rural young people to have a better education, increased chances of employment, and some hope of helping their family break free from poverty.
I also met with committed Christians and we were mutually blessed as we shared with one another. I learned several things:
- Casteism exists in Nepal (despite its ban) and those in the lower castes are responding to the good news of Jesus Christ.
- Nepal has a largely Hindu population of 30 million and proselytizing is forbidden by law. However, there are people turning to Christ, and suffering persecution from family and community is not uncommon.
- The sharing of the gospel was at times accompanied by remarkable healings and deliverances, leading to whole families coming to Christ.
- The Nepalese Christians were hungry to know God and his word. Their worship and singing were infectious and inspiring even though I could not understand Nepalese.
- Sadly, casteism is so ingrained in the culture, that Christians have generally not completely broken free from it, especially when it came to marriage.
- The people of God in Nepal need the help, the come-alongside partnerships with the churches outside of Nepal. They need humble spiritual input and prudent financial support, without donor conditions of wanting control and naming rights.
- I was inspired to hear about God’s grace among the unreached people, to witness the deep commitment of the gospel workers, and the simplicity of a movement free from institutional barriers. It felt like the book of Acts has come alive in Nepal.