Some children were playing on a beach beside a river. They made castles in the sand and when finished each child defended his castle and said, “This is mine!”. They kept their castles separate but, as can happen, one child kicked over another’s castle and the owner flew into a rage. He struck the child with a stick and convinced the others to help him inflict the punishment that he thought the child deserved for having destroyed his castle. The others complied, beating the child with their sticks and stomping on him as he lay on the ground. Then they went back to their own castles, to play and enjoy, saying, “This is mine; no one else may have it; keep away.”
Evening came and it was getting dark and they all thought it was timed to go home. No one cared what became of his castle. One child pushed his over with both hands, another stomped on his and knocked it down. Then they turned and walked back, each to his own home.
What does it mean to “own” something. What do we think it means and how do we know when, or if, we do.
The Nepali language does not have a word for “pet.” There are dogs everywhere but they aren’t exactly “Lassie” material. Nobody pays much attention to them and I’ve never seen one getting a pat on the head. I haven’t had the courage to even try to pet one. I wouldn’t want to put my fingers to that kind of risk and the dogs don’t look like the type that would appreciate it if I did. That would be like trying to cozy up to a hungry coyote. With the ferocity of gang members they stalk their “hoods” and have the battle scars to prove it. The dogs are loyal to their own kind but are as likely as a member of the Crips or the Bloods to be “owned” by anyone else.
One time I saw a man walking a goat on a leash but I don’t think that counts as having a pet. The goat had a little bell around its neck and was kinda cute but I doubt that they were just out for a stroll to the park. A better guess would be to the butcher shop.
Most of what we own we are actually just renting, sharing a particular place and time for a while but destined to part ways. We like the stuff we accumulate but we usually find it is more satisfying to acquire it than to own it. Like the children’s sandcastles, our possessions often lose their appeal the longer we possess them.
Most of us have more than we really need. We know this if we are honest with ourselves but it requires insight and a lot of determination to temper our drive to get more. I once heard a story about a young couple who lived on the west coast. Each of them got new jobs on the east coast so they needed to relocate. The problem was that they had to vacate their old house a couple of months before their new house would be available for them to move into. They took it as a opportunity for an extended road trip so packed up all their belongings and shipped it all ahead while they put a few things in their car and took off driving across the country. They had a wonderful time out on the road. They had the time to explore, wandering from one National Park, interesting town, or scenic drive to the next until they eventually arrived at their new home. At the new house they found all their possessions from their previous house and they began to unpack. They were happy to have all their things again and to be getting settled into their new home, but as they opened boxes and put things away they both realized what the drive across the country had taught them something, that all they really needed to be happy could fit into the back of an SUV.
The Buddha was born a prince and while on his spiritual quest went from a life of opulence to one of austerity. He found that neither was satisfying. Better, he learned, is to follow a middle way between the two extremes. Happiness is not to be found in owning things, but neither is it necessary to deprive oneself in order to be connected to something greater.
Buddha saId it this way, “If you are hungry, you should get something to eat. If you are cold you, should get some warmer clothes. If you are tired and overworked, you should make some time to relax. But when you have had enough, you should stop.”
Nepal and Americans
Considering world events and the shortcomings of how they are reported, some have wondered about the current state of opinion about Americans by those in other countries. I was sitting in Durbar Square when some young men on their lunch break from college classes sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. So I asked them the question, saying, “Some Americans worry that other people around the world don’t like us as much as they used to, is that true?”
They said “No, no! You are wrong, we like Americans!”
I asked them about the upcoming elections. “We want Hillary.” (We have talked to others who favor Trump, mostly because of security concerns)
I asked them why Hillary? “She has experience and will do a better job and she is a woman.”
What about a woman Prime Minister for Nepal? “That would be good.”
They told me that what they know about America comes from movies and TV, but also the BBC and American friends in Nepal.
They asked me what I did in America and I told them. They laughed and said they had guessed that because they looked at my handwriting as I was journaling.
They asked what they should do to keep their heart healthy? I said, “Eat healthy food, don’t smoke cigarettes, and (teasing them) don’t get any older.”
I wasn’t sure they got the joke at first but eventually they smiled and asked me what they really wanted to know, “Can we smoke weed?”
Nepal and Christians
First thing to know is there aren’t very many of them.
In Nepal, where a weekend consists of Saturday, they have tried to accommodate to the schedule of work and school by having their services on that day instead of Sunday.
The eight of us, with our loads of gifts for the children and congregation, piled Into three rickety taxis and wound our way though the muddy, ruddy streets to Aashish Presbyterian Church. People were just beginning to arrive and continued to wander in throughout the next three hours. Services were scheduled to begin at 10:15, and basically did, but any starting or ending time in Nepal is taken with a grain of salt and people march to their own drummer, and timekeeper. Jackie said it best when she said they have a “rolling congregation.
We had a few minutes to greet people, many whom I know from previous visits. We stood in front and practiced the two songs we should sing later in the service. Our friends Nissa and Ruby (mother and child) came to church with us as they always do. They are Hindu and don’t always understand what is going on but they are always welcomed and seem to enjoy it. Another member of our Nepal “family”, Suraj, is a taxi driver and brought them down to Patan from where they live in the Thamel neighborhood of Kathmandu. Ruby is growing up fast, now 12 years old, but still a bundle of energy. She ran down the alley to our hotel and leapt into my arms. She did the same when she saw Carol. She can’t keep her arms off Carol, hugging her leg, holding her hand or stroking her arms and it took no time to transfer some of that affection to others in our group. Ruby used to run amok during church but this time she was actually rather quiet and listened to what was happening, especially during the singing. I am sure that it has helped that she is older and has better English.
We took our seats, not adhering to the rule of men on one side and women on the other, Rob up front with his shoes off, as is their custom. Then we all stood up and everyone broke into song. We didn’t understand the words but the melodies were either familiar, being hymns we knew, or quite catchy and easy to fall into. Phurba , who is a math teacher and Mahendra’s primary assistant in managing the Ripple program, is a talented guitarist and singer as well as an effective overall worship leader. He also directed the choir, which consisted of six young women attired in their colorful best. Everyone in the place was singing at full volume. They sang in Nepali, of course, but it was hard not to want to sing along and vocalize something, even nonsense syllables, so that’s what we did.
The small band and choir were so good. I could listen to them and watch them all day. Maybe it was the setting, in the same way that a hot dog tastes better at the ballpark, but their performance was something special. I have heard and spoken the phrase “lift up my heart” man times, but I never feel it as literally as when I listen to the music at a small church in Nepal.
The service was long and we couldn’t understand everything being said, but it was easy to see that all the familiar elements were there. The Lord’s Prayer and prayer of confession, Apostle’s Creed and Doxology. There was a constancy that made us feel closer to home and a part of something greater than ourselves, something that can transcend the stains of distance and time.
During the “Welcome Programme” we all went to the front and were introduced. Eight young girls came up, one at a time, to place Katak scarves, a Nepali gesture of respect, around our necks. What Mahendra said about me was that I was the “oldest friend of the church and of Nepal.” I was hoping that he meant that I had been their friend for a long time, not that I was old.
The eight of us stayed up front and with Rob playing a borrowed guitar we sang a couple of songs. Because of their message, we chose “Here I Am Lord” and “The Servant Song.” As we sang, we looked out at the enraptured congregation, at their many cellphones recording the event and their expressions of wonder and disbelief at what they were seeing. It was so cool that a part of me was in a state of wonder myself.
With Mahendra translating, Rob started his sermon and, just as he did, it started to rain. Before we came to Nepal we had been watching the forecast, which predicted precipitation for the entire time we would be here. Instead, it has rained only at night or when we are inside and protected. Rob’s sermon was the most dramatic example of that. It rained load and hard while he was speaking but stopped about the time the service ended and we were ready to go back outside. It made us think that someone was looking out for us.
I thought that Rob hit all the right notes in his sermon. His words echoed themes of community and connection between countries, churches, and people. He said that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ. He was well received by everyone there.
Giving a sermon comes naturally for Rob but his greatest challenge came during the Lord’s Supper. The rest of us were served pieces of naan bread and drank wine from little plastic cups, but shoeless Rob was expected to drink directly from a chalice in the Nepali way, which means without touching his lips to its rim. That’s harder than it sounds but we all watched him closely and he didn’t spill a drop.
After the service we all milled around the small sanctuary and huddled under the narrow, but covered front porch of the church as the rain subsided. Several of the Ripple children were there with their families so we had a chance to talk with them. In time, we ate some Nepali comfort food served from large steel pots lined up on a bench outside the side door. On the wet grass in front of the church, Amy kicked one of the soccer balls we had brought along some of the boys. I joined Nan as she sat on the floor in the small church-school room with the youngest children and their mothers. All in all, it was a very nice day.
I think that I speak for all of us in saying that if we are part-time missionaries then we see our mission not as a personal one but as a partnership with our friends in Nepal. Nobody is telling anybody what to do, much less what to think. By way of this relationship, the eight of us, and many people back home, are constantly learning, not just trying to teach others our way of doing things. In the same way, Mahendra has told me that he learns a lot from us, too. More importantly, none of us views any of this as “our” mission, but rather as God’s that we are attempting to discern and advance.
The next day, Rob and Joan met with a group of pastors and Christian college teachers and students and Rob taught a seminar. He talked about the Christian Trinity, which is a difficult topic for Christians anywhere but especially so in a country rooted in pantheism. He said the discussion was lively and robust and when I saw him later his first comment was that in Nepal the church is “alive and well.”
“The Servant Song”
We are travelers on a journey
We are pilgrims on a road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and share the load
I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the the peace you long to hear
“Tomorrows wind blows tomorrow”
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
. Matthew 6:34
Before we left we agreed that we would take turns leading a devotional for the group and it has been a nice way for us to stay centered and connect with each other. Each of us approached it a little differently. Joan based her’s on a poem; Jackie on a song (not country- western, Dave); Carol a Broadway musical (Les Miserables, with it’s theme of Grace); Amy’s was about Maya Angelou and the role of women in Nepal. In mine I drew a connection between things that were said by Buddha and similar things that were said by Jesus.
Nan, who is the fun one, led us in a craft. She had us use wire and beads to create figures of symbols that that were meaningful to us or that represented something from our experience here. Carol made a spiral figure that she said represented infinity, Rob attempted to create his Nepali name, even though Sudha looked at it an said it was actually their symbol for the number twenty-one. Jim also made his name but in English and he added a bead that reminded him of Malawi.
Me? Because the number three is important to both Buddhism and Christianity, I tried to make a triangle, which might serve a an auspicious symbol for both traditions.
As it turned out, it looked more like a coat hanger?
-Nan McCaslin. Nan is the ice breaker. The Nepali personality tends toward being reserved-Mahendra says shy- but their reticence can’t stand up to Nan. To say she is friendly is like saying that Pavarotti has a nice voice.
– Joan Erickson. Joan was asked by Pastor Mahendra to give a presentation about Christian education on Saturday afternoon after church and lunch. She never really got from him whether she would be talking to the children or to adults so it was a little hard to prepare. As is turned out, it was both. Pretty much everyone stayed to hear her talk and she did a good job of bridging the gap and making it interesting and accessible to everyone.
Joan is quiet like the Nepalis, but blonde-not so much. She fits right in as a Nepali pedestrian. Nobody is better at crossing a busy street, or as fearless. I have watched her step out with determination into the vehicular maelstrom, stare down with icy resolve a huge bus full of people, and leave Rob back on the curb aghast and open mouthed.
-Amy McCaslin. Every group needs a Millennial. Amy is the one we all turn to for our daily tech problems with our devices. She has more energy than any two of the rest of us put together and is game for anything, which is a good quality in this setting. Whether because of her youth or her engaging personality, the children just love her.
– Jim Hofman. Jim had passport problems and his first attempt to fly to Nepal stopped in Columbia. How he worked it out is a long story, but two days later I met him at the airport and we took a taxi back to the inn where everyone was happy to see him. We are grateful for his experience and unique perspective during our many conversations at mealtime.
In Nepal, the terms “Uncle”, “Aunty”, “Sister”, etc are terms of familiarity and endearment. When Mahendra talks to the children and refers to Carol it is “Aunty Carol.” Rob would be “Uncle Rob” except that they usually call him pastor out of respect.
And Jim? I knew from the first time I saw him with the children that he had “Grandfather” written all over him. When we went to visit the home of the children he and his wife, Marilyn, sponsor, I watched him in the tangential light that filtered through the front window, sitting on the floor with Rupesh and Pareshma, passing out soccer balls and coloring books as if it was Christmas Eve.
Jim is the oldest in the group (sorry Jim) and an experienced world traveler but he says that he really doesn’t like going to unfamiliar places. Which seems odd, given the circumstances. If that is true, then it isn’t apparent to us. I would make him a part of one of my teams any time.
He does have his way of doing things, though. Most people in foreign countries these days use the ATM just like they do at home. But Jim just brought along US dollars. Many places take dollars but many do not, so getting him Rupees was a problem since the banks were closed for holiday and there are no exchange kiosks near us. We worked it out but I had to smile thinking that expecting to change cash for foreign currency these days is like having an AOL email address, it works but is pretty old school.
Once, during one of our many discussions about religion, JIm said that the baseball announcer Harry Carey used to say “Holy Cow!”. Jim, “Now I know where that came from.” Maybe, though I said I didn’t think Harry Carey was a closet -Hindu.
-Jackie Henry. I have already written some things about Jackie but, in a nutshell, she has immersed herself. She has told me several times that here heart is ready to burst. I was a little afraid that she was right about that when I took her pulse on the steep steps up to the viewing station on Sarongot, a very steep climb. This country can be very strenuous but Jackie has been determined to do everything and in Little-Engine-That-Could fashion; and she has done just that.
-Rob Erickson. Rob is our senior pastor and this mission trip’s spiritual leader. But there is more to him than that.
We never followed through on his suggestion about the tattoos, but we still have some time left. Maybe he and the rest of us didn’t want any incriminating evidence. About our overnight stay in the village of Bandipur Rob said, “What happens in Bandipur stays in Bandipur.”
We have all had an open, running conversation about religions- most all of them. Rob is about as Presbyterian as they come but he has been as interested in learning about other faith traditions as in teaching about his own. I liked it when one day Rob and Joan came home from the market and in their bag were Buddhist prayer flags and wood carvings of the Buddhist symbols OM and the Eternal Knot. They are clearly in the flow.
On the other hand, one time when looking at a statue of god Ganeshe, the elephant headed son of Shiva, the Hindu destroyer god, Rob said, “You know, when I look at Ganeshe, I can’t help but think of Babar.”
Thanks for coming, Rob.
-Carol. Carol is the founder and primary force behind the scholarship program. She is in charge of all things Ripple. She loves many things about Nepal but none more than the people, especially the women and children. She loves it here like I do but has more common sense and is good about keeping me grounded.
Rob told us that one of the things he is working on is becoming a better follower since he has always been a natural leader. Is hasn’t seemed that it was that difficult for him and all of us have taken our turns leading and following. It is good to be able to follow someone else’s lead when you need to. In the movie “The Year of Living Dangerously” the character Billy tells the Mel Gibson character, an Australian, that “we all become children when we enter the slums of Asia.” It’s not nearly to that extreme here but there is no doubt that all of us are out of our element.
Rob said that he has learned to follow Carol’s lead in spiritual matters, which was nice of him because she might say the same about him. I know she has always been one of my spiritual leaders. I am fortunate to have found that is someone who is also my best friend.
This blogging thing is not easy from over here. Wifi, electricity, and many other things are hit or miss, including my computer skills. And all of our devices are acting like they have been infected with some some type of obstinate Asian personality; mysterious and inscrutable, but ultimately accommodating. Thanks to those of you who have offered tech advice from afar. I wish I had brought you with me. Seriously.
I almost gave up on the second dispatch but am trying to learn my lessons from this part of the trip as well as all the others.
Hope this one finds it’s way to you and that all is well with everyone.
Shanti, shanti, shanti. May all sentient beings be free from suffering .
God be with you