Monday, February 2, 2009

Grueling, Amazing, Humbling, Incredible days in the Himalayas

The past four days have been extremely grueling (for an over weight, out of shape 40 year old anyway) but at the same time some of the most rewarding and incredible days I have ever spent in a foreign mission field. I already know that I will not be able to find the words to fully describe what the Lord has accomplished.

Let me give you the quick summary first…we got up at 3:30 am on Friday morning because we needed to get to a 5:00 am bus in downtown Kathmandu. We finally got on the bus just before 7:00 and we were on the road. Nine hours later we arrived in Dhunche, a small town in the Rawsua district of Nepal that is north and bit west of Kathmandu. This is where we were to meet the young evangelist Dawa Tamang, who is in need of further training. He hopped on the bus and we rode another 2 hours to a small village named Goljung, with nothing more than a small house and a trekker’s lodge that is under construction. The trekking path led north out of this village toward the base camp of Mount Langtang. We went the opposite way on a path that the locals Tamang people use to get to their villages that are scattered across the surrounding mountainsides. We were told that this way to the village was a bit longer but much easier to travel. After a bowl of warm noodle soup (Ramen noodles) we walked, climbed, hiked, etc from 7:00 pm until we arrived at a Tamang village called Nesing. We woke early to an amazing view of Langtang Mountain. With the sun shining on the beautiful snow covered peaks it was a sight to behold. We got cleaned up, ate some chocolates, biscuits, and tea for breakfast and went out to explore the village. Church was supposed to begin at 10:00 am but the tribal people do not function well with schedules. It’s just not part of their way of life. On a typical Saturday (worship day in Nepal) the pastor will start gathering people from their homes around 11:00 am and then when he has enough to begin singing they start. As the others in the village hear the singing they begin to finish up whatever they are working on and then they make their way to the church. On this particular day things really got started around 12:00 noon. We were supposed to hit the trail by 1:30 or 2:00 since it was to be a seven-hour trek back to Dhunche. I didn’t start preaching until after 1:00 pm. Matt followed me with a short devotion rather than a full sermon because of the time. When all was said and done and a meal was served, it was 3:30 pm before we began the long trek back to the city of Dhunche where we would catch the bus back to Kathmandu early Sunday morning. The trek took us on a 2-hour trip down step trails to the bottom of the mountain where we crossed the river on a very high suspension walking bridge. Then it was a 5-hour trek straight up the mountain where we finally (and I mean finally) climbed onto the road that led into Dhunche. After the five-minute walk on the road we checked into a local guesthouse for trekker’s. We woke early and got on the 8:00 am bus for an 8-hour ride back to Kathmandu. That was the quick summary…now let me break it down with a little more detail.

The Bus Ride – I have ridden buses in India before and once before in Nepal but never before have I had an experience like this, mostly because I have never ridden a bus this far before. Early in the morning we simply followed Raju, Rajan, and Soumeet (a young man from the congregation who is able to speak the tribal language) to the appropriate bus. To begin with things were not to crowded. But with each stop, and there were lots of stops, more people and more packages, baggage, and various bags of rice, grain, produce etc were loaded on to the top of the bus and down the middle aisle to the point where there people were literally wedged into the bus, standing and sitting down the center aisle. There was even a large plastic container (about 10 gallons) filled with some sort of raw meat sitting in the middle of the aisle with a lid that did not fit tight. (it did not smell good) The top of the bus was also filled with people and stuff. I counted at least 5 people with their heads hanging out the window or in a bag or in their own caps vomiting throughout the trip. And I could only see the front half of the bus since I was sitting near the middle. The first half of the trip was on a paved, one lane, road straight up into the mountains. Imagine the scariest road you have driven on in the mountains in the U.S. and then take away all the guard rails, make it about a fourth as wide and fill it with constant pot holes and washouts that have been temporarily fixed with gravel and large crushed rock and you come close to picturing the good portions of this road. The first half of the trip took us to the city of Trisuli. After this point the roads got much worse since there was no more pavement. We were originally told that we would be getting off in Dhunche but when we arrived the evangelist Dawa, from Nesing (the Tamang tribal village we were to visit) said it would be better to travel on to a small village named Goljung since the trek from there would be shorter and not as difficult at night.
The Trek to and from the Tamang village of Nesing – It is probably good that I did not know how difficult the trek to Nesing would be or I am quite sure I would not have gone. After only a few hours of sleep, a night of diarrhea, and then an 11-hour bus ride, my body was not in shape to do much of anything, let alone trek into the Himalayan Mountains. By the time I finally realized that this was no place for an over-weight, out-of-shape 40 year old it was too late and I had no other option that to keep plodding along. At one point, my legs were so cramped that I simply fell down and we rested there for about 20 minutes before continuing on. The trek took us four hours and the last hour and a half seemed to be virtually straight up, climbing crude stairs made of rocks and boulders of various size and shape. It is amazing to think that these same trails have been leading the Tamang people from village to village for thousands of years. We walked through several small villages and a Buddhist monastery as we went. I wish it had been daytime so I could have seen everything. I can’t even describe the joy and relief I felt when we walked into the village and I was told that we had made it. But at the same time, I was filled with dread at the thought of making the trek back out the next day after our worship service. Since the bus does not start from the same place where we got off we had to trek back to the bigger city of Dhunche which required a 2 hour trek down one mountain and 5 1/2 hours back up another mountain.

Our trek back to Dhunche began at 3:30 pm rather than 1:00 pm as we had planned. The first two hours were a constant down hill trek, which was very taxing on muscles that seldom get used and also made for some nice blisters on the front of my big toes. When we got near the bottom we stopped at a very small village with just two or three houses and a sort of guesthouse where you could get some boiled water, tea, and biscuits. We stopped there for about 45 minutes. Then it was another 15 minutes to the river. The high bridge that was suspended over the river was a relief because it was level. The next four hours were a steady ascent, sometimes gradual but mostly quite steep again on “stairs” made of various rocks and boulders. Unfortunately, I have a rather large ego that hates to show any kind of weakness, but on this night I had no other choice. While the others were able to keep trekking, my out-of-shape, weak legged, and over-weight body just had to take frequent breaks. My legs went from burning to wobbly to just no feeling at all. It was as if my legs were just moving one small step at a time on sheer will. I began to think that it was just bones and tendons keeping me upright and moving because my muscles were spent. At times I was seriously concerned that my legs would simply give out and I would tumble down the steep mountain. The Lord was there with me through the trek and gave me what I needed. I just kept praying and reciting the 23rd psalm over and over. When we finally climbed up out of the woods and on to the road that would lead us to the city of Dhunche with just five more minutes of walking I was filled with joy and relief. As we walked those last five minutes Rajan and Raju and the other Nepalis came up and patted me on the back congratulating me for making it. They had all been very concerned and even offered to carry me, in some way, if necessary. Physically, I was spent and then suddenly a deep sense of appreciation came over me as I realized that this was not my accomplishment but rather it was the Lord who carried me along. Then I began to realize the extraordinary level of patience and Christian love that these young men had shown to me. This seven hour trek that I had just “endured” typically takes these boys just a few hours to complete and they do it every day, twice a day as they come and go to school in Dhunche. Incredible! It was at the edge of the city where the Lord led me to see that these young men had been much more patient with me than I had with them. I had Raju thank them and explain to them how grateful I was for their concern, patience, and Christian love. They responded that they were so thankful we had come and were glad that I had made the trek so that maybe one day I would be able to come again because they needed so much more teaching from the Bible. Humbling!
These three days were so full of new experiences. I don’t think I will ever forget the beauty of this place high up in the Himalayas and the beautiful view of Langtang Mountain. The people were also incredible. I can’t wait to get online when I get home and learn more about the Tamang people of northern Nepal. As we walked we came across many of the Tamang just doing their daily work of carrying large, or better yet huge, bundles of hay, straw, firewood, etc on their backs. Large portions of the mountain-side have been terraced into farmland and they grow everything from millet, to corn, to rice, to cabbage, onions, potatoes, you name it they seem to grow it in the most difficult of places. And you also see mountain cattle and goats all over the place with short, sturdy, little women driving them up or down the mountain. These people may be short in stature but have strength and endurance that is unbelievable. A grueling day for me is nothing more than a typical day for them.

The Gospel Comes to Nesing – The young man who is working as an evangelist in the Tamang village of Nesing is a pretty incredible story of how God calls, gathers, and enlightens His chosen. Dawa Tamang (of the Tamang tribal people of Nepal) is his name. He was born and raised in the very small, desolate, and secluded village of Nesing. But like many a young man, he thought that the grass must be greener elsewhere. So he headed to Dhunche the largest city in the Rasua area. In Dhunche, Dawa had a bit more education and found a job. It was there in Dhunche where he met a pastor. This pastor had been a friend with the JB Bhitrokoti for many years from the time when they were both converted to Christianity in another part of Nepal. When JB moved to Kathmandu this pastor went to the Rasua area to spread the Gospel. It was there that Dawa first heard the Gospel. He then began to assist this pastor and learned as much as he possibly could about the Bible. As the years went on, the pastor took Dawa with him to Kathmandu several times and it was there that he met the Bhitrokoti family. A few years ago the pastor had some sort of illicit affair with a woman in Dhunche and has since left the area and because of the disgrace of the incident he feels he is no longer welcome to return. It was shortly after this happened that Dawa came to Kathmandu to tell the JB what had happened and to ask for his help in becoming a pastor so he could continue the Gospel ministry in the Rawsua area. A few years ago Dawa decided he needed to return to his home village and share the Gospel there. As he began to spread the Gospel many were called out of the darkness of their local religion that is derived from pre-Buddhist teachings of Tibet where it is assumed that this Tamang tribe migrated from more than a thousand years ago. Dawa’s father (if I;ve got the story straight) is the village elder and when he was converted most of the village followed. I counted roughly 140 in the worship service we were at. As usual, there were far more women and children than men. It was quite interesting to see them all dressed in their very unique tribal clothing and hats. Obviously, their culture is much different than ours. But one thing that was very trying of our patience was their constant chatting while we were preaching. After the worship service Raju made a comment about this and explained that these people just are not civilized like others and they have never been in situations where they are expected to sit and listen. In their culture, when they gather together for something it is too sit and visit and so it is not in their nature to sit quietly and listen. Dawa is working hard to teach them importance of hearing the Word. In time, with patience, I am hopeful that they will find a way to gather for worship in a way that is God pleasing and still fits into their culture. Raju was almost apologetic as he described them as being almost like children who need to be taught to sit and listen. This is just another lesson in the patience that the Lord has shown to all people. We tend to put so much emphasis on the form of worship, as if it were a prerequisite to hearing and believing the Gospel. But here in Nesing, the Lord is calling, gathering, and enlightening His chosen children through the Word alone, inspite of their inability to sit and listen! We can thank and praise the Lord that He is far more patient with us than we are with each other!
Dawa the evangelist has but one request. He wants to learn more so that he can be a better pastor for these people and so he can spread the Gospel elsewhere in the Rawsua area. He could, no doubt, be making a better and far more comfortable living in Dunche or even Kathmandu but he has chosen to live in the small, remote, secluded, and difficult village of Nesing so he can serve the Lord and His people. He lives in a small, one room, house with his parents and helps with the farming work of the village. Raju and his father would like Dawa to be able to come to the pastoral training meetings of the HCLC-Nepal but the distance and travel time is just too great. From Nesing, Dawa would need to walk down and up the mountain to Dhunche and then take an 9-hour bus to Kathmandu and then another 6-hour bus to Chitwan. This would require at least 3-4 days of travel one way. As an alternative to attending the meeting in Chitwan they are hoping they can find a way for Dawa to come just as far as Kathmandu once a month or so and stay for a few days so Raju and JB can give him some personal one-on-one training. Rajan and Raju, and perhaps JB, are also planning to make periodic visits to the Rasua area to offer training for Dawa and encouragement to the Christians there. The round trip costs for Dawa to come to Kathmandu for monthly training is approx. $12.50 at the current exchange rate. This young man is a testament to the Holy Spirit’s work in his life. Dawa is sacrificing so much for the sake of the Gospel and, from an earthly standpoint, is gaining nothing. From an earthly point of view, he would be considered by his peers as one of the lucky ones who has “made it out” of the harsh and burdensome life of the typical mountain villager, and yet he has returned to this very life because he knows how much the Lord loves him and how much the people of his home village need the Lord. Amazing! Please pray for Dawa and the congregation there and pray that the Lord will provide the Biblical and pastoral training that he desires and needs.

I could go on and on with descriptions of the beauty and uniqueness of the Rasua district and the Tamang people but I need to cut this off at some point and with only another ½ an hour of power I need to get this uploaded to the web.

Thank you for your prayers for us, my family, and the spread of the Gospel! The Lord is good and greatly to be praised for all He has done and continues to do for His many children across the world! What a privilege to serve Him!

I will head to the airport tomorrow (Tuesday) around 1:00 pm and will be home in St. Louis on Wednesday night. So, this will be last post until I get home. Thanks for reading!

In Christ,
Pastor Ohlmann

1 comment:

  1. Reading your blog is like reading about Paul's journeys. We all have to be reminded that we are weak and need God's nourishment, whether it is for physical strength or spiritual strength. Praise God that he carried you along the physical challenging paths.
    God's speed for your return to St. Louis.