What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
KATHMANDU (Mennonite Mission Network) — When a news article regarding our country manages a small paragraph well-embedded in the middle of the Philadelphia Inquirer, it is generally major news here in shadow of Mount Everest.
A relative recently wrote that there had been an article about Nepal, with pictures, in the Philadelphia paper almost every day for a stretch. The political turmoil in the area must be major news.
It also is a major opportunity for mission workers to be a presence — generous and welcoming — for a country in crisis.
The recent riots, protests and violence in Nepal are not a spur-of-the-moment phenomenon. They are the external manifestation of political issues that have been festering under the surface for more than a decade.
In Nepal, the current monarchy goes back roughly to the same time that George Washington was President of the United States. In addition to being political leaders, Nepal’s kings historically have also been venerated as incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu, at least until recently. A major political uprising in the spring of 1990 led then-king Birendra to usher in Nepal’s era of democracy. Along with good political influences, however, also came bad ones, including the 1996 founding of Nepal’s ultra-left-wing Maoist political party. The Maoist “people’s war” that continues in the countryside ever since has left at least 14,000 fellow-Nepalis dead, millions in misery and the country in ruins.
In June 2001, King Birendra, along with his entire immediate family, was brutally executed in a Royal Palace shooting spree initiated by his elder son, enraged over an issue involving the son’s pending marriage. By default, Birendra’s only brother, Gyanendra, inherited the throne. Ever since, Nepal’s political stability has become increasingly precarious, leading to the violence of early 2006.
Within this frankly dismal backdrop, my family and I feel privileged to serve under Mennonite Mission Network in Nepal during a time when it would be easy to leave the country in turmoil.
But if Christ had turned and ran from the cross, there would have been no Easter to be celebrated throughout the world.
Likewise, mission and “critical presence” go 180 degrees against natural human tendencies. While the U.S. State Department only recently lifted a travel advisory, we instead say, “We’re here, to be Christ’s presence with you, not only when the times are good, but when they’re pretty dismal as well!”
We are here for ministry and also to serve. Many of our Western visitors comment on the region’s high rates of substance abuse and suicide attempts – both due, at least in part, to the stressful situations most of our friends must navigate to survive.
Christian service, as defined in the book of James, involves ministering both to the faith and the needs of our local friends. Our ministry includes offering aid in a medical setting and helping to create job opportunities and steady paychecks.
Our presence here is reaffirmed daily by the people with whom we live and work. While many have only managed to “scrape by” in recent weeks, we have been blessed by local farmers dropping off fresh things to eat.
We also have been blessed with the opportunity to share with others. When a nearby children’s home ran out of cooking gas recently, we shared from our ample reserve. In short; with so many government and aid organizations leaving the country like mice from a sinking ship, the affirmation accumulating for those of us choosing to remain has multiplied.
I need a visa in order to live and work here. I get that via my share ownership in a small company. Most of our employees live from one payday to the next. Could I leave them? Would I leave them? No.
Sometimes we are asked if we feel unsafe here. We never did during the recent violence — although we sometimes do for other reasons. (For example, I fear local drivers a lot more than I fear tear gas!). Alternatively, we don’t go out doing foolish things on days when we know there are going to be mass demonstrations.
The events here over the past weeks have reinforced, in my mind, the necessity of balancing healthy growth in new areas with that of honoring historical commitments in existing ones. A predecessor agency of Mennonite Mission Network first became involved in this region a full half-century ago and continues to maintain a presence here. This area remains deserving of attention from believers across the world.
*The author, a worker through Mennonite Mission Network, is anonymous due to security concerns in the region.