Canvas | Issue 88: People of Prayer
In late November 2019, a team of four Kiwi students led by Global Reach Co-ordinator Kim Shaw (along with Sean Marston of International Nepal Fellowship), travelled to Nepal. Their purpose: to connect with the local IFES movement, to experience life in another culture, and to engage with the Christian mission work taking place. Kim, Amy and Sophie shared their experiences with Bex Allen.
The journey to Nepal had a broad vision, emphasising exposure to cross-cultural mission to inspire the students, shape their world views, and contribute to their spiritual formation, rather than aiming to produce “results” at a local level.
The first part of the trip involved orientation to the cultural and religious background of Nepal with NBCBS, our IFES counterpart in Kathmandu. The team heard local leaders of different faiths discuss their beliefs, helping students understand how their world views differed from Christianity. They also visited sacred places in the area, such as Swayambhunath (the Monkey Temple), Boudhanath Stupa – the largest Buddhist stupa in Nepal, and a Hindu cremation site. These visits brought their learning about religious world views and beliefs to life by seeing people actively engaged in different forms of spiritual and religious practices. Kat, a Malaysian-born Kiwi currently working in Nepal, was a helpful bridging person between the Kiwi and Nepali cultures.
Following orientation, the team spent a few days building a connection with the Nepali Christian university students, sharing experiences of faith in their different contexts, and praying together. The team also enjoyed sharing meals with the students and staff, sightseeing, visiting Tribhuvan University – one of the top universities in Kathmandu – and playing various games (including a competitive futsal tournament!). Amy said of this time, “It was a joy to share the commonality of our faith despite the differences in our backgrounds.”
Following their time in Kathmandu, the team travelled by bus on winding roads through rural Nepal to Pokhara in the northwest. Here they observed ministries serving the community. Touring the Green Pastures hospital (run by International Nepal Fellowship), they talked with medical staff and learned about the organic garden and farm financing the hospital. The farm sells vegetables to the local community and employs relatives who come to support the patients. Travelling to Gorkha, they visited a Dalit (“untouchable,” low caste) community who had lost their homes in a landslide during the severe earthquake in 2015. Asal Chhimekee (meaning “good neighbour” in Nepali), a local organisation run by the Pokhara churches, was helping these people obtain materials to rebuild their homes – an authentic and practical example of Christians expressing the love of Christ. Spending time with a Kiwi missionary family in Pokhara and attending a local church service offered a greater understanding of this way of life.
Visiting Nepal had a significant impact on Amy and Sophie. They shared these reflections:
“It was a life-changing trip that will give me a lot to ponder for a long time to come. Even (and perhaps especially) far from home, we saw the hope of the gospel transcending culture and language, reminding my forgetful heart that Jesus truly is the hope of this world. I am hoping that my time in Nepal will serve as a signpost throughout my life to take hold of this life and pour it out in sacrifice to God and the service of his good creation.” (Amy)
“What stood out was the relationships [with the Nepali students], as well as finding my place in God’s mission. Nepal is sort of a reminder that there are opportunities; it just depends on my situation and what God wants me to do. I was really encouraged by the staff and students. They took every opportunity to spark something inside a person, just thinking more about life, and speaking into each person’s life. I learned a lot about crossing cultures, about contextualisation. It carries across everything, even into my context now as an RA [residential advisor].” (Sophie)
As a cornerstone of TSCF, prayer was woven into the culture of the trip. In preparation and reflection, and hemming each day, prayer refocused the team on Jesus as the reason for the journey. There were prayers for provision, safety, unity as a team, that eyes would be opened, that faith and courage would grow, that beliefs would deepen, and hearts expand for those of other religions. Prayers for the individuals, communities and ministries they encountered, and that God would speak to each student in the midst of what they were experiencing. These hopes were committed to God’s care, trusting him to outwork his purposes for the journey and in the life of each team member.
The Nepal journey offered a diverse experience of cross-cultural mission. Elaborating on the Global Reach vision of TSCF, Kim explained, “We want students to have a world mission perspective as graduates of TSCF, to have their minds opened to possibilities they hadn’t thought of before, and to explore mission experiences beyond New Zealand. Going to a place and spending time there is another level of engagement that takes things into the heart.”
Tuning into this heart response is a significant part of processing a journey to another culture. Experiencing a way of life vastly different from our own can be confronting, and should lead us to ask honest and searching questions, as Amy has done:
“Perhaps this is a lesson we need to relearn: how to be present to our surroundings and circumstances, that our spirits may be sensitive to his nudges, that our hearts may be responsive, and our minds comprehend the spiritual and material needs of those around us. As our devices consume ever more of our time and attention, the less we pay attention to the Spirit and the more opportunities we miss to speak and act for him. Between music and books and games and Facebook and emails and study, God is often crowded out of my day. I say he is the most important, but do I live like it? Am I building relationships with other believers to build up my faith, and with those who do not yet believe in Jesus that they may see a little of him in my life? Am I seizing opportunities and making the most of this precious gift of life, or am I living passively in cruise control with nothing really to show for it?”
These are challenging and salient questions for us all.
Bex Allen, Communications Manager