Six Weeks in Asia

 In fulfillment of the International Community Development  Internship, I spent May 14 through June 28 in central Asia.  The seven-member team of which I was a part, was active in various forms of assistance and evangelism in the nations of Nepal, Bhutan, and India.

Overview

Our itinerary sent us all across the area of northern India and Nepal and briefly into Bhutan.  The entire internship can be separated into three segments:  Conferences, Trekking/Medical assistance, and Discipleship.

Conferences

Our conference itinerary sent us to the Nepal-India border town of Karkavitta, Nepal, for our first conference.  Then we took an overnight bus to Kathmandu, Nepal, where we painted at a youth center and lead another conference.  After nine days in Kathmandu, we rode in a bus and jeeps to the Bhutanese border of India where we attended a secret pastor’s conference in Bhutan, an extremely anti-Gospel nation.  During that week we also led a youth conference in Jaigon, India. During the conferences, I spoke (through a translator) on the topics of: “Growing in the Lord”, “Destiny”, and “The Armor of God”.

+Spiritual needs

The Karkavitta conference there was attended by people who had traveled more than three days specifically for the conference.  Beginning on a Sunday night, the conference sessions continued until noon on Wednesday, May 20.  It was a joy to see a visiting Hindu teacher accept Christ while others rededicated their lives to the Lord.

The Kathmandu conference was aimed more for youth of Kathmandu so we spent time of fellowship in small groups and playing sports with them.  This time of fellowship was a good time to get to know the people and showed them that we are real people who enjoy life just like they do.

The final conference we preached was in Jaigon located on the border of Bhutan and India.  Bhutan is one of the most closed nations to the Gospel.  Persecution of believers is continual in this tiny nation nestled in the tropical foothills between India and Tibet.

In Jaigon the Holy Spirit spoke through me.  He gave me examples and  gave me freedom in speaking like I have seldom felt.  This sermon is a constant reminder of how God works in love.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, God was working through the love which He had given me for the people.

In Jaigon I felt closer to the people.   Some of them had been at the Karkavitta conference so it was like meeting friends again.  God had given me a love for these people.  Since almost all of them spoke English, our communication was much more successful than the other places we had been.  As we left they all gathered around our jeeps and bid us farewell.  This was one of the hardest good-byes on the trip.

 Note on Hinduism:

The Hindu and Bhuddist people of India and Nepal and all of Asia are steeped in bondage.  In Hindu worship there are over 30 million gods from which the people select a few to worship faithfully.

About a month before we arrived in India, this situation occurred:  A certain family in southern India (also the most evangelized part of that nation) had dedicated themselves to worship the Hindu goddess Shiva.  The image of Shiva is made from a black stone carved with hideous blood-dripping fangs.  She has four arms.  In one hand is a knife and in another a skull. Shiva is the goddess of destruction.  In ancient times, Shiva was worshipped with human sacrifices but in recent times usually animals are sacrificed.

One day, Shiva appeared to this family and told them that she was tired of the animal sacrifices.  She said she wanted a human sacrifice — one of them.  In their devotion to this demon-goddess, they spent several days in fasting so as not to anger their demon-god by sacrificing the wrong one.

After fasting and prayer, the father called his family together and told them he had had a full life and he wanted to become the sacrifice.  That night in a hellish ritual, the entire family stripped naked, severed the father’s head from his body, mutilated his body in ritualistic fashion, and went dancing through the temple of Shiva with their father’s head.

I tell this story not to be sensational.  I relate this story to that there are thousands of people living in hopelessness today.  This family had no hope of freedom from the demon they call Shiva.  All they know is that they must obey this thing or be destroyed.  As a Christian, filled with the love of Christ, I want to tell these people that they do not have to obey these demons.  The One greater than the demons is the One who paid for their salvation and freedom from obeying wickedness.

 Physical Needs

Karkavitta is located in the southeast end of Nepal directly across the border from India. It is a very humid, almost jungle region.  Crops include a variety of vegetables, tea, rice, corn, and wheat.  The water is often unpotable due to unsanitary practices with sewage being dumped just up the river.  In much of Asia it is not uncommon to see someone washing or even brushing their teeth while merely yards upstream sewage is being poured into the river.   Even the famous Ganges river in northeastern India  know for the ritualistic bathing of millions, is also polluted.

Throughout the entire internship, I was aware of the need for sanitation.  As a visitor to this area, I had to be more cautious about what I ate or drank.  It seems the nationals have grown up developing immunity to the diseases which are ever-present in unfiltered or boiled water and fresh vegetables. Even so, many of the sicknesses or irritations they suffer from are related to their lack of sanitation.  In many of their own vegetable gardens, they use human waste as fertilizer.  This leads to a spread of diseases.

During the conference in Kathmandu, I became even more aware of the need for sanitation and disposal of sewage.  Each day we walked past open sewage ditches filled with rubbish and human waste.

It was interesting to see the difference between the nations of India and Bhutan when comparing the border city of Jaigon, India, and its sister city in Bhutan.  The city of Jaigon is in dire need of new roads.  The current roads have been nearly washed away by the torrential rains which strike during the monsoon season. Yet, in Bhutan the streets were paved and kept clean.

In Jaigon we visited an orphanage where they raise all their own crops to supply food for the 35 children.  Using cattle, Gracie Matthews and her husband prepare the fields with a steel-tipped wooden plow so they can plant their crop of maize (corn).  Taking advantage of the humid climate and good soil, the Matthews also raise papaya, beetle nut, tapioca, beans, melons, pumpkins, yams, and bananas.  I was intrigued to find out that the banana trees grow to their 15 some feet in height, bloom, produce fruit and are chopped down all within a matter of eight months.

Ben Matthews, a son of Gracie, pointed out some neighboring property with a stand of trees.  He said that they were teak wood, a valuable wood.  This could possibly make a good cash crop for people in villages like Jaigon if they are able to set aside some land from their normal farming.  Over time they could develop a cycle of planting and harvesting the trees to provide a consistent cash crop.

 Trekking/Medical Assistance

In the northernmost point of India, there is the highest desert plateau in the world.  This is the sparsely populated rugged area of Ladakh found in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir.  Pakistan and India have continual skirmishes over the border areas of this state.  This was the region we spent 14 days going to one city and three villages to share the Gospel and helping provide medicine to those suffering ailments.  Our schedule in Ladakh gave us three days to adjust to the 13,000-foot altitude in the city of Leh.  Then we began trekking to the villages.  We stayed in the villages of Ney, Taru, and Nyemo.

For eight days we trekked through the mountains to provide medical clinics for the Ladakhi’s, telling them about Jesus Christ.  Many of them had never heard of who Jesus is.

In these villages a Christian Indian “amchee” (doctor) set up his clinic and one or two of us would assist him.  As he examined patients, the others on the team trekked throughout the village playing the Gospel in Ladakhi on hand crank tape players and passing out tracts.  Often we would sit out in the fields playing the cassettes to the men and women who tended the flocks and watched over the crops.  Occasionally, they even invited us into their homes where they listened to the cassettes and served us tea.

Prayer was a continual necessity as we walked through the Buddhist villages and cranked the tapes.  It was a joy to see the faces of those to whom the Holy Spirit was speaking.  Even on their face, I could see the intensity of someone who was not merely hearing a new thought but hearing about something they wanted very deeply.

The Medical Assistance drew people who became an audience willing to listen.  Especially while dealing with such a silencing barrier as language differences, the methods of medical assistance along with use of cassettes in their native tongue and tracts in their trade language seemed an effective outreach when seasoned with prayer.

Discipleship/Friendship Evangelism

Throughout the trip we did personal friendship and discipleship whenever possible.  In Kathmandu I met a Hindu named, Dipendra, who lived behind the church where we were doing our youth conference.  Dipendra spoke enough English that we were able to understand each other.  He invited me into his home and showed me how he makes his living.  He sits on the floor of his one-room apartment and hammers sheet metal into funnels and dust pans.

Unfortunately many Hindus, like Dipendra, believe Christ is just one more god they can add to their other 30 million gods.  I told him about Christ being the one God.  Then I got one of our translators, a former Hindu himself, and let him share with Dipendra.  Matrika, our translator, was able to speak in a way that Dipendra could understand and give a testimony of release from Hinduism.  Being able to take part in letting him know about who Christ truly is was a joy to me.

Personal Education Experience

This internship was definitely a time of education for me — both spiritually and mentally.  I became aware of the extreme influence both Hinduism and Buddhism has over the lives of most Asians.  This influence, more appropriately called control, is not limited to mere rituals on a sabbath day.  Their religion permeates everything they do.  This internship let me see first hand the affect their religious culture has on the daily lives of people in India and Nepal.

Definitely the main thing I noticed about their culture was their intense religion.  For example: One morning in Karkavitta, Nepal, I watched out my hotel window as a man across the dirt street symbolically offered water to the gods by tossing handfuls into the air. Though that was my first exposure to the amount of influence Hinduism plays with the Indian and Nepali people’s daily lives; it certainly was not my last.

Cattle are considered sacred reincarnations of  family members.  All through the cities, Brahma cattle can be seen wandering the streets and nibbling the sparse grass on the median of the highways.  It is illegal to kill a cow in Nepal or India.  In fact, with India as the second largest nation in population and steadily increasing, human life has little value while a cow is worth more than a human.

In northern India region of Ladakh, I saw stupas (holy mounds) and prayer flags on the high places.  They place these symbols of prayer in hopes that they will receive blessings from the demons they worship.  Once in the midmorning light, a young boy came through our camp carrying an incense pot which he swung as he walked clockwise around some stupas.  Clockwise is considered the cycle of life.  Often the older men and always the monks carry prayer beads which they continually are fingering as they walk around the villages.  Thus they are continually offering up prayer to their demon-gods.

This brought up the question in our minds: As Christians, how often do we lift up praise and prayer for the will of the true God to be done?  Even from their devotion to rituals, we can learn to be more devoted to Christ.

This trip made me aware of the spiritual need in India and Nepal and all of Asia.  To be told about people who have never heard of Jesus Christ is one thing; it is a whole different story to look into the eyes of someone who is hearing about Him for the first time.

The variety of locations and ministry which I was in, gave me a spectrum of several ways to minister after I graduate.  By preaching and doing discipleship and medical work, I have a better idea of what areas I work well in.  I especially enjoyed discipleship and friendship evangelism.  Both of these are ministries which I’m sure I’ll be using in the future.

I also was able to take note of the agricultural methods of the villagers.  Most of these observations came after we adjusted to the 13,000-14,000 feet above sea level and began trekking to the first village.

For hundreds of years the Ladakhi people have developed extensive irrigation systems to provide water to the crops which they tend on terraced slopes.  After trekking four hours through rugged barren mountains, I couldn’t help being impressed.  They have taken sandy, rock-strewn land and made it into fertile cropland.  The Ladakhi people have learned extensive grafting skills to grow trees in their valleys.  Wood is a valued commodity in Ladakh.  They even use the streams to grind their wheat through a stone mill and provide electricity via hydroelectric generator.  The generator uses a diverted stream to produce electricity for a village of 500 or more.

I met a man in Kathmandu who has begun a development program to reach the villages around that city.  Ramesh Sapkota, the executive director of Health Environment Literacy Programme, Nepal (HELP, Nepal), was very informational.  We traded addresses so I can continue to be informed about the development needs and efforts being done to fill those needs.  Mr. Sapkota told me that the main problems in this area are sanitation and infant and birthing mother fatalities.  Often newborn babies umbilical cords are cut with whatever is at hand, often leading to tetanus and other deadly diseases.

In the June 23 edition of the Hindustan Times of New Delhi, India, there was an article about the need for sanitation in Nepal. The article titled, “Sanitation still a dream for most Indians,” quoted Nepali women requesting water.  In most of the rural areas, the women have to walk for hours to provide water for their families.   The Times reported that Prof. Achyut P. Sharma said, “Only five percent of the rural population have piped water supply… The remaining population drinks water from springs, rivers, and streams which are polluted.”  Sharma attributed 80 percent of diseases to unclear water and said water related diseases account for 32 percent of deaths from birth to the age four.

This internship has made me aware of physical and spiritual needs while giving me the opportunity to help fulfill some of those needs.  I have developed a continuing desire to get to know people like those I met in India and Nepal and ask God how I can share His love with them.

Analysis of academic portion of ICD program

The International Community Development program provides training in a variety of courses which I see as very helpful.  In my experience the topics covered in classes such as Introduction to Christian Missions, Cultural Anthropology, and general education sciences helped to undergird my understanding of what I was observing both while occupied with ministry and  out in the villages or walking the streets of the cities.  After having observed certain aspects of life in India and Nepal, I hope to find topics in future classes which can be applied to the people I have seen in needy situations.  I will particularly be looking in courses like Health and Nutrition for topics concerning sanitation education for native peoples.

I found during the internship that the information I learned during research for the background paper was extremely useful.  It made me aware of the political, economic, religious and social situations in the country where I was going.  Of course I learned much more than research could have taught me when I actually was seeing it for myself.  However, the background work gave me a better understanding of what to expect.  Because of the background paper, I had a working knowledge of local history and religious practices which greatly affect both Nepali and Indian lives.

Keeping a journal as required for this internship is commendable.  It is my opinion that everyone should keep a journal on a regular basis.  Journals allow one to record their experiences on a daily basis and rereading a journal can help with research and planning future work.  Accomplishments and failures can be recorded in a journal without loss of the perspective one has while on the field.  Paperwork completed after an event often misses details which can easily be forgotten within a few days while notes in a journal can bring even more memories back when reread.

I feel that the variety of courses as required in the core circular classes for ICD majors will do well to prepare students for their work on the field.  Diversity in studies will help students to adapt well to whatever situation they find themselves.  By not only having one area of specialization, students in the ICD program receive specific training in their areas of emphasis and diverse subjects in the general education and core classes.  On the field you will probably never do only one type of ministry or work.  Most people who do missionary and/or community development work will be required to do a variety of work from manual labor, to computers, first aid,  and public speaking.

During this two month internship, I experienced many different forms of ministry and helping people.  I have become much more aware of the needs of people around the world and of my need to be prepared in season and out of season to help people — to help people spiritually and physically — in my local community and abroad.

All in all, this internship has been a step for me to learn more and move in the direction  Christ has called me — touching lives with His love around the world.

 

Michael Shead

July 31, 1998

 

 

 

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