I never cease to be amazed at how God puts me right where He wants me to be, exactly when He wants me to be there.  GCA partners have always appeared to me seemingly out of thin air.  It looks as though it happened again today.  Let me explain.

I am in Kathmandu.  This morning (Saturday), my partner Raju Bhitrakoti and I had plans to meet in the evening.  I decided to spend the day at the creepy but fascinating Pashupatinath Temple complex, a distance of around 3.5 miles from my hotel.  It was a beautiful day, so I decided to brave the city congestion and mangled streets and walk.  Enroute, I traversed streets jammed with cars, motorcycles, and pedestrians, litter-filled dirt streets with dirty kids, dirty cows, and dirty dogs, and narrow pathways through which squeezed the people, the animals, and the vehicles.  I walked through relatively upscale neighborhoods and some neighborhoods that are among the poorest I have ever seen anywhere in the world.  Saturday is the sabbath for Hindus as well as the busiest shopping day of the week.  Today also happens to be a Buddhist festival day, so the city has been extra frenetic.  There have been some pretty serious anti-communist demonstrations lately and riot police were out in full force today.  Suffice it to say, the cityscape was pretty lively.

As I was walking to the temple, Google Maps inexplicably led me off the main road onto some very narrow back roads that I’m sure few Westerners have walked down.  I know that because I was soon being perceived as a novelty to the people I passed.  Maybe because of my size or my white skin, or maybe because I’m older than vast majority of Nepalis, whatever the reason, I was being stared at and watched as I passed.

That leads me to an important aside.  Sometimes in doing this work, I am faced with uncomfortable, intimidating, even scary situations.  In fact, it is often in those situations that we find communities and people groups to work with.  I think of Batwa villages in Burundi, Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon, the Tijuana dump, and the barrios of San Quintin, Mexico.  These were all places fraught with perceived dangers when I first visited, but are now places I feel comfortable going to.  As I told my girls when they were growing up, when you are traveling and you enter an unfamiliar and maybe intimidating place, never show fear, act like you’ve been there a million times before, and scan your surroundings to try to identify individuals who might pose a threat and those who might help you if a problem arises.  The bad guys are more likely to move against you if you show fear.  It’s not scientific advice, but it has worked well for our family so far.

The fear factor is one reason why I am selective about the people I bring on my group trips.  These trips are not for the feint of heart.  More than once I have brought people with me who, despite saying they were good to go, have become paralyzed with fear when faced with a challenging situation.  I feel for them when this happens, but it also complicates our work and makes all of us more vulnerable.

Anyway, back to the story.  I was going deeper and deeper into the heart of Kathmandu when I came upon a small Buddhist stupa.  A stupa is a dome shaped structure with a point on top.  It usually has a Buddha’s eye painted on it.  It contains relics on the inside and on the outside, there are Buddhist prayer wheels spaced about a foot apart.  Devotees congregate at the stupa.  The ritual is to walk around the stupa praying and manually turning the prayer wheels.  As far as I can tell, stupas and the park-like areas in which they are located are always open to the public and are always crowded.

The particular stupa I was passing was very crowded this morning, because it is a Buddhist festival day.  I noticed a group of Hindu women sitting on the ground outside the stupa selling various things to Buddhist devotees going into the stupa.  I noticed one woman selling bottles of water.  She was holding a very small infant.  I decided to buy a bottle of water from her.  The baby was so small and cute, I asked her if I could take a picture of her with her baby.  She seemed very pleased that I would be interested in her and her baby.  After I took the picture, she asked me if I wanted to hold the baby.  She took a picture of me and the baby (Manat).

She was so touched that I had showed an interest in her and her baby that she invited me to her house for tea.  At first, I was reluctant.  But on reflection, I thought that maybe this was a God-ordained meeting.  I said a brief prayer and told her, Rina, that I would come.  We then set off on a zigzagging 30-minute journey further into the beating heart of Kathmandu.

Soon into our walk, I realized that we were getting into some extraordinarily poor slums, even by Kathmandu standards.  The “houses” in this area were little more than wood shacks with used carpets for roofs and towels for doors.  When I asked her where we were, Rina told me that we were in a part of Kathmandu known as the Indian Village.  It is called that because the people who live there are refugees from India.  She told me something I was not aware of, that Nepal is host to refugees from many of the neighboring countries.  Tibet in China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and India.  (Ironically, there are Nepali refugees in those countries as well.)

Rina led me to her house where I was introduced to her sister, Nisha, and her best friend, Bimla, as well as all their children.  Rina has two sons in addition to her baby daughter, Manat.  I asked Bimla and Nisha where they live and they laughed.  They laughed because they all live in Rina’s shack.  Mind you, this shack is about the size of two king sized beds pushed together.  There is no furniture, only mats strewn on a raised wood plank set atop dirt floors.  I asked how many people live in is Rina’s shack.  They told me 15 and laughed when my eyes popped out in shock.

As I sat there on a mat, Rina made a small indoor fire and boiled tea.  Soon she and the other ladies were making me homemade chapati (bread) over the open fire and serving me mater aloo (spicy potato and pea curry).  I asked them why they had left India for Nepal.  They all had their reasons, but a common theme seemed to be that there was more economic opportunity for them here.  When I objected that India is a wealthier country than Nepal, they all cited the strength of the caste system in India as the reason they could not stay in India.  Apparently, the people in Kathmandu’s Indian Village are members of the lower castes in India, making life in their home country intolerable.  While Nepal also has a caste system, it is not as ironclad as the system in India.  When I asked the ladies if they are better off in Nepal than they would be in India, they told me without hesitation that they are better off in Nepal.


I asked what they do for money.  They said that the women in the village sell what they can on the streets – water, snacks, small trinkets.  The men collect used water bottles from the trash and sell them to recycling companies.  Some shine shoes.  Rina said that she and some of the other women are skilled in henna tattooing and during the temperate months will go to Pashupatinath and sell henna tattoos.  On a good day, she can make around $2.  Unfortunately, as is true in most of Nepal, commerce comes to a virtual standstill in Kathmandu during the months-long monsoon season.

When it was time to leave, I thanked the group for their hospitality.  I asked Rina if there was anything I could do to return the hospitality.  She told me that she only had a few very thin blankets to keep the family warm at night and asked me if I could buy her a few thick ones.  She also said she had very little food in the house and asked if I could buy her a bag of rice and some cooking oil.  I went to hand her the money and she refused.  She said it would be better if I bought the items directly and then gave them to her instead of giving her cash.  She didn’t want to appear to be begging.  I walked with her to a small shop in the slum and purchased two large warm blankets, a big bag of rice, and a bottle of cooking oil.

As we left the shop, Rina told me that the bag of rice I bought her was big enough (20 pounds) that she could serve rice porridge to the 50 or so hungry kids in her corner of the Indian Village.  She seemed genuinely interested in helping her neighbors.  I didn’t ask her to do that or give her any reason to think that sharing was expected of her.  Bimla and Nicha told Rina that they would give the milk for the porridge.

After that, we said our goodbyes and I went on my way to Pashupatinath Temple, my original destination when I started out this morning.

I am praying about whether there might be an opportunity to work on a project with Rina, Bimla, and Nisha.  The way I met them reminds me of the way I met Frances, Onesphore, and Raju.  I intersected with all of them under random and unexpected circumstances.  They also remind me of Frances, Ivan, Onesphore, Dr. Efrain, Rita, Mohammed Yamout, and Raju, to name a few, in that they express an intense interest in improving their lot in life as well as the lot of their similarly situated neighbors.  I am thinking meeting this trio of good Samaritans may be another important divine appointment that will open a door for GCA to make a difference in the lives of marginalized people.

In any event, I am planning to go back on Monday with Raju to talk more with Rina and her friends about the Indian Village and to determine if my initial favorable impression was sound.  Naturally, I want to find out if she really did feed the hungry kids rice porridge.  I will give you a follow up report.

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