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Letter from the Zimmerman Family
MISSIONARIES IN NEPAL
“Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5.7
April 2, 2020.
His name meant “Little King” and he was his mother’s only child, five years old. His family name identified Saniraj as coming from one of the most socio-economically marginalised groups in the country, literally untouchable to some. When I met him on the children’s ward, he sat cross-legged on his bed, withdrawn and unmoved by my best attempts to engage him or light a flicker in his eyes. His huge, swollen abdomen sat heavily on his thin, crossed legs, with other signs of malnutrition evident in his wasted arms and sparse hair. His mother explained they were brick- makers, one of the most menial jobs available to migrant workers from the poorest rural districts. Brick factories provide free accommodation: their workers live in huts constructed of unbaked bricks on the raw mud floor of the land that has been scraped clear of its fertile soil to make the bricks. There is usually no piped water, no toilets, no sanitation. Families move from site to site with the brick kiln that is constructed in new sets of fields; children rarely attend school.
Throughout Saniraj’s time in the hospital, I never saw his father, whether he was too uneasy to visit, or whether the brick factory owners required him to keep working. Mother and son were receiving free meals from the hospital, and I was asked to review his nutrition status. His young mother was shy but assured me that until just a few months ago Saniraj had been a lively child who ate with gusto. Now he so completely lacked appetite that my first step was to cancel his free meals which were thrown out untouched one after the other. Saniraj spent three weeks on the ward, fevers persisting, his liver enlarged, fluid collecting in his abdomen, and his mental status deteriorating. Medical tests were limited by the family’s need for charity, but gradually blood cancer, sepsis, and meningitis were ruled out. The remaining differential diagnosis was tuberculosis, but the medical team was reluctant to start treatment without confirmation. Saniraj didn’t swallow a mouthful of food in that time, and I pressed the doctors to place a nasogastric tube (via his nose, into his stomach) so we could start feeding him some fortified milk.
Tuberculosis spreads from the mucus of those with lung infection, via their coughs, sneezes, spit and speech. Good hygiene is essential to its prevention and control, as are screening for high risk cases, early detection and treatment, and contact-tracing … sound familiar? Despite some drug-resistant strains, tuberculosis is curable and preventable. In Nepal alone, 20 people die of tuberculosis every day. 33 million people in the world died of the disease in the fifteen years of 2000-2015, and tuberculosis accounts for an annual loss of income of $1.2 billion amongst the poorest people in the world.
The only time I saw Saniraj responsive was when he was fighting the nurses as they forced the nasogastric tube into his nose. He wailed miserably for his mother as they held his hands down until the tube could be secured with tape. A previous attempt to feed him by tube on the ward had led to vomiting, and when his level of consciousness had slipped further he was admitted to the intensive care unit. Now the tube was being repositioned in an attempt to take a sample from his stomach that might show TB of the abdomen. The procedure had been delayed because there were no functioning “GeneXpert” diagnostic machines in the city and the doctors were waiting for one to be fixed. Out in the gloomy anteroom, his mother looked totally lost as the doctor told her she should prepare herself for the worst. Illiterate, she was unable to sign the paper to say she had been informed that there was little hope for her child’s recovery. The last I saw of her, she was perched like a mother eagle in a squatting position on the edge of the high ICU bed. Rising up over him in her wrap-around lungi skirt, she carefully stepped her bare feet over Saniraj’s limp body as she tried to rearrange his bedclothes. The next day Saniraj died and his mother returned to the brick factory, where children would continue to play in the same unsanitary environment that she had had to raise her child in.
Nepal identified its first case of COVID-19 in early January, in a Nepali student returning from China. The young man spent a few days with mild illness at the tropical medicine hospital and made a full recovery. And then…nothing. No cases amongst the 150 Nepali students on an evacuation flight from Wuhan, no cases arising from the thousands of Chinese and Korean visitors to Nepal throughout the months of January and February, no significant increase in the number of cases of severe pneumonia appearing in hospitals. Nevertheless, as new ‘hot spots’ and spiralling statistics emerged from around the world, a mixed sense of both anxiety and disbelief began to swell as the Nepali
population watched and waited for the disease to strike. The weeks continued without a second case and different
theories about a possible protective factor began to do the rounds: an innate genetic mutation (but what about the foreigners living here?), herd immunity acquired from frequent short outbreaks of bird flu (then why not in China?), the high consumption of garlic (don’t the Italians do the same?), our tropical climate (isn’t Thailand warmer?). Still, the tension led to a brief run on cooking gas and a scarcity of face masks, only mildly relieved when security forces found 2 million masks in the space of one week being hoarded by various black marketeers.
Nevertheless, in the last three weeks, as for the rest of the world, life here has changed dramatically. The schools closed first, leaving our boys studying at home on-line and all national and international exams cancelled. We are so grateful that, unlike many students, Zachary’s college plans are secure irrespective of the lack of final exams, but nevertheless he will miss the closure of his schooling and many friendships, losing the usual round of graduation ceremonies and other farewells. Both international and internal travel restrictions increased as the second and then third cases of Corona were identified (in Nepalis returning from France and the Middle East); and then suddenly, without any notice or chance to prepare, the government announced a nation-wide full lock-down. The streets became silent and empty in a way we had not seen before, even for curfews during the civil war and general strikes during political unrest.
Of course, Nepal is incredibly vulnerable to a disaster like Coronavirus. If the wealthiest nations in the world struggle to contain death rates, we can only imagine what it will look like in a country where a UNICEF survey found that 53% of health facilities across the country lack a handwashing facility with soap and water (questions about numbers of ventilators are likely superfluous). The lockdown brings with it very mixed emotions. We feel like we are bracing for the arrival of a hurricane, even as preparations are completed at Patan Hospital for a COVID unit and 18 critical care beds with ventilators, completely separated from the main wards which are now emptied of all but the most serious cases. Non-essential surgeries have been cancelled, outpatient clinics are almost empty, and staff are working on light rotations in this seeming ‘calm before the storm’; however, anxiety levels have led to incidences of panic in the handling of ordinary patients. Meanwhile, spring has arrived with its welcome warmth and birdsong; the smog and dust across the city have completely dissipated with the lack of traffic and we are enjoying glorious views of the Himalayas, framed by blossoming bougainvillea and azalea. It truly seems like nature is rejoicing at the break from man’s polluting activities. While needing to ration a few luxuries like cheese and frozen meat, at home the boys and I enjoy leisurely lunches in the sunshine on our roof, watching our neighbours tend their gardens and spring clean. Zachary engages with classmates through Zoom, while Benjamin sneaks out to a nearby Catholic school to do basketball drills alone on their huge campus until Mark arrives to ‘rebound’ the ball for him. In our home it is peaceful, but if I turn on BBC radio or open my newsfeed, stories flood in of overwhelming levels of death and illness in Western countries and we remember with concern older family members and friends, near and far.
From the apparent security of our quiet middle-class neighbourhood, with Nepal’s confirmed cases still below ten, we worry about how the many less privileged are faring, and I think of Saniraj’s mother. Social distancing is an unattainable luxury if you are part of a community squeezed into a few shared rooms. What do you do as a day labourer, living hand to mouth, when you have no possibility to go out and work? Brick factory owners are not known for their charity and unlike in the US, Europe or even India, the government here has remained silent on the possibility of help for the vulnerable to survive the devastating economic impact of the travel restrictions and lockdown (let alone the illness itself). Perhaps Saniraj’s parents will join the other groups of migrant workers leaving the city under cover of darkness to walk the many-day journeys back to their villages as they run out of money and food. Small business owners with their stock sitting in shuttered rooms that still need to have the rent paid; porters, cooks, waiters and cleaners in the collapsed tourist industry; there are many here without any social net to catch them. And what about the pregnant and the sick now unable or afraid to seek medical care, the many other ‘Sanirajs’ who will not receive timely treatment for life-threatening but treatable illness?
Wondering what the days ahead hold, we are grateful to be able to turn it all over to the One who cares, who cared enough to join us on this earth and walk with us all the way to death, and beyond it, into life. We join you in prayer as we watch for Easter.
Deirdre, Mark, Zachary & Benjamin.
Letter from the Zimmerman Family
MISSIONARIES IN NEPAL
“Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack…[The Spirit of God] puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less”.
2 Cor.5.4&5, The Message.
It was a bright breezy day, a relief from the usual heat and humidity of August, with air that promised an end to monsoon and the arrival of autumn. In fact we still had over a month of heavy rains to get through but today, with bright white clouds scudding across a blue sky, it felt good to be cycling through the city streets. From our calm residential neighbourhood, I crossed a busy artery running towards the centre of Kathmandu and headed into the ancient streets of Patan. Morning rush-hour had passed and with it the crush of motorbikes, buses, tiny Maruti taxis and SUVs conveying the urban population to their office jobs. Now shopkeepers adjusted their displays and swept dust out of their open-fronted shops into the road, and a variety of women and senior citizens made their way on foot to farm fields, homes, and temple porches for their daily activities. The narrow streets were further constricted at intervals by the seemingly perpetual roadwork for a 20-year old project to bring a reliable water supply to the city, as well as great piles of building materials as the last earthquake-damaged homes are replaced with modern multi-storey buildings. The noise and activity struck me as a stark contrast to the lush green farm fields of Lancaster, Pennsylvania where we had just spent two months on home assignment during the summer. There the roads narrowed only in appearance as over the passing weeks the tight rows of surrounding corn stretched from two to six and then eight feet high, muffling the sounds of the occasional passing car or the clopping hooves of our Amish neighbours’ horse and buggies.
Bumping and swerving my way through various obstacles, I dropped down a steep hill to the broad expanse of the Ring Road, eight lanes of smooth Chinese construction which require careful navigation given the speed at which vehicles hurtle down whatever lane suits the driver, irrespective of its designated direction. Twenty years ago, crossing the Ring Road (then two lanes) would bring you into rice fields dotted with red painted mud-and-stone farmhouses, the fields stretching back to the foothills of the surrounding mountains…an environment with many similarities to that Lancaster countryside. Not anymore: the concrete jungle only becomes brasher and more unkempt on the outer limits of the expanding urban conurbation that now fills the Kathmandu Valley. Pulling uphill from the Ring Road, I continued for another ten minutes, passing an ancient grass-covered Buddhist stupa sitting amongst convenience stores and hardware shops. Finally I spotted my destination: a new four-storey building painted bright grass-green, with steel shop ‘shutters’ pulled down over the front of the ground-floor rooms. A large blue tarpaulin flapped and billowed overhead in the strong breeze, an indication that the residents would be hosting a meal on the roof. Through the open windows the strains of a Nepali hymn wafted down onto the street below: I had arrived for the Christian dedication of Anil & Ramila’s newly constructed house.
Parking my bicycle amongst the motorbikes in a side passage-way, I walked to the back of the house where the heavily-built Rakesh was sitting in the yard, relaxing by a huge (now empty) cast iron wok sitting on a large gas burner. Rakesh, our Nepali church’s resident cook-for-hire, had just completed the preparation of a large meal for the 150 or so participants. I climbed the stairs leading from the ground floor, occupied by a butcher’s and a small shop, past the next floor which would have renting tenants, and up to the family’s own rooms. The living room and two adjoining bedrooms were filled to capacity with young and old members of the church sitting in rows on the floor as a church leader led them in praise and worship. Entering the room, I felt the usual warmth of joining this group which keeps a special place for me (and my family), regardless of our strange and sometimes awkward ways as foreigners. I noted how the large midday-midweek gathering reflected the employment culture in Nepal, the many unemployed youth seated side by side with those in regular employment who were quite comfortable to leave their office to attend a friend’s house-warming and dedication.
Closing the group worship with a time of prayer, the leader handed over to our pastor for a sermon. He started with a reminder that there was no room for jealousy between Christians, the source of our joy being not our own success, but rather the joy and achievements of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It was a poignant comment: our congregation is divided economically not so much by employment or income as by land ownership, usually relating to whether a family’s ancestral home is Kathmandu, or whether they have migrated in from other parts of the country. Owning your own home not only guarantees you accommodation in this tightly-packed city, but also secures you a steady income as a landlord renting out extra rooms and floors. Anil and Ramila had endured a frightening experience during the 2015 earthquake when their inner-city home was boxed in by other collapsed buildings, but they were fortunate that Anil’s mother owned this small piece of ancient farm land, and over the last couple of years they had pulled together the funds to build a modern building close to the Ring Road.
Being foreign residents in Nepal, and irregular visitors in our own countries, we are constantly asked where we are from or, in the Nepali literal translation, “where is your home?” When we are travelling in the US or Ireland, we think about going ‘home’ to Nepal; when we are living in Nepal, we think of our families and favourite places ‘back home’. It is a question that is especially challenging for our boys, and one that Zachary in particular is likely to face frequently after he leaves Nepal for college next summer. He learnt at an early age that with his red hair, blue eyes and pale skin, telling curious Nepalis that he was from Nepal (where he was born) only elicited laughter and so was not really the correct answer. One poignant definition of ‘home’ for those living cross-culturally is that home is always where you are not. There is some truth and sadness in this for there is always a sense of missing something, no matter where you are. But there is also much blessing, and of course hope, in the lack of a definitive or singular home. Our missionary life has led us to being warmly welcomed into many homes, in many communities. This summer Tammy and Jay Metzler confined themselves to the ground floor of their beautiful farmhouse to allow our family with its mix of teenage and middle-age emotions to settle in style into the upper floor. Others in their congregation literally handed us their car keys and welcomed our boys as summer workers in their gardens. Travelling around Pennsylvania and neighbouring states, we were ushered into the best rooms in the homes of strangers, and slept on the familiar beds and couches of close friends and family. Old traditions were relived, and new experiences were tasted. And at the end of it all…we returned to the warmth of friends and colleagues in Nepal.
At the close of the dedication service, we all exchanged the Christian “Jai Masi” greeting and began making our way upstairs to the open roof. Sitting in lines on woven straw mats, we were served dish after dish of traditional Newari foods, placed alongside dried, beaten rice on ‘tapari’ leaf plates. A simple cowpea and potato dish was followed by goat stew, roasted soyabeans, fermented bamboo and potato, fried greens, tomato pickle, sour radish pickle, curried chicken, curried cauliflower, bitter fenugreek juice, yoghurt, slices of apple and carrot, and finally, an Indian sweet. As the servers repeatedly passed by with huge containers of food, we had to physically cover our plates with our hands to prevent third and fourth helpings. The day was truly a celebration of abundant blessing!
There are several uncertainties for our family in the coming year. Where will Zachary go to college (and even on what continent)? How will he adjust to the major social and cultural transitions involved? At the same time, where will Benjamin go to school for the A-level courses he is due to start in August? And will he find the right opportunities to fulfil his basketball dreams? Where is the best place for Mark and me to be located and where will ‘home’ be for our family as we support the boys through their upcoming changes? Over our years as a family, we have repeatedly experienced God’s abundant provision for us, be it in the face of a sudden eviction from a Nepali apartment, or in answer to an urgent need for accommodation as we started home assignment one wintry evening in Pennsylvania. So we look to Him for answers to these difficult questions, and ask for your help in that. And of course, we rejoice in knowing where our True Home is, no matter on which side of the world we find ourselves.
Deirdre, Mark, Zachary and Benjamin.
Letter from the Zimmerman Family
MISSIONARIES IN NEPAL
In my Father’s house are many rooms. John 14:2
27 May 2019 On a night in 1990 I admitted a man to the medical ward with gastrointestinal bleeding. When I asked his family to either donate blood or find donors they claimed to be too poor and frail, but to me they seemed fully capable so I told them arranging blood was their responsibility. I came by his room an hour later and was surprised to learn the Nursing Supervisor, Ram Shova, had taken it upon herself to bring two cross-matched units from our blood bank and the first was already being infused into the patient. I marched off and when I finally met Ram Shova on the surgical ward, I asked, “Why did you let that family off the hook?! You know it’s their responsibility and that our blood bank has a limited supply. Are you related to them in some way?” She just turned and walked away. The patient’s bleeding stopped that night and he recovered. The next day, our Nursing Director, Ruth Judd from Australia, called me into her office and motioned to take a seat in front of her wide, wooden desk. In a soft, almost off-hand tone she said, “Mark, I wonder how long you’re planning to work in this hospital.” “I’m not sure, Ruth. Maybe for some years, I hope. Why?” “Because you won’t make it through the year if you keep treating our nurses like you did Ram Shova last night. She realized that patient was critically ill and couldn’t wait for his family’s dithering. Someone had to do something. Do you know she’s one of our best nurses?” It wasn’t my nature to gracefully accept a dressing-down, but I was new to the mission so I apologized to Ram Shova the next day. ‘It was nothing,’ she replied, an ironic start to an enduring friendship.
Ram Shova was raised in a well-to-do Kathmandu family, her brother owned a large resort hotel, and she graduated in the fifth batch of the mission’s pioneering nursing campus. She’d spent her whole career working in Patan and its predecessor mission hospital Shanta Bhawan and by the time I’d joined, she was a fleshy middle-aged woman with a round, ruddy nose, a melodic voice, and a steely resolve. When we established the country’s first hospital infection control committee, she was the natural choice for lead nurse. In Patan Hospital, where rats occasionally roamed the hallways and relatives camped under their patients’ beds, infection control was potentially daunting, but a group of us, with Ram Shova at its cutting edge, began taking down low-hanging fruit. She had the moral standing to shepherd doctors, nurses, and everyone else into handwashing, appropriate waste disposal, and other changes of practice without producing much resentment or even grumbling. If she said it, it must be the right thing. In the late 1990s, the hospital Board appointed Ram Shova as its Nursing Director and me as its Medical Director. Our adjacent offices opened onto a leafy courtyard over which loomed the four-story tower of inpatient wards, a reflection of the personal burden we felt as we walked out into the hospital. Of the four hospital officers, Ram Shova was the only non-Christian, but she’d sometimes be the one to remind us to begin our meetings in prayer. Looking after 600 often-fractious employees, we learned to ‘test fly’ any emerging ideas on the others in the leadership team. I could count on Ram Shova to give me straight feedback and later to back it with her support, even if my plan proved unpopular among the rank and file. Even more than with my fellow expatriates, who often seemed caught up in complaining about Nepal or bickering among themselves, with Ram Shova I shared a sense of mission.
When I left Patan Hospital in 2005, she was one of just a few Patan Hospital colleagues who remained in touch. She and her husband Puroshottam began to regularly invite our family for meals and we reciprocated, though sometimes were caught off guard by their progressively restrictive Hindu diets. At Christmas, they’d show up at our front door with presents for each of us, which was mildly embarrassing since we only gave gifts to our family members. They had two children, a daughter Jyoti and a son Ashish, who both studied in Asia to become physicians. Like many Nepali doctors, upon graduating they immediately began preparing for the qualifying examinations to enter specialty residency in the U.S. Jyoti went first, became an internist, and later found a job as a hospitalist in Kansas. Ashish became a pediatric oncologist and began working in a remote area of Missouri, his first step to U.S. citizenship. Their parents avidly supported their decisions to ‘find better careers’ in America. In 2012, Ram Shova retired. In 2016, after ten years in NSI, I was invited back to work fulltime in Patan Hospital. One hot afternoon that first summer, I noticed Ram Shova and her husband edging through our crowded clinic to see my colleague Dr. Ramesh. Afterwards they came to my desk and showed me her CT scan. There was a small nodule in the base of her right lung. She later phoned to say they’d gone to the new Nepal Cancer Hospital where doctors found adenocarcinoma cells in the fluid around her lung. A lifelong Kathmandu resident but never a smoker, she had incurable lung cancer. Every month or two, I’d visit Ram Shova, either in an immaculate room of the cancer hospital or at her home. Chemotherapy slowed her deterioration, extending her life expectancy from months to years.
It seemed a sad irony that at this stage, facing a deadly illness, her medically-trained children were settled on the other side of the world. Though they often flew home to visit their mom, mostly they were far away. But then, how many decades have I spent apart from my own mom? And years before, when my dad suffered a torn thoracic aorta, it took me days to arrange a plane ticket, by which time he’d already died. Even when unwell, Ram Shova would say, “I’m so glad they’re in the U.S. They have their own lives to lead and I won’t let my illness disrupt their careers and their happiness. Anyway, I don’t need them back here at this stage; I have friends like you and Deirdre and the boys.” I’ve forgotten how it started, whether at my suggestion or Ram Shova’s, but from my first visits, we began to pray together. When we invited her and Purushottam to our church for a healing service, they readily accepted and at the end of the program asked us for a Nepali Bible. Medically, she soldiered on with intermittent chemo, daily walks and a healthy diet. One evening last October I visited them at home and after about an hour of chat, with darkness deepening outside, I got up to go. “What about our prayer, Dr. Mark?” she reminded me, so I sat back down. At that moment, she began to turn her head rhythmically far to the right. I thought she was looking across the room for her Bible, but when the movement repeated itself eight or ten times, I realized something sinister was up. I suggested they go to the hospital that night and she later phoned to say they’d found metastases on the CT scan of her brain. “I’m just so glad you were around when it happened. Without you here, my husband would never have figured out it was a seizure.” She always seemed grateful for whatever life handed her.
We would read in the Bible about Jesus and pray to Him. She sometimes talked of putting herself ‘in the Lord’s hands’ and of eventually going to meet Him. Others might have spoken differently, but I never urged her to clarify who her Lord was or where she was going. Over the last two months she moved from fatigued to bedridden to stuporous, in the end only able to smile at our arrival beside her bed. Jyoti and Ashish made it home for the final days before she passed away in her room two weeks ago and they performed the Hindu death rites according to Ram Shova’s previous instructions. Children’s careers take a high priority the world over and so it is that we’re splitting our usual 4-month home assignment into two blocks to accommodate Zachary and Benjamin’s examcentered schooling. This summer, we’ll stay in southeast Pennsylvania to visit churches there and in neighboring states and next summer we plan to be in Ireland, New England, and New York. In July, we’ll be ‘home’ for my mom’s 95th birthday and she’ll be surprised to find her grandsons, now six-foot-five and six-foot-one, towering over her.
Love, Mark, Deirdre, Zachary, and Benjamin
Letter from Julie Campbell
May 27, 2018
Written as she returns to Wachara, Kenya to serve with Life For Children Ministries.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Finally, I am going “home”! Not that I haven’t been “home” for the last 22 months, but I have two homes! From May 27 at 6:40 p.m. and unless the Lord instructs otherwise, my main “home” will be Wachara, Kenya, East Africa. Yes, I will be back! Hopefully, it will be within the next year and a half. My boss, Michael Agwanda, will help determine when that will be.
I will be doing the same mission work that I did before. Life for Children Ministry, whom I work for, aids orphans whose parent(s) died of AIDS. They live with extended family, often a grandmother. We supply them with educational needs, food, new houses if necessary, spiritual needs, and counseling. We also aid guardians. In our bi-monthly meetings with guardians and orphans we hear about needs and suggestions. Also, we work in the community in a variety of ways to assist the indigent. I am to plant more churches in the area. God wanted me to begin four churches locally. One, God and I planted in the area close to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in 2000. So there are five in all.
Truly, I could not have traveled any further east than New Jersey without the staff and congregation of HUMC. Smiles and kudos to everyone. I am so very grateful to everyone for social and emotional support while I was recovering from illness and while waiting to return to Kenya. Thank you all! Thanks, financial supporters. Thanks, Serve Team. A special thanks to all those wild and wonderful ladies at the Tuesday Night Women’s Bible Study for keeping me sane! Big thanks to the staff, whom I got to know well from being a part-time receptionist at the office. What an awesome group!
I am open to whatever doors the Lord opens for me in service. The Holy Spirit has prompted me to re-look into a few projects. There is always a lot to do. My staff and I (a total of three of us)keep discerning the voice of God in all we do.
Finally (again) I bid you all farewell! I’m going to begin a blog – it’s been there and never used. I’ll keep up with emails, Facebook, and texts. When I know my new phone number, I will inform the church office.
My new address is:
PO BOX 144
Ndhiwa, Kenya 40302
In His Love,
Letter from the Zimmerman Family
MISSIONARIES IN NEPAL
April 2018, Kathmandu
“Go everywhere and announce the Message of God’s good news.” Mark 16:15 It was a glorious March morning as I cycled along the still-quiet streets to Patan Hospital. Having sent the boys off on their new 7am school bus, I was hoping to get an early start to a busy day in my new role of helping the hospital develop nutrition services for patients. The air was filled with birdsong and bright sunshine that quickly dismissed the early morning chill, and the sense of spring in the air was palpable. So strange, I thought, to be surrounded by such light and hope when a shadow had just loomed over our heads. Arriving at the hospital, I was soon busy supervising the preparation of nutrition supplements in the kitchen and checking individual patients who were to receive them on the wards. Nevertheless thoughts kept popping into my head as to what the coming weeks, or even months, might hold for us.
For years, Mark had been aware of a brown patch on his left forearm, often exposed to sun while hanging it out car windows. Recently he had wondered if it was changing colour and one morning in early March decided it had gone dusky red. The next day, between two busy clinics, he had Chief of Surgery Dr. Sanjay remove it, leaving a seven-stitch incision. Dr. Sanjay recommended that the specimen be sent to a private pathologist whom he trusted. Six days later the pathologist phoned Mark with her findings: ‘Lentigo Maligna Melanoma.’ She invited Mark to her office to discuss his report in detail, including the fact that the margins cut around the lesion were not sufficient to be considered safe. She advised that he would definitely need to have it re-excised, and that he needed further specialised tests not available in Nepal to determine the depth and degree of the cancer. The doctor had done her pathology training in Chicago and later at Johns Hopkins University, and was a U.S. board-certified pathologist. Her English was polished and her manner professional and caring. Together, she and Mark packed his microscope slides and biopsy specimens into a box for shipping overseas.
The next couple of weeks were a whirl of e-mails and arrangements. Dermatologists have long waiting-lists in the US and it seemed that health facilities in Thailand would not be sufficiently experienced with melanoma. Sending enquiries to U.S. medical colleagues, a long-time friend since college days connected Mark with his friend Dr. Linda Wang, an outstanding dermatologist in Baltimore and an authority on skin cancers. Dr. Wang immediately emailed Mark about his case and reviewed his pathology report, agreeing that he needed to send the specimens to her office as soon as possible and come to the US himself about a week later. A four-day visit to Kathmandu by Jim and Marilyn Simons gave us the chance to rush the box of biopsy specimens back to New York for mailing on to Baltimore. We researched air tickets and booked a flexible ticket for Mark to leave on the night of Easter Sunday, with free changes to his return date. The one silver lining to the cloud was that Mark would fly in and out of Philadelphia, and have the chance to visit his mother at the same time.
The increased numbers of doctors on the medical team meant that there was no difficulty for Mark to take the necessary leave. On the other hand, my work as the sole dietitian on a part-time basis was peaking towards a major presentation to senior doctors and nurses about the importance of developing nutritional services as part of patient care. More supervision was required on the home front too as the boys broke from school for Easter holidays. Benjamin spent a good amount of time working on basketball skills, while Zachary tucked into some serious study towards his international exams that take place in May. The boys were briefly startled by Mark’s diagnosis but understood that we were working to deal with it. We told close friends about the situation and many, including Benjamin’s classmates, assured us of their daily prayers. A week later, our Nepali church was conducting a ‘Healing Program’ to which we had invited a friend with lung cancer along with her husband. At the end of the service, folks lined up for prayers for healing and the church elders, including Mark, laid hands on them as the chorus sang softly. As the service was winding down, Mark shifted from pray-er to prayee and asked Krishna Kaji to lay hands on him, telling him he needed to travel to the U.S. for surgery on his arm without mentioning the cancer.
Spring did not sweep in as uniformly as we have grown to expect in this tropical climate. The weather was more reminiscent of an Irish spring, with strong winds bringing heavy showers and cooler days. With nothing planned for the Easter holidays, and Mark’s impending departure, we organised a group of friends to hike up a favourite mountain ridge for a picnic lunch on Good Friday. Vehicle booked, bread rolls and hot cross buns ordered from a nearby bakery, and the fridge packed with sandwich fixings, we woke up that morning to the low rumble of thunder. The day was dark with clouds, and soon a rain shower was beating down. On the horizon we could see blue sky behind the mountain, but the weather seemed unreliable and we were still second-guessing ourselves as we made the one hour drive to our parking spot and the clouds drew in once more. Up on the mountain however, the air was clear and the threat of rain receded. We even appreciated the cooler weather as the eleven of us pushed up the steep slopes of the ridge and climbed the final 1000 stone steps to the summit. Leaving the teenagers to wait for the rear-guard, four of us went over the top to our regular picnic spot to set out the lunch. Below us to the south was an undulating stretch of pine forest leading down to groups of village houses set in terraced fields; to the north, a more dense jungle of trees cascaded off the edge of the mountain into the surrounds of the city far below. As we waited around our picnic blanket with the food containers set out on it, we fretted about a scurry of approaching clouds. Suddenly, a squall of raindrops whipped across us, followed by a roaring wave of wind that thrashed all around us, bending the trees over and tearing at the surrounding vegetation. For a good ten minutes we crouched low, clutching our backpacks, our dog Bella and the picnic fixings as the wind persisted in its rage, whirling debris all around us. Then, as quickly as it had arrived, the wind dropped, and the air was still again. The clouds moved on without shedding their rain, and patches of blue sky appeared. Shaking the dirt off the picnic blanket, we gathered around to read the familiar Bible passages about Christ’s crucifixion, including descriptions of the darkness and earthquake that occurred as He died. After a brief prayer, we set into our lunch before enjoying the more leisurely walk back down to the vehicle.
That evening, after the empty lunch boxes had been unpacked and the backpacks stowed away in the wardrobe, Mark opened his computer and an e-mail from Dr. Wang arrived with the subject line ‘Good News’. She wrote ‘preliminary wet read is that it is not a melanoma.’ We crowded around the computer screen in astonishment as she questioned the timing of Mark’s flight in relation to when she could confirm the findings. With just 48 hours left before his planned departure, we wondered how quickly clarity could come. But within a couple of hours the full final pathology report from Boston arrived saying ‘Lichenoid Keratosis (no sign of malignancy)’. Just before bed Mark phoned the dermatopathologist in Boston. She was gracious about the Nepal report, saying this was a difficult call for someone not specializing in skin conditions. She herself was highly experienced, had applied stains specific for melanoma (which were all negative), and, just to be complete, had conferred with another pathologist. After his half-hour conversation, Mark was convinced that the matter was resolved for good. Early on Sunday morning, Mark left the house and headed out into the dark, deserted streets of Patan.
The tension of the previous weeks had taken their toll on me, and I continued in deep sleep without noticing his departure. The occasional truck hurtled past as he cycled under a buttery moon descending amidst the streetlamps. Reaching the church, he joined members arriving in ones and twos to take seats around the carpeted hall. Outside, grey light began to reflect off adjacent houses and a bird song through an open window mingled with the first hymn and prayers. It was time to celebrate our Risen Lord.
Sincerely, Deirdre, Mark, Zachary and Benjamin.
Letter from the Zimmerman Family
MISSIONARIES IN NEPAL
October 2017, Kathmandu
…and Jesus gave him to his mother. Luke 7:15
Rama’s daughter and son were admitted to Patan Hospital on the same day in April. It’s usually a
hot, dusty time in the Kathmandu valley, but this spring’s persistent rains prompted us to wonder if the
monsoon had arrived early. Radha came to the hospital because of a miscarriage and went home the next
day. Madhav had acute pancreatitis and stayed. *Pancreatitis is usually caused by too much alcohol or by gallstones – either of which can damage this hand-sized organ located behind the stomach. Its digestive juices then leach into the surrounding tissues, causing severe abdominal pain and vomiting. Most cases of acute pancreatitis respond to two days of intravenous fluids, analgesics and a naso-gastric tube, but Madhav’s condition was complicated. Fluid had accumulated around his left lung and a blood clot formed in his chest, so he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.
After three days, the doctors in the ICU transferred the 28-year old out to the care of my medical
ward team. Though lingering inflammation had wrecked his appetite, at that point Madhav still had a
muscular body sporting a variety of tattoos. The Hindu god Shiva, dreadlocks streaming, strode across his
chest. An elegantly-drawn Buddha reposed on his left forearm, while that arm’s flip side bore rough, handmade letters honoring the rapper ‘Fifty Cent.’ On Madhav’s right arm, a knife stabbed into a wound under the banner ‘Death before Living.’ Rama was a heavy-set, no-nonsense woman of about 50. From the start she made it clear to us that she didn’t have money to burn. Her husband had walked out on her ten years earlier, leaving her with four kids, ages 2 to 18. She’d worked as a cleaner in a hospital but had to leave that job due to bad knee pain. Here in Patan Hospital, anticipating a shortfall of funds, she’d insisted Madhav be taken out of the ICU earlier than that doctor advised. She was a constant presence at Madhav’s bedside and in a raspy voice snapped out accurate updates about his condition whenever we came on rounds.
One afternoon about ten days into his time with us, I circled back to see Madhav. He looked sick –
anxious, sweaty, and breathing hard. His blood pressure had dropped and he had a high fever, so probably
he had septicemia. I took Rama outside the room. “Madhav has gotten very sick. He may have a collection of infected fluid near his pancreas. I know you’re short of money, but we have to put him into the ICU. He may not make it if we leave him out on the ward. I’ll talk to Social Services about charity support.” I was surprised when she readily agreed and Madhav went into the surgical ICU. After a patient is transferred from our ward to another specialty team (like surgery), I usually stop seeing them. There are more than enough internal medicine patients to occupy my time. This past summer was particularly busy on the medical ward as we took care of a spate of patients with assorted fevers, some caused by scrub typhus or swine flu. But something drew me back to Madhav and his mother. From a young age he was living a wild life. He was a driver who’d spent his weekends binge drinking and he’d already been in and out of rehab. He had the look of a rough character, except that towards us he was always polite, almost timid, seemingly
embarrassed by the situation into which he’d fallen.
Rama spent every night in the hospital, sleeping on a piece of thin carpet padding – either beside
Madhav’s bed or in the hallway outside the ICU. She confided to me about her ongoing efforts, sometimes
with strategic tears, to raise funds – from neighbors, from Madhav’s former employer and from the hospital
administration – but she never asked me directly to contribute. It seemed that whenever there was a glimmer of hope – Madhav’s starting to eat, having less pain, his fever gone – it would soon be dashed by another complication. I came into the ICU one morning expecting to see progress and instead Rama’s face was a beacon of distress: “Look: now’s he’s bleeding!” as she pointed disconsolately to the bright red column coursing down his gastric tube. His inflamed pancreas had eaten into the adjacent intestine, causing an ulcer with a spurting artery that the surgeon had to sew over to stop the bleeding. Ten days later, as Madhav recovered from this major operation, the same thing recurred. As they again wheeled him into the operating room, the senior surgeon muttered to me, “I don’t think he’s going to make it this time.” But he did. [* All personal names have been changed.]
By July, the real monsoon had taken hold, unleashing its daily downpours ending in sun-spangled
cloudscapes and crisp air. Madhav grew emaciated. The periods of gastric drainage or fasting after two
operations had cut deeply into his body’s nutritional reserves. It was hard enough for Rama to pay for
antibiotics; the cost of IV nutrition packets would have been exorbitant.
Two more weeks went by. He finally left the surgical ICU and began to eat a normal diet. These
feedings were followed by fresh attacks of abdominal pain. The ultrasound showed that he’d developed
gallstones which had reignited his pancreatitis. One day I found him curled up in pain and breathing hard.
This time Rama motioned for me to follow her outside. We walked out onto a ramp, where the air in the
space between two buildings was misty from the morning’s rain. “I can’t take any more of this, doctor! I can’t! I can’t stand to see him suffer this way! He neither gets better nor dies! – just hangs there somewhere in between. When does this pain end!?” “You’re right, Rama. He’s very sick again.” “Enough of it! If this is his time to go to salvation, then so be it! It’s salvation time.” My well of encouragement was nearly dry. Maybe she was right. Maybe we had kept Madhav alive for our own sakes. But, then, it wasn’t like there was a simple way to end her son’s medical care. I looked at her for a moment. “Madhav has pulled through before. He doesn’t have a terminal illness, something impossible to cure. I know it’s hard, but let’s hope once more.”
So Madhav went in for his third operation, removal of his gall bladder, and then his deep abdominal
pain finally began to subside. By August, my updates on his condition were a regular item over our family’s
dinner table. We prayed for him and also asked friends to contribute their prayers. I started looking in on
Madhav first thing each day, searching for Rama’s faded orange kurta dress among the crowd of patients’
relatives. I suppose that in past years, when I was hospital director or chief of medicine, I would have
considered myself too busy to get so involved with a patient like Madhav, but this summer I made the time.
One Saturday, my son Benjamin and I dropped by and found the two of them locked in an argument.
Madhav looked dour. He’d begun to disengage from all the medical talk, withdrawing into an internal
sanctuary where morphine injections provided respite from the terrible world of the hospital.
She turned to me. “Doctor, this is the rudest person you can imagine! He won’t even look at me,
addresses me in low form, and generally treats me as his servant. Aren’t I the one who’s been caring for
him? Right now I’m ready to take him home and let him die. I’m sick of this hospital and of his disrespect!”
Two people standing beside the adjacent bed murmured in agreement. We went outside to sit and talk. “Rama, in all these years, I can’t remember a patient who suffered as much as Madhav, nor a mother who looked after her son so faithfully. Can’t you take a break, get someone, maybe Radha, to come and watch him one or two nights?” I often prayed with the two of them, but wondered how these were being answered. He just dragged on in his skeletal condition, the next calamity waiting around the corner. Finally I asked them if someone fromour church could come and pray, ‘a prayer specialist’ I said, perhaps to break the impasse. They readily agreed. Arun came with his wife Indira and they prayed with them at the bedside.
Who knows how illnesses take their course? But a week or so after this, Madhav’s appetite steadied.
His surgical wound began to close. He was able to walk to the hospital canteen. I came by one afternoon
and found him sitting alone on the edge of his bed, a hunched-over, reed-like figure. As I walked around
beside him, there was a steaming plate of chow mein. He barely gave me a nod, focused as he was on the
business of carefully spreading spicy chutney sauce over the fried noodles before beginning to devour them. Three weeks ago, after the hospital wrote off most of his bill as charity, Madhav and Rama finally
went home. Last week I was in the clinic seeing patients when my cell phone rang: it was Rama. She had my number, but hardly ever called it. I braced myself. When they came around I was relieved to see that
Madhav’s face was filling out. Rama said that he’d gained 5 kilograms as she pulled up his shirt. Madhav
even briefly smiled at me, saying he was thinking about looking for work, ‘kaam saam,’ he called it.
That day after work, I cycled home through the light afternoon air. The heat of a long monsoon had
finally given way to autumn. Cumulus clouds were heaped high at the edges of the valley and kites floated in the cobalt sky.
Mark, Deirdre, Zachary & Benjamin
Letter from the Melissa Cox
Completed 6 month commitment: Youth With a Mission
Cambodia and Thailand
Dearest Friends and Supporters,
Thank you for helping me discover more about who I am as a human being, my purpose, and who my heart, mind, and life belong to. I AM A CHILD OF GOD. We are all children of God and thus we are loved, cherished, adored, listened too, saved, redeemed, and have purpose PERFECTLY through our amazing and perfect Father and Lord. We do not fully understand Him or conceive his full greatness and righteousness and plans and intervention in our daily life, but he has revealed his glory to us simply, so that we are able to easily know Him and know his heart for us and the world. This is something I never really knew before I went to my Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) Honolulu. I knew God was good and I knew he loved us, but BOY was I SO FAR AWAY from the personal relationship and soul-recognizing understanding of who He is and His work in us. This knowledge was the most transformative launching point and beginning step for me, which I truly only started to experience about 3 weeks into my DTS. How could I have POSSIBLY MISSED OUT on this love and peace all of my life that I have NOW! My heart overflows with thankfulness each new day and morning.
I want to tell you, first, that most of what I’m telling you has only been able to be put into words through prayer and revelation. God helped me put together the fragments and pieces of my experiences into a true picture of how He was and is working in me and my life. The Holy Spirit revealed more to me about what He has done in me when I reflected on my experiences after they actually happened throughout my time in DTS.
Now, the spiritual journey that I went through started with myself. As it usually does when the Holy Spirit comes into you when you receive the Lord as your savior and believe in the sacrifice Jesus made for us all. The Holy Spirit brings you to God most often through conviction: “And when [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement” John 16:8. This conviction most definitely happened for me. Sure, my whole life I “knew” God and “trusted” Him and I prayed simple prayers to give me strength and courage through trials. And He most certainly helped me greatly through my young life. But the point that led me to the true transformation and redemption of my mind and soul to HIM, where I actually recognized what was happening and truly desired for it myself, was through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit had definitely been working in me for a couple of years before I dropped everything and said YES to God. I knew I needed to change, and a DTS was where the Holy Spirit was leading me.
What came after the conviction was BEAUTY. What came when the mess and wreckage that was in my heart and mind was recognized, cleaned up, and thrown out by the most loving hands, was BEAUTY. What flooded into my heart and mind was thankfulness, fullness, truth, love, and a yearning for more. To know more of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. To know more of myself as a child of God, a disciple, a person of purpose. What I got in the next 5 months was an overflowing of those things and so much more. What I got for the first real time in my life where I was able to recognize it, is “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). It all started in the foundational Lecture Phase of DTS and the practical discipleship activities we did. We had lecture once or twice a day that was based on one topic for the week. The topics, for example, were The Character and Nature of God, Holy Spirit, Evangelism, Servanthood, Biblical Worldview, among others. Each week there was a different speaker to teach us about the topic. Each speaker we had was unique, vibrant, and an obvious disciple and lover of God. Each speaker used personal stories and revelations to touch our hearts personally and help us see the moving of God here on earth in a tangible way. They helped us who were young in our spiritual journey see how God works, how we can recognize Him, and most importantly helped to fuel that small flame into a burning fire to see and know more of Jesus and live FOR Him.
Slowly but surely the Holy Spirit worked me from the inside out. The transformation went from the internal me to the external works and acts that we do as lovers of Jesus. As it should be. We are called to love Jesus with all of our heart and mind, and then we love those around us with the same love Jesus shows us. With the same compassion, grace, mercy, and purpose he has for us. If we don’t love others as Jesus loves us, we are not likely to show others who Jesus is. We are not called to cause the salvation of souls for Jesus, but we are called to love others and share the gospel, and through this the Holy Spirit will work to save their soul. We are called to love, step out, and act for Jesus. And this is what I was able to practice throughout the lecture phase, which completely led into my entire experience in the outreach phase of my DTS. During the lecture phase we participated in 3 different worship sessions a week, one lasting two hours. We had an evening of evangelism in china town, where I walked the streets with two other friends and we prayed for others and extended love and a listening ear. We attended two sermons a week, one at a local church and one on our base. And we volunteered at a local Christian church and school to clean and do construction inside and outside the buildings. I was immersed in this disciple of God experience, which was definitely difficult at first because I have never been that surrounded by GODLY activity 24/7. But day-by-day, week-by-week, the Holy Spirit broke me down. He broke down my self-conscious walls, my desire for independence, my selfish thoughts and intentions for my life. I died to myself, and I was set free in the love Jesus had for me. I was brought into my new identity and my new purpose in Jesus. I was brought into new strength that is only found in Jesus. This was fully revealed to me during my outreach phase in Cambodia and Thailand.
Cambodia and Thailand was SO DIFFICULT. I was on a team of all girls and one guy. All girls who were younger than me and tended to not talk about the same things I wanted to talk about or listen to the same music I enjoyed. The physical circumstances were what I struggle the most with. From the constant bug sitting next to you to the constant knot in your stomach, everything imaginable was different, and quite uncomfortable honestly. It challenged my mind and desired to take my soul from Jesus’ warm embrace. This is where I had to lean into the strength I had in Jesus. I played with the little children, ate all the village food, worked with pregnant mothers who didn’t speak any english, and dug dirt while covered in dirt and sweat because I LOVE Jesus. THIS is one of the most obvious and transforming heart lessons God has done in me. The more I know Jesus, the more I love him. And the more I love him the more I desire to do what he calls me to each day, BECAUSE I love him. Among many other truths God planted into my soul when the lies were ripped out, he planted HIS love in me. A love that He reveals to everyone who desires Him and wants to be His disciple. A love that gives you the strength to do the uncomfortable and the impossible. A love that brings you PEACE and JOY when you never thought it would come. A love that gives you clarity in the clear-as-day moments and in the darkest moments. A love that brings you deeper and deeper into Jesus and what he wants for you and his children. A love that is richer than anything on this earth, and a love you will do anything for.
My experience during my DTS had many, many wonderful moments during the physical activities of working and serving those around me. I could see how God was working through us to reach the community, from the largest things we did to the absolute minute things that seemed meaningless, yet were FAR from it. However, what I have shared with you has been the most meaningful and transformative aspect for me that was and is a launching pad for all the physical works I did. The INTERNAL, heart, mind, and soul transformation. What He did in me is what he desires for every single human on this planet. To KNOW HIM and then MAKE HIM KNOWN. And the only way you are going to know him is if you seek him, invite him in. And then step out and make Him known.
My time at my DTS was absolutely priceless. I would never trade it in for anything else, and I absolutely recommend it for anyone who feels that tug on their heart to go. I felt that tug, stepped out against the “normal” grain of life, and said YES to God. It was and is the absolute best decision I ever made. You can make that decision too. To not settle for normalcy, the comfortable, and complacency in your walk with God. You can walk into courage, passion, purpose, and the supernatural instead. You can walk in the kingdom come here on earth.
Thank you for your support and prayers in this whole process. I couldn’t have done it without you. All praise and thankfulness be to God, who loves us immeasurably and perfectly.
Letter from the Zimmerman Family
MISSIONARIES IN NEPAL
August 2017, Kathmandu
“Those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty” Ps. 91.1 Gyaani had been attending our church for some years when our pastor’s wife asked me to give her some dietary advice for diabetes. Kathmandu’s urban population has seen a huge increase in overweight and obesity as people adopt ‘modern’ sedentary lifestyles and become increasingly habituated to cheap, processed foods in their diet. Gyaani had the appearance and demeanour of many of the middle-class, middle-aged Newari women in the congregation: reasonably well-dressed, somewhat overweight, and confident enough to speak her mind in women’s fellowship meetings. However a series of high blood sugar results had thrown her into a panic and resulted in several late-night phone calls to the pastor’s wife for help and reassurance.
As I explained the concepts of the diet to Gyaani, she grabbed the information and ran with it…almost literally! She adopted an early morning walk of 90 minutes each day, and cut back drastically on the amount of oil she was using for cooking. Within a couple of months, she was delightedly reporting to me her significant weight loss and the return of her blood sugar to normal levels. Since then she regularly asks me for copies of the diabetic diet sheet so that she can share the information with friends and relatives who are struggling with diabetes. Gyaani was nine years old when her alcoholic father died of cancer. Their landlord immediately evicted her mother and the children because of the bad ‘karma’ associated with a widow. Gyaani’s mother found a new room for the family, but began leaving the children for extended periods. Gyaani assumed that her mother was working long hours as a domestic servant, but in fact she had fallen in love with a widower with an infant son and within months she abandoned her own children altogether. At 10 years of age, Gyaani became fully responsible for her 8 year old brother and 3 year old sister. She worked by day as a labourer on a building site and in a carpet factory till midnight in order to pay the rent and buy small amounts of old rice and lentils for their food. Gyaani frequently visited local Hindu temples to pray that her mother would return to them. At one desperate point, she took her brother and sister to seek help from their mother, but they were simply beaten by the new husband and sent away.
Gyaani was 15 years old when a friend of her landlord, a rich man who owned a factory, began to show an interest in this resilient young woman. Visiting his family’s large house and seeing their fields of fertile farm land, Gyaani was drawn to the possibility of a better life for her and her siblings. She met his parents who appeared to welcome her and assured her that he was not already married. However, before Gyaani could make a decision herself, she was kidnapped by the family during a Hindu festival and found herself without any choice but to accept her position as the man’s wife. Gyaani’s older married sister arranged a place for her younger siblings, and Gyaani consoled herself that she at least she could help with their support. It was 18 months later when Gyaani’s husband’s child bride, living until that point with her own family, suddenly appeared at the house to claim her position as his ‘real’ wife. Overnight, Gyaani’s position changed to that of a servant and she began to endure severe mistreatment at the hands of her mother-in-law and the other ‘wife’. At 16 years of age Gyaani attempted suicide, swallowing down a mix of kerosene and agricultural insecticide. She was found in a coma, and spent 4 days in hospital before regaining consciousness. After her recovery, the family kept Gyaani outside the house in a shed, even when she discovered she was pregnant.
Gyaani’s first daughter died at 6 weeks of age from pneumonia. Gyaani finally made the decision to leave her husband’s family and sought refuge in her uncle’s house. She was very depressed, but her husband asked to visit her, first moving her into a rented room of her own and later allowing her to live in his family’s second house in the city. His regular visits were often accompanied by beatings and abuse at the instruction of his mother, but the years passed and Gyaani raised 3 daughters in that house. Gyaani’s life changed again when her husband got the chance to emigrate to America. Gyaani was heartbroken by the need to sign over her two teenage daughters to her husband’s other ‘wife’ in order for them to go with him. Gyaani’s eldest daughter remained with her, and her well-paying job paid the bills when Gyaani became ill and needed gynaecological surgery for some growths. On the morning of her operation, Gyaani’s daughter visited a local temple to offer Hindu worship for Gyaani’s well-being. At the same time, an elderly woman in the bed beside her told Gyaani that she was Christian and offered to pray for her. Gyaani refused, saying she didn’t follow the one called Jesus, but the woman set her hand on Gyaani’s bed and prayed anyway. As Gyaani was taken into pre-op, she herself called out to God, not knowing what name to call Him by, asking for help.
After a final pre-op assessment, the surgeon told her that the growths had shrunk significantly and the operation was cancelled. Although her daughter ascribed this healing to her Hindu prayers, Gyaani felt sure it related to Jesus and began to look for a church to visit. Her mother-in-law and daughter were appalled at the possibility, and both threatened Gyaani with eviction from the house if she pursued the matter. It was a year later when two Christians moved in to the ground floor as renters. Gyaani began to attend a small fellowship held in their room on Monday evenings…until her mother-in-law found out and evicted them. Amazingly, the next set of renters were also Christians, and so it was that one day Gyaani made her way to church with them. When Gyaani’s daughter found out, she flew into a rage, threw the renters out, and had a doctor prescribe sedatives for Gyaani. Despite her mother-in-law and daughter’s best efforts, Gyaani began to regularly attend the large church the ex-renters attended, although she struggled to understand the Christian faith in that crowded setting.
It was when she became ill again, and was visited by some Christian ladies for prayer, that Gyaani heard about a smaller church located close to her home. And so it was that Gyaani came to our church 6 years ago, and received more personal teaching and discipleship about God’s love and mercy as shown in Christ. Gyaani had found the One who would never leave her nor forsake her. Reading the gospel of John, she decided she needed to be baptised. Her daughter was so upset that she beat Gyaani badly and then, on the morning of the baptism itself, threw her and all her personal belongings out of the house. Gyaani was distraught and crept back later into an empty room in the house but, as she lay down on the floor sobbing, she experienced a vision of God in His glory. A few weeks later, she joined the next baptismal group and, still with some trepidation, was baptised. That same afternoon, Gyaani’s eldest daughter got news that she too had won a visa to emigrate to America. Gyaani now lives alone, although she is in close contact with her daughters and has applied to visit them in California. She told me this story of her life as we were walking arm-in-arm through the dark city streets, Christmas carolling with our congregation. She was excited to have invited a group of her relatives to hear us sing outside her house, and anxious as to how they would respond. Later that month, Gyaani’s mother’s husband fractured his leg and was admitted to hospital. Gyaani stayed at the hospital supporting the couple until the elderly man died of complications. She continued her efforts to support her mother in her time of grief, but wept openly in women’s fellowship as she spoke of the continued deep hurt and sense of betrayal in their relationship.
Some weeks later, Gyaani wept again when she told how her mother had signed a financial document which, for the first time, referred to Gyaani as her daughter. Gyaani’s mother is now frail and struggles with illness herself. She too has begun to attend our church whenever the rest of the family allow her. During a recent hospital admission, Gyaani again stayed on the ward with her, taking the opportunity to speak to the patients and family carers about Jesus and pray with them. 7 people committed themselves to following Christ. Gyaani came close to tears at several points as she related her story. As she drew to a close, she looked me steadily in the eye, and summed up her situation. “I live alone. But I know that God has been with me since the time I was in my mother’s womb. Even if everyone leaves me, God will always be with me. I have suffered, but Christ also suffered for us.”
Sincerely, Deirdre, Mark, Zachary & Benjamin