Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Crossing the half-way point...

Well I’ve officially been in Nepal for 3 and 1/2 weeks now and I’m almost in disbelief that this means my time here is half way gone! My time has now exceeded the length of any other overseas trip I have ever taken...if someone were to honestly ask how my trip has been so far and was willing to hear the extended, honest answer in return, I would say: 
It has been...
wonderfully challenging 
sometimes lonely 
often unexpected 
occasionally frustrating
often joyful
full of constant adjustment
sometimes overwhelming
highly educational
patience testing
full of questioning  
a test of my ability to trust in the Lord
Overall, I am learning a lot - even if it is not what I expected to learn. Also, I know that I will be processing all that I have and will still experience here in Nepal for even years to come. For the second half of my trip, it is my hope and prayer that much of what I have learned will start to come together and that my mind will be inspired with how I can creatively report my findings in the papers and reports I must submit when returning home! 
The next 3 and 1/2 weeks are going to fly by with my family being here and my schedule being more packed. I am ecstatic that I get to see them tomorrow! It will be awesome getting to serve together as well as simply enjoy exploring new places! After two weeks, Brenden, my mom and Tom will return home and I will have 10 days remaining in country. I will wrap up my experiences and attempt to compile my research into reports! 
“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Ecclesiastes 3 
Earlier this year during an Old Testament course, I got to more carefully study the book of Ecclesiastes, which caused me to marvel at its honesty and depth. To some, this book may seem the most dismal of all the Writings because it talks extensively about death and the futility of life. However, I personally find that it gives the most accurate depiction of how we often feel about life and subsequently, I find it the most life-giving. Ecclesiastes shows that what we believe about death, should effect what we believe about life and how we choose to live it! Although the futility of life seems to often overtake human existence, this book shows that life is still worth the living because Yahweh is God and He has given us this life to live in reverence of Him. An important aspect of this book is to know that the author wrote such encouraging words without the hope the heaven that believers have today - I find this even more amazing. A life committed to following Yahweh was still worth it, even without knowing the promise of heaven. Through this study, I learned the importance of living with the hope of heaven, instead of living for the hope of heaven - we must live to serve God on earth while we can, in ways that are pleasing to Him! 
I am further learning that there is something beautiful to be seen and experienced, in even in the most simplistic circumstances, as well as during both seasons of sorrow and joy. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Week 3: Illuminations

 I cannot believe that I left for Nepal three weeks ago already! In many ways, it has gone by so fast. The start of this week was rather slow since it began to rain, making going out a little more difficult. It gave me some good time to complete some of the my assigned readings. I have to remember that they are a part of my practicum too - not only going out and doing things! It has been an introspective week for me as I seek to discover what God is desiring to teach me while I am here and as I seek to process what I have so far learned. This perspective has illuminated my experiences this week - in becoming an Ethnomusicologist &  in growing as a disciple of Jesus. 
On Tuesday I had the opportunity to spend an evening with a local missionary couple that I had a connection with here in Kathmandu! It was an amazing evening as I learned about their work in Nepal, some of which included music. They were a part of mission to a formerly unreached people group in a remote Nepali village. They began to tell me the journey of how their congregation came to write their own original Nepali Christian worship music! Before this people group had been evangelized there was no Christian music available in their dialect, so the natural choice was to compose. These missionaries, being of a culturally sensitive mindset, encouraged the people to use their own culture’s musical styles. This has allowed for indigenous and authentic Christian worship to take place among these people! I was and still am incredibly moved by their story and am hoping that I will get to conduct research within this village - if not during this trip, maybe during another. Discovering that we shared similar hearts and visions for mission made this night incredibly refreshing and special. I look forward to seeing them again and hopefully getting to work together in the future. 
On Wednesday I went to Thamel, which is a high tourism area in Kathmandu. My hosts suggested that I go there to explore because there are many music shops there! My experience was better than I imagined. Yagya, the husband of the couple I have been staying with for the past ten days, accompanied me. When we arrived, it was immediately obvious that this was a high tourist area because I was no longer the only “badeshi” ("foreigner" in Nepali) walking on the street! We spent time walking through the allies looking at the different booths selling souvenirs and clothing. The first music shop we found was a small one room shop filled with indigenous Nepali instruments. It is pictured on the right. This was an awesome find in comparison to many of the music shops that also carry Western instruments, such as guitars. We spent about an hour there, because the man who owned the shop and handcrafted all of the instruments was so helpful. His name was Sobit. He showed us all of the instruments, played them for us and allowed us to play them too. It was so great to see, touch and attempt to play the indigenous Nepali instruments I have studied about. Sobit spoke a little bit of English but we mostly talked through Yagya who translated my questions and Sobit’s answers. I captured some really nice video clips and learned a lot about the sarangi, the stringed instrument in the picture above. Hearing and seeing this instrument confirmed that this was the Nepali instrument I wanted to purchase and learn, so I did! Sobit described to me how it is tuned and showed me how to play a scale, which is a great knowledge base to start from. I was glad to be able to purchase my sarangi from Sobit since he had spent so much time with us and had been eager to answer all of my questions. He even gave me a free copy of his band's CD that plays Nepali folk music, "Namaste Band". I took my very first steps in becoming bi-musical today, therefore propelling me toward becoming a true ethnomusicologist. Because of this, I was thrilled with my experience and research on Wednesday. It has quite possibly been the highlight of my week! 

This is Sobit and I each holding sarangis.

 This is the sarangi I purchased! 

Later in the week I was supposed to return to my original hosts’ home, but they had relatives unexpectedly come into town so I have stayed a few days more with the YWAM missionaries. This latter half of the week has also been a little slow due to my hosts feeling under the weather - luckily I haven’t caught anything! I am capitalizing on the quiet time by further working on my readings and practicing my sarangi a little bit. I also have been spending this time preparing the session I will teach during the ministry conference next week. I combed through many of my notes from the different classes I have taken and was gently reminded by the Lord how incredible this journey through seminary has been. HE has done the work in shaping my heart and speaking to me through the wisdom-filled words of His committed followers. I have again become enthralled with the topic of Global Christian Worship as I am able to compare what I’ve learned in the classroom with what I am learning on the field. To see others worship Christ in authenticity is the ultimate goal!
I recently finished reading a discourse on the history and development of Christianity in Nepal and have been thoroughly impressed with a few different elements. Firstly, the Christian church in Nepal has been extremely committed to unity among all churches that claim Jesus. It is a beautiful and Biblical picture of what God desires from his followers - to be united, although we may be diverse. Secondly, this unity has not been specific to denominations but has sought to bring together and keep in contact all the Christian churches of Nepal. I admire the fact that their devotion to Christ far outweighs their devotion to a denomination. I also admire that the differences between denominations do not hinder the unity they feel called to maintain! The American Christian Church has MUCH to learn from this model. I have seen such divisiveness among Christians over denominational differences and it is saddening as well as maddening, in my opinion.

“How can a divided church ever prove the victory of the cross, when the very sin of all sins is division, or separation? Through the fall man was separated from his God and Creator, and through the same fall he was also separated from his brother. Can a divided and crippled Body of Christ ever prove anything, let alone reflect the glory of the risen Lord? Did not the Lord utter in His great high-priestly prayer in the garden that He had given His people God’s glory in order that they might be one? That really means that God’s glory is forever closely linked with the unity of His Church.” - Johannes Facius 
This statement was quoted in the book about Nepali Christianity and I think it is an amazing truth that the global body of Jesus Christ must seriously consider. Another professor of mine once stated that our unity does not have to be found in the sameness of opinion, but in identity of spirit. Belief in Jesus, the Son of God, is our point of unity. 

The ministry conference Brenden and I, as well as my parents (Ann & Tom), will be involved in next weekend is a demonstration of commitment to such unity as pastors from all over Nepal, across denominations, come together to fellowship, learn and grow in the context of community. We are blessed to be able to participate in this event and are looking forward to what God can and will do in the Nepali pastors, as well as in and through us. My family, as well as a Seattle pastor, will leave for Katmandu next Wednesday. Please pray for traveling mercies on their behalf and also pray for the final preparations for the ministry conference. I am beyond excited to be able to see, spend time and minister with my family for the next couple of weeks. It will be a definite blessing to have them here! Thank you for the prayers that are being lifted up for me - I have settled into the peaceful protection of my Lord this week. As I am here, please remember the gracious people who have so willingly opened their homes, lives and ministries to me - pray that God would bless their efforts to share His love in Nepal. 
I pray that my experiences and thoughts shared on this blog will bring you encouragement, contemplation and cause you too to consider how God is calling you to carry out His mission. 

*A Nepali Christian greeting meaning "Praise The Lord" 
used between believers to say hello and goodbye

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 2: Unexpectedness

My second week here in Nepal has been filled with the unexpected. 

HINDUISM. What I have experienced and seen in Nepali Hindu culture has been much different than I expected. In my spring quarter at Fuller, I got the chance to take a class in Hinduism , which was very interesting and enjoyable. However, I am learning that text book Hinduism is quite different from organic Hinduism. As I’ve pondered this, I am realizing that my class mostly studied the philosophical aspects of the beliefs in Hinduism as well as its origins. But here in Nepal, I am observing the practices that reflect these philosophical ideas and being in the midst of it has generated completely different feelings within me than my class did. During my class, although I did not accept any of the Hindu beliefs as truth, I was able to understand how and why such beliefs made sense to those who are devoted followers of the Hindu gods. But now that I am here, so much of it makes no sense to me whatsoever. I feel as though the more I learn about it, the more complex it becomes - no wonder Hindus don’t even bother to understand it all. This became more apparent to me as I had the opportunity to visit three different famous Hindu Temples here in Kathmandu this weekend. The history was quite interesting and I really do enjoy learning about culture through live experience rather than simply reading about it, but there was spiritual heaviness that hung in my heart during such visits. The pictures below are at the different Temples I visited.  

DASHAIN. The day of sacrificing I attended was also different than I expected. It was actually much less gruesome than I assumed it would be. As non-Hindus, the group I was with and myself were not allowed to go inside the main Temple to view the sacrificing, so we had to attend a smaller scale ritual in Durbar Square. I was actually quite relieved at this unexpected part of our journey that day, because of the sheer volume of sacrificed animals inside Hanuman Dhoka - the main Temple. It customary for 108 of each type of animal - buffalo, goat, chicken and duck - to be sacrificed to this Temple, as well as the animal each Hindu family brings to the Temple. The ceremony we attended only sacrificed six animals - 2 bulls and 4 goats. I watched the ritual in its entirety for one animal, which included the worship of two Hindu priests, the blessing of the animal slaughterers as well as the blessing of the animals themselves. Following these rituals, the animal is beheaded and then its headless body is drug around the ceremony area creating a circle of blood, which is believed to be an act of consecration. After I had observed the first goat sacrifice, I chose to move toward the outside of the crowd so as not to allow my nausea to worsen. For the remaining five sacrifices, I stood toward the outside of the crowd and frequently looked back in on the rituals. 

As I watched the rituals, instead of focusing on the inherently evil strongholds that were present in such rituals, I kept thinking about how we, the people of God, were at one time (in the Old Testament) required to also perform animal sacrifices. The sacrifices Israel made were for the purpose of atoning for sin, while the Hindu animal sacrifices made today are for the commemoration of a mythical tale which also honors their goddess Durga. Although these purposes vary, the concept of sacrificing is similar as both groups sought/seek to work toward pleasing the God/gods they serve. This further led me to thank my Savior that we do not have to do such a thing anymore. My wise professor encouraged me to allow these sacrifices to lead me to a deeper understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and I really believe that per her suggestion, this experience has indeed done so. I remembered that the sacrifice Jesus made for us was actually much more gruesome than what I witnessed, not to mention the fact that it was a human sacrifice, not just an animal sacrifice. After this experience, I am left with the emotion of extreme gratitude - I am so incredibly thankful, that as Hebrews says, Jesus was a one time sacrifice for all sin! I no longer sense the fear I first did before attending these Hindu rituals, yet I still have a deep sadness and empathy for them. They still very much need our prayers! Lord God, I pray that they might find freedom in knowing that Christ willing sacrificed Himself for those who choose to follow Him and that they, these Hindus, have the opportunity to be freed from the obligation of sacrifice also. Thank you to all who prayed for me during these days - they were truly felt as the Lord protected my heart. 

WESTERN MUSIC. This week I have heard more Western music than indigenously Nepali music. This is mostly in relation to Nepali Christian worship music. This is one of the anomalies I am here to study - Why is this? How do Nepalis feel about it? Should more indigenous Nepali music be incorporated into Christian worship? Luckily I have uncovered some of the answers this week through conversations with worship leaders and congregants of Nepali churches, as well through attending different Nepali Christian gatherings. Saturday morning I got to worship with a congregation of Nepali Christians and my heart was uplifted and filled during this time. I love experiencing the global church of God - hearing them pray, speak and worship in their own language and culture. It is so beautiful to my ears as it is the partial fulfillment of God’s promise to preserve a remnant of people for Himself from every tribe, tongue and nation! 
OUTSIDE THE CITY. I got the chance to go to the Kathmandu YWAM base with the missionaries I have been staying with. It is located in a near by village with beautiful scenery   - here are some pictures of the area! I loved getting the chance to see this aspect of Nepal, since I’ve mostly been in the city. 

As I process through all of my unexpected experiences and reactions this week, please pray that I am able to glean and learn from it in the way God desires me to. I find myself naturally comparing this trip to other overseas trips I have been on, which has shed some light on the ways that I am feeling. Although this is helpful, I do not want to allow such comparisons to lead me to disappointment. Pray that I would remember my purpose as a student and that in this role, I am also participating in the mission of God. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Daunting Dashain

I wanted to take the opportunity to share with my readers about the Hindu festival currently taking place in Nepal. It is called Dashain and it is a fifteen day celebration where people have holidays from work and gather together with their families in their home towns. The festival mainly commemorates a grand victory of the Hindu gods over the wicked demons. I write to you now because tomorrow, Friday October 15, is a significant day during this festival. It is the day of sacrifice where buffaloes, goats, chickens and ducks will be sacrificed to the Hindu goddess Durga in honor of her slaying a demon god, which is believed to have looked like a buffalo. They make these sacrifices to symbolize this moment in Hindu mythology and to worship Durga. Ultimately, the entire celebration represents the power of good triumphing over evil...seems ironic, doesn’t it? That something celebratory in their eyes would be daunting in my own... also, that a ritual which is supposed to be a symbol of good involves so much death. 
Tomorrow, I actually will be going out early in the morning with another mission team to observe the rituals and sacrifices at various Hindu temples in Kathmandu. The people of this country need your prayers on this day especially. As do I. Please pray for the spiritual warfare in the atmosphere as the Spirit of God is grieved by the spiritual blindness and as Satan is pleased with the confusion of truth he supplies. Please pray that Hindus would actually be left feeling unsatisfied by these rituals and that it would lead them to question such traditions. Please pray for the Nepali Christians who will face social pressure and even humiliation for not taking part in the sacrifices and other religious practices throughout Dashain. Pray that God would strengthen them and allow them to be bright lights for Him during this time. Lastly, please pray for me. My heart is so very heavy in simply thinking about it and I know that there will be an even great spiritual heaviness within my soul as I go to observe this part of Hindu worship tomorrow. I know and am confident that “He who lives in me is greater than he who lives in the world.” I trust in His protection, and know that He is and will be with me as I witness these rituals. Your prayers for Hindus are needed. Your prayers for the people of Nepal are needed. Your prayers for the day of Dashain sacrificing are needed. And your prayers for me are needed and all of your prayers are appreciated. I will be praying, in part, the prayer of Nehemiah (originally for Israel) found in Nehemiah 1:5-6 on behalf of the people of Nepal- 
“And I said, ‘O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of NEPAL.” 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Week 1: Into the new...

My first week in Nepal has been full of first experiences and exposures. I have been learning so very much about Nepali culture this week and my trip has just begun. I have sought to be adventurous and flexible as I continue to step out into all that is new to me...
I have tried and very much enjoyed many kinds of Nepali FOOD this week, including their staple food, dal bhat - rice and lentils. I have also tried many new spices, most of which I have been able to handle pretty well :) I really believe that the Lord is protecting my stomach - as silly as that sounds, I am sure of it! We have been eating healthy and safe foods mostly, but I usually have quite a sensitive stomach - even when it comes to American food. My friend, with whom I am staying, mentioned that I have a strong stomach - HA! That’s laughable considering the digestive health issues I’ve had in the past few years, so all I can say is praise the Lord that I have not been experiencing any illness so far. The picture below is a typical Nepali meal complete with dal bhat, green vegetables, curry, Nepali pickle and a chicken dish. The picture above is when I got to try paani puri - so yummy! It's originally an Indian dish, but is very popular in Nepal and many vendors make and sell this. It's a little fried thing with mashed potatoes inside dipped in a spicy liquid. I like it very much and probably had too many! :) 
I have, of course, had a lot of exposure to the Nepali LANGUAGE this week! I am learning and practicing the simple phrases I have learned so far, trying to add to my knowledge everyday. I have been encouraged by the friends I am staying with. They have spent much time teaching and helping me to practice Nepali. They have also told me that I am fast learner! I hope to be able to understand more and more each week. 
This weekend I have been able to go out into the city many times and experience the busyness of the festival time in Kathmandu. Each time we go out I am feeling more and more comfortable with my surroundings. Here I am on the right, shopping in Lalitpur. Yesterday was the first time I’ve gotten to hear live Nepali music. I got to do so while attending a Hindu wedding ceremony! Experiencing both yielded enlightening facts about Nepali culture and it was a great experience for me. It was such an honor to be able to attend the wedding of my hosts’ cousin! The Hindu rituals were so interesting. I am glad to have studied Hinduism prior to traveling to Nepal, but I must confess that taking a class about a RELIGION is completely different than seeing, feeling, smelling and fully experiencing it in person. I was very thankful to have friends with me who speak English and who were readily willing to answer any questions that I had.  Although this was wonderful, I learned that many of my questions weren’t questions that are generally asked - such as, “what does that mean/represent?” I was told that most people in attendance, the “everyday Hindu,” would not even know the answer to these questions. They simply know that it is a tradition and are faithful to follow what the Hindu priest instructs them to do in the ceremonies. My friend, who is a Nepali Christian, said that many Hindus follow their religion quite blindly, never really knowing what many of their rituals signify. I had such conflicting feelings while attending the ceremonies. On one hand, I was fascinated with the CULTURE all around me - the music, the language, the ornate dress, the food, etc. Yet on the other hand, my heart broke as I watched these beautiful people, created in the image of the One True God, engage in worship rituals they don’t even fully understand. I would assume that this is a natural part of doing anthropological research as a Christian. At this point in my journey here, I am allowing this feelings to set in and move me toward further prayer for the Nepali Christian church as they are constantly navigating through what it means to still be fully Nepali, preserving the beautiful parts of their culture not associated with Hinduism, and to follow Christ. I am learning from my friends that this is indeed possible and an incredibly powerful witness. Below is my beautiful friend and host, Shanti, and I at the wedding, in Nepali dress. I am wearing a kurta that I purchased for the wedding! 
This week has truly been blessing, in all the good and also in all the ways I have been CHALLENGED. By living cross-culturally, my American perspective is being challenged in a few different areas. For example, in my own American culture saying “thank you” frequently is considered polite and considerate. Yet I have learned from my gracious hosts that saying “thank you” often is considered very formal and keeps relationship at bay. They told me that there is a Nepali saying: “In friendship, there is no sorry and no thank you.” This really is a different way of thinking about gratitude and hospitality. Can saying thank you less really be a way of graciously accepting the hospitality of others? After considering this more, I think that it in this context, it most certainly can be. By doing so I am yielding to the cultural norm of my host culture and deepening my friendship with my hosts. This value assumes that friends will take care of friends and will be appreciative of one another. I think it also shows that Nepali culture is less concerned with recognition, whereas in American culture, recognition seems to be of great importance to people. 
Another challenge for me this week has been in altering my concept of time. I am really enjoying the concept of flexible time here in Nepal, but I haven’t quite caught on yet. I am usually ready around the time that was told to me, but I am always early when on time! I don’t mind this at all, yet I am not sure how to compensate - how “late” to really be. This has further reminded me how time-oriented my own culture is and how many non-Western cultures are more people-oriented. To me this is a reflection of caring more about relationship than the ticking of the clock. I hope to carry this value with me for the rest of my life. 

Everything I have experienced this week has been of incredible VALUE to me. I feel like I have already learned so much and my trip is only 1/7 of the way finished! In this picture on the right are my hosts, Shanti and Anubhaw, and I. They are teaching me so much and are such a blessing to me! Being busy and soaking in all the new around me has distracted my mind from missing home too much. Some days are harder than others, but I try to focus on the end goal and purpose of me being here and I am reminded that it is worth the minor discomfort I must experience in being away from my family. As I continually look to the Holy Spirit for comfort, He always provides me strength and reminds me of the HOPE I have in Christ. His promises give me hope for the people of Nepal to come to know and worship Him and hope that God will use me while I am here for His glory. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Arrival + Adjustment

Well I have been in Nepal for an entire day now and it still feels surreal! I arrived safely yesterday afternoon and have been resting up ever since while also spending time with the family of my wonderful contacts. I have adjusted to Nepal’s time pretty well which is good news! I am still feeling somewhat fatigued but that is to be expected for a couple days. I am enjoying the food I’ve had so far and am staying well, which is also good news. Conversations with my hosts have already been very helpful for my cultural learning as we have discussed many current issues here in Nepal as well as issues in Christianity. This has also been good for my language learning! I am becoming more familiar with just simple words at this point, but am dong my best! I am very much enjoying their company and generous hospitality. My heart is strengthened and encouraged by their love for Jesus. For those concerned, I am being taken care of very well! :)
As I flew into Nepal yesterday, I caught my first glimpse of the Himalayas. Even just their peeks were majestic! In this picture, on the right, it’s hard to distinguish between the clouds and the snow-capped mountain tops, but if you look closely you can just make them out. The picture below was some of the landscape we were flying over as we descended into Kathmandu. The rainy season has just finished here in Nepal so the land is very green this time of year. 

Surprisingly, the Himalayas are not easily seen from the Kathmandu valley due the polluted air blocking them. 
(This can be seen in the picture on the left as well) I have been told that on a clear day you can see them. This made me laugh a little and I said, “It’s just like LA’s smog!” It is similar but the haze here in Kathmandu is actually a little darker and is mostly due to car exhaust and polluted emissions, for which they have no regulations against. The drive through the city to where I have been staying was a mere 15 minutes, but I observed a lot in those minutes. Evidences of Nepal’s developing status were quite obvious. Although I was not shocked to find this, I was still a little surprised having imagined Kathmandu differently. The house I stayed at last night and today is in another district slightly outside of Kathmandu - it is much more quiet out here and a little more secluded. It is a large home   with 4 floors total - the bottom two are finished while the top two are not yet finished. On the top floor there was a wonderful view of the Kathmandu valley. 
This evening I traveled to my hosts’ home, where I will be staying most of my time here in Nepal. I am feeling much more settled now that I am here with them. They are newlyweds and a little older than Brenden and I. Also, both are English speakers, so we have much in common. It is refreshing and comforting to be with them. I am already so grateful for all their help and kindness. I am truly thankful to be here, but of course I miss home - especially my beloved husband and family. Yet in the face of these feelings, today I have felt ministered to by the Holy Spirit through the hope I have in the ways He will lead me during my time in Nepal and through the comfort that His empowerment brings. The next couple days I will spend at home while my hosts go to work. This will give me time to read, write, learn music and do further research. I am anxious to get out in the city and experience the culture of Kathmandu, but my hosts suggested that I need to become familiar with the city before I go out on my own. I will definitely be taking and trusting their advice since they know their own culture best! This weekend we are planning to go out so that they will be able to guide and help me. 

It truly has been a wonderful first two days - a very smooth experience thus far. Thank you to all who are praying for me. I am blessed to be here and am looking forward to all of my experiences ahead!