You cannot see what you didn’t know was there.
Bill Deiss and I are visiting Kathmandu on behalf of the Anglican Relief and Development Fund on the one year anniversary of a devastating earthquake that measured 7.8 on the scale. Christine Jones wrote of this, “The disaster killed 8,900 people, injured more than 200,000. The Anglican Church in Nepal lost 30 of its 58 church buildings and continues to mourn the tragic loss of 70 congregation members.”
So we are here to encourage the church, and especially the part that is our Anglican family, and lay the ground work for several years of projects here as well as a joint ARDF-Coracle ‘transforming mission’ pilgrimage in 2017.
But Bill’s not here yet, he arrives tomorrow. That left me free to respond to whatever God had for me in one of my all-time favorite cities in the world. It’s my third time here in 20 years, and coming this time if felt a bit like coming home. I really need to read “The Solace of Fierce Landscapes”.
And God had a lot in store for this unplanned day. Unexpectedly I was able to join one of the other Christian fellowships here for their special prayer service marking the one year anniversary of this tragedy, and they did it on a high hill top in Kathmandu Valley.
It was a gathering of several church communities to pray at the moment of the quake, about 500 people in all, one of twenty or so such gatherings around the valley on this important day of memory and prayer.
We left Kathmandu city early and began a long bus drive to one of the hill tops of Kathmandu Valley, a mere foothill of the mighty Himalaya at only 6,000 feet, but for this valley, one of the high places. It was long because we kept picking up other believers along the way, and because for the switchbacks going up dirt roads with no guard rails two feet away from sheer drops over cliffs and into the forest.
Along the way, about an hour and a half, I saw very little signs of an earthquake. You cannot see what you didn’t know was there.
As the bus filled, the group started singing praise songs, driving up the mountain, for the sheer desire to do so.
This is a praying church, and a fasting church. In fact, all the folks had been fasting in preparation for this specific service. But fasting is not abnormal for them. They fast four times a month together. One day they fast for the church. Another day they fast for the country. Another day they fast for church planting to happen in the remote areas (83% of Nepali’s live outside the Kathmandu Valley), and another day they fast for the conversion of their immediate and extended family members. It’s a fasting church, a powerful church, and they pray powerfully, and long, and a lot. It’s the fruit of being a minority. Of the 31 million people in Nepal, only 300,000 are known to be Christian.
So we prayed a lot, and there was much worship, gathered on this high place, many of which have been set apart for centuries as sacred. But it’s only the last decades that there have been enough Christians to claim them for Jesus, and pray to him there. And they did.
Then one of the pastors rose to preach. He started with this, “Jesus says every high place is mine!” The congregation shouted out “Jaymashi!”–Praise the Lord!–the Christian version of the ubiquitous Nepali greeting, “Namaste”–I see the God in you–which also has great power. “Jesus says every high place is mine!”
He went on to talk about the earthquake. “Our security is in the Lord! We don’t need to be afraid.” He went on, to the effect that Christians are a blessing to Nepal, and that the church is to be a blessing to Nepal. “We receive blessing so that we can be a blessing.” And then he challenged the congregation to seek the blessings of God, and to keep praying.
Another pastor cut him short…it was almost 11.56am, the moment when the earthquake struck.
He called for no moment of silence.
He called for prayer.
So the churches did…for another hour and a half. It was not only a deep privilege to be there, to pray with them and amongst them, it was humbling. There are gifts from being a young church, and from being a Christian minority in your culture. You pray differently, and these dear Nepali Christians–our family in the Lord–do. They are the hope of Nepal, now and for generations, and I firmly believe Nepal will be changed because of them, because of our God, who dwells in high places, claims them, and loves to meet his own on them.
Right now, there’s still a lot of recovering and rebuilding to do. On the drive back down the mountain, even more harrowing than the one going up, my Nepali companion Pushkar pointed out to me remnants of the earthquake, because I told him I couldn’t see. You cannot see what you didn’t know was there.
Once he pointed out the place of rubble and emptiness, then I could see. The cracks were easy enough to spot, but then there were piles of rubble that you didn’t realize had been a
house. There was a footprint of a building that you thought was new construction, but it wasn’t. There was an empty lot that used to have a house on it. Over 530,000 buildings, including 4,932 schools, were destroyed, and over 3 million Nepalis were displaced, and in the remote areas, the majority of the country, many are still living in tents and waiting for help.
But many have helped. And there is the church around the world who has helped and can do more, and I’m sure will. And there is the church here in
Nepal that….prays, with fasting. And there is a God who cares, and is here, amongst these high places, and in the valleys, in this great city, and in the vast countryside of the Himalaya, ‘the abode of snows’.
And so while I am grateful to be here, I am also hopeful. There is hope for Nepal. His name is Jesus, and his body here is expanding and growing strong.
Throughout the day, the verses that echoed like a refrain in my brain, and deeper in my heart, was not unexpected. Psalm 46.1,2, and 10:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”…to the ends of it, to the high places.