Jaimasihi! (Victory in Christ, the Christian greeting here in Nepal) I am so thankful for the chance to be here. What an adventure it has been! This morning’s adventures included riding to church on the back of a motorbike, weaving around trucks and other motorbikes and even a cow or two, on roads that switched from paved to unpaved and back again. At church, I heard dramatic and touching stories of conversion, learned that the Christians were blamed for the earthquake two years ago, and saw the temple to Lord Shiva up on the hill above the church (“where women in town go to pray that their husbands will be nicer to them,” is what I thought I heard my student-friend say). I was invited to greet the church with a brief message, pray for the sick partway through the service, and close the service in prayer. Last Saturday (the day of worship for Christians here) Becca and I attended one of the largest and oldest churches in Nepal, with over 200 of us seated on the floor (at one of three services), men on one side, women on the other. A lovely dance team with tambourines decorated with ribbons helped lead us in worship. As soon as the pastor rose to speak, every single person pulled out a notebook and took notes throughout the sermon. It was nice to attend a smaller, more rural church on the edge of the city today. The student intern (my motorbike chauffeur) shared that a challenge they face is that every member farms, so it can be hard to get away from farming needs to get to church. They did not all take notes—in part because so many of them had babies in their laps! And I was given a seat of honor on the bench in the back, where the elderly ladies sit, instead of the floor (or maybe they were including me as one of them…). Given that the services are over two hours, that was a welcome change today.
The past week involved teaching two full days, then heading to Pokhara with Becca. We did this in part because it seemed a shame to come all the way to Nepal and not see the Himalayas, and in part to visit one of the major sites of the ministry she worked with three years ago, Tiny Hands International. Tonight, sadly, I put Becca on a plane, and at 6:30 tomorrow morning I begin teaching in earnest—six days of between 4 and 6 hours per day of classroom time. I’ll hold ‘office hours’ in the library most afternoons as well (in part because I won’t have as much to do, with Becca gone…).
Here are a few ways my seminary teaching experience has been different from in the US:
- It starts at 6:30am! I am not quite sure why the school feels the need to send someone around banging on a metal pot at 5am, since breakfast isn’t served until 8--they may be encouraging students to pray. The building is unheated, so with the outside temps as low as 42 degrees and the doors to the building flung wide open, it can be pretty chilly in the classroom as the morning begins.
- Learning names is tougher. I pride myself on nailing my students’ names by the end of the second session of class at Fuller, but here, not a single name fits a category in my brain (Ligan, Anmol, Anjan, Arpan, Kusum, etc.), and I’m perpetually a bit tired, so they just aren’t lodging well.
- Technology I tend to count on just doesn’t work. I sent the students a public Dropbox folder full of scanned readings ahead of class, and didn’t learn until I got here that they’d not been able to open it, due to bandwidth limitations in the country (or something…we never quite figured out why). But, where technology is challenging, teamwork is awesome—five students gathered around my laptop at 10pm in the library, which the librarian kindly kept open until we all figured out a workaround.
- The stories are more intense. A lovely young woman in my class shared with me at lunch about how she fell from a second floor as a two-year-old, and her parents carried her down from their mountain village through the night, walking for hours to a small city with a hospital. She was in a coma for a week, and still walks with a limp. She had not been expected to live. Her parents became Christians two years later, and her father became a pastor. Their church has grown to over 200 members, with two daughter churches and a school, so when she expressed a desire to get an M.Div., her dad decided it was time he got some formal training as well. He lives in the men’s dorm for the year, she in the women’s. Very sweet to meet them both. At another meal, a student from my class shared about his work for three years in a very poor part of Nepal, monitoring the border for the ministry Becca was part of three summers ago. This is heavy, hard work—they seek to intercept girls and young women being trafficked into India. The organization has a good relationship with the local police in that city so they allow them to act on tips and interview women in cars where things look suspicious, but these women are often terrified to tell the truth. I just don’t hear stories quite like those during breaks at Fuller every day!
Friends, I hope this somewhat jumbled set of reflections has given you a glimpse of the challenges and joys of teaching in this setting. I said in my greeting to the church this morning, “Seeing the giftedness and commitment of the young leaders in my class, I know that the future of the church in Nepal is bright.” I do fear for its future as well—repression of the church is on the rise, and they are sober about that. But God is good, and there is victory in Christ. Jaimasihi!
--Health and stamina: I don’t mean to complain about the cold but sleeping in an unheated room is wearing down my body a bit, and I am getting a cold.
--God’s direction as I prioritize what is most helpful: I have much more content-time in a typical course, and just need to pare down each lecture to what is essential, and skip some altogether.
--Connect with students: interestingly, I have connected more with the guys, who are more confident to approach me. I’d like to encourage and invest in my 6 (of 15) female students this week, as well as the guys.
--The peace and flourishing of the church in Nepal, most of all.
With immense gratitude, Lisa