As I reflect on the trip, these are some of the things which stand out for me:
- I am confident that I made a substantial contribution. In the US, it has been so hard to find work in the field for which I’ve trained that at times I’ve doubted the value of my Ph.D. But at a school striving to meet accreditation standards (which means most courses at the M.Div. level must be taught by persons with Ph.D.’s), what I bring is highly prized. I pushed the students hard in some ways. The first day, I had each student select a strip of paper with a verse on it, leave the room for five minutes, and return with a five-minute ‘micro-sermon,’ using a simple template I had provided.The third day each student retold a story from Scripture from a creative angle, through the voice of a character in it. Over the next several days, each student preached a full-length sermon (though not by Nepali standards—I visited one church where the sermon went an hour and twenty minutes!). I walked them through a thorough exegetical process to prepare for their sermons, including how to craft a set of strong questions to ask of their Scripture text.We discussed the power and the hazards of personal testimony. We tackled the structure, shape, and logical flow of effective sermons. I told the story of how rhetoric arose in the ancient world, made the argument that we should pay attention to it in preaching, and why it is not a sufficient paradigm for preaching—we need a robust theology of what God is up to when we preach, as well. I introduced them to some of my favorite saints of preaching (Chrysostom, Augustine, Hildegard of Bingen, Luther, Jarena Lee, and Francis Asbury) to begin each day, with a brief bio followed by a sample from a sermon. In short, I worked pretty hard to deliver a solid course (a neighbor said last week, “You’re back from your vacation to Nepal!” Not exactly.), teaching from 6:30am through the morning, and then grading, preparing, and being available to students in the library in the afternoons. I return with many questions about how best to deliver advanced theological education in developing countries, but feeling pretty impressed overall with what this seminary is doing toward that end.
[We worked hard together, but we laughed a lot, too.]
- Becca’s presence made a huge difference! I was definitely lonelier the second week. One of the misperceptions we can have of missionary life is that it is filled with people. The reality is that it can be quite isolating. Relationships form slowly, and in my situation, housed in a dorm filled with students who were friendly but much happier to chat with each other in Nepali, the evenings alone could feel long. So, Becca’s enthusiastic introduction to the city of Kathmandu, her pre-trip insistence that we sneak away to Pokhara for three days, and her generally cheerful presence, were real gifts. The trip also confirmed her sense of calling to invest in the people of South Asia in some way throughout her life.
- The students had amazing stories to tell! One of my students (pictured with me below) has two children, runs a center for girls rescued from human trafficking, co-pastors a church with her husband, and takes classes like mine toward an M.Div., financing all that by selling buffalo milk from the eight buffalos they own on the outskirts of Kathmandu. Another shared how her mother was beaten by her mother-in-law for ‘only’ giving birth to girls. She (the student) is pregnant now and grateful that her own mother-in-law is a Christian and has told her she will love their baby of either gender! (That’s the gospel transforming culture, right there.) Another told of being sternly kicked out of the kitchen of a higher-caste host when the host discovered what caste he was. (That’s the culture in need of the gospel, right there…)
- The church in Nepal is amazingly vibrant. I was able to attend three churches: one of the oldest in Nepal, founded by some of the first Christians in the country, a rural church outside Kathmandu, and a large urban one. This last one was pastored by a man who was initially beaten by his father for converting to Christianity. Later his father converted and was imprisoned for several months as a result. This church has 1400 members, and has planted 84 churches.
A blessed Easter week to you all,
Lisa (with many thanks to Rich for making the journey possible in so many ways)