Now that all the 2023 Nepal Tour participants are back in their homes, it almost feels like our trip is continuing. I still get messages each day from the Nepali Women who were on the trip, and I still haven’t taken the time to organize all the photos and videos I took from the trip. In fact, a lifetime of memorable events happened each day, and not a single day passed when I was not either crying or praising God. Since this was a generational event for all the participants, both foreigners and native Nepalis, I have paused to ruminate. The Ministry that I started many years ago is now “done,” and I can already see a new one beginning to form.
Himchuli was the fourth school this ministry helped build and develop. Last year, we received a one-time gift that paid for all the teachers to travel to the mountain that the school was named after. The trekking regions of Nepal are often too difficult or expensive for the Nepali people who live in the rural parts of the country, and this was an opportunity for them to see the part of their country that the rest of the world dreams of seeing.
Our trip started and ended in Pokhara, Nepal’s second biggest city and famous for being the entrance to the Himalaya. Three of the ten biggest mountains in the world are visible from Pokhara, and their summits are no further than 35 miles from the city center. Getting off the plane was an epic event, as one of the smaller but better-known Himals was visible during the walk from the plane to baggage claim. This set the mood for the entire trip, as each day started and ended with auspicious views of the world’s most prominent peaks.
The first day for the teachers from the Dang Valley was difficult. Dang is at a very low elevation, and the temperatures there parallel Guadalajara or South Texas. There is no such thing as snow in Dang, and none of the women had ever experienced a temperature below freezing. That set the stage for our activity to be overwhelmingly important: purchasing trekking gear and high-altitude clothing.
They had taken an overnight transport to reach Pokhara, and they were exhausted when they arrived a few hours before sunrise. We arrived after they did, and we took them shopping not long after sunrise when the stores opened. None of them had ever used hiking poles, boots, or down jackets, yet they all took their turns getting sized and fitted for these items. Despite the outside temperature at the time we shopped exceeding 80 degrees, it would only be 24 hours later when it would be cold enough to justify putting the clothing on. It was a photo opportunity that made the Nepali women look like Japanese tourists, and they were very excited to be going.
Breeshana was a 20-something-year-old woman who had gone through our system. She was a graduate of Madan Bhandary School (a school partially financed by The Nepal Project), and she was now a science teacher at Himchuli, another Nepal Project School. She was the only one in the group who was both a student of our system and a teacher in it. She repeatedly expressed to me her gratitude for the chance to be trekking in a part of her own country that she had never explored. She loved practicing English with Tom, the British guy on the trip, and she was outgoing and very open to exploring the Himalaya. In the end, she said she couldn’t wait to go again! I called her “choree” in Nepali. It is a term of endearment used for daughters. I never had a daughter of my own, and thinking of her like that filled my soul. She already had four other brothers and sisters, so choree worked for her as well.
Sunita was a strong and proud woman, and her husband was a pastor at a local Christian church in Dang. She would ask me faith questions, and I gave her some of my Before Christ stories for no other reason than to let her know that American men were no less nor any more Christian than Nepali men. She was undoubtedly a leader both in her church and at the school, and my tales deeply moved her. Despite the shame that I felt when telling my stories of sins and tragedy, I felt she really connected with me when she saw that I was just as much of a sinner as everyone else she knew. If I could be bold, it was as if I could sense that she loved me for being transparent with her, and her smile melted me every morning when I saw her. She never judged me, and it was as if I could feel her prayers each morning. She reminded me that men of God aren’t perfect. They are only saved.
Rojina had a hard life. She lost her husband to adultery, and she was raising her only one by herself, with the help of her ex-husband’s father. She was too old to remarry, by Nepali standards, and she had made peace that once her child was grown and gone, she would be alone. She was the first teacher hired at the school, and she had a heart for those kids who could not afford to come but were on scholarships provided by donors to the Nepal Project. Indeed, no one was more committed to being a part of Himchuli than Rojina. Rojina experienced acute mountain sickness and couldn’t continue to the end, and I had to take her down to a lower elevation to recover. She told me much of her life story on the descent, and it broke my heart as well as inspired me to tell her about Christ. She messages me daily, and I spoke to her son a few times during the trek when we had a Wi-Fi signal. She is a hero in their culture, but she will never receive the accolades that come with that title.
Keema was a favorite. She was a Tharu woman whose husband lived in the Middle East so he could send home remittances to provide for her and their baby girl. She served as an assistant at the school, and if something other than teaching needed to get done during the day, Keema did it. No matter how cold or steep the mountainside, she always had a good attitude and a big smile. She fit the biblical definition of helper, and she was there when even the most menial tasks like purifying water or taking dirty dishes to the kitchen were required. She occasionally carried gear for the other women when they were tired or needed a day with nothing on their backs. No one said thank you more than she did. Yet, the most surprising part for me was the discovery that she, too, was a Christian. When we started this project, there were zero people who even knew the story of Christ. Now, a third of the staff are Christian and all the students are surrounded by teachers who are praying for them. There is no way to assign a value or a return on investment for all of you who have been faithful donors over these years. Keema is one of the beacons of those efforts.
Kusum is the headmistress at Himchuli, and she was the organizer of all the women’s preparations that led up to the trip. She took them on long walks to prepare, and she helped to make sure that they all had family approval and permission to leave Dang for ten days. Kusum has known me for years and knows of Western culture, as her husband came to the US and lived with Linda and me for a while after he finished a semester at Liberty. She knew to give and receive hugs when dealing with Westerners, and each time her daughter gave her a call on Facetime, she was quick to hand me the phone and say, “Denika, please talk to Jeff.” Kids in Nepal like playful and goofy teachers, and it was easy to deliver that when I saw Denika’s face. Kusum can’t wait to go on another trek, and since she makes the rules at Himchuli, it is reasonable that some of the teachers will be trekking again next year.
Sabita was the only non-educator on the trip, but she perhaps got the most out of it. She is Khopi Ram’s wife and takes care of a household that includes a special needs child. She defines toughness. She cuts firewood, plants and harvests rice, cooks all the meals, and serves in the community. Since her husband is a powerful politician, she represents his rock and his grounding, and it is evident from her countenance that he loves her and cares for her. She also never complained, even when conditions warranted it, and she was very moved by all that she got to see when we trekked on the roof of the world. She loved to sing as we hiked.
Rounding out the trek was Raju. He was our porter. I have used him for years to carry stuff for us and would put to shame the best of American powerlifters with his leg strength, carrying up to 40 kg (88 lbs.) up and down the Himalayas for 6+ hours at a time. His demeanor was honorable and calm, and he was very sensitive to the group’s needs. I always make sure to overpay him, so when I ask him to come back, he always does. Next year, we will need four Raju’s, and he will help me find the other three.
Next year, I am planning two trips to the Himalaya. One will be an identical trek like this one, geared towards members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Another one will be an exploration of a different part of the country with even more challenging high points and crossings. You can find those descriptions here. You are invited to join me.
None of these efforts would have been possible without a donation from Brian and Kitty Johnson. Kitty’s horrible and accidental death made it such that she could not experience the joy with us. Rest assured, these women are forever grateful.