By Gary Fallesen
Climbing For Christ
Friday, Oct. 16
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:6 (ESV)
God is good, this much we know. When we abide in Him and Him in us, there is no shortage of blessed moments we get to experience. Such was the time on this trip – more of a journey for me than an Evangelic Expedition. I traveled by His side and under His wing. Thank You, Jesus!
I was honored to participate in a movement of brothers and sisters in Christ who are centered on delivering the Good News to unengaged Muslim people groups. I met with them for four days in Turkey on my way to Nepal, a country with a Hindu majority. But in Nepal I continued to work among those who follow Buddhism in the Himalayan mountains.
For me, it was two weeks of walking purposefully in His truth among people lost in three other religions. He made the path straight and “He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights” (Psalm 19:33). Good thing, too, because I needed to keep pace with my dear Nepali brother Megh.
I am returning to the States today with three wonderful sisters from my home church who joined me on the Mission: Nepal part of the trip. Each of us has had special God moments in Nepal as we visited the church at Dapcha, loved children who are precious in God’s eyes at an orphanage in Kathmandu, and returned to villages in Langtang.
I asked Leanne, Ann Marie and Jill for their favorite memory. Here they are (along with our thanks to those who were with us in prayer and support):
Leanne: “The morning we arrived at the orphanage and the kids had finished the ‘Days of Creation’ mural. When we left the night before, there was some painting and outlining to do. They were so proud of the work they had done. Amazing, beautiful, cooperative work. The orphanage is a loving, safe and nurturing place for the kids to live. I hope the work they did, the investment they made in the house will make it more of a home for them.”
Ann Marie: “There were a lot of neat moments on this trip, but I think the coolest was seeing the joy on the faces of the children from the orphanage as they played on the swingset at the zoo. Hours of smiles, sharing, cooperation with no arguments or boredom. And seeing the older ones care for one of the younger ones who fell and got hurt. They are a family. They are so kind to each other; it is awesome to witness.”
Jill: “Morning worship and prayer time with the children at the orphanage. God’s presence was ‘thick.’ Each child intimately connected with their Savior as I watched the youngest to the oldest in fervent prayer. Each song, each dance was an offering of praise to the Jesus they love so much.” Jill added that the best part of the trip was getting to know better the young man, Gideon, that she and her husband (Pastor Larry Stojkovic) sponsor through our Project 1:27.
This was Leanne’s third trip to Nepal, and the second for both Ann Marie and Jill. I have been blessed to GO to this intriguing, sometimes befuddling, always hoped-for nation eight times since 2011. I am accustomed to Hindu festivals, rolling power outages, Maoists, dal bhat, spiritual warfare, bad air in Kathmandu, and amazing views of the Creator's work in the mountains. But this time we dealt with a fuel shortage that forced special deals on the roads into the mountains and forced our flight out of Kathmandu to land in India to refuel.
My favorite memory?
I had felt a heavy burden for the villages of Langtang since the earthquake in April. Specifically, my heart was heavy for a family in the village of Tamang, where we stayed on Mission: Nepal 2012. I felt I had failed in my responsibility to make sure a follow-up team of indigenous believers had returned to that traditional Tibetan village and Buddhist stronghold. We strive to make our “yes” YES when we commit to something. I have seen the mess made in too many places by those who failed to keep their word. The thought that a family may have perished or suffered without us sharing Jesus weighed on me. The blessing of going back, finding our host family healthy, sharing Christ, and seeing Him present in a village formerly 100 percent Buddhist (if only in the heart of one man) released me from what I’d been feeling. In fact, seeing the promise of what He will do there freed me to walk lightly down the trail leading from Langtang.
All glory, honor and praise are His alone.
Thursday, Oct. 15
The Langtang mountains at sunrise. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
Megh and I descended quickly from Thuman (at 7,500 feet) to the Border Road that runs to China early this morning. Before leaving Thuman, Megh asked Phurbu – the guesthouse owner, son of believer Pasang and father of my singing little friend – if he wanted to accept the Christ we spoke of with him on Wednesday. “Not now,” he said. He has a successful guesthouse and is a political leader in Thuman. He, like the rich man in the Bible (Matthew 19:16-22; Mark 10:17-22), isn’t willing to jeopardize that.
Our survey of the Tamang Heritage Trail in Langtang is complete. We are encouraged to see the church is alive and growing here: many believe in Gatlang, many are coming to faith in Tatopani, there is a witness in brother Pasang in Thuman, and many of the other villages have new Christians. Our work here is done. We will go where others cannot or will not in Nepal as is our primary purpose. During our five days in Langtang we met two other Christian groups delivering the Good News. Praise the Lord of the harvest for sending many workers.
One day we may be able to say the same about Humla in the Far West. When we first went there in 2012 on the second Mission: Nepal of that year there were few workers in that field. Since then more and more have been coming. Megh and I met with Pastor Harka from the church at Simikot in Humla when we returned to Kathmandu later today. We discussed completing Phase 1 – the purchase of land in Simikot for the building of the first church there. Prayerfully this will happen in the next few weeks. If that is God’s time.
Speaking of time, it’s nearly up for this team on this particular Mission: Nepal. The orphanage team members said their tearful goodbyes to the children on their final day with them in Kathmandu. From Jill, Ann Marie and Leanne:
“We began our last day with the children in bittersweet praise and worship: so wonderful to worship our amazing God, yet so sad to say goodbye. We worked some more on the Noah's ark mural, which is starting to look great. We left paints and markers, and instructions to finish the mural before we return. We’re sure it will be done by sunset tomorrow. What a blessing this trip has been. These orphans supported through Climbing For Christ’s Project 1:27 are some of God’s most wonderful creations. We look forward to seeing how they use the gifts they've each been given.”
Wednesday, Oct. 14
The door today. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
The spiritual darkness that hung over Thuman in 2012 did not seem as heavy when we arrived this afternoon. We know now that there is a light shining in this Buddhist village of 2,200 souls.
I came looking for the boy who sang to the sun in front of an open door 3½ years ago (scroll down to the Introduction to these Dispatches for the whole story). I found the door – still open. But the boy, Lakpa Dentup, is not here. He is 8 years old and his father, Phurbu, who owns the Buddha guesthouse where we stay, sent him to Kathmandu to go to school. He is in grade 1.
The family is healthy (in fact, Lakpa Dentup has a baby sister). The earthquake did little damage in Thuman.
And while Lakpa Dentup won't be singing to the sun for us Thursday morning, his grandfather is singing to the Son every day.
We went to visit 70-year-old Pasang, who shared his testimony of finding a Bible at the guesthouse his daughter owns and diving in heart first. His witness is to the power of the Holy Spirit. Pasang was baptized last month. He goes to church in another village. The Buddhist lamas in Thuman are angry with him because he talks about Jesus with everyone. He even has “Jesus” written in Nepali on the door to his house.
When brother Megh asked him if he might backslide, Pasang said he would not. “I'm at the end of my days,” Pasang said, not sadly, but with the joy of one who know Jesus.
We encouraged and prayed for him (may all Pasang’s children and grandchildren come to know Jesus) and before we left he said one day we would continue this conversation “with the Father.” Amen!
What I expected to be the hardest day of the trek turned out to be the easiest. We ascended out of Tatopani (after praying with Sonam, the man who accepted Christ when we were there in 2012), climbing through the forest and above treeline. We went over the hilltop at 10,300 feet and then quickly dropped down to Thuman.
There was no foreboding drumbeat from the Buddhist gompa to welcome us this time. Only good news from a family whose patriarch was studying the Book of Matthew.
Hannah, center, helps translate during worship time. (Photo by Leanne Bohn)
The orphanage team started the day with worship led by the youth and the lesson of the Good Samaritan. Work began on the Noah’s ark mural in the stairwell but was sporadic as the electricity in the city kept going out. Afternoon rain kept everyone inside, singing and playing dominos and Jenga, and making paper airplanes that definitely needed some air traffic control! Saying goodbye tomorrow will be difficult. “This trip was so much about building on our relationships with the children,” said Leanne. “It will be hard to leave and say, ‘See you next time.’”
Tuesday, Oct. 13
When we came to Tatopani in 2012 there were no Christians. Forty homes full of Buddhists. But Sonam Tamang, the owner of the guesthouse where we stayed, accepted Jesus during our overnight visit. We rejoiced then and we gave shouts of praise when we trekked today into Tatopani from Gatlang after another five hours on the steep mountain trails.
The guesthouse where we are staying this time is owned by a young Christian family and they told us Sonam is counted among the 1-year-old fellowship of 15 Christ followers. It is a praise-worthy start in this Buddhist village.
Gatlang as we prepared to trek out. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
Megh and I began the day in Psalms and prayer. “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1). We prayed our efforts would not be in vain; that whatever we did would be of the Lord. Then we prayed for each other.
We left Gatlang and descended 1,700 vertical feet over the first two hours before climbing up 2,700 feet in the next three hours to reach Tatopani at 8,400 feet. It had been warm and cloudy Monday, but today was sunny and much warmer for the steep ascents. The news of a church started here meant our efforts were not in vain.
Back in Kathmandu, the orphanage team and the children took a field trip to the zoo. The Nepal/India border has been opened and the government is now allowing cars, busses and trucks to partially fill their gas tanks. The orphanage group traveled by bus to the zoo, where everyone enjoyed seeing crocodiles, tigers, monkeys and more. They played in the playground for hours.
Enjoying the day at the zoo. (Photos by Leanne Bohn)
Pastor Tej’s brother, Karna, observed that “the kids will be so refreshed after this trip. They have been asking for a long time to come to the zoo.” Manoj, a young man who helps translate for C4C teams and stays at the orphanage house at night, was happy, declaring that “they will all sleep well.”
Riding high, elephant style.
Monday, Oct. 12
Near the end of our five-hour hike we stopped on the outskirts of Gatlang. Megh asked an old man if he knew Prim. Not only did he know Pastor Prim, he was a member of his church, and he went to get Prim for us.
Prim, 30, accepted Christ 16 years ago and started the church at Gatlang eight years later. Now 60 of the Buddhist village’s 365 families have come to Christ. We are praying for many more to follow.
We met with Prim and five brothers in the evening to pray with them and give each man three audio Bibles to use in evangelism. It made the walk, which began with a 2 ½ hour ascent of 2,400 vertical feet straight up out of Syaphrubesi, more than worth the effort. Prim and others were thankful for the bed mats that C4C helped to provide through earthquake relief funding. Megh delivered them in conjunction with several other groups in late June. Seven trucks brought 565 mats for all the villagers in Gatlang.
Back at the orphanage in Kathmandu, a surprise awaited the team upon arrival — the children had finished the first mural!
The orphans gathered under the days of creation that now brighten their activity room. (Photos by Leanne Bohn)
Leanne reported: “When we left yesterday there was outlining and small detail work that still needed to be done. The mural looks beautiful. The kids are so proud of their work. We started the day with worship led by the older kids. Then the littlest ones performed a dance for us. The walls of the orphanage were repainted after the earthquake (with C4C disaster relief funding, which also paid for major structural repairs to the building). So we have a fresh bright green canvas waiting for a Noah's ark mural. We brought a birthday cake ordered at our hotel and sang Happy Birthday to all the kids, as we won't see them on their special days. Tomorrow is a trip to the zoo. Looking forward to seeing the animals, and maybe an elephant ride!”
Chiring (sponsored by Nancy Kaiser of Rochester, NY) enjoyed the surprise birthday celebration and birthday cake brought by the C4C team.
Sunday, Oct. 11
Slide area above the village of Syaphrubesi. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
The scars from the April earthquake are everywhere in Langtang: from villages now encamped along roads in temporary shelters and relief tents to mountainsides stripped naked by landslides. Megh and I made the five-hour drive north from Kathmandu to Langtang National Park. Megh's nephew Santa came with us to serve as our porter. We are in Syaphrubesi, where we started our Mission: Nepal 2012 trek and where we will begin climbing again on Monday – first to Gatlang and then to Tatopani and Thuman.
We are trying to reach those God used us to bring to Christ three years ago and those who have yet to receive Jesus. Perhaps the soil, disrupted by the earth's movement in the past six months, will be more fertile now. That's our prayer.
While Megh and I are trekking, our orphanage team continues to work with the children in Kathmandu. Here is their report:
The children led a time of musical devotion for us. They sang songs in both English and Nepalese. After lunch we finished outlining murals that will decorate the orphanage walls, and all the kids got to paint. Tomorrow we will put the finishing touches on them. We also played games, including dominoes and Jenga, and of course, learned more songs.
Rajendra led everyone in a time of praise and worship, above, and everyone got in on the action painting murals to brighten up the orphanage walls, below. (Photos by Leanne Bohn)
Pastor Gopal, center, with the church at Dapcha. Sumitra is in the red and black to the right of Gopal and Sumitra’s father is far right. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)
I wanted to honor the church at Dapcha when we went there to worship today on the Nepali Sabbath. Dapcha, located a couple hours east of Kathmandu, was where we were first able to help build a church in Nepal in 2011. We have been honored to serve that church over the years and it is humbling to be with a group of believers who are such a minority in their village and country.
Maybe that’s why the Spirit moved me to talk about love. I pointed them to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and talked about walking in the love of our Lord no matter the trials or opposition. I prayed for them and for Pastor Gopal, the young man Climbing For Christ supported through Bible college in India.
Ann Marie, Megh Gurung, Tej’s brother Karna, C4C member Alyssa Kaelin, and Chris Gearhart went with me to Dapcha. Alyssa was part of the Dapcha ground-breaking on Mission: Nepal 2011 and this was her first time back to see the church, Gopal, and our precious sister Sumitra. Sumitra is C4C’s posterchild for helping Nepal. (See “God smiles on a Nepal family.”) Alyssa and Chris are visiting Nepal with some other people from the States and were able to connect with us for the day.
Cement blocks piled up near Sumitra’s house. Roofing and other materials, including wages for labor, have been provided through funding from C4C.
Following worship we visited Sumitra’s home, which was damaged in the April earthquake. C4C is funding the rebuilding of her family’s house.
Back in Kathmandu, Leanne and Jill were attending Pastor Tej’s church. Tej is not here; he is visiting the United States this month. Jill was asked to share during worship and she spoke about standing firm in the faith. “Every person in that little church was hungry and thirsty,” Jill said. “All I saw was well-used Bibles and pure hearts. I’m thankful that I could speak this morning - what an honor and privilege.”
Jill and Gideon, who is her Project 1:27 sponsor child, also led the church in song and dance.
Jill Stojkovic praying for youth at gathering after worship. (Photo by Leanne Bohn)
Later, Jill spoke to 50 young people at a youth meeting about purity and then had an opportunity to pray for them.
Friday, Oct. 9
We landed in Kathmandu and were met by something completely different: open roads. There is a critical fuel shortage resulting from a blockade by India. The Indian government opposes Nepal’s new Constitution, which failed to return the country to a Hindu state. So traffic has come to a standstill. People travel by foot or public bus – piling in and on top of the vehicles. There are still taxis (small cars) and Jeeps for rent by visitors.
Team member Leanne Bohn said it looked like a “truck graveyard” as we passed a long line of parked vehicles in Kathmandu. (Photos by Gary Fallesen)
Because of the lack of traffic we were able to maneuver quickly from the airport to the hotel where the orphanage team will be staying for the next week and from the hotel to the orphanage. Each of those is usually a 1-to-2 hour drive in bumper-to-bumper, no-emission-control, horn-honking traffic. But we sped easily between places.
We visited the orphanage in the afternoon and the children were overjoyed to see us. Everyone on the team has been here before at least once. One of our friends told us the children could not wait for our arrival; they rushed home from school and wolfed down their lunches before we arrived.
After that, there were many happy greetings and many songs sung to the glory of God, including “Soul On Fire,” which the children learned from our March team (Elaine Fallesen and Leanne Bohn). Pastor Tej’s brother, Karna, showed me around the orphanage so I could see all of the repairs made on the building after the April earthquake, thanks to relief funds provided by God through Climbing For Christ. The orphanage has been beautifully repainted and it looks better than before the quake.
The repainted orphanage, above, and some of the boys among the 24 children who greeted and sang with our team, below.
Thursday, Oct. 8
I met Leanne, Ann Marie and Jill at the gate at the Istanbul airport as they arrived from the States. I have been in Turkey since Sunday for meetings that have inspired, humbled and exhausted me all at the same time. Together, my sisters and I are flying this evening (local time) to Kathmandu. We will be in Nepal early Friday morning. Changing cultures again. Here we GO!
This expedition’s story begins with an open door and a missed opportunity.
The door in this photo was opened by a little boy early one morning in January 2012 in the village of Thuman in Nepal’s Langtang National Park. He was waiting for the sun to rise. As he waited he sang a precious little song that was meant to encourage the rising of the sun. When the sun came over the mountain, the boy broke into a happy dance.
The village of Thuman was a Buddhist stronghold with a population of about 2,200 – none of whom were Christian. Our six-person team (two Americans, two Canadians and two Nepalese) visited there on the third day of Mission: Nepal 2012. We were greeted by a drumbeat emanating from a large Buddhist gompa.
When we left the village, one of our Nepali members said he would return with a Nepalese team.
That never happened.
On April 28, 2015, when a 7.8-magnitude rocked Nepal, some villages in Langtang were leveled. When I heard the reports I immediately thought of this door, of that little boy, and of a pledge unfulfilled. I felt the guilt and responsibility of having not followed up on Mission: Nepal 2012 to Langtang.
Now I am going back.
The second Mission: Nepal 2015 is focused on the children. A team of sisters – Leanne Bohn, Ann Marie Pavone and Jill Stojkovic – from my home church, Hope Lutheran, in Rochester, NY, will serve in the C4C-sponsored orphanage in Kathmandu. Megh Gurung and I will return to Langtang to look for a little boy in Thuman.
Along the way, Megh and I will survey the villages after the earthquake, visit those who accepted Jesus during our 2012 expedition, and reach out to those who did not in places like Thuman. May God forgive us for our tardiness.
“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” – John 10:9
This is Climbing For Christ’s 10th expedition to Nepal since 2008 and the seventh in four years, including Mission: Nepal (March) 2015 just a few weeks before the earthquake.