Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pashupatinath and Nepali funerals


Last weekend (29/9) our landlord sadly passed away. It came as a shock to us as it seemed sudden, but he had previously suffered with lung cancer and it had apparently come back a few months ago. He seemed young to us, although he and his wife were about to celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary, so he may have been in his late 60's.

His family are from the Chhetri caste, being the second highest and typically the royal (old) caste. Indeed, his family are related to the old royal family.

We visited the family home last week and as is the custom, we took a bag of fruit for them. For 13 days after the death, along with very sugary sweets and tea, this is all they are officially allowed to eat. It makes it very difficult for his wife as she suffers from diabetes and has high blood pressure. We sat with their daughter and talked. She shared with us some of their customs related to the funeral and traditions that they should follow. She is the second oldest child of four, and all are girls. Two of his daughters (his eldest and his youngest) live in the USA and the third lives in England. They are all currently trying to get residential status in their respective countries and as they'd already traveled to Nepal this summer, none of them are able to come again so soon or they'd risk losing their status. This leaves Bhawana as the only child left in Nepal to help with the family traditions.

Her father died at about 4am on Sunday morning, and by 6am the body was being transported to Pashupatinath (photo) for cremation. The preparation of the body and the site where he would be cremated should be performed by the eldest son, to ensure a safe passage into the next life. This is why Hindu's place a great importance on a male heir. Bhawana was not allowed to perform the rights, and so with no son the role fell to Bhawana's husband.

While we were sat with Bhawana, we could see her mother sitting on the floor, dressed in all white (the colour of mourning) in the doorway of a room just off of the living room. There were a number of other women sat outside the door forming a circle and talking with her. Bhawana, while obviously upset with losing her father, was very concerned for her mother's health. She said to us "I really hate this culture! I wish we were Christian!". It was not something that either of us expected to hear, and we both silently prayed asking God to guide us in what to say. It wasn't the right situation, with all the family and friends present, to suggest that we pray with her. She knows that we are Christian and also the family living upstairs from us (the same building that they own and rent out). Three times she talked about how much she hated this culture and wished that they were Christian.

As we left, her mother's brother was arriving. There was a furor amongst those present as they rushed to hide her mother, and Bhawana explained how for 13 days they were not allowed to see each other. "How stupid is this?" she said. "They are brother and sister! When does she need to see her brother any time more than now?"

Our prayers are with the family and in particular with Bhawana as she deals with the emotions she has. Our prayer for her is that she continues to search for answers and will turn to God for those. She knows where we are and we hope that she will come to us and once again broach the subject of Christianity with us, in a situation where we may be able to share with her more openly. We pray that God will guide us if this situation should arise in the right words to say to her.

If you are somebody who prays, please pray with us for her family, for her, and for us. The 13 days will come to an end on Saturday (12/10), so we pray for the good health of Bhawana's mother over the next few days.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Prayer

On Tuesday I led my first ever House Group session. This was a big thing for me. I don't like the thought of leading sessions, and to top it all, I was doing it on prayer. Prayer is one of the hardest things in my spiritual life, which is partly why I put myself forward to do it. To step out of the comfortable box and challenge myself.

Our House Group is a friendly mix of people though, so it wasn't such a bad thing (I think, you may get a different answer from those that were there...). We meet every Tuesday at around 6:30 and each bring some food to share. The one bit of food that is a constant is soup, so the name of the group is 'Tuesday Soup Group'. We then have our bible study for the week (we are currently doing a twelve week session on Philippians but have taken a break from it this week for 'prayer').

Prayer, simply put, is the act of communicating with God so that we can have a relationship with Him. A relationship where one person doesn't talk to the other is doomed to failure, and I guess can't really be described as a relationship at all.

If I hadn't have talked with Pratiksha in the early days of our relationship then we wouldn't be married today. And if we were to stop talking to each other then our relationship would crumble and most likely end in divorce. Talking to each other is a key ingredient to any relationship. Talking about the things we like, the things we don't like, problems we've had that day at work, news of the family etc. It's the same for our relationship with God. We NEED to talk to Him to continue to strengthen the bond we have. And more than just talking, we need to LISTEN too. Relationships are a two way thing and God wants to have that with us.

It's not always easy to hear Him, I guess. Sometimes He can make Himself very clear, and at other times things can get in the way and answers or guidance aren't always clear. Sometimes it can be hard to pray, but sometimes prayer can come easily. I've found that at times of trouble or hardship in my life then prayer can be much easier. I have something I need or want. But we need to be mindful of coming to God with a shopping list; "Lord, please send me a wife" or "please give us children" or "I need a new job" or "heal me of my bad back" etc. I'm sure we've all prayed like this in the past. I certainly have, and I came to realise that this was ALL I was praying for, so I made a conscious effort to start my prayers with thanks, and to then pray for my family and friends, co-workers, the world, and then only ending with prayers for myself, still trying not to come with a list of 'wants'. Praying this way, without thinking of yourself, can bring a marvelous perspective on your own problems and needs.

Does God answer ALL prayers?
You can try and answer this yourself, but I personally believe that yes, God does answer all of our prayers. They might not be the answer we are looking for. It could be a 'yes', or it could be a straight 'no'. It could also be a 'not yet'. We may have prayed for something in 1993 thinking that God hasn't answered my prayer at all, or He's answered with a 'no', only for that prayer to be answered with a 'yes' in 2013. God has His own timing and sometimes we need to be patient in the things we've asked for.

Why do some prayers seem to be answered, while others are not?
i.e. why, after just one short prayer by a stranger, was my diseased knee miraculously healed, yet after numerous long prayer sessions for a friend with a brain tumor, she still died? God has His own reasons for why some things are answered with a 'yes' and others with a 'no'. It can be difficult for us to understand, but we still need to steadfastly pray with conviction and trust in His plans.

"Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up." (Luke 18:1)

"Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done." (Philippians 4:6)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Traffic

Slavery was abolished in the UK in 1833 and in the US in 1865, yet the number of slaves today remains as high as 12 to 27 million, and a large number of these are in South Asia.

Last week I was able to take a trip to Rupandehi which is on the Terai, close to the Indian border. Due to its proximity to India, human trafficking is a large problem in Nepal all across the border. While we were here there was a bandh called (strike) and so movement in vehicles was not possible meaning that we had to cancel our plans and think of something else we could do. This meant that we were able to visit a women's group that UMN had helped to establish in the area. It was within a short walk of our hotel so the strike didn't effect us. In fact, because of the strike it meant that there were more of the women meeting today and some young girls too.

While we were meeting with them and interviewing them they were making some incense sticks ready for selling which would raise much needed money for the small village.

Then we heard a story that made us proud to have been there. Just ten days earlier, two of the young girls associated with the group were kidnapped by traffickers to be taken to India to work in a sweat shop. The women of the group, feeling empowered by being a unified group, got together and were able to find the men responsible and rescue the two girls. They then set about getting the men arrested and they are currently in jail awaiting a trial.



UMN do some work in helping prevent the trafficking of young girls and women, but this was a story of how the impact of doing something as small as setting up a women's group led to those women having the courage to stand up and do something. This is what we're here for and just being there to be able to hear the story (and then pass it on) was a real privilege.



The following day we were able to get further out with a vehicle and we visited another women's group (on international women's day) where we told the sad news that the daughter of one of the members had, just that evening, been murdered by her husband. He had accused her of using her mobile phone to try and attract other men to her. It was very hard to be with this group, but again, the women felt unified and powerful and were determined to go and put pressure on the officials to bring charges to this man. As shocking as it might seem to us, because the man was from the army there was a chance that he would be let off.


I was proud to meet all these women who were trying to make something of themselves in a country that doesn't widely recognise women as being important to society.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Top Ten films that didn't win the Best Picture Oscar®

With it being Oscar® season, I have been watching this years nominated films, and I have to say I am disappointed by some of the films that have been chosen for the category 'Best Picture'. This category should be for films that are outstanding in acting, writing AND directing. I feel they must also be interesting. If I'm constantly looking at my watch wishing for it to end, this is a bad sign. Four of this years nine films have left me wondering "WHY???" Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty just didn't have enough for me to consider them outstanding. Sure, the acting in all four of them WAS worthy of garnering their stars nominees (and they have), but surely some better films could have been found for 'Best Picture'? Was this years crop of films so poor? The Hobbit was, in my opinion, a better film than any of the three Lord Of The Rings films, yet while all three of those managed to get a nominations (with The Return Of The King winning one) this hasn't even been nominated.

It got me to thinking about films that have been nominated in the past that missed out on winning the award but maybe would have won had they been up for it in a different year. So here is my "Top Ten films that didn't win Best Picture", and then some other notables.

  1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
    Surely the single best film ever that didn't win. At the time this came out I remember struggling to get anyone to go with me to see it at the cinema and ended up seeing it on my own. The cinema had just two other patrons watching with me. The title was what put most of my friends off wanting to see it. Years later, when people had finally watched it after renting it, it has become number one on the all time film lists of many. Nominated in 1994, this was possibly the strongest year for Best Picture, with the eventual winner being Forrest Gump. Pulp Fiction was also beaten this year.
  2. As Good As It Gets (1998)
    This film did everything right. It won Best Actor (Jack Nicholson) and Best Actress (Helen Hunt) and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Writing. How it didn't get nominated for Best Director I'll never know (having its two leading stars winning the acting category and supporting nominated should be an indicator of something being done right). It was beaten by Titanic.
  3. The Pianist (2002)
    Just a beautiful film. Beaten by Chicago which makes it a worse travesty that it didn't win in my mind.
  4. La Vita é Bella (Life Is Beautiful) (1998)
    For a foreign film to be nominated shows that it is already outstanding. This doesn't happen often. For it to be one of the favourites to win is unheard of. This was beaten by Shakespear In Love. No comment.
  5. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
    This is an American Christmas classic, loved by millions. Again, this appears in many top ten film lists of all time, whereas the film that beat it (The Best Years Of Our Lives), doesn't.
  6. Citizen Kane (1941)
    How Green Was My Valley eventually beat out another top ten all time film. The Maltese Falcon was also nominated this year and maybe they split the votes meaning neither would win. This is my only explanation as I found How Green Was My Valley a terrible film.
  7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
    A ground-breaking film at the time. Unfortunate to be up against the winner Forrest Gump and the already mentioned The Shawshank Redemption.
  8. The Green Mile (1999)
    Frank Darabont's second film after The Shawshank Redemption, again adapted from a Stephen King book, again about prison life, and again overlooked. This time beaten out by American Beauty.
  9. Star Wars (1977)
    No sci-fi film has ever won the award (this and Avatar are the only two to even be nominated), so it's not really surprising that this missed out to Annie Hall. Again, this features on many top ten lists and is seen as a ground-breaking film.
  10. Moulin Rouge (2001)
    If this would have won it would have been the first musical to win Best Picture since Oliver! in 1968. It was beaten by A Beautiful Mind, and then the following year Chicago won to become the first musical to win in 34 years. That honour should have gone to Moulin Rouge.
Other notable 'losers':
Saving Private Ryan (1998) - winner: Shakespeare In Love
The Color Purple (1985) - winner: Out Of Africa
Tootsie (1982) - winner: Gandhi
E.T. The Extra Terrestrial (1982) - winner: Gandhi
On Golden Pond (1981) - winner: Chariots Of Fire
Apocalypse Now (1979) - winner: Kramer Vs. Kramer
Doctor Zhivago (1965) - winner: The Sound Of Music
The Maltese Falcon (1941) - winner: How Green Was My Valley

Any other films that you feel have been cheated by the Oscars?


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Living with stress

While I was doing my LOP (Language Orientation Programme) with UMN last year, we were given a chart to fill in on stress. It's called the 'Holmes-Rahe Scale', and has a list of different events that might have occurred in the last year with a score next to them. If the event took place then you add the score to your list (if it took place more than once then you multiply it). It lists things like Death of a spouse, Move to a foreign country, Change in health of a family member, etc. Studies performed in the United States show that 200 points in one year increases the risk for serious physical illness or a serious psychological problem within the next 2 years. The average overseas worker can have about 600 points a year, and still function reasonably well because of the high level of commitment and enhanced coping abilities.

Last year my score was pretty high (much higher than 600, in the 1000's) and it was a bit of fun as I didn't feel stressed. I was very excited at the new challenge I had. A year later and last night I had a melt down just because my back-up power wasn't working and we were in the middle of a 7 hour stretch without any electricity (in Nepal power comes mainly from hydro stations, but due to the rain only falling in monsoon season - June to September - that means that in the winter when the rivers are low the power company has to restrict electricity to certain times. It is currently up to 14 hours a day that it is switched off for us in Kathmandu, and we still have many months to go before the rains come again. To see what I'm talking about you can visit my calendar (view as week) to see when my house is without power). The reaction I had was totally over the top and it made me think of the Holmes-Rahe Scale again. I have filled it out anew and found my score is still fairly high (839) which may account for some of my reactions. But not all of them. Demons are real and if we let them they will get into our lives and try to take over them.

Last night I had a long prayer, and I prayed for God to help me keep calm, to THINK before reacting to anything that happens rather than flying off the handle so quickly. To help me relax and find solutions without the 'red mist'. As a result I had an amazing nights sleep and woke up totally refreshed and feeling new. That doesn't mean that the 'anger demon' has gone for good though, and I need to remember to pray daily about keeping him away.

2012 was the best year I've ever had, and 2013 is supposed to even better! I don't want to spoil it by being grumpy, sad and angry.

Monday, January 21, 2013

One year anniversary, prayer requests

Hey everybody. With today being my one year anniversary in Nepal I thought it was about time I wrote a blog post. I've been so poor at these over the year and I'm sorry for that. I will try to do better in 2013!

2012 was so special. I was really looking forward to coming back to Nepal and eager to see what challenges and special moments God had planned, but I could never have imagined that I would meet an amazing girl, fall in love, get engaged and start to plan for a wedding and then a long-term life in Nepal. It was such a blessing and God (as always) revealed His plan to me in His own perfect way, making it absolutely, 100% clear. (For those of you that don't yet know the story, you can read it on our website)

A lot is currently 'going on' in both our lives, and I've learned this week that I should ask for more prayer for things. My visa expired on 31st December and early in January it became clear that the visa office were causing problems in getting it renewed, but I didn't post a prayer request for 3 weeks. The day I did post the request, the visa problem seemed to get fixed and now we have the paperwork signed and are just waiting for them to stamp my passport. I believe that God does this deliberately so that we know exactly who is in charge. The visa's aren't granted because WE want them to be, but because HE wants them to be. Thanks to all who prayed for this situation.

The main point of worry for both Pratiksha and I now is for Pratiksha's employment. She currently works for World Vision International Nepal and is located in the far East of Nepal (a 16 hour bus journey from Kathmandu). After we are married at the end of March we really need to be together (one of the major ingredients in a happy marriage is that you spend time together, in the same place...), and it isn't likely that WVIN will transfer her. She did apply for a position (which is exactly the same role as she does now, but in KTM) but due to not having completed one year with them, didn't even get called for an interview. A few other jobs have been applied for without hearing anything and this is demoralising and a major worry so close to the wedding. We ask for prayer for clear guidance from God on what He wants us to do. How should we proceed with things and where does He want us to be in the short-term AND long-term.

Secondly, I have been informed of an increase in my rent. It will be going up from April (we are paid up until the end of March) by 10%, which isn't a huge amount, but it's already more than the flat is worth. We will probably be looking to move (unless the landlord agrees to keep it as it is for the next year) and anywhere we go will probably be unfurnished. Extra expense, and extra hassle right at the time we are getting married and planning for our trip home in April/May. Prayers that once again, God's will be done, and He will help to calm our nerves and show us His plan.

Thirdly, Pratiksha submitted her forms for a visa to allow us to come and visit England in April and May. We are having a blessing ceremony for those that can't come to Nepal for the wedding. It is over to the UK Border Agency now and will be up to them if they grant it or not. I'm sure that they will but prayer can never hurt!

Thanks to everyone who has supported me in various ways over the year, and if you're up for a visit then please do contact me!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Baptism in Nepal


My baptism will always stick in my mind like all important events in your life tend to do, and not just because the BBC were there to film it! It was a magnificent occasion celebrated with friends and family, and I will never forget the feeling that God was physically touching my life, that He was well pleased with me (just as He was with His Son), and that together we could accomplish anything.


Yesterday I was privileged to witness 15 Nepali Christians from my local church be baptised. The surroundings were a far cry from a man-made baptismal pool at the front of my church in Newbury. My church in Nepal perform their baptism's only once a year, and we hired two buses to carry us about an hours drive out of Kathmandu to the National Botanical Gardens in Godavari. There we sang songs and read from the bible, and then heard a few testimonies from some of those that were ready to commit their lives to Jesus. Then we took a short walk to the river where, after a week of rains, it was flowing fast over the rocks. Our minister and 4 of the church elders waded in to the river and accepted the 15, one by one, to be baptised.


Of the 15, only 1 was male. This is telling in Nepali culture. The males in a Hindu household have a lot more to give up. Life is structured around them and giving it up to become a Christian is harder. That's not to say that it is easy for the women! Far from it. Some may have had to give up their families completely depending on which caste they have come from, or if no one in their family is already a Christian. In village life you may even be outcast and forced to leave.


Please join me in praying for all new Christians in Nepal, that their families will not abandon them but rather that they can be a light in their Hindu houses so more will come to know Jesus and be baptised.


As I looked around at God's beautiful creation on display in this garden in Godavari I couldn't help but think how appropriate it is that they should declare their love for Jesus here.