You probably know that ULC has a reputation for encouraging young men to become pastors and sending them to study at the seminary. But did you know that ULC also has a long history of encouraging our students and members to support mission work in the church, go on mission trips (short and long-term) and even to become full-time missionaries?
Its true! Over the years ULC folks have brought the Gospel and the mercy of Christ to places like Turkey, Guatemala, Madagascar and Haiti. And we have supported missionaries, mission work, congregations and seminaries in Kazakstan, Kenya, Scotland, and many other places around the world. Our members and alumni are found among the latest crop of full-time missionaries being sent into the field by the LC-MS. (ULC alumnus, Rev. Ryan McDermott and family will be serving in Ghana. ULC members, Rev. Dr. Daniel Jastram and his wife, Joan, will be serving in Northern Asia.)
One of our members, Kristen Weber, has just returned from 6 months of mercy work in Nepal. She wrote the following article about her experiences, including surviving the recent catastrophic earthquakes in Kathmandu, for our most recent newsletter. I encourage you to read the entire newsletter to learn more about how involved our little chapel is in the worldwide mission of the Church.
Doing Good Work, Confessing Christ and Surviving the Earthquakes
Greetings Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In my previous two trips to Nepal, I heard occasional rumors that an earthquake was due to happen, but never gave it much thought. Disasters happened to other people, right?
I arrived in Kathmandu on February 15 to complete 5 months of service with a Christian organization called International Teams. I was acting as a solo agent, teaming up with multiple non-governmental organizations in Kathmandu. I worked alongside Nepalese doing sex trafficking intervention and teaching English classes to women at risk for prostitution. I also provided therapy several times a week to elderly women at one of the few nursing homes in the country. From the start I was very adamant about taking Nepali language classes several times a week.
Within a couple months, I had established a busy and beautiful routine. I had developed deep friendships, learned much about the culture, built a large network of contacts, and had been exposed to a wide variety of opportunities. My awkward Western tongue was moving to the rhythm of simple Nepali. I had gained the trust of the elderly women at the nursing home and was getting good at eating rice and lentils with my hands. It may sound simple, but it really isn’t!
The day of the big earthquake, I had joined a Swedish friend, several Nepalese, and two Americans and had headed out to the cliffs at Hattiban for a morning rock climbing trip. It was a beautiful day and we were happy to get out of the crazy wildness of Kathmandu. I was at the bottom of a cliff belaying my Swedish friend when the earthquake hit. In that moment, thousands of homes collapsed and thousands of people died.
I know full well I shouldn’t be there either. On or near a cliff is one of the worse places to be in an earthquake because of the loose rock at the top and the high risk of avalanches, but God wanted me around a little longer. No rocks fell as I quickly lowered my screaming friend to the ground. The side of the cliff held as we ran clumsily down the steep footpath to an open valley and joined the other frightened villagers. There we sat and prayed as we rode out a rapid succession of aftershocks for the next hours.
The next several days were a blur as we checked in with friends, called home, and navigated the new fear and danger of unexpected aftershocks. Slowly, I started to think and pray about what my role was, if there was one, in the disaster relief needs. Several recurring thoughts ran through my head. First, Christ was crucified for me and as a baptized child of God I know death is not the worst that can happen to me. Second, because I do not have a family or spouse to protect or provided for, I am in a position to take incredible risk to serve others. With these sobering realizations, I rolled up my sleeves.
Initially I tried to find an organization that was doing relief work, but quickly decided I didn’t have time or patience to deal with the bureaucracy of anything official. People had needs now and I had resources and connections to meet those needs. I set out with friends to start organizing our own trips to the surrounding villages. Yes, moving around Kathmandu to gather supplies and organize trips was scary. Buildings were cracked and rubble was everywhere, but I kept praying and working. We were able to make four trips out to different villages to bring tarps, food, clothing, medicine, and prayer if they wanted it. Some of the villages were easy to get to, but others required us to trek in the supplies on our backs. Every house in these villages was missing a wall, roof, or was simply collapsed. The people had such great sadness in their eyes.
As days stretched into weeks, supplies became more and more difficult to buy. Tarps used for shelter especially were a challenge because the only shop that sold them had raised their prices to profiteer rates. I had to get more and more creative in how and where we got supplies; including buying tarps directly from a manufacturer in far western Nepal and having them shipped by bus to arrive in the middle of the night in Kathmandu.
Two and a half weeks after the first big 7.9 earthquake, I was walking to Patan Hospital to donate blood when another aftershock hit. At first it felt mild, only this one got larger and stronger. There was a one percent chance of an aftershock over 7, but the odds were against us on May 12, when magnitude of 7.4 shook Nepal. The psychological impact of the second large earthquake was devastating. Before this quake people had cautiously started getting back to normalcy but afterward the hopelessness in the air was palpable.
My organization then made the decision to evacuate me. Two days later, I flew out of Kathmandu and landed jet-lagged, culture-shocked, and traumatized in Brisbane, Australia. I’ve been here for the past weeks recovering, processing, and praying. God has surrounded me with a Christian community that immediately welcomed me and showered me with kindness. Though I’m now in a much healthier space, my organization has decided it is best if I do not return to Nepal at this time. They are sending me to Athens, Greece for the last month of my assignment.
This probably sounds brave and exciting, but I’m confident you would have done exactly what I did in the circumstances. When you see needs, you do what you can to figure out a solution and you follow every possible lead to get the supplies so desperately needed in the villages. I was continually humbled and amazed by the resilience and tenacity of my Nepali friends. They soldiered on with a determination that was breathtaking. Their journey is not done. Nepal is still a bleeding country and it will be a very long road to recovery for them. Continue to keep them in your prayers.
I have had many insights during this experience and feel I’ve lived at least two years in four months. I’ve come to appreciate the Theology of the Cross to a depth only experience can give. It was such a comfort to know Christ was there in suffering. I was also repeatedly convicted of the incredible condescension and pride I held towards my fellow Christians of other denominations regarding theological differences. Yes, there are things we disagree on, but I’ve realized they are in the trenches toiling with me. And should I be martyred for the faith, their bodies will lie next to mine. Whether they are Lutheran or non-Lutheran, Nepali or American; they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.