Friday, July 9, 2010

Billows of Smoke

Heather Smith, individual visit coordinator in the Gordon College Admissions Office, helps share the story of Gordon with prospective students every day. She talks with families about our great faculty, diversity of study, the intellectual vitality of our campus community, and the opportunities for missions and study around the world. But she doesn't just talk about how Gordon is a community that actively engages in faith and social responsibility. She also actively believes it and lives out the Gordon mission through example.

Recently Heather went on a month-long mission trip to Nepal. She shares her story with Notes Along the Way.

CLIF bars and electrolyte packs—check.
Toilet paper—check.

These were just a few of the essentials on the packing list for my three-week vacation in May. Trust me, it was hard to part with the items demoted from “essential” to “leave behind” when the final packing began. Things like a second pair of pants or some flip-flops to wear in the 90-degree heat. But really, flip-flops wouldn’t have been the best choice of footwear for my trip, especially when swarms of biting flies started nibbling at my bare toes. They were better left on the “leave behind” list.

Armed with my sleeping bag, a 26-pound backpack and the book Three Cups of Tea, I joined a team of 14 others from Philadelphia, New York, North Carolina, Virginia and Switzerland on a series of flights that eventually would land us in the small city of Surket, Nepal. Next, I found myself piling into an old Russian helicopter. . . heading north to my final destination: the Himalayan Mountains.

It was a two-day trek from the helipad to the village of Nepka, the furthermost village in the northwestern (Humla) region of Nepal. As we climbed I could see the mountains separating China and Nepal—their jagged, snow-capped peaks penetrating the cloudy barrier above. Being so removed from villages in Nepal yet so close to the Tibetan region of China, Nepka is believed to actually be a Tibetan village that over time migrated across this daunting border.

Swarms of children greeted us when we reached this small mountainside village, all with folded hands shouting, “Namaste! Namaste!” We responded with the little Nepali we knew, “Namaste,” “Hello!” To people who have rarely (if ever) seen white people, we must have looked pretty goofy. Essentially transparent skin, curly hair, sunglasses. It may have felt as foreign to them as aliens invading earth would feel to us.

But they welcomed us wholeheartedly despite our appearances. I became excited for the few days we would spend in the village. Our work in Nepka, and later in another remote village called Mekala, was part of the efforts of Beyond Tears Worldwide (BTW), an evangelical humanitarian aid organization. Under the guidance of a few Nepali pastors and a BTW representative, several trekking trips are launched yearly into some of the most remote villages in the Himalayas. Each trip serves a unique purpose. . .But at the root, these trips serve to take the gospel into unreached territory.

In essence, Beyond Tears Worldwide uses humanitarian aid projects as tools for sharing the gospel with people in immediate need. On my trip, we would install smokeless stoves in village homes. The homes, constructed out of wood, mud, sticks and rock, are heated by fire alone. Fire pits are constructed in the center of every home, providing a convenient space for cooking, lighting for the home, and warmth on cold nights. But the fires also produce an incredible amount of smoke. Adults, with an average life expectancy of 40 years, cough constantly and children are filthy from the fumes in their homes. Babies develop lung infections instantly after birth and infant mortality is as high as 50 percent.

The smokeless stoves we would build and install would provide a place to house the fire and send smoke through the roof, eliminating the detrimental billows of smoke in the home.

In addition to these installations, our team also provided medical care for the villages. Women and children were our most faithful patients, waiting in line daily for doses of antibiotics, ibuprofen and medical cream. With a limited supply, the medical help we could offer was temporary. More importantly, we spent time teaching them basic hygiene and health care to prevent diseases from entering their bodies in the future. Things that are so common in our world—bathing ourselves and our children, washing our clothes, swatting flies away from faces and open wounds—simply aren’t recognized as essential in theirs.

Equally unknown in that part of the world is Jesus. Our Nepali leaders were key figures in translating the message to their own people. Equipped with the Jesus film, Bibles and lots of prayer time, our leaders took all the available resources to present the gospel to the tiny villages. Women, children, men, grandparents and infants all gathered around to lend an earnest ear and hear the message. Some were intrigued by this foreign idea; some were disinterested and continued to cling to the spirits that grip them. Somewhere in the mix of people, we are hopeful God’s word will hit deep within the soul. So far, in each of the small mountainside villages Beyond Tears Worldwide has touched, a church has been formed. A leader has been raised from among them to accept the gospel message and continue witnessing to people after we leave. We continue to pray the same will be true for Nepka and Mekala."

To watch a brief video of Heather's experience and the Christ-centered work of Beyond Tears Worldwide, click HERE. And if you're a prospective student, send her an email, and arrange for a visit. You can even talk with her about her trip to Nepal and opportunities you'll have to travel while at Gordon.

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