One year ago this week I arrived at Kathmandu airport. As people so often say about their lives, it’s hard to believe that one year has already passed. It has been a year of adjusting to a new culture, but by God’s grace that has not been so difficult. I had first traveled to Nepal in 2006. That trip was both difficult and dangerous. The Maoists were still at war with the government. Christians were persecuted and had to live as inconspicuously as possible. Living conditions were rough. The same can be said of my trip in 2007.
In 2013 as I prepared to travel once again to Nepal, I had mixed feelings as usual. I knew life to be hard there and I was not looking forward to it. Living conditions were were still rough, the pollution was and continues to be extremely bad much of the year. How would I fair?
In the beginning, it was pretty much what I had expected. I had to put up with a rundown guesthouse so moldy that asthma returned. But after 5 months, my teacher found a much better apartment for me and I moved at the end of the year. This apt. has been something of a haven for me. The immediate surroundings are not nice at all, but the apt. itself is (for Nepal) very nice. I am on the 5th floor and just above me is a small roof patio and large kitchen for my own use. The building sits back quite a ways from the main street so I don’t hear the noise of the traffic. The monsoon season, which is very light this year, clears the air and it remains clear for the rest of the year.Most mornings and evenings I sit on the rooftop for meals. It is soothing to look upon the mountains surrounding the valley. The view is new every morning and evening. In the fall it is possible to see the snow covered Himalayas that tower above the mountains of the Kathmandu Valley.
The building is just around the corner from my language institute and I can be there in less than 5 minutes. Unfortunately, I have been informed that I will have to leave the apt. at the end of the year. The apt. is in a Japanese Language Institute and will be needed for a new Japanese teacher. That was pretty discouraging news when I first received it a couple of weeks ago. Please pray that the Lord would lead me to a suitable place.
My typical day consists largely of studying the Nepali language. Last year I attended classes for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. The rest of the day and evening are spent in studying. After completing the main textbook I took a break and then started up again with the second book, meeting 2 hours a day, 4 days a week. Although I have completed living here for a year, I haven’t yet completed a full year of language classes. The progress has been good and I am about where I expected to be at this time. I cannot speak much Nepali, but for simple everyday needs (directions, food, prices) and very basic conversation, I do alright. I am a long way from being conversationally fluent and it will also be a long time before I can carry on a conversation about the Christian faith in Nepali.
The biggest difficulty I have is being alone as a Missionary in Nepal. I have always been opposed to the idea of a person being sent to a new mission field alone. At least 2 people should form a team so that they can encourage each other. Being alone means a constant daily struggle with the thoughts, all of which are designed to discourage and defeat the individual and send him back to his own country.
For the Orthodox, another great problem with being alone is the inability to worship with other Orthodox and to receive the Eucharist. Presbytera Marilyn was very kind to spend 4 1/2 months here earlier this year so that I could at least serve liturgies with her, especially for Holy Pascha. Yet both of us agree that even this lacked the fullness that we experience within a larger vibrant Orthodox community.
So why then did I come alone? The simple answer is because there was and is no one else to come with me. Vatopaidi monastery sought for 3 years to find a priest who would be willing to come to Nepal and no one responded until I learned about the need. Over the past year I have had several priests, and many lay individuals and families contact me, all stating that they wanted to come to Nepal to work with me, but to date no one has come. I am sure in the future that will change. So the greatest challenge I have just now is to persevere. It is sometimes discouraging to realize that very few Orthodox believers are supportive of mission work and missionaries, and most of those are only supportive in words. The reality is that there are very few Orthodox missionaries to begin with, and of those, many are struggling to find enough financial support to go to the mission field or to remain there. It doesn’t take much money to live on the mission field and there are so many Orthodox who could easily afford to give 10-20 dollars a month, yet do not do so. I can think of 3 missionaries I know who are still trying to raise enough financial support to depart to their chosen fields, and I myself have just enough to get by on about $10-15 a day. It shouldn’t be like this, but it is.
On a more positive note, through the generosity of a dear friend, I will be going to Greece next month. He wishes me to show him the holy places in and around Thessaloniki and to take him to Mt. Athos. So thanks be to God, I will be spending 2 months there beginning late September and returning late November. It will be a blessing to be in Greece again and to receive spiritual refreshment from the grace filled churches and monasteries. If there are sufficient funds (that is, should any of you feel led to contribute!), I hope to purchase some liturgical items for use here in Nepal as well.
Meanwhile, my understanding of the people and the country continues to grow, I gain insights through language study and through spending time with the Nepalis I have met. I continue to pray that the Lord will establish His Church in this Hindu country, and I ask you to join me in those prayers.
To those of you who have supported me in prayer and with financial gifts in the past year, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Glory to God for your much needed contributions. If by God’s grace an Orthodox Church should be established here, it will be your support that makes it happen. It is so true that without your support I would not be here. And without your continued prayers and financial support I will not be able to remain here. Thank you all so much. – Fr. S.