Captives of Fate

Abdullah, 28, got married about a year ago, and he and his wife are expecting their first baby. They still live in his family home, as Abdullah hasn't got a hope of scraping enough money together to rent a place of their own. They live in a small flat with Omar – Abdullah's brother – and his wife, who might also be expecting.

Not that Abdullah experiences the inside of the flat that much. He has two full-time jobs – mornings 8 until 2 and evenings 5 until 10 – and he is trying to fit in English classes in the afternoons in the hope that one day he'll get a better job. Like most of his countrymen, neither of his current jobs pays enough to cover the bills.

He's a nice guy; he doesn't smoke or chew, which saves a lot, but he's up to his neck in debt to relatives who helped pay for his wedding, and has to give back a little each month.

Abdullah prays five times a day. He visits the graves of his parents every Friday to pray for them – to make sure that they are allowed into heaven. He greets people as he walks along – there is a tradition that each greeting earns him extra blessing. He is always kind to children, and gives as much as he can to beggars. Yet despite all this good work, God still feels distant and life is still hard.

In need of blessing, Abdullah decided to go on the Hajj to Mecca this year. His evening job is at a travel firm, and they gave him a very generous discount. It felt good to be doing what the prophet commanded. Praying in that esteemed place, he could almost feel God to be close.

But life is still hard. Abdullah believes that all of life is a test and then we face judgement. All his efforts to earn God's blessings seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Fatima Fatima was worried to death about Faaris – her 15-month-old. He hadn't been putting on weight properly since he was born. His twin sister seemed able to feed all right, but Faaris just wouldn't suck properly. She'd tried all the food options: her own mother had told her to give him water to drink instead of breast milk; her neighbour had suggested mixing water and baby rusks and giving these to Faaris in his bottle.

He had become so weak that whatever he did eat he vomited. And then there was the constant diarrhoea. The stress was beginning to affect her other children too.

When he was six months old she had taken Faaris to see an old midwife who advised heat treatment – multiple small burns on his abdomen and buttocks to release the evil. It didn't work.

The foreign doctor had been useless – he just gave advice. She would have taken Faaris to see the real witch-doctor, only he was too expensive. Perhaps he was being affected by Genies. Perhaps someone had cast the evil-eye on him when he was born – the power of the jealousy of an aunt or neighbour could inflict this sort of problem. Perhaps Umm asSubyan, queen of the Genies, or some other controlling spirit was involved. A good witchdoctor could solve these problems.

Fatima was doing all she could. She had started praying five times a day and she would fast once a month – perhaps this would earn her God's favour. She hung a tiny copy of the Qur'an around Faaris' neck to protect him from evil spirits, and recited the bits of it that she had memorised whenever she was with Faaris. She would lie him down so that he was facing Mecca – if he should die, at least he would be facing the right way.

How difficult it felt. If only she had some way of controlling her destiny, and his.

A Quiet Crisis

My flight to Nepal was quiet because a month earlier, on 1 February, the King of Nepal had taken special measures, dissolving parliament. The cut in communications (including a news blackout) combined with uncertain advice from Western embassies had knocked the bottom out of what was left of this year's tourist season. The king's action was in response to the Maoist insurrection which has been simmering away for almost a decade. During this time eleven thousand Nepalis have lost their lives.

A Maoist-sponsored transport strike soon followed, until 1 March. In a transport strike, travelling by road is simply not possible in areas not protected by the government; anyone doing so faces the displeasure of and penalties imposed by whoever is in control of the area. In practice, it means that no travel is possible between the major cities except by air.

What is the effect of such a strike upon Interserve Partners? For those in cities like Pokhara and Kathmandu, life goes on pretty much as usual, apart from the inconvenience of having to stockpile commodities that become scarce due to supply problems. But for those in more rural areas it is more difficult. Partners involved in community projects cannot get to them; the number of patients coming to Tansen Hospital decreases by half, and after the novelty wears off, that isn't good! But for ordinary people in Nepal it is much worse. How can you sell your stuff in the nearby town if you cannot get there; how do you get treatment if you're sick?

Fear and intimidation are part of the scene: neither side is particularly bothered about keeping to the Geneva Convention. One Partner woke to witness the authorities dealing with a suspected Maoist in the street below – being shot as he hid in a pit. There had been three murders in Butwal the week before I visited, and there was a prevailing sense of fear and uncertainty. Curfews come and go, soldiers appear at nights on the streets, even in the tourist area of Pokhara. 'This place runs on rumours,' said one Partner. So Nepal is hardly stable just at the moment.

The church in Nepal But there is one stable factor, or so it seems. The continuing presence and growth of the Nepali church is one of the most exciting realities to be seen in Nepal. One Partner told me that the church had doubled in the last five years (which of course means that half are under five years old in the faith). The thirty churches in Pokhara held a peace march and rally at Christmas (pictured). Over a thousand people marching through the streets made a big impression. I asked my friend, Grishma, a Nepali pastor, what the reaction had been. The most common response, he said, was, 'We didn't know there were so many Christians in Pokhara.' You see light in the darkest places: we met someone who told us how he and his wife found faith after surviving a Maoist attack. 'Save me, Jesus,' the man had cried as his attackers left him to bleed to death. His prayer was answered.

And there's something new. The church has always been committed to evangelism and discipleship, but I think has tended to see meeting the needs of the whole person as something that perhaps the foreign agencies could get on with. This is changing: the Nepali church has a growing desire not just to proclaim the good news, but also to demonstrate the kingdom in works of service to those in need, and to be salt and light at a troubled time. Nepali Christians are forming agencies to do just that, and the results are impressive. As the leader of one of these groups put it, 'we face real challenges just now, but we prefer to see them as opportunities'. He went on to talk of the need for Interserve Partners to continue serving alongside their Nepali brothers and sisters, sharing Christ across cultures.

Like its people, Nepal's crisis is quiet – the news blackout and special measures have seen to that. But all the time there is another hidden and secret process going on, as the yeast of the kingdom of God does its own quiet work.

Integral Mission

She was 19, beautiful and intelligent, about to start her training as a medical assistant. The world was her oyster. That is, until she woke up paralysed from the waist down by transverse myelitis, a rare disease in which the body destroys part of the spinal cord. Overnight she became bedridden, unable to control her urine or stool. Her supportive family took her to local doctors, then to Kathmandu, and finally to Indian hospitals, but as the weeks went by with no improvement they began to take her to witch doctors and other local healers. Finally they gave up, and Manju was brought home. She had given up hope of walking, but was determined to get around as best she could, hanging onto furniture and walls to at least make it around her house. After a year and a half of this existence, she was brought to Pokhara to consult a Buddhist healer. By this point she was quite depressed, and had given up hopes of walking, marriage or work. She was staying near one of our nurses and thus heard of the existence of the hospital. Soon after she came we could see her stubborn determination to 'get back on her feet', both figuratively and literally. She has worked hard on using what muscles were left her by the disease, and has learned quickly how to best use them. With foot splints and crutches she began walking around the hospital, refusing help when she fell down; she has also learned to control her bowel and bladder. While here she heard about Jesus, and has made him Lord of her life. She now wonders, 'Was it God who brought me here to this hospital?' We look forward to what she – and God – will make of her life. We have arranged for her to get into a course to learn office skills, and it is such a pleasure to meet her from time to time, growing spiritually and developing as a person.

Integral mission Which change in her life was more important? The physical one, of us teaching her to walk again? The social one, of enabling one who is completely dependent on her family to become self-supporting? Or the spiritual transformation, of her finding the peace, joy and eternal security found only in Jesus Christ? We would say wholeheartedly that all are important for her as an individual loved by God. To focus on one area only to the exclusion of others would leave her as less than a whole person. Focusing on only her spiritual need without attention to her physical and social need would leave her with belief but still in a desperate situation. Neglecting the spiritual by focusing on only the physical and social rehabilitation would leave her as a monument to man's, or our, greatness, without acknowledging the One who creates and heals. Integral mission is all about effecting total transformation in people's lives, the kind of radical change Jesus and his followers brought about in the New Testament. We read of Jesus saying not just, 'Be healed', but also, 'Your sins are forgiven', with both aspects brought together in the simple statement, 'Your faith has made you well'. Integral mission means loving the whole person and wanting to see God's transforming and healing power working in all parts of people's lives. It is a love that desperately shares a person's desire to walk again, to work again, to be free of drug addiction, and at one and the same time wants to see that same person be transformed into a child of God with a hope not just for their future on earth, but for their eternal future as well.

Contrasting ways of working 'Holistic mission' is a term often used for this. While it is a good term, it has come to be associated with development work done by, or even just paid for by, Christians. When one looks around the world at what is done under the name 'holistic mission', one often finds simply 'good work, being done by good people', in which it is hard to find the aroma of the living God at work. At times, this kind of 'mission' is indistinguishable from that done by secular aid agencies. Is this really the church's mandate? The Bible is very clear on this: people without Christ are lost. To neglect telling of the great news of God's saving grace falls far short of the biblical mandate.

Contrasting with people simply doing development work are those who are involved in exclusively evangelistic ministry. While we are all called to different roles in the church, for the church as a whole to ignore people's physical and social needs would also fall short of the biblical ideal. In 1 John 3:17 we read, 'If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?' When Jesus chose to illustrate God's greatest commands, to love God and to love neighbour, he did so with the story of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), an intensely practical example of what love for neighbour implies. While Jesus clearly said that to love God is the greatest commandment (Mark 12:28-31; Matthew 22:36-40), we may be surprised to find that 'the entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbour as yourself."' (Galatians 5:14; see also Romans 13:9,10). James makes it clear that to speak about faith without practical evidence of that faith in acts of love for others is hollowness: 'What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such a faith save him?' (James 2:14). God obviously expects that a real love for him and faith in him will compel us to show compassion to the needy.

Somewhere between these two types come those who do development work as a means of spreading the gospel. This may look from the outside much like integral mission, but the reasoning rings a bit hollow. As we watch Jesus in action, we see him healing the sick, bringing people to repentance and forgiving sins all for the same motive: his deep love for them. Jesus did not perform works of healing to create an opportunity to preach to those people; he did both out of his compassion for them. This type of 'means to an end' thinking leaves us rightfully open to the accusation of duplicity in our motives, and will make many doubt our sincerity.

Development of the whole Integral mission involves development of the whole individual, as modelled in Jesus' own development as a boy: 'And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men' (Luke 2:52). Jesus grew – in wisdom, physically (stature), spiritually (favour with God) and socially (favour with men). This is a model not only for our own personal development, but also for how Christian development or mission should look. Our ministry should be bearing fruit in development in all of these four areas of people's lives. We will seldom see all happening at the same time, or in the same person, but, over time, integral mission will bring about a radical transformation in people's lives that will make others sit up and take notice.

Interserve is involved in integral mission through, for example, its support of poor patients at the hospital in Pokhara, Nepal. While only a minority of the staff are Christian, several of the Christian staff there are there because of a real call from God to minister to the whole person. Whether or not they have heard the term 'integral mission', they are living it out daily in ministering to the disabled and those affected by leprosy in practical and spiritual ways. Seeing the lame walk again, useless hands made to work again, broken hearts made whole again, the unemployable being put to work, are all everyday occurrences at the hospital. At the same time many, but certainly not all, of those treated come to know Jesus as the One who brought about the healing in their lives, and go on to bring this good news to others in remote parts of Nepal.

We all need to be involved in this kind of mission in our home countries as well, in our churches and neighbourhoods, families and communities, bringing about change in all areas of our own and others' lives. Thinking of the parable of the good Samaritan, where is our road? Surely it is where we are, right now. And who is our neighbour? Surely those with whom we rub shoulders every day. If the people in our congregations become drawn into an active, holistic love for our neighbours, we will see a growth in maturity and numbers in our churches. Thus the 'great commission' (Matthew 28:18-20) and the 'great commandment' both will be fulfilled – or, more accurately, the 'great commission' will be fulfilled as part of the 'great commandment.' May God convict us all to such a ministry.

The family are Interserve Canada Partners serving in Nepal with International Nepal Fellowship – working as a Medical Director and surgeon at the leprosy hospital.

Not to be Sneezed At

Mongolians are generally very loose about hellos and goodbyes, but part of the traditional Mongolian greeting when you meet a friend or visit someone's home, in the countryside especially, involves the exchange of snuff bottles. They are always offered to the other person by being held in your open right hand. The other person does the same, and as the hands come together, much like shaking hands, you take the other person's bottle. Once exchanged, you can then either takes a pinch of snuff or just have a sniff of the neck of the bottle. You would then have a look at the bottle, which is usually made of semiprecious stone or wood, compliment the owner and then pass it back as he (or she) returns yours.

For the nomad who has no bank account, owning a snuff bottle is one way of carrying your wealth around with you – some of them are worth $1,000 or more; your wealth is one of the things your bottle says about you.

Interestingly, some Western Christians here refuse to have anything to do with the snuff bottles because of the tobacco implications. My personal feeling is that it's better to be accepting of the culture rather than put barriers up. A few of the older men in our church exchange their snuff bottles before or after the meetings. I always carry mine, and when one of the men offered his to my parents (when they were visiting) after exchanging with me, I introduced my parents and he told them I was his Mongolian son!

Our Christian friend Baagii is an excellent wood carver, and can make almost anything he puts his hand to. Recently he has been making snuff bottles engraved with Christian insignia. Obviously if your snuff bottle has Christian insignia on it then it says a lot about you, and will hopefully start many conversations about the meaning of the symbols, particularly in the countryside where many people still know nothing of the gospel. It is a really good example of contextualising the gospel.

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Dorzjbats Story

Dennggg! With a crash the heavilyloaded cart tipped over. The porter stumbled, the cart hit his head and he was killed instantly. That is why the management of the large open-air market decided then and there to send away all the porters with similar carts. They were only allowed to return with a different kind of cart – but of course they had no money to buy one. So suddenly twenty-one porters were out of work. I was one of them.

This happened two years ago. But let me introduce myself. My name is Dorzjbat and I am 19 years old. I live in the capital of my country in East Asia, in a small one-room house. There are nine of us.

It was a terrible setback that I could not work as a porter anymore. Two years earlier, when I turned 15, I had to leave school because we needed money badly. My father received a small pension and my mother worked as a nursery school teacher, which provided us with just enough money to buy food every day. We only had a meal at night, so I usually worked on an empty stomach. And there was no money for new clothes.

Working six days a week as a porter, I earned roughly between 50p and £2 a day. On Tuesdays the market was closed, because in my country many people believe that Tuesday is an unlucky day for trading.

After we had been expelled from the market, I could sometimes earn some money as a construction worker, but it wasn’t a lot. In those days I would often drink vodka together with five friends I had got to know at the market. Vodka is very cheap here, especially when there are five of you to share in the cost.

Then, in 2001, my father died. As my eldest brother had moved to the countryside and my other brother was a university student, I had to take my father’s place. That’s how it works here. As a result, I tried to work as often and as hard as possible. I really felt responsible for our family, so I did not join my friends any more to go and drink vodka.

Who is Jesus Christ? In May 2002 my eldest sister told me about Jesus Christ. Through an uncle of ours she had joined a small church which had started in 1997 as a Bible study group. But I did not have a clue what she was talking about. Small wonder! From 1924 to 1990 my country had been a satellite state of the Soviet Union under a suppressive communist regime. Any religion was strictly prohibited, and thousands of Buddhist monks were killed in the 1930s. It was only after a peaceful revolution in the early 1990s that democracy and freedom were allowed here. So in the decades before that hardly anyone had ever heard about Jesus!

Actually, Tibetan Buddhism has recently become the official religion in my country again. There are temples with monks (lamas) who will pray for you if you pay them. Many people ask them to pray, especially in the countryside. When someone dies, a lama will tell the next of kin what will happen to their dead relative. If you were a really good person, you might go to one of the heavens. If you were very bad, you could end up in one of the eight freezing cold hells or one of the eight hot ones. But usually you will reincarnate and return to earth. People hope they will come back as a person, not as an animal or a plant, but they can never be sure, so many Mongolians are worried or scared.

Because of those seventy years of communist rule, many of my countrymen are atheists now.

Living in the kingdom of God One day I went to church together with my sister, but I did not understand anything of what I heard there. So I told her it had been the first and the last time, which she didn’t like. But I preferred to earn money on Sunday instead of listening to incomprehensible talk. She kept urging me to come again, though. In the end I decided to go one more time so that she would stop nagging. But that time I really understood what was said. Soon some young people asked me to come to the church youth group and in that way I discovered more and more about the gospel. During a church summer camp in 2002 I decided to become a Christian. I was baptised together with four others in the river nearby.

I tried to read the Bible every day, but my mother, who is a Buddhist, would get very angry at me. And there is no other room to go to! I started praying about this, and after a few months she no longer yelled at me. I think she realised how much I had changed. I used to be very short-tempered, but now I would make an effort not to lose my temper so quickly.

I still manage to earn some money as a construction worker now and then, but during the winter there is hardly any employment in that area. I would like to go to university, but there is no money for that.

Although we are still poor, I feel blessed, and I have one aim: I want to serve God with all my life. Circumstances are often hard for me and other Christians. You are nearly always the only believer in your class or at your work (if you can find a job!), and many people laugh at you or react in a hostile way. Quite a few people here believe that a real citizen of our country should be a Buddhist. If you become a Christian, they feel you follow a foreign religion and therefore betray your own country. That’s what my mother thinks too.

In moments like that there is one thought I hold on to: although I live with my body in this world, I live with my spirit in the Kingdom of God!