Testimony from Pete Hopkinson
Nine years ago Colin (Barnes) was invited to lead a youth conference in Kathmandu, Nepal. At this time the Maoist uprising will still in full swing and Nepal was quite a dangerous place to be. Because of this Colin asked several people in River Church if they would think about going with him as travel companions and prayer supporters. As it turned out Pat Hunt and myself were both free. So off we went! Colin had in fact been to Nepal twice before but it was this trip that started a close association with the country for both Colin and I.
Colin and Sadie and family ended up living in Kathmandu for a year where they worked with Aandandit Church and also established the Christian leadership training centre in Jiri with The Himalayan United Christian Fellowship. About six months after our trip I was looking for somewhere to set up a microfinance operation. Colin asked me “What about Nepal?” and the rest is history. Under the auspices of the Aandandit Charity I have been operating Microfinance Himalaya (MFH) , currently known as Micro Business Support for the past 7 years. We both have travelled to Nepal on numerous occasions and have very good friends there.
Obviously when the first earthquake hit at 11.59am on Saturday 25th April we were both pretty concerned for all our friends. But within 24 hours we had established that everyone was safe, albeit some without their houses any more. The large after-shock on 12th May also had us pretty worried but again all our immediate friends were OK. However it was pretty apparent that large parts of central Nepal were devastated. We both felt that we should seriously think about going to support our friends. But neither Colin nor I are builders or doctors – which seemed to be the required skills! So we did not want to be ‘disaster tourists’ or a burden on our Nepali friends.
After exchanges of emails we decided it was right to go and on Tuesday 2nd June we were deposited at Heathrow by Sadie for a six day visit. We were going to ‘stand with’ our friends and minister in any way we could.
When we arrived, on the walk from the plane to the terminal, we were struck by the huge piles of supplies (tents, food, etc) lying on the tarmac waiting for distribution.
Normally when you emerge from the terminal you are faced with pandemonium – masses of people, car horns blaring!
This time it was eerily quiet – clearly this was going to be an ‘interesting’ visit. Milan met us and drove us to his guest house. He explained we couldn’t stay there as it was too badly damaged – but he had managed to ‘borrow’ the house next door where they had put a couple of beds on the ground floor. We were going to be ‘camping inside’!
We spent the next 4 days travelling to villages in the Kathmandu valley where we have church connections, hearing stories of miraculous escapes and desperate situations.
The first day we visited Nargakot. Here, some years ago Colin was out walking and he ‘bumped into’ a pastor who wanted to build a church in his village. Colin gave him some seed money to make a start and buy some land. In February this year they had the opening ceremony. Unfortunately the building has been quite badly damaged. But what was worse was that of the 50 regular members of the church, 49 had lost their houses and jobs (Nargakot relies heavily on tourism – there are no tourists anymore). The pastor and his wife are living under tarpaulins by their church at the side of the road – some of the money donated by River members has gone to help them.
Saturday morning is the time for Church in Nepal and we visited another village that had been particularly badly affected. Obviously the service is conducted in Nepalese so I did not understand a word. But the sense of the Holy Spirit during worship was amazing and several of the ladies fell to the floor, greatly moved by the Holy Spirit. The presence of God was great.
After the service we walked across the fields to a small settlement of nine houses where all the occupants were members of the church. Not one house was left standing. One of the people living there was severely physically disabled – on the day of the earthquake she was left at home as usual while everyone else was at church.
For the third time in her life she felt the need to get herself to the toilet which is a separate hut outside her house. She dragged herself there.
Two minutes later as she emerged from the toilet her house was gone. She would have certainly been dead had it not been for that trip to the toilet. Again, thanks to River donations, families in that village will be able to move out of their tarpaulin shelters into corrugated tin huts and start to rebuild their lives.
We met Pastor Anand one evening. A couple of weeks before the earthquake he had just moved himself and young family to Kathmandu from the Jiri area. He had managed to rent a good apartment but had to pay three months deposit.
Two weeks later his new apartment had gone and he had lost his three months deposit. Worse than this he couldn’t find another one. There were 79,000 homes destroyed in the Kathmandu Valley – good accommodation is difficult to find. His own house back home was completely destroyed, as was his parents’.
It would appear that the fact that most Christians were in church when the earthquake struck was a good thing. There were many stories of “we would normally have been doing so and so but this Saturday we were doing something different and as a result no one was hurt”. So there was a real sense that God had protected his people.
As Colin and I took off from Kathmandu on the way home we asked each other how we felt. We agreed the best word to describe our feeling was ‘numb’. There was so much we had seen that was good but also so much destruction. It seemed that in the areas we visited the emergency, disaster relief had got through well (this may not be the case in the more remote places). But it was almost impossible to imagine how they were going to return to a life of normality. If you are barely economically active it is difficult to see how many people are ever going to afford to rebuild their houses. I have a horrible feeling that when I return in ten years’ time a lot of people will still be living in their ‘temporary’ tin huts. These are like ovens in the summer, incredibly noisy when it rains, and very cold in winter.
Perhaps the thing to pray for most is that our Christian brothers and sisters will be released from an intense fear of another earthquake, deep depression and desperation caused by a pretty bleak future. However this is also a time of hope. I had a very real sense that the grip of superstition and religious fear had been shaken by the earthquake. May God’s Kingdom come to Nepal in a new and very real way!