Life in an Earthquake Zone
The ride to the border of Tibet was long, rough and dangerous as we crawled up the winding mountains roads. During a nine-hour return drive of 100 kilometers, we passed through villages strung out along the mountain road; some were vacant and soulless. In some the people had died, crushed by the falling timber and rocks. In other villages the inhabitants had picked up what they could, leaving for places they thought more safe in Nepal.
The 7.8 earthquake on April 25 brought its destructive force to unsuspecting people. The shaking of ground, rattling of dishes and swaying of buildings was felt right across this landlocked nation of 30 million. Yet its most powerful and destructive force seemed to spew its fury in occasional places.
Katmandu, thought to be under massive siege, was more preserved than at first assumed. Historical sites, religious symbols and buildings toppled, but the worst of the force was felt in regions often inaccessible except by helicopter.
To date 9,000 have died, tens of thousands were injured, and hundreds of thousands are without homes or protection.
With Pastor Tek Dahal, president of the National Churches Fellowship of Nepal (NCFN), I visited The Vision of Salvation Church where 60 people were gathered and 15 died. Then we visited the totally destroyed building of The Sukot Prayer House. Of the 120 worshipers 30 lost their lives, including Pastor Hima Sherpa. Since Saturday is when businesses are closed, church services are held then, and with the quake occurring just before noon, in many churches the pastor was preaching.
Rescuers working on the ground have documented 633 known Christians having died and 3,000 injured.
Nepal, a country of magnificent beauty, complicated history and a recent story of an explosive church, is at the epicenter of a possible surge of Christian witness. Integral Alliance, a member of the WEA, representing many relief and development agencies is focusing resources and efforts on first providing food, then housing and protection, and in the long term, reconstruction. Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision have moved their people in to minister.
In 1950 there were seven Christian families in Nepal and by 1960 one hundred believers. In 2015 there are nearly 1.5 million Christians. This closed-off country was ruled by a monarchy which declared Christian faith illegal. It struggled through the insurgent days of Marxists and in 1990 a partial freedom of religion was allowed. Today, the witness of Jesus is bursting out. One Christian leader said Christian’s here have spiritual unity, be they Anglican, Baptist, Methodist or Pentecostal. “We all believe the entire Book and practice it in faith.”
In the short term, food has been distributed; with those in the know estimating it will take another thirty days to insure that all have food. One church group drove a day, then with fifty-one porters walked three days back up into the mountains to reach those in need. The next two stages are to provide housing for those living under tents, existing with whatever they can find. Then the long-term goal is to help in reconstruction of homes, villages and communities.
Set within the swirling clouds of dust and hopelessness, we experienced a special moment. Returning from the northern border we drove into the city of Bhaktapur where I asked the driver to stop. We walked up a narrow street littered with bricks and debris from crumbled buildings, the air filled with dust as workers and machines moved mountains of rubble. Pastor Teka Dahal and his assistant Santa and I turned into a square filled with rubble, surrounded by buildings with gaping holes and cracked siding. As I turned to leave Santa said, “Dr Brian, that woman is waving to you.” I turned and in a second-story window saw a woman waving. I dismissed the idea of visiting until Santa said, “She is a Christian. My friend’s mother knows her and I met her once.” Among 30 million people and in a city shattered by the quake, what is the likelihood of such a meeting? It was time to pay a visit.
We entered a gap in the wall on the first story, narrow and smelling of refuse. Seeing a narrow set of wooden stairs, we climbed to the second story. The woman who had waved was now smiling and welcoming. I was in a place one wouldn’t imagine staying for even one night. I looked behind her and saw a small dark opening. I turned to speak with the mother, then hearing a noise turned again to the opening which was no longer dark and vacant. To my surprise there were three smiling, beautiful teenagers with grins the width of their faces. Then a father showed up and conversation ensued: the Christian mother wasn’t allowed to attend church and only did so when her husband was away.
I turned to the teenagers and we chatted—they all spoke English. I learned of their schooling, then asked if they knew Jesus. Yes, they had heard of him, but that’s all. For some minutes I told them of Jesus and his love for them. I asked if they had a Bible. Yes, their mother had one. I showed them where to start reading and then asked if I could pray. They smiled and nodded. And so I prayed, asking the Spirit to enter their lives with his presence and transforming love. I left my card asking the oldest boy to write me.
There in the darkness of a shattered community, languishing under soot, rubble, death and sorrow, I met the sparkle of young life and had the opportunity to introduce Jesus.
This land on top of the world is inhabited by a people with a quiet but clear link to the heavens. Jesus as Lord is received with joy, and I pray that as comfort comes to those suffering from loss, as reconstruction provides relief and protection, the Gospel of the risen Lord will reverberate across the hills and through the valleys of Nepal.
Brian C. Stiller
Global Ambassador, The World Evangelical Alliance