Answering God’s call on her heart, Jennifer French decided it was His will she go on a short-term mission trip. After doing some research online and finding an organization to help her, French decided Nepal would be the best place for her to go.
This meant turning down offers to go to France or Thailand, popular destinations for the short-term mission field.
“Nepal had the greatest need,” French said Nov. 20 after her talk on her trip at First United Methodist Church in Montpelier. “It has the fastest growing Christian population in the world, but it is illegal.
“Most churches are underground.”
French spoke to about 30 people about her two-week trip in Nepal, a mostly Hindu nation which borders both China and India along the Himalayan Moutains. The congregation had given financial support for the trip, so French agreed to talk about it.
“I went there to reach people for Jesus Christ,” French said of her motivation. Sightseeing was a bonus, but the trip was tinged with sorrow as French saw the deep poverty most people lived in and the depressing conditions left over from an earthquake a few years ago.
There were signs, to French, that God was with her on the journey. After a 19-hour trip by air, she touched down in Nepal and was greeted by a sunset and rainbow.
“God was welcoming me there,” French said.
Overall, the misery of the people was offset by the believers she encountered.
She saw Christians whose faith thrived despite being brutally persecuted by the government. Such persecution included pastors being imprisoned or sent to work camps, churches being destroyed and believers stoned to death.
French visited a church that was packed every week where people sat on a floor, prayed out loud all at once and sang Western Christian songs translated into Nepali.
She saw the incredible beauty of the country, and experienced peace at a mountain top temple where all religions were legal. She also saw the abject poverty, pothole-filled cobblestone roads and corrupt officials who stole the money and aid intended for the poor.
French saw children at an orphanage who, despite horrendous living conditions, still possessed the capacity for love and laughter. Many were there because their parents had died in the earthquake and they had been gathered up by the government, she said.
“I went there because of the earthquake,” French said. “They need people to spread Christ.”
Nepal welcomes aid of any kind, but no Bibles or Christian literature are allowed, French said. Despite all the help from the international community, Nepal’s government has yet to address the destruction caused by the temblor.
French saw children playing amongst and living in the rubble of damaged or destroyed buildings. Those children choose to live there because the orphanages can be scary, she said.
“They still have piles of brick everywhere,” French said. “There is so much sorrow.”
Part of the problem is the Hindu caste system which defines a person’s value to society based on their family. The upper caste are the richest people in the small nation, while the lowest caste, the so-called “untouchables,” cannot find work and forced to sell vegetables to or beg from foreign tourists.
“There is never going to be enough help over there,” French said. “The government doesn’t help.”
Some examples of culture shock included taking her first cold water bucket shower and learning that a roadside toilet was often a hole in the ground, French said.
At the first orphanage she visited she found kids housed eight to a room. Some had bunk beds, but others had to sleep on the floor. The children had to wear the same outfit all week and then had to wash that outfit by hand.
The bar soap used was rough and burned the skin of the children, French said.
One girl was forced to clean everyone’s shoes, “because she was a girl and was worthless,” French said of the attitude of Nepali.
Meals are small and contain a lot of rice with some ramen noodles for lunch and lentils for dinner, French said. Showing the children pictures of various foods, a startling revelation occurred to her.
“They have never seen fruit,” French said. “Not even a banana which only costs 2 cents.”
While it’s only been a year since the earthquake, the orphans have bonded into a different kind of family. The children, laugh, smile, play and sleep together, she said.
“The kids have a strong desire to give,” French said. “They put on a dance for us – they said God gave the gift of dance.”
Combating the culture of the caste system, Christianity is turning people’s hearts to start caring about each other and the orphans, French said. Another front is through education, which can lift the orphans out of a life of begging for scraps and into a life of subsistence, she said.
“It’s the only way out since they are kicked out at 16,” French said. “If they get an education they can get some money to survive.”
The day before she visited a Nepalese church, she learned it was going to require a 15-mile hike through mountainous terrain. She was physical going to be unable to achieve that, but she prayed and surrendered herself to whatever God wanted her to do.
A rainstorm early the next morning canceled the hike and everyone got to go by taxi.
The official in charge of the first orphanage was a strange person and very corrupt. She felt uneasy and was glad she had set up a second orphanage to visit.
The second church was in a community built by a lake, but the church was situated downtown on purpose. The local authorities had destroyed it twice and arrested the pastors multiple times.
A second culture shock was having to purchase Bibles on the black market. It was decided French would carry the Bibles back to the church (to be given to the children later) because if the police stopped her, she would only have to be in jail two weeks before the U.S. Embassy could get her released.
The pastor would be thrown in prison.
On the following Sunday, the pastor and assistant pastor performed baptisms. At the end of the service, French said the police came in and everyone scattered.
The men were arrested and to this day remain jailed and await be transferred to a work camp, French said.
Other highlights include visiting a farm where elephants could be ridden. The one French and her group was on was injured but had been forced into service anyway. The group stopped the ride and spent the rest of the 45-minute session feeding and petting the elephant and sharing the gospel with the driver.
“God helped me find the right words to speak to him,” French said.
Now that she’s back, she is entertaining another short-term mission trip and is leaning toward Peru.
James Pruitt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org