There’s literally no better time of year for a really good story. There’s the story of St. Nick, who gave secret gifts to people in need, the story of Scrooge, who’s heart was softened as he looked at his past, and then there’s the Story at the heart of it all…the humble story of a birth in a barn that changed everything.
We want to tell you a story today. This is the story of how we were inspired to leave our jobs, our lifestyle, and raise partners to work in Nepal.
We won’t tell you another sob story.
You’ve heard enough stories of the staggering poverty in this part of the world. It’s not new to you that there are many who are very poor, very hungry, and very sick. This is all true. In fact, Nepal is 145 out of 187 on the Human Development Index. There is a whole lot of need here. However, there is also a whole lot of hope. And we want to tell you a story of hope and possibility. So sit back, and enjoy a story of resiliency, perseverance, and ongoing rebuilding in the face of devastation.
We arrived in Kathmandu about 2 months after the catastrophic earthquake of 2015. We hadn’t planned it that way, but the earthquake came, wreaking havoc on this country, between the time we bought our tickets to visit family and volunteer and the time we got on the plane.
We decided to go anyway, and give what little we had to offer to volunteer. Ross would be volunteering with Rescue Network Nepal, a first responders organization, while I taught workshops at WomenLEAD, a girls’ mentorship program.
Going into this trip, we knew that Nepal was a place we could see ourselves for the long term. In fact, we’d been exploring options on how to live and work sustainably there for years. Having grown up in Nepal, Ross was eager to find his way back and walk alongside Nepalis toward better education, and whole, healthy families and communities. The Nepali people have been rebuilding in the midst of war, unstable government, and natural disasters for so long that it’s difficult to imagine a different reality…yet that’s where we see the deepest hope in this place. The hearts and eyes of the Nepali people speak of love, hope, and enduring joy. We have so much to learn from them.
Our first order of business was to visit the school Ross attended as a kid: Kathmandu International Study Centre. This school had started a teacher training program called EQUIP, which gets straight to the root of many issues in the education system by empowering teachers to empower their students. They do incredible work in Nepali classrooms by training teachers in bringing critical thinking, creativity, and play into their classes. Children there are no longer checking off the box of memorization and test taking, but they are growing a LOVE for learning. A mindset of curiosity. A hunger for truth.
As we walked into the room full of teacher trainers to meet them and ask some questions on the program, Ross was already ready to sign the rest of his life away to working with teachers in Nepal. After meeting the team, he was packing his bags in his mind. However, Ross didn’t tell them right away that he wanted more than just about anything to work there. He led the discussion with a request to do his thesis on the strides EQUIP is making to education in Nepal. Wrong Move. You could almost see the piles of work stacking up around their heads as they explained how much they needed to prioritize the work at hand with Nepali schools. I looked over at Ross and saw the eager excitement fading from his face. This had been his “in” with working with this organization…to do incredible research and writing, study the education issues in Nepal, present it to the organization, finish his degree, and finally begin working with them. What now?
Defeated, we walked back to Ross’s aunt and uncle’s house where we were staying. We licked our wounds and wondered what the future held. We prayed. For the next few days, we poured ourselves into our volunteering and workshops.
At WomenLEAD, I nearly forgot about the disappointment at EQUIP by diving head first into my own personal oasis of creativity in the classroom: teaching movement, improv, poetry, and map-making. I was LOVING every minute as I got to hear the stories of the young women taking the workshop, lead them through a dance class, and help them create their own choreography. We spent time creating maps of where they were when the earthquake hit and writing poetry as they explored their external and internal landscapes. I was gifted beyond belief by their willingness to be vulnerable and create along with me.
As my workshop wound down, Ross got a call from the Director of KISC EQUIP. We were surprised when he wanted to meet with us before we left Nepal. Ross, especially, was nervous but knew that he wanted to tell the Director straight out this time how much he would like to give back to this childhood home by working with them in education.
As we walked up the stairs to the Director’s office, we squeezed hands and exchanged glances. Before we knew it, Khim Kandel, the Director of EQUIP, was greeting us at the door and shaking our hands with joy. He launched headfirst into a flurry of stories, starting with how Ross’s aunt and uncle were his Nepali language students many years ago and ending with an explanation of how he remembered his parents from another village in Nepal back when they were doing development work there. His eyes began to tear up as he looked Ross square in the eyes and said:
“I’ve been praying for a long time that God would send people back to Nepal. People who know this place and love this place. I think you would be a great addition to our team here.”
I swallowed hard to keep my own tears back as I watched Ross’s whole countenance change. He’d been so sold on joining this work for so long and he’d been dreaming about it for years. He felt so called to it. He’d tried hard a few days ago to trust that there was another plan. Now, he was suddenly light again, eager, fully of joy. He was back.
This is not a story of our own success or overcoming obstacles. It is a story of grace alone. By God’s grace, he opened a door to work in bringing quality education to Nepal. I am so glad that it happened the way it did…because it reminds me every time that it is not our strength or might or expertise that we are doing this…but by His grace alone. He tugged at Ross’s heart a long time ago and He has been faithful to open doors along the way.
We are hanging on to this story of God’s faithfulness as we continue to watch people come alongside us, support us, and cheer us on in this journey.