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7. India – Nepal Mission

Chapter 7

India – Nepal Mission

Introduction

We sought advice from our teacher Rev. Eric Chang. He replied that there were needs in India and Nepal. We com­mun­icated with our India and Nepal contacts and they ex­pressed their delight in receiving us. So we discussed this with our core group and confirmed our mission trip to both countries. We encour­aged our core group to join us for the mission. A lay couple res­ponded and we started to prepare for the exciting venture to these two countries. When the news of our mission trip spread to our sister church in Melbourne, a lay couple there also wanted to join us for the mission. We started planning our schedule for the trip. Kathleen had just recuper­ated from pneumonia which she had contracted in June 1996. But she in­sisted on going on the mission trip with us. Because India and Nepal were un­der-devel­oped countries, naturally hy­giene was a concern. I admired her courage because I knew that her health was still quite frail. We all felt that she should rest at least six months be­fore going on the mission trip. Having tak­en that into con­sideration, we finally set our date—January 1997—to launch out on our first overseas mission trip.

Our first stop, Malaysia

The three couples left Australia at different times. At that time, we had a coworker who was serving in Chennai, India, and we would love to pay him a visit. Therefore Chennai would be our first stop in India. When we explored which flight to take, we discovered that the most economical way to fly from Sydney to Chennai was via Malaysian Airlines. We could get a free stop­over both ways at Kuala Lumpur (KL). We had sister churches there and when they knew that we would be passing through KL, they warmly invited us to stay for a few days before going to Chennai. We welcomed the idea because we had been hard pressed with church work before we left Sydney. We hardly had a break especially with Kathleen still weak. It would be best for us to take a short break to allow ourselves to rest well, bodily and spirit­ually, before launching out to the mission field in India.

Arriving at KL during the Chinese New Year

When we arrived in KL, it was just about the time of the Chin­ese New Year (Spring Festival). We did not celebrate Chinese New Year as much in Sydney, but in KL, it was a different atmosphere. Every­body was eager to go back to their home­towns to celebra­te the Spring Festival. We had good fellowship with our coworkers in KL, and were invited to share with the churches on two occasions. Everybody wanted to take a break from work to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Going to Cameron Highlands

The KL coworkers were very kind to arrange a holiday package for us to Cameron Highlands. It was about a four hours’ drive from KL. We took a 24-passenger tour bus to Cameron High­lands. As we boarded the bus, everyone was given a plastic bag. We were wonder­ing what it was for. Someone told us that the road was so steep and winding that some pass­engers might get nauseated. So the plastic bag was meant for anyone who might throw up.

The road was indeed hilly and winding, but that did not deter the bus driver from speeding at the turns. He would slam on the brakes before the oncoming traffic and then speed off again. It made the whole trip jerky at times. We just prayed for a safe journey to our destination. Even some of the locals in the tour bus threw up. Amaz­ingly, we survived the whole jerky and wobbly journey and arrived at Cameron Highlands.

We discovered that the place was not particularly crowded be­cause it also happened to be the time of an important Islamic holiday. With Malaysia being an Islamic country, most Malays rested at home during this important festive period. That was fine with us as it allowed us to rest well.

Wild rainy weather

We did little traveling in the first three days. Most of the time we rested, though we visited one or two tourist attract­ions nearby. The weather was unpre­dictable; it would be sunny one moment, then suddenly change to pouring rain. But so far, whenever we were out in the open, it did not rain. We really appreciated God who was pulling the strings behind the scenes and protecting us.

On the fourth day, it was sunny in the morn­ing. Since we were leaving the next day, we hoped to do more sight­seeing that day. Kathleen also felt strong enough to take longer walks. We decided to take a stroll up to the top of the mount­ain.

It took us about two hours to stroll casually to the top of the mountain. It was so scenic and beautiful to look down from the top. The mountain top was unpolluted and we felt so refreshed breathing in the fresh air. We stayed there just admiring nature and medit­ating with praise and thanks­giv­ing to God. Then suddenly we felt a few drops of rain. When we looked up at the sky, it was turning dark and cloudy. The wind started to pick up speed and the rain­drops became bigger and fell more rapidly. We felt it was going to pour!

Pray like Elijah

We had to make a quick decision: either stay on top of the mountain under a shelter or dash down the hill before the rain­storm. The weather had turned cold because of the gusty wind and I was deeply concerned about Kathleen’s health. She had just recovered from pneumonia and it would be detrimental if she caught a cold on the mountaintop. We said an urgent prayer seeking God’s protection desperately. Then we took our chance and dashed down the hill.

It started to rain lightly but steadily increased as the wind also picked up speed. It took us about 20 minutes to reach the foot of the hill. But it would take about another half hour at a fast pace to get back to our lodging place. By now, the rain was pouring like buckets of water. We ran across the street and hid under a bus shelter. Although we were not soaked, we were wet enough and felt cold in the plum­meting temp­erature. We tried to hail a taxi but there was none. We were indeed stranded in the wild weather.

Kathleen turned to me and said, “Why don’t you pray like Elijah?” Yes, the Bible told us about Elijah:

1Kings 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be nei­ther dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”

The Lord God answered Elijah’s prayer and there was no rain for 3½ years. But would it be too much for Kathleen to ask of me to be like Elijah? Who was I? But then, I also rem­em­bered that the Bible said:

James 5:17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.

There was nothing special about Elijah. He was a man with a nature like ours! The only difference was that he was a man of great faith. Certainly I was nowhere near the likes of Elijah, but I could pray the same prayer pleading for God’s compassion on us. When I was embracing Kath­leen, I could feel that she was shivering from the cold. I sensed the urgen­cy and told Kathleen that I would pray like Elijah. Tears gushed out of my eyes as I cried out to God pleading that He stop the rain for ½ hour so that we could make it back to our lodging place.

After the prayer, when we opened our eyes, to our amaze­ment, the rain tapered off and the sun broke through the dark clouds. We were in awe that a miracle had happened! God really answered our prayer! We immediately took stride and ran down towards our lodging place. As we des­cended the slope hold­ing hands, we sang the song “The Lord is my strength”. Tears of joy streamed down our eyes because we were so touched by the love of God.

Time’s up

When we made it almost to our lodging place, instead of head­ing straight back there, we stopped by at a souvenir shop to buy souvenirs before leav­ing Cameron Highlands the next day. We were so attracted by the many selections that we lingered a while to buy our souvenirs. By the time we got out of the shop, it started to rain again and was gaining momentum towards a heavy down­pour again. We quickly ran straight back home. Though it was only a short distance of about 50 meters from the souvenir shop, we were all soaked by the time we reached our lodging place. We looked at our watch and it was over 30 min­utes since we started running down from the bus shelter right after our prayer. I prayed for the rain to stop 30 minutes so that we could make it back to our lodging place. God took our pray­er literally and gave us a window of exactly 30 minutes. But we over­stayed and lingered in the souvenir shop. The downpour after the 30-minute break sent a clear message that it was no mere coinci­dence. It was indeed a prayer answered, and God had taken our plea literally!

Thank God that we had a restful holiday at Cameron High­lands, and most importantly that we experienced the love of God so immensely that we felt invigorated to serve Him unre­servedly in this coming mission.

Chennai, India

We arrived in Chennai, India, and were picked up by our dear coworker Pastor Boo. He was an inspiration to us, and a pion­eer in exploring new mission fields. When we went from Hong Kong to Sydney via Manila, he was building the church in the Philippines. After the work was established, he was sent to Chennai to pioneer another new work. We were so happy to meet him. He shared with us his experiences in serving in Chennai. He advised us of things that we should take note of in interacting with the Indian locals. His words proved to be valuable advice in our Indian expedition. We spent a few days with Pastor Boo and then flew to Calcutta to begin our mission.

Calcutta, India

The lay couple from our Sydney church had arrived in Cal­cutta a couple of days earlier. They were already serving in the church there. The lay couple from our Melbourne church also ar­rived on the same day. The whole mission team was warmly wel­comed by the pastor and his coworkers. We stayed in the same hotel where conditions were sub-par by Western standards. But we already had low expect­ations, and as long as the room was tidy, it was acceptable to us.

What you fear is what you get

When we arrived at the hotel, we had two rooms to choose between us and the Melbourne lay couple. We let them have the first choice and we settled for the alternative. That even­ing, the mission team sat together to discuss the agenda and to fellow­ship toget­her. We shared how we felt about the living and hygienic condit­ions of India. The Melbourne lay couple told us that before they came for the trip, they had heard about the poor hygienic conditions in India. They asked the whole church to pray for them, particu­larly about not falling sick dur­ing the mission trip and not to see any rats (which they feared most). After the fellowship meeting, we all headed back to our own rooms and rested.

In the middle of the night, we were awakened by a shriek­ing sound and also heavy rambling and trampling noises that came from the room right above us. It was the room of the Mel­bourne couple. We wondered what happened to them. After a short while, it stopped and so we continued our sleep. The next morning when we met together, they told us their horror story! They encountered what they feared the most: rats! That was why they shrieked out loud as they jumped and trampled around to avoid the sudden intru­der. After it vanished into a dark corner, they stooped down to look under the bed. To their horror, they saw mouse traps! That was a clear indication that the room was infested with rats, otherwise there would not be mouse traps under the bed. What they feared most actually happened and haunted them the whole night. They left the lights on, stayed in bed and just stared at the ceiling until daybreak.

We went with them to the hotel counter and filed a com­plaint. Fort­unately, someone just checked out and they were able to change to another room. This time the management guaranteed them that there would be no more rats! But it was an unforgettable experience for all of us.

Time for a break

In Calcutta we had a packed schedule with activ­ities that in­cluded running a children’s program, conducting Bible stud­ies, and preach­ing. We received positive feedback from the attend­ees and the pastor­al team of the church. We knew that the Spirit of God was moving, and that our labor of love was not in vain.

Each day we had three sessions: morning, afternoon, and evening. That left us no time to tour the city. The pastoral team was kind enough to set apart a day for us to take a break. The pastor’s wife took us out to tour the city. It was an eye opener for us.

The sacred cow

Calcutta is a city of over 10 million people. One could ima­gine the traffic conditions in the city. Even elephants were on the roads. Were they on the roads as a publicity stunt or as a means of trans­portation? We were told that every day the traffic, which was already in chaos without the elephants, would be com­pounded by these huge mammals trotting by your side. Oh, there were more surprises in store. Suddenly the traffic came to a standstill. Guess what? A cow was resting in the middle of the road. In the Hindu religion, cows are sacred. One is forbidden to chase away a cow by force. Policemen were there but they could not do anything to the cow. The confront­ation lasted for about 15 minutes. Finally the policemen somehow managed to persuade the cow to move to the sidewalk and traffic resumed. How strange it was to see a cow dictating the traffic.

The orphanage

Despite the heavy traffic, we made it to our first tour site, the orphanage founded by Mother Teresa. We were warned before­hand not to caress or embrace any of the orphans. The reason was that the orphans longed to be loved. If you expressed your sympathy or affection by caressing or em­brac­ing them, they would cling tight to you and never want to let you go. If you try to free yourself, they would cry and feel hurt as if they were being deserted again. So any momentary show of affect­ion might result in more trauma to the orphans.

As we were shown room by room where the orphans lived, we noticed that many of them had physical defects. When they saw us, they all responded excitedly. Some of them smiled at us. A few reacted even more emotionally by fixing their eyes on us, leaping up and down, stretching out their hands, and mum­bling something as we passed by. Our hearts were deeply trou­bled. On the one hand, we dearly wanted to embrace them. On the other hand, we were already warned of the conse­quences of being overly affectionate to these love­sick orphans. That would only create more hurt and pain after a brief moment of joy and hope. We stealthily tried to touch their hands to express our affection. They reacted with beam­ing joy, and that pierced and imprinted in our hearts an unforgettable memo­ry of them. Though we did not see Mother Teresa, we saw the fruit of her love to these orphans. She stood out as a role model for us to love the unloved.

The Home of the Destitute

Our next stop was the Home of the Destitute, whose res­idents were homeless people left for dead. They treated the place as their home where they would spend the last days of their lives. We took a tour inside the building and walked past people who were lying on their sick beds. Some of them were down to skin and bones. The atmos­phere was lifeless and grief stricken. Our hearts were heavily burdened to see that death is such a harsh reality. We had the opportunity to talk to some of workers there and to hear of their experi­ences. To serve there, you would either turn stone cold or have a big heart. Some came from different countries to serve as volunteers in this place. One can never be the same after having served as a vol­unteer in this dark and gloomy place. Some of the volunteers were not Christians, and they came for various reasons. Whatever the reasons might be, we deeply appreciated their voluntary ser­vice. May God be mer­ciful to those who show mercy!

Just a cup of tea

After taking us to see the aforementioned places, the pastor’s wife knew that our hearts were heavy. So she took us to an Indian restaurant for a treat of the authentic local food. We had a won­derful and sumptuous meal at the restaurant. Ever since we began our mission in Calcutta, we were treated with auth­entic Indian tea every day. It was an art to see the street hawkers prepare the tea which was so tasty. After the meal, the pastor’s wife asked if we wanted to order any drinks. I was planning to order tea. My dearest wife Kathleen cautioned me not to take the risk of order­ing tea. I did not heed her warning because I seldom had stomach problems. On the contrary, the lay couple from Sydney and my wife were the ones who had weak stomachs. They took extra care to choose what they ate and drank. Whereas everybody or­dered sealed bottles of dis­tilled water as a hygienic mea­sure, I ordered a cup of tea. When the waiter brought me the tea, the cup of tea was set on a bowl of hot water. I wondered if it was a customary practice. I took a sip and it tasted very good. I recommended it to my Australian team because they were tea lovers. But they declined. I enjoyed every sip and savored the last drop.

Paying for the consequence

After the meal, we were taken back to our lodging place and we called it a day. In the middle of the night, I was feeling sick with a stomach­ache. Before the break of dawn, I had already had a few diar­rhea attacks. I started to vomit and had a high fever. The lay brother from Sydney, a medical doctor, diag­nosed me as having food poisoning. All leads pointed to the cup of tea that I drank at the restaurant because no one else fell sick. Than­k God that when the lay couple from Sydney came to India, they brought along lots of medicine as a precaution. It proved to be a “life-saver” for me. I stayed in bed recuperating while the rest of the team went out to con­duct the morning and afternoon sessions. But we all prayed earnestly that I could feel well enough to attend the evening session because I was sched­uled to preach in the evening.

God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble

The diarrhea attacks continued intermittently once every two hours. I wondered if I could attend the evening session. As I meditated on the word of God, it dawned on me that God was teaching me a lesson on humility. I trusted in my­self, thinking that I had a strong stomach that could digest anything. I even laughed at my Australian team­mates for not being ventur­ous in eating and drinking. It ended up that it was I who got sick. I asked God for forgive­ness, pleading that He give me grace and strength to share in the evening.

After the afternoon session had ended, the team returned to the lodging place to see how I was faring. I was very weak and still had diarrhea attacks, but the fever sub­sided. We prayed together and then went to attend the meeting. We started the meeting with the song worship. Although I felt weak in singing along, I tried to focus on the lyrics and offered my praise to God. When I was handed the time to share after the song worship, I started with a fervent prayer and then preached the message. Amazingly, perhaps because I was so focused on the mess­age, I did not feel any stomach pain at all. I was able to preach flowingly and with conviction. I thanked God that as I hum­bled myself before Him, I exper­ienced His wonderful grace that was indeed sufficient for me in times of weakness.

When the evening session ended and we returned to the lodging place, I had diarrhea again. Instead of feeling sad that I was still sick, I felt much joy knowing that God had given me a window of opport­unity to complete the evening session by His wonderful grace and strength. I had less fre­quent diarrhea attacks over­night and it stopped completely by next after­noon.

We completed our mission in Calcutta by the grace and mercy of God. After that, our Sydney couple headed back to Sydney, whereas the Melbourne couple stayed with us and we were on our way to Nepal as our next mission.

Nepal

Before we left Sydney for our mission trip, we had emailed our coworkers in Nepal to confirm the date of our arrival. In those days, internet service was not easily accessible. After leaving Sydney, we no longer had the means to check our email to see whether or not our coworkers in Nepal had received our last email. By the time we headed to Nepal, it had been over two weeks since we left Sydney for the mission trip. Since nothing had changed, we just followed the schedule and arrived in Nepal as planned.

Taxi on strike

We were full of excitement after a successful mission trip in Calcutta. In the evening, we landed at Kathmandu airport. We got our luggage and tried to look for familiar faces that would greet us at the airport. But after waiting for some time, our Nepal coworkers did not show up. We tried to find a phone booth to contact them, but we did not have the proper change for the phone. It was already late at night, after 9:00 pm, so we decided to go into the city first and then contact them the next morning. But to our horror, we were told that the taxi drivers were on strike and there was no other trans­port­ation to go to the city. The airport shuttle buses had been long gone while we were waiting for our coworkers. We were really stranded! What a start in Nepal!

Relief on hand

While we were pondering what to do, someone ap­proached us and asked if we needed transportation to the city. He was a hotel representative, and if we stayed in his hotel, we would give us a free ride. When we asked about the hotel rate, he gave us a dis­counted rate equivalent to about US$12 a night. By Nepalese standards, it was about average for budget accom­moda­tion. In fact it was more than reasonable for us by our Austra­lian standards, so we accepted his offer. At least we wouldn’t be stranded at the airport.

Meeting with our coworkers

After a nice sleep, we got up in the morning much refreshed. We immed­iately called our coworkers using the hotel phone. They were so surprised to hear our voices and that we had arrived. They quickly rode their bicycles to the hotel to meet with us, and then took us to another budget hotel which turned out to be even cheaper and nicer. They told us that they had never received our last email and were won­dering if we had changed our mission plan to Nepal. In those days, email communication was not always reliable. It was not unusual for emails to be lost. It worked out to be a test of faith for us. Yet God never abandons us, and once again we knew that God was carving another route for us to exper­ience Him deeply.

After we settled in another hotel, we went with our coworkers to their home. It was wonderful to renew our fellow­ship with one another. They shared about how they started this work. It was very hard for them because they had to learn the Nepalese language before they could evangelize. But through their hard work and dedication, they were able to communicate with the locals and gradually they had a small group that met regularly.

They regretted that they did not receive our last email which had our flight details to Kathmandu. Due to time constraints, they could not arrange for all the members to meet with us. But they arranged for small group meetings so that we may share the word of God with them for the next couple of days. For the rest of our stay, they sug­gested that we take a mountain tour package, for that would be an excellent experience because many tourists come to Kathmandu for the sole purpose of mount­ain trekking.

Setting sight on the Annapurna mountain range

We toyed with the idea of mountain trekking, but were un­sure if we were equipped to take the mountain tour. The Melbourne couple was very keen to go. They told us that they did regular exercises and were fit to go hiking. But we had no trekking shoes for the rugged mountain terrain. The wea­ther was still very cold, and especially so if we were to go up the mountain. The mountaintop was still covered with snow. But my main concern was Kathleen’s health. She had just re­covered from pneumonia not too long ago. We wor­ried that the high altitude would be too much for her lungs to bear. But we remembered that when we were in Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, we went all the way to the top of the mountain and she felt fine. It would be an opportunity of a lifetime to trek on one of the mountain ranges near the Himalayas. Together we committed the matter to God in prayer.

After leaving our coworkers’ home and returning to our hotel, we went to the city center to inquire about the mount­ain tour package. There were quite a few selections. We chose the Annapurna-Poon Hill trek. It was a three-night and four-day package to trek to the peak of Poon Hill, 3200 meters above sea level. We were provided a tour guide and a porter. We went out shopping to equip ourselves with the basic essentials to prepare for our trek.

We spent the next two days meeting in small groups organized by our coworkers. We proclaimed the word of God to the people, and shared our test­im­onies with them. We also came to know some of them and how they had experienced God. We were mutually encour­aged in the Lord. We saw the potential of these brethren and knew that God would cause this group to flourish in fruitfulness under the leading of our dear coworkers.

Annapurna, Here we come!

We were all set to go on our Annapurna-Poon Hill trek tour. We left our heavy luggage at the hotel and went to the travel agency early in the morning. There we met our tour guide and our porter. The tour guide was a young chap who spoke a little bit of English, but the porter spoke no English at all. Anyway, we took a tour bus and arrived at the base of the mountain trek. The weather was pleasant and we started our trek around noon time.

Day 1 — 7 hours’ walk

At first we were planning to carry our own knapsacks. But the tour guide told us to leave our heavy belongings for the porter to carry. That was what he was hired to do. The porter did not look strongly built. In fact he was rather slim. We were con­cerned whe­ther he could carry all our heavy belong­ings. But the tour guide reassured us that the porter would have no problems carrying our luggage. He had teamed up with this porter before, and had seen him carrying much heavier luggage than ours. So we rear­ranged our belongings and car­ried a light­er knapsack. We left the rest of the luggage for the porter but we wondered how he was going to carry them all. What an eye opener for us! We saw him carefully putting our be­longings one by one into a big basket with a strap. Then he stooped down with his back leaning against the basket, and wrapped the strap across his forehead. He slowly got up and signaled to the tour guide that he was ready to go. We looked at him with amazement as we followed the tour guide to begin our quest up the mountain, with the porter steadily following us.

The road was not too steep and not too rough. Since it was the only way to go up the mountain, we shared the same road with donkeys that car­ried heavy loads up the mount­ain. As we progressed up the mountain, we saw quite a few locals carrying heavy loads the same way as our porter. It was their technique of carrying heavy loads. When we reached a place where we took a short break, my curiosity prompted me to ask the tour guide if I could try to carry the basket just like the porter. He smiled and gave his consent. I turned around and bent down with my back against the basket. The porter helped me put the strap across my forehead. When it was all set, the tour guide warned me to be careful and not to overly exert myself or stretch myself beyond my ability. Then he sign­aled me to stand up slowly with my forehead tilting for­ward to lift the basket. I imme­diately felt the weight pressing against my neck right down to my spine. It was so heavy that I could not even stand upright. They all signaled me to stop the experiment, and I humbly surrendered, realizing that it was no easy task to carry a heavy load this way. We deeply appreciate the labor of these porters whose profess­ion was to carry goods and supplies up the mountain.

We managed to walk up the mountain, leisurely taking photos and having short breaks. The tour guide told us that there were not many places for accommodation along the trek and that the nearest lodging place was still some distance away. He gently reminded us that if we maintained the same speed, we would not be able to make it to the lodging place until very late at night. So we picked up speed in going up the mountain. But the road became steeper and steeper. The porter remained in good composure while we were getting tired. The sun began to set around 6:00 pm and the tour guide cheered us on, saying that we were almost there. It would be best to beat the clock and make it to our lodging place before sunset because the temper­ature would plummet to a few degrees above zero. But we only had snacks after an early lunch. By now, our energy was more or less drained. Our legs were getting heavy and sore. The temperature was drop­ping. The tour guide encouraged us to press on. We strug­gled one step at a time and finally made it to the lodging place. It was a rundown shack but at least it was warm and we had our dinner there. We thanked God for a wonderful day.

Day 2 – 10 hours’ trek

We woke up early in the morning. Our legs were so sore and stiff that we found it hard to lift them. But the journey had to go on. The tour guide told us that we might need to walk for more than 8 hours to make up for the lost time. If we had started early, we could have walked at a slower pace and still make it to our next destination around sunset. We looked at the porter. He was all ready to go. There was no excuse for us but to get on our feet and move on.

Sharing our faith

We got to know the tour guide a little bit more. Most Nepal­ese are Buddhists because Nepal is a Buddhist country. Our tour guide was raised as a Buddhist when he was a child. He shared about his family and his belief. He also told us that he had been a tour guide to some Christian trekkers who shared their Christian faith with him. So we also shared our testim­onies with him and encouraged him to be open minded to explore further. He was interested in what we were saying, and would sometimes ask about the Christian faith.

Fighting the cold and hunger

We covered a lot of ground that day. But because of the stiff­ness of our legs, we were slow in hiking up the mountain. The sun had already set and we had yet to find a place for dinner. We had consumed most of our snacks and all our drinks but we were still very hungry. We finally arrived at a rest­ing place and stopped for dinner. It was already past 8:00 pm. We ordered food and hoped that the people could serve us faster, but the woman told us they did not have enough cooked rice and we had to wait for them to cook more. We had no choice but to wait for them to cook the rice. Mean­while we were sitting in an open area fighting the cold and hunger. Finally, after waiting for over 45 minutes, food was served before us.

Uninvited intruder

Our Melbourne brother was eager to give thanks to God for the wonderful hot dinner. While we shut our eyes and were listen­ing to him giving thanks to God, sud­denly we heard some flap­ping noise. Something had landed on the table, with the noise getting louder and too close for comfort. As soon as our dear brother finished his thanksgiving prayer, we opened our eyes and what a sight! There was an uninvited intruder, a hen, standing on the table with one of her claws stepping on the plate of rice in front of our Melbourne bro­ther. We all burst out screaming, and the lady who served us rushed out from her shack and grabbed the hen.

Our dear brother’s plate of rice was spoiled but there was no more rice left! He looked dismayed as he stared at his plate of rice. We all wanted to contribute our rice to supple­ment his, but he declined and just brushed aside the portion of rice that the hen had stepped on and consumed the rest. We deeply appre­ciated his response because all along he did not burst in anger. He was the one who gave thanks for the food, and Satan played a trick on us. But we maintained our peace. We finished dinner and headed to find a place for accommo­dation. By the time we arrived, it was already past 10:00 pm. It was a long and mem­orable day.

Day 3 – Arriving at the foot of Poon Hill

We started early again after a good night’s rest. Our legs were not as sore and stiff as before. It looked like we were getting in shape after two days of trekking. We enjoyed the scenic view­­­­­­­ as we strolled up the mountain. This time we arrived before sun­set at the main lodge at the foot of Poon Hill. Many trekkers had already arrived. We had nice hot drinks and a good dinner. The temperature was getting a bit lower because we were already in higher altitude.

The tour guide told us to sleep early because we would have to start going up Poon Hill at 2:30 am if we were to see the sunrise at 6:30 am. He also cautioned us that it would be freezing cold overnight, and advised us to dress warmly and be ready for the early morning trek. We were concerned about Kathleen, as to whether her lungs could stand such bitter cold and high altitudes. But she said that so far, apart from the stiff­ness of her leg muscles, she felt fine. So we gath­ered together to pray and com­mitted our morning trek to our loving Father, seeking His mercy and grace to face our ultimate challenge.

We tried to hit the bed early at 9:00 pm but the room was getting colder and colder. We put on all our warm clothes but still found it hard to sleep in the freezing cold. We were wondering how we could ever manage to go up Poon Hill with the bitter cold temper­ature in the wee hours of early morning. No sooner had we fallen into sleep than we were woken by our tour guide. It was already 2:00am.

Day 4 – Poon Hill

As we gathered together, we all shared that we did not have a good night’s sleep. The tour guide and the porter were used to it and were ready to go up the mountain. As for the Melbourne couple, they said they were eager to take up the challenge. So we prayed together for God’s mercy and then started our quest at 2:30 am to reach the top of Poon Hill.

The strong fell

Many trekkers had gone ahead of us. The trek became steeper and more hilly than before. The air was fresh but bitter cold. We had to walk a bit faster to keep warm. After half an hour of walking uphill, suddenly our Melbourne sister stopped. She felt dizzy and was faint­ing. That took us by surprise. Among the four of us from Australia, she was the fittest, and did regular exercises and walk­ing. Even after the first three days of trekking, she felt less sore on the legs than any of us. But now, after only half an hour of walking, she felt dizzy and was short of breath.

Team’s decision: Go or withdraw

We waited a few minutes to see if she might improve. But she looked pale and was leaning against the rocky hill. Kathleen had an ointment which she would often carry with her in case of headache or dizziness. She gave it to the Melbourne sister. Her husband suggested that Kathleen and I forge ahead while they abandon the trek. But we felt that we would either go up together or withdraw together.

Pray for healing

The tour guide and the porter joined us as we huddled toget­her and prayed to God for the Melbourne sister. After the prayer, she said she felt much better. We thanked God for His immed­iate deliverance. Even the tour guide was so stunned that he praised God. He told us that he too exper­ienced the power of our Almighty God. Indeed! Yahweh our God reigns Supreme. He is our Helper, our Stronghold and our Shelter. So we forged on in high spirits but at a slower pace. We knew that we might miss seeing the sunrise but at least we would have gone up Poon Hill.

Perfect timing

On our way up, many trekkers hurriedly went past us to the top of Poon Hill. They wanted to catch the first glimpse of sunrise. Mean­while our Melbourne sister recovered fully and we managed to speed up a little. The clock was ticking away and it was already 6:00 am. We were still a few hundred meters from the top. We had tried our best, but it felt so near yet so far. It was daunting to rush up to the top of the moun­tain in 15 minutes. Kathleen bid me to go faster so that at least one of us could take a photo of the sunrise. So I picked up pace and tried my best to trek up the hill. I was still about a hun­dred meters from the top when I turned back and looked at the rest of the team. Then to my utter delight, I saw the sun coming out from the top of the mountain range. I immediately called out to them, and pointed to the rising sun. God is wonder­ful! We didn’t need to reach the top of the mountain to catch the first glimpse of the sunrise. We were all jumping with exceeding joy that we saw the sun rise at Poon Hill. After taking some snapshots, we continued to go up until we reached the top of Poon Hill. We thanked God that we had accom­plished the ultimate challenge of reaching the summit.

The summit was actually quite flat like a plateau. But immediate­ly we felt the gusty wind and freezing temperatures. We could not stand for more than 5 minutes before our hands and faces were frozen and I could not take any photos. It was so unbearably cold on the mount­aintop that we quick­ly retreated downhill. We pitied the trekkers who whisked past us on the way up. They were waiting on top of the mountain against the gusty wind and sub-zero temperat­ures. The earlier they arrived at the summit, the longer they had to endure the bitter cold. All the more, we thanked God for giving us perfect timing to go up to the top of the mountain. We were able to see the sunrise and our bodies were still warm because we were always on the move.

Down the Snowy Hill

For the descent from the top of Poon Hill, the tour guide took us along another route. It was another unusual exper­ience. The path was covered with snow, and at times we could not even see it. It was also quite bushy. But that proved to be a great help because sometimes when there was no visible path, we would bend our knees and slide down from bush to bush. It was lots of fun yet quite dangerous, for we could miss catching the bush while sliding down the slope.

Most rewarding news

We had gone through all kinds of trek conditions including steep and snowy slopes. But we finally managed to make it down to the foot of the hill by late afternoon. We took the tour bus back to Kathmandu. We bid good­bye to our tour guide and our porter. We became friends, and the most rewarding news of all was that the tour guide said he had experienced God and had found his new faith in the Only True God. (We maintained contact through emails, and years later, he told us that he and his wife got baptized and had become Christians.)

In this mountain trek, we completed our ultimate chal­lenge of reaching the top of Poon Hill and seeing the sunrise. If we boast, we boast in the Lord (1Cor.1:31) to accomplish the feat. We learned that despite our phy­sical weakness, God’s mercy and grace empow­ered us to complete such a feat. May Yahweh our loving God be highly exalted, for He deserves all honor and praise.

As we departed from Kathmandu, the Melbourne couple headed back home to Australia while we were on our way to our next venture: New Delhi, India.

New Delhi, India

When our coworkers in Nepal found out that our next stop was New Delhi, they told us that they had been there before, and shared with us their good and bad experiences. They gave us some advice as to where we should go for sightseeing given the few days we were to stay in New Delhi. They also warned us about what we had to watch out for, and this proved to be valuable information. They suggested a district called Pahar­ganj where we could get relatively low budget accommodation.

New Delhi airport: Encountering deception

Kathleen and I were all set to go to New Delhi, and arrived at New Delhi airport in the evening. After we picked up our lug­gage, we went to the counter as suggested by our coworkers, where we could book our train tickets for our sightseeing tour. At the counter, we told the clerk that we would like to book a train tour to Taj Mahal and the Pink City given the few days that we will stay in New Delhi. The clerk worked out a train schedule for us, and the train tour would cost about US$200. He demanded everything to be paid in cash in US currency. We told him that we did not have enough US currency to pay for the train fares. He asked how much US money we had on hand. We had only about US$80. He then formulated another train schedule for us, and right on the dot it cost us US$80. It made us wonder how he could empty our pocket of US money with such pre­cision. But at least we booked the train tickets, and it was already past 9:00 pm. We were the last customers and the clerk closed the count­er right after we got our tickets. Before he closed the counter, we asked where we could get a taxi. We were fore­warned by our coworkers that people will approach us to take a ride in their taxis. We would be ripped off unless we went to the “Government Approved” counter at the airport to hire a taxi. The counter clerk also told us to go to a certain counter for a “Govern­ment Approved” taxi, and cautioned us not to go to the wrong counter.

“Government Approved”

We went to the counter as directed by the train counter clerk, but it was already closed. We were about the only tour­ists left at the airport. As we went towards the exit, someone called us and we saw a counter that was still open for busi­ness. We went over and the clerk asked if we were looking for a taxi. We said yes. Then she raised a signboard with the words “Government Approved” written on it. She told us that we had come to the right counter. We asked her how much is the taxi to Pahar­ganj. She checked the fares and told us that it will cost 400 rupees. What a shock! That was way off the mark of what our Nepal coworkers had told us. We thanked them for warning us or else we would have taken the bait especially when we were desperate for transportation to Paharganj. So we told the clerk that it was too much. Then she reduced it by 50 rupees. We suspected that it was fake. We left immediately while she was yelling for us to come back for further negotiation.

We passed on a few other counters, and again there was a counter where the clerk asked us if we were looking for a taxi. Again she waved a signboard with the words “Govern­ment Approved” on it. We knew it was another fake oper­ation but for curiosity’s sake, we approached her and asked how much it would cost to go to Pahar­ganj. She said 350 rupees. At least that was 50 rupees cheaper than our first offer. We bargained and she reduced it to 300 rupees, which was still about double the amount our coworkers had told us. So we left and did not bother to respond to many other counters along the way which waved the same signboard, “Govern­ment Approved”. How deceptive! There should be only one “Govern­ment Approved” counter for hiring a taxi. Yet there was a whole line of counters with a ready-made “Govern­ment Approved” sign­board. We wondered why there was no police intervention against such blatantly fake operations.

When we approached the airport exit, we saw a soldier standing there guarding the door. We stopped and asked him where we could find the “Government Approved” taxi counter. He shook his head and spoke in a local dialect. Apparently he did not understand English. We exited the airport and wonder­ed where we could hire a taxi. Then someone approached us and asked if we were looking for a taxi. He showed us an identity card with “Government Approved” stamp on it. When we asked him for the taxi fare to Paharganj, he gave us a quote of 300 rupees. Without our approval, he tried to move our luggage. We stopped him and asked for a better bargain. While I was negotiating with him over the taxi fare, Kathleen was glancing around, and all of a sudden, she saw a neon signboard some distance yonder from which she vaguely made out the word “Taxi”. She said we should walk over to that signboard. Once the person saw that we were head­ing to­ the signboard, he followed us and reduced the fare to 200 rupees. We knew for sure that he was another count­erfeit operator, so we ignored his pursuit and finally got to the right taxi counter. The taxi fare turned out to be 160 rupees and the counter clerk even cautioned us that the fare covers everything and we did not need to pay anything extra even if the driver demanded more. The clerk gave us the license plate number of the correct taxi, and we had to search for it. Finally the driver approached us and led us to his taxi. We checked the license plate and hopped into the back seats because there was another person already occupying the front seat. We did not really care who that person was because by that time, it was already around 10:00 pm. But at least we were riding on a “Government Approved” taxi.

Searching for accommodation

We told the taxi driver to take us to the hotel recommended by our coworkers. When the taxi driver arrived at the street, it was jam-packed with people even though it was late at night around 11:00pm. He stopped the car and told us that our hotel was in the middle of the street. He requested another 20 rupees to drive into the street. We were already told by the counter clerk not to give extra money to the dri­ver. So we told him to drive us right to the hotel. He refused to go if we did not pay him extra money. It was highway robbery! He was so rude that we decided to exit the taxi and get our luggage. He and his friend got out of the taxi, opened the trunk, and threw our luggage out near the ditch, and sped off. We were left there picking up our luggage and we strolled on to find our hotel.

Actually it was not far to the hotel. When we walked in, there in front of us was a tourist yelling at the receptionist for a refund. She complained about the room being filthy and having no hot water for a shower. There was a heated argu­ment and we just stood there waiting. Finally she got her refund and as she turned around and saw us, she told us not to stay in the hotel. It turned out that she too was a Canadian. We asked her where she would be going for hotel accommo­dation. She told us to follow her and we ended up going to her intended hotel which was also for low budget accommo­da­tion. We asked her how to get to the train station because we would be taking an early train. She said that it was within walking distance from the hotel, and that it would take her only 15 minutes to get there.

A room to lay our heads

We arrived at the hotel and the Canadian woman bid us good­bye while we went to the hotel counter to book our ac­commo­dation. At first the recept­ionist told us that the hotel was already fully booked. We were so disap­pointed and did not know what to do. We told her that we would stay only a few hours overnight because we had to leave at 5:30 am to catch the train. She then told us that there was a room clean enough to stay for the night, but was not really the best. In desperation, we took it.

When we entered the room, it had a stinky smell. The bed sheet was obviously used. We had to request a clean bed ­sheet. When we took a shower and turned the tap to the maximum, we only got a slow drip of cold water with oc­casional flushes of hot water. The room had no window. All it had was an open­ing at top of the door that allowed in some fresh air as well as outside noise. Nonethe­less, we counted it a blessing to have a bed to lay our head. We thanked God for an extraor­dinary day of events. Somehow we felt that God was teaching us to learn discernment and that this was only the beginning of the lesson.

Friends or foes?

The night was late and we had only a few hours left for sleep. We set the alarm clock to 5:00 am, which would give us ample time to catch the 6:15 am train. Early in the morn­ing, after checking out at the counter, we departed from the hotel to walk on the streets carry­ing our heavy luggage. A tri­cycle was waiting at the front of the hotel ready for hire. But since the Canadian lady told us that it takes only 15 minutes to walk to the train station, we did not take the tricycle. The driver was trailing us as we forged ahead. But after dragging the heavy luggage for about five minutes, I was already ex­hausted. And seeing no end of the street, we stopped walking and got onto the tricycle instead. It was actually quite a dis­tance to the end of the street and we were happy that we took the tricycle instead.

The driver stopped at the end of the street and asked us to get off. We paid the fare and asked for directions to the train station. But he mumbled something in a local dialect, and then whisked away back in the direction of the hotel. We were left in the dark not knowing where the train station was. Suddenly three local men approached us and asked if we were going to the train station. They looked friendly and polite. We said “Yes!” So they offered to lead us to the train station. One of them started to help us by taking the luggage. We hesitated, for who were they, friends or foes? Seeing that we were pressed for time and there was no taxi nearby, we decided to take our chances and follow them. But after walking across the street, they were leading us to a darker and darker place. Our instincts told us not to follow them. Suddenly we remembered that God was teaching us to have discernment. We stopped and asked them where they were taking us. They tried to reassure us that they were taking us in the right direction. They were tall men and were sur­rounding us as if trying to block our vision. But Kathleen kept looking yonder and suddenly she saw the lights in the opposite direction. She told me to go towards the light instead of following these “friendly” locals.

We seized our luggage, thanked them for their help, and started moving towards the light. They were still following us and saying that they would take us to the train station. As we approached closer to the lights, we clearly saw that it was the train station. The three locals then vanished. We thanked our Father that He alerted us not to follow these locals and pro­tected us from being lured into their evil snares. How fright­ening it would be if we had followed them.

In the nick of time

What a relief that we finally made it to the train station. When we entered the station, it was already crowded. We looked at the huge train schedule signboard, and was very confused about which plat­form to board our train. It was already 6:00 am. We tried to ask the locals and showed them our train tickets, but they could not speak English. We looked around but could not find an inform­ation desk. I asked Kathleen to stay put while I went to the counter to ask for directions. But there were long lineups at all the counters. I gave up and went back to Kathleen. We were really desper­ate be­cause time was slipping away. We were so near yet so far, and could not find our way to the right train platform. While we were silently crying to God for help, suddenly an elderly man ap­proached us and asked if we needed help. We were overjoyed that he could speak English. We showed him our train tickets and he pointed to the sign­board and indi­cated the correct platform. He even told us how to get to the platform. We were so thankful for his help and with minutes to go, we lugged our luggage and dashed to the platform. We climbed one story, ran along a long alley, and then des­cended to the correct platform. We located our train com­partment, and right after we hopped into it, the train started moving. What a start for the day! We thanked God that we made it to the train in the nick of time.

Conclusion

When we booked our trip to New Delhi, we thought it would be a short break for us after completing our mission to Calcutta and Nepal. But we got more than we bargained for. Apart from enjoying the tour to Taj Mahal and the Pink City, we learned the precious lesson of spiritual discernment. If we were not in tune with the Holy Spirit, we would have been deceived many times. The deception could have even been life threatening. But God came to our rescue when we quieted down our hearts­ and listened to His leading. It reminds us of what the psalmist wrote in Psalm 46:1,10, that God is our refuge in times of trouble.

Psalm 46:1,10 1God is our refuge and strength, abundantly available for help, a very present help in trouble … 10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen. I will be exalted in the earth.

If we quiet down, be still, and acknowledge Him as our God, He will surely come to our rescue. All glory and honor be to God! We were full of exaltation in the presence of our loving Father as we ended our mission trip on our way back to Sydney.

(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church