Today I leave for Kathmandu. This will be my 21st visit to a country and a people that I love.
Reports indicate that 40% of the country was affected by the earthquake, 11 of Nepal’s 39 districts “severely” affected. The numbers, updated hourly, just get worse and worse—this morning confirming over 5, 000 dead, more than 10, 000 injured, & at least 500, 000 displaced.
Of course these staggering figures aren’t even close to the real loss… The hundreds of remote & inaccessible villages that will take weeks to reach have already begun to cremate their dead.
And certainly the loss of so many of Nepal’s cultural, religious, & historical heritage—all important to human identity & memory—is tragic. But temples & buildings can be rebuilt, the lives lost can’t be replaced.
As the world mourns with Nepal, many of us are wondering how we can help.
Over the past 20 years, my wife Phileena and I have worked with an amazing Nepali couple. Their generosity is exemplary. Gautham and Rekha Rai are really among our world’s great souls.
Gautham Rai is a refugee from Bhutan. He and our friend Silas met nearly thirteen years ago on the streets of Kathmandu, Nepal. Gautam had opened a small momo stall in a closet-sized kitchen where he made and sold the traditional Tibetan dumplings.
Living in a tiny flat with hardly any amenities, Silas ate most of his meals on the street. Once he found Gautham’s momo stall, he quickly became a regular—often having several meals there a day. Gautham and Silas slowly built a friendship; they ate together and talked about their lives, families and faith. Gautham, an animated story teller, would recount stories from his childhood, his move to the city and the early days of his marriage.
He was married to Rekha, a woman from a village in the southern plains of Nepal. At that point they had two young children. The family was struggling just to get by so at night they slept in the momo stand.
Gautham was interested in matters of faith. He was a Hindu, but when he was a child, his mother had been exposed to the Christian faith before she died. One day Gautham asked Silas if he was a Christian. Responding affirmatively, Silas asked how he knew. Gautham responded, “I saw you praying before you ate your momos. My mother used to pray like that.” He continued, “If you ever have any spare time, I would like to know more about Jesus.”
Dipa, the baby daughter of Gautham and Rekha, experienced occasional but violent seizures. During those frightening times, Rekha would grab Dipa and carry her up the mountain to Swyambhu, the monkey temple. There she would have a Hindu/animistic shaman perform a prayer to send away the spirit which caused Dipa’s seizures.
Each episode was traumatic for the family. Silas asked Gautham if he could pray for them and for baby Dipa. Over the course of several months, Silas and the family became very close, eating most of their meals together. They continued sharing stories and a deep and lasting trust was being established.
Dipa had another violent seizure. Once again, Rekha rushed Dipa to the temple, but this time the door to the shaman’s room was locked tight. Deeply distressed, Rekha was certain the baby would die. Gautham wanted to give the Christian God he had been hearing about from Silas a chance to heal Dipa. Against Rekha’s tearful protests, he went home with their precious daughter.
Gautham laid the baby down and with Rekha’s lipstick made a red symbol of the cross on Dipa’s forehead as a substitute for the Hindu tika chalk mark. He placed a Bible on Dipa’s chest and stomach. He prayed a simple, humble prayer and Dipa’s seizure stopped. It was her last one and Gautham became convinced that the Christian God was powerful.
When he told Silas the story, it opened up a very intimate exploration of faith and Gautam soon asked how he could serve Christ. His life changed drastically, though Rekha still wasn’t convinced. Her heart softened but she was deeply committed to Hinduism and the conversion of her husband created some division in their home. It took another two years before she made a decision to serve Christ and remove the Hindu idols from their household.
Since then, Rekha and Gautam have become pillars of hope and faith in their community. They retired from the momo business and discovered a vocation in childcare. It started when they opened their home to children orphaned on the streets of Kathmandu. Moved by a profound sense of compassion, they took a few little girls into their home and cared for them as if they were family. It wasn’t long before more and more children started coming. Gautham and Rekha found ways to add more mattresses to a small and already overcrowded flat.
Silas reflects on the impact of the friendship on his life and on the ways it has given him hope in God’s ongoing work. Gautam and Rekah and Silas and his wife Kim lived together for two and a half years. Through this shared experience of meals and living space, they established an intimacy that dismantled misperceptions that had previously limited mutual trust. They learned to confront and defer to one another. Mutual submission in decision-making meant that in later years, when Gautam and Rekha began assuming more and more responsibility, the leadership process was already established.
By living together they became far more than work associates or co-laborers. Lives were interwoven through shared experiences and memories, late night conversations on the roof, babies born and raised together, caring for each other through malaria, dysentery, pregnancies and typhoid. Silas says, “We could almost complete what the other person was saying. There was safety and trust in being so well known by others—and still loved and trusted in spite of it.”
Today Gautham and Rekha run a wonderful children’s home that feels like a big family. But we know our family there is hurting this week. The word from Kathmandu is that the city is without water, electricity and fuel. If you’re looking for places to donate to the relief effort, consider getting behind the good folks at charity:water who are already on the ground providing immediate relief and doing their best to ensure clean drinking water will be available to those in need. (With charity:water you can always count on 100% of your gifts going directly to the relief effort.)
Meanwhile, I’ll be with Gautham and Rekha in Kathmandu, helping out where I can and continuing to learn from them what faithfulness looks like in times like these.