In May 2017, my dear friend Chandler and I are headed to Nepal for just over three weeks and will be trekking to Everest Base Camp as well as spending time in and around Kathmandu. In a lot of ways it’s a “normal” trip – not unlike many international adventures I’ve taken before. But for me, this is also a trip and a destination backed by more than a decade of dreaming. Going to Nepal is an adventure, yes, but it’s also a story of redemption and God’s faithfulness and timing and the ways He weaves goodness into our lives in whimsical and freeing ways. It's a story of learning to say yes to the things that pulse in our hearts. It’s a story I wanted to start to write out as we prepare to go, continue as we’re there, and after that? Well, your guess is as good as mine.
Here’s part I:
I think I was 14 or 15.
It’s hard to remember the exact details of that age or hone in on a precise moment(s) when something catalyzes in your heart and becomes a piece of you in an almost unexpected and unexplainable way.
It was a huge book – full of grainy, low-quality images and expedition notes - outlining the events surrounding the first ascent of the world’s tallest peak. Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay were the heroes and the rugged and unpredictable masses of South Asia’s Himalayan mountain range acted as both the gorgeous setting and the dangerous protagonist.
I was enamored.
By the adventure and the ruggedness. By the sheer beauty and size of the Himalayas. By the whole narrative surrounding the expedition and the global crew and audience. By the speculation that such a summit would kill these men, and by the victorious celebration of such an outrageous feat accomplished.
It was fuel to my already deep love for mountains and travel, and was a discovery that catalyzed reading more and more books about mountaineering adventures, climbing memoirs, and travel documentaries. I pinned and labeled my world map with the tallest peaks on every continent and dreamed of the day(s) I’d be the one climbing those mountains and writing those stories. I was (and to this day remain) hooked.
But there was another player in the story that captivated me too in a way that felt almost like turning on a switch in my heart: the peoples and villages and cities and culture(s) of the nation in which Mt. Everest makes its home: Nepal
Nepal is a small nation nestled in-between two global super-powers, home to many of the tallest mountain peaks on the planet, and boasts the vast majority of Asia’s fresh water supply. It’s a tiny piece of land and a modest population (by Asian standards at least), yet crippled with decades of political corruption, extreme poverty, and natural disasters.
From the first encounter with Nepal and for years following, I couldn’t read or watch enough about it. I picked up Lonely Planet travel guides and every article or book I could find about this small nation, started reading about the history, culture, religion(s), and development of South Asia, researched missions organizations and NGOs working in South Asia, and started reading every UN report and prayer guide I could find related to Nepal. I dreamed continuously of when I would get to go.
I was particularly enthralled with the iconic images of Buddhist prayer flags waving in the wind, the bright blocks of colour standing in stark contrast to the clean white of the snow-capped Himalayas. I loved the idea behind them: that these prayers written on flags acted as continuous prayers into the wind – prayers of gratitude for life and beauty and prayers of petition for safety and provision and mutual compassion. They felt like living psalms to me: poetry and gratitude and praise waving in the wind. And yet, my heart broke because this beautiful expression meant to represent both surrender and delight, was an expression with good intent but an incomplete end. It was rooted in humanistic ideals, rather than praise to the living and gracious and merciful God who crafted the rolling hills and the mighty peaks.
So, at 16, I made my own: designing flags with psalms of worship, transcribed onto blocks of coloured fabric the bold curves of Hebrew characters and others with New Testament verses of praise transcribed with the blockish letters of the text’s original Greek. I hung the string of homemade flags in my teenage bedroom – above walls covered peppered by posters of Team Canada hockey, David Beckham, Steve Prefontaine, Mia Hamm, and rock-climbing and mountain photography.
Somewhere in there, I had fallen in love with a place I had never been before and with people I had not yet had the chance to meet. Nepal became a part of me, a part of my life-plan, a regular part of my prayers, and for the most part, I had no definitive reason why: it had simply and definitively captured a piece of my heart.
I think I’ve known a few things about myself and about life from a really early age that have not only stayed the same, but grown with depth as time has progressed:
one: I love Jesus.
two: I love mountains.
three: I love cultures and travel and am passionate about international issues, international missions, & international development.
Certainly, the third of these three dimensions is the most nuanced and has grown with focus and depth as my education and experience has followed these directions, but these three things have both consciously and unconsciously have guided and influenced nearly everything about my life.
Eventually my growing teenage interest and passions fueled university and graduate study: diving deep into issues of political economy, frameworks for effective and sustainable development in poverty-entrenched nations, debates surround the democratization of the “developing” world, exploring the use of sports and outdoor recreation in the context of international development and as a tool for reconciliation, peace, and leadership development, research into the geopolitical tensions in Asia over water, and, an extensive exploration into climate refugees and the challenges faced by internally and externally displaced people groups.
My research and education went deep and wide, catalyzing passion in my heart in ways I couldn’t have imagined, but also opening my eyes to grave injustice, historic and continuing oppression, and repeatedly breaking my heart with the sheer depth and reach of evil that exists in the world.
And yet, through it all: as passions for particular countries and issues increased and found focus, two countries/regions kept and maintained a hold on my heart in a way that stood out above the rest: the stunning torn-apart-by-civil-war-genocide-and-rebel-strife region/nations of East Africa and Nepal: the mountainous South Asian nation that had held a grip on my heart for longer than I could even remember.
I didn't know you could so deeply love places you've never been, weep with such authentic sorrow and sadness for marginalized populations on the other side of the planet, or that your heart could be so captivated by beauty (in peoples and places) you had yet to behold with your own eyes.
I still don't understand it, really...