Kirk and I are flying home from Nepal.  I have a favorite song from John and Anne Barbour called “For Such a Time as This” that this trip brings to mind.   I’m going to take the time to write out most of the words because they are so good:

 

I’ve built my house here alongside this mountain, 

this rugged mountain that stands so tall.

I’ve built a good life above the lowlands.

It’s more than I’d asked for…but less than I dreamed.

I’ve often heard a voice call down to me:

‘If you’d climb higher, you’d find wondrous things to see.’

 

But the way is steep…and a storm may come…

 

For such a time as this, isn’t it much too great a risk?

I’ve never flown from the edge of a cliff, never walked on the water.

But if I turn away, how will I know what I have missed?

Have I waited all of my life, for such a time as this?

 

I’ve been content to not ask those questions that stir the rivers and move the waves.

The windless waters are so much more peaceful.

They calm my spirit in silent song.

But I’ve often wondered what’s eluding me, 

The yearning meant to free me from complacency.

 

But the way is steep…and a storm may come…

 

For such a time as this, isn’t it much too great a risk?

I’ve never flown from the edge of a cliff, never walked on the water.

But if I turn away, how will I know what I have missed?

Have I waited all of my life, for such a time as this?

 

Sometimes the thrill of soaring has to begin with the fear of falling.

 

I’ve confessed in these updates before that I am not an adventurer.  I have an incredibly self-protective nature.  I hate to be tired, cold, or hungry.  And I very much like to be safe.  I had such an active imagination for all the ways I could possibly undergo death or serious injury in my childhood that my patient father spent many a countless night comforting me to sleep.  My Christian faith and belief in the reality of heaven has tempered these fears, but I still have an active imagination and pray for God’s grace and mercy in saving me from anything terrifying.  My fleshly nature could hang up this international missionary gig in an instant.

I went to Nepal for Kirk.  He is an adventurer.  He is not self-protective.  He will go anywhere to serve the Lord.  And he prefers his wife go with him.  In my mind I had a thousand excuses why I shouldn’t go on this trip this year.

 

But the way is steep…and a storm may come…

 

I couched my resistance in very practical, financial terms.   On his birthday we received a generous donation and I felt like, once again, the Lord was reminding me to trust Him with resources because He has always been incredibly faithful and generous with us on that score.  I told Kirk to book the trip.  He told me it was the best birthday present he received.

It was my third trip to Nepal and at least Kirk’s fifth.  Our good friends from Mayo Clinic Dr. Allison Cabalka, a pediatric cardiologist that specializes in catheter interventions, and Dr. Sheri Crow, a pediatric intensive care (PICU) specialist, have over many years developed a relationship with the pediatric cardiac program in Kathmandu.  They’ve recruited other specialists including surgeons, anesthesiologists, perfusionists (who are in charge of cardiac bypass during heart surgery), nurses, and child life specialists to join them on this annual trip with the goal of improving pediatric cardiac care in Nepal.  We spend time in the operating room, heart catheterization lab, and intensive care unit in two hospitals.  And over the last three years, we’ve all been honored to present at the Cardiac Society of Nepal conference.

On the first day of the conference, Kirk was honored with giving the keynote address on “when not to intervene.”  He feels it may have been the most important of his medical career.  In fifteen years of international medical mission work, we’ve witnessed the allure of “doing something,” when actually doing nothing in certain circumstances might result in longer life and greater health for the patients we are trying to help.  Kirk challenged us as physicians to examine our motives for intervening medically, to properly appraise our skill and the capacity of the systems we work in, and, as Hippocrates challenged us, to “first do no harm.”  It was challenging for even the Westerners in the room.  I’m completely biased but I was so proud it brought tears to my eyes.  On the second day, he gave a talk on echocardiography, ultrasound of the heart, his specialty.  A Nepali physician came up to him and said “yesterday you gave a very philosophical talk and I thought you were a philosopher.  Today you gave a very technical talk and I realized you were a scientist.  You are a very fascinating man.  I need to talk to you more.”  His keynote generated many thoughtful private discussions with many Nepali physicians.  One physician wrote him an e-mail and said “you asked and answered many questions that I was thinking about.  How did you know?  God must be in you and everywhere.”

 

I’ve been content to not ask those questions…

 

The time in Kathmandu is not hard duty.  Yes, it’s a long trip and, yes, we are jet lagged (meeting criteria for only one out of my three most hated things).  But that’s where the hardship ends.  The American team members love the reunion and fellowship of being together.  We love our quaint little Summit Hotel, where the staff remember us and treat us so incredibly well.  We enjoy the reunion with our Nepali colleagues and friends as well.  They are so gracious to us.  And of course it is gratifying to think we could maybe have some small part in helping them in their earnest goal to improve care for their patients.  And to see a glimpse into what the Lord is up to in hearts and minds as a result of something that we might have said or done is sufficient reward.  I think because the trip is so good is part of why I marvel at it.  It’s part of why we have such a hard time understanding grace.  The gospel teaches that our eternal salvation is the free gift of God gained solely by accepting Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for our sins.  We so badly want to DO something.  We feel we must earn it somehow.  I think I have a similar psychology when I serve internationally.  If it doesn’t require some grueling, dramatic self-sacrifice, I think I haven’t DONE anything.

I had such joy on this trip.  I kept thinking of Galatians 5:22: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  As Christians, we talk about and desire to exhibit these things as evidence for the hope that is within us.  But I really started to see them differently on this trip as gifts from God.  I take one tiny step and agree to go on a trip, knowing I was serving the Lord but mostly doing so to please my husband, and God blows my mind with the palpable experience of joy, peace, goodness, love.

 

‘If you’d climb higher, you’d find wondrous things to see.’

 

After three days in Kathmandu (one at the hospital and two at the conference), we flew west to Pokhara to conduct a two-day pediatric “heart camp” on behalf of the Jayanti Memorial Trust (a foundation named for a former Nepali princess that provides funding for medical care for needy Nepali’s).  Now we were getting into some territory where maybe I was DOING something.  The trip involves a flight on Buddha Air.  As a professional collector of tragic stories, I know the history of Nepali planes running into mountains.  I told Allison’s husband Jeff at the airport in Kathmandu that if I weren’t married to Kirk, I would not personally choose to be part of such adventures.  After a safe and beautiful flight demonstrating the grandeur of the Himalayas, we were transported to the Fish Tail Lodge, which is owned and run by the Trust as a means of support.  What a jaw-droppingly beautiful tropical (!) oasis in this Nepali town where countless tourists initiate their Himalayan trek.  C.S. Lewis has a book called “Surprised by Joy.”  I understand the sentiment.  I kept telling Kirk my mind was blown by the goodness of God.  We were able to screen a number of children.  We were able to give a lot of good news, which is such a pleasure and relief.  And we were able to find two children whose lives will be helped and changed by heart surgery.  And God blessed us with this wonderful experience that I would have missed if I had let my fears win.

 

Sometimes the thrill of soaring has to begin with the fear of falling.

 

On our last night in Pokhara, Jeff, Allison, Kirk and I had dinner with a Nepali Christian who serves in ministry in Pokhara.  His story was so profoundly encouraging it would have been worth the entire trip just to hear it.  Christians are a very small minority in Nepal.  His heritage goes back three generations and he is part of the very first Christian church established, by his grandfather, in Nepal.  Romans 8:28 tells us that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  Actually both of his grandfathers’ stories so exemplify that.  One lost his mother and was being abused by his stepmother, so fled to India as a child.  He had his hand blown up when he put a bullet into a fire, on the advice of a friend, to see if it was gold.  The Indian hospital he went to would not take care of him.  He ended up being taken care of by Western Christian missionaries.  His other grandfather had lost his entire family and two wives to small pox.  He fled to India truly seeking answers to the questions generated by his miserable life.  Someone directed him to these same missionaries.  These two women had been called to Nepal but due to its closed borders at that time were unable to enter.  So for sixteen years they worked on the border and prayed that Nepali’s would come to them.  The first Christian church in Nepal was born out of tragedy and obedience and patience and persistence.  This man reminded us that you never know what God is up to.  Their church planted a church in a remote part of Nepal and it went terribly.  It was so challenging that missionary marriages and faiths were destroyed.  He always considered it a failure.  He was recently invited to speak in that village and hundreds of youths came to hear him speak, products of that “failed” church, the fruit of tragedy and obedience.

 

I’ve often wondered what’s eluding me, the yearning meant to free me from complacency.

 

Another simple act of obedience to Jesus’ call in Mark 16:15 to “go into all the world.”  Another chance to be reminded how indescribably good I have it to be born and live in the U.S.  I did nothing to deserve this incredible gift.  I need to go elsewhere, regularly, to be reminded.  Another opportunity to see evidence of God at work.  He doesn’t need us to accomplish His purposes.  But He let’s us join Him.  Another privilege to experience the overwhelming goodness of God.  “Give, and it will be given to you.  They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over (Luke 6:38).”

 

if I turn away, how will I know what I have missed?