Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Nepal 7: Walking with Jesus

An adventure entails a breaking and stretching beyond the norm of your own physical limits and endurance.
Little did I know that my last week’s post about my upcoming Adventure/Breaking New Horizons trip for a week into the Nepali mountains to somewhere I’d never gone before would be so true.
Our morning ride from Kathmandu was more than merely interesting: descending the Trisuli River by bus jolted me out of the ordinary! Ours hurtled around mountain-clinging switchbacks, snaked its way along the whitewater, jockeyed with dump-trucks, fuel tankers and other transports for first place in some death-defying chase down the valley. Surprises confronted every turn, even if I couldn’t see them very clearly through the grimy windows from my wrong side of the bus for eyeing scenery on the river side. But maybe that wasn’t so bad after all: for what came into view were too many abandoned wreckages that hadn’t quite completed their races intact!
I was already tired from this 8-hour portion of the journey, but I sensed somehow that my day was merely beginning and I’d have a few more corners to turn.
My host here in Nepal: Prem, his wife Lalita, their little 3-year old daughter Priskilla and I were headed inot the country to teach a seminar on ‘Walking in the Spirit’ for a few days. He’d told me we’d be walking for a few hours, but as often in learning this discipline, I had misunderstood a few things about the natural walk and so I had to learn a few of its parallel spiritual applications. I supposed we were headed into a Himalayan-type alpine area with surrounding snow-covered peaks, perhaps even a few Nepalese yodelling in the background? So I’d packed accordingly, borrowed my son Michael’s backpack and sleeping bag (unfortunately my old aluminum-frame pack hadn’t made the transition into the 21st Century); even took my winter coat (but left it in Kathmandu when I realized we were heading south into mountains, not north as in the Everest direction!) After all, it is the end of November and they have snow like Canada, don’t they!?
But all my presumptions were challenged within the first 5 minutes of our getting off the bus. It had grown progressively warmer as we’d driven further south and I was very glad I’d cut the parka!
Prem’s friends met us: 2 men in shorts and 3 young women, all wearing flip-flops! Strange hiking gear? I figured. Prem had advised me to bring ‘waterboots’, whatever those were? I’d mistranslated this in my mind as ‘waterproofed hiking boots’, but would probably have done better with ‘hip-waders’! At the last moment, I’d fortunately stuffed a pair of washroom-duty rubber-plastic sandals into my backpack, so I at least had them to switch into when we came to the few creeks I supposed we’d need to cross.
One of the men, who proved to be the pastor, Bir, sympathetically looked at my overloaded backpack and hoisted it onto his shoulders. It was evident we were not just going for a stroll in the countryside! Prem hoisted their daughter up in a sling on his back; the others grabbed the rest of the packs and headed up the winding street. I followed, bringing up the rear, still in my hiking boots, confident I could just change boots for sandals when necessary.
However, my plans again changed just at the end of the street when our first crossing came into view. People were moving both ways across what was not just a babbling brook, but quite a wide river, up to their knees! Hadn’t quite figured on that!
‘But I can just put my boots back on again when I reach the other side, right?’ I pleaded, as I started to remove them.
Pastor Bir kind of shook his head and empathetically replied, ‘You’ll have to do it quite a few times!’
‘Oh really?’ I replied, somewhat subdued, and reached for the sandals, reprogramming my mind for what lay ahead.
I tied my boot’s laces together, flung them around my shoulder so they’d not get wet and headed into the river.
It wasn’t easy getting my footing on the rocks, especially with such gripless sandals, and midway through my first crossing, I got my foot caught between the rocks and was just about on my way down when… Pastor Bir grabbed my arm just in time! I caught my breath, and ‘Dunyavat!’ the only Nepalese word I know, spontaneously poured out my thankful appreciation!
He smiled and walked me arm-in-arm to the other side. I kicked the rocks out of my sandals and we continued after the others, who were already quite a ways ahead, making their way among the huge boulders that edged the river, even merrily skipping from rock to rock… with our backpacks on! Evidently, they were quite used to doing this!
I prayed, summoned all the Lord’s strength I could… and followed.
Our first crossings were the deepest, almost to the waist. I thought: they won’t be so deep as we get further upstream; less water up there, right? But then the crossings turned narrower and faster.
We approached a swinging bridge high above us. I wondered, ‘Are we hiking up there too?’ but thankfully we walked under it and not over.
After 1 ½ hours, Prem pointed to a mountaintop far off in the distance: ‘That’s our destination: we’re going there!’
I thought, ‘You’re kidding!’ but that’s where we ended up going.
I was growing tired, our light was growing darker.
By this time, I’d lost count of how many times we’d forded the river, back and forth, up-down, following trails among giant-sized boulders, which kept ending at the river’s edge, which meant another wade across the river!
I struggled through with only a few minor bangs, scrapes and owie’s.
A very humbling experience: I slipped a few times, but each time Pastor Bir was there to lift me up; even caught my sandal heading AWOL downriver in the wrong direction; not just once, but twice!
After each misstep, I tried to regather my concentration. Little time for sight-seeing, or picture-taking, although we were walking through some of the most amazing rock formations I’d ever seen! I got a few photos, but my camera strap became entangled so badly with my boot laces, it must have looked like I was in danger of strangling myself, so Pastor Bir mercifully took my boots and strapped them also onto my pack he was carrying.
Even more humbling was encountering women, also going upriver, backs loaded with baskets of rice, sticks, and even bricks, walking from rock to rock… and here I was, struggling just to just keep from falling in!
After another hour, we stopped for a rest. Prem advised me we had made our last river crossing, so I figured it was safe to finally change into my hiking boots. But I thought it strange to stop so close to the end of what I’d understood was a 3-hour hike. Why didn’t we just continue the last ½ hour and get it over with?
A few mobile screens helped shine some light into what was by now virtual darkness, and we started out again…this time straight up the mountain!
No moonlight; and I struggled hard to stay close enough to follow in the steps of the one right ahead of me. Someone graciously handed me a flashlight. I tried to shine it for my feet and those ahead of me, but some of our bus ride’s roadside wrecks flashed through my memory and I figured it might be for the best if I couldn’t see that much now either.
At times, the trail switch-backed seemingly straight up into God knows where?!
For my Nepalese friends, they’d done this walk hundreds of times.
But for me, this literally became a walk by faith. At one point, I could only make out a narrow isthmus before me headed into darkness. The cicadas’ chirping grew intense, like a screaming choir drawing me into thick blackness falling away into an unknown emptiness.
The way was clear: I had to walk a virtual tightrope, falling to either the left or right (which coincidentally was my illustrative diagram for my seminar) was not an option.
And then I saw him… Pastor Bir, just like Jesus, reaching out his hand to me, beckoning me to take that step.
All I had left was trust, so I did and we did!
A short ways further, we saw lights in distance. Electricity? Way out here? Those lights soon became houses, but they weren’t our destination, so we kept pressing on… till we finally arrived at Pastor Bir’s house: a sturdy teak home, perched high up on the mountainside like an eagle’s nest, all alight by solar power!
I turned my eyes even higher and there was a heaven filled with so many stars as I’d not seen in years!
I was exhausted and collapsed in a corner! But I'd made it! A rice and dall supper, carpet rolled out on the concrete floor, bags unpacked, and it didn’t take long before we all were asleep and amazingly: no one snored! Or at least, I never heard anyone!
My ‘Walking in the Spirit’ seminar became more a learning experience for the teacher. Four days later, I walked the return trip downriver in daylight with new revelation in my spirit. What had seemed straight up that dark night was indeed straight up in reality; what had also seemed straight down was indeed straight down.
And I counted exactly 33 river crossings: one for each year Jesus walked on this earth!
Too often we struggle in great difficulty when all we need do is trust, follow and walk.