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Bringing Nepal to the Northwest
By Jesse N. Love with Katherine Parker
Down the stairs in a fairly well-lit, fellowship hall at University Temple UMC in Seattle, church members are listening intensely about mission as well as the history of Nepal and its future.
Dressed in Nepalese garb, Katherine Parker offered up reflections and insights into her work as a United Methodist Missionary serving with the United Mission to Nepal (UMN). She is visiting many churches in the PNW that have been supporting her through a mutual covenant relationship, as many missionaries do. Parker is one of about 400 commissioned United Methodist missionaries around the world doing Christ-inspired work to uplift different and diverse communities.
Friends from University Temple UMC greet United Methodist Missionary, Katherine Parker. Parker serves with United Mission to Nepal. She has been traveling through the PNW sharing stories of her work in water sanitation, reproductive health, and empowering local partners in the community to help “build up” the nation.
Parker has been involved with mission since 2000 as an intern and began serving in Nepal in 2013. She has a B.S. and a M.S. in biology from Harvey Mudd College and Cal-State Sacramento, respectively. Her knowledge in this field is an important part of her mission in Nepal, as her focus is on water sanitation and hygiene, maternal health, and sexual/reproductive health & rights for adolescents. In Parker’s work with the UMN, six areas they focus on are education, health, peace-building, good governance, integral mission, and establishing/maintaining sustainable livelihoods.
Known for its majestic, mountainous terrain, Nepal is as large as the Iowa. The country has warm, humid, and rainy summers, while winters are cold and dry. The country lies in-between two superpowers, China and India. Nepal is long and features habitations from just above sea level at 200 feet to 14,000 feet, before continuing up to the peak of Mt. Everest at more than 29,000 feet. The majority of the population lives below 3000 feet.
In the late 1940s, Nepal opened up its borders and welcomed travelers who were visiting places such as Mt. Everest. Parker shared a story of how Methodist missionaries Bob and Bethel Fleming asked permission from the King of Nepal to open a hospital. Under these conditions, hospitals and education were allowed, but the teaching of Christianity was prohibited. Thus the United Mission to Nepal was formed in 1954. Many missionaries from Kenya, Hong Kong, Australia, Norway and other nations are still bringing Christ to this region, today.
Expatriates from Nepal, who left home to work in India, found Christianity; they wished to bring back Christ to their homeland. These returnees took the lead in forming new faith communities in their country. UMN, as an organized presence of the international, ecumenical body of Christ has worked in parallel to the Nepalese-led Christian community.
Initially, through UMN, hospitals, hydroelectric dams, technical institutes, boarding schools and other projects were created to uplift the lives of Nepal. As democracy emerged, Christianity developed organizationally. “Today, we don’t start new institutions. Rather, we partner with Nepali organizations…we help to build their capacity,” shares Parker.
In April 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. About 9000 lives were lost as the country endured several high-level aftershocks thereafter. “There were 10 aftershocks per day for the first month. There are 75 districts in Nepal; 25 impacted, 11 severely impacted,” Parker shared.
“In the midst of tragedy, God connects us together,” shares Parker. Her work as a missionary in the midst of a disaster touched many as the organization reached out to 12,000+ families with food, shelter, hygiene and cooking supplies. Recovery efforts continue through equipping farmers with seeds before monsoon seasons, rebuilding trails, training masons, instructing folks to use chlorine tabs, managing trauma, and overall, working to bring normalcy to the Nepalese reflects the commitment to continue the long walk out of a disaster.
The United Mission to Nepal is currently addressing social issues that affect the country. Along with reinforcing and stabilizing homes post-2015 earthquake, alleviating those suffering from poverty through food and emotional help, Parker and UMN are working on ways to provide sustainable development goals for Nepal.
Most of the UMN’s 65 local partners do community development, not just disaster response (although they also do this when the need arises). Living into the desire not to start its own private institutions, Parker shares there is a better investment into building up the nation by supporting local partners — such as the Kapilvastu Institutional Development Committee (KIDC) that delivered relief items to flood survivors or the Lumbini Christian Society (LCS) that provided funding, food, and materials after homes were on fire after a windy evening (see www.umn.org.np/news for more.)
Parker is working with the local community to combat early child marriage (arranged marriage, elopement) and human trafficking. The development of ‘child clubs’ along with social campaigns have encouraged young people to engage in dialogue to form their own standards of behavior — while allowing those in mission to be responsive (without doing harm) through “positive peer pressure.” These clubs worked on planting trees, cleaning the polluted Bagmati River and marched/advocate in their own villages for climate change during the Paris Accords in 2015. Parker shared that children are “change agents” for this developing country.
There is a movement to help increase income. A small increase in locally generated funds helps to provide incentive for locals to not migrate to other places for work.
Improving infrastructures, raising conscious young people to manage social issues, and providing relief to disaster victims are just a few of the ways Katherine Parker and the UMN are providing hope to Nepal through mission.
For more information on United Methodist Missionaries and projects, visit www.umcmission.org.