INDIA (BP) — Overcoming roadblocks in northern India — both figurative and literal — became a common theme for a missions team from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala.
After preparing for months for an evangelistic missions experience in the western section of Sikkim state, the team learned only days before departing it would be needed in a remote mountain village, north and east of the original location.
A magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook the mostly Nepalese area near the India-Nepal border Sept. 18 and was felt also in Bhutan, Bangladesh and China. The estimated death toll of 100, though, likely is inaccurate because of the Hindu caste system, which prevents members of the lowest caste from being mentioned in death tolls. Also, some villages are unreachable.
Some deaths were from the earthquake while others were from the landslides that followed. Roads were blocked in several places around the affected area.
Because of potential disaster relief and medical needs, the Birmingham team was diverted to a relief camp near the most accessible mountain village impacted by the earthquake.
The team consisting of an engineer, a paramedic, a law student, an accounting agent, a physical therapist and others under the leadership of Brook Hills member Casey Reeder arrived in Delhi Sept. 24 ready to tackle the new assignment.
Less than 10 hours later in a Jeep-like taxi, the team arrived in Mangan to obtain entry permits. Since the area was dangerous after the earthquake and landslides, anyone who was not Lepcha (the people group in the area) had to obtain a permit.
Hours passed, along with countless prayers. The team waited, hoping to gain permission to enter. The permits were granted because of the physical therapist and paramedic on the team, allowing the volunteers to serve in medical relief.
Permits in hand, the team members were the only Americans to enter the area after the earthquake, passing over several landslides and weak bridges and through tight squeezes along bumpy mountain roads.
The team’s arrival was perfectly timed because if they had arrived even one day earlier the roads would not have been cleared from the landslides and fallen rocks, said Adam Reese, a Southern Baptist representative working in northern India.
Reese, the team members and national partners who served as translators stayed at a Buddhist school, sleeping on cloth mats on the cold concrete floor.
While nongovernmental organizations and others supplied the nearby camp with rice, potatoes and tea, the team brought medical supplies, other food and water.
More than 100 Lepcha and Nepalese sought refuge and food at the camp, located about a half-mile up the hillside from where the road was too dangerous to pass by taxi.
Russ Kinniburgh, the physical therapist on the team, saw an elderly woman making her way through the crowds. Her feeble hand held a cane that was about a foot too long and backward. Kinniburgh cut the cane down and taught her how to use it properly. The next day, she hobbled by with a smile, cane properly in place.
The team cleaned minor wounds and taught a few long-term care practices to those at the camp, but in general, the medical tasks were minimal. This allowed more time to visit with people and look for opportunities to share something greater than a bottle of water or a Band-Aid.
The people opened up to the team members. They invited them into their homes, gave them tea and listened as the volunteers shared stories about a man named Jesus.
“As we were struggling to get [to the camp], it became frustrating and discouraging [to all of us],” team member Chance Walters said, adding, “I see now that even if just one person heard the Gospel, then all the trouble to get here was worth it.
“I won’t ever forget the spiritual battle that went on inside myself as I shared the Word. I thought, ‘Why isn’t it like this in Alabama?’ Well, it’s because I don’t do anything in Alabama,” Walters said.
“My spirit knows that progress is being made here for those who heard the Gospel, but I felt like a used car salesman who couldn’t close a deal. But ultimately I feel like the Spirit was just saying, ‘You just remember this. There’s a reason the enemy is on you now. You are preaching the Gospel. You are sharing my Word.”
The team shared the Gospel with many at the camp and surrounding area, even as officials kept a close eye on their work.
After leaving the camp, the team traveled to a larger town and prayerwalked and shared the Gospel in a nearby village. Several people welcomed the team into their homes and listened to Bible stories.
As the trip came to a close Oct. 2, the discouragement that sat heavy at the beginning of the week turned into an uplifting joy. Because of the earthquake, several Alabama Baptists were part of more than just a trip to share Christ with the Lepcha and Nepalese people.
Neisha Fuson writes for The Alabama Baptist, online at thealabamabaptist.org. Some names were changed for security reasons.