Change of Plans

The big news (and answer to prayer — thanks!) is that we now know which job Joel will be doing for UMN after we finish language study.

When our arrival dates in Nepal were confirmed last year, UMN let us know that several long-term expatriate UMNers would be leaving Nepal in mid-2016. They asked if we could stay flexible — if Joel minded being a bit of a wild card who would end up in the most pressing gap.  We said we’d be fine with that.

Isaac: What? Why did everyone get so smiley?
As it turned out, the key gap was the Executive Director role, for which Joel was ultimately the only available candidate after previous unsuccessful recruitment rounds.
It’s a bit daunting and more than a bit surreal to follow in the steps of past UMN directors.  As one stunned family member said, it used to be a “missionary elder statesman” role filled by extremely experienced men and women. (Not least, many decades ago, by two amazing leaders who came from Joel’s Minneapolis home church — the Minnesota-Nepal connection is enduring!)
We prayed a good deal before putting in an application in January and being interviewed by the UMN Board in March.  On top of not knowing whether Joel was right for the job, we weren’t sure that it would be the right job for us.  Leading an organisation is very different to being a part of it.  But as we talked and prayed and listened, we came to feel enough peace to say yes.
Visiting UMN’s Work in the Plains
Joel’s enthusiasm for the job grew when, as part of the interview process, he went with a UMN Board member to visit UMN’s work in Sunsari — a district in southeastern Nepal, in the Terai plains on the Indian border.  It was wonderful to see a bit of the actual work being done by our partners (though because he went without a camera, unfortunately you’ll have to imagine it rather than seeing it).
He visited a low-caste (Dalit) village where a UMN partner has been mobilising local women into groups for joint education, savings and lending, and problem-solving.  Many Dalit women have increased income as a result — but Joel was even more struck by their increased self-respect and belief that they can change things.
As one woman said: “We used to be afraid of everyone.  Now I am not at all afraid to speak out, in my home, with my neighbours, even with the police.” Or with teachers in the nearby school who had been treating the Dalit children as servants rather than students… but aren’t any more, after the women’s groups protested.
Another faith-based partner is working with a network of churches to provide home-based care to people living with HIV.  The stigma surrounding HIV is tremendous, and most of the people receiving care live in terror that their illness will be found out — or despair if it is already widely known.  It was wonderful to see and hear of changed relationships, enriched lives, and improved health because of UMN’s support.
One woman who contracted the disease from her late husband, a truck driver, said, “When my family saw [UMN’s partner] visiting me and treating me like a human, they also began treating me like a human again.  They gave me back my daughter.”  She was convinced she wouldn’t be alive without the help of the churches.
Unfortunately Fiona and the boys couldn’t come on the Sunsari visit — but this Sunday we’ll all travel together to visit UMN’s work in another Terai district called Rupandehi.  Fiona’s parents are currently here and will accompany us on the trip.  They worked with UMN in that area of Nepal thirty-five years ago, so it will be wonderful to revisit it with them.
After that, we’ll travel up to stay with old friends near the Andhikhola dam, which both Joel’s father and Fiona’s father worked on in the 1980s. We’re looking forward to showing Caleb and Isaac their grandfathers’ handiwork!  Look for a report and photos in our next update.
The Future
Joel’s full time language study will end in mid-May, and Joel will start his handover with the current Director, who leaves on 10 June.  That will be a huge change in our lives (and would have been in any job, not just the Director one).  Since arriving in December, we’ve been able to share child care (e.g. afternoon school runs) to an extent that won’t be possible once Joel is working 9-to-5 again.  We’re trying to adjust our rhythms now to make the transition as smooth as possible.
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We’ve begun visiting Nepali churches — even though our language is still a long way from the point where we’ll be able to understand the sermons!  It’s a challenge, but taking part in the praise and prayer of the local church is important to us.  We’re also hoping to find a church with a good Sunday school for the boys, where they can take part despite language barriers.
So please pray for:
  • Good sleep for Isaac.  This has become our top priority request!  Most nights he’s still waking, wailing, and eventually needing settling.  The sleep disruption is taking a toll on our health and emotional energy — and if it’s still like this when Joel heads back to the office in May, we’ll really be suffering.
  • Good health for us all.  Joel in particular has been unwell quite a lot in the past month, with alternating bad colds and stomach trouble.
  • Peace and joy for us all.  Especially for Fiona as settling in here continues to take time and energy.  For the boys when Fiona’s parents leave (18th April).  For Joel as he steps forward into work.  
  • Good rhythms in our lives to be established in the coming month that will make Joel’s return to full-time work less disruptive.
  • The right church.  Please pray that God will guide us to one where we’ll all be spiritually fed, and where we’ll be able to contribute to the life of the community.
Thanks so much for walking with us!
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