“Unutterably Aware… for One Strange Hour”

 “…a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.”

–          The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

1 Year

South Sudan – Kenya – Uganda – India – England – Morocco – Spain

I am stateside for the first time in a year, utterly conscious of myself, the marks Africa has written on me, and the great big different-ness that is America.

I’ve traded the violent green aerials of the Rwenzoris on the equatorial horizon for the quietly fading layers of the Blue Ridge, swapped puff adders for copperheads, packed mud and corrugated tin for brickwork and stained wood paneling, the miles and miles of battered and pot-holed red earth between Mundri and Juba for interstate highway systems blazing with a thousand thousand fires of red taillights and the flash of American dollars packed in pistons and Lexus hoods that seem like they’d nearly suffice to buy the whole of Western Equatoria.

Here, I drive a small blue hatchback (until the blessed advent of the motorcycle. It’s comin’ folks). It doesn’t have four-wheel drive, let alone a winch, and probably wouldn’t last five miles in Africa. My trusty little netbook, faithful companion in my writing career over four continents, may have finally succumbed to its slash-crack-casualties taken crossing the mountains in Western Uganda in a bouncing and jam-packed Mutatu. The borrowed computer on which I write this post on plays a “Handclapping and Footstomping” playlist on a program called Songza, which didn’t exist when I left and would likely have destroyed the internet in Africa. After fitting everything I own for a year into a green army sea bag, I come home to rediscover my library of hundreds of books, and clothes I forgot I owned. Grocery stores carry somewhere around 40,000 varieties of window cleaner, and salad dressing, and shampoo. I sign for a purchase with my finger on an iPad.

When you leave for year, everyone gets married. It’s like some kind of conspiracy of inevitable descent into domesticity. Friends have serious conversations about kitchen cabinet fixtures. They’re making the transition (as a couple) from white to wheat pasta. They buy houses. I buy another cup of coffee and sweet talk the husbands into coming rock climbing with me.

“…I came back restless. Instead of being the warm center of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe.” (Fitzgerald)

I am and always have been perpetually restless. Africa fit well with how I’m wired, and put me more in my element than anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s a place of roaring beauty and heartbreak, wild adventure and terror, a deep sense of purpose and an unshakeable realization of how little you know, how little you control, and just how big and close and absolutely necessary is the God to whom we cling and for whose kingdom we strive. I fear that after such tangible vitality, the good old US of A could seem like Fitzgerald’s “ragged edge of the universe.” A grey pause on the waiting edge of the real, active life that lurks in the dark spaces of the map.

Yet, in a very real way, though things are inevitably different, coming back does feel like coming home, if only for a time. But home isn’t and can’t be limited here to a single house, or a single family or state, or Continent really. Home requires some work and some time on the road. Home looks like the feel of my old guitar on calloused fingertips while my brother pounds out Mumford and Sons on the faded keys of a piano in the house we grew up in.  Home looks like coming into a stone-walled basement brewery and being ambushed by one bear hug after another as you realize you know and love nearly everyone in the sleepy Tennessee neighborhood.  Home looks like conversations in coffee shops and front porches, aussie rappelling down cliff faces, and rediscovering old stomping grounds with old friends.

Home takes work. It takes intentionality. It’s hard to define. It grinds against the restless and forces me to try to rest (not my strong suit). “Home” is floating somewhere over the Atlantic, trapped between the grins of family and friends in Virginia and Chattanooga and the pull of the was and the will be of the grit of Africa and South Asia.

This is a present and coming season of in-betweens, but it must not be a season of aimlessness. Even if I’m not in darkest Africa or the maze-like streets of India, and even when I desperately want to be, there’s plenty to be done and learned here and now.

Then of course there’s my growing to-do list for the months in the U.S. to work towards the next overseas assignment and to stave off my seemingly insatiable desire for new challenges and new adventures. Cross country motorcycle trips are in the works, my first triathlon, reading anything and everything to become an expert on India and human trafficking.

As I lay out the first draft of this blog post, I’m sitting on a mountain ridge and watching the show as another day and another chapter of the story turns over on its axis and gives way to the stars. The sun is peeling back layers of light and scattering a dusting of American gold from the stratosphere and over the rolling hills. The humid Georgia heat smells like rotting logs and nostalgia and the wind whips in bursts that rattle the grass and the branches like castanets. I’m on the edge of so many things.

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world…. Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all…” (Fitzgerald)

P.S. – I’m planning on keeping on writing in the U.S., trying to chronicle the next steps of transition from Africa to India with continuity. But now comes the question of what to name my blog. “Shaughnessy in South Sudan” only works when I’m in South Sudan. It needs to be something more general that can work across hemispheres and countries. Ideas anyone?

Transition Blues

“Give me silence, water, hope. Give me struggle, iron, volcanoes.”

– Pablo Neruda

I don’t write well in transition – but the adventures and thoughts and images pile up in unruly stacks of coffee stained notes and angry traffic jams of polysyllables  if I don’t sort them out with a keyboard and a page…

These days are a jumble, a rumble of dirt roads and highways and airstrips. Longitude lines are the fretboard where I’m hammering out the transition blues in freestyle riffs over the endings and beginnings in what seems like a solid several years of the same. Movements and moments pass in a blue haze broken by coffee cups and Edward Abbey and the tangibility of mountain ranges and tumbling rivers.

The natural world can play a tune on my soul with an aloof urgency of unmatched wildness and willful quiet. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” writes Hopkins. “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” That charge, that flame, the silence and the struggle – those tunes are the ones that let me know I’m awake. Those are the tunes where God is playing in a key that, sometimes, I manage to notice, to catch on and try to play along.

I sit on the balcony of the guesthouse in Kampala and watch the city lights while huge bats circle and swoop to snatch insects out of the sky. Leathery wings stretch out several feet. It’s like being circled by a troop of small pterodactyls.

At the river camp in Jinja a troop of monkeys chases each other by turns in terrestrial circles – king of the hill up and down the “C” of a sapling, tag and fights back and forth the branches over the river bank. Snake birds perch on the dead trees in the water unruffling their feathers to the sun, and then carve slowly through the water, rocketing down like a shallow-water submarine for 10 or 20 seconds at a time to chase their prey. White and black kingfishers glide and plunge like rockets in and out of the glassy surface. A fish eagle surveys his domain from high above. Hunters at work.

Hiking the Bwamba Pass over the Rwenzori mountains. Though the elevation only reaches 2700 meters, it’s an elevation gain of around 1400 meters from the beginning to the top, with an extremely steep grade nearly the entire first several hours of the trek. But the views are breathtaking. Bundibugyo shrinks out farther and farther and tinier and tinier in the distance. The ridgeline waves lap onto the flats of the valley where, further out, mist billows a snake-like route to show the river’s winding.

Quads and calves burn on the incline while Ugandans pass barefoot. Geography changes with the elevation – first open range and mountainside trails, then we climb a hill into a sea of thick mist that hides the Semliki Forest with its big trees, tall and wide and coloring the scene with deep reds and greens, their upper boughs cutting the current of low-drifting cloud. Then thick bamboo – we hear rustling and point to large, thick furred monkeys climbing in the heights above. Over the edge and downhill and over the frigid mountain streams to Fort Portal and its soft hills and tea fields dotted with lines of harvesters bent at the waist and carrying on their backs wicker baskets in which to put the tea leaves.

Jinja. Spend the morning being coached in a pool, tweaking kayak rolling technique and talkin g edging. Then an afternoon run of class III rapids on the Nile River. Paddle percussion ‘sunders the eddy  line and the Fluid kayaks rushes and churns like a free flowing scale. Quiet melodies on calm stretches and wailing blue solos on the white froth waves.  “See where the horizon cuts off there,” says Jamie, the world-travellling British kayak coach. “That’s how you can tell the rapids are coming. Look and you’ll see the water bursting up.”

The airplane window is the tiny frame of a changing portrait of the world outside. I sneak a glance across a few times: first the green and red hills of Uganda fading into the distance, then the bare and endless sands of the Sahara, then the Alps’ snow covered peaks burst like steely knives through a break in the clouds. Airtight windows buffer the glaring glory painted past the airfoil.

England is surreal. It’s the coldest place I’ve been in the last year, and certainly the most orderly. I take the tube and the train from Heathrow. People stand in cues. The signs are written clearly and in my own dear language – schedules updated down to the minute for prompt train arrival and departure times. Seats are only occupied by one person each. In stark contrast to Africa, where staring at the out of place white man seems to be perfectly culturally acceptable, no one makes eye contact for more than a split second. Everyone has their face buried in their iPhones, kindles, books, magazines, cellphones.

Hertford is quaint and quiet, adjectives with whom I have lost touch and must learn to get along with all over again. Brick and stone buildings, canals spanned by arch walking bridges, corner pubs filled with warm light and dark wood and copper colored ales.

For all that, I often forget. I’ll get tired on the journey, weary of movement but hungry for more, uncomfortable with being comfortable and sitting still for a stretch, and let the black moods overtake me with cynicism. The in-betweens seem like space, purgatories of borrowed nothings  and airport terminals between the real bits of life. I want the struggle and I miss the quiet. Then I remember, or recognize rather, these things, the wailing blue tones of mountains and rivers and tea fields and the dark wood of English pubs, and I and think of the God who gives those changing portraits and varied verses  as gifts to me –speaking a love language he knows I can read, though I don’t always understand or take the time to sit and take in the subtly divine knock on the head, smile, love note tagged on the golden glare of a sea of clouds and the speed and height from which I watch them.

Ladder Aimed

I climbed a ladder aimed at God. Guitar strapped to my back, take the rungs hand over hand and hope the rails don’t slip sideways slicked on flimsy gutters. Kick off sandals and step barefoot onto the cold iron sheets, walk slow and careful and wide to spread weight on the beams, up and up to summit the crest ‘til the roof of the world stretches out and above and goes on past all charting.

Just think of that. I’m watching glimpses of light come from past the mind’s mapping. Starlight cuts clean and clear and bright and the black bursts at the seams with the light that seems to hide just beyond the brink. Clouds hang low and dark in the West and light up in patterns that shift when the lightning flashes over the Congo. A star falls clean out of the sky and over the Rwenzoris, and I watch it happen. “The Heavens Declare the Glory of God.”

Once I lived in a farmhouse in Chattanooga with seven other guys. The kind of place that boasted a woodshop with ancient and rusted tools adorning the walls, a shooting range full of shot-up TVs on the side of a hill, and homebrew in every closet. I crashed on a couch in an upstairs room that I shared with a stand-up bass. Some nights, when it was particularly clear or cold or I just needed to think or pray I’d take my guitar in hand and climb the side porch rail up to hop up on the flat roof. A friend or two would sometimes join in and we’d pass around a beer and finger pick guitar tunes about ships and love and anger and talk about life or not talk at all. Such a simple thing, but it was something else.

Tonight I’ve got a different roof, a different continent, a different longitude. But the night sky just keeps going, same as it does in Chattanooga, and the chords still rise up a prayer when I don’t know the words to pray.

Alikanjero Kenobi: Ironing Out Water in Western Uganda

The lines on Alikanjero Kenobi’s ancient face are pulled back in a faint half-smile under the brim of his battered baseball cap. He hands me a stack of folded clothes which he has just finished ironing, offering soft-spoken instructions in Lubwisi (of which I can’t understand a word), snatches up a pair of irons that look nearly as old and worn as the muze himself, and totters away. I follow.

During Sunday services he sits near the back with the other old men, grinning ear to ear and swinging his thin legs in a seated jig when the youth choirs sing and dance at the front of the church. Every week he’ll catch my eye and shake my hand and tell me “Webele. Thank you.” I’m never exactly sure what I’m being thanked for, but it’s nearly impossible not to like the little guy.

Alikanjero tells me that he’s 90, but it’s hard to pin down exact ages in Bundibugyo – people often don’t know their own birthdates or exactly how old they or their own children are. Time is just on a different plane. A missionary remarked on this to me a few weeks ago, while driving across the Rwenzoris.

“I miss the seasons,” she said. “Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall – all that makes up a year. I used to think it was weird that people didn’t know their own age here, but now it makes sense.”

Life flows in stages, not years – harvest cycles, or the rainy season and the dry season. You’re a “youth” til’ you’re 35 and then you become a muze.

Alikanjero winds his wobbly way through Nyahuka and out the other side. When we reach his compound the whole gang comes out to greet us. I originally came to interview Alikanjero about water issues, but with a camera and recording gear rolling, the entire family is gathered around, and when I ask a question through Magezi, my translator, the entire group and the neighbors include themselves in answering. Alright, team interview it is.

When I ask where they get their water from, I learn that even here on the outskirts there are taps nearby, but, rather than pay the 200 shilling fee for cleaner water (about 10 cents per jerry can) the family fetches water from a stream down a steep mountain path, almost a mile away.

“Who is the one to get the water?” I ask in my awkward, broken African English.

“This daughter here,” they say, pointing to the oldest of the children present, a shy looking girl, maybe thirteen years old. She smiles with a bit of quiet pride when she is pointed out as the carrier of the family’s water. Every day she’ll lug three jerry cans to the river and back. If she takes a separate trip for each jerry can, that’s a trek of 6 miles a day in mountainous terrain, half of which would see her carrying the 45 pounds (5 gallons for a full jerry can) on her head, just so her family can have one jerry can of water for every two people at the compound to survive (half the World Health Organization’s recommended amount: one jerry can of water per person, per day).

I’ve passed women trudging up hills carrying one jerry can on their head, and a second resting on their back, strapped with a sling onto their head. That’s around 90 pounds of weight carried from the river back to their homes, and all of it concentrated on their seemingly unbreakable necks.

Admirable. Hardcore really. But here’s the bad news. All that water from her hard work may ultimately cost her family more in terms of both health and money than if they paid the fee to get water from the nearby tap system. Every jerry can of sloshing water carries enough bacteria and pathogens to just about guarantee periodic bouts of debilitating diarrhea or even life threatening illnesses.

“For many years past [the Babwisi people] had been collecting water from a free source, which is the river,” says Dickenson. “In Bundibugyo there are many streams and rivers readily available…. from anywhere you can walk one or several kilometers and there is a stream from which you can collect. That water is free and has always been free. Most people who collect [from the streams] do not do anything to treat the water.”

That includes Alikanjero’s family. They could boil their water, but that takes time, labor, and firewood. They could use the water purification tabs sold at the clinics, but those cost money. They could pay to fill jerry cans at the nearby tap, but why spend money on something you can get for free? Or so the thinking goes.

“There’s not an understanding of the consequences and the cost of being ill,” says Dickenson. “When you are ill, there is lost time in terms of work and, even though the government healthcare is free, there oftentimes is a lack of the medicines necessary…. so you have to buy those. There’s not the connection between the purchasing of these medicines that make you feel better with the fact that you could have avoided the illness completely by drinking water from a safe water source… Then, in an extreme case, death… the emotional cost is not even comparable….The lack of understanding that connection is one of the major barriers prohibiting the uptake of clean drinking water.”

Water sanitation is a matter of degrees. Water coming through the water taps in the gravity flow scheme (GFS) pulls water in pipes directly from a source in the mountains – not perfectly up to WHO safe water standards, but certainly safer than drinking water from the river.

“When you get water directly from the river in a downstream context you are literally fetching and drinking water that has bypassed every village and every person that has potentially been bathing in that water upstream. That is an incredibly unsanitary practice that leaves you very vulnerable to diarrheal illness, especially some of the big ones: cholera and typhoid.”

Just within the few years Dickenson has served as World Harvest’s water resources developer in Bundibugyo, he has been present for both a cholera outbreak and a suspected typhoid outbreak – both of which can cause death very quickly to a widespread population. Then there’s the kids. The mortality rate in Bundibugyo for children under five is extremely high, and much of that can be traced to poor water sanitation and unsafe food preparation that goes along with it. In an impoverished context, diarrheal illness, in conjunction with and contributing to malnutrition, can be murderous. These, along with malaria and one of the highest concentrations of sickle cell disease in the world, make for a mortality rate for under-fives of around 20%, higher than the rest of Uganda, and leaps and bounds above what one would be used to in the developed world.

“Most of the kids have been sick from using the water,” says my friend Mugezi, translating for Alikanjera from the local Lubwisi language into English. “They are behind the town, so the things that are left in the water all come down….Very many diseases are being brought from that very water they are using.”

Dickenson outlines three main challenges being faced in water development in Bundibugyo as follows: The Volumetric Challenge: is there enough water reaching the right places? The Water Quality Challenge: is the water that’s reaching those villages safe to drink, physically, chemically, and biologically? And the Social Challenge: what social characteristics or traditions are keeping people from changing over to good hygiene and safe water practice? Access, quality, and education.

Addressing those challenges requires a holistic approach, maintenance and system improvement combined with public education and follow-up, local government capacity building towards better water quality monitoring combined with revitalization of community management systems.

“One of the systems that I participated in working with some years back when I was here on an internship involved over 26 kilometers of pipe. From the source to the farthest point was about 14 kilometers,” says Dickenson. “So these systems can be very big, and that actually is one of the biggest challenges – this is a rural context, but it is using a very large scheme to serve many people. So, you have a population being served that is very spread out, but you have a very large scheme serving them that requires a high amount of organization to actually maintain. One of the areas that I am really working in is… identifying older systems that require rehabilitation to get them operating again but also rehabilitation of the social structures and community-based management systems to get them operating and maintaining the system in an ongoing and sustainable manner.”

It’s quite the holistic approach, and necessarily so. Water is life, and improving and developing water quality, access, and management is a complex operation. For Dickenson, it’s also inextricably intertwined with living out the gospel in response to grace.

“Water is access into people’s lives. We all need water. In the same way, we all need Christ. Providing the one brings opportunity to provide the other. Practically, that finds its way out in relationships in the community. When we are out working on water we are also out sharing the gospel.”

Dirty Jobs: Uganda

Down the hatch. Soaked to the bone. The brown sludge oozes 4 inches deep into the crevices of my beat up shoes, creeping warm and viscous around my toes and sloshing every time I shift my weight. I’m crouched down in chamber number 3 of the sedimentation basin: Water Intake, Ingite Falls. Barnacles and moss and a half-inch of mud wallpaper brick walls in watertight concrete shell.

Ingite Falls is the water source for Nyahuka and the surrounding area. A Gravity Flow Scheme (GFS) works using only gravity to feed water through pipes to hundreds of taps. The water techs are cleaning out the other chambers with hoes and shovels, pushing the grime and muck to the outflow valves. I’m replacing the intake screen. The old screen is a large piece of mesh, maybe 4’x4’, tied with string to an angle bar frame and fixed in the final chamber of the sedimentation basin. This screen is what filters out the muck. Scrape away mud. Cut the mesh free of its bindings.  Pull.

The 4X4 mess of engineered tetanus has now firmly lodged itself, fishhook-like, into my finger. I yank my hand up. The screen comes along. Minor surgery and expletives ensue.

New filters go in. Josh and I are both in the basin now, on either side of the frame. Last week I welded together new filters. A hardier, two-piece scheme of square-bar and multiple levels of mesh, designed to be easily swapped in and out for cleaning and repairs. Hammer things into place with pipewrenches. Cut and twist binding wire. Good to go.

When we emerge from the cave there is not an inch that is not soaked. Mud is smeared on the front of my jeans and caked in my hair. The filters fit. Solid morning of work.

Drive back. Take advantage of my soaked and muddy state to go for a run in the rain. Hot shower – watch the mud and blood wash away. Green chai tea. Good morning Uganda.

Why do we write?

Why do we write?

wanderer over a sea of fog

It is March and, once again, I find myself at the feet of the Rwenzori mountain range in western Uganda. I am sitting in my little room, closing the last, candle-lit page of Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water. I chew slowly on her words and the rain batters a rapid staccato on tin-roof, broad leaves of matoke trees, stones and river banks and blue tarps – a different pitch, a different voice for each. A chaos of soft and sharp sounds.

L’Engle writes that true art finds “cosmos in chaos.”

Why do we write? Why do we feel compelled to make stories and take photographs, to craft cosmos from chaos in the mysterious architecture of words and typeset sentences, to capture in a lens the smallest droplet of falling rain midflight, or the broadest expanse of horizon.

I’ve been biking in Bundibugyo. Ride five or six miles out one way – burning legs and pumping endorphins, dodging trucks and catching dust squarely in the iris and waving at the children (“Mujungu! Mujungu! How ah you?!), past the Chinese highway foremen, past the rough mud structure blaring the sounds of  kung fu movies from a loudspeaker mounted high on a bamboo pole – and you’ll find yourself at the end of the line where the road cuts sharp and down to the Congo and the mountains stretch vast and wide and tall and green and a  crown of cumulo-nimbus clouds hangs on the horizon, bisecting the mountains’ base from the peaks breaking out above just when you thought the earth had to stop and the sky begin.

That bit in 1 Corinthians 13: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” This particular dim mirror has a whole lot of the infinite.

I want to capture the wide-angle scene, trap the color, and, most of all, grab a hold of that majesty – that little bit of cosmos I see here in the chaos.

And I want to share it. I want you to see it. To somehow experience just a bit of that more-ness that I experience when I crest that hill and look out on the beyond.

It’s like that part in Into the Wild, the line Chris McCandless scrawls on the wall of the bus, breathing his last breaths alone in the Alaskan wilderness:

“Happiness only real when shared.”

But it’s more than that too. It’s not just the happiness that spurs the impulse to write or photograph or communicate in a thousand different ways. It’s the painful, the complicated, the hard and rough things too. There’s something in me, in us, that wants – needs – to try to make sense of transition and departure; love and loss; cholera stories; children trapped in prostitution; the horror of torn bodies and twisted limbs written by bombs at the Boston Marathon or in the streets of Aleppo, Syria.

Ugly is just a true as beauty I reckon – and we feel the impulse to capture its moments too – the colors, the smells, the details, the systems. Words and images are powerful things. Write to explain the world to the world, and to myself. To find the cosmos in the chaos. To seek out and communicate truth in all the ways truth pans out.

But writing and photography and art are also ways of mirroring the creator through the act of creation – he who literally made the cosmos from chaos. Creation, storytelling, capturing images in a lens, they all become channels of prayer. Sometimes the prayer is one of jubilation. Sometimes one of horror. Sometimes just a question or a statement.

This is here. I am here. Africa is. Beautiful. Horrible. Incomprehensible. Endless. Adventure.

That’s all somehow incomplete. There’s more to say. But there probably always will be.

“To the non-believer, the person who sees no cosmos in chaos, we are all the victims of the darkness which surrounds our choices; we have lost our way; we do not know what is right and what is wrong; we cannot tell our left hand from our right. There is no meaning. But to serve any discipline of art, be it to chip a David out of an unwieldy piece of marble, to take oils and put a clown on canvas, to write a drama about a young man who kills his father and marries his mother and suffers for these actions, to hear a melody and set the notes down for a string quartet, is to affirm meaning, despite all the ambiguities and tragedies and misunderstanding which surround us.”

– Madeleine L’Engle, Walking on Water

WHM eHarvester: Who Among the Gods is Like You?

Below is an article I wrote that was just published in WHM’s eHarvester. The whole process was, well, just fun. And a challenge. One of those times I step back multiple times mid-stride and realize that I love my job. I got the assignment to interview the team on the ground in the Himalayas on the week I was leaving South Sudan and heading to Uganda – busy saying goodbyes, tying up loose ends, and knocking out last minute projects. So two days before my departure I had a skype interview from rural South Sudan to a remote part of the Himalayas – a process that involved switching between talking, typing, and emailing constantly to cope with the dicey connection – and then had 48 hours to transcribe recordings, compile my notes, and write up the first draft. That was Monday, Wednesday I took the bush plane out from Mundri to Kampala, Uganda, loaded up on coffee from Cafe Kawa, and stayed up til 3:30 in the morning cranking out the article.

No seriously though. Love my job.

Who Among the Gods Is Like You?

By Andrew Shaughnessy 

Below the craggy peaks of the snow-capped Himalayas, the Ganges snakes out from its glacial source, winds through the valley below, rushes beneath the remote villages perched on the snow-scattered hillsides, and flows past the house of James and Lindsay Taber*. This is the place in Hindu mythology where the gods came down to earth. And this is the place where today, the true God is on the move.

“It’s a sacred place for Hindus, so this part of (South Asia) has been quite closed to the gospel for its entire past,” James Taber says. “In our district there are scores of unreached people groups and of these, three-fourths of them aren’t even engaged. They’ve never had a chance to hear the gospel.”

James and Lindsay Taber have been living and working as WHM missionaries along the Himalayas since December 2010, pushing a little farther into the mountains the path begun by a WHM family that served this eastern outpost years ago.

“I’m a nurse practitioner, and my wife is a nurse, so… we wanted to see a place where [medical outreach and church planting] could come together in an advantageous way,” James says.

Three days a week James works in the clinic near their home, but on the other days he travels out to provide medical care for surrounding mountain villages.

“The road access to most of these villages is limited, especially the ones that really need medical care, so it entails a lot of hiking. Last Friday and Saturday we went up to a village that was about a four hour hike and did a medical camp all day.”

Healthcare, the Tabers believe, is Christ-like love made manifest. And it opens doors.

James and Lindsay started by reaching out to neighbors and praying for them. Amazing answers to prayer have led to showing the Jesus film in homes and villages, and then fleshing it all out through a 34-lesson study working its way through the gospel. Over the past two months, James and Lindsay, along with their local partners, have started 30 of these studies, each with anywhere from 5 to 30 people. And the demand is only increasing.

“Just in the last two months we have seen an amazing work of the Spirit in opening homes and lives to the gospel,” James says. “We could probably have 200 studies going if we had the people to teach them. Every time we show the film we hear: ‘My family needs to see it in this other village. Can you come to my village [too]?’ Everybody all of a sudden wants this. In two months we’ve been to oodles of different villages. We have people coming to our house almost daily saying: ‘We want to see this film that we’ve heard you have. Can you come and tell us about Jesus?'”

“We’re hoping that it will grow exponentially,” James says. “As each group grows to maturity they can then take the study and start two or three more studies of their own, and then those groups can start two or three more, and then we can reach the 500 villages in our area without having 500 people trying to go out to reach them….”

South Asia is terra incognita for World Harvest. There is no shortage of need and opportunity, and those who come here certainly experience their dependency on their Father, both in quiet, anonymous perseverance and in explosive growth. The Tabers reflect on their circumstances with awe.

“It comes down to humility, prayer, faith, love, and belief that God can do the impossible, often despite us,” says James. “We just came in at the time when the harvest was ripe… it almost seems unfair to all those people [with the partnering Himalayan mission] who have worked for 20 years so that something like this could happen. It’s like the parable of the workers, you know, from Jesus – the guy goes out and hires them at the beginning of the day and the middle of the day and the end of the day and they all get paid the same amount.  We feel like the people that get hired with only an hour left of work and still get paid the same amount; we get to see the harvest.”

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of staff.