Population Shock

It has taken us awhile to realize why, but walking in Kathmandu is a totally different experience from walking a similar distance in Newton. In Newton we would often take a walk to relax after a hectic day, or as a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon; in Kathmandu we need to find a stress-relieving activity after walking.  The difference is in part due to infrastructure. Nepal is a poor country, so roads and sidewalks are in various states of disrepair or stages of repair.  A few people own cars, many own motorcycles or bicycles, various sizes of vans, buses and trucks join them on every street and alleyway raising dust and often spewing black diesel exhaust.  In Newton, it is pleasant to greet the occasional person on the bike path or while walking residential streets.  In Kathmandu it is rare to walk more than 50 feet without having to step off the curb and dodge traffic or pause by a light pole to accommodate fellow pedestrians.

We have come to the conclusion that the major difference is population density. The city in which we live and work is Lalitpur aka Patan, the second largest city in the Kathmandu Valley and separated from Kathmandu proper by the Bagmati River.  The population of the valley is about 1.5 million and of Kathmandu 1.03 million. Lalitpur has a population of 227,000 in an area of 5.96 sq. miles, or slightly less than half the area of Newton.  To put this into perspective imagine Newton with its current population, then have everybody from Wichita move in, then everyone from Derby, North Newton and Hesston, and finally all of Hutchinson.  In total 479,000 people within the city limits of Newton cimg4311which currently houses 19,000.  The population density of Lalitpur, (and our imagined Newton), is over 38,000 people per square mile.  As another comparison this is 40% more densely populated than New York City, the most densely populated city in the U.S.  It is little wonder then that we are in constant interaction with this population.

And yet…  many residents of Lalitpur are first cimg4303generation from the village and maintain their agrarian sensibilities.  We continue to be amazed that every available square foot of land is planted, often with vegetables, occasionally with flowers.  Over the last couple of weeks poinsettias have become spectacular.   Families without access to land line their balconies and rooftops with potted geraniums, crown of thorn plants and chili peppers.

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And yet… there is a gentleness in the bustle.  In the midst of traffic there is often a wonderful grace offered. I inadvertently cut in front of a car while crossing an intersection on the motorcycle and the response of the driver (after slamming on his brakes) was a simple smile and head nod.  There is always room for one more passenger in a micro bus and people graciously rearrange themselves to accommodate.

We have much to learn.  Last Sunday at the coffee shop we were visiting with a Fellowship International missionary who has worked in Nepal for eleven years. He gave us a big compliment by saying we seemed more relaxed/comfortable than he’d ever seen in folks who had only been in Nepal for two months.  The easy answer was that we’ve had years in Africa and India, but I don’t think that is the entire cimg3636explanation.  We have experienced the warmth of the Nepali church next door, which Dale and Bethsaba helped start.  We have worked, laughed and prayed with the staff of the Top of the World Coffee Shop.  We have seen the respite that a good cup of coffee and a cinnamon roll or a piece of pumpkin pie can provide to a stranger far from home.

We are not blind; there is also a dark side within the high population density in the valley.  Human trafficking is rampant.  There are occasional outbreaks of cholera.  Infant mortality is about 8 times as high as in the developed world.  Unemployment is high, so it is common for families to seek jobs abroad leaving a single parent or grandparents to raise children.

And yet… God is at work reconciling all of creation to God and God has entrusted us with the work of reconciliation. As Marty Troyer puts it:

The gospel is about far more than me or you. It is about far more than forgiveness of personal sins and connection to the afterlife. It’s about who—and how—God is in places like [Lalitpur] on a daily basis. It is about the goodness of divine activity experienced most potently in Jesus the Christ. God is passionate about addressing both spiritual and physical starvation, and about bridging the gap between the world as it is and the world as it can be.

God is restoring all things, and when the New Testament writers say “all,” they mean all—as in “all things, whether on earth or in heaven” (Colossians 1:20)…

The Kingdom is present, the Spirit is active, we are participants.

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Connections

Saturday, the normal day of worship in Nepal, we chose to continue attending the church right beside our home even though Nafzigers were gone.  The pastor graciously gave an English summary of the message; otherwise we observed the praise and worship expressed through greetings, songs, offerings (including a reading of the names of those who tithed) and message in Nepali.  But visiting after the service, we made an amazing connection – Phil and Pratiksha Tyson who had met at Hesston College. Phil is from Virginia and Pratiksha is Nepali having gone to Woodstock School. Her connection to Hesston College was through David Osborne who taught a semester of English at Woodstock while on sabbatical from Hesston.  He was the foreign student advisor at Hesston and Cookie worked with him in the early-2000s. They have just arrived in Nepal and are in Kathmandu to work with a children’s organization.  Pratiksha’s father, who was also at the service, knew Elena’s brother-in-law, Dan Spare.

We woke early Sunday morning to send Bikash to the Top of the World shop with the baked goods and the cash drawer monies only to remember (after he left) that we also have the TOW computer at the house. Usually the computer stays at the shop, but we had taken it home for security purposes during the week-long Dashain holiday. So Dave made a quick trip to deliver the computer. He was greeted at the door by Mark and Darlene Keller who have come here to visit their children Luke and Leah, MCC country reps.  Mark and Darlene lived in North Newton during the 1980s and Mark worked at MCC Central States.

By 10 o’clock, it seemed like everyone was doing their jobs. Coffee was being roasted, pies, cakes, and brownies were being baked and the computer was running smoothly. So we went down the road to English-language KICC (Katmandu International Christian Congregation).  Yes, we have been going to church twice each weekend.  As much as we enjoy the liveliness and warmth of the Nepali fellowship, it is also good to worship in our own language.  After church the congregation mingled in the yard outside the auditorium. We made our way outside to enjoy some chai, found a spot in the shade to drink it and made another amazing connection – the woman we visited with, Sissy, is in a small group with Elena’s cousin Merle Busenitz and his wife Ann. They are currently living in North Carolina, but were long-term SIL workers in Papua New Guinea which is where Sissy met them. Many years ago, Elena and the Busenitz family including three little girls lived in Elbing at the same time. Now the three daughters are grown and living on their own.

As we were parking the motorcycle back at the Top of the World, Anita came out to tell us a friend of Dale’s was waiting to see Dave. What a joy and surprise to see Dave’s cousin, Dan Jantzen.  Dan is a son of Lubin and Tillie Jantzen, who retired to the Newton area after being career workers in India. Dave hadn’t seen Dan in years. So over lunch, they got reacquainted.  Dan is on a fact-finding trip and will actually be joined by Elena’s brother-in-law, Dan Spare, in a couple of weeks. They are part of a group looking at possible engineering projects to help the people of Nepal.  One area they are looking at is the glacial lakes in the Mount Everest area. Due to global warming these lakes are growing. At some point with heavy rains or large calving events, there is a risk that these lakes will breach their glacial moraine dams, putting thousands downstream in danger. Dan’s trip into the Khumbu area  is to see if it is feasible to drain the built-up lake water in a more controlled way.

We discovered four connections to our home in Kansas, to cousins, to previous chapters of our lives in less than thirty hours, in Kathmandu. It seems like we have moved half-way around the world only to be reminded of how well connected our lives are.

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Posted in Whole-life Stewardship | 2 Comments

Tourists for a Day

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This is the week of Dashain, the biggest holiday of the year in Nepal.  It is the equivalent of Christmas for family reunions and gift giving.  Our employees were given double salary for the month and a week of vacation.  Most have left Kathmandu and gone to their respective villages.  Needless to say, the Top of the World Coffee Shop is closed.

Yesterday, Elena and I decided to play tourist for the day and went to Patan Durbar which is the oldest temple square in Kathmandu valley.  The highly recommended Patan Museum was closed, but had a crowd in its court yard. Kites were being flown as is traditional during Dashain celebration.  Many temples were in the process of being restored from last years earthquake. All the temples had intricately carved wooden posts, beams and doors.  Many were trimmed with gold and bronze. Usable temples were active with offerings and sacrifices being offered.

The most interesting thing though was watching the people watching people.  Benches and steps are a feature of the buildings in the area and they were being used, mostly by local men and women.  Tourists both foreign and Nepali, some in groups following a local guide, walked slowly from building to building.  We were in no rush so we were able to enjoy people watching.

We didn’t take notes, so the pictures below are meant to give the flavor of  our experience not the details or historical significance of Patan Durbar.

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Men Passing Time

Women in Doorway

Pigeons

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Men on Temple Porchdscf8960

 

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Tuesday morning debate

Yesterday morning, Dale knocked on our bed room door and said, “You should go up on the roof.  The mountains are clear.  You can see all the way to Pokhara.”  We had just opened the live stream to the Trump-Clinton debate, so we grabbed the laptop and went to the roof.   During a slow spot, we went down and grabbed a cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee.  And there we sat and watched the high Himalayas.  The clouds rolled by obscuring and then revealing snow covered peaks.  It provided a welcome perspective on what both Trump and Clinton were saying.cimg3638

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Charitableliving.net Re-boot

Cookie and I started charitableliving.net about eight years ago with the dual purpose of keeping in touch with family and friends and encouraging others to step out of their comfort-zones and make life choices which increase love, grace and justice in the world. Cookie died nearly five years ago.

Two and a half years ago Elena and I married. She brings to our marriage similar values, but with her own perspective. We have experienced much joy and much growth in our short time together.

Last February an email came across Elena’s desk at Mennonite Mission Network, “Do you have a passion for mission and a passion for coffee?” So long story short, we arrived this week in Kathmandu to work at The Top of the World Coffee Shop. It seems like a good time to revive charitableliving.net with both purposes still intact. First, to keep in touch with family and friends. But, maybe more importantly, to encourage others to step out of their comfort zones and, to paraphrase Marty Troyer and the Lord’s prayer, work so that “thy kingdom come, the will be done in Kathmandu/Newton/Houston/… as it is in heaven.”

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A Tribute to Cookie: Take Us with You

Beverly Bartel Regier wrote:

Yesterday afternoon we stopped by the funeral home during visitation for our friend, Cookie, who passed away on Monday.  Cookie’s sister was just beginning to set up memorabilia from Cookie’s life.  She had stacks of photos, albums, art, etc., and she enlisted our help.  It was such fun doing that, because we’ve known Cookie for so much of her life that I was familiar with a lot of the memories in a personal way.

One book caught my attention more than the others.  It was a scrapbook our small group had made for Dave and Cookie and Abra before they left for Chad.  We had filled our pages with photos, memories, and blessings for them as they left.  And I had written a letter.

Part of that letter was a plea that they take us with them along to Chad.  I wrote that this new adventure would change them, would cause them to ask questions and search for answers, would give them new perspectives, would help them define better ways to live.  I wanted to not be left behind.  I wanted to grow alongside them, asking the questions, struggling for the answers, gaining the new perspectives and wisdom.

Now in the middle of the night before the funeral, I lie awake realizing that all along, even before I wrote that plea, they have taken us along.  It has been part of who Cookie is to be open, vulnerable, and not afraid to speak the questions or share the answers, not afraid to take risks, make mistakes, or make things right after those mistakes.

Read the entire tribute which Bev shared during the funeral lunch on Bev’s blog, Vintage Navelgazer.  Thank you Bev!

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Cookie’s Memorial: Circles™ of Hope

It has been a week since Cookie’s funeral and burial, but the flowers are still beautiful as they sit in our dining room window.  I’ve tried to resume a semblance of routine which has been hard since everything I do brings a reminder of Cookie.  As I went through Cookie’s papers earlier this week,  I saw the outline of her life story which she had shared in small-group a couple of months ago.  She also thought it could be the basis of her obituary.

Cookie’s first point was simple: poverty.  Not “I was born on a farm.”  Nor “I was the baby of the family.”  Not even “I played alone most of the time.”  Even though each of these is true and affected who Cookie later became, what Cookie chose to say was stark and unambiguous, “Poverty.”  Until they moved to town when Cookie was in 3rd grade, Cookie’s family lived in a house without indoor plumbing.  The source of water was a cistern in the front yard.  The toilet was an outhouse in the back.  Her Dad struggled to successfully farm land that probably shouldn’t have ever been plowed with its thin, rocky soil.  The straw that broke the camel’s back came when he bought a small herd of dairy cattle that had Bang’s disease rendering them infertile.   Refusing to go bankrupt the family moved to town and Cookie’s Dad and Mom both worked hard for more than a decade before paying off their farm debt.  When Cookie went to college, she didn’t expect nor did she receive financial support from her family.  But it was the era when the federal government had good student aid programs, so by dint of her own hard work and a good financial aid package, Cookie was first member of her family to graduate from college.

But childhood poverty has its effect even in adulthood.  When Cookie saw the financial advantages that friends continued to accrue from their families she struggled with envy.  She  chose to present herself as “different” rather than facing the feelings of inadequacy she felt.  She often felt trapped by circumstances beyond her control.  She was mulling over this one day while walking to the grocery store when she had what she would later refer to as her “aha” moment.  She went in one moment from feeling sorry for herself to experiencing deep empathy for those still in poverty and those facing racial prejudice.  “Oh my gosh,” she thought, “this must be how it feels to be poor.  This must be how it feels to be discriminated against.”  After that day, I never heard her compare herself to those who were better off than she was; her only concern was to lift up those who were worse off.

Beginning in  2004, the Newton community has held several seminars based on Ruby Paine’s book, “Bridges out of Poverty”, helping local educators, business leaders and church members to better understand how to work with and assist low-income families.  Peace Connections coordinated a class based on Phil Devol’s “Getting Ahead in a Just Getting by World” for those in poverty wanting out.  Organizations had to recommend and sponsor students.  This is where Cookie became involved, co-teaching the class with Pam, a social-worker with a local agency.  It soon became obvious that a class and the support of a sponsor was not enough; there needed to be more follow-up.  The community was ready, but the connections weren’t being made.

Scott Miller founder of Move the Mountain, author of “Until It’s Gone: Ending Poverty in our Nation, in our Lifetime”, says, “What truly helps families find a way out of poverty is to become part of a community of people with different socioeconomic backgrounds who have learned to care about one another.”   This was like music to Cookie’s ears.  In October of 2007, Cookie and Myrna, director of Peace Connections, went to Marshall, Missouri for a hands-on training for Scott Miller’s Circles™ Campaign. The key concept of Circles™ is that those in middle and upper class have not only financial advantages, but also have a circle of social assets which is often missing among those in poverty.  Participants in Circles™ are paired with local volunteers to provide those assets identified as a need by the participant. A “Getting Ahead” class which Cookie co-taught became the first cohort of Newton’s Circles of Hope.  Cookie became the local spokesperson for Peace Connection’s Circles™ iniative, speaking in local churches and organizations as well as at a state poverty convention.   She also helped coordinate the Scott Miller’s 2008 visit to Newton during which the Newton community shaped the future direction of the program.

When we left for India in July of 2009, the Newton Circles™ effort was small, but it had a strong group of volunteers.  By the time we returned in August of 2010 the program had gained momentum with group meetings often numbering over 50 people.  This fall seems to be the tipping point for the national campaign with stories about the program appearing on the CBS Evening News and CNN among others.

While we were planning Cookie’s funeral, someone asked me about the memorial; I had to admit that Cookie and I hadn’t discussed it.  But it only took me a few seconds to realize that Circles™ would be the perfect memorial.  It is, in fact, already a living memorial to Cookie’s dedication and joyful work.  Inviting others to participate by their donations assures its continued viability.  The flowers which I am still enjoying will eventually fade, but the lives changed by Circles™ will continue to be bright and beautiful.

 

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Posted in Whole-life Stewardship | 6 Comments

A full life, joyfully shared

Several years ago Celeste Kennel-Shank, visited Newton regularly as an editor of the Mennonite Weekly Review. She became a regular house-guest and friend.  Her tribute to Cookie has been published in the November 14 issue of MWR.

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Thank you

Thursday was a beautiful day.  The funeral was a joyful celebration of Cookie’s life and death.  The meal was a wonderful time of fellowship and story-telling.  The weather was perfect during the 3 hour drive to Beatrice.  We saw deer, a coyote, turkey, and many many hawks; Cookie would especially have appreciated the fall colors in the grasses and shrubs.  Our arrival at the cemetery confirmed Cookie and my choice of burial location.  It is a beautiful setting with the church and cemetery on a hill overlooking the Blue River valley.

I want to thank everyone:  Anita and Joan for leading worship;  Kay, Donna, Dwight, Ben and Daryl for worshipful music; those who provided the meal; those who shared a story or memory; those who drove to Beatrice for the committal service and burial; the hospitality committee of the Beatrice church for a delicious supper and time of continued fellowship. Also I would never have managed without the direct support of Birdie, Leroy and the Life-Sharing class.  You all were great.

I particularly treasure all the words of sympathy I have received in person or through this blog, email, facebook and twitter.  Cookie touched many lives around the world and they have reached back to her in this time of sickness and death. Thank you!

 

 

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Posted in Cancer, Whole-life Stewardship | 6 Comments

Life Sketch

A LIFE WELL LIVED –   MARY RUTH (COOKIE) WIEBE   (1954 – 2011)

Cookie Wiebe, 57, life partner of husband, David Wiebe, died Monday morning, October 31, 2011.  She was born in Newton on February 1, 1954 the youngest child of Alfred G. and Clara Voth.  She graduated from Newton High School in 1972 and Bethel College in 1976.  After marrying David in 1978 and starting a family, Cookie chose to be a stay-at-home mom rather than starting on a career path.  During this time Cookie did some part-time and lots of volunteer work.  From 1989 – 1992, Cookie and her family served with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) doing community development in Chad, Africa.  Returning to Newton, Cookie continued to work with MCC as workroom supervisor which inspired her later interest in human resource development (HRD).  From 1995-1999, Cookie and David, worked at Woodstock School in India.  One of Cookie’s roles was new staff coordinator which furthered her interest in HRD.  Upon returning from India, Cookie attended Friends University earning a Masters Degree in HRD.  Cookie used her skills and knowledge in several jobs including another MCC term in N. Newton as HR director, wellness coordinator for Harvey county, and most recently interim HR manager at Woodstock School. It was there a bit more than one year ago, that Cookie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer which would ultimately be terminal.

Married 33 1/3 years, Cookie and Dave demonstrated their strong faith and firm commitment to whole life stewardship.  For their 25th anniversary, Cookie and Dave purchased a tandem bike. They participated in several BAK rides and two longer fund-raising trips to Mennonite Conventions in N. Carolina and California.  Given Cookie’s propensity to document everything, either photographically or journalistically, this past year she has inspired many with her blogs (www.charitableliving.net) about her disease and life convictions and by sharing her fabulous photos taken on daily walks along Sand Creek bike path.  In her bucket list of things to do before she died, Cookie included two things, an art gallery photography showing of her portraits taken of regular people in India with whom she and Dave came into contact and to see the birth of their first  grandson.   Both of these wishes were graciously granted.  In life, Cookie was an excellent teacher and public speaker, passionate about many things such as helping people overcome poverty and injustice, and interested in great ideas and meaningful discussions. She loved movies especially foreign films with subtitles.  She sought to live life intentionally, with no regrets.

She will be especially missed in this life by husband, David of Newton, daughter Abra (husband Phil Staffin) and new grandson Cassius Staffin-Wiebe of Minnesota, brother John (wife Colleen) of Derby, sister Birdie (husband Tim Vander Molen) of Illinois, nieces Amy Voth, Jane Vander Molen and nephews David Voth and Tim Vander Molen Jr.   Cookie was preceded in death by daughter, Bethany Ann Wiebe, and her parents. Cookie and Dave also belonged to an extraordinary Sunday School Class at First Mennonite in Newton, where they journeyed together with others in their faith.   Cookie will be sorely missed by this group of wonderful friends and sojourners in life.

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Posted in Cancer, Whole-life Stewardship | 7 Comments