The Miracle Trip
In Memoriam of Suzanne Pierce Harding (24 November 1938 - 5 June 2020)
In honor of our mother Sue Harding, who passed away on June 5, 2020, we have included excerpts of one particular trip, described in a recently-discovered report she wrote for her boss at UMN. She called it her “Miracle Trip."
In the early 1990’s, while Dr. Dick Harding led the Community Development & Health Project in South Lalitpur, Nepal, Suzanne Harding served as advisor for the “tutorial groups” -- little schools for the children of missionaries working with the United Mission to Nepal (UMN).
Back in the 1970’s (while teaching her own four
children), Sue had initiated this model of schooling
whereby children of different ages and nationalities
studied together under one roof, following their own individual homeschool curricula, with the guidance
of one teacher. Each tutorial group teacher was a
mission volunteer called specifically to serve in
this way, thereby offering a wonderful alternative to boarding school and single-family homeschooling.
As part of her job, Sue made periodic visits to the UMN tutorial groups in different locations throughout Nepal. Her aim was to provide encouragement and support to the teachers, children and their families, and to see how they were doing and how she could help.
[We pause here to note that while Sue’s husband Dick frequently journeyed to remote locations (and thoroughly enjoyed “roughing it”), Sue did not relish traveling in the least (be it in Nepal, the USA, or anywhere). As a matter of fact, she often became quite ill just thinking about getting on a bus or plane; she worried about missing connections, getting lost and worse. Nepal is, to put it mildly, a rugged country, and travel has always been difficult, unpredictable, and often dangerous. So, all said and done, Sue’s job as tutorial group advisor required her to face her travel fears and trust in God’s provision -- and she did so extremely well.]
- Sue's Daughter, Ellen Collins
Jumla… the name calls to mind a strange, far-away place, and indeed it is! One can walk over the mountains for four to five days to get there, or can travel by a small plane that is often canceled, rescheduled, or unexpectedly fully booked.
Soon we landed in the high (8000 ft.) T-shaped Jumla valley where I was met by local UMN friends. They were surprised I had arrived on the scheduled day… another miracle! As we walked along the rocky, unpaved road through the town of Jumla, we passed flat-roofed stone houses and greeted people dressed in colorful woolen clothes. The air was fresh and clean compared to Kathmandu. Here and there we saw horses and herds of mountain sheep. Buddhist prayer flags flew from many houses.
After a 20-minute walk, we came to the home of the tutorial group teacher I had come to visit and who graciously hosted me. Her grey stone house has a wood stove, and water is hand-carried in and used sparingly. Just like the rest of the team, she loves Jumla and feels this is where God wants her to be.
The school building was another walk further up the valley. What wonders she has done with a bleak, mud-plastered room! She has transformed it into a colorful, enticing learning center. And her three little students are full of enthusiasm for learning. Recently they observed the local Nepali people and made correctly dressed dolls carrying typical loads in their mini wicker baskets. What a miracle -- finding such a perfect little school in such a remote place!
I later visited Karnali Technical School, the UMN project where these children's parents work. This vocational school trains high school level students in three trades: health, agroforestry, and construction. The UMN missionaries -- trained professionals in these areas -- work alongside Nepali administrators and instructors.
The high point of my visit to Jumla was the Christian house fellowship meeting. The room was packed with people singing, praying and learning what it means to be a Christian. God is certainly working great miracles in this place.
My flight out of Jumla left on-schedule, and, much to my delight, I got the “government seat.” (What a miracle!) After 20 minutes (representing several days' walk through the mountains), we descended into Surkhet valley.
Surkhet, the center for many government development projects, is also the base for UMN’s rural projects in the area. I was met at the airport by one of the UMN team members. She put my bag on her bicycle, strapped her small son on her back, and we walked about a half mile down a gravel road shaded by red and purple Jacaranda trees… The shade was a blessing, because Surkhet was certainly hot!
Soon we arrived at the home of UMN friends where I was to stay. Their tall, narrow mud-brick house is painted white with black trim and has a slate tile roof. They have electricity and a telephone, although these were knocked out by a big storm when I was there. Four other UMN families live nearby, all working in rural development. This team is dedicated to serving the people in this almost untouched area of Nepal.
The tutorial group school seems luxurious compared to the one in Jumla. It is a 6-room cement building with electricity and running water. There is a large front yard for a playing area. In the backyard are fruit trees and a vegetable garden. The teacher has arranged an attractive classroom and library/reading room. He has a small office and a storage room; the other two rooms are used by the play group. The two older students are using correspondence courses (from the USA and Canada), while the younger ones use reading and math materials available at the school.
When I arrived, the students were doing a painting activity together. They also have PE, storytime and worship as a group, while they do other subjects individually… (mostly!) At one point everyone stopped to watch while their teacher demonstrated a lever to one student, so he explained it to them all! He takes great effort to meet each child's needs and to give each one special attention. Having a small class allows opportunity for this individualized teaching. Living in a Nepali community also provides many opportunities for observing culture, learning language, and finding that Nepali children can be good friends too.
The next part of my trip could have been very difficult; but by another small miracle, the Surket project vehicle was heading for Kathmandu the very day I was to leave. So I avoided a long night bus ride. Our jeep wound down narrow dirt roads for 3 hours and through the pine forests of the Bardia Wildlife Sanctuary. There I saw peacocks and monkeys but not tigers. Then we skirted Nepalganj on the Nepal/India border, and took the East-West Highway along the plains of southern Nepal. We passed houses made of mud-plastered sticks, wood houses on stilts, brick houses with tile roofs, and the "modern" cement buildings. How varied this country is!
After another hour we arrived at the town of Lamahi where I was dropped off at a tea stall to await the vehicle from the Jhimruk project, my next destination. I sat in the shade of the tin roof, drank tea and a Sprite and ate a meal of rice and lentils. I broke out my treasured chocolate bar and chatted a bit with the proprietor’s daughter. After a three-hour wait, how happy I was to see the Land Rover arrive! I was grateful for another miracle.
We climbed for an hour up a narrow winding road to the top of a ridge. Then we remained on that ridge, following a road cut into the hillside with a steep drop on one side. I wondered when we would descend again and how many vehicles we'd pass on the way. Finally, after a brief stop for some tea, we began the descent into a small valley -- we were in Jhimruk.
Jhimruk is a sandy, dry place (except in the monsoon), and very hot. Not much food is available; everything has to come in over that road. In the monsoon the road and the fords are very dangerous. The task of the Jhimruk project is to build a hydro-electric plant for that whole region. The UMN missionary engineers contribute expertise, while their medically trained wives operate a clinic for the 1000 Nepali engineers and workers on site.
The whole project is temporary, however. When the plant is complete, all but a small maintenance crew will pack up and move elsewhere to start another hydro-electric project. But they will leave behind more than a power house -- also irrigation projects, local development work, and a small Christian congregation.
The teacher for the Jhimruk tutorial group is a delightful young woman from Northern Ireland who has volunteered to teach here for one year! She has set up the tutorial group, ordered supplies, planned the teaching schedule, and worked with the parents to get this important service going. Her job has been made difficult because the families come from three different countries and have widely different ideas about education.
Early the next morning I joined her three students (ages 5-6) for a walk over the swinging bridge to the school. Here again, this teacher has done wonders with two bare cement rooms. Large bright bulletin boards cover the dull walls, and colorful cushions and mats dot the floor. Each child is learning reading and math at his/her own pace, but they have other subjects together. In fact two mornings each week the four-year-olds (and one mother) join in for songs, stories, and art.
The children of the Nepali staff have their own school located beside the tutorial group. Sharon helps teach them English, while the tutorial group children learn Nepali singing and dancing there. Since these children are neighbors, they learn some of each other's language. They are learning international relations the practical way.
My stay in Jhimruk was brief since I had to leave when the vehicle was leaving. So I climbed into the jeep with five other people and piles of luggage. Again I enjoyed the beautiful trip out to Lamahi where I was just in time to catch the express minibus -- another miracle -- on its way east to Butwal. (The local bus can take six tedious hours; I got there in four.).
The city of Butwal has grown since we visited it fifteen years ago. Located on the plains of southwestern Nepal, it has long been the center of UMN’s industrial development projects. The present projects include: apprenticeship training at Butwal Technical Institute; several engineering industries; and the Development Consulting Services that disseminates appropriate technology to many areas of Nepal.
I was able to locate the mission guesthouse with no trouble. How good it felt to drink a pitcher of cold water and then stand under the shower after that hot dusty ride! (Butwal is as hot as Surkhet and Jhimruk. Thankfully, periodic rain kept temperatures below 100 degrees during my visits to all three places.)
Suddenly two little girls came running in to welcome me. Their teacher, recently arrived from Northern Ireland, had been in Butwal only three weeks. Several years ago she had taught the tutorial group in Amp Pipal; now she has returned to offer this important service to the Butwal team. During supper at the guesthouse I got to know her better and to appreciate her experience, wisdom, and love for children. The UMN is fortunate to have excellent, well-trained, caring teachers for our tutorial groups.
I also met some other team members at the guesthouse meals. They are a lively group with many talents -- and not only technical ones! While I was there they were busy practicing with the Tansen team to produce four days of inspiring music and drama to enrich the worship at the upcoming UMN Annual Conference. In fact, my trip was shortened by one day because they were all going up to cooler Tansen for a rehearsal!
In the evening we went to inspect the renovation work being done on the teacher’s house, just outside the compound. We were glad to see that the landlord’s pigsty had been moved from under her bedroom window and that the pig had been sent to the countryside. This airy house will be quite pleasant when it has a new layer of mud plaster on the bedroom floor, a stairway built inside (replacing the ladder outside), and glass put in the windows.
The next morning my little girl guides took me on the short walk across the compound, out the gate, and across a small yard to the school house -- a well-built cement building with a screened-in porch, three good-sized rooms, and a bathroom. Already their teacher has put artwork, stories, and posters on the bright green bulletin boards. She has bought cloth to replace worn cushion covers, and has made an attractive classroom and reading area. She is working on a room for art and educational play. This is another case of a creative teacher making an inviting learning area from the bare basics.
I enjoyed participating in worship, hearing children read, and helping with "bucket ball" during PE class. I even got to take part in the first lesson in Nepali singing led by one of the Christian housekeepers. One missionary child could sing "This is the Day" in Dutch, Nepali and English. She is an example of the many trilingual children and families in UMN.
As I left Butwal and rode toward Kathmandu in the luxury of the Butwal vehicle (another miracle), I felt grateful for God's care on this long, complicated trip. I was thankful for the opportunity to see the beautiful and varied peoples and landscapes of this country. I was thrilled to visit some of the most remote UMN projects and to meet the missionaries and local people serving there together. I was amazed at the breadth of UMN's work. And I was delighted with the eager children, their creative teachers and their talented families.
I went on this trip to encourage and help, but found that I was the one encouraged, helped and blessed.
I chose to fly from Kathmandu to Jumla via Nepalgunj, a hot, dusty town on the plains of western Nepal. The first miracle of the trip occurred when I arrived at the airport two hours early for my flight. (I wasn't sure how long the rickshaw ride would take). I was shocked to discover that the flight was leaving in 20 minutes! Thankful for my habit of always arriving early, I climbed into the little plane. We flew bumpily along among barren brown hills and occasionally saw snow-covered mountains.