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March 25, 2011

Memories of Nepal

When I smell oak burning in the evening, I recall the time I spent in Dadeldhura, Nepal. It does not matter whether ignorance or faith led me to journey there with no travel plans past the capital city, Kathmandu, because God provided for me.

  • Warm Welcome

    I felt welcomed as a friend everywhere I went in Nepal, and was treated with kindness on every step of my journey.

  • Rudimentary Transportation

    This photo from 1986 shows the rickshaw that was used as the hospital's ambulance. The hospital helped many people using basic supplies.

  • Faithful Actions

    My guide Bal Ram had been imprisoned and beaten for owning this Christian bookstore. Yet he re-opened the bookstore upon his release from prison.

When I smell oak burning in the evening, I recall the time I spent in Dadeldhura, Nepal. It does not matter whether ignorance or faith led me to journey there with no travel plans past the capital city, Kathmandu, because God provided for me.

He gave me TEAM workers to care for me along the way, and that delightful aroma of fire as people warmed themselves at night. Twenty-four years ago, I was invited by TEAM missionary friends Dan and Elena Boone to work at the old TEAM Hospital. Through this journey, I experienced God’s faithfulness.

It took four days of travelling to reach Kathmandu, where I stayed at a guesthouse. Hosts Kirk and Paula treated me as a friend though we had never met. Kirk met me at the airport. The only blue-eyed blond in the terminal, Kirk stood out from everyone else. After arriving on Wednesday, I learned that flights to Dunghari, the next stop on my journey, flew only on Fridays, and all seventeen seats on the next plane were full. It just so happened, as it often does with God’s sovereignty, that a friend of Kirk and Paula visited Kathmandu with a plan to return to Dunghari on that Friday’s flight. He gave me his seat, changing his plans and remaining in Kathmandu for an additional week. I saw my ignorance and sensed God’s faithfulness.

When Friday came, Kirk and Paula sent me off with explicit instructions for the rest of the journey. “Take a rickshaw to the hotel,” Kirk said. “Get to the bus stop before sunrise, since the bus will depart at the bus driver’s whim. Upon arrival in Dadeldhura, drop off your luggage at the house on the northwest corner and hike the trail adjacent to this house.” In panic I asked, “What’s a rickshaw? Where’s the bus stop? How will I know which direction is northwest?”

Satisfied with Kirk’s answers, I took a bundle of letters to deliver to TEAM members in Dadeldhura. As we said our goodbyes, Paula suggested I sit on the left side of the bus when I leave Dunghari the next day. “The narrow road through the mountains makes it feel like the bus may topple over the cliff,” Paula warned. “But it won’t.”

Upon arrival in Dunghari, I began to recite Kirk’s instructions, when a young man stepped forward and asked if I was Peggy. As Bal Ram introduced himself, I began to breathe again. He told me the Boones sent a guide, Preyag, for the rest of my journey. Again, God reminded me of His faithfulness. My guide spoke no English but we communicated through gestures, hand motions, and grunts.

When I dreaded a lonely evening in Dunghari, God surprised me. Bal Ram, Preyag, two others and I enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant, Mo Mo’s. The bill for the feast totaled $4.00 for all five of us. Feeling like a rich American, I picked up the tab. A small white candle, handed to me when I returned to the hotel, confused me. I gave the concierge a curious look when a bystander informed me the electricity was out and that the nightstand housed the candleholder. I slipped the key into the padlock and entered my tiny room. My bed, an inch of matting on a wooden board, and a nightstand left little space to maneuver. Placing the candle into its holder, I looked outside through the security bars to see passengers riding buffalo, beating their bongo drums, and chanting. I set my alarm for 4:45 am and slept soundly.

We arrived at the bus stop by 5:00am but the bus did not depart until 7:00am. Resembling a twenty-year old school bus, our vehicle jolted along as we climbed the mountain on a rocky dirt path. As passengers swayed, some vomited while others experienced diarrhea. The intermittent scent of marijuana coming from another passenger temporarily relieved the stench from the others. A flat tire held us back about an hour, but the opportunity to stretch my legs and breathe some fresh air made it worthwhile.

We arrived in Dadeldhura, and Preyag showed me the house on the northwest corner where we dropped off my luggage. The eighty-four mile distance between Dunghari and Dadeldhura took eleven hours with numerous stops for tea along the way. Dusk met us as we began our five-mile hike to TEAM Hospital.

We inhaled fresh air and passed campfires as we descended the last five miles. Saturday night, a full week after leaving home, I finally stood in the presence of Dan and Elena Boone, the friends I came to visit. Before bed, I sat in a metal tub, just big enough for me, and soaped up while Elena poured warm water over me. I consider it my most welcomed bath ever.

The next day, we attended English church and then Nepali church. We sat on the floor, women on one side and men on the other. Afterward, Dan and I took a walk through the mountains so I could see the nearby towns. When Dan pointed out a local village, a little boy ran up to us shouting something that sounded like “Tu che chen!” Dan replied, “Tu che chen?!” He turned to me. “Sorry Peggy!” Then he ran off, leaving me to find my way back to their house. Upon my arrival, I heard the cries of a newborn and saw Elena clamping an umbilical cord with her fingers. Dan arrived in time to cut it. Elena told me the baby’s birth came easy.

The new mom returned home for after-care. On Monday, I went to the hospital with Dan. A little girl, charred from shoulders to feet, lay in her sobbing mother’s arms. During the night the child rolled into the fire, causing third-degree burns over most of her body. Because families lived in one-room houses without doors to shelter them from the cold, fires in the middle of the room kept everyone warm while they slept. Treated unsuccessfully, the little girl died two days later. Her family followed custom and remained wailing with her corpse at the death site until dawn.

They buried her the next morning. While they wailed, the clinic continued daily activities with everyone. Feeling helpless, we prayed for her family, that they might know the one true God.

Only a few yards from their house, the hospital contained two examination rooms, an operating room, a file room, and a pharmacy. Its staff consisted of two doctors, two nurses, a pharmacist, two all-around helpers, a lab tech, and a messenger who commuted to India for food, medicines, and supplies. A twelve-bed ward, consisting of six bunk beds, stood next to the hospital. In a typical day, the staff treated three to four hundred patients.

Leprosy and tuberculosis dominated patient diagnoses. Pharmacists distributed medications for a minimal fee. Without cost, medications lacked value and people tended to ignore them. Some even sold their medicines on the streets. I sneaked off to give myself a tour of the hospital and noticed the antiquity of the operating room. A low-wattage light bulb hung above the operating table. A flashlight sat on a nearby stand. Elena later explained that the flashlight gave “insurance” during the transition between power going off and the generator taking over. The government provided electricity for only three hours, every other day. Though scheduled during the three-hour period, surgeries sometimes took longer than planned. A fly swatter lay nearby, as did a bucket used for disposing of used tools down a chute that led to the nearby creek.

I made myself useful by sorting pills for the pharmacist, taking x-rays with a veterinary clinic donation powered by generator, and assisting doctors as they examined patients. Taking a break one afternoon, we looked beyond the hills to see an “ambulance” heading toward the clinic. The vehicle consisted of a litter with a shallow well in which the patient could sit and a deeper well for his feet. This ambulance, I was told, arrived a few times every month. One person at each end carried the injured through the mountains to TEAM Hospital, often bypassing the government hospital along the way. TEAM Hospital’s reputation for its expertise and genuine care brought patients from as far away as a six-day journey.

The Nepalese Christians I encountered displayed an immense trust in God’s sovereignty. Bal Ram, the young man who met me at the airport, had been imprisoned for owning a Christian bookstore. When I asked him about his imprisonment, he would not share with me. I later learned, however, that he suffered beatings. He trusted God and refused to allow his government to overrule his Savior, reopening the bookstore upon his release.

Preyag, the guide from Dunghari to Dadeldhura, faced trial for leading a Bible study. Though I never knew the outcome of his trial, I noted his love for God expressed in fervent prayers and continued association with believers while his prosecutors watched. Treated with kindness and honor during my entire stay in Nepal, I felt like a queen. Even on my return to Dunghari, while staying at the small motel lighted with a candle, an associate of TEAM Hospital sought me out to keep me company, knowing I was alone. This was another reminder of God’s faithfulness as He continued to care for me along the journey back home.

The most remarkable person I met at TEAM Hospital was the pastor of the Nepali church I attended named Raghabir. Prior to my visit, the government raided his church and arrested all the elders. Absent during the raid, Raghabir, in solidarity with his elders, asked to be arrested. Because he was a leprosy patient, the government refused to arrest him, believing that he would contaminate the governmental officials. Because of this misconception, people in the region of TEAM Hospital studied God’s Word without disturbance. Again, God showed his faithfulness to His people.

The Boones lived at TEAM Hospital for only one year. Their dream of going back has never materialized. I am grateful for the opportunity I briefly spent with them in Nepal and thankful for everyone who guided me. Though I learned to plan my travels, I am glad for the unpreparedness of this trip because I came to know God’s faithful love.

-Written by Peggy McKinnon
-Photography by Robert Johnson and Peggy McKinnon

[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2011]