Beauty and the Beast

Articles in UK newspapers recently highlighted concerns about pollution in UK cities. Apparently the particularly damaging particles (PM2.5) are 50-100% higher in London than World Health Organisation limits of 10 mg/m. I thought I would compare this to levels in Kathmandu. It’s sobering reading. Only on the best days, at the best times is Kathmandu’s air quality the same as London’s worst. Kathmandu’s worst is 1600% worse than the WHO limits.

Its beautiful outside the main city at this time of year. Its the rice harvest and its fascinating to see harvest as it would have been in the UK 150 yrs ago.

This was the only piece of machinery we saw, a foot operated threshing machine.

After the harvest they will dig out this land to make bricks in the kiln in the background (one of the main causes of pollution).









Its tough work.






And after the beauty, its back to the beast……….





Cycling home from Namobuddha last weekend the heavens opened as I started the hour and a half climb up to the pass. It had rained a lot for a couple of days but now it just poured down. After sheltering for half an hour I realised it wasn’t going to stop and pressed on, thankful that Nepali rain is warmer than British rain. Much of the dirt road had become a stream and in two places I had to ford rivers that had materialised in the last 24 hours. I saw a motorcyclist get on to his bike after answering a call of nature and a second after he left a landslide came over the spot he had been standing.

Kathmandu is in the hilly area of Nepal and so most of this rain disperses and joins the rivers that flow from the Himalayas south towards India. In the south, plain lands that run east to west across the length of Nepal bear the brunt of this kind of weather and you have probably seen on the news pictures of terrible flooding.

The Baptist Church in the east and our friend Bharat (whom I wrote about previously) in the west have been working with churches to provide food and shelter for those in need. Over 100 people have died in floods and landslides. More than 100,000 are affected. Some have lost homes and many families’ food stocks as well as this year’s rice harvest have been destroyed. The price of vegetables in Kathmandu has been shooting up as it becomes clear that many crops are lost and transport is difficult.

From a more developed country’s perspective it is hard to appreciate how vulnerable poor people’s lives are here. There is no insurance. Many labourers are payed on a daily basis, if you work you get paid if you don’t because all the fields you work in are under water then you receive nothing. And a daily wage may be under $2. Such people have big immediate needs but more than that they will need long term help.

This blog isn’t written to solicit funds but because many of you pray regularly for Nepal. However if you would like to give then one way of doing so is through the BMS Relief Fund. You can find info here:

They are already involved in the recovery work.

On Humility

IMG_20170722_111425243Preaching on humility, I felt I needed to correct the pastor who kept introducing me as Professor Saunders. I also often get called Sir Andy which doesn’t help my humbleometer. Little did I know that I was going to encounter a perfect example of humility after the service.


Rubbish Collection Point

The church was an hours bus ride (15p) to the north of the city. Getting off at the ring road and following google maps to pick our way down an extremely muddy road through a bamboo clothes market we passed a rubbish collection point just before we arrived at the church.

Rubbish is a huge problem in Kathmandu. Huge amounts of waste are dumped at the side of the road, in the Bagmati river or down ravines. There is a rubbish collection service that is pretty efficient. Our waste is collected twice a week by a lorry, tractor or rickshaw. However there is as yet little effective education about waste and the environment so rubbish litters the streets and spoils beauty spots.

IMG_20170722_131625286After the service the pastor and Devendra invited us to come and see ‘the project’. It consisted of three simple breeze block rooms adjoining the church. We sat in the gloomy and slightly damp smelling office wondering what on earth could be happening here.

Divendra has a passion to educate children in the importance of creation care and waste mangement. Starting from scratch he approached two schools to ask if he could work with them. They were highly sceptical but his passion and grasp of the subject won him an opening. Now he works with 6000 school children.

IMG_20170722_133543802He teaches about the environment and recycling. They place recycling bins in every class room and collect paper, plastic, metal and compost every 2 days with a rickshaw. They teach children how to make greeting cards from recycled paper and ornaments from recycled plastic. All profits are split 50/50 with the schools who have become supportive partners.

Divendra is in this project for the long term. He has studied projects around the world and reeled off figures illustrating that working with children to educate them in waste mangement can be very effective in changing a culture but takes 10-15 years.



Recycling Paper

In my sermon I commented that inNepali society people instantly know on meeting a new person whether they are above you or below you in the hierarchy of relationships. I noticed Devendra nodding. He told us that usually those who work with waste are the ‘untouchables’ from the old caste system. His family were deeply upset that he was working with waste. He has two Masters degrees and they expected him to have a big office and the trappings of power by the age of 34. He is clearly conscious of the shame others place on him but his passion drives him forward.

Humility in action.



When I graduated from Spurgeon’s College I was 33, it was my second degree, I’d worked as a teacher and had four years experience in full time christian work. Through the Baptist structures I had been called to serve as pastor in a church and could look forward to being provided with a house, a salary and even a book allowance.

It was a treat (3 hours long!) to be invited to the Baptist Bible College Graduation at the weekend.There is a great love of ceremony and dressing up (one way in which I don’t naturally fit into the culture!). Tassles are ceremonially moved from one side of the mortar board to the other on being presented with the certificate. And there is a feast at the end, fitting as families and friends have often travelled for many hours to attend.

The B.Th graduates were students I first met nearly 4 years ago and it was wonderful to see the huge progress they had made. 4 years ago some could hardly put together a sentence in English and most had never sat down to read a whole book apart from the Bible. Now they graduate with a heart and competence to minister in the church.

However, what a contrast to my graduation! All are under 26, their degree is not recognised by the government and very few will have a salaried post to go to. Most of the boys will have to plant a church or build up a small fellowship if they are to be pastors and for the girls there are even less formal opportunities. The Baptist denomination does have some funds to help church planters but there certainly won’t be a book allowance! Amazingly though about 90% of graduates do continue in full time ministry. I wonder what the percentage was from my year at Spurgeons?!

Other news: We have our visas – great rejoicing! Jenny has started work on her dissertation. The monsoon should be ariving any day soon.

What do the following have in common?

What do the following have in common: a carrot, a walking stick, a toothy grin and a shuttle cock? Answer: they are all symbols used by parties or individuals standing in the forthcoming local elections in Nepal. Other symbols include a tiger, a pair of feet and a kangaroo! There are a lot of political parties in Nepal. I counted 90 different symbols, and people vote for seven separate posts.

The Ballot Paper

These are the first local elections to be held for 20 years due to the civil war and the length of time it took to write the constitution following the advent of democracy. There is a lot of excitement and anticipation around the election of mayors and local leaders. People hope that locally elected leaders will be more accountable and more visionary than government appointees.

The UK has recently had local elections. We notice a number of differences here:

There are flags everywhere. On cars, motorbikes, houses, shops, buses and in gatherings and processions you see flags bearing the symbols of the major political parties.

Posters are placed in prominent places guiding people through the election process. This includes times, dates and places to vote, the procedure that will be followed on entering the polling station and reminders that weapons and fights are not allowed, and neither is offering food for people’s votes.

People vote, not by making a tick or a cross, but by making a swastika. In Nepal the swastika has, of course, no overtones of nazism but is a symbol of good luck and often found adorning people’s homes.

The staff of authority

Volunteers who will staff the polling stations are each issued with a bamboo staff to deal with anyone who causes trouble on the day of the elections.

There has been some doubt about whether these elections would be held because of continued political instability, particularly over the demarkation of boundaries as Nepal becomes a federal republic. It is a very hopeful sign that the elections are going ahead. They will be held on 2 different dates in separate parts of the country, May 14th and June 14th.

It’s great to see that in Kathmandu they seem to be very well organised and we are all hoping they will go off peacefully.

Other news: There is at last some movement re Jenny’s research visa. We’ll find out whether we can move to the next stage tomorrow.


Pollution Pradushan

The Nepali word for pollution is ‘pradushan’ which is easy to remember because Kathmandu produshes a lot of pollution.

The government has recently clamped down on noise pollution by banning the use of horns by all vehicles except in emergencies. I laughed when I heard that because most drivers use their horn more often than their brakes. I thought it would be impossible to change the habit of a lifetime.

However, two weeks of spot fines later, the noise level on the roads is transformed! Cyclists no longer have to wear ear plugs. Even traffic jams are quiet. Travel around the city is more relaxed.

Noise pollution is much easier to deal with than air pollution. The visible signs of pollution are obvious, with so many road works the city is incredibly dusty. However the pollution we don’t see is more dangerous to health. Newspapers publish daily pollution levels which helps to keep attention on the matter.

The government has recently produced a plan to alleviate air pollution. We’re all hoping it will be effective, Kathmandu could be such a beautiful city.

ps. still waiting for news re our visas.



We were woken by an explosion at 3am on Tuesday morning. From our bedroom we could see toxic black smoke rising from the Catholic Church which is about 50m from our house. There were a further 2 smaller explosions and we heard the firebrigade arriving.

It was reported in the press the next day that an arsonist had climbed over the compound wall and set fire to a car and two motor bikes in an open garage.

There is speculation amongst the christian community here that the size of the Easter rally in Kathmandu (an event that was televised) had stoked fears by others that christians were growing too quickly and were a threat to Nepali culture and traditions. Ironically the Catholics are often not considered to be bona fide christians by other denominations in Nepal and probably weren’t involved in the rally. But their building is one of the most identifiable christian landmarks in the city.

Such events, aimed at christians, seem to me to be quite rare here but it is a reminder of the tensions that can easily arise during a time of change and uncertainty. Nepal is heading towards local elections in May, the first for many years, and that is also exacerbating tensions between various communities in the wonderful diverse mix of people who make up Nepal. Christian and political leaders in Nepal need great wisdom at this time.