We spent a week in Pokhara, Nepal, where I met with a group of expatriates from the International Nepal Fellowship. Pokhara, at the base of the Himalayas, has a 3000-foot elevation, and the mountains just fifteen miles away are 26,000 feet. Most impressive but, sadly, we saw them only in outline form. The whole country is covered with haze and pollution. We last visited here in 1982, and the deterioration in the air and in general poverty since then is unimaginable. Nepal usually ranks as one of the ten poorest countries in the world, and you can see why immediately.
For starters, our hosts on this trip proved to be most interesting. Ray McCauley is probably the third most recognizable face in S. Africa. He was second runner-up—to Arnold Schwarzenegger!—in the Mr. Universe contest, and became a huge televangelist more well-known in S. Africa than Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, or any over here. He’s on all four network TV stations on Sunday, and has a church with 32,000 members. Four years ago his wife divorced him and he married a woman who had been a model in London and dated Rod Stewart for a year. The stories filled the scandal sheets for quite some time. Of course, I had no idea of this when accepting the invitation; I learned it all after arriving!
We thought Nepal would be gorgeous, something like Tibet, and China would be dirty and underdeveloped. Just the opposite. Nepal was poor, strife-torn, and so polluted we couldn’t see the mountains. Beijing, at least, is fast on its way to becoming a great modern city. Forty years ago there were less than 2000 cars in the city; now there are two million. Forty percent of the world’s construction cranes are operating in China, and some of these are building 2000 skyscrapers right now in Beijing. They have to have all construction finished in time for the showcase 2008 Olympics.
In early August Janet and I went to Brazil on an assignment that included some speaking and a little bit of vacation. One of the publishers of my books in Brazil was celebrating their 40th anniversary at a big banquet, and had also arranged a spiritual retreat on “the scandal of grace” for a couple of hundred pastors and leaders.
Janet and I are off again, this time to Europe. We’re in Budapest, Hungary, where we’re touring for a few days before I speak at a Youth For Christ conference for staff from Europe and North Africa. My first job was with Campus Life Magazine, then a part of Youth For Christ, and I know some of these folks from way back. They tend to be overworked and underpaid, and I’d like to encourage them. Europe and North Africa are probably the toughest places in the world to try to minister.
We are traveling again, back to Europe. I am speaking two places: in Switzerland, at a pastors’ conference in Geneva, and in a conference sponsored by my publisher in Prague, Czech Republic.
Actually, we are sitting in the Zurich airport, with the Swiss pastors’ conference behind us. It went fairly well, although the mostly-French pastors are accustomed to a straight three-point expository style of speaking, rather than the more elliptical, story-telling style that I use. Some of the older pastors, especially, frowned the entire time, which posed a challenge. Funny how the church over here gets more set in its ways and more resistant to change as it increasingly loses ground to the wider culture. Do they ever put those two together?
Janet and I are taking off this week for a trip to Asia, and would greatly appreciate your prayers. I speak eleven times, and we visit three countries, so it will be grueling. Here’s the plan.
We fly to Seoul, Korea, where we spend the night, then take a plane the next morning to Manila, Philippines. I’ll be speaking at a gathering of developing world journalists. This gathering takes place every few years, and friends of mine who have met with them come away very impressed with the quality of participants. We’ve been to the Philippines twice before, and it’s always a shot in the arm to sense the enthusiasm of the church there. After the revolution deposing Marcos, evangelicals grew in leaps and bounds, and I’ve never met people so eager to follow Jesus’ commands in the simplest, most literal way possible.