Behind the Lens: Ain’t no mountain high

IMB photographers share stories from their photo collections

As a Christian worker and I snaked through alleyways, ducked in and out of tea shops, and asked directions of women toting babies through the streets, I discovered that each alleyway, restaurant and shop in Kathmandu hosts metaphorical passageways into the lives of men, women and children who represent Nepal’s many people groups and languages. I was on a scavenger hunt to find someone from an unengaged and unreached people group (UUPG) to take a photo for a prayer guide. 

In a tea shop in the shadow of Boudhanath stupa in Kathmandu, I found just who I were hoping to find.  

This woman and her son are from an unengaged and unreached people group (UUPG) whose lives are so removed from anything I could ever hope to experience. However, by stepping into this shop, I stepped into an opportunity to meet someone from a people group so remote most people will never have the chance to encounter. Finding her, even in Kathmandu, took time.  

Her people group lives in remote areas of eastern Nepal, and the trip to reach them isn’t for the faint of heart or faint of foot. Their villages are in a protected conservation area that requires expensive trekking permits to enter. People who obtain a permit fly from Kathmandu to a ‘nearby airport,’ and a few years ago, it was a five-day trip to reach the village. A new road was recently built, so reaching the closest village now involves a two-day drive from the airport and a two-day hike from an elevation of 3,500 feet to 12,000 feet.

Christians in the photo above travel to reach the woman’s people group. They told me reaching these people takes preparation and training physical fitness and becoming accustomed to elevation being two of the necessary steps to take before traveling. 

Needless to say, I would not be making this trek, nor was it the primary focus of my trip to Nepal, but I was hoping to meet someone from the people group to highlight in a prayer booklet for East Asia. I’m thankful the Lord guided my steps – many people have prayed for this woman and her people because of the scavenger hunt. 

I learned the woman and her family came to Kathmandu for work. She works in a tea shop. Her son wasn’t too sure about my visit, and he stayed close to his mother. The boy’s expressions remained skeptical, but his mother’s quiet demeanor was arresting – and I wished I could speak her language, so I could learn more about her life that’s so vastly different from mine. What was it like to move from an isolated village to a capital city? 

Her people group are thought to have migrated to Nepal from Tibet hundreds of years ago. For years, they were tradesmen, traveling between Tibet, Nepal and India. Sadly, their primary source of income diminished with the advent of modern roads, so many migrated to other communities for job opportunities. This woman is now a tradesman of tea – a staple in Nepal and South Asia. 

During my visit, I also met this man. He’s from the same people group. He noticed my attention was drawn to this corner of the tea shop because of the great light and the leading lines, and he was eager to be the subject of one of my photos. Well, more than one – he enjoyed his time in the spotlight, and I had to cut off the photo session before the tea in the shop cooled. 

I’ve caught myself wondering what he and the mother and son are doing now. Have they had contact with any other Christians? They work just minutes from where I watched and photographed Tibetan Buddhists circumambulate the world-famous Buddhist stupa. I moved counterclockwise, taking photos as they walked clockwise, looping around and around – chasing merit is an exhausting scavenger hunt that never ends.  

The woman’s people group are devout Tibetan Buddhists, and at the time the prayer guide was published in 2016, there were no known churches and only two believers. The Bible had not been translated into their language, and in 2016, there were no known recordings of the gospel.  

This has since changed. There are now Bible stories, and a translation of the gospel of Luke in a similar dialect is underway. These changes happened because Christians committed to making the trek to bring the gospel.  

The photo below was taken by local and western Christians who would make the trek to their village years after my visit to the tea shop. The travel was arduous, one of the Christians told me, but it was well worth the effort.  

When they went, they captured this photo of a village most outsiders will never see. I’m thankful for their photos; they complete the scavenger hunt and the story I began telling five years ago.  

Five years after my visit, there are four known Christians, who live in the village pictured above, and three of the four Christians are from the same family. One of the believers has a heart for his people and actively shares his faith. Christians were recently able to share the gospel 70 different times using a contextualized Bible storybook.  

The new Christians also had the opportunity to listen to recorded Bible stories this was the first time they had ever heard anything recorded in their language. Nepal is home to many unreached and unengaged people groups, and though the national language is Nepali, each people group has a language or dialect they speak.  

After listening to the stories, they excitedly called their friends and neighbors to come and listen to the recording. I marveled that the gospel was the first recording they heard in their language not pop music or news but the good news.  

Some men and women from the people group are visiting a nearby church but haven’t chosen to accept Christ. A western Christian said it might take one person stepping out in faith for others to follow. 

But I was encouraged too; five years after meeting the woman in the tea shop, the gospel is now reaching her people group and there is evident openness. I believe your prayers for the people group, whether it was through the UUPG prayer booklet or prayer requests, played a role in the advance of the gospel. Don’t stop praying. 

Would you join me in praying, or continue to pray, for this people group? We know the Lord’s desire is for every tribe to hear the good news. God is not daunted by distant communities.  

Pray for Christians who are seeking to share the gospel with hard-to-reach people groups.  

Pray for their strength, endurance and perseverance as they travel to remote areas.  

Pray for translators who are working on translating Luke into a similar dialect. 

May the next five years be even more fruitful.