A soldier with his dog from the Israeli Search and Rescue Unit hunting for survivors in the rubble from Nepal’s earthquake. (Israel Defense Forces)
When the horrific 7.8 earthquake shook the tiny country of Nepal, some 650 Israelis were roaming the trails, enjoying the breath-taking mountains and rivers and waving at friendly Nepali farmers in picturesque hillside villages. Most of the Israelis were around age 22 – fresh out of the army where they had just fought a body-and-soul-numbing war with Hamas last summer in Gaza.
There is a tradition among Israeli youths who have finished army service to take a year off after army and before college or career – to trek across some far-away land.
Though you will find Israelis in every corner of the globe, two of the most favored destinations are India and Nepal. Both nations are predominately Hindu, and the spiritual pervasiveness with their many gods is fascinating to Israelis. One journalist traveled to India to explore why Israeli young people go there. A guru he interviewed said that Israelis are the most spiritual-seeking people of all the tourists who come to India.
Among the annual 300,000 tourists who visit Nepal, one can usually find hordes of hippie types congregating on the steps of ancient Hindu temples getting blasted on cannabis, as smoking is part of Nepali culture.
One of the darker sides of this poverty-stricken country, the capital Kathmandu is also a “baby factory” for gay couples from around the world who contract surrogate Nepali mothers to give birth to babies. At the time of the earthquake, 26 babies had been born and were waiting to go back with their “parents” – homosexual couples from Israel.
Of course, most Israelis are there just to get away from it all and enjoy some of the most exquisite treasures of nature on earth. Some come for the ultimate delight – climbing up the sides of Mount Everest. Often they travel in small groups with their army buddies. Being healthy young people who have just left the army, they are fit to hike into some of the most daunting and remote trails anywhere.
And so it was on a beautiful Saturday morning, Israelis took off in different directions with plans to hike hundreds of miles over the coming days and even weeks.
At the same time, it being Saturday, quite a few stayed in Kathmandu to visit the ultra-Orthodox outreach center of Habad where they are served free meals and given a place to sleep, along with studies in Talmudic Judaism.
THE EARTHQUAKE HITS
Then at 11:56 in the morning, the enormous earthquake began to rock and toss most of the entire nation – including Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. Across the little country about a third the size of California, in thousands of isolated villages, the houses – made of rocks and mud for mortar – came crashing down on its citizens.
An Israeli witness in Kathmandu told how he heard the roar of the earthquake as he was knocked off his feet. But even more terrible, he said he “heard the screams of a million people” – a sound he can never forget.
ISRAEL FLIES OUT FIRST RESPONDERS
Back in Jerusalem, by Saturday afternoon Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a three-part plan ready to go: to set up a field hospital in Kathmandu, with medical personnel and search and rescue units; to send planes with emergency supplies and to transport Israelis trying to get out of Nepal back to Israel.
By Saturday night, the first Israeli Air Force experts were on their way to Nepal to assess the situation. Knowing that every minute is critical for those who could still be rescued under the rubble, the next day a military team of 250 along with search dogs were on their way, landing in Kathmandu on Monday. By Tuesday, the 60-bed field hospital was up and running with a capacity to serve up to 200 wounded a day. After India, Israel brought the largest contingent of emergency aid workers of any country to help the devastated Nepali people.
THE LARGEST FIELD HOSPITAL IN NEPAL
For 16 days, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) field hospital treated 1600 wounded, including 85 life-saving operations. Israel’s hospital offered operating rooms, imaging facilities, advanced labs and an intensive care section with 150 Israelis taking care of its patients. It was the place where the most critical patients in the city were brought.
Another ten doctors, nurses and midwives headed to remote areas in the mountains where no one had yet been. Driving seven hours, and then walking three hours, they carried on their backs an entire field clinic. When they arrived they found the destruction was nearly 100 percent – every home flattened partially or completely. Families sleeping outside, with little food. People traumatized. As the word spread, people came with injuries wrapped in dirty rags, limbs frozen at strange angels, infections that had festered beyond recognition.
ISRAEL’S OWN NEPALI TRANSLATORS
When there were not enough Nepali translators who could even speak English, Israel had its own networks to independently move into remote areas and carry out the rescue and relief. Israel began using the assistance of some of the hundreds of Nepali farmers who earlier had received advanced agricultural training at Israel’s agriculture institutions.
ALMOST NO SURVIVORS FOUND
Yet only four survivors were found among the rubble even though there were more than 100 search and rescue teams sent from around the world. Israelis rejoiced when IsraAID, another Israeli NGO, had a part in rescuing a 24-year-old woman who had endured five days under the rubble with her dead uncle who had fallen on top of her.
IsraAID plans to stay in Nepal for at least a year, and has already started rolling out its trauma therapy field model, especially to help children deal with the emotional side of this disaster.
In all, the quake has affected eight million Nepali. That’s the entire population of Israel. The Nepali government says some 519,000 houses have been damaged or destroyed. No one has any idea how many people are still buried deep under the rubble or avalanches of boulders and snow.
SEARCHING FOR ISRAELIS
Meanwhile, the Israeli embassy in Kathmandu was diligently searching for every Israeli in Nepal. Within 24 hours, the Israeli embassy there reported that 100 were located at the Habad center and another 170 were given shelter in the courtyard of the embassy. But exactly 250 Israeli young people had not been located, much to the unbearable agony of the parents back home.
The Israeli Air Force rented helicopters from India to snatch the Israeli backpackers from all kinds of remote mountainous areas as virtually all roads and paths leading to the isolated hikers were impassible. Some told of how ice and snow avalanches fell on their camp, and those who escaped then dug their friends out alive. Israeli insurance companies also hired helicopters to extract groups of Israelis and lead them on foot to where they would be able to be evacuated.
One girl told how she had taken a satellite phone with her, much to the amusement of her companions. But because of that phone, she was able to call home and not only announce that she was safe, but record the location of her group and the names of all the other Israelis in the area.
ALL BUT ONE FOUND
Three days later, every Israeli backpacker had been located but one – Or (meaning light) Asraf, an IDF veteran who had been wounded in the war with Hamas. On Wednesday, Or’s mother, Orit was at Ben Gurion airport where Israelis were returning aboard Israeli Air Force planes. She had a large sign saying, “Have you seen Or Asraf?” A number of hikers had seen him before the earthquake. He had told them he was going ahead alone and would meet them in a village in Langtang. But no one had seen him after the earthquake.
On Thursday, his father Patrick flew to Nepal on an IAF plane vowing he would not return without his son. And here is where, in such situations, I see what I would call that collective God-spark that is deep in the soul of the Jewish people. The entire nation, with their apps receiving constant news updates, yearned to see this young man come home.
Almost a dozen fellow ex-soldiers volunteered to travel with Patrick to search for Or. Backpackers, instead of coming home, joined the search, looking at every body lying in the rubble. Even Or’s commander, who was there with the search and rescue teams received permission to leave the field hospital and search for Or. More choppers were put into service, funded by private donors. The nation was praying.
But when his father arrived in the area where Or was last seen, he sent back word, “We realized the task would be extremely complex, if even possible at all. The area had suffered a terrible earthquake. It looked like an atomic bomb had been dropped. I was afraid that in the end I would have to leave him in the mountains.”
THE DANGEROUS SEARCH CONTINUES
For three days his buddies searched for Or in dangerous terrain where there was constant threat of mudslides and landslides. They fought strong winds, heavy rain and hail. They came across the bodies of both foreign travelers and local Nepalis killed in the quake. But Or’s body was not found, giving rise to fears that he had been buried in a landslide.
And then Or was identified by his own commander, apparently by a mark on his body eight days after the earthquake. Or was only 100 meters from an area where he could have been rescued. But he had no chance. Once he was identified, his buddies risked their lives and carried him in the pitch dark over an hour’s slog through the mountains so they could return him home.
Or’s parents released a statement the afternoon after the discovery: “His direct unit, veterans of the Egoz Reconnaissance Unit, headed by his commander, found Or in the Langtang National Park after a series of intensive searches in impossible conditions under a serious risk of injury.”
At his funeral in the southern desert area of Israel, thousands of people came from all over the country. Patrick told how he was thankful the avalanche did not hide his son’s body, and that his son didn’t suffer an agonizing death. In his grief he said, “I am proud of the State of Israel that sent a rescue team and more, when bigger countries did not even send one rescuer.”
THE SEARCH FOR THE ONE
During the whole ordeal, I kept thinking of the verses in Matthew 18:1-3:
If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
The death of this young son is a national tragedy; the whole nation participated in its grief. Yet, how great will be the day when Israel finds the Son of Man, waiting to bring deliverance to our nation.
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
As I finish this article, my breaking news app says that a 7.3 earthquake has again struck near Mount Everest. The damage cannot even be imagined in the villages hanging on the sides of the mountains. Prime Minister Netanyahu has said he is ready to send his first responders back to Nepal, if needed.
Also today I heard from an Israeli American evangelist who receives monthly support from Maoz and who has just returned from Nepal. He was with a group of doctors who attended the sick in outlying villages. After the doctors finished, he prayed for the sick to be healed. He said that many of the villagers are open to Yeshua the Messiah who can bring them salvation and healing.
Nepal, a spiritual stronghold of Hindu gods, needs spiritual warriors around the world, persistent intercessors to bring the people of this beautiful country to the Throne of Grace.
HINDU TEMPLES DESTROYED
The buildings in Kathmandu, a city of 5,000,000, were as a rule made of stronger materials and most escaped damage from the earthquake. But nearly all of the ancient Hindu temples throughout the city were destroyed. According to UNESCO, 68 cultural heritage sites were completely destroyed. This is 80% of Nepal’s UN World Heritage Sites. Israel sent IDF engineers who evaluated the stability of 332 other structures in the capital damaged in the earthquake.
Among the shrines utterly destroyed in Kathmandu was the iconic, nine-story Dharahara Tower, the tallest structure in Nepal famously topped by a statue of Shiva, the god of destruction and the most powerful deity in Hinduism. However, “the Destroyer’s” most famous and revered dwelling, the Pashupatinath Temple was virtually unscathed, Kathmandu’s planning chief said, because it had been reinforced and held together by the strong metal sheets in its roof. Spiritually speaking, the Destroyer still rules beautiful Nepal.
In this poverty-stricken and destroyed country, where hundreds of thousands of homes need rebuilding, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala vowed to rebuild all the fallen Hindu temples and shrines.
What can we say? This nation desperately needs to know the God of Life in this world and Eternal Life in the next. Not a god who calls himself the Destroyer.
As a soldier wounded in the Second Lebanon War, Major Tomer Bohadana became famous in Israel for flashing a “V” sign while being evacuated to the hospital. Severely wounded in the neck, the Company Commander’s victory sign warmed the hearts of war-weary Israelis under attack from missiles fired by Hezbollah that cost the lives of 121 soldiers and 44 civilians. Bohadana lived to become an educator and a strong advocate of “Children’s Home” where he spent his formative years.
The iconic photo showed the soldier with Dr. Adi Nimrod who had rushed to his side to stop the bleeding. The picture of the wounded soldier and the courageous doctor became etched in Israel’s collective memory as a symbol of sacrifice and fortitude in times of existential danger.
Still saving lives, Dr. Nimrod was one of the team that went with the IDF to Kathmandu to tend to Nepali patients in the Israeli field hospital.
Caption: Above: Israel’s Dr. Adi Nimrod saving the life of an Israeli soldier during a war with Lebanon. Below: Caring for Nepali victims of the recent earthquake.
New Government Coalition: 61 seats
Likud – Secular Right Center: 30
Kulanu – Secular Right Center: 10
Jewish Home – (Zionist Orthodox): 8
Shas – Ultra-Orthodox (Sephardic): 7
United Torah Judaism – Ultra-Orthodox (Ashkenazi): 6
Opposition: 59 Seats
Zionist Union – Left Center: 24
Joint Arab List – Left: 13
Yesh Atid – Center: 11
Yisrael our Home – Secular Right: 6
Meretz – Left :5
Israel’s new government is cobbled together from five coalition parties. Since the Israeli electoral system is based on governing through a coalition with many small parties, no party has ever received 51% of the votes so its leader could govern alone.
Every two years on average, Israel has changed its government. So here we are with the 34th government in 67 years. The clear reason Benjamin Netanyahu’s party did receive the most votes is because Israelis feel he is the best leader we have to keep Israel safe. He clearly sees the existential danger of a nuclear Iran.
In fact, nearly all Knesset members would agree on that issue – except the Arab party. However, the left feels that Netanyahu has not done nearly enough to cultivate favor with the U.S. administration. Since the U.S. is by far little Israel’s foremost friend, many Israelis are afraid of what the future would hold if this friendship continues to deteriorate. Therefore, the Zionist Union, the left-center party, won the second most Knesset seats.
The other main ideological difference between rightwing and left-wing is the issue of a Palestinian state. Most Israelis would agree with Netanyahu that a Palestinian state next to Israel would quickly become a Muslim Islamist terrorist state. However, the left believes Israel must continue to try to create a Palestinian state or the UN will so isolate and denigrate Israel that the Jewish nation could be threatened with economic disaster. Therefore, the Zionist Union is in favor of restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Of course, anyone who is willing to face reality, in my opinion, understands there will not be a peace agreement with the Palestinians. When Israel retreated from Gaza and southern Lebanon, she gained no kudos from the world. Instead, in both places, Israel’s presence has been replaced with fierce terrorist organizations with one reason for existing – to destroy Israel.
Think about this: When 80-year-old Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas passes from the scene, then there will have to be new elections. Actually elections were scheduled for 2009, but Abbas unilaterally decided to continue ruling instead of letting Hamas replace him in new elections. Polls say Hamas will be elected in the next vote – just like in Gaza. That would mean a new front of terrorists along the entire length of the populated areas of Israel. Even though the whole world will demand such an election, that’s just not going to be acceptable to Israel.
Yet the best government would have been a coalition with Likud and the Zionist Union. Netanyahu would be steering the state in the security issues while Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog could please the U.S. and the UN by reaching out to the Palestinians. Instead, Netanyahu invited first of all his “natural” partners – the two ultra-Orthodox parties. He favored them because they won’t give him any flak as long as he puts their community on the dole and then leaves them alone to do whatever they wish.
To the astonishment and dismay of nearly the entire nation, Netanyahu has promised to rescind laws painstakingly passed in the last Knesset that removed special benefits that only the ultra-Orthodox (Haredim) had been receiving. He has now promised to reinstate all that massive funding to the Haredim so thousands of healthy men will not have to work, but can study all day in rabbinical institutions. The money will again flow for their large families and for cheaper housing. And he has made them a promise to rescind the law requiring them to serve in the army like every other Israeli.
But that’s not all. Even though the state will pay for their schools, Netanyahu is accepting the Haredim’s demand that their children not be taught basic skills such as math, science and English, thus depriving these children the chance to join the work force in the future. The total cost of bribing the coalition parties to enable Netanyahu to once again be prime minister, will be around two billion dollars – and the nation is furious. The other two coalition parties made enormous demands and they too got them.
One respected journalist titled his article, “Say it ain’t so, Bibi!” and asked why he’s supporting draft-dodgers and job-shirkers, creating a class of Israelis who take from the state, and not contribute to it.
If that were not enough, the head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, a felon who spent time in jail for bribery while serving in a past government, has now been given by Netanyahu the position as Economy Minister – to the horror of this nation.
The most respected politician is probably the head of the Kulanu party, Moshe Kahlon, who has been given the Ministry of Finance. But with the fragile government of 61, virtually any Knesset member of the coalition can throw a fit and bring the government down. So Kahlon will have a formidable, if not impossible, mission to create a budget that will pass with 61 votes. Therefore, many Israelis believe this government will not be in power very long.
One politician opined: “Don’t hate the players, hate the political system.” He rightly points out that each little party must extort everything they can for their own narrow sectors (Orthodox, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Arab, etc.), or they won’t be voted in again. A much better system would be a district-based electoral system where each Knesset candidate would represent an area that more closely reflects the nation as a whole. But since the little parties would never agree to their own demise, such a change has little chance of passing in the new government.
Kirby Trapolino of Peace Gospel International with one of the orphans in his care.
There are very few Christians in Nepal – somewhere around 2-3%. That represents perhaps a half million Christians in a population of 29,000,000. Nepal’s treacherous terrain and lack of rail access into the country kept it secluded from exposure to the Gospel during eras when other Asian nations were being reached.
An important pioneer breakthrough did occur in this isolated country some 50 years ago, when a number of Nepalis became Christians while residing in India. This included Nepali former soldiers converted while in the Indian and British armies, and who began to witness to their families and friends when they returned home.
Nevertheless, Nepal is 80% Hindu – with 11% Buddhist – and is the only officially Hindu country in the world. Today there is a political power struggle between hardline communists and Hindus – who all agree on one thing. They don’t want religious freedom for Nepal. Nevertheless, churches are growing.
Yes, Christians are persecuted from every side – from family members, neighbors, religious leaders and the government. It is still difficult to speak the truth about Jesus in public and most churches are still “underground.” Most churches are house groups with 20-40 members, and many Christians were attending services when the houses collapsed.
Kirby Trapolino who oversees a Christian ministry in Nepal sent this report immediately after the earthquake: “The scenes I’m seeing in rural areas are absolutely devastating. One congregation of 80 was gathered for worship at the time of the quake (did you know all Nepali believers worship on Saturdays?) and all went home to be with the Lord during worship that day.”
We received another report that some 35 pastors were killed.
PEACE GOSPEL MINISTRY IN NEPAL
Seven years ago, Kirby expanded his “Peace Gospel International” outreach into Nepal. As an American minister, he had already served for 15 years partnering with local Christian leadership in India, and so found it natural to expand his Asian ministry when he teamed up with native Nepali Bimal Shrestha and wife Pushpa. They began in the capital, Kathmandu, and have fanned out to many villages in the mountains.
In 2008, Kirby and Bimal opened up the Peace Gospel Boys and Girls Home, an orphan home which today serves 12 boys and 12 girls. All have given their hearts to Jesus Christ as a voluntary expression of being adopted into a loving Christian family.
These children have come from situations of extreme poverty in the villages where their surviving relatives were unable to care for them. They are provided a private education at a local Christian school in the city, and receive nutritious meals made from ingredients grown on the Peace Gospel farmland outside of the city. Peace Gospel operates their orphan homes not as institutions, but simply as family homes where the directors in many cases adopt the children legally.
GIRLS RECOVERING FROM HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Peace Gospel also established the She Has Hope Rehabilitation Home for Nepali girls who have been exploited in India through sex traffickers. Kirby told how Indian traffickers come to Nepal promising families a good job for their daughters as nannies or other domestic help. But when they cross the border to India, the men take away their identity papers and hold them as prisoners, where they are broken emotionally and physically in preparation for India’s underworld, commonly as young as age 13 or 14.
Kirby’s native team has given educational talks in over 1,000 Nepali schools, warning girls to avoid the human traffickers. They even have a border patrol at one of the main Nepal-India crossings with Christians watching for suspicious men passing by with several Nepali teenage girls, and have helped tip off the border police to seize a number of these traffickers and rescue the girls.
At the She Has Hope Home the girls learn several skills such as craft and jewelry making, and become certified in the seamstress trade, committing to memory several common clothing patterns. They also take cooking classes, and learn modern organic gardening techniques. The goal is to provide the girls with everything they need to stand on their own two feet, to never again be in a situation of desperation where they might succumb to the deceptive lures of the traffickers. Counseling and medical services are also offered to the girls, to ensure their spiritual, emotional and physical healing from the intense trauma they have been through.
GETTING EMERGENCY SUPPLIES TO THE CHILDREN
All the structures of these ministry homes were in good shape after the earthquake, except the farmland staff house and the goat house. Nevertheless, the children slept outside until the many after-shocks subsided – just in case. Peace Gospel has brought in supplies of food – mainly rice and lentils – and water purification for their children, their girls in trafficking recovery, and several isolated villages their native team is well acquainted with. They have also brought in lanterns and solar chargers for cell phones to maintain critical operations.
The needs are endless. But the most critical of all needs outside of food and clean water is for the Nepalis to be able to rebuild their homes. It is only weeks before the monsoon arrives, pouring down rain for hours every day. Without shelter for humans and beasts, the epidemics and diseases from exposure will know no limits.
REBUILDING LIVES AND HOMES
To start with, families of eight out of the 13 girls in the She Has Hope home completely lost their homes. Thus the girls who will be concluding their recovery time at the rehabilitation home in the months ahead will have no home to return to as their families are living outside. Yet villagers must reconstruct their homes and lives, while continuing to eke out a living that even beforehand was not sufficient.
It costs $2000 to rebuild a home in rural Nepal. The villagers can take their piles of bricks and stones and rebuild the walls of their houses using locally available natural resources. But they need tin for the roofs, nails and some tools. The rest they can do themselves.
Peace Gospel’s extensive native team, which is networked thoroughly with several congregations in the earthquake-affected villages, is currently surveying which villages are most in need of rebuilding. Using trusted village pastors as liaisons, they are assembling a list of families with the greatest needs. As funds are raised, materials will be purchased and delivered to the local pastors, who will oversee the distribution of materials. In this organized, accountable fashion they will help rebuild local homes for those left homeless by the quake.
Every house that is rebuilt through Christian efforts will be a tremendous testimony to the love of the One True God, and His Son who came to bring them Eternal Life. We invite you to participate in the rebuilding of these homes! Nepal needs you badly.
And do remember to pray for Nepal in this historically challenging time for Nepali Christians.