We weren’t even sure why we were there. We had just spent several hours hiking up thousands of endless, steep stairs. And now we were standing in the middle of an empty school building, overlooking the entire valley.
We had been staying in the village of Gyangphedi (GP, for short), deep in the mountains of Nepal. It had taken a long, bumpy bus ride, as well as a several hour hike to get there. And today, we had just hiked several more hours up to the village of Ghyangdanda, which towers high above GP.
As we stood, looking out over the valley, our guide Ezekiel explained that this school building had been built by Five14, the travel organization we’d been working with. It had been built a few years ago, shortly after an earthquake had devastated most of the villages in that valley.
Many of the children in Gyandanda hike hours down to GP to go to school every day, but this school exists for the kids who aren’t able to make that trek. Since it was an exhausting climb for us—and we’d only done it once— I couldn’t imagine having to do it every single day.
As we waited at the top, trying to figure out what to do next, one of our leaders suggested we take some time to pray over the valley, and another team member suggested that, since we were in a school, we spend time praying for education in the region.
In many of the remote, mountain villages of Nepal, access to education is scarce, so schools like this one are precious resources. Education is a key factor in preventing exploitation—even human trafficking—among the people of Nepal, so it’s essential that as many children receive a good education as possible.
So, we began to pray: To pray that education would continue to be provided for the kids in that region. To pray specifically for the education of girls and women in that region. To pray for the teachers in that region. We prayed that this place would be a place of light that would illuminate the entire valley.
And as we prayed, people started to gather. First, groups of tiny children started congregating around the outside of the school, peering through the chain link walls at us. Then, some adults and teens started to join them.
By the time we finished, we had a small audience waiting for us.
One woman came forward, and introduced herself as Srijana, the teacher of the school, and told us that some of the children gathered around us were her students. She was a part of a local Nepali education organization, and had just moved from the city of Kathmandu to start working at the school two months earlier.
She shared with us that she had started by teaching very basic lessons, like the alphabet, numbers, etc., to her students, and would then send them back with homework, so that their parents could go through the lessons too, and could learn alongside their children.
After school is finished for the day, she also teaches classes to women and girls in the area who never received an education. Under-education of women is a huge issue in Nepal, where women are often viewed as second-class citizens.
As we listened to Srijana, I was struck by the direct answer to prayer that this woman was. Here we had been praying, five minutes before, for teachers, for the education of girls, for the students of this specific school to be lights in their communities... and here were the answers to all of those prayers! It was so encouraging to see that God was already clearly at work in the area of education in this village, and would continue to be for a long time.
And then it hit me: this was the reason we came all of the way up here. I think God brought us all of the way up a mountain just to pray over this valley. And to meet this woman.
We asked if we could take a few portraits of her—inside the school building, with some of her students, etc.—so that we could tell her story through our photos.
As I started taking photos, she began with a stoic face, as many Nepalis do when faced with a camera. Every culture has a different reaction to being photographed, and while Nepalis aren’t opposed to having their photo taken, it sometimes feels like they’re posing and putting on a mask. And it’s often difficult to feel like you’re capturing the true character and soul of a person.
But as I continued taking pictures of Srijana, exclaiming about what a beautiful human being she was, the mask broke, and she cracked into a smile, laughing at how silly she felt.
And it felt like the joy inside of her broke through, for all of the world to see.
That’s when I was struck by how much light, joy, and love were locked away inside of this woman. Why would a woman in her 20’s move out of a major city, and into a tiny village on top of a mountain if she wasn’t full of love for the children she was going to be teaching? If she wasn’t passionate about each child’s right to an education? That’s no small sacrifice.
Her joy in teaching, and the pride she had in her students, absolutely shone through her. After we had finished taking photos of her, she joined us in watching some of her students as they gleefully sang songs for us, reminding them of the motions to the songs when they forgot, and joyfully laughing as she watched them.
This woman clearly loved her students so much. And it radiated out of her, like sunbeams.
And I can only begin to fathom what kind of love the Father has for her: that this woman, who has sacrificed so much on behalf of her students, is loved by a God who sacrificed even more for her. Immeasurably more.
If she doesn't know that love yet, I pray that she will.