Cleveland Utilities President and CEO Tim Henderson says Mountain Dew is a popular soft drink among the people of Nepal, as well as its teeming population of monkeys.While in Nepal during a recent …
Cleveland Utilities President and CEO Tim Henderson says Mountain Dew is a popular soft drink among the people of Nepal, as well as its teeming population of monkeys.
While in Nepal during a recent mission trip, Henderson was taken aback when he saw a family picnicking with a monkey outside one of the exotic nation’s many temples.
“He was sitting right beside them,” Henderson said. “They would fill a cup with Mountain Dew and he would drink it and then hand the cup back to them. It was crazy.”
It was just one of many observations Henderson made while visiting the exotic nation.
Although it was his first trip to Nepal, Henderson has had several opportunities to visit the landlocked, mountainous nation.
“Dave Gregory had approached me six years ago about going, but my kids were younger and it was hard to justify leaving my family for two weeks,” Henderson said.
Henderson said that Gregory planted the seed for an eventual visit to Nepal.
“It was always on my radar,” Henderson said.
Then 2018 happened. It was the year Henderson lost his wife of 32 years to cancer.
“When Renee was diagnosed in 2015, I took the idea of traveling off the table entirely,” Henderson said.
Not long after she passed away, a still-grieving Henderson received a phone call. It was his friend, Dave.
“He said, ‘Tim, we have a slot for you if you want to go.’”
Henderson still hesitated. Although his sons were grown, he doubted he could be away from his job for that many days.
“I prayed about it, but I also tried to find reasons not to go,” Henderson said. “I didn’t think my job responsibilities [at CU] would allow me to be gone for that long.”
However, he soon found himself jetting to the other side of the world.
The trip, which included members from First Baptist Church of Cleveland, was an outreach mission to Baptist churches that have been established in Nepal.
“First Baptist Church is very instrumental in reaching out to Nepal,” said Henderson, who added that the trip consisted of church leadership training for pastors in the budding Christian community, where the majority of the population is either Hindu or Buddhist.
“I realized I could go because I have a great staff at Cleveland Utilities,” Henderson said. “We took a satellite phone with us, and I had email accessibility every day. “Walt [Vineyard] and the team [at CU] know how to take care of things.”
The mission trip involved visit churches, most of which were located in villages nestled in high mountain ranges.
“They’re not accessible by car,” Henderson said. “We hiked to them. Their trails there are like our highways.”
As they visited each village – most consisting of about 50 residents – Henderson and the members of the mission group would speak with the pastors.
Some of the churches consisted of primitive buildings with dirt floors which were covered with indoor/outdoor carpet.
Henderson and members of the mission group would eat with the villagers, who insisted on feeding the group.
“We built strong relationships with them,” said Henderson, who added that members of the mission group would spend the night in the churches before moving on to the next village the following morning.
Higher and higher the group would hike, reaching elevations as high as 10,000 feet, where oxygen levels are thin, making climbs more difficult for those not acclimated to high altitudes.
Nepal’s trails are not like those in the United States, which consist of switchbacks that make it easier to climb steep elevations.
“The trails go straight up,” Henderson said. “They were vertical, unlike here in the States.”
Amazingly, guides hired by the group would hike the trails with feet clad in nothing but flip-flops or ill-fitting rubber boots.
“There was one guy who hiked 10 miles to a village and 10 miles back, carrying about 65 pounds of supplies,” Henderson said. “It was amazing. It was like it was nothing. I was only carrying about 28 pounds.”
While hiking to each village, Henderson observed that the countryside is strikingly beautiful, with trails lined with giant ferns and vistas everywhere revealing the peaks of the Himalayas.
At certain points along the paths, bridges crossed plunging mountain ravines. The bridges, however, were in good condition for a third-world nation.
“The government maintains them,” Henderson said. “I crossed dozens of them.”
Each village would be teeming with pigs, Henderson said. "They also grow everything they eat."
Although eating in a foreign nation has its risks, Henderson went native while dining with the villagers.
“I tried to eat local,” Henderson said. “But we were cautious not to eat raw foods. But if it was cooked, I ate it.”
Henderson said rice was served with every dinner, with breakfast "consisting of a boiled egg or two.”
It was there he learned how to eat with his hands, Nepalese style.
“Learning to eat rice with your hands is interesting,” Henderson said. “They eat with their hands and we decided we were going to do that. We got pretty good at it."
The hospitality and kindness of the Nepalese was extraordinary, Henderson said.
“I enjoyed the hike,” said Henderson, an avid hiker and outdoorsman back home. “But the trip was more than that. It was amazing to see their natural and overflowing love for the Lord. You didn’t meet any Christians who didn’t have unconditional love.”
Although the villagers were poor by Western standards, they were very generous.
“We would be hiking through someone's backyard and a family would tell us to stop and want to feed us,” Henderson said. “They would boil a potato or make soup. They didn’t think anything about it. It was humbling on so many layers.”
Henderson said he plans on returning to Nepal sometime in the future.
“I would like to go back,” Henderson said. "It’s the one thing we all talked about.”
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