(Please remember not to share this on social media. Thank you!)
I (Les) have not been allowed to work this past week. My work permit and registration at the Nepal Medical Council both expired on Sunday, November 22, and have not been renewed. In fact, the same thing happened to all the foreign missionaries in Tansen. At least for me, as a US citizen, I have a 3 year visa in my passport. Those on our team who are not Americans had to go on a tourist visa to stay in Nepal legally. But none of us are working until we get the work permits. Since we arrived here 30 years ago, this is the first time we have had to stop working. This is the result of several unfortunate things converging at the same time:
1. When the last 5 year agreement was expiring in January, a new agreement still needed to be written, so we were all given 6 month extensions. But the government decided that the UMN hospitals should no longer be managed by a foreign mission, but by a trust set up in Nepal. This is probably the result of increasing nationalism and Hindu lobbyists gaining more influence. This was announced in May, and we were given another 6-month extension to allow time for the legal work of forming the trust. UMN now has the trust established, but there was not enough time for the hospital agreement to be made before time ran out on November 22.
2. Nepal’s new federal system, written into the constitution that is being implemented now, means that the provinces have more self-governance rather than everything being managed from Kathmandu, the capital. Unfortunately, it is still not clear which powers are being given to the province. It seems that everything now requires approval from both the province and the federal government, doubling the bureaucratic red tape and administrative hurdles. The hospital is getting registered as a new community hospital in the province. But the provincial office staff are learning how to do this themselves, apparently without much guidance on what this process should involve. For example, they requested that the personal information and professional qualifications of all 400 staff be photocopied and submitted. Now that all details have been submitted, they are waiting for a committee with a radiologist, pathologist, physician, and managers to meet so they can review our application. The work in Kathmandu to get our visas cannot go forward until the hospital is registered in the province, and UMN and the government have a working agreement signed.
3. Dashain and Tihar, the 2 main holidays of the Nepali calendar, fell late this year, so most government work was shut down or running with minimum staff from mid-October for a month. And usually when the person with power to authorize something is on holidays, their duty is not delegated to anyone else, but left until that person returns. So right when the crunch was on to figure out an extension or some other deal, nothing was happening until right up to the last few days before time ran out.
4. Lock down and work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic affected all work by both the government office staff as well as the UMN staff working in Kathmandu. Even the hard working ones were struggling to get things done that had been previously managed efficiently.
So while we are forbidden to work, we are taking a break, and have come to Pokhara for 3 days to celebrate my birthday. (We returned safely to Tansen last night) We are also praying about how long we should wait in Nepal for our work permits, before we take a longer break, returning to the USA to see family and friends. On the one hand, we don’t want to leave if God wants us to stay, and if the work permit will be approved soon. But on the other hand, it is even harder to be away from family when our reason for being here, working in the hospital and ministering to patients and visitors, has been taken away for an indeterminate amount of time.
The hospital has been struggling along with only the Nepali national staff working, at least the ones who have not been quarantined for testing positive for Covid-19. Thankfully no staff are critically ill. Hospital work is now running at under 50% of our normal capacity. It is hard to see patients waiting for tickets to be seen, or giving up and going home without care, when we are right here and willing to help. It is also sad to think of the new junior doctors, who still need a lot of supervision and support from the senior doctors, losing half of their mentors. We are certainly thankful that we have at least a few good senior Nepali doctors working hard to keep things running.
So pray, pray, pray! God knows what He is doing, even when we don’t. We are trying hard to see where God is going with all of this, and to join in with Him rather than to fight against Him. Thank you to everyone who supports us in prayer, especially in these coming days.