Moving through Kashmir
October 26, 2011 - Brad Hulcy has led about ten mission trips since 1999 as a pastor of Woodside Bible Church, but his latest was to territory rarely touched by Christians— Kashmir.
Brad Hulcy with fellow missionaries from Woodside Bible Church at Tso Moriri Lake, more than 15,000 feet above sea level. Photo provided. (click for larger version)
"Usually mission trips are where evangelical churches have been for 100 years— South America or Africa," he said. "I asked one of our (church) leaders, 'What would be the next frontier for missions?' He said, 'Western China.'"
Tibet and Kashmir come together in western China and Kashmir is contested by China, Pakistan and India, but the latter occupies it. To go in, foreigners must obtain an Indian visa. Hulcy, a Brandon Township resident, and 10 other members of Woodside Bible Church did just that, and ultimately traveled to a region in Kashmir known as Ladakh.
The trip, scheduled for Sept. 24-Oct. 9, had three goals: to install a solar electrical system at a school, to do a homestay and get to know the people who live in the area; and to make contact with Tibetan nomads.
"I like to do extreme things and I've always wanted to go to the Himalayas and this was an opportunity to take a team somewhere very different," said Hulcy.
He and the other missionaries landed in the capital of Leh, at an altitude of 11,000 feet, and then traveled to a small village outside the city to work on their first project, installing a $12,000 solar electrical system at a Moravian school, where approximately 50-60 students, with ages ranging from about 5-12-years-old are educated.
The missionaries installed a dozen panels on the roof and ran plastic conduit through the school, with light fixtures. The system will allow the school to have lights during the day, and may allow teachers to operate a computer. The village has some electrical power, but it is spotty at best, and electricity doesn't come on until about 7 p.m. There is no heat in any of the buildings in the village and there is no school in December and January, when temperatures can dip to 30 degrees below fahrenheit.
It took the team about five days to install the system, longer than expected because several of the Americans had altitude sickness or food or waterborne illnesses. Hulcy did not become ill, which he believes may be attributable to having grown up in Colorado.
"I'm used to mountains, but the view (in Kashmir) is just breathtaking," he said. "The mountains are 21,000, 22,000 feet high. It's just amazing."
The missionaries stayed in a hotel in Leh during the school project and commuted to the village, but after the solar electrical system was completed, they stayed with students' families in the village that has about 600 residents.
While language was a barrier in general, the little girl in the family Hulcy stayed with had studied English and they showed each other pictures of their families.
"We tried to talk and looked at each other's pictures," he said. "It was funny, because they have a television and a satellite dish in this mud building, so of all things, we watched 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?' in Hindi. It was so surreal. It reminded me of 'Slumdog Millionaire.'"
Wood is scarce in the village and homes were made out of dirt or mud bricks, with a thin coating of cement. Under the houses are root cellars and storage, and livestock is kept under the homes during the bitter cold of winter. Most homes have a very small woodstove, Hulcy said, and a hole in the roof to vent smoke. There is no indoor plumbing. Rice and lentils are food staples.
The main crops in the area are wheat and barley and the people do not eat beef, but it is common to keep small dairy cows.
After three days of the homestay, the group moved on to their third project, visiting with the Tibetan nomads. They traveled to Lake Tso Moriri, 250 kilometers from Leh. They camped at 15,000 feet for five days after finding the nomads, herders of mostly sheep and some yak, who travel from location to location.
Most of the nomads they met were elderly or very young children, because the other members of the 10-12 families who travel in this way were at a higher elevation with the sheep. The missionaries took them food items and discovered that what the nomads need is eye treatment.
"A lot of people have cataracts because of the high altitude and being close to the sun," Hulcy said. "Cataract surgery can be done in the field and we would like to research how this can be done for a future mission trip."
The mission trip was memorable for Hulcy and his companions in many ways, but what will trouble his dreams is a girl he met that was rescued by the missionaries' guide from a cage in Delhi. The girl had been sold into the sex trade and the guide bought her in order to save her from that life when she was just 9-years-old. The guide owns a Nepali hostel that is a safehouse for many such children.
"She is a pretty little girl and you can just tell she is damaged from what she has been through," Hulcy said. "I saw her and wanted to weep, but at the same time, you have this anger and wonder, 'Who are these people? Who would do that to a child?' It's so overwhelming and you can't rescue them all, but maybe you can rescue a few."
Hulcy hopes to return to India, perhaps next year.
"My goal, my hope, my dream, is that we can be involved in taking the Gospel to people who have never heard the name Jesus Christ and of his sacrifice for them," he said.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville