Eileen was the lady who first invited Anna to set up Women Without Roofs. Nepal Leprosy Fellowship has just celebrated their 25th anniversary and produced a book to commemorate the legacy of Eileen. This is a copy of Anna’s contribution to the book.
I first met Eileen in 2004 at the International Church in Kathmandu. She was a stalwart both at the church and at the regular Sunday evening prayer meetings. Thanks to Eileen, I set up and now run the charity Women Without Roofs – Nepal that helps vulnerable women with their rent and medical bills.
As I look back on that first meeting, I see that God had been preparing me to meet Eileen for many years before that. He knew that getting to know her would be life-changing both for me and the ladies we help.
Most of my childhood was spent in Reading, where I attended a church led by Iain Bisset. His twin brother Peter was a missionary in Nepal with INF. Iain would stand on the church stage on Christmas mornings and hold up a telephone to a microphone. The congregation waited with bated breath as Iain dialled Nepal and hoped that Peter would pick up. As Peter’s voice came over the crackly line, he described his Christmas celebrations in Pokhara, and we prayed for him. It was just a short chat as international calls were so expensive in the 1980s, but it was enough to stir my curiosity about the world beyond England.
As a teenager, I developed a close relationship with a penfriend in India, and I began to read as many books as I could about South Asia. After visiting my penfriend in Delhi at age 20, I knew I wanted to reach Hindus with the gospel but had no idea how to achieve this. Thankfully, God was already orchestrating events for me. A few years later, my husband, a newly commissioned British Army Officer, was given the opportunity to work with Gurkhas. A couple more years after that, when our son was just ten days old, we received a call inviting us to live in Kathmandu. Of course, we said yes.
Thanks to my connection to Peter Bisset, who stayed with Eileen whenever he passed through Kathmandu, I was soon introduced to her. When I describe her to people now, I liken her to Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess. Despite having lived in Nepal for fifty years by this time, everything at Eileen’s house was very proper and English; she still stopped every afternoon for tea. I found her quite formidable.
Our relationship grew at the weekly Sunday evening prayer meetings; these were held at John and Jeannie Jamieson’s home as he was pastor of the international church at the time. People often ask me for advice on knowing God’s calling and how they, too, might begin a ministry for God. I tell them to attend the prayer meetings at their church. At them, you’ll learn what God is up to in your community and meet the people hungriest for God; this was certainly the case for me with Eileen. As we prayed together, I learnt so much from her experience of Nepal and what God had taught her through her years of service to Him. Though her prayers were humble, she spoke with confidence that God would answer them, and her requests were rarely for herself; she was always praying for others.
Coming to Kathmandu as a Christian military wife was enormously challenging. If I had been in the country as a missionary, I would have received all kinds of cultural preparation and been in the country knowing I was there to do some good. As an Army wife, I was thrown in the deep end and felt overwhelmed by the poverty around me. I struggled to understand the suffering I saw and could not reconcile the everyday lives of Nepali people with the extravagant parties and functions I was obliged to attend at the British Embassy or on the British Camp. I began to ask God for answers and told Him I wanted to do something to help. Eileen was a steady anchor throughout all this, modelling a beautiful blend of English and Nepali culture and acting with integrity no matter whose company she was in.
Eileen was also seeking God for answers. At this time, she supported around ten people with her own money, helping to pay their rent and medical bills. Most of these people were former leprosy patients or had lost loved ones to leprosy. Given that she was eighty years old, she was concerned about what would happen to these people, who relied on her to survive, once she died. God had told her that someone from the British Camp would help. It turns out that I wasn’t the first person she asked; my husband’s predecessor’s wife had turned Eileen down, but when she asked me, I was ready to say yes. However, in all honesty, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
My yes to Eileen was the beginning of Women Without Roofs -Nepal (WWR). At the end of our two-year posting in Kathmandu, my husband and I returned to England, and I found sponsors for the people in Nepal. I began a working relationship with Bina Gurung, who received and distributed the funds I regularly raised and sent from England. The charity continued to grow as those we were already helping had friends who also needed our assistance. In time, I found trustees with a heart to help women, and we became a registered charity in England.
Though I now lived in England, I returned to Nepal every couple of years to meet with Bina and visit the women we helped. In many of the women’s rooms, I would see photos of Eileen. The women loved and admired her and would place her photo in ornate frames that they lovingly kept clean. Her picture was often a prized possession. When WWR opened a women’s home in 2011, Eileen’s photo was given pride of place in our meeting room and still hangs in our offices.
Of course, Eileen remained with us for another 15 years after the charity began, and I would also visit her on my return trips. I enjoyed sitting with her in her garden, sipping tea and discussing the British news. She always kept up to date with both British and Nepali politics.
I was very conscious that Eileen prayed fervently for the ladies and WWR while alive, and I miss that prayer covering. She modelled a life of both prayer and action, and I long to be like that too. Her name is widely respected and has opened many doors for me. When people hear that I knew and worked with her, they are willing to share their work and knowledge with WWR. I remain enormously grateful that she invited me to take on the mantle of WWR.
Right now, I am fortunate to be living in Kathmandu again as the Army offered my husband another job here. I am using my time to write a book about the women WWR helps and have until March 2022 to finish the manuscript. The book will be published by Authentic Media, a Christian publisher, towards the end of 2022. Each chapter in the book contains the story of one woman, and there will be twelve chapters. So far, I have written eight chapters, and three of them contain direct references to Eileen. The women’s stories testify to God’s loving-kindness in their lives through Eileen. I would love for you to read the book when it comes out to understand more of the influence Eileen has had.
I am hugely grateful to NLF for allowing me to share my memories of Eileen. She was an incredible woman who changed the lives of so many people in Nepal. She was fearless and remained undaunted by the challenges she took her on. I pray that her impact and legacy last for many more generations, and I hope to be just a little like her.