A Calling to Nepal
For the third time in one night, Kristie Snowder dreamed of building a house in Nepal.
She sat up in bed, wide awake, and leaned against the headboard.
In her mind, she made the decision then and there: She would be traveling to Nepal.
Years before this night while working as a real estate agent, Kristie had connected with an individual who lived in Nepal and was looking to move to Rexburg, Idaho. Touched by his stories of the needy individuals in his home village, she felt inspired to help. She was given the contact information for a Catholic priest in the country.
He was a kind old man with a long white beard. His only mode of transportation was a bicycle, which he rode throughout the mountains of Nepal. He told Kristie of the lack of education access in his city and explained that ten dollars could pay for one year of a student’s education.
After ending the conversation, Kristie wrote a check for $100 and sent it to the priest, who cried at her generosity and thanked her profusely.
From that moment, she felt a distinct connection with Nepal and a desire to further help those in need.
For the three years following her conversation with the priest, she did not have the opportunity to connect with anyone in Nepal. But she never lost the feeling of being called to help.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons, Kristie believes that all humans are children of God, or Heavenly Father. Members of the LDS church also believe that they can be baptized as proxy for individuals who are not of their faith, to offer them the option of receiving the gifts of baptism after death.
In 2015, after the infamous 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, Kristie felt that the Catholic priest she had met with years before should have his baptism work done for him.
With no information but his name and the fact that he rode a bicycle, she was able to find him using Google. She discovered that he was originally from Ohio, USA, and had moved to Nepal with the desire to help its citizens.
Kristie believes that the dedicated priest wanted to continue to help the people he loved from beyond mortality, especially after the earthquake, and therefore wanted his baptism work done in order to increase his ability to help from the Spirit World.
Eventually the matter was sorted, and Kristie continued with the regular routine of her life. Her husband had passed away the previous year, and she felt that the house they had shared was too large for her alone.
She put the house up for sale, but for the next few months could not find anyone interested in buying. Issues inevitably arose in potential buyers’ lives or with the sale itself.
After another sale fell through, she decided to take a trip to Nepal and wanted to bring some of her high school-aged grandchildren. Upon studying the high trafficking rates of the area, her adult children discouraged her from the venture.
“My son told me: ‘Mom, if you’re going to go there, you’re going to have to do it alone.’ So, I did.”
With a small suitcase and two large bags of her late husband’s clothing, Kristie made the journey to Nepal.
Most people of Nepal, around 81%, associate themselves with Hinduism. Around 11% of the remainder are Buddhist. The other smaller religions of the area are Muslim, Karant, and Christian. Even with the miniscule number of LDS members in the area, Kristie found a small extension of the LDS church in Nepal.
They met in a cramped room of a run-down hotel. She spoke with an elderly couple living in the country as service missionaries. They promised to distribute the items to those in need, and Kristie left the items in their jurisdiction.
Over the next few weeks, she learned an eye-opening amount about Nepalese culture. Specifically, the issues facing Nepali women.
Although situations have improved significantly in the past ten years, women in Nepal are generally treated as lower-class citizens. From birth, female babies are treated as lesser than males, and the disparity grows with them.
Women generally hold no power in the household, are deprived of education, and are restricted to household work. It is not uncommon for women to be trafficked and sexually assaulted, and laws are inadequate in protecting them.
Men in Nepal are often given child brides, many around the age of 13. If the child is widowed, she is shunned by her society. If she lives, she becomes pregnant and carries on the cycle she was born into.
But first, she must walk through the mountains to reach the nearest birthing facility, often a four or five-day journey.
Laws progressing women’s equality and protection have been established in recent years but are only strictly enforced in largely urban areas. In the rural villages like the ones visited by Kristie, women are subordinate in nearly every area of life.
In that region of the world where individuals already have limited access to healthcare and living necessities, the inequality results in thousands of women’s lives lost each year.
Additionally, many regions practice Chhaupadi, a Hindu tradition based on the idea that a woman is impure during the time she is menstruating. For days, women are banned from the house to live in seclusion. Often, this results in them sleeping in the shed with the goats.
Kristie asked one of her taxi drivers about the tradition while offering him a dollop of hand sanitizer. He sniffed the aromatic liquid in his palm, looked confused, and then rubbed it into his face.
She attempted to explain to him the concept of germs, and the dangers they presented. The man shook his head in laughter, unable to comprehend the existence of life-threatening bacteria imperceptible to the human eye.
He explained to her that mud was not going to harm the women; they were already dirty. In fact, in one area of Nepal, babies were smeared with mud directly after birth in a symbolic tradition.
Kristie was shocked. In her words: the Nepali men were uneducated; the Nepali women were survivalists.
With that realization, she discovered her purpose, although she would not recognize it until years later.
Chloe stared at the screen of her laptop back in Utah, attempting to gather information from news websites on the damage that had been done by the earthquake. As she rotated between dialing the embassy and her parents’ cell phones, the green online button appeared next to her sister Hannah’s name on Facebook.
She immediately opened a chat box.
Hannah reassured Chloe that she, their mother, and brothers were safe and about to head home from school.
After Hannah ended the conversation with a goodbye message, Chloe sat on the floor of her bedroom, filled with helplessness and an overwhelming sense of loneliness, and sobbed.
She clasped her hands and prayed desperately for the safety of her family, so far away from her in that moment.
After returning to the United States, Kristie still felt a strong connection with Nepal, but was not in a situation to offer aid. She continued about her life and asked for guidance from God, never forgetting the strength of the pull she felt toward the Nepali women.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are taught to rely on personal revelation from God not only as important, but primary. Messages can come in the form of prompting, dreams, coincidences, or visits to their temples. For Kristie, revelation came in all formats.
She was told, very clearly, to become a midwife.
With no previous knowledge of the process besides what she had experienced as the mother of five children, Kristie began searching for information on how to go about her calling.
One Sunday, she sat next to a stranger in church. Without warning, the woman leaned over and asked, “Are you a midwife?”
Kristie, caught off-guard but unsurprised, replied that she was planning to become one. The woman nodded.
With a shock, Kristie realized that the reason she had been unable to sell her house was so that she would be in the exact situation she had just experienced.
Shortly after the meeting, she coincidentally encountered a Nepalese midwife.
The woman described the overwhelming joy she had recently experienced in delivering a baby to a family who wanted the child. They had prepared for it and had been overjoyed at its arrival.
In Nepal, this was a rarity. With a lack of education, funds, and medical resources, incest and rape are not unusual, leading to a large percentage of unwanted pregnancies. In areas where it was available, abortion was a common practice. If the operation was not granted or there was no access to a clinic, a woman would likely take the matter into her own hands. This resulted in many unsuccessful operations and higher mortality rates for both the women and their babies.
Kristie recognized the passion in the midwife’s story and began studying.
At the age of 69, Kristie was accepted into Boise State University, taking pre-requisite classes necessary to attend midwifery school. She met many other women of all different ages, many of whom had served as midwives internationally.
She became a doula and took on a private study of midwifery in her extensive travels.
African culture regarding women reminded her of Nepal. While visiting, inspiration struck her to write a book: The Sanctity of Women Through the Eyes of a Doula.
The book, written in simplistic elementary language, is intended for the uneducated, involuntary young mothers of the world. It has yet to be published, but the message contained in its pages is powerful.
Ultimately, she hopes it will make some difference in the devastating conditions of women in Nepal and similar countries.
In her opinion, the biggest crisis facing Nepal is not the lack of resources. It is the attitudes towards women.
Kristie is still looking into the possibility of building a house in Nepal like the one she dreamt of. She plans to build it along the route to the birthing facilities as a secure rest-stop for expectant mothers.
Kristie recommended that donations go towards organizations like Helping Babies Breathe, a nonprofit whose mission is to eliminate all preventable neonatal morbidity and mortality.