In a Nepalese orphanage run by an old man, orphaned children find a place to escape the poverty and toil of street life. Thanks to this man, an orphan himself, the children are growing up in a place that resembles a home.
Thanks to Katie Cason, they're also brushing their teeth.
Cason, a Nikiski resident, is a missionary. She's the field director of Living Sacrifice, a nonprofit missions organization she founded.
In a few weeks, Cason will lead a team of 11 Kenai Peninsula residents and one Anchorage resident to Nepal to continue the work she started two years ago.
In July 1999 and March 2000, Cason and Living Sacrifice team members trekked along the Ana Purna circuit, a route popular with tourists that winds through the rugged Himalayan mountains, to deliver medical and other supplies to remote villages.
That's how she met the orphans and their aging caretaker. In 1999, Cason and her team donated basic supplies to the orphanage, called Morning Star Children's Charity, and when they returned last March, the children and the man were still using the things they had given them.
Cason, who has trekked to many Nepalese villages, said that people throughout the country -- all but 10 percent of it inaccessible by vehicles -- live in deprivation.
"These people, they just don't have anything," Cason said.
Even worse off are the approximately 200,000 refugees from the nearby nation of Bhutan living in eastern Nepal. Bhutanese Bud-dhists are expelling Hindus, whose ancestors migrated from Nepal two centuries ago in search of farmland.
This ethnic cleansing has been happening for about three years, Cason said. The United Nations has been caring for the refugees, but it may not continue to support them. Nepal has not offered any assistance. Neither has India, which the refugees must cross to reach Nepal.
"Basically these guys are on their own," she said. "The humanitarian aid that has been coming in is close to running out."
Cason said that while she plans to distribute health and hygiene supplies to the refugees and villages, that is not the primary focus of her mission. Those needs are merely the more tangible ones Cason has perceived in her visits to the country.
Asked what the Nepalese people need most, she replied, "First, they need Jesus."
In sharp contrast to what she called the "romantic" impressions most Westerners have of Eastern religions, Cason said that Nepal's major religious practices -- Buddhism, Hinduism and animistic beliefs are the most prevalent -- subject Nepalis to terror and fear.
"They actually live in a lot of fear," she said. "(Their religions) actually bring poverty and bondage ... their religions cause them to believe that if they try to rise above the place that the gods have placed them in life that the gods will punish them or punish their family."
One example of such fatalistic beliefs is the worship of Kali, the goddess of destruction, she said.
According to Cason, the Nepalese worship this goddess out of fear, believing that if they fail to make the sacrifices she requires, the families "will be cursed and possibly die."
Cason said Christianity offers a bright alternative.
"Jesus offers hope and the love and freedom from fear, and freedom from the bondage that these gods have (the Nepalese) in," she said.
Her determination to spread Christianity in Nepal is the basis for her missionary work.
"My philosophy is that if you meet their spiritual needs, they will listen to you when you tell them about someone who will meet their spiritual needs," Cason said.
She said it was her lifelong exposure to missionary work that inspired her to form Living Sacrifice.
"I've always been involved in missions," she said.
Cason has lived in missions in Costa Rica and Colombia and has visited missions in Scotland and Jamaica with teams from the Kenai Peninsula.
This year's mission departs Dec. 17. Cason is asking for contributions from the community to help the Nepalese villagers and the Bhutanese refugees. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, soap and basic medical supplies, such as band-aids and neosporin, are among the items the group intends to bring.
Cason said she also will accept monetary donations, which she said are tax deductible.
Cason may be reached at 776-5101 or via e-mail at katiecason @hotmail.com.
She said she hopes to continue her missions in Nepal while developing projects in other parts of the world, including Mongolia, China, India and several African nations.
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