Posted by Roger Cooke on Sat, 01 Nov 2014 | 1 comments | Bookmark: digg this Post this to Post this to Facebook

Mark Zimmerman writes…

I first met Trevor Strong in 1987. I’d come to Nepal to work as a volunteer doctor and he was the Director of a mission hospital on the outskirts of Kathmandu. He was a large, engaging man with a shock of pure white hair and a quick smile, his boyish lilt and gestures belying his 70 years.

Trevor invited me back to his house for dinner and I met his wife Patricia. In tandem, they ushered me into their apartment, the one bringing out snacks and drinks while the other gave me a seat of honor and dove into conversation. A little while later Patricia placed steaming bowls of food on the table and Trevor led me over to the feast saying, “There you have it, Mark. Now sit right down and work away.” From the start we were like old friends. I asked about their lives and together they told me stories that fed my imagination.

After growing up in Ireland, they’d met in medical school during the Second World War and were posted to a hospital in London during the Blitz. They fell in love and got engaged, making their marriage conditional upon both being accepted to go overseas as medical missionaries. They came to India in 1947 just after its Partition and had to be escorted by soldiers over an embattled land up to the Duncan Hospital on the India-Nepal border. Finding that the institution had been moth-balled during the War, they proceeded to revitalize the hospital and its staff.

For most of the next 10 years these two worked as the only doctors, Trevor doing the surgery, Patricia the obstetrics, and both sharing the thousands of other patients who came in. In appreciation for Trevor’s having operated on injured soldiers during the Nepal revolution, the King of Nepal invited him up into secluded Kathmandu – in those days only accessible by a 3-day walk across the mountains. While working in India, they had four children, sending each of `them in turn to South India for boarding school.

I had originally planned to stay in Nepal for only four months, but was soon captivated by the place. When Trevor, who was my boss at Patan Hospital, asked if I’d like to be posted for another year in a hospital in the mountains, I jumped at the idea. During the week before my transfer to that hospital, I stayed with the Strongs and, picturing the span of their life, I first came to consider the richness of making a career as medical missionary. After my first two years in Asia – which were the last of the Strongs’ forty – in 1990 I signed on long-term with the United Methodist Church to continue working in Nepal.

During my first furlough in 1993, I stopped for a week in Ireland to visit Trevor and Patricia. They took me on a whirlwind tour that started with the sights of Dublin and proceeded to their cottage in the west. We drove across the farmlands and through hamlets, stopping for a picnic lunch by a lake. I remarked to them, “It’s the very clouds that make this place so lovely.” That day, Patricia and I managed to swim in the frigid Irish Sea in the morning and in the cool Atlantic Ocean that evening. Trevor chortled encouragement from both beaches – ‘strands’ as the Irish call them.

In the winter of 1998, on the eve of my taking the job as Director of 300-bed Patan Hospital, I arranged for a 3-day retreat to the Strongs’ cottage. The weather was cold, damp, and dreary. I came in from walks in the countryside to sit beside their peat fire and talk. They listened to my concerns. We prayed. Hearty meals appeared one after another. I returned to Nepal feeling ready to plunge into the challenging job that awaited me. Their string of aerogrammes (for 20 years, I was always one or two letters behind) extended the conversation and prayer that I’d experienced in their home.

A year later Trevor wrote that he’d like to come to Nepal and India one last time – to bid goodbye to his old friends. Patricia was not strong enough to make the journey. According to Trevor’s directions I arranged his itinerary. Whether he spoke to groups of mission expatriates or to Nepali doctors, his message and presence carried an almost-physical sense of uplift. He often exhorted his audience with a single gentle shake of two weathered fists.

One afternoon during that trip, Trevor and I took a short picnic hike. After lunch, I screwed up the courage to tell him about my romantic hopes for a seemingly reluctant Irish woman. He was 80 by then and we’d never broached the subject before, so I didn’t know if he’d be comfortable with this line of talk. “You met her last night, Trevor. She’s Deirdre Lloyd.” His face lit up and his voice turned conspiratorial. “Well, obviously you’ve chosen well, and not a bad looking girl either. Don’t be deterred, Mark. It’s the man’s job to assure a woman of his love and to remove any shred of doubt in her mind.” I knew that I’d just recruited the Strongs’ prayers for this new mission. A little over a year later, Trevor gave the sermon at our wedding in a country church south of Dublin.

Trevor and Patricia from Ireland; Frank and Val Garlick from Australia; Helen Huston from Canada; Rut Peterson from Sweden; Dick and Sue Harding from the U.S. – these were all medical missionaries who befriended me here in Nepal. Some of my dearest friends were these folks who were quite senior to me. They’re now in their 80s and 90s, scattered around the world in their home countries. Most made the transition from aerograms to email, but none managed to completely leave this mountainous place that we’d all wandered into years before. First, they inspired me and now their prayers seem to sustain us here.

Last week, Deirdre’s father dropped me in the center of Dublin and I boarded a bus for the west of Ireland. Now holding dual citizenship, I’m always glad to see more of my adoptive country. On another day of dappled sunshine, I looked out across the same scenery as my journey with the Strongs 21 years before. The names of neat towns were distantly familiar – Longford, Charlestown, Swinford.

The bus careened down narrow country roads, sometimes brushing against the leaves of overhanging branches. The evergreen fields held horses, lazy cattle, and rusting farm ploughs. And there were the clouds: seeming to emanate from just over the horizon and sweep close overhead, billowing stacks of cumulus streaked and undergirded gray. Pastel-colored houses washed in sunlight stood against this brooding sky.

The directions to my destination held true. Deirdre had said to me that morning, “You can just ask as you go. They’re friendly – the Irish are.” The bus journey took 4 hours and I walked down into the town of Foxford, past the Woolen Mill established during the Irish famine, along a road by the River Moy, and into the Black Rocks Nursing Home. I introduced myself to an attendant who asked me to wait in the Day Room.

I heard his voice from down the hallway. The attendant murmured my name, and he said to her, “Oh my! Mark Zimmerman! Well you have brought tidings of great joy. Mark’s a dear old friend.” She pushed Trevor into the room. He’d lost a great deal of his vitality since I last saw him 6 years
before. His voice was now childlike; his body sunk into the wheelchair.

I was the only one there, but he looked at me quizzically. “I’m Trevor Strong. And who are you?!” “I’m Mark. Mark Zimmerman, Trevor.” Then he exuberantly greeted me as an old friend.

How was he doing? I described my trip that day. And then gradually I touched on our shared history. Nepal. Their time in India. Patan Hospital. My trips to visit them in Ireland. My wedding and growing family. He seemed to remember none of it. He spoke tenderly and repeatedly of his loss of Patricia two years before, and of physically letting her go, ‘as the Good Lord took her home to Gloryland.’

Someone had warned me, saying ‘Trevor’s not the person he once was.’ But after I laid aside my initial sadness, I found him in the most important way unchanged. He took my hand in his or slapped me on the knee with a laugh to emphasize his appreciation of something I said. He spoke of Jesus like the Lord had taken residence in a client room just down the hall. ‘He doesn’t keep me at a distance, our Lord, not just some high-and-mighty far-off God.’ We prayed twice during my visit, conversation melding with prayer.

After lunch they put him to bed. When I came into his room, he sat up, propping his head against the wooden headboard. Eventually our conversation died out and when he appeared tired I suggested he lay his head down on the pillow. But he’d resolved that he wouldn’t surrender to sleep while I was still there. I cherished a last, long embrace and as I walked out of his room, he was saying, “You’re a great man, Mark. You’re a great man.”

This summer Deirdre, the boys, and I spent a month in our birth countries. Out on the Dingle Peninsula in Country Kerry, we joined Deirdre’s clan to celebrate her father’s 70th birthday. In Pennsylvania and the New Jersey shore, my Mom, sisters, brother, and I were all together for the first time in 15 years – celebrating my Mom’s 90th and before that my Aunt Marie’s 80th. It was a time that will only happen once.

Seeing our families in their houses, settled in lands that appear familiar, all of them getting on with their careers, their friendships and growing kids – leads me to consider our unexpectedly long run here in Nepal and to wonder about ‘home’. How all these folks like Trevor have come to feel like kin. What our final destination will be like – towering Himalaya or tidy farms nestled by the sea. And whether there will be someone there to welcome us in, sit us down with a lilting laugh, and maybe slap us on the knee.


Anne Buckley said Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:48AM
What a wonderful and moving account of your relationship with Trevor and Patrica Strong, spanning a life time. Thank you so much, for sharing such a personal story of the precious gift of friendship and being part of His family.

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