Rebuilding Nepal: Q&A with David Ruis
David Ruis is a well-respected Canadian worship leader, songwriter and communicator. He is also known as a church planter and pastor, having established churches with the Vineyard family in Canada, the United States, Nepal and India.
In September 2015, he spent several weeks with World Vision and the Vineyard Church in Nepal. The team visited locals in various community settings and worked with Canadian and Nepali artists to record the newly released album, Other Side: Hope From the Rubble. We caught up with David to hear about his trip to Kathmandu, his heart for the people and the country of Nepal, and how the Vineyard Church is helping to support the rebuild.
You’ve been involved with the Vineyard Church in Nepal for a number of years. Tell us about your history and connection with the country.
In 1995, my family was embarking on an adventure of church planting, right in the heart of the city of Winnipeg. We were exploring what it was like to engage amongst the poor, to develop community in that kind of setting. But I couldn’t get rid of this nagging feeling I had, of needing to explore this at an international level, while retaining the localized context.
My family and I were on our way to Winnipeg, having loaded everything up from our home in Kelowna. It was literally on our way moving that I met Noel Isaacs, a young man from Nepal. We had a great connection right from the start. We developed a friendship very quickly, and I soon began to wonder if this could be the start of everything I had been praying and thinking about. We began our church services in Winnipeg in October of 1995, and within a month, I found myself visiting Noel over in Nepal. There were no meetings to be had, it was just to go explore relationships and see what would happen. And that was the beginning of the partnership that developed between the church in Winnipeg in particular, but it was also a broader Vineyard journey as well.
That was my very first time in Nepal, and I was just completely… the Himalayan mountains were just branded on my heart. I’ve been to a lot of places around the world, places that I love to visit, but there something really significant about Nepal and I’ve been going in and out of that country ever since. We eventually established some community initiatives and planted several churches. Noel and I good friends to this day.
What were your impressions during this visit, post-earthquake? Was it what you expected?
The earthquake was significantly more devastating than even what I had imagined in my mind. I could have never conceived of what I was looking at, particularly in Kathmandu, within the urban context. So there was this physical reality of devastation, but also, you could really tell that it had rattled people. That was almost as jarring as seeing the physical devastation.
Nepal has always been an impoverished nation, but I’ve known the people to be very hospitable and welcoming. They almost have this lightness to them. Elements of that identity were certainly still there, but you could really feel the fear and the unsettledness when you talked to people. You could feel them just bracing themselves for the next shock. A lot of that has to do with the physical state of buildings there right now, but it creates more separation and on families. I think that showed up on the documentary a little bit… already, there are quite a few of the young men that are off in the Middle East, or other parts of the world, trying to make money to send back home. It’s just upped the ante on all of that. They’re very close-knit, very family-oriented, and just to have that torn at… I could feel that in them. It was very painful.
Tell us about what Vineyard has been doing in Nepal, and how the earthquakes have impacted the ongoing work on the ground.
We’re engaged in church planting, but for us, church planting is way outside of the box. It’s not just about getting meeting space or a steeple on the roof. We’ve always been very engaged at multiple levels of community development, seeing it as a very holistic effort. So it was amazing to be postured at a grassroots, church level when the earthquakes hit, to be able to mobilize so quickly to meet the needs that arose. And that was part of the beauty in our intersection with World Vision – it was just seamless. We had way more overlap than we even realized. A lot of our Vineyard people were connected with the World Vision efforts, and people rallied around to care and to connect.
Because we had been actively engaged in villages and various community settings, as well as in Kathmandu, there already was a pretty good relationship with people in other communities and with other expressions of faith around us. That was a great thing. We built trust and rapport very quickly, and we were able to help people more effectively as a result because there wasn’t this religious barrier. That had already been broken down over years and years of serving in the communities. It was amazing to see how quickly we were able to have trust all around.
Tell us about someone/something that really moved you at a personal level.
For our key people on the ground, the extra weight that’s come on to their lives is just… I mean, I can’t even imagine it. It was already difficult facilitating and overseeing the various church and community initiatives that were going on. They were already working so hard to provide for people and care for them. Now, with the added weight of how to deal with the circumstances on a personal level, all the rebuilding because people’s homes are gone… the cumulative effect of all of that, I could just see the weight on them.
And, as is so often the case, events like this quickly move off the news cycle. The people of Nepal already have that sense, as a smaller country, that they will be forgotten, and that’s been on my mind a lot. We really want to urge people… don’t forget Nepal! That’s why it means so much to me to be a part of this project.
Tell us about this recording project with the Artist Collective and local musicians in Nepal.
It was a stellar collaboration! I hadn’t worked with Ryan before, but we got along really well. One thing we’ve been very careful about, over all the years that we’ve been in and out of the region, is not to be this huge boot that just steps into a community. On the arts and music side as well, we’ve been very careful not to impose a Western sound or approach. It’s so exciting to see this project capture some of the local sound, the folk music. It was really rewarding for me personally, to pull on some of the history we’ve got with Vineyard there.
It was really great to be able to get a few of the younger Nepali musicians involved. They know and can do all the folk stuff, but they also understand the modern context. They can play outside the confines of the more traditional sound. The Nepali sound is very cool… they are very musical people, they’re a very artistic and musical culture. There’s nothing like an indigenous expression of someone’s heart. It just articulates things in a much more powerful way. And those young musicians loved it! They actually keep in touch with me to this day.
What are your hopes for this partnership between Vineyard and World Vision Canada? How can we continue to learn from one another?
We were really blown away by and excited about World Vision’s posture and how natural the partnership felt. It was great to collaborate creatively. Into the future, where there’s a way for us to be serving each other, I’m really excited to keep exploring that.
One thing I didn’t really know about World Vision was the commitment to a holistic approach. It’s not just child sponsorship, it’s about community development through sponsorship. And it’s very much the same approach that Vineyard takes. We’re able to engage on a grassroots, on-the-ground level because our people are there… it’s where they live, it’s where their community is, where they do their work, where they go to church. To be able to partner with the resources and connections that World Vision brings, that was incredible. It was easy to work and partner together. And I believe that has to happen more and more, if we’re going to any impact.
What is one thing you’d want people to know about what’s happening in Nepal?
The rebuild is going to be a long, long, long journey there. Through both Vineyard and World Vision, I think people can be confident that resources and materials do get where they need to go. It’s all about having relationships… it’s not just stuff, it really is about people. And they need help. So if there’s a tug in the heart towards Nepal, we’re some trusted organizations that can help get stuff where it needs to go. The biggest thing, really, is please don’t forget Nepal.
Other Side: Hope From the Rubble is a collaboration between the World Vision Artist Collective and the Vineyard Churches of Canada, celebrating the hope, resilience and beauty found in the midst of Nepal’s rebuild. The album is available for digital download on iTunes and Google Play. Click on the album cover to get your copy, and help us spread the word on social media by using the sharing buttons at the top of this page!
All proceeds from the album sales will be invested in the ongoing rebuilding efforts in Nepal.
To learn more about the project, and how you can help support children and familes living in Nepal, please visit artistcollective.ca/nepal.