KATHMANDU, Nepal (Mennonite Mission Network) – Few people connect Nepali cuisine to frozen pizzas and tater tots. Yet when Reena Thapa goes to work, she stands at a counter, smoothing bright red sauce over eight circles of pale pizza dough. Her long dark hair is swept neatly under a hair net and streaks of dusty, white flour smudge her apron.
Thapa works at Top of the World, a small business named in honor of Nepal, whose borders encompass eight of the world’s ten tallest peaks. Her experience has taught her more than how to assemble frozen pizzas or fry aalu chop, a spicy local version of tater tots. Thapa and her fellow employees learn to take responsibility and practice integrity in the workplace.
They also have a chance to discover and explore faith in a safe, non-threatening setting.
When she began working at Top of the World, Thapa, frequently fasted and offered penance as a devout Hindu. Born and raised in the village by an alcoholic father and an indifferent mother, she was treated as a second-class citizen because of her gender and low caste. As a result of her social status, she never received treatment for a correctable hearing problem.
Slicing potatoes alongside Bethsaba Nafziger gave Thapa an opportunity to dissect her faith as well. Nafziger, who serves in Nepal through Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Central Committee, shared openly of her convictions, but did not push her faith. She did, however, use her knowledge as a part-time nurse to arrange the minor operation needed to improve Thapa’s hearing.
As ingredients of faith simmer alongside the sauces, Top of the World’s kitchen provides jobs for local women in a safe, clean environment. In a country where unemployment in the formal sector hovers close to 50 percent, many young Nepali women are lured to neighboring countries by the promise of a job. When they arrive, they discover that the promised job is working in a brothel against their will. In some regions, Nepali women are prized for their lighter skin that brings higher prices from clients.
“It is a national tragedy – that is played out every day, in front of our very eyes,” said Dale Nafziger, Bethsaba’s husband.
Bethsaba Nafziger began running the business out of her home four years ago. Inspired by a United Mission to Nepal frozen French fries project, Nafziger worked with tater tots, which use up the waste portion of the potato not large enough to cut into fries. About one year ago, they began pizza production.
Basic training at Top of the World begins with the rules of personal hygiene for food preparation. Then the employees learn about taking responsibility and how to measure ingredients fairly. Leaders and participants also discuss business concepts, such as how to make a profit ethically.
“By now, the three [current] workers are completely competent and able to carry on in my absence,” Nafziger said with pride.
In June, Top of the World produced 90 frozen pizzas, 150 pounds of frozen French fries and 20 pounds of tater tots and aalu chop. By September, these numbers should double, said Dale Nafziger, citing the summer monsoon season as the reason for slower business.
Since an abundance of vendors already sell traditional treats that many locals enjoy, Top of the World’s products aim at a specific niche market – upper class Nepalis and resident expatriates.
While working at Top of the World, Thapa began probing deeper into questions about God and salvation. About two years ago, she accepted Christ, and soon thereafter married Prakash Thapa, another believer in the community. Today, the Thapas have a 1-year-old daughter and are actively involved in the local church – a newly established congregation of 40 that dedicated their recently-completed building on July 29. Thapa has invited many others to join, including her formerly unsympathetic mother.
“The greatest reward is seeing these women both grow in their own faith and also draw others to faith through the changed lives that these others see,” Bethsaba Nafziger said.
The Nafzigers serve as partners in Nepal with a number of Franconia Mennonite Conference congregations–Doylestown, Vincent, Rockhill and Providence Mennonite churches.
Photographer: Dale Nafziger
Original Article written by Mimi Hollinger Janzen