The electricity is erratic. There is mould in the walls. Its nameless streets are crowded and filthy and dangerous. Poverty is rampant. Dogs bark all night. The weather is cold. Such is life in Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, a city of 7.5 million people near the top of the world.
But none of that discourages Matt Dawes. A member of Northview Community Church in Abbotsford, he gave up a comfortable lifestyle and a successful career as a real estate developer to move to Kathmandu in 2012. He went with his twin brother, Noah, and their wives, Nicole and Cathryn, and a vision of helping the poorest of the poor.
“I don’t have any reason to feel unhappy here. In many ways I actually enjoy it,” he says.
Matt and Noah’s first encounter with Nepal was nine years ago. But then it was as hikers and it was just one stop on their global itinerary. Fast forward several years, and they and their wives all sensed God calling them to go back.
“We set a map down in my office and picked seven places that we’d be comfortable with going to,” says Dawes. “We each put together a list that the others were unaware of. And Nepal really was one that all of us had on our list.”
Soon after, God revealed his plan for them – to help an orphanage of 63 children and 10 widows run by Mercy Mission Children’s Home to become self-sufficient by starting new local businesses. They would be run as social enterprises, with the profits going to support the orphanage while offering work experience to local residents.
They went relying entirely on their own resources collected from the sale of their homes and assets. They did not raise funds or join a mission organization.
And soon after settling in Kathmandu, God led them to purchase and renovate Hira Guest House, a hotel in the city’s tourist district. And after trying to drink the city’s raw, contaminated milk, they had the idea to launch an organic dairy called MilkMandu.
“We’re taking off now,” says Dawes. “We sell out every single day. We sell about 150 litres a day of liquid product. And then we have yogurt and cream and butter. We deliver these products all over the city to about 450 customers.”
Apart from the benefits these businesses bring to the children’s home and the people they employ – Kathmandu’s jobless rate stands at 57 percent – it also gives the four of them a natural opening to share Jesus.
“Everybody’s watching us,” says Dawes. “You’re a foreigner in a place where there’s lots of tourism but not many foreigners who live here. They’re very curious – ‘Why on earth would you do that?’”
Next on the list are shops offering welding, woodworking and mechanics, and a bakery.
Dawes estimates it will be three more years before the orphanage will become self-sufficient and new managers can be trained to take over the businesses. And then it will be totally up to God to reveal where he wants them to go next.
“I’d love to do this same model somewhere else. Whatever God has for us, wherever that might be, absolutely I’ll do it,” he says. “I’m very thankful God absolutely ruined the plans I had for my life. I’ve kind of given up making those plans for myself.”