Elmbrook Stories

Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite


Mothers sometimes say, in that singsong kind of voice, “…and don’t let the bedbugs bite” while tucking their children into bed. I never knew what a bedbug was, and I certainly never wanted to get acquainted with the bite of one.

The Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia is informative about bedbugs, or what is scientifically called Cimex Lectularius. They cannot fly. They are blood-suckers. They come out at night from their hiding places in wooden beds or from other organic materials like straw or heavy wool blankets.In five minutes they can consume their body weight in human blood which gives them enough fuel for the next six months.

We work in the Himalayan mountains of Nepal. This may be the bedbug capital of the world. It is actually said that the capital of bedbugs is a village east of Mount Everest called Namuchi. Dutch-German blood seems to be high on their list of dining pleasure, but I am getting ahead of my story here.

For months we prepared our bodies and lungs for a long trek in the district of Sankhuwasabha. We walked thousands of feet up and down hills each week to strengthen ourselves for a 15-day medical camp. We anticipated climbing and descending 4-5,000 feet each day over mountain passes. We prayed for physical strength and prayed that our feet would not slip from the path. I worked on memorizing 2 Samuel 22: 32-34, 37. 

The Lord had called us clearly to this work. We have lived cross culturally for over 10 years in harsh and remote conditions. We had already set up a hospital in a war zone. In my mind, I could handle pretty much every inconvenience and hardship that would come our way on this challenging trip. The purpose of this trip was to survey how we might develop more permanent health services in the future and begin to make relationships among these remote people.

The trip started with a cancelled flight and a 25-hour cramped bus ride through the mountains. Most everyone had black plastic bags for vomit and these could be seen sailing out the bus windows at 10 minute intervals throughout the trip. Every time a window opened, dust poured into the bus. My husband and I are at least a foot taller than the average Nepali so there was no room to put our knees. Most of the time our legs were bent, with our knees just about resting under our chin. We have had similar trips across Nepal previously and could laugh about the circumstance that we were in. We were delighted though, when the bus stopped at the district headquarters in Khandbari.

For the next 10 days we slept in Tibetan one-room homes. The smoke from the chimney-less cook fires burned our eyes. We gratefully ate food made of rice and nettles, ferns, and occasionally “sukhoti” (a dried meat). We did not bathe and used trees for our toilet. There were over 400 people that we examined and cared for. We had zero privacy, but we felt like the Lord was giving us grace for each day.

Day #11 in my journal: “I didn’t sleep well at all and got more bedbug bites.”
Day #12: “It was again a very unpleasant night…interruptions by a drunkard yelling, rats running around and BEDBUGS.”
Day #13: “I couldn’t sleep last night because of bedbugs crawling all over me. At 12:30 am, in tears, I couldn’t stand it any longer. We turned on a flashlight to make them go into hiding. I reapplied bug repellant and tried sleeping on the floor with an extra cloth bag around me that was covered with repellant. I have 50-60 large red bites all over me.”

In those sleepless hours, I had a lot of thinking and praying time. I thought about unanswerable questions, like whether there was a resurgence of bedbugs in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.

I was also brought to a deeper question. Do I have a threshold of obedience to God? I wanted to say, “I will obey you Lord... as long as you don’t allow the bedbugs to bite.” In my fatigue, my discomfort, my stink, my itch and pain I was refreshed by the Holy Spirit reminding me of the privilege to penetrate a Himalayan hill culture with a Christian presence. In 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 Paul writes, “To the weak, I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means, I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel that I may share in its blessings.”