Beyond Bloodlines and Borders

By Meredith Yackel

Dahl did not know what to expect. He knew he was in trouble but wasn’t sure how it would all play out. How much was this incident going to cost him? Would he or his son be going to jail? Would they lose their new friends? He wasn’t sure what would happen, but what unfolded was far from his expectations.

Dahl is the patriarch of a close-knit Nepalese family. He and his wife, Chhali, live in neighboring apartments with five of their children, their children’s spouses and nine of their 20 grand- children. It is important to their culture in Nepal for family to stay together.

Dahl is a hard worker. He forged a career as a farmer, harvesting vegetables, and any crops that brought a profit, since he was 17. The work is challenging, but he loves it. Farming is imbedded in his identity.

Over 150 years ago Dahl’s ancestors were invited to farm an uninhibited area in the nearby nation of Bhutan. Many Nepalese, including Dahl’s family, kept their language and culture all along—never assimilating into Bhutan. But about 24 years ago, a new king decided it was time for them to go back to Nepal. Once a landowner in Bhutan, he prided himself on his beautiful trees and gardens. Dahl no longer harvests his own land, but even after 50 years in the trade, he is still passionate about farming.

“Once I was saved I immediately went out to reach the unreached,” says Medhin. “I wasn’t well trained but I had this passion to be on mission.”

New city, new friends

When the family relocated they were welcomed into their new community by a group of friendly strangers. Dahl and his family inhabit a warm, inviting household and love hosting people in their home. The first person they met was a lady named Eden Medhin, who helped them settle in and showed them around their new city. The next day she brought some friends with her—one of whom was missionary James Harvey.

The family was excited to have friendly faces in their new home and asked for them to share their story. Harvey, Medhin and the group who came along with them were not used to being asked about their story. They were typically the ones asking others to share their story. They saw this as an open opportunity though. Harvey later said, “Whenever we are asked to tell our story we always include ours within the story of Jesus.”

Medhin went on to share the gospel—something she is always excited to share.

“Once I was saved I immediately went out to reach the unreached,” says Medhin. “I wasn’t well trained but I had this passion to be on mission. God saved me, and that still burns in my heart. God continues to use me because of His mercy and love.”

Her passion has continued to burn so much that she says she doesn’t stay in one place too long. Once people come to faith in Christ, Medhin has someone lined up to disciple them, and then she goes on to the next house. She cannot even count how many people she has led to Christ, but she keeps most of their pictures to remind herself to pray for them.

Dahl and his family were quick to accept this Jesus they were told about—that was the easy part. These new friends had been so sincere and loving. Dahl knew whatever god they worshiped must be a loving god as well. There was one issue though—they would not be baptized.

They were a devout Hindu family and had been for countless generations in Nepal. They could easily accept Jesus as just another god. But to be baptized they knew they must accept Jesus as the one and only true God. This was something they were not ready to do.

Like other Hindus in Nepal, their home was plastered with other gods. These gods were there to protect them, bring them success, guide them to deeper spiritual knowledge and give them everything else they felt they needed. Now, they were being told to cast out their multiple gods and idols for one God.

It was time for Medhin to leave and continue sharing, but Harvey remained for the next few weeks continuing to share the gospel and asking them to repent and be baptized. Again, they continued to accept Jesus as a god but deny Him as the only God.

Everyday missionaries

Harvey prayed about what he should do and felt the Lord tell him they should continue discipling them because this was a “house of peace” (Luke 10:5-6).

However, he also felt someone else needed to continue this discipleship process. Dahl and his family were still open to learning and continued to show signs of being a “house of peace” (Luke 10:5-6). Harvey prayed, asking for a family to rise up, and, shortly after, Jan and Debbie Esterline felt called to leave the comfort they had known for years inside the church and take their faith to a new level by discipling this family outside the church.

The Esterlines are ordinary people. They are quick to point out everything they do is through the strength and mercy of the Lord. They had their own jobs but knew they were called to be everyday missionaries and adopted Dahl and his family as their own—to disciple them, love them and just live life with them. They shopped together, watched the grandchildren over the weekends and helped out when they faced medical emergencies or sicknesses.

The Esterlines also continued to meet with them on a weekly basis and share with them stories from the Bible. It was simple. They would read a story and then ask a few questions to discuss what it meant. Dahl and his family continued to learn more about Jesus and what it meant to follow Him. However, they had still not cast out all of their idols. The Esterlines were patient, though. They continued to see tremendous change in the hearts of the family toward Christ.

Their relationship took a quick turn for the worse, however—or so Dahl thought.

“We all need each other so desperately, and so often the body goes off and does things as individuals,” says Jan. “God wants us to be in community.”


Jan Esterline had promised to teach one of Dahl’s sons to drive. In the country, driving had not been a necessity, but now he had to drive to get to work in the city. During the lesson, Dahl’s son totaled the Esterline’s car in the parking lot where they were practicing.

Dahl was terrified. This move, although necessary, had already been hard enough on the family. What would this accident mean for them? Would the police get involved? How might it affect their lives? What followed surprised them all.

The surprise came through a single act of love and compassion like none other they had experienced. The Esterlines continued to show up at their home, give them hugs and tell them they loved them— charging them nothing in damages—and no police. After it all, the Esterlines continued to be a part of their lives.

Dahl was blown away and so was the rest of his family. After eight months of discipleship, they made the decision to cast out all of their idols and put their faith in the one and only true God.

Living water

Dahl insisted on being baptized in living (running) water. Being a farmer for so many years, this symbolism was important to him. The Esterlines, Medhin, Harvey and several others shared the excitement of the day. Even more exciting though, Dahl’s wife, children and all the grandchildren old enough to understand and accept the gospel were baptized as well. Three generations receiving the grace, love and acceptance that come only through being a part of the body of Christ—a family that extends far past bloodlines or borders—even in Nepal.

The Esterlines are convinced Dahl and his family have been an even greater blessing to them.

“We all need each other so desperately, and so often, the body goes off and does things as individuals,” says Jan. “God wants us to be in community.”

Debbie Esterline laughs because for years she would pray to become pregnant, and others would even tell her she would one day be a “mother of many.” She never had biological children, but God has blessed her with more than she could imagine. She watches over and lives life with all nine of Dahl’s grandchildren and truly has become a mother of many.

This group of Christ followers is a part of The City Church Movement, started by pastor David Kaufmann in 2011. James Harvey serves as the training pastor of the church. Eden Medhin, an Ethiopian caseworker for a local non-profit, still spends her nights and weekends sharing the gospel with the families she assists during her day job. The Esterlines have now been discipling Dahl and his family for two years. They are looking to take on a new family soon. Dahl will take over the role of discipleship to his family and other Nepalese in the community. Dahl and The City Church Movement are preparing to baptize six others from their Nepalese community in the same creek where he was baptized.

This is what it looks like for everyday missionaries to live out God’s mission in their community.

Dahl and his family moved to a new world. Their country was Nepal. Their new city—the city where they met Harvey and Medhin and the Esterlines— is Nashville. Welcome to North America.

Dahl, a Nepalese patriarch, made a life-changing move with three generations of his family to leave their homeland, abandon their idols and embrace new life in Christ.

Dahl’s wife, Chhali (far left), worships in their home with their children, grandchildren and neighbors. Bible study and fellowship are at the heart of their gatherings.

Dahl recently visited Nashville’s John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge with some of his grandchildren (from left) Beku, Arjun, Dahl, Babita and Awn.

Refugees and internationals come to North America seeking security, opportunity and prosperity. Genuine friendships offered by the church can help refugees and internationals get familiar with their surroundings and stay safe in their new home. Learn more about how to engage refugee and international communities.

Published October 12, 2017