“I don’t want to go to school!” 5-year-old Usha shouted at her older brother, pulling his hair. Later she would become one of the first Nepali women with advanced degrees in both medicine and public administration, but as a little girl, she didn’t yet realize what a privilege education was.
Her parents knew, however. Uneducated himself and determined his daughter would have a different future, Usha’s father picked her up and carried her on foot to the private school where she’d been admitted. As Usha continued to struggle and cry about not wanting to go, he said, “If you say that again, I’ll throw you off this wall.”
“I think he was just making it up. He loved me so much,” Usha told LDS Living. But the trick worked: Usha decided to go.
From that day on, Usha loved school. She quickly became top of her class, and her teachers made her skip grades twice. Still, Usha became the top student.
Usha gives credit for her success to her older sister, who gave her math and other work to complete while she watched her favorite cartoons. “I didn’t realize that I was practicing. I thought I was just enjoying cartoons, but I was doing other things too,” Usha says.
After 12th grade, many of Usha’s friends, who were hoping to become dentists and doctors, enrolled in a medical preparatory class during summer break. Although Usha wanted to be a pilot, she “didn’t want to waste time” and thought, “Why not try it?” She took the admission exam and got into the medical prep class with her friends. Two years later, at age 17, she won a full-ride scholarship to medical school.
“My parents were very happy because the medical studies would be very expensive,” Usha says. “Back then I think it was about 30,000 dollars.” For a comparison, Usha would later live off 200 dollars a month.
Curiosity in Christ
Shortly after starting medical school, Usha received a Bible from a Christian group on campus. Although she’d grown up Hindu, she was drawn to the beautiful passages in Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. “I loved it,” Usha says.
In the back of the book was a statement that said something like, “If you’d like to give your life to Jesus, sign here.”
“Jokingly I signed it because I liked it,” Usha says.
Not long after, Usha was talking with her cousin, and her cousin mentioned the name Jehovah.
“Who is Jehovah?” Usha asked. “I want to know about Jehovah.”
Her cousin became excited. “I’ll tell you about Jehovah,” she says, and she immediately closed her shop and began explaining.
“She had a lot of business going on, and she shut the shop just for me, to tell me about Jehovah,” Usha says, recalling how the action impressed her. She decided to check out the congregation her cousin attended and soon became a regular attendee at the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall.
She didn’t immediately give up her Hindu tradition, however. Although Usha was attracted to the idea of a “living God,” she was afraid to offend the gods of the Hindu temples where she’d worshipped with her mother all her life. She continued to worship both Jehovah and the Hindu gods, praying for an answer about the truth.
Then, one day, she read Psalms 135:15-17, which says, “The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths.”
The passage struck her heart. “That changed my course of how I would view God. . . . After I knew that there was never looking back,” Usha says.
Living Her New Faith
When Usha was a child, Usha’s older sister invested in more than just her education. She also bought Usha vitamin drinks so that she would grow tall and one day participate in the Miss Nepal pageant.
Usha did grow tall, reaching five-foot-seven when none of the girls in her family stood more than five feet. And after her first semester of medical school, Usha decided to compete in the Miss Nepal pageant.
Usha made it to the finals, where she was presented with a contract to sign. The contract would obligate Usha to do whatever the pageant organization required of her, and Usha felt that she could not sign without compromising her new commitment to Christ.
After “battling a lot” in her mind, Usha wrote “no” to the requirements of the contract. It came as no surprise to her when she was not selected for the top 10.
As an eliminated contestant, Usha was required to share her thoughts on a live interview broadcast to over 3 million people. The emcee expected Usha to be disappointed, but Usha couldn’t hide her joy.
“How do you feel now, being out of the competition?” the emcee asked.
“I started smiling,” Usha says, noting that her friends and family could see her genuine happiness from the audience. “I just said, 'I’m very happy for all my friends who succeeded. I know that love rejoices at the successes of others instead of being envious.'”
She also quoted 1 John 2:16-17, which says, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
“All the Nepalis heard that,” Usha says. “I heard everyone clap . . . after that I became very popular everywhere.”
Famous for her speech, people on the street would call her “Miss Nepal,” although she was not Miss Nepal, and she received an offer to act in a Kollywood film, although she wasn’t interested.
Usha is quick to say that she doesn’t condemn pageants or those that participate in them. “They’re good people too," she says. "I have lots of good friends there. But that was not my path."
Meeting a Mormon
Usha continued studying at the medical school and meeting with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One day, a new emergency medic teacher from the United States showed up in one of Usha’s classes. Since Usha had heard that people in the west have given up on faith, she decided to approach him.
“Are you a Christian?” she asked.
The question caught the man off guard, as he’d been told he wasn’t allowed to proselytize in Nepal. He didn’t say anything.
“Do you belong to a cult or a sect? Why are you so scared?” Usha asked.
The man just smiled and said nothing.
A week later, however, he approached Usha. “I’m a Christian,” he said, handing her a book. “This is what we read. This is the Book of Mormon, another testament of Jesus Christ.”
Usha accepted the book but didn’t read it. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had told her that the Bible was the only book of scripture. “I was like, okay. Maybe he’s the false prophet they were talking about,” Usha says.
Usha's new teacher approached her on several occasions to ask about the book and share his testimony, but whenever he spoke, Usha would pray in her heart, “Help me not listen to this false prophet.”
After a few months, however, Usha’s mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “Because I was very close to my mom, I thought my whole world shattered,” Usha says. She wondered what would happen to her mother, who was Hindu, when she died, and she wasn’t satisfied with the answer of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
That’s when her LDS friend shared Alma chapter 40 and told her about the spirit world. This time, she listened.
Usha read the Book of Mormon, prayed according to Moroni’s promise, and began searching about Mormons online. She read about the Word of Wisdom, and although she loved tea and coffee, she decided to give it up. She also started paying tithing to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, even though they don’t require it.
After several months of not speaking to her LDS friend, Usha called him up. “Hello. I know the Book of Mormon is true. I know the Church is true. Can I be baptized tomorrow in your Church?” she asked.
For several moments, her friend was speechless. Then he explained that she would have to come to Church a couple times and meet with the missionaries before she could be baptized.
“What do you need to teach more?” Usha asked. “I know the gospel of Christ, the plan of salvation, and the Restoration, too.”
“Some commandments,” he said.
“The Word of Wisdom?” Usha asked. “I haven’t drunk tea and coffee for about three months now. And tithing? I do that, even though the Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t need it. And chastity is not a problem because we are brought up that way. Any more commandments? Let me know.”
Two weeks later, Usha was baptized. Although none of her family attended the baptism, only one aunt vehemently objected. “She shunned me,” Usha says.
At the Kingdom Hall, they announced that everyone should stay away from Usha because she was a “dangerous lady.” Although Usha had never officially joined their church, she had brought about 50 of her friends into their congregation, and they knew people would follow her.
Serving a Mission
To the surprise of her teachers and peers, Usha decided to serve a mission upon graduating from medical school at the age of 25. She was called to Birmingham, England.
On her mission, Usha became very close with one of her companions, Sister Spjute, who was from Farmington, Utah. They were so close that they used to pray to live near each other in the celestial kingdom so that they wouldn’t be apart.
After six weeks, Usha was sent to a new area in Birmingham and her companion was asked to stay in Coventry. A week later, Usha was knocking doors when her mission president called.
“Sister Spjute is dead,” he said.
Usha was in shock. Her mission president repeated his words and tried to explain. “She was jogging this morning and she collapsed. She died, but we don’t know the reason.”
The mission president came to Usha’s apartment and gave her a blessing, but Usha struggled, not understanding why God would allow her companion to die. “It was very difficult. My companions after that, they all have suffered. . . . I was a little bit more irritable because I missed her so much,” Usha says.
Over the course of her mission, Usha came to understand Christ’s Atonement like she never had before. “I feel that God knows what was happening, and maybe God needed her on the other side of the veil,” Usha says. “I will see her again. And I really want to see her again.”
Usha believes that her mission changed her life. “I think that the thing that I received was the joy of service,” she says. “That’s why I’m more humanitarian now, because of that.”
Finding a Path
After her mission, Usha wasn’t sure where to place her energy. She didn’t feel quite right about joining a medical practice. She counseled with her branch president and friend Bishnu Adhikari (from Meet the Mormons), and he suggested hospital administration. Usha said, “Oh! How did you read my mind? I was thinking the same.”
Bishnu Adhikari (left) and Usha Maharjan
Usha got a Master’s degree in hospital administration in India and had many wonderful experiences serving in her church callings there. But after her graduation, she began to reflect more often on a line in her patriarchal blessing that said, “at the appropriate time of your life, you will meet a companion who is close to Christ and who will take you to the temple.”
Before that blessing Usha hadn’t planned to marry; now she was confused about when the “appropriate time” would finally arrive. She was almost 30.
In addition, Usha had been offered a prestigious hospital administration job in Chitwan.There was no LDS Church in Chitwan, however, and Usha worried that if she accepted the job she’d be placing money and position above her commitment to the gospel.
As Usha prayed about the decision, a friend from California said, “Usha, don’t you think that people in Chitwan need you because they don’t have the gospel? You can help them. Maybe God is telling you to join that hospital.”
“It just made sense after that,” Usha says. She accepted the job.
After a few weeks in Chitwan, Usha felt that she should create a family home evening group with some of the doctors and administrators she worked with. They gladly joined her, and Usha used the opportunity to not only share her own faith but to invite speakers of other faiths, such as Father Seraphim, to address the group as well.
Shortly after she started the group, Usha happened to meet a priesthood holder that was also living in the city, and they received permission from the mission president to hold sacrament meeting in their apartment. Once again, Usha invited her coworkers, and they came.
One day, one of the nurses in the group said, “Ma’am, we are all talking about what Jesus did. When are we going to do it? We’re just talking about it. It’s theoretical. Let’s do it, too.”
In Nepal, the caste system is alive and well, and the people at the bottom are referred to as the “untouchables.” Usha said that among this group, each year nearly 50,000 children die of starvation, about 2,500 go blind due to vitamin A deficiency, and most kids age 8 and older are married. Leprosy is also a major concern.
Usha and her co-workers quickly realized that although these children were hungry, giving food was not a long-term solution. They needed to educate them.
Usha quit her job, began living off savings, and started the non-profit organization Eternal Hope Nepal. A teacher from her family home evening group volunteered to help teach, and Usha began spreading hope.
Usha with children from Nepal.
Becoming a “Mormon Nun”
Around this same time, Usha felt resigned to a life of being single. She felt like she had finally found her calling, and she toyed with the idea of being a “Mormon Nun.”
She began wondering how nuns lived and asked Father Seraphim if there was a monastery she could visit in Nepal. Although there were not, he offered to send her to one in Greece.
Usha flew out and was graciously welcomed. “They made sure that I had the best suite in the monastery,” Usha says.
Shortly after she arrived, Usha went out for a morning jog. One of the nuns stopped her and said, “Nuns don’t jog.”
After that, Usha wore a habit. She stayed for two months, and her new friends at the monastery tried to convince her to stay longer.
Usha (right) with a sister at a monastery in Greece.
“Black looks really good on you,” they’d say. They even offered to let her open her own medical practice in the monastery and bring poor children from Nepal to live with them all.
Usha was touched by their kindness but didn’t stay. “After being there in the monastery for two months I came to a testimony of the Book of Mormon even more. I was so grateful to be a part of the true Church. All of these experiences taught me and drew me closer to my Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.”
She also came away from the experience determined to get married.
Randall Wall was a 53-year-old real estate broker from Salt Lake City with two unclaimed service expeditions from Choice Humanitarian, already paid for.
“I guess I’m going to Nepal,” he thought. He’d never been, but he knew Bishnu through other humanitarian work he’d done and was excited to see his old friend.
Randall spent about a month in Nepal, working with the villagers and attending church with Bishnu. The day before he was set to leave, he saw a “tall, elegant, very pretty girl” at Church.
“I said the first thing which came to my mind, which is not always a good thing,” Randall says. His first words to Usha were, “You’re really tall for a Nepali.”
Usha said, “Hmm,” and then ignored him.
“I don’t think that I’d been ignored in how many years? Decades,” Randall says. “She stayed on my mind.”
Six months later, Randall received a visit from Bishnu as they were working on another project with Choice Humanitarian. “Is the tall, pretty girl still single?” Randall asked.
Bishnu gave him a funny look, as if to say, “Oh, yeah. She’s still single. I’ve tried to marry her off before but it didn’t work.”
Randall pondered about his situation for a week. “This wasn’t my first marriage and I was thinking I really want to be sure.”
After that week, Randall asked for Usha’s name and then contacted her over Facebook. “I knew from the first five minutes of chatting,” Randall says. Four days later he sent the message, “I’m coming to see you.”
“I thought he was joking,” Usha says. Nepal was, after all, at least 40 hours away from his current location. Moments later, his itinerary hit her inbox.
Despite the distance, Usha and Randall’s courtship only took nine months.
“I was looking for somebody who was kind and who loved God more than they loved me,” Randall says.
“Same with me,” Usha says. “I was almost giving up.”
Usha and Randall on they're wedding day. They were sealed in the Portland Oregon Temple.
Where They’re at Now
Usha and Randall now live in Utah and travel to Nepal every three months for their work with Eternal Hope Nepal, which now serves over 130 children. They feed them, teach them in open-air classrooms (a nice way of saying "under the sun on the ground" Usha says), and then pay for uniforms and tuition for the kids to attend public school once they’re up to the appropriate grade level. They also teach parents the importance of education and why they should not marry their children off at such tender ages.
An "open-air" classroom in Nepal.
Even once a child is admitted to public school, they keep careful watch over them because, as “untouchables,” they are frequently beaten or asked to trade sexual favors for supplies such as sanitary napkins. Because of Eternal Hope Nepal, however, such incidents are happening less frequently.
“They don’t want to upset Dr. Usha or the foreigners or the members that they know are looking out and watching over these children,” Randall says. “It’s become very good. Now they work well with us.”
Nepali children proudly displaying their schoolwork.
Usha and Randall hope their organization will continue to grow, and have a goal to move back to Nepal within the next three years. “Rich, poor, whatever we are . . . we’re going to make the jump.”