While serving as a U.S. diplomat in the Arabian Gulf for ten years, I saw more and more Nepalese come to the region looking for work. I developed a love for these mild, gentle, hardworking people from one of the world´s poorest countries. I became aware that, despite centuries of their country being closed to the gospel, their hearts are open to receive the Good News of the Savior.
In 2010, I retired from foreign service after working in U.S. embassies in 13 countries for over three decades. I have been a supporter of Christian Aid Mission for many years, and now that I have some time, I approached the ministry about an opportunity to see some of the indigenous projects they have helped.
Although I live in Colorado, I had to make one last trip to Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates. From there, it was only a four-hour direct flight to Katmandu in Nepal. Christian Aid arranged for me to meet up with a local worker who plays a key ministry role in Nepal. I spent 12 days in the country in February, meeting with seven different Nepalese groups to see their projects first-hand.
One of the places my guide took me was a village where the pastor has faithfully served the people for more than two decades. When "Pastor Paul" first purchased land to start a farm and a ministry, there were no believers in that community. Today, the church he established is thriving with 200 members!
The guest house where the author (pictured) stayed during her visit
Pastor Paul told us his conversion came as the result of physical healing of his son 22 years ago and his own healing of a painful infection. As in many churches in Nepal, physical healing and the work of the Holy Spirit are the keys to bringing folks to Christ from the mixture of Buddhism and Hindu beliefs that control so many aspects of their lives. (I discovered that the birthplace of Buddha was at Lumbini in southern Nepal.)
Since Pastor Paul built the church, more than a dozen families have come to live nearby. This rice-growing community is about 11 km off the main road that runs from the capital of Katmandu to the lake resort of Pokhara. Many of the believers walk a day to get to Saturday services, and the church has planted several congregations within three days´ walk of the village. During the last decade of army conflict with Maoists, the village remained a peace zone, developing the respect of both sides with its neutrality and community spirit.
The valley is beautiful, with snow-covered mountains in the background and various shades of green from rice fields. The land supports three rice crops a year, two potato crops and numerous vegetables. Pastor Paul has a water buffalo and hens and he raises many vegetable crops. He and his wife Tsering support themselves almost entirely by farming, with a small stipend from the church.
A fertile valley of rice fields as seen from Pastor Paul´s church
Tsering works constantly but is always smiling as she cooks, washes, and does farm work. During the meals we shared with Tsering and Pastor Paul, others were often present, testifying to the importance of hospitality in this close-knit village.
The growing community of Christians quickly outgrew the modest mud and brick structure that served as the first church. That building is now used for children´s Sunday school, for housing families in need of temporary shelter, and as a bathroom facility.
Several years ago with the help of Christian Aid donors, the church added a second floor onto its new building in order to have a place to conduct training for its daughter and sister congregations and a third floor to house students attending the training sessions. Members contributed carpets (congregants sit on the floor) and furnishings, and teens contributed musical instruments.
On the Saturday (Nepal´s day off) when I attended, the sanctuary was filled with about 150 adults, and the Sunday school building had about 80 children as well. The church yard was a beehive of activity, with women cooking lunch for families that had traveled great distances. After the service, people ranging in age from 7 to 70 ate rice, cauliflower, and potatoes before walking back to their villages several hours away.
At about 8 a.m., worship music wafted toward the guest house where I stayed. We ate a hasty breakfast of fried potatoes, cauliflower, and delicious sweet rice cereal and then joined the congregation in their enthusiastic praise. My local worker host preached the sermon and I shared my testimony.
During offering time, as is this congregation´s custom, tithes were announced. One enterprising woman had sold cauliflower and gave one-tenth of her profits to the church. Several other women sold pickled vegetables at the market and donated one-tenth of their income. Other gifts such as rice were also given, accompanied by enthusiastic applause all around for these blessings. In addition, after the "formal" service, folks gathered in front for healing prayer. Workers I met during my Nepal stay attributed the fast growth of the church in part to the physical healing that regularly takes place.
In addition to planting churches in distant villages and supporting its members in every aspect of their lives, this congregation has a vision for children. Two elders were burdened especially for children living in the Himalayan Mountains area to the north. These children live in isolated villages with no schools and little opportunity to get out of grinding poverty and shamanistic Buddhism. They started a hostel where 13 children currently live and attend the local government school, with Christian house parents supervising the home.
Sunday school classes for children are held in the original mud and brick church building
One of the children I met was a girl named Chan. She lived in a rural northern village and wanted to go to school, but her parents would not let her. Her job was to help take care of the home. Determined to study, at age nine she went on a hunger strike. To break her will, her father cut her hair and broke her plastic bangles to punish her. But Chan persisted in her determination to go to school. In desperation her father brought her to Katmandu to become a Buddhist nun, but the monastery said she was too young. "Bring her back when she is 15," they told her father. Despairing over his strong-willed daughter, he heard of the children´s hostel and left her there.
Chan didn´t understand the Nepalese language spoken by the other children in school and was quite discouraged. Fortunately an older boy mentored her, a fellow who is now studying to be a health assistant. He told her, "You must study or you´ll be left behind. Nothing will come easily." She applied herself and this year got a prize from the Prime Minister for placing first in national exams. Chan hopes to travel, see the world, and return to share Christ in her village.
"I want to thank Christian Aid for supporting my chance to study. Because of you I have come to know the Lord. Please pray for our families," she told me.
The hostel operates on a shoe string budget. It is one of three church-sponsored homes I visited that ministers to mountain children from the Himalayan Mountains area. The purpose of these homes goes beyond providing a way for children to receive an education. They also serve as a vehicle to establish ties with families in these remote areas and to introduce the Gospel to villages with no Christian witness.
Throughout my journey, I was amazed by the spirit of the believers I met. Nepalese monthly incomes average less than $100, barely enough to feed a family. And yet the brothers and sisters I met, coming from traditionally undereducated and underprivileged groups, have a burden for those who don´t know the Savior yet. I pray that the current window of opportunity in Nepal for their outreach will remain open, and that their creative efforts will yield even greater results in a country filled with darkness and superstition.